“Persistence and perseverance knows no failure, if not in sport, then in life” ~ Alastair Clarkson
August 2017 came around and I decided I wanted to run a marathon. After testing myself for the first time over the half marathon distance later that month it was time to choose a location for the race. Wanting to run a Comm Games qualifier the course needed to be fast. Amsterdam and Chicago seemed the most appropriate races given they were within the qualifying period and both renowned as fast courses. All I needed to do was convince Laura to come with me so I suggested a holiday in Portugal to visit her family with a quick visit before to Amsterdam. She was convinced and I was locked in.
I travelled to Amsterdam a week before the marathon with the Team Telford assistant coach Alex Van Der Meer. He had kindly organised accommodation with Miranda Boonstra, a 15 x Dutch National Champion and experienced marathon runner herself. Conveniently located just outside Nijmegen in a small town Mook-Moelenhook. I was treated to an endless expanse of soft forest trails and bike paths, both perfect for a light week of training in the lead up to the marathon. The White Birch, English Oak, and European Beech trees created an opaque forest canopy that seemed to block out most of the natural light. Located not far from the Global Sports headquarters in Nijmegen these trails have been host to the some of the worlds greatest runners including Haile Gebreselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Eliud Kipchoge. As a runner there is certainly something enchanting about running the same trails as these legends. Dusk in Holland seems endless and it takes a few hours for darkness to completely close in at around 7pm. The forest goes to sleep as the local church bells chime every 15 minutes to remind us that any man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
Chris and Alex training in the scenic Nijmegen forests.
I was treated like a king by hosts Miranda and Noel and had a great week of training. It’s the little things that count and Dutch pancakes, racing advice and teaching me how to walk up and down their stairs without falling over were all well received.
From my limited exposure to Dutch people in the short time I was there, they seem very pragmatic and unemotional. I could imagine if a Dutch man won the lotto, he would invest the winnings in long-term, low-yield government bonds and get back to every day life without so much as a grin. This type of behaviour fits in nicely with my personality and I could see myself living in Holland for a long time.
I relocated to Amsterdam on the Friday before the race where I was rooming with Bashir Abdi, one of the pace makers and a fantastic guy. With not much training to do and lots of time to kill before the race on the Sunday it was all about carb loading, and I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Leaving 80 elite athletes with a lot of time and a buffet 3 times day is a bit like leaving Cyril Rioli unmarked inside the forward 50. Someone is going to get destroyed. In this case it was the pasta, rice and ugali. Carb loading was a new experience for me and after three solid days of eating I was well and truly ready to run.
The race technical meeting was held the day before the race and was a sea of Kenyans, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalians. The pace makers were going out in 62.45 and 63.45 with no one around my mark and it looked like I would have to run the whole race by myself. Amsterdam is a fantastic course but if anyone is looking to run around that 2.11-2.15 mark I recommend bringing your own team of pacers. The evening before the race I wasn’t particularly focused and needed to switch on and get pumped up mentally…cue the full match replay from the 2013 preliminary final between Hawthorn and Geelong. After watching Shaun Burgoyne in that last quarter I knew I was ready to run.
The Dutch Connection. My extremely generous hosts Noel and Miranda.
After a fairly sleepless night we caught the bus to the Olympic Stadium at 7.30am for a 9.30am start. The Amsterdam Olympic Stadium was built for the 1928 Olympics and was the first Games to controversially include female track and field athletes. It was also the final ever games for the great Paavo Nurmi of Finland where he won gold in the 10,000m. The male elite field were marshalled in a small room in the foundations of the stadium with just the one toilet for about 40 athletes. Anyone who has ever raced or competed in any sports event will know that a solitary toilet is probably not quite enough for this number of people before a competition. It soon became apparent this was true and with a combination of time constraints and nerves getting the better of some athletes makeshift toilets began popping up, including to my surprise in the corner of the call room. Apparently anything goes before a marathon.
I might have been a little too eager at the start of the race. Photo supplied by marathon-photos.com
The race started off fairly casually and by about the 2km mark I was running solo. I was hit by a bike after about 3km in the Vondelpark and missed my drink at 15km as a volunteer at the drink station didn’t see me coming. Otherwise the race was fairly uneventful. As a rookie marathoner I don’t feel comfortable giving too many racing tips but one thing I would recommend is not letting adverse events during the race faze you. 42km is a long way and there are ups and downs the whole way…it’s important to try and stay cool and calm when things go wrong, just like Shaun Burgoyne. I used Aqualyte to hydrate at each 5km station and tried to get at least 100ml each time. I’ve been using Aqualyte for about seven years and is the best source of rehydration, particularly during a marathon as it is extremely easy to consume and doesn’t upset the stomach which is incredibly important. It’s strange what you can and can’t remember about a race. I honestly don’t remember much up until the 35km point at which point I began to blow-up to some extent. Apparently this is what my mind chose to remember. The last 7km seemed to take as long as the first 35. I knew there wasn’t much I could do and my mentality changed to survival mode and doing whatever it takes to get to the line.
It was a relief to finish inside the 1928 Olympic Stadium.
Finishing the race was a euphoric experience even though I didn’t run quite as fast as planned. There is something satisfying and rewarding about completing a marathon regardless of the time. It was an additional bonus to finish injury free, with the exception of severe nipple rash, something I will look to amend in future races. I was completely Amsterdamned. I brought my own medical team with me, my cousin Fi, who proved invaluable as she assisted untying my shoe laces (yes I couldn’t even do that myself) and advising on what foods to eat and what to avoid. Post race it took a long time to feel comfortable again and it wasn’t until early afternoon after I had a good feed that I contemplated a bit of local sight-seeing.
Dr Stenning performing emergency medical treatment
Post marathon Laura and I did a bit of travelling and touristing on our way to Portugal which might have been a mistake given I could barely walk for the first three days after the race. There is nothing more manly than making your wife carry all your bags for you because you’re too weak to do so yourself and this is what it looked like for a good week. One such travelling highlight included a quick stop at the Sound of Music tour in Austria, something that has been on my bucket list for a long time. This was two days after the race and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on a bus with a group of middle-aged women singing our favourite tunes from the movie. Unfortunately my legs were so destroyed I couldn’t get back onto the bus after one of the brief stops and had to employ a few of the older ladies to kindly give me a push.
Chris, Frederich, Maria, Brigitta, Liesl, Marta and Gretl
Relaxing in Portugal with Laura’s family was a great way to recover and forget about running. After a few days I was invited out for a run with the cousins and a few km in we ended up stopping for a few shots of Portugese Ginjinha (a Portuguese liqueur)…certainly an unorthodox method of hydration mid run.
Left to Right: Pedro Galvao, Diogo Galvao, Tiago Pereira and Chris.
Overall the marathon experience was a great one. Not only did I get to race against some of the worlds best athletes, I was also able to travel to some amazing places and meet some real characters along the way. The race put me in contention for the Commonwealth Games team but with the qualification period not over it was a nervous few months to see if anyone would eclipse my time. To my relief no one did. Sitting at work one afternoon in a daze of tax accounts and consolidations I got a call from one of the selectors to let me know I had made it. I was thrilled.