Friday, 5.10pm: our scheduled flight to Amsterdam was taking off on time from Heathrow. I, on the other hand, was lying in bed, vomiting as if I were in an outtake of the Exorcist. My teeth were chattering so hard you’d have thought I were standing in a vest and t-shirt on a wet, cold, autumnal Dutch afternoon (more on that later…), not locked up under my duvet, clasping a hot water bottle.
At this point, it wasn’t like the Amster-damn (boo-boom) marathon was a distant dream: it was a logistical, medical and bloody expensive impossibility, which was actually very upsetting having spent 6 months looking forward to, and training for, this weekend.
However, praise the lord (or the scientists who invented the medicine to cope with the particularly violent strain of gastro-enteritis), my symptoms started dissipating that evening almost as quickly as they appeared.
By 9pm, only about 5 hours after I felt too ill to even reach for a water bottle (and, more to the point, ill enough to accept that a cheap bastard like me couldn’t fly despite having paid for the flight), it was looking like we could make it over the next day, if flights (and bank balance) allowed. If not for me to slowly struggle round the course, it would at least ensure Pippa could race in the Half Marathon race she’d trained hard for. KLM were surprisingly flexible to our circumstances and, at 4am on Saturday, we rolled out of bed en route for the Netherlands.
Over the course of Saturday, I was gradually getting better although still eating significantly less than I normally would in a pre-race day. Having now spent 2 days worrying about initially a) not being in state to live, then b) not being in a state to run, to c) not being in a medically-speaking-sensible-state-to-run-but-I’ve-spent-so-much-money-that-sod-it state, I knew I had a strong battle ahead of me between my mind and body.
Race Day was upon us. As we opened our curtains, we could see it was going to be a cold and drizzle day. In other words: a perfect day for running (for me). The course was also pretty much as fast as it get: less than an average 2 metres/kilometre elevation change. In other words, dead flat and perfect for running. And, thanks to the power of Bismuth Subsalicylate, I had no need for the particularly unhygienic portaloos! There was just this little issue of having absolutely bugger all energy…
After a bit of a mad surge to enter the Olympic Stadium from where we were to set off (funnelling 10,000 people through a small tunnel takes quite some time…), I made a dash to the start line to join club members Matt and Joffah just in time for the gun to go off.
The first few kilometres went reasonably well. I set off barely too fast and was averaging a pace which, taking account for a slightly slower second half, would have had me finish in circa 2h45. We ran near the “Fokke Simon” Street (how rude) and zipped through the lovely Vondelpark – flush with autumnal scenes, as we headed east. So far, so good.
This wouldn’t last… After 3 kilometres, I could tell something wasn’t right. I still don’t know if it was my body telling my brain “look, you have no energy, WTF are you doing?” or my mind subconsciously slowing me down. Either way, the result was the same: there were 39km to go and this wasn’t feeling like much fun.
I more or less kept a decent pace for the first 5km (20.00), 10km (40.39) and 15km (1h01) as the crowds were thick enough to cheer you on. After this mind you, there was a long 10 kilometre stretch down the Amstel and back which was utterly deserted. We went past a lot of (very) posh houses but hardly a soul. The silence and repetitiveness of the course did me little good in terms of speed and motivation. Only the water jetpacks were a little more entertaining! After 1 hour and 28 minutes, I went through the half way mark well aware that I was slowing down and that there’d be no chance I’d finish under 3 hours.
After 27km, I got overtaken by the 3 hour pacemakers, who well and truly put the first nail in the coffin. After 30km, I got overtaken by a man in a nun outfit who was trying to beat the Guinness World Record (he did, in 3h07 – well done!): the final nail and rosary in that coffin.
Thankfully, there was a little more support around there. In particular, a group called the Mental Health Support Team was of great help and had motivating signs such as “Smile if you’re not wearing underwear”, “it’s not sweat, it’s sparkle”, “Box here for an energy boost” etc – thanks! Either side of this, I was cheered on by our welcoming hosts Mick & Nieke and Pippa: it’s amazing how much of a boost seeing a friendly face can do when your spirits are down.
After 39km or so, we were in Vondelpark again. By this point, my head was down, both metaphorically and literally. It was mentally tough, by far my hardest run in terms of my mind playing tricks on me. I even switched my watch off as I didn’t want to know anything about my times anymore. However, some (well-meaning) bastard had put 100m markers up around the barriers in the park so I still couldn’t ignore just how slowly time was going despite my best efforts.
After I finished, my body finally caught up with me. In the freezing cold, I was no longer heating myself up now that I was stationary and I could have been in Antarctica for all I knew: I was shivering away and it took a lot of tea (and sugar – 4 cubes in one cup, bleh!) to bring me back to humankind in time to watch Pippa break her Half Marathon 2 hour duck by … 39 seconds!
Was it fun? Not really. Was it fast? Nope. Was it pleasant? Nope. Was it financially sound? Nope. Was it medically sound? Probably not. Was it worth it? Well, for me, nope. But to see Pippa beat her target…well, alright then.
Next time, I’m wearing a bloody biohazard suit for a month before the race!
Time: 3h07.04 (809th/12,357)