Monday, 16 October 2017

2017 Amsterdam Half Marathon

I've just run my first Half Marathon. 12 months ago I couldn't even run 5k reliably, it's been quite a journey.  This particular event happened because back in April Kelly D signed up for the full Amsterdam Marathon and when I commented on how much I love The Netherlands he replied with a link to the Half Marathon. Oh.  With Liz and Andy on board as well for the half we booked flights and hotels, the commenced our training plans.  My training plan went well, I didn't always have time to follow it, but I got some decent distances in and Endomondo was telling me that based on my Cooper Tests I should be able to do it in under 2 hours, then 1:50, then 1:45 - needless to say I was terrified!

After my last training I run I decided that my goal was simply going to be under 2 hours, and on a good day if I could handle a pace of 5:25-5:30 min/km I Should be able to nip comfortably underneath that. Before I knew it race weekend was upon us, and we flew out to Schiphol on Friday. After checking in at our hotel we took a quick tram trip into the middle of Amsterdam and had a mooch around while looking for some food. Somehow we managed to avoid all the roads full of restaurants but we eventually tucked in to an Italian then had a couple of beers before returning to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

A slow start to Saturday and we went to the race expo, collected our numbers and event t-shirts and countless flyers for other European marathons, and went to hunt pancakes. Or attempted to - getting a tram was hard enough with them being full to capacity, and then the one we did manage to catch broke down half way to the centre, so lunch was instead in a very nice cafe before catching a different tram to the centre where Liz and Kelly went to the Body Worlds exhibition while Andy and I chilled out on the harbour where we were treated to the sight of the Stad Amsterdam sailing past. we headed back in to the centre searching for poffertjes but were again defeated and after trying and failing to meet up with Liz and Kelly we went to the tram stop, only to see them glide by on the tram when the driver didn't bother letting us on.  Cue a long wait while the next one was overloaded and no more came for an age, but we eventually made it back to the hotel for dinner.

And then it was race day. Kelly was up and off early to do the full marathon while the rest of us had breakfast in the hotel, avidly refreshing the live timing, pleased to see Kelly making really good progress in the marathon. Final preparations were made while watching footage of the elite runners on TV, then we made our way to the stadium for the start. This was my first experience of a mass start event on such a scale, but I'd followed my hydration strategy, got my gels in my running belt, and hat against the sun. Ah yes, the sun. I'd been looking forward to an autumnal race, possibly even with some light drizzle, but as the race day got closer the forecast had been getting warmer and warmer and by this point there were official temperature warnings from the event organisers as it was over 20 degrees in full sun.

We saw crowds beginning to move so headed to the starting pens, found pour spaces, then stood and waited. And waited. There were at least three full pens in front of us, and with over 15,000 runners it took quite some time before we could even see the start line, never mind cross it, but eventually the moment came.  I had done as best a recce of the route as I could on Google Maps in advance, but with so many people that didn't help for most of the course, though there were major landmarks I had memorised. The first 5km or so went in a blur as I found space to run in and soaked up the atmosphere - live DJs, samba and drum bands, great signs such as "I'm Very Impressed" and a man singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" in an operatic style from the top floor of his house. The first major landmark on my mental list was at the end of this section where you run up the start of the A2 motorway before turning off immediately on the first exit, heading into an industrial area where the first refreshment station was located.  I grabbed an Isostar drink without stopping, and after throwing half of it on my face I mastered the art of drinking while running.

My pace up to the end of k6 was good, sometimes hitting as fast as 5:09/km but never feeling too fast and I thought I was in for a really good chance of smashing my goal. On the hot back straights of the industrial area I was trying to maintain around 5:25/km, building a cushion to my goal time and always keeping an eye on the overall average pace - knowing I needed to keep this under 5:40/km. I could feel the neat getting to me at this point though, so decided to relax a little until the next water station where I would take a gel and cool down, my pace dropping into the 5:30s - still the right side of goal though. Don't overcook it, you've got to finish the race and you are not even half way yet.  At the 10km water stop I realised I had not disabled auto pause on my watch - damn, I no longer have my easy ready reckoner so I need to account for that. Added mental load I really didn't need.  At this stop I accidentally washed my gel down with Isostar not water, so was still feeling rather thirsty - I took several sponges and soaked myself to try and help with cooling.  All this meant that I had a rather slow KM here.

From this point it just felt really hard.  The field was getting more bunched and not less bunched, I was finding it hard to get the space I wanted to run at a comfortable pace, and ended up having to run at someone else's pace and I think this took more energy than running at the pace I wanted to.  I kept looking for space and using it, but constant changing speed and direction was really wearing. The course felt narrow, and elbows were jostling - other runners were clearly feeling this too as I heard a lot of frustration around me.  I was still carving through the field, but it felt like I was overtaking people who were clearly aiming for a slower pace than me which didn't make sense given the starting pen system. Splits were 5:38, 5:45, 5:52, 6:16 - it was getting away from me.  In this time I had re-hydrated, getting the hang of water stops better now, and had stuffed a sponge under my running hat - which really helped with the cooling.

Out the corner of my eye I caught sight of a windmill and I knew where I was again - running along the canal I was basically on the home straight with just over 7 km to go.  Another gel on board, washed down with water this time, and the course opened up a little.  The crowds were also filling out a bit now and bizarrely I got a massive boost from river traffic encouraging us with their boat horns. I gave a person dressed as a lion a massive flying high five, looked at my watch, and saw I was still within pace - I'd mentally adjusted my target to 5:37 to offset auto pause and I was on a course average of 5:36 at this pace.  I couldn't get my pace to stick for the next couple of kilometers, I was still failing to hit target. For the 17th kilometre I forced myself to pick up the pace and keep it high for the full km, and I think this tactic saved my race. Soon we were in the Vondelpark and I knew I just had to keep going.  5:37 race average on the watch, if that dropped to 5:38 I was going to have to throw everything at it and damn the consequences.

In the park I spotted a collapsed runner receiving treatment from medics and signalled those behind me to move over, and made it out of the park on the run towards the stadium, constantly checking my watch. Suddenly I could hear sirens behind me, it sounded like the were on the course, and soon the police outriders came through.  Everyone was great, moving to the sides and shouting ahead to warn fellow runners, but suddenly a marshal was stopping all runners on the right hand side to allow the ambulance to turn off the course - obviously not what anyone wanted, but the health of people who are suffering is much more important.  As soon as the ambulance had cleared the junction I sprinted to catch the crowd I was running with, catching the marshal by surprise and he had to jump out of my way.  OK, I recovered that hurdle, and I can almost smell the stadium.

That's the 20 km arch! 1.1 km to go. Come on Martin, pick up the pace, you can do this.


For the first time in over 10 km I was back under (revised) target pace, running at 5:30/km. The finish is rather special, taking in 200 metres of the track inside the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Stadium - running on the soft track felt so good on the feet after 13 miles of pavement pounding and although I had no sprint left in me I upped the pace as best I could, dropping to 5:12/km.  Finally over the line as fast as I could (there was quite a traffic jam ahead of me) and I stopped my watch showing less than 2 hours, letting out a guttural roar of "yeeeaahhhhss!".  Keeping walking, breathing, I nearly stopped on the grass but I knew all water was outside the stadium so I went through medal collection, and feeling rather spent in the hot queue was desperate to get out, but I was doing OK.. I got my phone out and already had a text message confirming my time - 1:59:49 - that 17th kilometre decision had made the race for me!

I got out the stadium and consumed half a banana, a bottle of energy drink, and a cup of water, then went to get my medal engraved - despite fears this may be a time consuming experience which risked delaying our flight it was a model of efficiency, and I was soon heading back in to the stands to join Kelly who had been watching us finish. I chatted for a while as I recovered, then went to reclaim my bag - on the way out I met Andy up to join Kelly after he had finished not far behind me, and in a fit of good timing as I returned with my bag I saw Liz walking towards the stadium exit.  While she queued to get out I had a quick wash down (I was organised and had a damp flannel in my bag) and switched running shirt.

We met up with Liz at medal engraving and after a bit more resting on the banks of another canal we headed to the metro to get back to the hotel, change into something more suitable, and head to the airport. We had yet another pancake related failure as the pancake oven was broken in the cafe we headed to but thankfully on the way back down to the station for a rather dreary sounding Burger King we saw another place, grabbed a table, and tucked in to some much needed refreshment.

Boarding the plane the cabin crew congratulated us (yes, we were still wearing event t shirts and medals) and it was a stress free trip back to Manchester (where everything was closed, turned off, or broken) and a train back to Sheffield, finally getting to bed around 1am.

Scores on the doors - well done everyone! :

  • Kelly (Full Marathon): 3:23:50
  • Me (Half Marathon): 1:59:49
  • Andy (Half Marathon): 2:12:10
  • Liz (Half Marathon): 2:29:18

[Full Results]

So what next?  I was thinking about whether a marathon would be achievable next, but after Sunday I am not so sure; that was really hard work and I don't know if I am up to doubling the distance yet.  My plan would have been to enter York next year which gives me nearly 12 months to train, but right now I am thinking about being more conservative and in all likelyhood the Sheffield Half will be the next road race for me apart from the Percy Pud, after a bit of a trail running fix of course.  Mind you, it's possible all this will change if Kelly decides to enter a race in another country I want to visit (*ahem* - although it's a pricey one)

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