On the 21st October 2018 I took part in the Amsterdam Marathon. Getting towards the end of a fantastic year, this would be my 5th International event of the year, and the 4th Marathon I have paced abroad this year. I am pleased to have ran a total of 42 marathons, which is 49 toward the 100 marathon club (which include my ultra and Ironman events). This is the 15th time I have paced a marathon, and the 62nd time I have been an official pacer at an event.
I arrived for the event on Saturday, staying just the one night. When I was offered the opportunity to pace Amsterdam I had just booked a family trip to Chicago, looking at the cost it was going to be disproportionately expensive for a family trip. I think this is because it was close to the marathon and also leading into half term. So I decided I would come for one night, and Daniel, one of the other pacers, offered for me to stay in his spare room. This made taking part in this event more manageable.
So I arrived and the lovely Daniel picked me up from the airport, and we went for a couple of beers with some of the other Pacers. I then went to his where I joined him and his partner for a lovely pasta meal, and an early night. My first challenge in the morning was the 7k cycle to the start on a typical Dutch bike, which felt very different to the road bike I ride daily.
When we arrived at the start we had a private area in a hall above the expo. It was a simple hall but it was somewhere to leave our bag, there was a toilet around the corner, it is little things like this that take the stress out of things. When I got the opportunity to run Amsterdam I had also invited Danny, so it was good to see a familiar face whilst we were getting ready. I had my usual sub 4 flag, and Danny was running 3:10.
After our team photo we made our way to the start line, around an hour before the start. I really liked the layout of the event, we start in the Olympic stadium, and the starting area is in the centre of the stadium. Our start pens are on the track, and in each start pen there are toilets and urinals. This is really good, usually once you get to this point you stand around for an hour and end up needing the toilet. This is particularly true for a pacer, as we often have to get to the start area early. So it was nice to be able to pop to the urinal a couple of times before starting without any significant delay.
I was pacing the sub 4 #funbus with two regulars. The event is full of Dutch Pacers with a lot of experience, running the event many times, so it was great to run with people who knew the course well. I’ve ran a few international events now, and this one struck me as being very local, it was very noticeable that most people were Dutch, and so the first language was obviously Dutch. When comparing this to somewhere like Berlin, it is not as international, as in Berlin most people I spoke with were not German, and the primary language was English.
We had a huge group with us at the start, and for the very few that could not speak English they were in good hands. I gravitated around a big group of English speakers. I spent time at the start telling people that I would be running even splits and answering questions. I did not do the same brief as usual as at this stage I dont think it would have been needed or widely understood.
At 09:30 the event started, but we didnt move. They stopped waves for a few minutes between waves, and I can understand why with the width of sections of the course. It wasn’t a particularly long wait though, and I think we got going after about 11 minutes. You run out of the stadium and some of the beginning section was narrow, but the pace was not held back.
The course got wider for the majority of the route. It always felt busy as the roads arent particularly wide, and in sections you go on one side of the road. This is not an issue at all at the moment as there was plenty of room, however if the event was going to significantly increase capacity then they would want to consider using both sides of the road, which would need a different route.
The first part of the course was throughout the city, there was good support out along the course, and everyone I met was friendly. We ran past windmills, the Reich, canals, and It was a great atmosphere. I had the pleasure of Matt’s company for the first 10 miles which was lovely. He was aiming for 3:50, but then decided to stick with me.
I had let the other two pacers push on a bit as it felt too busy to run together for the whole thing, and they pushed the pace a little. I kept them in eyesight but we created a nice group between us. It was good to have Matt for company as a steady pair of legs to run with, whilst still shouting out encouragement to others around me.
Obviously he had enough of me at about 10 miles, and when we came across a water station he pushed on, and that was the last I saw of him for the course. The water stations reminded me of Berlin in that they were very busy. No where near as busy as Berlin, but it was relative to the course size, so it did feel a struggle to get in and get what I needed. Water was in cups, and I prefer bottles. But cups which are paper are growing on me. At places like Berlin the cups are plastic and impossible, but with paper it is much easier to drink from. The stations had good supplies at each station, there was water, Iso, sponges and at some stations there were gels and fruit. These were really frequent, so I never felt dehydrated at any point.
The middle section we ran a big loop around this lake, which had less support, but was beautiful. The course is pancake flat, but the only issue around some of this route is that it got narrow. I didnt have any issues, a couple of points it slowed a bit, but it really wasnt anything to worry about. I imagine further back in the marathon it may have got a bit more congested. I loved that there were boats in the water playing music, and a few people entertaining with power jets which was pretty cool.
I shouted encouragement all around me at every km, telling everyone how close we were to target. In the first 5 km we got up to 30 seconds ahead of pace. I put the breaks on at this point and just ran consistently around 9:05 min miles for the rest of the marathon. So pretty much every Km I was able to reassure everyone that we still had a 30 second cushion. I decreased this to 20 seconds by 38 km and maintained this to the finish.
I always find the best way to run is to keep nice and steady. I had so many people stay with me who I encouraged to go ahead around 40 km. For the last 20 km I was picking people up who had begun walking, and it is great when these can get going again. Apart from 2 little bumps this course is flat, and must be up there was one of the flattest courses I have ran. I thought it was well organised, and there was good crowd support. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect either, great PB potential. Towards the end of the course the support picked up, and the music throughout was great too.
When I came into the finish straight markers counted us down, which is perfect for a pacer. I was on target so I just kept going encouraging everyone to get ahead of me. I saw Dan from Pro Direct so gave him a wave and then carried on. Having few people behind you in a race is a sign of success for a pacer. As I crossed the line I heard Matt call my name, and after I pressed my button to finish he captured me crossing the line.
The race could not have been more perfect for me, and it was topped off with lots of hugs and kisses at the finish. I came in with 3:59:48 which is as close to perfect as I like to go. I will never stop to get a more perfect time, so running naturally across the finish I never want to leave it much closer as risk going over.
It was great to hear that Matt, despite running with me for the first 10 miles, managed to exceed his target. I guess keeping himself fresh at the start enabled him to pick up the pace and come in with 3:45.
I loved running in Amsterdam and would definitely recommend it. There is also a 8km and half marathon that start later in the day, so something for everyone. However I have heard mixed reviews about these being a afterthought to the marathon.
I have one more marathon booked for the year, Porto, where I will be pacing sub4 once again. What do you have next? I have also been nominated for best blog, so I would appreciate your vote, and sharing the link so others can vote to. Just visit HERE. Thanks