Morning routine and start in the Olympic Stadium
It was an ideal, cold yet dry morning. Nothing like the heat in Paris in April, when I ran my first 26.2 miles. I gave myself plenty of time before the race to get ready, eat breakfast and travel to the Olympic Stadium.
The tube was hell – way too crowded, and the fact that only two ticket exit gates were functioning upon arrival at the Stadium did cause a lot of stress for some. I had brought the race course map with me and passed the time by going over the course once more. It kept me calm(er).When entering my starting block, I immediately joined the immense queue to the loo and found that the wait was a great way to meet other runners. Minutes after the elites departed, the music tuned up and we moved towards the start. And off we went.
Very important pre-race carbo-loading!
From the heart of the Rijksmuseum to the Dutch rural scenery
After the gunshot we left the Stadium and I decided to use the first fifteen minutes to get into my rhythm. My goal was a 3h45 marathon, so I figured I’d stay as close as possible to a pace of 5:19 min/km. The first few kilometres we ran towards the Vondelpark on small roads with far too many runners. It was in the park that I passed the London City Runners cheering me on. When seeing their smiley faces, I thought: “You got this, you’ve trained for it. Now just enjoy and execute the strategy.” Not much further, we crossed the famous passage of the monumental Rijksmuseum. With live music and a huge crowd of supporters and tourists, the 5km water-aid stop was almost there.
During these first kilometres of the race, for a while I could not overtake a large group of people around the 4h00 pacer. I only managed to pass them in the business district of Amsterdam South (around kilometre 8). When I did so, I felt more relaxed and refocused on following the intensity of my breathing. At some crowded points or in foot tunnels my Garmin GPS would go crazy. But by following my breathing pattern and perceived effort, I could easily adapt my pace to the slightly faster, still comfortable pace of my final preparation runs.
After an hour of continuous running at both sides of the Amstel River, with water sports artists showcasing their acrobatic tricks, I passed the half way mark. By then my legs were warmed up and I had gotten into a stable running pace. That’s when I opened my beetroot juice and spilled it all over my shirt. It caused some confusion with fellow runners (“Are you OK?” “Are you bleeding?”). I managed to grab 2 sponges to clean myself up and felt all fresh to continue, being cheered on by the London City Runners team again with only 1/3 of distance left to the finish line.
The final hour and crossing the finish line
At 30km – surprisingly – my heart rate was still stable. So far, I hadn’t skipped a single cup of water at the aid stations and kept eating a bar or gel every 35 minutes. I found it was much more effective to run until the end of any aid station for a smooth, less crowded handover of water and sponges.
Not much further a big television screen was placed along the road. A couple weeks ago, the marathon organizing team had provided a link for family and friends to upload short videos. I got emotional when my son showed on the screen when I passed by (thank you smart bib tracking!). It was the ideal boost for me to be able to sustain my pace.
Once I passed a cheering local friend around km 35 and was actually able to keep smiling and energetically shouting back, I knew I was on a right track. Not much further, we re-entered the Vonderpark. With a few kms to go, I mantra’d small goals “just run until the next bench, until the big tree, until the bicycle at the side of the road”. Before I knew it, I was at the end of the park on my way to the finish line.
I felt I was digging deep to find energy in my reserve tank, ate a couple of jelly beans, enjoyed the final stretch and managed to speed up to 4:27 min/km. The last minutes of the race were epic. With a Belgian flag, provided by KLM flag bearers, I sprinted through the Olympic Stadium, cheered on by so many happy and encouraging faces. I ran a PB, with the official clock stopped at 3:33:39.
While marathon running does take a lot of hard work and requires sacrifices in many areas of your life, it’s necessary if you want to perform well. And while marathon runners may seem like lone wolves, even solo efforts are often team sports in disguise. The meet-up in the marathon expo, pre-race pasta evening and post-race Dutch beers with fellow London City runners, made this weekend in Amsterdam a real success. I’m ready for the next race!
Julie and the other KLM flag bearers
About the Author
Upon crossing the Atlantic to settle in London, Julie joined the club, picked up running and soon got her first runner’s ‘high’. If not in a swimming or gymnastics course with her almost 3-year old, Julie enjoys traveling and run-exploring the streets of new cities.