Sorry guys. I really tried to make it short and succinct. I just couldn’t.
So it’s a week out from the race and my IT band’s still feel like they’ve had a deep tissue massage by the The Terminator. My recollections from the day are also fresh so it’s probably a good time to jot them down before they become merely rose-tinted anecdotes.
My training leading into Amsterdam was off the back of some post-Manchester Marathon and Double Top burnout, but after some downtime I felt healthy enough to start my marathon build around mid-June. Because I was so stoked with my PB in Manchester, I was throwing caution to the wind in Amsterdam and set myself a stretch goal of sub 2:50. I was happy to take a risk, go out hard and try to hang on (a strategy I would normally not advocate) and if I completely blew up, screw it.
My build progressed fairly well. I was able to string together a number of really good workouts, including some spicy long runs, and I didn’t pick up any injuries apart from a bizarre 10 days of total dead legs (potentially Magnesium supplement related). But because of racing Round the Rock in August, I never really had the opportunity to build up a big base of miles. Because of this, I didn’t feel as strong as I did leading into Manchester Marathon earlier in the year. Also, despite nailing some great workouts (shout out to the Strive crew), I didn’t have the results I wanted in my tune-up races so lacked some confidence heading into Dam.
My approach to this block wasn’t vastly different to Manchester. My nutrition was already dialled, I had continued to consistently train and still had all that previous road fitness. I continued to slightly increase my carb intake, improve my pace at Lactate Threshold and string together a number of quality long runs with portions faster than goal marathon pace. I feel the latter is key to running a good marathon (second only to maximising easy aerobic volume). Being able to run well for prolonged periods of time at paces faster than your goal pace, will make marathon pace feel much more comfortable, relaxed and sustainable.
So, onto the race. Because I dragged my heels booking accommodation, I could only afford a tiny 4 bed hostel on the outskirts of the city. It goes without saying the night before a marathon you don’t want strangers snoring in your ear or backpackers rolling in plastered in the early hours. Unnecessary lesson learned!
My cosy little boudoir
The day before the marathon was spent mostly doing activities I would advise against as a coach. Cycling, walking, drinking beer and consuming an excessive number of (overpriced) flat whites. Even my dinner choices were a shambles – plain tofu and uncooked microwaveable rice. At least I would have some excuses in the bag if the race went tits up.
Unadvisable things to do before a race
I actually slept ok in the end and loved being able to cycle to the race in the morning. Cycling in Amsterdam is literally the best – two wheels rule the road, just as nature intended. It was a chilly, windy morning (around 8 degrees with the wind chill) with patchy rain and hail showers. Sounds grim but the cool temps were actually super beneficial and the headwinds were only nasty for a few miles up the Amstel River.
For the race this year, most of the runners started in the Olympic Stadium with 5000 runners lining up outside where we’d merge after the first kilometre. The Dutch are super relaxed and there was no rush to get into our assigned pens so I strolled in about 15mins before the starting pistol went off. I felt good on the line. Nervous, but excited. My taper had gone well and my legs were feeling fresh and poppy in the last couple of workouts. I was rocking some new Adios Pro 3’s and I was looking forward to just gunning it and seeing what I was capable of.
The pistol went off and the first few miles were the kind of absolute carnage you’d expect when trying to fit thousands of adrenaline-fuelled runners through very narrow streets at essentially the same time. This is a common at a lot of big-city marathons. Runners are jostling for position, the paces surge as you try and pass people and slow when you’re stuck behind others who might have been slightly overoptimistic when signing up. This was certainly the case in Amsterdam as the streets felt even more packed than usual.
About 10k in, the field started to spread out, and I could settle into a steadier rhythm. I’d written my target splits onto my hand the night before in biro (whilst feeling despondent about the quality of my meal) but the rain had thoroughly washed them all off leaving only my half marathon goal time. I also knew what my average pace for a 2:49:30 should be, but, as predicted, the tall buildings and having to weave around runners, meant that my GPS was off and I wasn’t able to run the most direct route. This meant that I would need to run by feel for most of the race (or smash out some maths on the fly, which I’m not very good at, so didn’t). Running by feel can be a daunting prospect but it is a skill I have been practicing for some time now and I firmly believe that it’s essential if you want to perform well. On race day, you can only run as hard as your body allows and setting yourself fixed paces will either lead to leaving some time on the table or to a massive blow up and sub-optimal performance.
So I ran by feel, moving from group to group steadily through the field. I split the halfway point in 1:24:34, 11s ahead of my initial target based of evenly splitting the race. This would mean I would need to run at pretty much exactly the same pace for the rest of the race if I was to break 2:50. As I turned around and headed North up and Amstel river into a massive headwind and rain shower, I had my doubts as to whether this was possible.
My race splits. Honestly had no idea they were that even. Was channeling the great James Hayward
The next 10k from 21 to 31 felt fine to be honest. I had a decent pack and we were taking turns at the front against the wind. My fuelling was still spot on, I didn’t feel excessively fatigued. But I would expect to feel like this way up to 32km. That’s where the battle begins. I had told myself that I wanted to try and push at this point and try to race the final 6 miles. I had visions in my head of the 2020 Olympic Marathon when Kipchoge dropped the field at 30km. In hindsight, it’s pretty hilarious that I thought I could do anything apart from just hold on for dear life.
Another reason I was hesitant about pushing, was that I’m sometimes prone to this absolute bastard of a side stitch whenever I over-exert in longer races. I didn’t want to go out that way, so I played it cool.
32 – 34km: Uneventful. Just general pain.
35km – 38km: Legs went from painful but fully sensitised to really painful but also totally numb at the same time.
39-40km: I earnestly questioned why I run at all
40km – 41km: Failing to come up with a satisfactory answer to this question, I vowed never to run again.
41km – finish: The bastard side stitch kicked in and it felt like I’d been shot in the kidney. Which would have been an amazing excuse to stop. The final 800m I must have looked absolutely hideous. It was only kind chanting of my name in mainly lovely French accents which carried me through into the Olympic Stadium and onto the final straight of the running track. It was literally only at this point, in the final 80m, that I absolutely knew I would break 2:50. Although I didn’t have the energy to care. I coughed and spluttered over the finish line in 2:49:38. Surprised but massively stoked.
Questioning a lot my life choices
Finishing in the stadium with thousands of people cheering is just amazing. I waited for Phil, Jeff, Liv and Lee to cross the line (they all performed really well too) and by the time they had, I could start to feel my legs, and I really wanted to race again.
Kudos to Jeff on a new PB and Phil for being the merriest marathon finisher on the planet
And that’s running for you folks.
So onto my reflections and takeaways. I was super happy with my result. It reminded me of the importance of setting big scary audacious goals and that performances you are proud of come about through consistency and doing the basics well. My block hadn’t really been much different to the beginning of the year. There weren’t any stand out workouts or crazy weeks. I just kept stacking bricks. I went into the race rested and let my sense of effort dictate pace. I could probably have benefitted from not racing Round the Rock and instead focusing on a base building phase as well as incorporating more strength and conditioning and shorter distance road races into my training. But I thoroughly enjoyed the block which is the most important factor in all of this.
Top tip: find yourself a crew (and work on your selfie game)
Shout out to my training partners which have my workouts and long runs infinitely more enjoyable and to Lisa for continuing to be a running widow.
Next stop. UTMB Thailand 100k in December. More madness to follow.