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Amsterdam Marathon
Monday, 21 October 2013 16:10

Amsterdam marathon

20th October 2013

I woke too early, as is the norm for me, but even for me, 2 am was crazy for a 9:30 am start time.  I spent an hour or two on facebook, catching up with final results of the Heysen 105 at home, then managed to go back to sleep for an hour or so at 4.  I was quite restless and keen to get going.  A friend of mine messaged me to warn me to get to the start area early as friends of hers had been stuck in a chaotic start here last year.  My plan was to head off around 7 am, but I neglected to check tram and train timetables.  I had the route all sorted out, it seemed to account for any road closures and would require 1 tram and 3 trains to get to the start (which is actually less than 4 km away!).

I had the telly on while I checked facebook, collected all my things together, checked my safety pins for both the bib on my front and the flag pinned to my back, along with the spare pins for my gels to get pinned to my belt.  I checked facebook, showered, ate my breakfast of cornflakes, drank a sportsdrink, checked facebook some more.  I really wanted to get going, but it was still too early.  I thought about lying down and reading, but that didn’t feel right.  Thoughts of crowds and not getting where I needed to be overwhelmed me, especially knowing that 42 000 people were entered in these events, so I headed out the door at 6:40 and walked around the corner to the tram stop.

The streets were very dark and very deserted.  It is dark here until well after 8am anyway, but this was so quiet.  I wondered if in fact the road was closed, even though the marathon route was about a kilometre away at its closest point.  I then checked the timetable.  Hmmm, no trams on Sundays until 7:40 at this stop.  Well, that can’t be right.  Do I walk to the metro station?  It’s perhaps 2 km.  Bloody hell.  As I had already left home, and was on my way, I flagged down a passing cab and asked to go to the metro station.  He questioned me why, and offered to take me direct to the stadium, but then I would have been too early, so I said no, just to the metro.

He took me to the wrong one.  There were signs there, all in Dutch (not remarkably), that seemed to indicate that this station was closed while renovations were happening.  I walked down anyway – it was eerie being in a metro station completely alone.  I couldn’t see any real signs of it being closed, but nor could I see any signs of it being fully operational, nor indeed a timetable, so I went back up to the road.  The cabbie (who spoke perfect English – seems so rare to get one who can speak English that well at home!) had indicated to me that the next station along this road was a major station, should there be any problem with this smaller station being the wrong one.   So I walked the 800m or so to the next metro stop.  It was funny, walking along a highway at 7 am, in the dark.  Locals were cycling home, chatting and smoking.   There were a few small groups on foot, but everyone was still finishing off Saturday, not yet starting Sunday as I was.

I got to Amstel station which was much busier.  Young travellers asleep on their bags in the main hall, smoking, eating bakery items.  I found the metro station within this major station, found the right platform, and checked the timetable.  The first train would be along at 7:45.  Great.  Only 45 minutes to wait, with nothing to read, no wifi, wanting to conserve phone battery life for strava and no one to talk to.  And not wanting to burn up any more nervous energy, so I sat and waited.

As the time approached, more runners appeared and I felt confident I was in the right place.  Onto the train at last, travel one stop, change trains, travel 2 stops, change trains, take a picture of how dark it still is, travel 2 stops and walk to the stadium with a large crowd of colourful runners.  Everyone else is travelling in small groups of 2-4.  I did sit across from a girl who was a dead ringer for Jane at work – similar age, hair, expressions, features.  It was uncanny to watch her – she was a doppelganger!  It also set the mood for the rest of the day, where I kept seeing familiar faces amongst the crowd of strangers.

I got to the stadium, waited inline for the loo and noticed all these grey ‘eco toilets’.  They are plastic cubes, with a small urinal shaped into each of the four sides.  Men can stand 4 at a time around these things and wee.  So jealous.  But also so aware that therefore all the guys waiting in line for the portaloos need to have a poo.  Great thought!

The stadium in Amsterdam was built for the 1928 Olympics and is still used regularly.  It sits in a sports district with indoor and outdoor facilities, which formed the site of the expo this week.  There was a long row of marquees set up for bag depositing.  My advice had been to get into the stadium early, into the starting corral, to get nearer the front of the section.  I was in the fourth corral, for those planning on running 3:30 – 4 hours.  So, I pin my gels to my belt, put it and my tutu on, parka off, get a quick photo in front of the Amsterdam marathon sign, put on my plastic garbage bag, grab my drink (sacrificial drink bottle) and check my bag in.

I walk into the stadium, where only a few hundred people are milling around.  I walk to my orange section and continue to stand rather than sit on the wet Tartan surface.  Some people are running and jumping to warm up / stay warm, but as we still have 45 minutes to the start, it seems pointless to me.  I try to stand still, not get nervous and just watch others around me.  The space fills up and I chat to a guy who is running this run for the first time, despite having run the New York (in 2010, the year before me), Barcelona and London marathons and he lives only an hour or so away.  It gets much warmer as it gets more crowded!

With 10 minutes to go, I take off my rubbish bag (don’t worry, there were many others dressed like me!) and chuck it into the nearest bin, along with my drink bottle.  Get strava going on my phone and pop it into my beltbag, wish Jerome good luck, and the music starts up.  Deep, thumping electronic music. I know I’m in Europe now!  The elite runners start with a big cheer and the crowd presses forward.  I move to the left as more runners are still streaming into the corral ahead of mine from the right and spy a couple of portaloos.  I duck across and straight into one for a last minute wee, and dart back into the slow moving stream.  I spot Jerome only a few people across from me, so it was a really slow moving crowd for me to not have lost ‘my’ place.  We keep walking slowly the 150m or so until the ‘25m’ marker, then the marshall makes us run.  It was a very efficient start, with everyone running from 25m to go, so we hit the actual start very close to race pace – and only 7 minutes after the elite runners. I can’t start the City to Bay Fun Run at home that quickly!

We finished the lap of the stadium, waving to the crowds cheering from the stands, pass through the tunnel and out.  The crowd moved well to start with, so I was mindful to watch my footing on the road as we curved around and over tramlines and crossings and not go too fast.  My watch seemed to have trouble getting consistent with the GPS so it was jumping all over the place, so I tried to run by feel with an occasional check of the watch to see if it might match with what I felt.  I know from training that my perceived speed is pretty close to actual pace, so trusted that.

We ran up pretty, wide, tree lined streets, then into the main park, Vondelpark.  Soon after, we turned and ran through the Rijksmuseum, the main museum here.  More pretty streets, a moderate crowd – bigger than at home, less than in New York.  More reticent than New Yorkers as well, very similar to small groups in Australia, so not much cheering.  I had a couple of call outs only, and mostly from older men!  There were a couple of sections where we ran out and back, looping past the runners a little ahead and then those behind us.  Many people around me called out to friends in either group, while I just kept trying to maintain my pace.  I kept spotting people who looked like runners from home, so that became a bit of a game I played. 

I realised afterwards, once I was home and had wifi again, that as I went over the 5km markers and the marathon app was updated with my current pace, it also posted on my page as me.  It was awesome to read back over all the cheers afterwards! 

I was right on pace for the first 10km as we wound our way out of town and the along the Amstel River.  It was quite windy out here, mostly a head wind as we ran South, so I tucked in behind a tall man who was running at the right pace.  I usually hate running behind someone as I prefer to see the ground ahead and have some space, but in the wind it was worth just cruising!  His partner was small and blonde and had an efficient running style.  I decided she was sort of like Steph at home, but it is impossible for me to just trot along behind Steph in real life!  This lady was also a bit bigger than Steph – she could have been 52 kg!  I concentrated on staying relaxed, holding form and enjoying the country side.  There were some stunning houses out here, mostly older brick homes, but a couple of stunning new homes in keeping with the traditional style but just stunning.  Lots of big windows, without being all glass, and usually 2-3 stories tall on a fairly small footprint.

There were a few small paddocks with sheep and cows along with geese and swans, lots of small canals, 2 windmills, some rowers and dragon boats on the water and a couple of boats with bands on board.  As we approached the water stops, there was a street organ a few times – they love these things over here!  I drank water only at most of the stops and had an endura gel at about 1 hour, 1:40 and again just after 2:15.  After the third one, I had a little bit of gut discomfort, so decided not to have more.  I drank the sports drink on offer (AA) a couple of times after that.  I felt quite thirsty and had sweated more than I thought in such mild conditions, but told myself that it is normal and perhaps even good to dehydrate a little in these events.  I was still on target at 30km for a sub 3:40 finish, and feeling ok.  ‘Steph’ had run ahead of me by now and I just didn’t try to keep up.  We had long wide highways to run along here, a semi industrial area, no shade (it was mostly overcast, but in a light overcast way – I wished I had my sunglasses for most of it!) but plenty of room.  Some runners were now walking, struggling with cramps or the results of not training enough or going out too fast. 

My mind must have wandered in this 5km section, as I was 60 – 90 secs off pace by the time I got to the 35km mark.  I started to really pick people off as I ran, choosing someone to catch up to and pass ahead of me.  It was funny how much some of these runners looked like friends.  I caught up to 'Emma' and passed her (so we know it’s imaginary), and then got back to Amsterdam central and the canal route towards the park and the finish.  Parts of the road here were very narrow – only 4 people wide which was really tricky with so many people shuffling and walking here.  I had moments where I was running really well, stepping up a little for the final 7km and feeling good.  But then quickly my rhythm would be disturbed as I had to try to dart around other people and I would lose momentum.  It upset my head more than it should have, and combined with my very heavy legs and screaming hamstrings, I really struggled to stay buoyant. 

I found it very difficult to keep properly focussed and may have benefitted from having some music here even though I never do in mass events.  Once the road widened and I could run clear, I wasn’t able to find my form properly.  I kept running hard, but I think I was fighting myself for a lot of it – you know how you often go faster when you work at 95% rather than 100%?  I was wishing down those last few km.  I ran behind ‘David’ for a while – a very tall slender man with a white hat and a white t shirt with red trim, almost exactly what he wears at home.  ‘Beck’ came into view, with her tanned skin, short dark hair, black hat, black racer back tank, black running shorts and I caught her, too.  I was still passing lots of people on these wide tree lined streets, but not going as fast as I needed to.

In the last km or two, I saw ‘Steph’ up ahead again.  I hadn’t expected to see her again, so I tried to reel her in.  That occupied all of the remainder of the race.  Trying to surge, to kick, to finish off strongly.  According to the stats, I didn’t actually manage to run faster here, nor did I catch up to this lady running in a pink top, but it kept me pushing until we reached the thicker crowds around the stadium.  I had a couple of cheers here, but my face was grim as I pushed on.  Into the stadium and only 200m to the finish.  I passed a few more runners, and was passed by a couple more as I ran hard around the turn and along the final straight.  I may have managed to raise my arms for the finish line.

I was spent.  I was disappointed I hadn’t run as well as I wanted to in the last 10 or so km.  I had run so strongly in NY and in Tanzania, right the way until the end, so I felt I had let myself down.  I don’t feel I could have run harder on the day, and I felt that I had run the first 30km well and consistently and had conserved energy as appropriate, so I wonder if it was just that I am still tired – from training, from travelling, from waking at 2 am!

I collected my medal, fantasised about sitting down, but couldn’t imagine how I would get back up, so kept moving. I accepted a plastic sheet to wrap around me and moved slowly out of the stadium to collect a drink  and a banana.  I asked someone to take a picture of me with my medal and a wan smile, then kept moving slowly over to the bag check.  I saw ‘Steph’ and congratulated her on her run.   I collected my bag, put my parka on, and moved away from the stadium.  I really wanted to see someone I actually knew.  I needed a hug and was feeling emotionally wrought.  I shed a tear crossing the walk way and wondered if I should just ask a stranger for a hug.  I kept my head down and kept moving slowly towards the metro stop.  Those 3 trains and 1 tram took a while!  I had a few strange looks, as most runners had brought a full set of clothes to change into so no longer looked like runners on the train, let alone the tram where there weren’t any other runners.

I made it home and back to the blessed wifi!  On Facebook I had 70 notifications!  I had cheers from each of the 5km markers that had been posted on my page by the app.  I was able to chat to a few night owls who were still up (at midnight).  I was able to reach out to friends and family and our fantastic running community, and feel their warmth and kind thoughts over the last few hours when I had felt so alone.  Goodness, it’s just a running race that I am extremely privileged to be able to participate in, let alone travel across the world on my own just to run in it!  I am thankful, both for my health and my ability to do these things, plus the social circumstances that make it possible – my family, my job, my relative wealth and the ease with which we can travel across the globe for such frivolities. 

It wasn’t my most fun run.  The loneliness got to me, and I think I will bear that in mind when I travel in future.  It is more fun with loved ones.  An important life lesson there!  It was a tough run, as going for a PB should be.  It wasn’t easily achieved, despite the months of training and effort.  I still want another crack at a PB, but that will have to wait until later next year.  Caracas and Antarctica are only 2 weeks apart in February / March, and are not PB contenders.  They will be long fun runs, and I intend to absolutely have fun doing them. 

The stats:

Amsterdam Marathon 2013

Bib number



Victoria Toogood


Beulah Park

5 km

26:31 (26:31)

10 km

52:25 (25:54)

15 km

1:17:59 (25:34)

20 km

1:44:11 (26:12)

21,1 km


25 km

2:10:09 (25:58)

30 km

2:36:39 (26:30)

35 km

3:03:33 (26:54)

40 km

3:30:36 (27:03)

Net time


Gros time



11,357 Km/Hour


TCS Amsterdam Marathon


47 / V35

3488/ 11 291

Top third.  Second quartile – where I always finish J


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Health News

This weeks links

The Cancer Council came out this week and announced that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and that alcohol should be considered to be as carcinogenic as smoking and asbestos are.  As well as being highly associated with throat and mouth cancers, it is now found to correlate highly with breast and bowel cancers.  Perhaps it should not be so surprising that a substance that can so alter mood and ability, even at very mild levels should turn out to be in fact, not good for us.

This story, an editorial from the British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this year has some amazing targets - it ties in with our look at sitting and health, and is about developing healthcare systems that support exercise - recognise it as being as vital a measure of our health as is blood sugar levels or blood pressure.  It recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults as a minimum.  30 mins on 5 days.  For children, it is 420 mins / week - 60 minutes every day.  How close are you?

This is another article on inactivity / obesity and health from Sports Medicine Australia, highlighting the link between an inactive childhood and a lifetime of battling depression.  It is food for thought (!) these days where there seems to be much paranoia about safety of children away from their parents watchful eyes, and therefore a tendency to want to keep them closely under watch instead of encouraging more activity and indeed risk taking behaviours.  The ability to judge situations for risk and to be able to take appropriate risks builds self esteem and resilience.  Not much to do with bowel cancer awareness, but close to my heart as well.

Another article on sitting

This one is in really simple terms - if you walk 30 mins (as recommended) and sleep 8 hours, most of us still have 15.5 hours per day not moving.  You cannot sit all day behind a screen, then drive your car and sit and watch tv with out it being bad for you.  A good read.