Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amsterdam Marathon Race Report

Well, the morning of the marathon began with a minor disaster - biking all the way to the starting line at the Olympic Stadium, only to realize that I'd left my waist belt with my water bottle and all my energy gels (hauled all the way from Seattle!) on the floor of our apartment. Jeetje! Fortunately, because I'm a Nervous Nelly when it comes to time, we had about an hour to hop back on our bikes, ride furiously back to the apartment, gather my gear, and ride our bikes back to the stadium in time for the official race start. We made it back in plenty of time, but I got a little more of a warmup than I was anticipating!

Ready to ride to the starting line, smiling because I haven't yet realized I've forgotten my hydration belt.

Nevertheless, with 13,000 some runners, there was a huge bottleneck getting into the stadium for the start. I, along with thousands of others (including Cinta, who ran as a pacer for runners gunning for a 3:45 time) were still outside of the stadium in a huge mass of people trying to get in when the gun went off and the elite runners took off. My mom snapped the following photo of me right before I joined the crowd and made my way to the start.

I didn't cross the starting line for a full 11 minutes (and then some) after the official start of the race, but of course, chip timing assures you still get an accurate time. The start, then, was quick - out through the stadium and into the streets of Amsterdam, every bit as crisp and sleepy as Sunday mornings in Seattle, save the pattering of thousands of footsteps on the pavement.

The first few kilometers were really an exercise in strategic stepping, weaving between other runners to find the space among the crowd to be able to run a steady pace. Cinta and the two other 3:45 pacers, who ran with purple helium balloons above their heads, set a steady clip at the beginning, so I fought the running crowd to be able to stay even with them.

Eventually, the crowd thinned and spread out a bit, and I fell into a comfortable - albeit challenging - pace. Having run a 3:45:16 in Eugene last May, but having done about the same mileage in training this time around, I had no hopes for this race other than to thoroughly enjoy the course and hopefully come in under 3:45.

For the vast majority of the race, I stayed within range of the 3:45 pacers, occasionally dropping in next to Cinta to say hi. Despite my best efforts to pick up my pace a notch and put some distance between myself and the 3:45 pacers, inevitably the phrase I heard most from spectators along the sidelines was, "Ohh, hier komen de drie uur, vijfenviertig lopers!" - here come the 3:45 runners! Almost invariably, when I pulled over a few seconds at the aid stations to chug some water or AA drink, the pacing group would pass me again.

Meanwhile, the course was beautiful! In many ways, it was very similar to the Eugene course - a virtually flat course, starting in the stadium, running a small initial loop that lapped by the stadium again before taking off for the outskirts of the city, and running a long out-and-back up and down a scenic river...

...and eventually winding through a bit more urban scenery before finishing at the stadium. The weather was also reminiscent of Eugene - cloudless blue skies, pure sunlight, and cool, crisp morning air. In other words, ideal running weather.

My mom was an amazing supporter and cheerleader, hopping on and off her bike all morning to see me pass at several points along the course - at the ready with a bag of BodyGlide, alternate running shoes (because the ones I planned to run in mysteriously developed a little hole two days before the marathon!), and other gear...none of which I wound up needing, happily. It was wonderful to be able to see my mom along the way, hear her yell excitedly, and give her quick hugs before running on.

With that said, I learned that my mom's trademark whooping and cheers are not so trademark after all...I can't tell you how many whooping Dutch people along the course sidelines I mistook to be her all morning long! On another note, this really was an international marathon - runners not only from Holland, but from France, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Japan, England, Scotland, Portugal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Italy...apparently there was a small handful of other Americans, too, but I didn't meet any of them.

Because I couldn't find my Garmin before leaving for Europe, I ran only with a stopwatch - and because all the signs were in kilometers instead of miles, I never had the moment when I ran by a 20-mile marker and felt obligated to get nervous about hitting the wall. Whether the common 20-mile bonk is a placebo problem or not, who knows - but somehow, for me, not having that sign or marker seemed to help. Though I could definitely feel my legs tiring after the first couple hours - I've only done two running workouts in the past 8 weeks that could really classify as "speedwork" or training "at race pace" - the remainder of the miles felt challenging but not increasingly so, and there was enough left in the tank to sprint out the final 200m on the track. I crossed the finishing mats a full two and a half minutes faster than my last (and previously best) marathon.

Cinta and I at the finish line!

My mom steals my medal and space blanket, and strikes a pose.

RACE RECAP! (mostly for my future reference, and for the curious running geeks amongst my blog readers, too...)

Average weekly mileage in 8 weeks leading up to marathon day: 29 miles + 2-4 cross-training sessions

Longest single run in training: 23 miles

Race Day Breakfast: Raw Revolution Spirulina & Cashew bar, glass of water with a generous spoonful of chia seeds, a few pieces of dark chocolate

During the run: 2 packs of (non-caffeinated) Clif ShotBloks (1/3 of a pack every 35-40 minutes), ample water and a bit of AA Drink (Dutch Gatorade)

By The Numbers:
1st Half-marathon split: 1:51:39 (8:31 pace)
2nd Half-marathon split: 1:51:02 (8:28 pace)
Overall time: 3:42:41 (8:29 pace)
Slowest 5K: The first one (27:19, 8:47 pace)
Fastest 5K: The second and fifth ones (26:00, 8:22 pace)

Weeks Until My Next Marathon: 6

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Living it up on the other side of the world

Oh, what a trip this has been already! One full week here now, and happily, it feels as though I've been able to pack in a lot of great adventures, without completely overwhelming myself. Still plenty of time to relax, read, catch up with my mom and catch up on sleep.

With the exception of a few cold, rainy days at the beginning, we've had great fall weather here. Loads of sunshine, crisp air, picturesque clouds. I arrived via a 9-hour direct flight (the first time I've ever been able to fly nonstop from home to Amsterdam! Thank you, Seattle!) last Tuesday. I made a futile attempt to ward off jetlag by sleeping only 3.5 hours the night before my flight, thinking I'd be able to just pass out on the plane and wake up refreshed and ready to roll when I arrived in Amsterdam at 8:20 a.m. local Dutch time. Unfortunately, I decided to finally take the fancy-phone plunge and purchase an iPhone for myself right before leaving - and the thrills of being able to play with a new mobile toy in airplane mode on my flight, combined with chatting it up with a sweet German woman whom I sat next to, prevented me from sleeping much at all on the flight.

Almost full moon! Trippy to watch a sunset, moonrise, and sunrise all in the course of one flight.

My mom came to meet me at the airport, and we immediately hopped on the train back to Nijverdal, the small town in the east where she lives. Upon arrival in Nijverdal, I barely made it through the tour of her cozy, new little house before collapsing in bed for an all-day nap. Woke up for dinner and passed back out again shortly thereafter, for a total of 17 hours of sleep. Oi vey!

The next few days, we had a relaxing few days at home in Nijverdal. I got to know her daily environs a bit more - the neighbors (who fielded a few complaints about our rowdy storytelling and laughing into the wee hours of my first few jetlagged nights here!), the local thrift shops, the newly renovated town square, and what I remember best about my last visit to Nijverdal...the beautiful woods and heather fields on the edge of town. For my last few training runs before the Amsterdam marathon, my mom and I set out for the woods, and she walked one loop on various routes while I ran the same loop twice. We really lucked out with the blue skies and sun-spackled trails.

On Saturday morning, we set out for Amsterdam again by train - arriving to slightly warmer weather, and a sunny, glorious weekend day in the city. A longtime friend of my mom's is vacationing in Uzbekistan for a few weeks; generously, he left us the keys to his centrally-located Amsterdam apartment, as well as two ratty old bikes for us to ride around the city. Truly a blessing - I can't imagine being in A'dam without a bike!

Saturday afternoon, my mom and I biked to the marathon expo in the south of the city to pick up my marathon bib and t-shirt, then on to the house of Cinta - my host during my semester abroad in Amsterdam. Cinta, a longtime marathon runner herself, prepared a delicious, vegetarian pre-race meal for me (and herself! She ran as an official Runner's World pacer for runners trying to get a time of 3:45) of pasta with fennel, mushrooms, walnuts and cheese. Her girlfriend Tanja joined us, and the four of us had a wonderful time making up for lost time.

Me with Cinta and Tanja

We biked home at the end of the night, through the lovely Vondelpark, of which I have many fond memories of nighttime biking with Taryn (my fellow housemate at Cinta's from study abroad). It's really peaceful there at night, the darkness punctuated only by other bike lights, the silence broken by the steady whirr of your bike light on your front wheel...on many Dutch bikes, your bike light at night is powered by the energy of your actual pedaling - innovative indeed! I fell into bed at Gustaaf's flat, stayed up awhile reading the latest Jeffrey Eugenides novel on my iPhone before dropping off to sleep. Amazing, technology. (On a total sidenote, I'm halfway through it now and really enjoying the read, contrary to many of the early negative reviews.)

Sunday was the big day - Marathon Day! I think I'll save most of my ramblings about the marathon itself for a separate entry (because we've all witnessed how capable of rambling about running I am!), but suffice to say that it was a gorgeous day with a beautiful, flat course, and I ran about as fast as I hoped to.

Sunday evening, we celebrated by getting together for tea, and later dinner, with one of my mom's close friends from 40+ years ago when they shared their first apartment in Amsterdam together, and her husband and daughter Sabrina. A good evening, full of many stories and laughs too! My mom and Sabrina worked on devising a plan to keep me in Holland longterm :)

Monday, my mom and I hopped on our bikes and headed for the "Amsterdamse Bos" - perhaps my favorite, most cherished part of the city, and one of which few people, even lifelong Amsterdam residents, seem to be aware.

It's a big wooded area just a kilometer or two outside of the city, with an expansive trail system (both semi-paved bike trails and unpaved walking/running trails), lots of lakes and creeks, scenic farmland, and even - as I learned with surprise on a solo run there four years ago - wild boar-ish animals called "Schotse Hooglanders".

One such mellow fellow, just hanging out next to the trail.

The intention was to bike to my favorite restaurant in all of Amsterdam, a Dutch pannenkoekenhuis (pancake house!) with a pancake menu reminiscent of the indulgent breadth of options available at the Cheesecake Factory. Dutch pancakes can be sweet or savory, and include a wealth of ingredients we Americans typically only thing of putting in omelets or crepes...but we're talking full-blown, thick, bigger-than-your-face pancakes here, with any ingredient or combination you desire cooked right into the middle of the batter.

The Boerderij Meerzicht (roughly translated: Farm with a Lake View) is situated in the middle of the forest. Though we found it without trouble, we were disappointed to discover that it's not open on Mondays. Talk about a bummer! Happily, though, we biked back to the city and found ourselves some solid Dutch pancakes there instead.

Sunday evening I was able to get together with a fellow marathoner and friend from my semester abroad, whom I'd originally gotten to know through interviewing for my thesis paper. Over a pot of tea, a few glasses of port, and a block of aged Dutch cheese, we had quite the time catching up, too!

Today, my mom and I spent a relaxed morning wandering around the famous, outdoor Albert Cuyp market, enjoying some traditional Dutch "patat met" (fat french fries doused in mayonnaise and served in a paper funnel with a fork) before making our way back to Amsterdam's Central Station and on the train back to Nijverdal...

...which brings me to tonight! More updates to follow. Namely, the marathon report :)

Monday, October 10, 2011


My life in passports! The very farthest left one is the Dutch passport I got as a baby, from the glory days of dual citizenship in my youth.

In exactly 11 hours, one Delta plane will take off from the tarmac at Sea-Tac and I will officially be en route to the Netherlands - my first trip abroad in 4 years, and my first time getting to see my mom since moving to Seattle 2+ years ago! My anti-jetlag plan is to get as little sleep as possible tonight (hence my starting a blog entry at 2:45 a.m.) so I'll pass out when I board my nonstop Seattle-Amsterdam flight and wake up totally refreshed upon arrival at 8:20 a.m. local NL time. We'll see how it goes ;)

As always, there are a thousand things to write about - and unfortunately, in my somewhat sleep-deprived stupor, I keep starting paragraphs and then not liking the way they turn out. So perhaps I'll skip any sort of meaningful writing this evening. The short of it all is that I do hope to have some more time to write in the coming weeks, to catch my blog up on my life - as well as write about my visit to the Netherlands and upcoming marathon.

In the meantime, a few images of the beautiful skies here during the past few weeks:

Sunset over the Olympic Mountains.

Sunrise over Lake Union (as seen from our balcony!)

This one's a sunrise too! Gorgeous.

Well, it's 3 a.m...I'm pushing 20 waking hours now, and not likely to last much longer. Toto, we're not in college anymore.