You’ll never forget your first

Pre-race

The weather was far better than anyone would have wanted. The forecast was for 22°C and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Not the type of weather you would expect on the 15th October in Amsterdam.
Although I’d had a decent night sleep, I was up quite early and was a little nervous. We managed to set off on time towards the Olympic stadium. But not before I’d had three toilet stops, I was adamant I wasn’t going to shit myself whilst running.

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Before the marathon

Arriving in the Olympic stadium was a cool experience. The seats were filling up nicely and 16.500 runners were taking place on the field. I managed to meet up with my two colleagues with whom I’d been training for this marathon. We were all excited, nervous and anxious to how it would go.
I was in the orange group, aiming for a finish between 3.30-4.00. Then came the gun at 9.30 and the pro’s were off. At 9.42, I crossed the starting line.

0km – 10km

The start was messy, as you could expect. Not everyone running at the same pace and some bottleneck situations meant it wasn’t always easy. I had wanted to follow one of the pacers with the 3:50 balloon but they were ahead of me in the crowd so I never got the chance.
By the first kilometre, my heart rate was up where I wanted it to be once I hit 20km. That’s not what was required. I managed to control it slightly by slowing down a bit and concentrating on my breathing, but in the end I was screwed. I wasn’t even running that quickly and had given up on achieving any kind of decent time. I had also decided that I was going to slow down and walk at each refuelling station to make sure I got enough fluids in and gave the heartrate a chance to decrease.
I came across the first limper at the 7km mark. I felt for the guy, imagining what it would be like having trained for five months to then have that happen to you. The rest of the first ten went relatively OK.

10km – 20km

From the 12km mark, you run along the Amstel river for a good thirteen kilometres. It seems to take forever and I was surprised to see quite a few people walking already. It got me thinking: “Is this going to happen to me?”. It didn’t yet. The Dutch were doing the best to entertain us. You had one guy singing bad Dutch songs on a boat, two guys flyboarding and lots of supporters along the road with some great signs. “Smile, you paid to do this” is one that stuck with me. The bastard was right.
I reached the halfway mark but could already feel tiredness setting in.
In my training, I had run five 25km+ runs and had not felt this bad on either one of them. Today was one of those days that if I had been running at home, I would have stopped after 10km and returned home. Not really an option here, and wasn’t going to give up that soon.

20km – 30km

The Amstel part continues until the 25km mark. I was so looking forward to the next refuelling station, I really needed it. Just after the station, my family were there waiting to cheer me on. It gave me goosebumps to see them but the feeling of elation didn’t last long. I had to walk for the first time around 27km. So so early to start walking but I couldn’t help it. With so long still to go, I knew I was in for a world of pain.
One of my colleagues came up alongside me and we ran together for a few hundred meters. I noticed that she was holding back to stay with me so I told her to go on, I didn’t want her run to suffer.
I managed to run until the next refueling station but after that I really started to struggle.

30km – 40km

These ten kilometres took all my strength and willpower to get through. I was having to stop every kilometre to walk for a hundred meters or so. I saw lots of others around me also suffering, we were all in the same boat which was a bit comforting. During one of the walks, I texted my wife to say I was struggling but was going to finish, no matter how long it took. Around 35km I saw some friends along the road who shouted down some encouragement. That helped me for a little bit. But every stop start got harder and harder. Around 38km you go through the Vondelpark again. The markers start showing 100m milestones, so you know you’re getting to the end. Just at the end of the park, there was a water station again.

41km – 42.195km

The final two were just a painful struggle. I did everything to keep running but had to slow down again at one point. Then you turn the corner and see the Olympic stadium again. The heart rate goes up again but only because you’re so near to the end. The past few kilometres I had been very close to tearing up. Going so deep had taken everything out of me. As we got to the home straight, I could hear my family shouting my name, they were in the stands and had spotted me. I managed to give them a quick wave but was just too focused on the finishing line to do anything else. I couldn’t even muster up a sprint finish, I was completely spent. Crossing the finish line was an amazing feeling. Once I got my medal, I went to lie down on the grass to just gather my thoughts. Only after a few minutes did I text my wife to meet up.

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Champagne finish

Post-race

The first person I saw was the female colleague who I’d seen during the run. We gave each other a huge hug and congratulated ourselves for our achievement. I then went on to see my family who were all very proud. I wasn’t sure what to feel at that point in time. I was proud that I had reached the finish line but disappointed in the way it had happened. I had trained for months and had had some great long runs. This one just didn’t click.

My official finishing time was 4h34. I know that I should be happy to have completed a marathon, and I am. But I can’t help feeling like I have some unfinished business. Even though my thighs, back and shoulder are stiff as hell today, I’m already looking forward to the next challenge, which will probably be the Antwerp marathon in April. This was a hell of an experience, and one which will stand me in good stead in the future.

I’ll definitely never forget my first.

 

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