Amsterdam Marathon - Sub 4 hours!

Lining up for the off - Guess who on the big screen
​This was my first time in Amsterdam. We took the long & arduous 35 minute flight from Manston to Schiphol on the Saturday morning arriving 8.20​ local time. After exiting the airport it was a bit of a struggle to figure out the tickets for the trains etc despite the reams of journey planners I had printed. I blame it on a lack of coffee. An air stewardess who just happened to be standing behind me took pity on my total inadequacy and helped me with the machine...

After arriving at our apartment overlooking the river IJ in the north and dropping off our bags, we repeated the transport ordeal to head back south to the marathon expo. Normally for an 'away' marathon I like to arrive on the Friday evening and head off first thing the next day to the expo on my own without the kids and without the crowds. This wasn't logistically possible on this occasion so we all went together and by the time of our arrival around midday it was a real crunch inside. We shuffled round just long enough to collect my number and t shirt, find the exit and head back into town. Finally coffee!

I slept well which isn't always the case before a big event. Sunday morning I was up early and had a cup of tea and a couple of cereal bars. It was all quite relaxed and we left ourselves plenty of time leaving at 8am for a 9.30 race start with an expected journey time of 30 minutes. By this time we had sorted ourselves some transport passes for the week and the journey in was smooth. I think mainly because at the last minute we decided to avoid the Central station route by bussing west to Sloterdijk before taking the 50 metro line to Amstelveenseweg (the nearest stop to the stadium). We had tried the recommended route from Central station to the expo on Saturday and it required 2 metro changes - I could well imagine being unable to get on to already full carriages on Sunday morning.
​The start (and finish) of the Amsterdam marathon takes place in the ​stadium​ from the 1928 Olympics​. Probably the only opportunity I shall get to compete in an Olympic stadium!​

We had arrived with plenty of time​ so we just found a spot out of the wind to while away the time, taking on last minute fluids and wondering when I would next get to pee as the portaloo queues were pretty long. About 9.10 I could see that a massive queue was forming to funnel into the narrow stadium entrance so I said my goodbyes to the girls and reluctantly gave up my down jacket. Brrrr.. I headed to the queue. They headed up into the spectator areas.
Stadium Entrance - Faster, Higher, Stronger
I squeezed through with all the runners and headed to the orange 3.30 - 4.00 hour pen which was about half way around the track to the left.​ I don't actually think the pens on the track were big enough for the ​12,000 or so ​runners​ as after a while queues were forming to get into the pens.

It was a cold and grey morning and I could see the orange flags around the walls of the stadium fluttering hard in the wind. I was glad to shelter amongst the bodies in the pen. I was wearing my preferred tri shorts and an OMM zip t shirt. As I felt the tiniest hint of rain and gazed over better wrapped up competitors I was wondering if I'd miscalculated. I shuffled up to the middle of the pen about 10 metres behind the 3:45 pacer with his purple balloon. I thought I might see how fast they felt.
The music was stirring​, ​the atmosphere growing. I finally spied ​the girls in the top corner of ​one ​of the spectator areas behind me. They were looking in the wrong direction. Oh well​, I had forgotten to tell them which pen I was in..​.

Finally with the crowd roaring it was time to go. Well ​it was ​for the elite ​in the white pen. Then the next pen plus the queue still waiting I to get in the pen.... Then the next. We moved forward. ​T​here were deliberate constrictions across the track ​I​ guess​​ to squeeze us down ready for some forward restriction. ​B​etter held up this side of the clock! 10 minutes later I crossed the start line and I was off for real. It was nice to get moving and ​start to ​war​m up, ​I remember remarking that ​my hands were pretty cold.
And we're off
We ran around the track and out onto the street. Now to find a rhythm. It wasn​'​t too hard. I had feared I'd get sucked into the enthusiasm of the race and set off way too fast. But there were enough people around me running a similar pace so there was no pressure.  By now I have no idea where the purple 3:45 balloo​n had gone as the filtering on the track had put it far ahead of me. I was on my own. No matter, my garmin seemed to be working and the first mile went by in 8:52. Good first mile, no major time lost.

​The route goes out through the Vondelpark (which we would also see again at 40k) before looping​ back towards the stadium at 6 or 7k. Running through the arches of the Rijksmuseum was quite novel. This looping afforded 2 potential opportunities for the girls to see me. I wasn't sure if I'd see them though as I said not to worry if it was too crowded. I didn't see them on the way in but on the way back out in a a slightly unexpected place I heard "daddy, daddy" and I swooped in for some quick high 5s. It felt good.

It's been 18 months since I ran a marathon - long enough for me to forget some strategic details. I had decided to split this one into 10k, half, 20 miles and the rest. So for now I was focusing on the 10k as a nice familiar distance. 10k came in 55 minutes which was about what I was hoping for. I was aiming for around 8:45 pace. At least, 8:45 for as long as possible. Next stop the half.

This next section was the most scenic I remember. We were heading along the banks of the River Amstel. We weren't that far out of the city but it seemed quite rural. There were some amazing houses by the side of the river. One in particular I remember had an architectural glass out house housing an extremely well equipped gym. Bit exhibitionist for me!

All the way down the river we could see other runners coming back up the other side. Before I got to the bridge at the southern most tip I saw the purple 3:45 balloon coming back up the other side. I couldn't quite understand how it was so far ahead! A bit disconcerting.

Finally after what seemed like an age I hit the bridge and now it was my turn to watch the runners on the other side behind me. I really needed a pee now and had been spying out the foliage looking for a good spot. Not easy when there's hundreds of people around. Just before the half way point I spotted some plastic urinals behind a water station.  That would do nicely. It felt like the longest piss of my life and it just wouldn't stop... 32 seconds and much relief later I was back running. The half came in at 1:56:40 and the 13th mile a bit slower at 9:24 due to my 'rest' stop.

Now it was just a case of settling in and getting to 20 miles. A kind of no mans lands part of the race. And all the time wondering if the wheels were going to fall off. If I was going to feel that incredible fatigue that made every step a huge mental effort and dragged the pace down by minutes every mile.. Gulp.
I had made sure to eat well before the race and I'd also had a carb drink. I like to drink at will so also set off carrying a 500ml water bottle mixed with some High5 carb powder. This took me all the way through to about 20 miles after which I kept the bottle and re-filled it at aid stations. I also had a gel before the start and one every roughly hour after.

I was feeling good. I was thinking positively "yes, this is why I'm here". All the training, the build up. It was all coming together. I was also trying not to get too cocky as I know things can change rapidly.
There are big chunks of the race I can't remember, particularly when I look back at the course map. I was very focused on my pace, concentrating hard. I probably checked my Garmin far too often. So be it. I was actually having fun, but I wasn't treating this one as a fun run.

Unexpectedly I saw the girls again around 30km. I stopped quickly to high 5 then was ordered to carry on! It was around this time that I can see my pace started to drop slightly towards 9 min miles. I'm not sure why, I still felt good. Tired obviously. I passed 20 miles and remember thinking, maybe I could go faster.
It was strange, I felt like I was going quickly and was starting to pass runners, maybe giving me the illusion I was going faster than I was.
By now I was taking it mile by mile. Thinking all that was left was just the normal lunch time run of 6 miles. Imagining which part of the river I was on if I was back in London. This was a bit tricky though as I'd also started to lose track of the miles and would repeatedly forget which mile I was on. All the signs were in kms, but at least my garmin beeped every mile. I tried not to dwell on it as I didn't want to think I was 3 miles away when in fact I was 4.
Are we there yet?
​Pace was around 9 but with some a bit slower at 9:20. I think some of this might be due to stopping at aid stations to top up my bottle. Certainly the 'moving' pace seems to indicate this. Except for mile 26 which you'd think would be faster as you know you're nearly there. Except it was the slowest mile!​

​Finally we turned the corner and I could see the stadium ahead. We ran through the entrance and onto the track with its pounding music. Not far now and I managed 8:19 for the final ​fifth of a mile. It was quite something arriving in a stadium like that and I tried to spot the girls but I couldn't. I felt quite emotional for a second.
Sadly I didn't have the joy of seeing sub 4 on the clock as I came through the finish at an indicated 4:06, leaving me a chip time of 3:56:44. A new PB and I'd achieved my goal of running a sub 4 marathon! I was happy.
The End
I funnelled through, collected my medal and a plastic blanket then wandered along the track. Then I spotted the girls in the stadium seats so went and said a relieved hello to them.


Net split times (difference)
5 Kilometer27:35 (27:35)
10 Kilometer55:01 (27:26)
15 Kilometer1:22:24 (27:23)
20 Kilometer1:50:01 (27:37)
Half marathon1:56:40
25 Kilometer2:18:10 (28:09)
30 Kilometer2:46:21 (28:11)
35 Kilometer3:15:07 (28:46)
40 Kilometer3:44:09 (29:02)

In the Male 40-44 category I was placed 1009/1737 based on gross time ie 4:06.

Garmin splits

1 8:52
2 8:39
3 8:52
4 8:46
5 8:44
6 8:39
7 8:35
8 8:50
9 8:39
10 8:51
11 8:43
12 8:42
13  9:24
14 8:49
15 8:52
16 8:45
17 8:54
18 9:11
19 9:30
20 9:00
21 9:20
22 9:00
23 9:14
24 9:30
25 9:09
26 9:26
27 8:19
Course map

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