This past Sunday I had the pleasure of running my 5th half marathon. It was unlike any other that I had run before.
My previous half marathons were in Chicago, IL. and Clarksville, TN. About once a year I get the urge to train for a race. Usually sometime during the summer that urge to be competetive kicks in. Maybe it's the heat going to my brain, who knows! So I take my three months to train and pick a race in the fall. This year I ran my first race as an expat in Amsterdam.
My first half marathon was in Chicago in 2009. I really had no idea what to expect from myself or the race. While I had run for the joy of it for many years, I had never done a distance race. So I built up my mileage and decided to not focus on a time. I finished that half in about 2:25:39.
I knew that I could've pushed myself more. But, not knowing how my body would react, I'm glad that I took it easy. It was a relatively flat course, but the amount of runners was astonishing. While I knew the crowd would be large, I had no idea so many people would be there! But, in true Chicago style, the event went off without a hitch and I had the best experience possible for my first distance race.
A few years later, I ran the Go Commando Half Marathon in Clarksville, TN. While I didn't "go commando", I did learn the importance of hill work. Up until 2010 all of my runs had been in a relatively flat environment. When I moved to Tennessee I learned the blessing and curse that are known as hill workouts. The Clarksville race was brutal compared to Chicago. While the crowd was comparatively much smaller, the course was inversely that much more difficult. But my years of consistent running led to a finishing time of 1:55:24. Much improvement over my first race. Not elite status, but I'll take it!
Earlier this year I moved to Amsterdam. Gone are the hills of Tennessee. (It's flat as a pancake here.) And not being sure what I wanted to train for this year, my neighbor talked me into signing up with her for the TCS Amsterdam Half Marathon. So I picked a training plan that I'm familiar with, the Hal Higdon intermediate training program. It had me running 5x per week and has what I felt were a nice variety of speed work and distance. I wasn't trying to win the race, just do better than my last one, and do it injury free. So armed with a training plan, a running partner, and a foam roller I spent 3 months preparing for the race.
Come race day, I was a bundle of nerves. Had I run enough? Did I hydrate properly? What was I (yet again) getting myself into?!? I thought that Chicago was crowded, but that didn't prepare me for the crush of people in Amsterdam. I decided to pick my bib up on race day, which was another cause for worry. But, while the surge of people going into the expo was more than I expected, the race workers had me in and out in just a few minutes. It was very efficiently set up and I was ready to go well before the start of the race. I had decided to pace with the 1:50 team. I wasn't sure if I could do it or not, but I was surely going to try.
So off I went to meet my pacers and line up with the other runners. The race started in waves and mine crossed the start line about 12 minutes after the 1st wave. The first thing that I noticed after crossing the start line was how narrow the course felt. I was used to doing my training runs in the park and here I was with thousands of others navigating the streets (tram lines and all) of Amsterdam. There were about 6 of us pacing with my group and keeping up with everyone proved to be a challenge. (I'm used to dodging tourists in the bike lanes, but this was a first.)
Probably about the first 4 or 5 km I had trouble finding my stride. The pacers would alert the other runners ahead that a group was coming and asked them to keep to the right, but this did not always work. So sometimes I was running on a tram line, sometimes on a median or in the grass, and always I was calculating how I could safely pass those ahead of me.)
Interestingly enough though, having to watch where I and everyone else was stepping made the time fly by for those first few miles. Actually, about the first hour was a breeze. Halfway through the race I was feeling spectacular. I even had thoughts of leaving the pace group and setting out on my own. But I didn't. And that was the right move. Because at about mile 10 I was starting to get a bit fatigued. Like, where I was doubting myself in my head if I had it in me to keep this pace up. At this point I just kept repeating in my mind to get to Vondelpark and then I'm almost at the finish. Plus, I knew my husband would be waiting to take a picture of me in the park and there's no way he'd find me if I wasn't with the pace group. (That's motivation, right?)
I made it into the park and something kicked in. Like a second wind. I'd run this park plenty of times before. I knew how long it was through it and that the finish line wasn't much further. (Seeing the 1 km to go sign really brightened my spirits as well.)
So, once again feeling good, this time I decided to push ahead of the pace group. Instead of slowing down at the last water stop, I kept on. The last kilometer my mantra was "this is what you've trained for, so give it all you've got." And I did. The signs counted down 500 meters, 175, 100 and then there it was... that beautiful, glorious thing; the finish line.
I don't think I've ever been so happy to be done running in my life. (Well, maybe after the Nashville Marathon. But that's a different story for another time.)
Official time 1:47:29. I beat my goal and set a PR!
Would I recommend the Amsterdam Half Marathon? Yes I would. While the streets are narrow and crowded, once it opens up you can really find your pace and your stride.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe next year I'll aim for 1:45.