Amsterdam 2018 Marathon Report
By Pat O’ Connor
I started running for the first time late 2006 at the age of 39 and still remember that first run. On the way home that day I heard a radio promotion for the Cork Marathon to take place in June 2007, first time to take a marathon back to Cork since 1986. I found an old pair of runners and off I went, no idea where I was going or how far I should run I just kept going, from Ballincollig in the Straight Road, cut across past the Tennis Village out Model Farm Road and back Killumney road to my house. Curious how far I went I hopped into the car to drive the same route – just over 9 miles.
Thankfully a few weeks later I learned one could get a special watch to track distance, my first operated from a pod on my runner, how technology has changed!! Having done a few 10 mile runs, a few weeks into my training I asked Grellan McGrath (my next door neighbour who I knew was running a year or two before ), if I could join him on his next long run. Grellan was training with another lad for Cork and he advised it would be a 16 mile run at sub 8 min pace. No problem I said I’m up to 10 already… of course I was so ignorant of proper training, pace and how to progress. The run proved a disaster it was a bitterly cold New Year’s Eve morning, and after 7 miles my right ankle weakened and over the next few miles I lost all feeling with the cold. Grellan offered to ring my other half but I insisted I would and could finish, eventually I did. I knocked on our front door and fell inside pleading with the kids to take off my shoes. From memory I sat in the bath for two hours thawing out.
I did a 3:40 first marathon in 2007. In advance of the 2008 marathon I joined Eagle thanks to Grellan, and delivered a 3:21 marathon. Ankle issue was always there and my relief was deep heat spray. In that marathon I was due to get spray half way along the route and missed the hand over. The pain was so unbearable close to St Finbarr’s cemetery, I ran into a shop grabbed the deep heat spray promising to pay after the marathon, I dosed my ankle and right foot and of I went. (I returned that evening to pay for the deep heat bottle).
August 2008 I met a physio in Skibbereen to assess ankle issue, she advised me that I was over pronated and not set up to be a runner. She advised I should take up the triathlon as it would bring more balanced training. I told her I couldn’t swim more than 5 lengths in a pool, she advised I could train and overcome. So I spent that winter in a pool until I got up to 100 lengths. I did a few Olympic triathlons in the summer of 2009 making good improvement, however I could not get the same buzz as pure running. I had no swimming or cycling technique.
In August 2009 I saw an advert for Dublin, ran 500 miles over 9 weeks and delivered a 3hr 9 minute marathon. Here the ankle went after 6 miles somehow I learned to run with the pain. Shortly after I got orthotics and the issue was finally solved. After Dublin I signed up to Barcelona 2010 to have a go at a first sub 3 hours, training with Grellan during a severe winter luckily we could still do a lot of training on the farm regardless of the weather. I had no idea that marathons outside of Ireland (UK and US) were in K’s, and worse I thought a marathon was 40k. I was in flying form in Barcelona at about mile 24 I had a slight cramp wasn’t worried as I estimated I would come through about 2:58 (40k finish!!!) and was okay to ease up a bit, no finish line at 40k , none at 41k.. Sweet Jesus what was happening?!! Eventually I saw the clock showing 2:59:30 and bolted to get under. I missed the sub 3 by 9 seconds I was gutted.
Assumed that I would deliver in the next marathon as I was on an upward curve, signed up immediately for Cork went out hard on a wet windy day and got stomach cramp just before half way and had to walk for a section, I was going to pull out but decided to relax and finish out with a 3:11 time. I went on to do Dublin in 3:03 that October. My quest for a sub 3 remained, in 2011 I signed up for Berlin following Pete Pfitzinger program, once again I fell away from 20 miles doing a 3:04, and in Dublin a few weeks later a 3:03 finish.
I felt I was as far away from a sub 3 as ever, it all changed when I met Liam O’ Reilly a physio who was coaching Rob Heffernan for London Olympics 2012. Liam was kind enough to sign me up with a different approach smarter training, more intense more quality with similar mileage. Cork 2012 I finally delivered a 2:58:09 a first sub 3 marathon. I had a severe plantar injury early 2013 two months out from Rotterdam which put me out for 10 months, and it took me all of 2014 to build back to where I was at. I decided no more marathons and focussed on shorter mileage with quality which delivered PB’s at every distance through 2015 and 2016, in the autumn of 2016 I decided to target one more marathon in Rotterdam to see what I could deliver and targeted a sub 2:50 , on a very hot April 2017 I did 2:50:27 an 8 min PB. Since then I reeled off another 4 marathons Cork 2017 2:52, Dublin 2017 2:48:20 a new PB, Rome April 2018 2:53 and Amsterdam a 2:48 outside PB but still very happy with a second ever sub 2:50.
We (My son Jason (17) and I) travelled over on the Friday evening flight, nice and relaxing and checked into a super hotel The Crowne Plaza about 3k from marathon start line. I’m one of the few runners that run with drinks and need a changeover typically mile 12. Jason had done this job in Dublin (on that day he ran an 8 mile round trip as taxi refused to take him!!), in Rome back in April and once more I needed his support in Amsterdam.
On Saturday morning I did my usual 3 mile warm up before enjoying a very nice large breakfast. Off to the expo to collect race number always careful not to lose too much energy walking around the stands. After dropping the gear at hotel I headed to city centre as I arranged to meet Jason and watch the Munster match, probably used a bit more energy than intended. Still a great win for Munster and we went back to the hotel for pasta party… A broken night’s sleep the usual up at 6am next morning and took the metro about 500m from our hotel. I had arranged for Jason to meet me at the 16km mark. The metro was jammed with runner’s standing room only and thankfully one stop away. I was surprised they only had one gate from the metro station so we had a very slow exit, on route I could see people pointing to a glass lift, my God 6 people 5 of them marathon runners stuck in the lift with a maintenance crew outside trying to free up. I could see the panic and frustration on their faces. Thankfully about 10 minutes later they got the door open, not sure how long they were inside!
I arrived at the Olympic stadium about 8:25am, Marathon starting 9:30am. The Olympic stadium was awesome, great atmosphere lots of supporters in the stand and music pumping. We were directed to our colour coded pen, I was in the yellow section one back from the elites. It was there I met Trevor Cummins from Ballymore Cobh, we have ran a few close races over the past year , in Cobh 10 and run in the Dark (a first placing) I had finished just ahead of Trevor. In Clonmel about 5 weeks earlier Trevor was stronger. More to follow on that front…. I went for a final pit stop inside Stadium and on exit back to the track ended up with the elites (well I kind of sneaked in reckoned less congestion once we got going!!)
At 9:30am sharp Marathon began, was I glad where I started as even then going around the track it was bunched up, after 300m I looked at my watch it showed 6:45 pace so well off still no panic early days. Once on the road plenty of space, first mile 6:20 not bad. My target was to do a 2:46 so 6:20m pace however one will always run the course longer so ideally it should be 6:18. Mile 2 another 6:20 with 6:23 mile 3. Each 5k is a milestone looking to stay within 19:40 all good so far for the first 10k at 39:16. My tactic is to always sit in just off two runners going at my target pace so today I sat behind two Dutch lads, apart from drafting mentally it’s easier to let those lads set the pace and carry me on the bus for as long as possible. While conditions were nice and cool I was conscious of a reasonable breeze. At 14k we were running adjacent to the Amstel River a lovely setting; however the ground surface also changed to a more compact pathway, which I found more wearing on the feet. As we passed 15k mark still on target, I started to think about change of drinks at 16k mark, as reliable as ever I could see Jason up on the left , left arm in sling (poor lad broke his collar bone a few weeks ago). Handover complete always a relief a few short words to Jason. I take a drink every two miles to neutralise loss of glycogen levels supplemented by caffeine mile 18 and 21.
Around 18k I looked to break away from group I was in as pace dropped and I wanted to join group ahead, as I stepped to my right to go I felt the wind and quickly went back to my seat on the bus. Thought process was when we turned the other side of the river from 20k breeze would be at our back. While this held through my pace m12 & m13 dropped to 6:25 having. I went through Half way in 1:23:36 which meant I’d have to slightly quicker second half to get a 2:46. We were still running on the river front until 25k my split 1:39. I still had the same 3 or 4 runners with me from the start as we mixed it up a bit. I had run a very strong Cork to Cobh 3 weeks prior avg. 6:20 pace many would say not ideal so close to a marathon as you risk leaving your best marathon in Cobh. I remember thinking to myself, you’ve gone through 15 miles and feeling strong. This was mind over matter as my legs were not as fresh as they had been in prior HM’s I just needed to trust all the training.
I passed through mile 20 avg 6:21 so still on to finish well, but as ever this is where the marathon starts. A 6:26 m20, and 6:29 m21, 6:28 mile 22 so starting to lose time but still reasonable. Unfortunately I drifted further not dramatically but losing 15-20 seconds a mile is enough to fall off target. I went through mile 25 with a 6:33 but knew 2:47 was now gone however was well on for another sub 2:50 and just needed to close it out. Local support within the City was good but lots of sections where it was sporadic and low key, nothing like Dublin in 2018 and from memory Rotterdam was also much better supported. Maybe that was the mentality as pace had dropped. That said there was a massive buzz and cheering as we entered the stadium very strange feeling on the legs hitting the track again, we had a 300m run to the finish line. Clock showed 2:49:02 for 26.34 miles, official chip 2:48:59 so it’s true every second counts, a second ever 2:48 after Dublin last year albeit 25 seconds off a PB. I turned around and there was Trevor Cummins just 5 seconds between us, and a great PB for Trevor who was delighted.
I didn’t know that Jason had made it back to the stadium and recorded short video footage. We didn’t meet up until I got back to the hotel. Tummy not the greatest , never is for me and it took a few hours to get back to normality and reflect.After a nice meal and two brandies’ I started to perk up. Unfortunately we never made it home that Sunday, incoming Aer Lingus plane had technical issues so after a long wait we were put up in a local hotel and got the Monday morning flight home.
On reflection Amsterdam was a solid marathon performance, I hoped to do better but I am truly grateful for the opportunity to even try to improve. As I write this report I’m recovering from a groin strain, first real injury in over two years so one can never take for granted the privilege of being able to run and train. I know I said Amsterdam would be my last marathon, 100% true remaining 2018, and 100% true that I won’t do a spring 2019 marathon. Autumn 2019, can’t say what might happen though, let’s see…….