Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Marathon #4 - TCS Amsterdam Marathon

"Honey, are you ok?"

No, I wasnt.  It was Wednesday morning.  I'd just got out of bed, walked to the bathroom, turned the shower on and while it was taking the few seconds to warm up, I'd turned to look at my face in the mirror and for whatever reason, I decided to give myself a very big stretch.  Ooooh, it felt great.  A little bit more, raise them arms above my head and aaaarrrrgggghhhh, it felt as though someone had stuck a red hot soldering iron into the base of my neck, where the neck meets the shoulder blade.

Within a nanosecond, I was almost screaming in discomfort and my girlfriend Alison came rushing in to see what was wrong.  Putting a brave face on it, I said I'd be ok but my thoughts were already turning to Sunday's marathon.  I'd put a lot of training in, it would be just typical of my luck if something so insignificant would stop me now.

Off I went to work on a cocktail of Ibuprofen and Deep Heat but I was struggling.  Sitting at my desk in the office was torture.  My boss offered me a hot water bottle and it seemed to do the trick for a while, until I realised that if you put in boiling water, you'll end up with first-degree burns.  What a cockwomble.*

Thankfully, within 48 hours and on to Friday morning, the discomfort became less and I got a lot more movement back in my neck, so I was feeling fairly confident that I would be running.

The excitement kicked in at 4pm on Friday when I left my office in Whitechapel and headed to Canary Wharf to meet Alison where we took the short trip on the DLR to City Airport.  A reasonably quick check in, sat down with a drink for half an hour then boarded the plane.  Just over an hour later, we were in Schiphol airport, Amsterdam.  All fairly straightforward, jumped in a taxi from the airport and took about ten minutes to get to our hotel, which was just south of Amsterdam's Vondelpark, which was around the 40km mark on the marathon route so was ideally situated.

First thing I done on the Saturday was go on a very slow leisurely jog down to the start at the Olympic Stadium and to locate the Marathon Expo where we would later go to collect my race number.  The Olympic Stadium was originally built for the summer Olympics in 1928, so its one of them proper old-fashioned stadiums, nothing like those you would see in the Premiership or Football League in England.  I felt reasonably ok, the shoulder felt as best it had done and I headed back to the hotel quitely content and looking forward to the race on Sunday.

1 day to go...
Alison and I headed down to the Expo, collected the race number and had a quick look around.  Now Alison isnt a runner so this was a first for her.  She was taken aback by the scale of the operation involved.  I guess until you come to an Expo, it just doesnt hit you.

Outside the Expo

We didnt hang about too long and made our way outside.  The plan was to go into Amsterdam Central and by pure chance, a tram came along heading for Amsterdam Central Station so we jumped on board and tried to get our bearings.

The main plan of action was to get some pasta somewhere, followed by some window shopping (no, not to be confused with that kind of window shopping in Amsterdam!) then back to the hotel before going out for dinner.

All went to plan.  We found a nice little Italian place and we were served with the biggest plate of pasta you have ever seen.  Then we went shopping.  Before we went, Alison's friend had told her of a shop that sold second-hand vintage designer handbags and she was keen to have a look, so we headed off to "L'Étoile de Saint Honoré" (in Oude Spiegelstraat 1 if any of you ladies are interested!) to take a look.  Thankfully, Alison came out empty handed.  My eyes watered at the price of a second-hand Hermès handbag (you could actually buy a reasonably decent second-hand Ford Fiesta for the same price!)

After a walk through the vintage clothes and antique shops, we made our way back into the town centre.  We took a quick drinks break in the Irish pub (convenient as Spurs just happened to be the early kick off and the second half was just starting) and then done some more shopping before heading back to the hotel.

Near 'Dam Square

We'd found a nice looking restaurant near our hotel in the Museum quarter of the City called Van Dam (no, not a relation to the actor, he was Belgian remember!) and we'd booked a table for 7:30.  The food was fabulous.  Back to the hotel for a reasonably early night and to catch up with X Factor (yes, I kid you not, I'm a big fan).  Thanks to the 1 hour time difference, we were back at the hotel for 9pm, just as X Factor was starting in the UK.

All ready the night before disaster struck...

The plan was to put the feet up, make sure I was well hydrated and get that early night.  Unfortunately, it didnt quite work out like that.  Within ten minutes of laying on the bed, I felt beyond awful.  I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.  I was really uncomfortable.  I had to make a run for the bathroom...

The next couple of hours was a complete write off.  Bathroom, back out feeling reasonably better but ten minutes later, I was back in the bathroom again.  Oh well, so much for carb loading.  I had nothing left.  I felt exhausted.  I knew I needed to eat something but I just couldnt.  I needed to make sure the stomach was settled before doing that.

I didnt get much sleep that night.  Its impossible in that condition.  The alarm went off at 6:30am and I jumped out of bed to turn the alarm off as to not wake Alison as well but it seemed as though she was as worried as I was and had been awake most of the night.  I felt sick but I forced myself to eat some porridge.  It wasnt going down well.  I felt so rough I was almost gagging on it.  It was turning my stomach.

If the truth be told, I knew deep down that I really shouldnt have started the marathon.  It was idiotic given the state I was in but I'd be damned if I was giving in and being the stubborn type, I geed myself up.

At 8:30am, we took a slow walk down to the start at the Olympic Stadium.  By the time I got in the fresh air, I was feeling much better.  My stomach was settled but I felt empty.  I knew I didnt have a full marathon in me and I'd probably end up run/walking at some point but the plan was to battle on as much as I could and then when the time came, walk if I really had to.

When we got to the stadium, it was chaotic to say the least.  The organisers has said that all runners had to be inside the stadium at 9:15am when they would shut the doors, ahead of a 9:30am start.  I left Alison to get in the throng of runners trying to get into the stadium and by the time she said she was at the 10km point, I had moved about 200 yards, still outside the stadium.

Eventually we got into the stadium just as the Elite runners started.  I couldnt get in the orange starting pen and nor could hundreds of others.  It didnt really matter as the pen was released pretty soon but chaos ensued again as it appeared they'd opened up two slower pens at the same time, meaning that it would be a case of running around slower runners for the first few miles until the crowds started dispersing.

The start at the Olympic Stadium

I'd been training for sub 4 hour marathon time and it was a realistic achievement.  However, I knew pretty quickly that I had next to nothing in my legs.  The first three mile splits were 9:21, 9:20 and 9:24.  I felt reasonably comfortable but I knew I then had to run the next three at 9min/mile pace.  Usually easy.  This time, not so.  Fourth mile split 9:00 absolutely spot on, perfect rhythm, the breathing was good and relax.  The legs didnt feel right at all.  bleep...looked down at the Garmin and it read 9:24.  My average heart rate was much higher than normal for the pace too.  I was having to work so much harder than usual to try and keep to pace.  Next mile 9:20.

As I came through 10k, I saw Alison at the side of the road, shouting on some encouragement.  I blew her a kiss and she shouted that she'd see me at 25...erm 25km?  25 miles?  Well I'll just have to keep an eye out for both...

It was around mile 7-8 I'd reasoned with myself that I'd be well happy with around 4hr 10min, it would still be a PB so I'll revise my average pace down to around 9:30min/mile and I'd still be ok.  Miles 9, 10 and 11 felt comfortable at pretty much bang on the revised pace but I could literally feel the energy draining from my legs.  From mile 9 onwards, the course follows the Amstel River out of town then the route loops back on a 7 mile detour and it is mentally draining.

I remembered I'd cycled this road on day 3 of London to Brussels in 2013 and the good memories came flooding back but it also reminded me that I was in peak physical condition that time, the same couldnt be said this time around.

The Amstel River section pretty much broke me.  As some point between mile 11 and 12, I walked.  For me its like the walk of shame because you're admitting defeat but I had no choice.  My right hamstring was tight behind my knee, I felt drained, I just felt horrible.  It was only like 10-20 yards or something but it was enough to be staring defeat in the face.  Once you've walked, there's no coming back from that.  From mile 12 onwards, I run/walked the second half of the marathon for the most part.  I was physically and mentally drained.

I did remember to look out for Alison at 25km but I didnt see her (although she was there apparently!)  The second half of the Amsterdam marathon is not something I'll look back at with fondness.  I've never hurt so bad at any point in my life.  My neck and shoulder was giving me grief, my hamstrings were so tight you could play them like guitar strings, my feet hurt, my calves were throbbing.

The crowd support in the last couple of miles through the Vondelpark was brilliant.  Thats what I can imagine running London must be like.  The final 2km was hell on earth.  By then, both hamstrings were riddled with cramp and I could hardly move.  The marathon finished by running back into the Olympic Stadium and around the running track for the last 300m.

300m to go...back at the Olympic Stadium
Into the last 25m and in pain...

It was a relief to get over the line.  Bearing the state I was in, it was a minor miracle I finished in a marathon I had no right to start.  My Garmin time 4:34:00, official chip time 4:34:02.  No PB but my fourth marathon finish.

Obligatory Medal and FInishers T Shirt shot...

Then Apple Inc. have a lot to answer for.  I pulled out my iPhone from its arm pouch and tried to call Alison.  Totally non-responsive.  Brilliant.  It only came back to life 30 minutes later when I was 200 yards away from the hotel.  You just couldnt make it up.

After a shower (yes, why the hell did our room not have a bath?), we headed back out into town for some food.  Typically, the restaurant we chose had three floors and we had to walk up two flights of stairs which really wasn't the best thing for a marathon runner.

Post-Marathon Protein Overload
Alison bartered with one of the locals to persuade him to take us back to the hotel on his rickshaw.  Job done.  Back to the hotel for beer and champagne while we watched Chloe get voted off X Factor in the sing off (who the hell keeps voting for Stevi btw?!)

Lovely weekend, shame about the marathon :) 

*Cockwomble (coq-womm-bull) noun. Person possessing properties of striking idiocy. (Example: That bloke is a f*cking cockwomble)

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