I Amsterdam - A Marathon race report

Flew over to Amsterdam on Thursday from Edinburgh with Mrs Scottishrunner for a long weekend in the city. A bit of sight seeing before the weekend, followed by a couple of days after the weekend. There was just 2 things in the way of making this a 'normal' city break.

A 8 km race for Mrs SR and 42.2 km for me, also known as the Marathon.

Friday morning we both headed to the Expo which was located near the Olympic stadium which would later host the start of the marathon and the finish line for the 8 km, half marathon and marathon races. The weather was nice, a wee breeze but warm enough to walk around the streets in just a jumper and jeans. Not exactly the weather I had hoped for if I was to be honest, but this isn't the start of the excuses. Not yet anyway!

We picked up our race numbers and I picked up my free t-shirt. I was very impressed to see there was an option to swap the tshirt if required. Normally you just make a guess when you enter the race of what size you think you will be and if it's too big or small you're just stuck with it. I quickly pulled it on and it fitted perfectly.

That was the main bit done, we had our race numbers.

The next 2 hours were then spent walking around the exhibitors stands, speaking to the reps and looking for some new running socks. Now I wouldn't normally recommend buying anything before a race to then be worn during a race but I didn't have a choice. I had forgotten to pack my running socks when I packed my bag!

We also spent a lot of time chatting with the guy at the New Balance stand. As some of you might know, I'm a big fan of New Balance. The rep was brilliant, spent a lot of time with us and gave loads of great advice to Mrs SR who has been plagued with injury for a while now - I'm not going to jinx things but fingers crossed we have a solution on the horizon. (This will be another blog post.)

The Expo wasn't as big as London's but it was still great. I like a good expo because everyone is there for the same reason. You also get a bit of a buzz from it and a chance to speak to brand reps who really know their stuff and sometimes pick up some bargains.

It also gave me a chance to find out what sports drinks were going to be on the course. I had never heard of AA-Drinks before but after a quick chat with the AA-Drink rep, he told me it would be the lemon flavour only, so I headed off to the cafe and bougth a bottle. Very nice it was as well although, I paid about 3 Euro in the expo cafe for a small bottle, the next day I found the same size bottle in the super market for 70 cents. I wasn't impressed with that!

I also spoke with the Garmin reps but they weren't able to help me with my Garmin issues and unfortunately, my Garmin failed me during the race - more to follow!

Race numbers collected, socks bought and drink sampled, it was time to head back to our hotel and put our feet up.

Saturday, the day before the race, and it was a day of doing very little. Took a short stroll around Vondelpark and grabbed some lunch.

After lunch we jumped the tram back to the hotel and then waited for Jane, Donald, Bev and Michael to arrive from the Expo as they had only arrived earlier that day. They were also racing over the weekend. Jane and Donald were doing the marathon while Bev and Michael were taking on the half.

We all headed out for a meal in preparation for the following day.

The race

Sunday morning arrived, it was warm, it was windy, but I was feeling positive and everything was looking good but Mrs SR wasn't feeling 100%, she woke up with a sore throat and sore ears, not good considering she was planning on racing the 8 km race. She decided that she would just jog around the course rather than race it, if nothing else, it would keep her warm while I was out doing the marathon.

So, Mrs SR and I walked down to the start area and after a quick chat I made my way in to the stadium to await the gun. On my way down to the pen I remembered something. It was suggested to me by Cath to right something on on my hand, taking inspiration from Lynsey Sharp's Commonwealth Games motto "Go out strong, commit", I wrote

Eat, Sleep, Race, Repeat

If you don't know what this is about, you need to listen to Fatboy Slim's single, Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat. It's a great running song!

The only problem was, I didn't have a pen so I quickly found a volunteer who was handing out route maps to spectators and asked if I could borrow hers.

There were a couple of other runners I knew who were running the race and I managed to meet up with them prior to the start which was good.

I was in the yellow pen, just behind the elite and super fast club runners, or so I thought. It also seemed that a number of others had managed to get in to that pen and they were neither elite or super fast club runners, this was made very clear when the gun went off. But before I get in to that, I will mention a number of good points about the start.

The marathon starts from within the Olympic stadium, spectators are invited in to the seating area so they can watch the start.

Amsterdam Stadium

It's a great feeling for the runners and gives you a sense of what it must have been like for the Olympics back in 1928! For a stadium of that age, it really puts Edinburgh's Meadowbank Commonwealth stadium (1970) to shame.

All the runners walk in to the middle of the stadium and then depending on your start time, you head in to your own pen where there are toilets just for that area. A great idea and also plenty of space to do some strides and warm up. Very well organised.

The yellow pen also had a funnel in it to try and thin the groups out a bit before hitting the start timing mat, the reason for this is they need to squeeze thousands of runners down to 8 lanes and then through the exit of the stadium, which is probably only 4 lanes wide, a slight bottleneck to say the least.

Standing in the pen, with the sun on my back I could tell this had the potential to be a warm race but I had been drinking water from early on and so hydration shouldn't be an issue.

It was time to start!

Miles 1 to 6 (first 10k) - Cruising

Heading out of the stadium was a bit rough, as I mentioned earlier, the slower runners in the white pen, really were slow. They stood 5 wide and were almost walking out of the stadium, not what I wanted for my first mile and this probably added a bit of distance quickly to the overall race. Dodging people, trying to get in to some clear space and trying to relax was not easy.

I was trusting my watch for my mile splits since the course was marked out in kilometres, I couldn't tell you if every kilometre was marked on the course but I know every 5 kilometres were. What did surprise me was the first water station was only 1 kilometre in to the race! Did the organisers really think it was going to be that warm today? I was on the right side of the road to pass the water so I took a cup as a practice run at collecting it for later on.

It wasn't easy!

The paper cups were only half filled with water and so when you tried to grab it, the small amount of water that was in the cup ended up mostly on the road. I was going to need to get to the water stations and slow up a bit if I was to keep water in the cups.

The first 10 km past pretty quickly. I was feeling comfortable and had managed to get in to a nice bit of space. Runners all around me but enough room in front to just let me run at my pace, not someone elses.

Before the race I had signed up to MyLaps which would automatically post on my facebook status to let friends and family know how I was getting on - it also helped my motivation as I knew people would be watching the posts.

TCS Amsterdam Marathon Owain Williams has passed the 10KM in a time of 42:34. Calculated end time with last 5K-pace is 2:59:00.

That is pretty much right on the money and I was feeling happy with my pacing.

Pace for first 6 miles: 6:49, 6:45, 6:35, 6:43, 6:42, 6:46
Average: 6:43 min/mile

7 to 12 miles - The windy ones!

I had been needing the toilet for a while so eventually had to pull over to the side of the road and luckily there was a loo which was empty. A quick pit stop and I was good to go again.

The problem I had though was I had lost my nice bit of space on the road and I had to battle with a large group of runners passing me. I looked up and noticed someone running with a balloon attached to me, my first thought was, What the!? but then I noticed it said 3:00:00 pacer on it.

Now, alarm bells should have started to ring at this point but I looked at my watch and I was still well within 6:50 min/mi average pace that I needed for a sub 3 so I let the pacer head off up the road, I did give chase for a bit though as I thought it would be really good running in this pack heading up the side of the Amstel, they could shelter me a bit but when I saw they were cruising at 6:31min/mi pace I let them go. They were going much faster than sub 2:59:00 pace and I didn't want to risk anything.

Mile 10 was the start of heading down the Amstel and in to the head wind, it wasn't too bad but you could feel it. It reminded me of Edinburgh marathon. Putting too much effort in to trying to hold a pace and paying for it in later stages. I tried to hide behind small groups of people but it wasn't working. I just concentrated on being relaxed and to take in some of the scenery, which was lovely.

Heading down the river there were a number of people out on boats, waving and tooting their horns. It was really enjoyable.

The river isn't that wide and probably about mile 10 the leaders were already heading back up the other side! All running in a pack and looking so comfortable, just cruising along. Soon after this I spotted the half way banner. I looked at my watch and I started to think something wasn't right. I was probably nearer the 11 mile mark now and there was no way down the river and back up the other side was going to get me to that half way point within my estimated time. I was behind schedule but by how much and how could this have happened?

My pace was still within the limit. I decided to just keep on plodding along and trust the distance on my watch was correct and that by the time I hit the half way marker everything would have sync'd back up.

My facebook update for this section was:

TCS Amsterdam Marathon Owain Williams has passed the 20KM in a time of 1:25:43. Calculated end time with last 5K-pace is 3:01:17.

Which makes complete sense somehow. But as I said, my watch was still showing my pace was spot on.

Pace for second 6 miles: 7:07 (loo stop), 6:41, 6:40, 6:54 (going through a busy water station), 6:41, 6:47
Average: 6:48 min/mile

Miles 13 to 19 - The miles of doubt

The facebook update posted at the half way mark

TCS Amsterdam Marathon Owain Williams has passed the halfway mark in a time of 1:30:19. A same second half would give a finish time of 3:00:37.

But according to my watch, I hit half way at 1:28:30, which does make sense because when I did finally go under the half way bridge it would have been 1:30:19

Now the doubt and a bit of panic set it. Am I going too slow, even though my watch says my pace is fine. What should I do? Should I up the pace or should I just continue with the way things are going. This doubt and worry sat with me for many many miles ahead. Looking at my pace you can see where the panic has set in and I've picked up the pace for a while.

Wind on my back and feeling really good I eventually put the worry out of my head, I had a wee mental wobble at mile 17 but gave myself a kick up the bum and put the foot down. I think the reason for the doubts creeping in was the course started to through in some slight inclines and my legs weren't happy about that. All the flat running had made them pretty heavy when it came to hills but I remembered about the drills we do on the track and just got on with it.

This section brings you back in to the built up area of Amsterdam and the crowds were great, giving support "Go Edinburgh!" they would shout. It was really good. Every now and again the thought of the half way mark would flash back in to my mind.

Pace for third 6 miles: 6:43, 6:40, 6:39, 6:44, 6:54, 6:47
Average: 6:44 min/mile

Miles 20 to 26.6 - BOOM! There go the legs, mind and body!

I went through the 18 mile mark, or the 30 km mark in good shape. Facebook update

TCS Amsterdam Marathon Owain Williams has passed the 30KM in a time of 2:08:01. Calculated end time with last 5K-pace is 3:00:08.

I was getting faster but the damage had been done, my mind was telling me I was going too slow, my watch was telling me lies and saying I was on target for a comfortable sub 3 and in reality, the facebook updates were saying I was outside it by 8 seconds (although I couldn't see them).

The final 6 miles were horrible for me, everything fell apart. My thighs were screaming at me to stop, my pace was dropping and another sub 3 attempt was slipping away from me with every step.

I wasn't happy. I had to stop and walk a couple of times and each time someone would pass me and give me some energy, a wee shout or a tap on the shoulder, just enough to get me moving again. I just don't know what went so wrong for me.

The course was slightly long but this is according to my GPS which isn't as accurate as the measuring methods for a course. But if I was aiming for a 2:59:00 marathon on a 26.6 mile course, I would have had to average 6:43 per mile. Which I wasn't.

I took on gels, I drank water but still I couldn't get the pace back.

The final mile for me was a mile of acceptance, the sub 3 was gone now and I just had to accept that. When I saw Mandy in the crowds I just shrugged at her and said, oh well.

Final time was 3:05:28 which is still a 'good for age' time and will get me in to London marathon for 2016 but that's me looking back at the race with a week's rest. At the time, I ran the final 2 miles with a Portobello Runner (Roy Buchanan) who kept me going and if it wasn't for him I may have got an even slower time.

Once I finished I have to admit that I did have a bit of a moment, a very low moment, felt that I had let a number of people down and all those early morning Sunday runs that have woken Mrs SR up were for nothing. Marathon training is a selfish time for any runner, you need to get the miles in, you need to get up early at the weekends and those around you are expected just to deal with it. It can't be easy.

Where to go from here?

Firstly a couple of Sunday mornings not getting up at 7am.

I am already back out running again. Nothing crazy, just easy pace but at least I am out. I need to think about my training again and see where I went wrong or why my legs gave up so badly in the final stages.
I'll need to speak to my better half and think about whether I am going to run a marathon again or not, as I mentioned already, the training does take up a lot of time, even during the week.

If I were to run another marathon, I want to be fast enough not to need to worry about a bad final section. When I saw the pace dropping my posture changed, my breathing got labored and everything about the run became horrible. Once I was running with Roy, I relaxed again and found the pace naturally got faster. I just couldn't hold on to that.

I think I need to focus on my 5 km, 10 km and 1/2 marathon races for early next year. Fully recover from the 2 marathons this year and get faster.

It has been suggested to me to run without a GPS watch by Mrs SR and just trust my training and the markers on the course. Maybe just run with a stop watch, nothing else. I'll need to think about that one a bit more as I do like to see where things went wrong with the GPS stats but at the same time, when I do my training runs, I run more to feel than to my watch and I was cruising at 6:40 pace comfortably for the 18 mile training runs.

All in all, I'm still at a bit of a loss but the good thing is I haven't lost my running mojo.

Would I run Amsterdam again - yes, I thought the course was good, the crowds were really supportive and now that I know the second half has a couple of inclines in it, I would be mentally ready for that.

All I would like to say is thanks to everyone for their support on facebook, twitter and emails. It was really good to hear from you all.

Thanks to Compression Advisory for getting my blue compression sleeves to me in time for the race, my calves felt great the following day - unlike my thighs!
Thanks to Cath Ferry for getting me through the final 2 weeks of injury prior to the race. Your advice and support was priceless.
Thanks to Garry Robertson for putting together the training plan which got me to Amsterdam with the best chance possible.

Last but not least, a massive thank you to Mrs SR, the best wife in the world. She puts up with a lot and I think it's time for me to focus on her rather than chasing what feels like an impossible sub 3 target just now.

Owain running Amsterdam




Owain Williams

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