When some of my Brathay 10 in 10 friends decided to go over to Amsterdam this year to celebrate Paul doing his 100th marathon, I just couldn’t resist the lure to go along. It was a great excuse for us all to get together and of course run a marathon. Amsterdam might not be one of the world “Marathon Majors” but it is still one of the biggest marathon events in the world and until this year, one I hadn’t ticked off. I looked into the event and realised there was also a half marathon which started at a different time on the same day. The marathon started at 9:30am and the half marathon started at 1:20pm, there was a 3 hour 50 minute window between them. With the start and finishes of both races in or near the Olympic stadium the logistics were right. So me being me, decide the challenge was on to run both races on the same day.
Since my knee injury back in the summer, I had initially lost a few weeks training and then elected to train a bit less to help it slowly heal and hopefully ensure the injury did not return. I’m pleased to say my left knee is still slowly improving but it had left me under trained for my Amsterdam challenge or at least under trained for where I would have preferred to be. I know I have run many long races and marathons over the years but even for me this challenge was something I had only done once before and during the days leading up to the race I did have some nerves wondering just how I would cope running for 39.3 miles at a reasonable pace all on the same day.
I planned to complete the full marathon in 3:29, I always like to dip under 3:30 and this would give me a 20 minute window to change my race top and number and then make my way to the start of the half marathon about a kilometre from the baggage tents. I hoped to complete the half marathon in under 2 hours.
On the morning of the race the weather was very cool, cloudy and calm. Shortly before the start of the race it started to rain lightly. Marathon baggage was stored in marquees around the outside of the Olympic stadium. I didn’t want to strip off too soon as this would have left me cold and wet before the start so I elected to wait until a half hour before the race start time. At the time little did I know this would be an extremely bad idea. The baggage storage was an unusual affair which I hadn’t come across at any other race before. Runners didn’t queue up under their race number or surname letter, even though there were letters above each tent. Runners could queue up randomly at any of the tents. The queues were long and slow as we passed over our kit bags to have a storage number stuck to them and the same number stuck to our race numbers so we could be reunited with our belongings after the race. The big problem with this system was when the tents got full. Once a tent was full, it simple closed and the queuing runners had to join another queue. This happened to me after queuing for about 10 minutes. After queuing a second time I did manage to store my bag safely but I’d lost lots of time.
I then shuffled over to the Olympic stadium with thousands of other runners to queue up to get inside for the start but progress was very slow. The start time passed and thousands of us were still queuing outside as we watched thousands of runners pouring out of the stadium in the race. We were slowly funnelled through a small personnel door down a narrow corridor, into the stadium and on to the track. Eventually I crossed the start line some 17 minutes after the race had started. For most runners this wouldn’t have be the end of the world as chip timing would record the fact on the results but that wasn’t my concern. My concern was I had lost virtually all the time I had in my planned window between the 2 races. That wasn’t all, I had now found myself relatively near the back with thousands of slower runners in front of me slowing me down. For first few miles I tried to keep dodging round them to try and gain some time back but the effect was great for virtually no reward. It was soon obvious I would spend too much energy if I did this. I needed all the energy I had if I was to complete the half marathon afterwards. So I resigned myself to the fact I would run slower to conserve energy and carefully pick my opportunities to move in front of runners. Even so I found I still had to do lots of weaving and was also jostled about a lot meaning I couldn’t settle into my usual smooth running style. As the race progressed I could feel my thighs suffering due to this erratic paced running.
Note to self, if I return one day then I need to get into the stadium much earlier so I can get into my correct running pen.
The crowds and atmosphere were superb around Amsterdam. Shortly into the race we went south out of the city for a few miles along a canal which was more rural and less noisy but it was nice to see some of the Dutch countryside. On returning back into the city so returned the crowds. At regular intervals there were DJ’s playing music to motivate the runners and entertain the crowds. Most were playing up-tempo electronic dance music which is a favourite of mine and I really enjoyed every one of them. Interestingly most of them were playing from converted vehicles, like Beetles, Jeeps and a VW camper van. At 17 miles they were playing from the strange fire engine which had been at the expo the day previous.
The course sadly didn’t take the runners into the picturesque centre of Amsterdam and only skirted it but I could understand why as the roads wouldn’t have been wide enough to take all the runners, they were struggling as it was. I was over 20 miles into the race and still being held back by slower runners in front of me. Finally the stadium and the fabulous finish on the track inside was in sight and I came across the finish line in 3 hours 40 minutes 24 seconds. Eleven minutes off my target time but more importantly I had also started 17 minutes late, could I still get to the start of the half marathon in time?
I ran under the finish arch, quickly collected my medal, the ladies handing them out looked puzzled at my haste while all the other runners were taking their time and soaking up their achievement. I had much more to do before I could soak up mine. All the finishers were being given the usual plastic blankets and were slowly ambling out of the stadium. This made me have to do what I had already done for the past 26 miles and that was run and dodge round them back to my baggage tent. I was fairly quickly reunited with my bag. I slipped off my running top and put on another which already had my half marathon race number pinned it. Next I removed my empty gel belt and fastened on a new fully stocked belt complete with a Twix bar for a bit of food. I then had to take my bag to the half marathon storage tents which were are few hundred yards away over a bridge. Once safely stowed away, at least there wasn’t a queue this time! I ran to the start of the half about a kilometre away. All the time I was thinking would I be too late to start the half and would my challenge fail before getting to the second start line? I was in luck the half was being set off in waves at 10 minute intervals so I just slipped into one of the back waves and had a few minutes to spare before I was off again over my second start line.
While waiting for the half to start, my legs had stiffened up and I started at a slower pace than planned. I expected they would loosen up after a mile or two but they didn’t. I think the effects of dodging all the runners for the past 26 miles of the marathon had taken much more out of my legs than a normal smooth 26 mile run. Not to worry as long as I could keep going and finish then I would complete the challenge. I entered a very bad patch during the middle of the race and walked for a while near one of the water stations. Then all of a sudden out of the blue I got an unexpected arm round me. It was Charlotte my physiology from this year’s 10in10 on her first ever half marathon. How lovely it was to see her and the most perfectly well timed encouragement I could have asked for. She ran on passed me, this got me running again and I followed her for a while. Surprisingly a few miles later I ended up over taking her. For the remainder of the race I adopted a system of stopping for a short walk at each of the water stations and running between them, it was the best I could do as my legs were shot and felt like lead.
The half course was mainly the same as the full marathon course without the out back bit along the canal so for the half I recognised much of where I was going. It was funny to think I had been in many parts of the same course merely 2 hours earlier. As I ran the last stretch I recognised the scenery and this familiarity gave me growing confidence as I approached the Stadium and the finish.
The pleasure and relief as I crossed the finish line on the track inside the Olympic stadium for the second time was overwhelming. I stayed for a while to hopefully see Charlotte finish but alas I missed her and also to soak up the buzzing atmosphere in the stadium created by the thousands of runners finishing, the cheering crowd and the up tempo beats from the electronic dance music being played loudly around the stadium. A great finish, one of the best and I had the pleasure of doing it twice in one day.
I proudly wore both my medals on the journey back to my hotel aboard a busy metro train which was packed with many runners. Next to me was another runner, a Dutch man of similar age to me with his dad, asked which race I’d done. I loved the disbelief on his face as I told him both as my medals jingle jangled about my neck. If it wasn’t for the two medals dangling in front of him I don’t think he would have believed me. I could see his dad was thinking this and then they both had a little conversation in Dutch, the only words I could understand from his dad were “60 kilometres”, funny I hadn’t thought of it that way being English and always working in miles.
Another crazy challenge completed, official chip times for both events were:-
Start time 9:30am Amsterdam Marathon 3 hours 40 minutes 24 seconds
Start time 1:40pm Amsterdam Half Marathon 2 hours 14 minutes 34 seconds