Amsterdam Marathon felt quite different to all the other ones I’ve run. It was a lesson in setting expectations and being realistic given everything that came before it. It was probably most similar to London Marathon when I think about it - in both I came to realise very early on that my hopes for the race were not to be.

In the three weeks between amsterdam and Amsterdam I ran less than 50km in total. My body and mind needed a break after all the intense training and I spent the majority of that time eating and drinking. The exercise I did do incorporated a variety of other activities like cycling, swimming, boxing and football. Anything but running! I simply didn’t want to follow a spreadsheet and commit to training. I needed a break.

That being said, I somehow got this mad idea in my head that I would miraculously manage to run a similar time to amsterdam because I’d had some rest. Turns out it doesn’t quite work that way…

Runners setting off at the start of the Amsterdam Marthon

My friend Coren was also running Amsterdam and wanted to run sub-3:30 so that’s probably where I got the idea from. We decided to start together and then see how it went. On the morning, she managed to get stuck in a lift prior to the event which was awful for her, but did make it easy to meet up  Once she had been rescued we dropped our bags and got ready together, but time passed very quickly and all too soon we were in the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium crossing the start line together.

I had decided to stick my watch in my pocket and let her take control of the pacing. We started off pretty well, but even a few kilometres in it felt a little fast and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hang on with her for very long. We were having a fun time together though pointing out things we saw and lapping up the cheers.

At the first water stop I walked to make sure I got a drink. The weather was forecast as warm and I knew the stations were ~5km apart so I needed to be drinking at every one. The strangest thing happened though: I went up to two different volunteers holding my hand out for a cup - and both pulled their cups away from me! Eventually I grabbed one myself while saying “I just want a drink!” but the incident made me pretty mad. I’d also lost Coren and had to sprint to catch up with her, which used up more energy than I wanted.

Running and waving with Coren

Just before the 6km mark a girl with a 3:30 pace balloon dashed past us and I could feel Coren wanting to follow her. I knew that was too much for me so we said our goodbyes and I wished her luck.

Coren was running faster than I wanted, but I was still running well - for now. Without my watch I had no idea about time or splits but was at least moving at a similar pace to those around me. I knew by now that 3:30 was off the cards but 3:3X would still be possible.

By 10km though I was singing another tune. The 3:30 pacers from the start-pen behind us passed me while I was walking through the water stop and I knew that I was starting to slow down. All the doubts that had been in my head about my lack of training came to a fore, and I knew that I had been far too ambitious with my expectations.

But I was still running, and so made a conscious effort to lap up the crowds. My orange tutu in combination with my orange shirt was going down very well with the Netherlands crowd! At this point we were running along an out & back section where I passed Coren going in the opposite direction (looking great) and then her friends who cheered loudly for me too. I even managed a jump as I passed them so things can’t have been so bad.

Jump shot caught on camera

Kilometres 14 to 26(ish) take you away from the main streets and along a gorgeous river/canal/water body. I knew there would be less support along this part but the views made up for it. A few people had also decided to create their own entertainment in the form of water jet-packs and a guy cruising along blasting tunes from his boat. Fabulous!

With one third of the race done my legs felt heavy. This was way too early in the race and I could only imagine how the rest would go. I was thinking worst-case scenario 4:00, 4:30… the scolding myself for thinking about times at all. Just run, Julia!

A guy started running next to me at this point and asked about my 26.2 marathons. This was his 18th marathon and 6th Amsterdam and we had a nice little chat. That is until he tried to tell me to change my breathing - to which I replied “I’ve done enough of these, I know how to do them!”. Thanks - I don’t need your mansplaining.

Focus face while running along the course

Walked through the next water station at 16km which made for a good break. This was now my strategy - just get to the next station where I could walk again. In between it was a case of ticking off the kilometres and just keeping on running.

We crossed over the river at 19.5km and I got another walk at 20km, soon after which we passed the 21.1km point. That archway had a timing point from which I could calculate that it had taken me ~1:50 to do the first half. That was actually quicker than I had thought, and I was pleased to realise I had nearly 2:10 to do the second half and still get sub-4hours. That was possible. It also didn’t actually feel like the first half had been that long - but experience has also taught me that the second half drags no matter how fast you run it.

Since the 17km point I had promised myself that I would take an extra long walk-break at the 26km station to text Sye and check other messages. That meant I had one last 6km section to get through, after which the water stations (and walk breaks) should come more frequently. Click, click, click, the kilometres went down. It was great that the course was well marked with kilometre signs that I could use to determine distance, especially since I wasn’t wearing my watch.

Just before 26km the course turns off the river and back into the city. Here the crowd increased significantly and I took the opportunity to wave and give some children high-fives. For the first time in a marathon I could feel the extra energy this was taking up though, so had to hold back from going overboard.

Thumbs up at the camera

My 26km water station break was glorious - I could easily just have kept walking and not bothered running anymore. (I was probably overtaken by the 3:40 pacers at this point but didn’t see them.) Every aid station was well stocked with electrolyte drink & water, and as the race went off the stations offered bananas, gels and sponges. The sponges were the best - I used them in addition to half of my cup of water, mostly to squeeze over my head. While I didn’t feel like I was roasting, it was definitely warm.

I convinced myself to start running again, and with only 10 miles left it started to feel less daunting. However, my legs were not cooperating with me after my walk and refused to move. They felt as heavy as at 14km, but I knew that if I just kept moving they would hopefully sort themselves out. Sure enough by 29km they were moving more freely, but it was a tough few kilometres up to that point.

I couldn’t remember whether the next station was at 30km or 32km so mentally focussed on getting to 32km rather than being disappointed if there wasn’t one at 30km. From reading the brochure I knew the last ones came at 35km, 38km and 40km which would split the last hour up nicely. Turned out there was a station just after 30km (walk) and at 32km, but that felt too close together so on the latter I just grabbed a sponge and kept running.

With 10km to go I couldn’t stand not having my watch visible so fished it out of my pocket and put it on. I was quite pleased to find I had run the 32km in ~2:51. In my head I figured that an hour to run the last 10km and get in under 3:50 would be a luxury. Of course, in practise, it wasn’t so simple…

Running in front of the I Amsterdam sign

I’m honestly not sure where the time went. There just felt like there were a lot of kilometres, and only after passing through a water station my throat would be dry again and I’d be hoping for another station and another walk-break. We did pass through some beautiful tree-lined sections though which I really appreciated. Amsterdam is beautiful (the weather helped with that!).

With 4km to go we finally entered the Vondelpark. In these last few kilometres we were tracing the same route we had started along, but in the opposite direction. I knew that once we came out the other side it would be less than 2km to the finish. That gave me a big boost and it felt like my running picked up for the first time in a while. I even skipped the 40km water station/walk break because it was now close enough to the end to just keep going.

Just as we turned out of the park though I started to get a stitch in my right side. Worst timing! I was trying to push on it and breath deep to make it go away - all while angrily continuing to run. This stitch wasn’t about to stop me from doing these last few kilometres damnit! All I wanted now was to be done.

Waving at the crowd on the final lap of the track

The last mile felt like it took forever but was full of supporters and eventually we turned the corner and the Olympic Stadium came into view. The last 200m of the race are run on the track and it felt quite special - especially seeing as my first-ever marathon in Melbourne exactly two years previously ends in the same way. As with my other recent races I realised I could get under 3:49 if I made for a dash for it - which I did and nearly forgot to raise my arms in victor in the process! Thankfully I remembered just as I crossed the line though.

Boom, fourteenth marathon done. It did not go anywhere near as smoothly as my other recent ones, but I’m still pleased to come away with 3:48:47, my 6th fastest marathon time despite very little running in the weeks leading up to the event.

I know I can do better, but I do think I did the best I could on the day, in the conditions. I didn’t bonk, I always just kept running and pulled through the worst patches. And I made a conscious effort to lap up the crowd which made a big difference!

As for Coren, she went on to smash the marathon in 3:27:27 - LEGEND! Sye also ran the half-marathon which started just after I finished and very nearly equalled his other half-marathon time despite only deciding the day before that he was going to participate in the event  Successes for everyone!

Post-race sweaty medal selfie