26 Oct Amsterdam Marathon and Half Marathon
Amsterdam Marathon 2016
It’s been a long time coming, god knows my feet and my knees tell me that after 17 weeks of preparation, but of course the trip has been much longer in view. Now it’s here I can hardly believe it?
The advance party go out on Friday, Ian Warburton, Debbie Evans and Cameron Large from Cardiff and hightailing it from Scottish climes, Janice and Nigel Clement. Whilst Ian, Debbie and Cameron are all on for the full marathon, Janice is doing her 98th half and Clem is an enthusiastic supporter to us all, very frustrated with Achilles problems, but also happy to be cheering us all on in Amsterdam. Off they go and Sarah Lees and I follow on the Saturday morning from Bristol. We all get into our hotels, not far from the centre of Amsterdam, the expo and the stadium.
Saturday is spent sightseeing around Amsterdam, the advance team going for a canal cruise with stops, the canals and the coffee shops. Yes just the coffee shops, not the “special café’s”. Sarah hovers around the entrances to antique clothes shops for a while, until I tell her it was fine to take her fashion passion in hand and just treat me like a willing follower. I like shopping anyway. We all at some point took in the atmosphere of the runners village, expo and the Olympic stadium. I even ended up buying a new pair of HOKA Clifton 2’s at the expo to run the race in. Mad? No cos they are gorgeous and I know they will be so comfortable. It really will be an experience to start and finish in an Olympic stadium, with approximately 15,000 other enthusiastic runners. We all meet up in the evening for a pre-run meal, plenty of carbs, very little alcohol and an early night for all.
The day dawns and we all arrive at the stadium to find our places, nerves start to kick in as we drop off baggage, get a last toilet stop, two or three times, whilst continuing to hydrate. Then we start following the signs, all clothed in plastic bags, to get into the stadium and I particularly like the sign which reads “Marathon Athletes Only”, damn that’s us! Streaming in we all get into our pens, not finding each other, but knowing we are all only minutes away from the start and for Sarah and I, together all the way in this huge adventure, our very first marathon. And then we are off!
The Amsterdam course is fantastic, a mixture of picturesque streets, tree lined avenues, parks, historic buildings and canals and the crowds are amazing, filling every centimetre of pavement and verge. At 7 miles Janice and Clem call out and encourage us on, great to see them at that point, when we are still feeling pretty fresh, the pictures will at least look good. Carried along it feels like floating on air, underneath the Rijksmuseum , easy this marathon lark, well in the first 10 miles it is, but then it gets serious.
The run out along the Amstel river south is a great diversion, wonderful properties, cheering crowds who never seem to let up and on the river loads of activity, rowers, boats and even jet hover boards doing countless tricks and even somersaults. It’s a long drag out and its warm, but not too bad at all, the tree cover keeps it dappled and light. The turn comes up about 12 ½ miles and we take a quick minute to adjust shoes, then on we go, getting back off the canal and into town again around 16 miles, now there only 10 to go.
Pretty soon we come upon Cameron who is having a hard time and labouring in the heat. Sarah and I both give him some encouragement, but he is in a world of his own and needed to fight his own fight. Later he will tell us, (after he had finished) it was just after this, that he started being sick and his race took a turn for the worse. By this time both Ian and Debbie are flying along and though neither was on top form, by their own admission, they are miles ahead of us, somewhere between 18-20. Ian’s flying by comparison to us and although Debbie has intermittent Achilles problems she is doing very nicely too.
18 miles comes up and Sarah is really feeling the effect of a week of head cold and a pain the balls of her feet, she just can’t get rid of. We take a few minutes and I massage her feet, something we would happily do for each other when necessary, then we crack on. I’m going well, a little tired but feeling good, but it gets harder for Sarah, getting more and more tired, but she is still going and just won’t stop. She is an amazing woman, great determination, grit and guts.
We are now back nearing the centre of the city 22 miles is coming up and we can nearly taste the finish. Its hard now for me as well as Sarah, she just doesn’t know it and I won’t let her see it. I turn my military voice on and tell her stopping is NOT an option, she doesn’t have that choice, she WILL finish, she WILL cross the line and she will do it by my side. I will NOT leave her and she bloody well better believe it. What she doesn’t know is I’m telling myself exactly the same thing, her grit and determination is keeping me going too. Sarah has to walk a bit in these last few miles, I can she is close to exhaustion, but I won’t let her stop, she would never forgive me, or I forgive myself. I promised to get her to the end, as she promised me and I won’t let her down. Not now, not ever. “See that sign”, I say, “walk to that, then you run. No arguments”. Sarah does, again and again in those last miles, she sucks it in and digs very deep. I am constantly amazed at the depth of her physical and mental stamina, she is one damn determined lady.
Now we are in the park and that is near the finish, we can both smell it, only a couple of miles now, but god those last few are hard and I am so tired. Sarah is close to full exhaustion, but neither of us is giving up now, not after all the miles and all the wind and rain and long training runs. Not now! The result is not in doubt. Then here it is, the stadium, we almost float under the stand and on to the track and there are only 150 metres to go and it feels so good. We speed up and Sarah actually overtakes some poor soul, we both just want the pain to be over and then it is, we both cross the line together, Sarah falls into my arms almost in tears, completely spent and I’m not far behind her now. We both hobble across, grab a plastic sheet and sit down. The shoes come off and it feels sooooooo good. We have both completed our first marathon. 4 Hours 44 Min 43 Seconds.
Debbie and Ian were in about an hour ahead of us. Ian in 3:35 and Debbie in 3:44 amazing times from two amazing runners and that’s when Ian is not as happy as he could be and Debbie is stopping to relieve Achilles cramps. Amazing runners and truly awesome people. We catch up with Cameron who comes in around 5:30 after all his trials and tribulations, he is spent, tired and ill, but upright. It takes a while to understand what we have done, but then it’s an amazing venue, an Olympic stadium, but we all finished a marathon.
Later we all catch up for a meal. Steak and chips for me followed by Pavlova with plenty of beer and wine. Janice completed her half under 2 hours, another fantastic result from another amazing lady. We also find out that Helen Phillips came in around 4:11 when she pops in with Colin for drinks at dinner, another awesome run. A fantastic night out with truly lovely people, who all get what we do and why we do it. I’m not sure anyone else does. My wife Karen’s words ring in my ears, when she tries to explain this obsession to a friend, “What’s wrong with this statement…”, she says “RUNNING……………..for over 4 hours?”
Amsterdam again? In a heartbeat, loved the course, the atmosphere, the crowds and the venue and most of all the amazing people from Penarth and Dinas Runners who were there to share it with me. Most especially one truly amazing lady who shared this adventure from start to finish and showed the most amazing guts and determination, Sarah Lizabeth Lees. Thank you lovely girl. Next time you can drag me around a marathon and I will be only too delighted to finish another one, by your side.