Monday, 19 October 2009

Amsterdam Half Marathon. Mission Accomplished

I’ve looked at race photos and a video of the course that shows clips at points along the route. Every time I think over the day, tears well up. This race took me to a place I never thought I would go. Training for this race built in me a new vision of myself. I have left behind the overweight sedentary person I used to be. I grew into someone with a good sense of what I can accomplish. I sharpened my “scavenger hunt” skills and gained valuable experience in sustaining a hard, disciplined effort for a worthy goal.

Unlike other areas of my life, running does not come easy to me. I have enjoyed a lot of success in my schooling and my career – many firsts and top ten percents. Three of the four races this year I ran in last place for much of the race. I needed to grow as a person to find the joy in running that has nothing to do with my place at the finish line.

I approached the half marathon with the determination that I would win even if I finished last, and that I was strong enough to run in last place throughout the race. That is where courageous runners sometimes find themselves. Like in Paris, at the back I ran with the people who defy the stereotypes and run anyway. This time though, I did not stop to chat. I wanted to finish before they stopped recording times. And to find out what I was made of.

Throughout my training, you gave me exercises that built my speed and endurance as well as my confidence step by step. Over-distance training gave me the belief in myself. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the distance of a Half Marathon in kilometers until after I had run the distance a couple months ago. The 800 meter repeats helped me to build speed over distance. They helped me to learn how to dig deep inside, beneath the physical discomfort of “I Can’t”, to find “I Can.” I learned what my body feels like at various levels of intensity, how much I can push, and what’s a little too much for right now. I learned about pacing myself - what happens if I go too fast, too early. I learned how to keep something in reserve. Every race taught me to expect the unexpected and to anticipate and prepare for the wall. I helped my training by not over-training, by respecting my limits and pushing myself gently further.

I learned sometimes I can arrive sooner by going slower. These lessons have applications far beyond my running. I am a better person today for learning to run. Thank you very much.

1. Distance assigned: Amsterdam Half Marathon. Plus 3k each w/u & c/d. I jogged the warm up. I walked the cool down.

2. Pace assigned: “do what makes me feel confident.”

Line up at the back again so that you will have freedom of movement.

17-21--anything you want.

Split Time Distance Avg Speed Max Speed
1 0:07:58 1,00 7:58 6:33
2 0:07:57 1,00 7:57 6:08
3 0:07:59 1,00 7:59 6:28
4 0:08:13 1,00 8:13 6:31
5 0:07:36 1,00 7:36 5:36
6 0:07:55 1,00 7:55 6:04
7 0:07:28 1,00 7:28 5:25
8 0:07:40 1,00 7:40 5:47
9 0:06:46 1,00 6:46 3:58
10 0:07:29 1,00 7:29 5:50
11 0:07:02 1,00 7:02 5:26
12 0:06:57 1,00 6:57 4:31
13 0:07:02 1,00 7:02 4:41
14 0:06:53 1,00 6:53 4:48
15 0:06:53 1,00 6:53 4:57
16 0:08:05 1,00 8:05 5:25
17 0:07:17 1,00 7:17 5:08
18 0:07:28 1,00 7:28 5:36
19 0:07:46 1,00 7:46 5:40
20 0:08:07 1,00 8:07 6:22
21 0:06:53 1,00 6:53 4:45
22 0:01:56 0,34 5:45 4:38
Summary 2:39:27 21,34 7:28 3:58

3. Walk Break Ratio Assigned: I tried to practice the 40/20 and 30/30 before the race. One of my girlfriends reassured me that crappy practice meant a good race. With your explanation and some good advice from your blog, I thought it might be worth trying during the race. I warmed up with a 3k jog, and then stood around in the starting pen for 20 minutes.

The weather was cool. In the past, I would have worn too much clothing. This time I knew I would heat up in the race, so I dressed in short sleeves and ¾ length running tights. I picked up a plastic blanket that had been discarded and used that to stay warm. The clouds indicated rain, so I brought a lightweight jacket and a hat. They came in handy around 17k when the rain started.

Though in Holland, racing in Amsterdam was still “out of town.” I had to learn a new payment system for the Amsterdam Metro, and navigate to Olympic Stadium, a place I had never visited. Transportation took about 90 minutes. I left my wallet at home, carrying only the essentials. Unfortunately, the fare inspector reminded me that I had left behind the discount train card that I should have carried for the fare I had purchased. He wished me good luck for the race and waived the 35 euro ticket with instructions to buy a full fare ticket for my return trip. I didn’t let it upset me.

I easily found the place to check my bag, changed into my running clothes and enjoyed the warmth of the big sports hall next to the stadium where the race would start. While warming up, I realized that I forgot to put on my heart rate strap. I didn’t have enough time to go get it. I never used my heart rate during training, so this didn’t bother me. I like to look at the data afterwards. But I have a good sense of my effort.

I carefully planned the day’s nutrition. After carrying two big water bottles in France, it occurred to me that I could carry pre-measured powder for the carb/protein mix I like, and mix it up with water along the course. That worked out fine.

My “good” camera died after I took the first picture. So the race got even simpler. I was relieved of the need to fish out the camera from my fanny pack. My 15-year-old son laughed when I told him about taking a couple pictures along the route with my phone-camera. He called me the Fastest Tourist Ever.

The crowds cheered me on. Running in the back gave me plenty of maneuvering room. Most of the time, I was completely alone. I ran the blue stripe painted on the street. It straightened out the curves, helping me to run the shortest course possible.

Many children lined the route, especially near the aid stations. They eagerly handed out sponges and held out hands for “high-fives.” Early in the course, one group of kids chanted (in Dutch),

“Faster, faster.”

I told them,

“Slow now, fast at the end.”

Just at the 8km sign, a race official on the back of a motorcycle told me in rapid Dutch something I couldn’t understand. I explained I spoke English and he repeated that he wanted to take me off the course since at that speed I couldn’t finish before 5:15 PM. I was shocked and incensed. I thought how he dare discourage all of us slow folks in the back with such a prediction. I refused and told him I would increase my pace. He didn’t understand my English. I repeated, “I will run faster.” The next kilometer was my fastest in the whole race. I watched as the Grim Sweeper delivered his dire predictions to the runners around me.

Well, I realized the truth of what I had been told. Starting in the back meant I started more than 10 minutes after 2:00 PM. So I picked it up. I knew I would need to cut a minute off each of the remaining kilometers.

I had programmed my watch to set the pace for me. It continued to beep at me with the warning “Slow Down”. I knew that I would finish before 5:00 PM if I could just run a little faster than the planned pace on my watch.

This is where walk breaks became really important. From the start, I took walk breaks even though they didn’t feel “necessary” yet. I was running a ratio of about 1:1 or 2:1 for the first couple kilometers. After meeting the Grim Sweeper, I pushed the walk breaks to about 4:1 or 2 min:30 seconds. That ratio seemed to work pretty well.

I had also planned to use the pacing music that I trained with for the 800 m repeats. I started that play list at about 13km. I took the 30 seconds at 400 meters, another 30 seconds at 800 meters and a light jog for two minutes. Then I did the accelerations over again. Since I had done 14 of them, I knew I could just keep this up until I ran out the race. I also walked briefly through the aid stations every five kilometers as I picked up something to drink.

The last part of the course went through a beautiful park and then the last neighborhood, finally going inside Olympic Stadium. The signs were a little unclear. There was a finish mark from one of the shorter races, and I started running faster and faster, since I was so excited by then. I ran through the tunnel, under the Olympic rings. This was incredible. Then I saw the finish was three-quarters around the track. I kept running as hard as I could at that point – My last lap was among my fastest. My feet hurt, but I was really happy. Beyond words.

I looked at the finish video and you can see my form has fallen apart by then. It looks like I am leaning forward and willing myself to finish. If it’s worthwhile, I would be grateful if you could offer some critique of my running. I look heavier in the videos than I feel. You can find a link to the videos, which offer clips at various places in the race, by searching on my name or bib number 31865 at

Like I mentioned yesterday, I started to cry twice on the course – once seeing people walking together while holding hands. This made me think of all my friends around the world who have been encouraging me throughout my training. Then when I saw the official clock and realized how much time I had made up, I knew I made it. When I started to cry, I couldn’t breathe. So I had to wait to let out all those feelings. The last kilometer is the hardest. I know I’m nearly spent and it’s tempting to slow down. This time, I kept on going.

4. Speed-work done: Ha ha ha. All race long.

5. Any aches/pains? I gave myself a large blister on my right foot – where one has appeared the last time I did the 800 meter repeats. It’s no big deal, but was the reason I went shopping for new shoes, without success. I didn’t notice anything while running. A plaster will take care of it. Knees are a little sore today. But nothing unusual. My upper quads are also sore. I imagine from trying to run as fast as I could!

6. Questions? No.

7. Weekend workout planned for next weekend: Oct 25--6K (oh, thank goodness!)

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