Next time you fly overseas on a Friday or Saturday, have a look at your fellow passengers and see if you can spot a runner heading off to race in a big city marathon. It’s not hard to spot them; their GPS watches, running shoes and general healthy looks make them stand out from the crowd heading off on holiday. But most noticeable will be the slight apprehension that their expressions give away, as they steadfastly focus on making it to the start line, despite it being only a day or two away. They have put in a lot of effort just to make it to this stage, and they don’t want anything to get in the way of their race.
This was how I felt as I set out from Gatwick for Amsterdam with my friend and fellow Guildford & Godalming AC runner Matt King. I was also in the midst of an internal debate about race strategy, something that had been raging for just over a week. I had originally entered Amsterdam with the objective of running my dream of a sub 3hr marathon. Typically, as soon as I entered I got injured. As a result, I had a curtailed training plan for this race and had written it off, preferring a strategy to run it easy, finishing in around 3hrs 10mins, and using the mileage as a base for future races.
However, in the final few weeks of training I had some great runs. A sub 90mins half marathon in my very hilly Surrey neighbourhood, and 18miles + runs at close to 7 minutes per mile pace. And with decent runs, come heightened expectations. Suddenly I thought I might be able to crack out a sub 3 hour marathon, despite in my heart knowing I was far from race fit. For two weeks I debated the merits of going out at sub 3 pace versus the more realistic, 3hrs 10mins pace. Typically to those who know me, on arrival in Amsterdam I had decided on a race plan in which I would attach myself to the back of the sub 3hr paving group and “see what happens”.
Amsterdam Marathon starts and finishes on the track at the city’s fabulous Olympic Stadium.
Despite the brilliant starting location, I struggled to catch the 3hr pacing group that seemed to be going at a much quicker pace, and after 2miles gave up and decided to run my own race.
This saw me cracking out miles in around 6.45 minutes per mile reasonably comfortable for the first ten miles. However, that got tougher as I approached the half way mark, and the realisation that my efforts would see me go through halfway in a few seconds over 1hr 30mins (my Garmin GPS watch had the halfway mark as 13.48miles, so was clearly off) left me feeling it was going to be a tough day at the office.
I persevered with the pace, but it started to feel tougher than it should. Instead of sticking with my race plan, I decided to give myself the maximum change of succeeding with my B plan from 25kms; a sub 3hrs 05mins – a personal best and good for age time for a number of key marathons globally. So, I dropped the pace to around 7.15 minutes per mile, and settled in for the ride. The pace was a lot more comfortable, and I felt I had a chance of delivering on the plan, despite having set off quicker than I probably should have.
Usually, if I have gone off to get a time and am struggling, I will bury myself trying to maintain the required pace, ensuring a terrible and very slow last six miles. This is the first time I have adapted and focused on a plan B. Maybe I am getting older and more mature, or maybe it’s just a learning from running marathons regularly. Whatever it was, it worked. While some of the final miles hurt, I was able to maintain the pace and even finished with what felt like a sprint.
As I entered the stadium (after passing the 3hr group pacer who was walking!), I saw that I had just over a minute to run 200m to get under 3hrs 05mins. Anyone who has run a marathon will understand it when I say that I genuinely didn’t think I was going to make it. My mind just could not do the simple mathematical equation. So, I upped the pace and sprinted past around ten people ahead of me on the track, utterly surprised to finish in 3hr 04mins 30secs for a PB and the successful delivery of plan B. Job done.
Amsterdam is a great race and one I would recommend. It’s friendly, flat, fast and has a brilliant start and finish in an Olympic Stadium. And most importantly, it delivers PBs. Now, where and when will I be having a crack at that sub 3 marathon?!