Race 9 — The Amsterdam Half Marathon — Sunday 18 October 2015

A few months ago a good friend of mine gave me a book on the best marathon destinations in the world. The book inspired me to choose locations as part of my Forty by 40 challenge. London featured in it and I also ran Berlin this March which came highly recommended. The other destination which was a must run in the book was Amsterdam and here I was this weekend to smash it.

At Heathrow waiting to catch our plane

Having done 5 half marathons this year in the UK and in Europe, I think I’ve gotten pretty much used to the routine. Arrive on a Saturday and the first thing to do is to collect the race bib. That’s pretty much what we did this time as well. My support group and strength — J and M were of course here with me and we went to the Sporthallen Zuid to collect the bib. Taking about experience, from the last 2–3 races I’ve learnt that the best way to choose a hotel to stay for the race is via the marathon site. They generally partner with hotels which give you a decent discount if you are a runner and you also get to choose a hotel close to the race start. Most race days are a nightmare as there are tons of people racing so it always helps to have a short commute. This time as well I booked through the site and we stayed in the Novotel hotel which was just 4kms away from the main start area. The Spothallen Zuid was also really close to the start and the Olympic stadium and as soon as we checked in on Saturday we took the metro there to pick up my bib.

The Sporthallen Zuid was buzzing with music, tons of people and of course exhibitors. I was excited and so nervous but the whole process of collecting the bib went off really smoothly. We had originally planned to go around the city a bit but M was feeling under the weather and the three of us generally tired as we had an early morning flight out of London. So we decided to come back to the hotel and chill. The hotel didn’t have much of a choice on their menu so I ended up carb loading on pasta, pesto and pine nuts for lunch and dinner. We relaxed most of the afternoon and evening. J and I ended up watching a really good movie called — The Departed.

The thing about this race unlike any of the other ones I ran was that the start was only in the afternoon. Most races had a 9:30am start while this one was an afternoon race with a 1:20pm start. I must admit that I was not too pleased about that. Firstly I had no clue what my pre race fuelling strategy was and secondly I have never run on an afternoon not even during training. I wondered how my body clock would adjust to a long run bang in the middle of the afternoon.

Anyway it was race day and I decided to have a late breakfast. We went down at 10:00am and I had a croissant, Nutella on toast and some coffee. I also made a Nutella sandwich to have half an hour before the race. After breakfast we came back to the room for a bit and then headed off to the race venue.

The metro was packed but we had only 2 stops to get to so it was ok. We reached the venue. It was crowded and buzzing. Unlike some of my other races, this time there was a place to sit in a warm area before heading out to the pen. A massive restaurant had converted a section into a waiting area for runners, serving drinks and food. It was really good and warm so I spent around 30 minutes here waiting with J and M. It was 1:00pm and time for me to head out to my start pen. I said goodbye to J and M and began walking toward the yellow pen. It was so crowded and took me a good 15 minutes to get there. The weather was perfect for running that day. It had rained and was cool. After a 20–25 minute wait I was finally able to get to the start. With my Garmin on and my game face on I was ready to go.

Before I start writing about the race, I have to say that my training for this race was not great. I had 4 weeks after Copenhagen to train for Amsterdam. Even though I put in the miles, I must admit that my heart was not in it. The last 4 weeks have been extremely stressful for me on both a personal and professional level. Lots of anxiety, stress and worry and to add to that I was on medication to manage my acid reflux. Overall one of the worst recipes for training or having a great race.

Anyway here I was and having crossed the start line I was extremely determined to give it my best and cross the finish line. In the first 2–3km I was getting into rhythm, getting my breathing sorted and finding my pace. One of the things I was not prepared for in this race was the massive crowds and how narrow the course was. Only one half of the road was given to runners and I was struggling to get space to run. First let me talk about some of the disasters during this race and then I will come to the good parts. Disasters — narrow spaces, huge crowds and I was pushed and stumbled many times. I moved my elbow slightly at one point and hit a poor lady in her chest. She screamed with pain, I felt terrible but could only apologise. Around 5km when I opened my pouch to have my gel, all of them fell down and I had to stop in the midst of this crowd and pick them up. Around 10km I ran past a water station, picked up a cup and gulped it down only to realise that it was an energy drink that made my stomach churn for a good 2km. Lots of tiny disasters but I didn’t let any of them stop me. Now let me come to the good parts of this race. This race course was one of the most beautiful ones that I’ve ever run in. Amsterdam is such a pretty city, full of canals and water all over. Despite the crowds and narrow space I loved each and every moment of my run. I ran past canals, pretty landscapes, the Amstel river and lovely parks. The crowds were fantastic, there were music bands playing all over during the run and the crowds amazing. The city was buzzing and vibrant.

The best part of my race was running into the Olympic stadium and finishing there. I had never really been to one before and it was an amazing feeling crossing the finish line here. I felt so overwhelmed and emotional and felt like I could cry. This was a really tough race for me — poor training, massive crowds, narrow course and stumbles but the fact that I stuck through it all and completed was amazing. No PB this time compared to Copenhagen which was 2:06, but I competed in 2:12 which was not too bad.

I took a few moments to take in the amazing atmosphere in the Olympic stadium, collected my medal and headed back to the hotel to meet J and M. A very different and tough race but a great challenge.

Race Day — Finish at the Olympic Stadium

As M is on half term this week, we decided to stay a couple of more days and explore this beautiful city. Yesterday we went into the main part of the city and took a canal ride. It was quaint and pretty and we went past the Anne Frank museum and a number of famous places around town. M was truly excited because she got to eat two of her favourite things — fries and Nutella. Nutella does its own bakery here called the Ice Bakery and she was just so thrilled to see it. We also stopped by a fab shop that specialised in homemade Dutch macaroons. We walked around a lot and then ended up in the flower district. I must say that spending some time here and enjoying the lovely flowers was such a soul enriching experience. We didn’t buy anything but just stayed here for about 20 minutes and admired the lovely flowers, colours and varieties. Today was another day spent exploring. walked around the city quite a bit finally ended up in the museum area. It was great. We are in the airport now, on our way back to London and I must say that I loved being here running the race and exploring the city. I’m so happy this city was part of my Forty by 40 challenge.

Exploring Amsterdam
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