After the Greater Manchester Marathon in April didn’t go to plan, this was my second chance. From June I’d worked hard with mostly five or six runs a week:one being a long run, and one being speed work. The rest were all easy runs of around four to eight miles each. With this in mind, I felt it was fair to set myself the following goals using my usual labelling system for them:
- Gold: 2:59:59
- Silver: 3:04:59
- Bronze: 3:10:00
They were the same goals I’d had for Manchester; but as long as I could beat the bronze goal, that would be pleasing enough. Summer training is never easy, and I usually find it makes an autumn marathon slower than I’d like. I guess winter training does have its advantages.
Having had more time to plan, it meant I was able to double up on distances, so one month I’d do two 16 mile runs, the next would have two 18 mile runs, and so on up to a distance of 22 miles. I wasn’t sure how well that would work out, and my training runs did vary greatly in success. Thinking ahead though, it didn’t matter too much how those training runs went - it’s the day of the event itself that matters.
I’ve had multiple marathons where training doesn’t feel like it’s gone great and have then obtained a personal best on the day of the race. Conversely, for the previous marathon I’d run - everything felt great in training; but on the day of the event things just didn’t go to plan for one reason or another. I knew I was behind where I was in the spring. I felt unready for what I was about to do. The aches from the last few days certainly weren’t helping and made me doubt even my ‘bronze’ goal being possible. I was now predicting a time of around 03:30; but would still try my best to do better. True, I’d woken up without any noticeable aches, and I’d had more sleep than the night before; but still very broken. I was also doubting my small plate of pasta had been enough pre-race fuel.
Although it was a bit of a trek to get into the city centre, I was relatively close to the Olympic Stadium where the race begins and ends. I liked the idea of a stadium finish, and have only done that once before when doing the Milton Keynes marathon. Between some walking and a short warm-up, I got to the stadium in less than twenty minutes.
It was a mile warm-up to get there, and the queue for what little loos they had was actually short. I think there may have been some located elsewhere as the only ones outside the stadium I could see numbered less than a dozen.
Inside the stadium, I tested the track to see what it would feel like for running on, and then made my way over to the yellow starting pen. Early on I saw Paul who was pacing 04:00; but then saw someone a little more surprising: Chris Evans. No, not Captain America; but the guy off British radio who was married to Billie Piper for a time. He was there to raise money for Dementia Awareness.
When the race started, I threw my spare top into the bin, and began running along the race track and out of the stadium, passing Chris as I went. The first turn was along a road I’d walked down many times before - much to the annoyance of my poor legs. At least they weren’t aching now; but I did wonder what impact that would have on the race.
What I didn’t like about this first mile was how aggressive these runners were to force their way into whatever spaces they could find - even if it meant shoulder barging passed or nudging you. I actually had one runner press his hands against my back and tried to move me to one side which meant I then needed to slow down to avoid running into the back of another runner. So you could say I was using common sense; but it didn’t seem that common this early on.
At least when the race turned into Vondelpark it opened up considerably, and I think from then on I didn’t really see this happen. Sure in a few places it did get overcrowded again; but not as bad. In the first mile I was 10 seconds behind target for a sub-3:00 marathon, yet I knew I had plenty of miles to claw that back. Though after a few more miles it was something I no longer thought about at all.
It was nice to run underneath the Rijksmuseum, and along the Boerenwetering. Though from there it was then noticeable the route was gradually going downhill, and the elites were running passed on the other side of the barrier so knew I’d be running uphill soon. That was a pleasing thought: a change in elevation every now, and then does help I think!
The next few miles weren’t that interesting - even the hairpin bend around mile 8 was easy enough. However, shortly after we then began running along the Amstel and I found this to be very mentally challenging. In all honesty, I was about ready to give up, and I wasn’t sure why. This seemed to go on forever with big houses dotted along, and I could see on the other side of the water the elites running passed. This meant it really was a long way to go.
Along the river there were performers on Flyboards, and towing jet skis that at the time were billowing clouds of smoke. I wondered if they were overheating from running too long; but that seemed daft. The smell of diesel was not pleasant at all. I’d not kept up with my plan of eating one jelly baby per mile after mile 8; but along this river I more or less stopped eating them altogether. I wasn’t sure if it was the fumes, or the jelly babies themselves; but it was turning my stomach.
Eventually this left Amsterdam behind, and the turnaround point was across a bridge in Ouderkerk an de Amstel. I really wanted to stop now; but somehow I kept on pushing. I’d have been so angry with myself if I’d not even made it halfway without walking. I slowed down some more, and accepted that 3:06 or thereabouts wouldn’t be too bad. I could be happy with that; just so long as I did manage to run the entirety of what was left.
At mile 13 I ate another jelly baby and almost instantly regretted it; but was going to force myself to eat one for every second mile now. I needed to keep the fuel going; but was again put off around mile 15 when passing the south ring road and starting to encounter more spectators. This time I could smell a lot of smoke, and I don’t think it was tobacco smoke even though I could see some of the marshalls were clearly smoking. It’s the one thing I really didn’t like about central Amsterdam - the lingering smell of smoke everywhere you go.
When mile 18 came and went, a distance I’d had issues with in my last two marathons (although not when going passed it in training!) I started to feel confident that with just 8 miles left to go I might actually finish the entire thing without walking. That would stop a friend from commenting how I never run the whole thing.
Just before reaching the mile 20 marker I ate another jelly baby; though almost immediately it felt like I was going to vomit. I slowed to a walk, and the feeling soon passed; but then I struggled to get going again. This always happens if I walk any of it - it’s nearly always a turning point where the remainder of the race will go downhill quickly. The best explanation was that I'd over done it.
At least I’d only got 10K left to go. I thought maybe I could keep a slow and steady pace and just squeeze in a sub-3:10 to achieve my bronze goal. That just wasn’t going to happen though: my pace was dropping more and more.
Once I got to Vondelpark I realised that getting a PB was now going to be touch and go; but by the time I left the park I then knew it was impossible. I decided I wouldn’t tire my legs out too much for the last half mile - I may as well let them have an ‘easier’ time of it to help with some tourism later.
From the point the stadium came into view I wasn’t going to walk again though. I ran through the entrance and onto the race track, picking up speed as I went. I loved running on that track. I then prepared to sprint and felt my calves tell me ‘no’- after that many miles, them suddenly being told to do something wasn’t going to happen. So was doing something between a limp and a sprint, let’s call it a ‘sprimp’ or a ‘lint’, until I crossed the finish line.
I finished in position 1,576 or 13,491 finishers (first 11.6%), and 31st in the M35 category with an official time of 03:15:32. It was faster than Manchester back in April; but slower than Chicago last year. So it was my third fastest marathon overall even though it felt like such a failure of a race. I felt I should have forced myself to continue on after I’d felt sick; but it was too late now.
Inside the stadium they hand you your finishers medal and some plastic to wrap yourself in; but the refreshments are outside. I got a banana and two cups of water, and headed around the back of the stadium to where they did the medal engraving.
I then bought a cup of tea for a few euros, and a cone of fries. The fries weren’t that good though, and my stomach didn’t really want them. So I just held them as I tried to find my way out of the stadium grounds. It wasn’t that easy to be honest, and as the half marathon was just starting it made it difficult to find a way back to the hotel. I think I must have walked at least an extra half mile to try and find a crossing point; but instead what I actually did was walk as far as I could until all of the half marathon runners had passed.
At the hotel the first thing I wanted to do was have a bath. Though soaking your legs in one which is around one metre in length isn’t that easy. To start with I was kneeling, and then sort of curled up in a ball. Why anyone would design a bath that small seems pointless: unless they were designed for giving pets a wash.
I then headed back out into the city for what would be a long afternoon of tourism. On my way out I passed a fellow runner who’d achieved their goal of sub-4:00 which was great news! Though surprisingly it seemed there were about three pacers for each time as it wasn’t Paul she’d run with.
Twenty minutes later I was even further behind schedule; but had made it to the Museum district. The first one I passed had a street-performing opera singer outside. Not bad; but I’d seen a place to get food from. I bought a chicken burger though they got my order wrong to start with. It tasted okay; but a little steep at €6.50. In the end I didn’t even eat the bun: just the burger.
I photographed the Rijksmuseum, and then a little of one of its gardens before making my way to Rembrandt Square. This was a little tricky as the half marathon or marathon was going passed so had to wait in a holding pen before being able to cross.
The square was easy to find, and the tourist attraction part of it even more so - distinguishable by the crowd of tourists around various statues, and the one of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.
I knew I wasn’t going to get a wide shot of them all, so took a few individual photographs and moved on once more: now heading to the Magere Brug (skinny bridge). I went a slightly different way to what I’d planned, and it gave me more time to explore. Sure I plan things down to the minute; but it’s not like I actually intend on following it - it’s only ever a rough guide really to know what’s possible.
In going off course afterwards I found the “Moses and Aaron Church” which I went inside, and sat down for a while. Around the corner from this is Rembrandt’s House - which I’d only planned on photographing on passing; but I read the leaflet and found it might be interesting. It also helps they allow photography inside without a flash.
To go around Rembrandt’s house it costs €14, and you’ll be asked to lock any bags away in a locker before going in. The locking mechanism for this was the same as in Zaans Museum: so easy enough. If this makes sense, I do paint and draw; but I’m not a fan of galleries. This was anything but that - it was seeing a piece of history and where one of the greats would do his work, and where he’d live his life. They also have a few pieces of his work, and the bronzes he’d use. It really was insightful, and worth the cost of entry.
It took a while to photograph the exterior of the building as one individual walked into the frame, and stopped. Smiled knowingly at what he was doing, and then just stood there for the next five minutes - not even looking at the house.
I was fifty minutes walking away from A’Dam Lookout, and if the ferry from the station was timed just right I could in theory make it there in time for sunset. I’d been carrying my tripod around with me for that very purpose.
I photographed a few more places along the way, such as some lock gates, De Waag, and a statue called Bredero. I lost more time there though as I was asked to take a photo of a couple, and then was asked a second time before I could leave.
I thought maybe I’d got just enough time to photograph the NEMO Science Museum whilst I was in the area, so started walking in its general direction. When I got there I found the best position for photographing it was actually from one of the piers that boat tours operate from. I headed around the back of the museum and photographed a number of old boats, including one very large one outside the Maritime Museum. I’d look forward to seeing that closer in the morning.
It’s also possible to go up some long stairs to the NEMO Plaza which is on top of the museum. It’s free to enter, and there’s a cafe there too. I thought it’d be a good place to get a few more photographs from as the sun crept ever closer to the horizon. It was whilst up there I realised that there wouldn’t be enough light in the sky to make the lookout worth the visit. Perhaps I could try and visit in a couple of days time instead - so I sat and had my food.
I’d finished everything that I’d planned for the day, and more. Though rather than call it a day I decided to head to the corner of Sint Olofssteeg to get a photograph of the waterways there. This would be one less thing to do in the potential thunderstorm. I was getting very fed up of how much the streets smelt of smoke though. It was inescapable, and worse than it had been in Switzerland. You could walk down an empty street and still smell it - it seemed like well over half the people you’d walk passed were smoking one thing or another. It felt like it shrouded all of central Amsterdam, and it was choking.
I tried to photograph the Oude Church too; but there was no longer enough light in the sky. The sun had set, and night was taking over. I’d decided that was enough, so began to walk back to the hotel as I knew Dam Square wasn’t far away. Although I wouldn’t be taking pictures, it was worth it for knowing that there was sufficient there to photograph in the morning.
It was a long walk; but eventually I reached the Rijksmuseum. This time when I passed under there were three people playing string instruments. At first I thought there was something familiar about it. I noted how the acoustics were incredible, and then I realised what it was. They were performing Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”. Strangely adequate after the way the race had gone. By the time I was walking away they had moved on seamlessly into “We Are The Champions”.
Nighttime photography is something I like to try; but very rarely do. To give my legs a brief break I took an opportunity that presented itself when I realised the reflections of light in the water outside the museum looked pretty good. Crouching wasn’t easy on post-marathon legs; but I felt it worthwhile in this case.
I’d covered 38.5 miles on foot, and at last the day was done.