AMSTERDAM 2018 RACE REPORT – Pancakes & PBs
For those looking to do a big autumn marathon, Amsterdam has a lot going for it – a fast flat course, cheap flights to get there, and a beautiful European city to spend some time in once the minor distraction of the marathon itself is out of the way. Although not one of the 6 Marathon Majors, it occupies the next tier of high-profile international marathons and, crucially, has IAAF gold label status – an important quality standard which means you can be assured there’ll be no bogus PB shenanigans due to short courses or clownish marshalling sending runners the wrong way (Matt Harrison, take note).
This year, 3 Harriers made the trip over in anticipation of setting some fast times in the Dutch capital. It was initially the brainchild of “Quick” Nick Barry, who was targeting this as his A race after a casual 2:38 canapé in London. I didn’t need much convincing to join him, since I was looking for a big Autumn marathon after having to pull out of London with injury. Ken Hunt was a latecomer to the party, having decided to take up a free corporate entry and treat it as a no-pressure steady run since his A race would be the Manchester Half a week beforehand. Training had gone pretty well for all of us. For once, I had managed to get through a marathon block without significant injury or setback, and set myself a sub-2:45 target to get a championship entry time under my belt. Nick was in sparkling form, after devouring the big mileage weeks and blitzing Dave’s sessions, as well as nailing several strong key warm-up races beforehand. Low 2:3X was definitely on the cards. Ken was also in top shape, and despite working towards the 13.1mile distance he was accumulating mileage that would put many marathoners to shame, which paid off for him with a blazing 1:14:30 the week before. Knowing that he’d want to exorcise the demons of Manchester 2017, we quietly scoffed at his pre-race predictions of “around 3hrs” and knew he’d be much quicker even with a hard HM in his legs. After a brief rendezvous at the expo to collect numbers, we went our separate ways to seek out Amsterdam’s best pancakes, waffles and any other carbohydrate-heavy cuisine in order to max out our cavernous glycogen stores.
Race day dawned cool and clear, with little or no wind, and the weather omens at least were good. Truth be told, conditions were almost disgustingly perfect. Damn it, I thought, as I jogged the 2 miles to the start…that’s one less potential excuse to call on if I failed to hit my target. My race plan was to throw caution to the wind and head out at a wildly optimistic 2:42 pace, and then make a call after halfway. Ken had recovered well from his half marathon and we agreed to run together until about 30k, after which it was every man for himself. The 3 of us met up, exchanged nervous small talk and then dispersed to our respective start pens: Nick lording it over us in the sub-2:40 area, while myself & Ken slinked off to join the peasants behind. I quaffed a quick gel beforehand…hang on, why are there chunky bits in it? A quick glance revealed a best before date of Jan 18. Never mind.
After a short warm-up and stretch we were called forward, the starting pistol fired and we were off. Curiously, in a blatant rip-off of the world famous Sale Sizzler, the Amsterdam marathon features a track start and finish. Though to be fair, the 1928 Olympisch Stadion just shades Wythenshawe Park in terms of pedigree and occasion. Once out of the track, the first km or so through the streets was quite congested and saw us having to duck & weave our way through the field, but once into the Vondelpark we found clean air and settled into a nice cruise. Nick was already well up ahead. A faint stitch made me silently regret ordering the room service grand-slam breakfast with extra pancakes, but thankfully it resolved before long. Myself and Ken running in tandem in our club singlets elicited plenty of positive attention and support along the way. We also spotted several other UK club vests, quietly taking some smug satisfaction as we eased passed them.
As if to prove one of the incontrovertible rules of UK club running, that is no matter where in the world you are racing there will be at least one Chorlton Runner there, we were please to get a “Go Sale!” shout from one of the ubiquitous black and gold vests as we passed on a switch-back. We tapped out a steady pace and hit each km split within a couple of seconds of target. At the 10k mark, we were bang-on 2:42 pace and feeling good. After this, the route heads south out of the city and joins the Amstel river into quieter, more rural surroundings. This appeared to be the domain of Amsterdam’s wealthy folk, as myself and Ken oogled the grand mansions along the Amsteldijk. Faint applause and polite encouragement from the balconies was just about audible over the popping of champagne corks and clinking of crystal goblets…Bridgewater canal it most certainly was not.
After crossing to the opposite bank and heading back towards the city, we passed under the halfway gantry in 1:21:10 so 2:42:xx was still a possibility. After exchanging banter and target times with some German & Dutch runners, we realised it was time to focus now and cut out the wisecracks, and stoically maintained a sub-6:10min/mile pace for the next 10k or so up to the 32k marker. Respecting the old adage that the second half of a marathon only starts after 20miles, it was now decision time: I knew I was working hard at this point and couldn’t risk pushing a faster pace in case of a spectacular blow-up. The suffering hadn’t arrived yet, but it was in the post with a 1st class stamp, that much was guaranteed. Ken moved a few yards ahead and I let him away…Godspeed my friend and see you at the finish. Through the 35k point and I grimly acknowledged the closing stages back through the city were going to be a pain-fest.
As my stride shortened and pace irreversibly slowed, it felt as if someone had swapped my svelte Kinvaras for a pair of stout Dutch klompen. Ken remained in sight a few hundred yards ahead but the gap stayed static and he seemed to be slowing at a similar rate to myself. Once past the Heineken brewery (RESIST! RESIST!) and stunning Rijksmuseum, a left turn into Vondelpark signalled the final 2 miles to the finish. At this point I was literally just hanging on – pace had dropped to 6:30min/mile and by now the Grim Reaper was close enough to read over my shoulder. Despite my determined efforts, my legs just wouldn’t turn over any faster. But like an oasis, the Olympic Stadium materialised with 500m to go, and I fell into the sweet, bouncy embrace of the immaculately-prepared running track for the final kick to the line.
A 2:43:34 for me, pleased with a 5min PB although a little bittersweet to have lost about a minute in the final 5k of what would otherwise have been a perfectly even-split race. Ken finished a minute ahead in 2:42:36, an incredible result given his HM exploits only a week earlier…and a 40 minute PB to boot! As expected, Quick Nick lived up to his moniker and stormed to a 2:31:21. In contrast to myself & Ken’s late race death-march, Nick showed his class and conditioning with a 1min negative split and actually ran some of his fastest segment splits in the latter stages. Textbook marathoning.
Well done boys. Some much-deserved champagne, beers, pizza and…some local specialties…all followed to finish off a great day. Highly recommended.
Posted 06/11/2018 09:03