Monday, April 12, 2010

Ben's Rotterdam 2010 Race Report

Race: Rotterdam Marathon 2010

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Date: April 11, 2010

I had a really fun weekend in Amsterdam & Rotterdam even if the time didn't quite turn out as expected. Here's how it went...

Race Weekend

I caught a red eye on Wednesday night from KL to Amsterdam. I slept a bit on the plane and wasn't overly exhausted by the time I arrived 13 hours later. With the time difference I arrived early on Thursday morning in Amsterdam. After a short taxi ride from Schipol Airport to Amstelveen I arrived at my friends', Thijs and Marlies (and Juliet), home as they graciously allowed me to stay with them for the weekend. Both my and Thijs' last marathon was Boston last year, so we both were really looking forward to getting out there and running again.

I caught a quick nap after catching up with them a bit in the morning and then I got out the door for a short run. Thijs and Marlies live just over one km away from a great, big park in Amstelveen. It's miles and miles and winding trails through a woods. It's really nice – so that's where I headed to do my run. A simple seven mile run with the middle two @ marathon pace just to remind myself what it feels like to (try) and run 6:30 pace.

I walked around Amstelveen a bit and had a nice lunch at an old, hotel bar / restaurant. The four of us, had dinner together on Thursday night at their place to cap the day.

Friday was fairly uneventful as I just lounged around their place most of the day trying to rest my legs. It was my first day off from running in a few weeks so it was good to try and rebuild my muscles a bit more. That night the three of us, plus my new friend Bas, headed in to Amsterdam for a nice meal at an Italian restaurant. We walked around the canals a bit after and I fell in love with Amsterdam again. It's such a great city.

Saturday morning Thijs and I headed back in to the park in Amstelveen to get in a few miles. I did an easy four mile run with the third mile run at planned marathon pace. I felt comfortable and my legs felt good.

Then Thijs and I headed in to the city again to walk around and see the sights. I arrived a couple of hours before him because he had to take care of Juliet while Marlies was at the gym. The life of active parents must be so fun ;). I hopped off the bus near the Van Gogh museum and walked up and down the more glamorous shopping streets. One of my favorite brands, G-Star Raw, is a Dutch brand and has their flagship store in Amsterdam so I went and checked that out. After about an hour of walking around the Gucci, Louis Vutton, etc. type stores and realizing I don't make enough money to shop in the area I was in I walked over to Museumplein (museum square) to have lunch while relaxing in the sun.

Thijs arrived about an hour later and we walked around a bit. He took me through the other shopping streets, past the drinking squares, through the Red Light District, etc. Did I mention Amsterdam is a great city?

On Saturday night we cooked a big pasta dinner back at their place and they invited a few other friends over who were also running on Sunday. Lots of good food and good conversations, even if some of it was in Dutch!

Sunday morning I woke up feeling pretty fresh and ready to race. I slept well and was eager to toe the line. I had a small breakfast and then we hopped in the car to drive to Rotterdam along with my other friend Sander.

Luckily, for me, Sander works for Fortis so he got us access to the Fortis Running Home event. This was a pre/post race event put on by Fortis which allowed employees from Fortis, and their friends, access to everything you could ever want for a marathon. This included lots of good food, drinks, massages, etc. All in a hotel lobby / conference rooms within walking distance to the start. It was pretty sweet not having to stand outside shivering for over an hour before a marathon. I could really get used to that kind of treatment.

The Race

Just before 11:00am we walked over to the start. I found my way in to corral C and made my way to the front of the corral as much as I could. By the time I got situated I was standing about four or five rows back from the starting mat, pretty happy about that. I was able to see all the elites warming up before the race too which was pretty cool. Rotterdam is really big on pacers so there were a lot of fast-looking men and women getting ready to run.

The temperature for the race was perfect throughout – probably mid 40s and overcast. It was pretty windy (20-30km/hr) but because of the course setup you didn't have to fight it for more than a mile or two at a time before you were catching a side wind or a tail wind. I am certain that if it wasn't windy the WR would have been broken today (the winner ran 2:04:48, good enough for the fourth fastest time ever).

At 11:00am the cannon blasted and we were off.

First 5km

The race starts and finishes on the Coolsingel in downtown Rotterdam very close to the Erasmusbrug Bridge, arguably the symbol of Rotterdam. I have to say, for most of the race the crowd support was really great, especially on the Coolsingel.

It took me a few miles to find my rhythm because I don't think my watch was picking up a satellite early in the race. My lap pace was all over the pace so I switched it to viewing total time and tried to run based on feel. This was really hard for me to do because it felt like 2-300 runners passed me within the first mile. Plus, with the taper it was hard for me to tell if I was running 6:30 pace because my legs felt good that early in the race.

After about a mile or so we started one of the only hills of the day up the Erasmusbrug Bridge. Tug boats were lining both sides and spraying water into the air which was pretty cool. I actually got to enjoy this section of the race which was nice.

By not having mile splits working properly on my watch, at least for the first few miles. I started to rely on 5k split times as they had digital clocks every 5k. I forgot to write my pace targets on my arm but thankfully I remembered them from Boston when I had the same finishing goal. It was actually pretty simple – run each 5k split between 20:00 – 20:30.

One thing that I want to highlight about the race was the aid stations. This was the first race I've done where every cup of water included a sponge in the glass with little notches on both slides. This allowed you to carry the cup, drink from it, and not have it splash all over your face. Then if you wanted to use the sponge to cool off you could. This was a very nice touch. Unfortunately, the aid stations appeared just past each 5km mark. This was fine early in the race for me, but later when I needed the extra fluids and carbs it felt like a long distance between each aid station.

The first 5k was passed in 20:31 – feeling good.


Now I was hoping to ratchet the pace down a bit for the next 20-25km but I couldn't seem to run faster than 6:35/mile pace. When I picked it up a little more I felt a bit more uncomfortable than I wanted to that early in the race so I was content to keep running based on feel.

The only thing I can remember from this part of the run was following a group of five or six runners for a couple of miles. When we turned a corner and the wind hit us the group immediately slowed way down. Unfortunately I was following the guy in front of me too closely and clipped his heel. I apologized for it but he got all bent out of shape. Sorry dude, you slowed down and this is a race.

So with a bit of adrenaline now flowing I swung around the group and tried to maintain something close to 6:30 or 6:35 pace. In hindsight this was probably pretty stupid because I had to fight the wind by myself for the next mile or two. There were a few sections were I found myself all alone with groups too far in front of me to catch and groups behind me who were sharing the workload in to the wind. Stupid tactical mistakes that I'll avoid the next time I race in windy conditions.

Second 5k split passed in 20:27 – feeling better.


The only thing I can remember from this stretch was that I could already feel a slight twinge in my left hamstring. I expected to start feeling it at some point, but I was hoping it wouldn't happen until at least 21km. Oh well, the only option was to keep pushing until I couldn't anymore.

Third 5km split passed in 20:29 – feeling OK.

15 – 21km

I started feeling better during this stretch of the race. After a big loop the last 10km we started to make our way back north to the bridge so that we could tackle the big loop on northerly half of the course. However, once we started the short climb back up the Bridge the wind was really blowing now. This was the first time where the wind stood me up a bit. But that was out of my control so I didn't worry about it too much.

The fourth five 5km split was passed in 20:32 and I hit the half at 1:26:46. 14 seconds slower than I hit the first half in Boston last year. But the good news is that I was feeling good.


Despite feeling good at the half and thinking I might be able to maintain the pace (on target for a 2:53 PR) the feeling didn't last. I was bleeding time with each successive mile. My hamstrings were starting to tell me that they weren't strong enough for a flat marathon. It was only a matter of time now.

20-25km split was passed in 21:21.

25-30km split was 21:19.
There goes two minutes.


Somewhere near the 30km point I saw Marlies too. She smiled and asked me if I was feeling good as I passed. All I could mumble was a "No" and a shake of my head. Not exactly the right way to hit the tough stretch in a marathon.

Also, around the 30km point the leaders came back at me on the other side of the road at the 40km mark for them. I was keeping an eye out for Kwambai, who I assumed would be leading, but this was not the case. Two Adidas athletes (I later found out Makau and Mutai) were within a few meters of one another leading the race. Both had a look of total focus on their faces. I wish I could look that good at the end of these things. Makau ended up winning by 10 seconds in the fourth fastest time ever – 2:04:48. I am certain that without the wind the WR would have gone down today. The course is so fast that I now understand why so many fast times, and world records, have been run on it before.

About 5-10 minutes later I saw James Carney too. He was the lone American elite in the field and I knew he was targeting a 2:12 or so from reading his blog. He was all alone though and he looked to be hurting. I actually thought he was still on 2:12 pace but I found out later he finished in 2:15 high. I yelled "Come on Carney!" as he passed and he gave me a wide-eyed look. He probably didn't expect any other Americans to recognize him.

As for me, my legs were just about dead by this point. I started counting down each successive kilometer. I made a deal with myself that I would

run to each aid station and then walk through them while I took in extra fluids. For the next 10km I

really had a mental battle with myself to keep moving forward. I thought about quitting at least five times. I even stopped once for about 10 seconds in between aid stations and started walking. It was a mental lapse more than anything. I just wanted the pain to stop. But thankfully a spectator yelled something at me in Dutch and I figured it meant I had to keep running. So I started shuffling again as best I could.

30-35km split: 21:49. Nearly two more minutes gone – shucks.


Now I was in survival mode. I was barely extending my legs behind me because my hamstrings had shut down and my lower back was tightening up. This was really frustrating because I could tell my aerobic system was just fine. I wasn't having any problems keeping my breathing in check but my legs were shot. Looks like I know what I need to work on for next time.

The last 5km or so were with the wind at your back, thankfully. Had this section been run into a headwind I think I might have given up and walked it in. I was really hurting. I keep looking at my watch to try to figure out if I could still PR. I figured I would have to get back to running 6:30 or so pace to PR and that was not going to happen. This added to my misery. I started to worry too that I wouldn't even be able to crack three hours, but I didn't really care anymore. I just wanted the race to be over.

35-40km split: 23:19. Good lord.

40km to the finish

I was totally humbled during this stretch. The last 2-3km were wall to wall people on both sides and I couldn't even pick it up to finish in style. I keep trying to coax myself to kick but my legs weren't working. All I could do was finish at this point.

The last 400m on the Coolsingel was really loud. They had signs too counting down each 50m from 400m until the finish. Approaching the 400m sign I did a quick check of the watch…2:58:40…2:58:41…

All I had to do was run a 80 second quarter to crack 3 hours again. Come on I thought, kick! This thought lasted for about 3 seconds. I could only keep shuffling.

I finished in 3:00:36 officially. I thought I would be

at least five minutes faster today even if I struggled a little. I was wrong.

Lessons Learned

Racing a marathon is really hard. Having not raced a marathon since last year in Boston I forgot just how hard the last 10-15km is. I was reminded of this many times on Sunday.

I was also reminded about the need to train on the type of course you plan to run on. I did almost all of my long runs on hills, which is fine for building your quads, however my hamstrings were not strong enough today. Since I'll likely run Berlin this fall it looks like I better strengthen my hammies during my next buildup.

I also did not take in enough carbs or fluids during the race. Looking back on my race I believe I only took in water at the first stop (at 5km), four gels / water each 5-10k the rest of the way and a couple of cups of energy drink. This was not nearly enough compared to what my body needs. I am mad at myself for this tactical mistake. This combined with fighting the wind on my own for a handful of miles likely caused me not to PR today. Both of these mistakes were my own too, which is frustrating.

But things are not all bad. I never quit despite really wanting to on a number of occasions. Even though I am not happy with the time, I am happy with the effort I put forth. I know where I need to improve for my next attempt and I am confident I'll be able to crack 2:50 with another good buildup. But first things first, time to relax for a few weeks and not think about marathon training.

Happy running everyone.

Ben Zuehlsdorf | Accenture Management Consulting | ☎ +6012 258 1978 | ✉
Simon Cross
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1 comment:

Brybrarobry said...

congrats to him, great time.