The day I almost got run over by an ambulance 200 metres from the finish line…
For whatever reason I decided that I wanted to do my fourth marathon abroad. While Sarah Fawcett’s tale of knee-high floods didn’t sell the Venice marathon, a beaming account from Sophie Dennis piqued my interest in the Amsterdam Marathon.
The four-day Amsterdam Marathon Festival is based at the 1929 built Olympic Stadium in the western part of the city. The marathon starts on the 400 running metre track. Thousands of runners descending down numerous staircases into the heart of the 22 thousand seat stadium was quite a surreal spectacle. I entered my orange starting pen with 45 minutes spare, plenty of time to warm-up and take it all in.
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m not much of a tech-savvy runner. I normally just time myself on my Casio watch. My strategy on the day was therefore to simply follow a pacer and if that failed, hope that I would ultimately come through in under four hours. Pacing is something the Amsterdam marathon does very well. The Runners’ World Pacing team had pacers every ten minutes from three to five hours. The four 3:50 pacers were clearly identified by their towering Polar flags.
At 10am sharp the race started. To an eruption of cheering from the entire stadium the elite runners from the white pen flew around 200 metres of the track and out of a narrow road-gangway. Just over 17 minutes later I was off too.
The first six kilometres of the marathon are some of the most exciting, running alongside the canals and stunning architecture within the very centre of the city, including through the cycle tunnels of the imposing Rijksmuseum.
After meandering through the pleasant parks and blocks of old apartments around the south of the city, at 12km we collided with the River Amstel and followed it south through hamlets and farm land. We could already see runners returning on the other side of the river doing their 26th kilometre. At this point I was feeling fit and was just seconds behind the 3:50 pacers.
Top tip: don’t run immediately behind the pacers! Like a tidal bore, the great wake of runners pursuing the pacers jostled for space and swelled over the edges of the track. Escaping the claustrophobia, I opted to run just in front where there was lots of space.
The river was lined with fantastic drumming bands, DJs and quite a number of mechanical fairground organs.
At just under 20km we crossed the Amstel and started returning towards the city centre along the other river bank and that’s where I felt my first niggle.
I’ve always prided myself on my negative splits during marathons, but this run was overwhelmingly positive (in terms of splits at least). Pains shooting down the outside of my right knee, feeling quite IT-band related, forced me to step off the gas. Over the course of an hour, I watched the 3:50 pacers slowly pull away from me, till at around 35km I could no longer see them.
By 35km we had re-entered the city centre and the streets were once again thronged with crowds shouting all manner things at us in Dutch (presumably encouraging). By this stage I had truly entered limp-home mode, we entered the long Vondelpark at 39km complete with its loud squawking ring-necked parakeets.
While the final few kilometres were a battle of will, I was spurred on by a mental image of how exciting the finish would surely be. How often do you get to finish a marathon on an Olympic running track to an ecstatic crowd of thousands? We were to re-enter the stadium victoriously through the same narrow gangway we left nearly four hours early. That was the plan at least. Anyone who has watched Monty Python’s Holy Grail will remember the final scene where King Arthur and his cavalry charge into battle only to be cut across by police cars. This scene was closely re-enacted as a fire engine, which seemed to appear from nowhere, cut across us and blocked the entrance to the gangway. We stood for over a minute watching the fire engine painstakingly enter the stadium. Wearily we followed behind and into the gangway. Further sirens could be heard approaching rapidly behind us. A sudden announcement erupted from tannoys: “All runners KEEP RIGHT, emergency vehicles coming through, KEEP RIGHT!” Two officials promptly appeared from the pitch and ushered us towards the left. Like a bunch of pheasants on a country road myself and about 10 other runners darted erratically in front of the speeding ambulance which came to an abrupt screeching halt behind us. Forced into an involuntary sprint finish we emerged into the stadium and were through the finish line before we could process what had just happened.
I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 3 minutes. It wasn’t quite the time I had hoped for and it certainly wasn’t my best or most enjoyable run, but if truth be told it still sometimes amazes me that I run marathons at all and the streets and canals of Amsterdam are quite a magical place to run, so I would definitely recommend it.
Just over three hours after I finished, I watched my good friend and former Strider Abigail Steed achieve her half-marathon PB. Well done Abi!. Thanks to the rather smart tracker function on the Amsterdam Marathon App we knew exactly when to be ready with our cameras.
12668 runners finished the race.
Full results at Sporthive