As can often be the case, the race reports are on the longer side of posts that I usually write – so I should provide a condensed version for those of you perhaps less interested in the rambling, philosophical elements of what is to follow. Long and the short of it is that I didn’t train for the last month or so, and as such I ran a 4:13 for the marathon. I should be more disappointed than I actually am, but given the expectations that I came in with – I’m not. I’m now thinking about how I can train better for the Frankfurt Marathon later this year.
I booked myself into Rotterdam late last year as I compromise with myself after I withdrew from the St Polten 70.3. I know it is some kind of crazy person that decides that a compromise is to ‘only run a marathon’, but that it is where I am in my athletic journey I suppose. I picked Rotterdam for two reasons – one, because it had a reputation as being pancake flat and two, because I had never been to The Netherlands before. I trained well for the first four months or so leading up to the race, but in the month prior basically stopped running. By that I mean, I did a 32km long run, a half marathon and a 7km tune up the week before the race. That was never going to be enough, but I figured I could tough my way around the course to finish and given how I had performed in the half marathon (within 5 minutes of a PB), I might even have enough fitness left about my body to run a good time here. I don’t think that is how fitness works.
So I woke early on Saturday morning for my hit-and-run mission on Rotterdam. Kissing The Lady goodbye, I was off to the City airport in London to catch one of the shortest flights I had ever been on – about 45 minutes to Rotterdam. It was so short that when we were delayed for departure due to fog, I’m fairly sure that the delay lasted longer than the flight would have. So it was a quick hop in a bug-crasher type plane over to Rotterdam, and crossing over Essex and then over the sea to The Netherlands, you could could have told me that we had turned around and returned to London – it looked so similar. I might have asked why the cars were driving on the wrong side of the road in our new location, but you might have convinced me with a shrug of the shoulders and a mumbled ‘Brexit?’.
First stop was to drop my bags off at the (very nice) hotel and get on down to registration to ensure that I could actually run on Sunday. This required some navigation through some crazy-long street names to the convention centre that housed – among other things – a very tempting Star Wars half-marathon collection of medals that sits firmly on my race bucket list to collect. The helpers at the convention centre were fantastic though – they made it really easy for me to just get in, get my pack, get my t-shirt, and then navigate through seven miles of stalls trying to sell me things. I find these kinds of stalls quite strange in a way – as if you are buying kit to run in the day before a marathon, clearly something has gone wrong in your preparation. Shoes in particular are an odd one to me – who is buying a new pair of shoes the day before a marathon? And please tell me you aren’t running in them, because that is a recipe for disaster if ever I heard one. So anyway, I did have to buy a couple of gels, as I was not keen to replicate my effort at the Rome Marathon last year when I completely bonked with 2km to go (more on that later). I even got some free kit from the lovely people at the Powerbar stall, which was only slightly diminished by the fact that when I ate it the next morning, it tasted frankly horrible. So anyway, I wandered back to the hotel room to get some rest, to try out the spa-bath (thumbs up!) which had a lovely view out on to the harbour. I also had a quick pasta dinner from one of the many, many Italian restaurants in the area (handy) and went for a quick walk by the water to do some minorly touristy type things like looking at statues and taking selfies in front of lovely looking buildings. Also canals. I saw lots of canals. I also had a minor moment of panic when I thought I couldn’t charge my phone (which was to be my source for music, as well as an alarm clock and camera), thinking that my power convertor was either broken or that the sockets in my hotel room were broken. It then turned out that I had just not put my hotel room key in the slot to enable power to the room – rookie error. It was then an early night as I knew that a world of pain was coming tomorrow – one way or another.
I woke up nice and early to watch a bit of the Chinese Formula One (in German) and also to arrange myself for the day. After laying out my kit nicely and checking that everything was there, I headed down to the harbour area for a quick jog to iron out any kinks in my system from all of the general messing about. The harbour area was quite lovely, in the shadow of the Erasmus Bridge which is a main feature of Rotterdam – so much so that it adorns the finishers medal for the race. We also ran over the bridge twice during the race, so it was kinda important to have a look at.
I then made my way down towards the start line to mix with people from all about Europe – it was probably the most multi-cultural start line I had ever seen. When I ran the Rome Marathon it was overwhelmingly Italian; but at this start line I could see people from Ireland, Israel, Belgium, Italy, the UK, France and even Cyprus – and plenty of Dutch too of course. It was only made comical by the fact that everyone was asking each other questions about where the start was and what time the race was due to start (presumably) but no-one could understand each other because of a lack of common language. Luckily for me, my tried and true ‘follow the crowd’ technique paid off, and soon enough I was in my start pen, sitting down and thinking carefully about how much this was going to hurt and reminding myself of the pacing numbers I had to hit if I wanted to hit my gold target time (3:3o) and my silver target time (3:48). My bronze target was simply to finish, so that didn’t really come into consideration.
Soon enough, the starting cannon (it wasn’t a gun, it was a genuine cannon) went off and we were hurtling down the road. As I found with the Rome Marathon, the first couple of kilometres were frustrating as you are hemmed in with large groups of runners and there is a lot of elbows in the ribs, and tripping over the back of feet. I learned this time to try and relax a little more with it and run with my elbows out, however this just resulted in me getting a massive whack on my funny bone which really hurt! The Erasmus Bridge (within the first 2km) was particularly frustrating, as it narrows for traffic, and I was right beside the 3:30 pacers at this stage. A lot of anxious runners were panicking to stay close to the pacers, so it all got a bit hairy for a while in there. Over the other side of the bridge though the road widened and we were all able to settle into paces.
I read a great piece of advice from the wonderful team at Xempo on the night before the race, which said (paraphrasing) – if you feel you can hold this pace to the end, run faster; if you can’t hold this pace to the end, slow down; if you might be able to hold this pace to the end – you’ve got it right. I sat on that limit of ‘maybe’ for the first 21km of the marathon. I sat roughly 50 metres ahead of the 3:30 pace bus for the first 21 kilometres – at some moments I felt great and comfortable, but at other moments it felt a real effort and I was wondering whether or not I had gone out too hard. I did pretty consistent splits between high 4:40s and mid 4:50s per kilometre for the first half though – but I wasn’t all that surprised when I saw a 5:01 at kilometre 16, and then a 5:02 at kilometre 19. The thought occurred that I would have to even split the marathon to run under 3:30, and I was already struggling somewhat at this stage. It was a flat course though, and I didn’t want to leave anything out there – so I pushed on.
I did a 5:12 in the 21st kilometre, and dug in to fight back – I didn’t want to let this go easily. So I ran a 4:57 for 22km but in the 23rd kilometre the 3:30 bus passed me and I just couldn’t hang with them. I tried really hard to hang off the back, but it just felt like the pace that they were holding was too much – especially for another 19 kilometres. I decided that a better goal would be to maintain a pace that I could hold to the end and just see how fast I could go.
I did this for the next few kilometres, but things just got really, really hard. The heat (it was around 21 degrees) started to get to me, though this wasn’t for lack of aid stations. Rotterdam was brilliant for aid stations, with drinks every 5km and sponges around the same – though the lack of gels was a bit puzzling. Thankfully I had brought my own. Every step started to hurt though – my hamstrings were giving me lots of grief; tightening up and making every stride painful. I literally gritted my teeth and fought though – I started trying to think in 5km blocks. Get to 25km and see how you feel. Get to 30km and see how you feel. I got to 30km, and I felt absolutely wretched. Clearly the (self-chosen) lack of training in the last month was catching up to me. Who’d have thought that you could run three times in a month and put on a couple of kilograms and it would affect your marathon run! At kilometre 32 or so (its hard to tell from the splits) I did the one thing that you should absolutely avoid in running a marathon if you can, because it just makes it so much harder from that point onwards. I walked.
Now, this has to be in context, and it is not something I am especially proud of. I have walked in every marathon I have ever completed. That includes the time that I walked the whole marathon. But I have walked at some stage – some later than others – in every marathon that I have ever completed. I’d imagine that my times would be much faster if I didn’t do this, and I am about 98% sure that it is linked to my eternal lack of consistent training (particularly muscular endurance), but it is a fact. I had hoped that Rotterdam would be different, however this was of my own making.
What walking does do when I am doing a marathon at least, is it gives me pause for thought. During Ironman it made me think ‘my goodness, I’m actually going to do this!’ – because I was close enough to the finish line. In Rome, I was so disorientated due to lack of nutrition that my thoughts were ‘afjdia;ghfjalghadfjlfasd water’. In Rotterdam I had a different set of thoughts that reflect my different position on the race. My thoughts this time were – this is supposed to be fun. I am suppose to enjoy this, and I don’t want to trudge to the finish line, devastated with myself because I didn’t run a sub 3:30 or a sub 3:45 or even a sub 4:00. I want to have fun doing this. I don’t want to be the person who splashes out hundreds of pounds on a race because it is flat, and then decides that it was all a waste because they didn’t run a PB. I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person that appreciates how lucky I am to even be able to do this. I tend to forget this because I talk to quite a few people who run (fast) marathons – but most people don’t think like this. Most people don’t find disappointment in running a four hour marathon. Most people are so astounded and proud of their achievement that they want to shout from the rooftops about it. I appreciate that I could have run faster in Rotterdam, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that I didn’t go faster, and at least didn’t walk. But I am proud of myself for something. I am proud that at a moment when I could have gotten down on myself and beaten myself up (which I do a lot), I decided to embrace the moment and enjoy it. So I high fived a DJ and got a selfie. I smiled. I high-fived kids on the side of the course. I joked with other competitors. I had fun. I know some people might say ‘thats polishing a turd a bit’ – and you’re probably right. I could have and should have done better, but I didn’t. I don’t like the phrase ‘polish a turd’, because I think it prevents us from taking something positive out of a bad situation – and what is wrong with that? I took a race that I didn’t prepare for terribly well, ended up not running terribly well – but had a good time. And I was happy for that.
So, to get to the finish (because there was still like, 10 kilometres to go!) I broke into a bit of a walk/run strategy that is well honed after doing this marathon thing a few times. I ran 500 metres, then walked 500 metres and this helped tick the kilometres over nicely. I was passed by the 3:45 bus probably at around the 32km mark, and then the 4:00 bus with just a few kilometres to go. Again, it was slightly disappointing, but I was resigned to my fate at this stage. It was hard, hard work – my feet were aching, my hamstrings were hurting so much – even my quadriceps were a bit tender. My cardio felt perfectly fine – which again leads me to believe that my main problem is my muscular endurance, a note for Frankfurt.
The last couple of kilometres were spent hanging on for dear life, as they often are. The last kilometre was particularly notable for the amount of carnage that there was. Up until this point I saw the regular amount of people on the side of the road being attended to by medical staff. But the last kilometre was something else. I saw a guy vomit more than I can ever remember seeing (and it was energy drink too – an amazing fluro green stream), and most extraordinarily, I saw a woman being carried to the finish line by no less than three support staff. Her feet weren’t even moving, they were just dragging along the ground. Perhaps it was a tough day after all.
So, I crossed the finish line in 4:13:00 and collected another medal for putting in the drawer next to my bed. Despite all the doom and gloom, it was actually my second fastest marathon ever – to go with the second fastest half-marathon I have ever run from a few weeks ago. There’s something in that I think. I’m focused on my school work at the moment, but I’ve still managed to knock over a couple of 2nd bests in the last month – maybe I’m not as bad as I thought I was. So, after staggering through 400 metres of trying to get out of the finishing chute, I stumbled back to the hotel room to enjoy the spa bath again (winning!), before popping blisters (ewww) and enjoying a post race beer.
All told – not a bad race. Not the time I had hoped for – but I perhaps I had a good time rather than a fast time. I would run it again, but there are just too many races that I also want to run one day. Including having another go at running a marathon PB. And that is the focus for Frankfurt – which is still a good five months away. For now though, it is time to take a bit of a rest, get back into enjoying my training again, and to think a bit more about what I want to get out of running. I feel like if I can crack that question – ‘why do I run?’ – and come up with an answer that helps sustain my motivation, then I will be all the better for it. For now though, I am glad for another marathon in the bag and to put my feet up and enjoy my well-earned rest.
Listening To: Rotterdam (Or Anywhere) by The Beautiful South