Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Meeting the Man with the Hammer at the Spijkenisse Marathon

I just found some time to post this story about the Spijkenisse Marathon. I ran this race while I was in Holland for work a few weeks ago. (I'll post a reply to Alan's blog-tag next week).

I happened to be in Holland and Belgium for work, so a quick look at Marathon Guide's international race calendar showed that the Spijkenisse Marathon would be held that weekend--of course my wife and kids did not believe me and maintains that I probably organized my entire trip around this marathon (Yes, I am sure the Devoxx conference organizers had this in mind as well)!

A Rare Double Rainbow Above My Parents' House in Amsterdam

Although it had been (mararaining the days before (very common in Holland), Sunday was going to be a nice dry day. This was the third annual marathon in the city of Spijkenisse organized by track club Spark. Spijkenisse is located close to Rotterdam in the Netherlands and my friend Bjorn and his wife from Crazy Pianos, who live pretty close to the course, graciously offered me a ride to the marathon start. There were over 700 people running different races (marathon, half marathon, and I think they also had a 10K). There were about 200 marathon participants.

As I found out during the 4x50K I participated in earlier this year, races in Holland tend to be a lot cheaper (This one was only about $22), but they don't give you any goodie bags, race T-shirts, etc. The entry fee still included a very nice medal, so I'd encourage the US marathons to follow the European lead--who needs those t-shirts anyway?

Photo Courtesy of Theo Peters

For work, we had a big release that coincided with our Europe trip, so I had been working almost around the clock for the ten days or so leading up to the marathon. Then, after getting off the airplane in Holland, I spend another day and another all-nighter to wrap things up. Needless to say, this was not going to be the sub-3 performance I had been training for.
With that in mind, I decided to just try to hold a 6:52 pace for as long as possible to get a feel for what it would be like to hold a sub-3 pace and not worry about the overall time. This would probably mean blowing up somewhere along the way, but there was nothing at stake, so it would be a good experiment.

And so, when the gun went off at 11:00 a.m (a great time to start a marathon on a cold day, by the way). I immediately tried to settle in to the right pace, but that was pretty hard. Instead, I was running between 6:30 and 6:40. The course was flat and it was hard to slow down any further. I passed the 10K mark in 40 minutes--definitely too fast.

The weather was great--it was pretty cold and not too windy. Many of the Dutch runners wore tights and I was one of the few wearing shorts. The course was very flat with the occasional up and down over a "dijk" (levee) or a bridge. What actually made the course challenging was the long stretches of "polder" (reclaimed land--yes, the saying God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland has some truth to it) that just went on and on and even though there was not a lot of wind, you could definitely notice it if you were running against it, because there were no trees or hills to protect you.

After the 10K mark, I started (unintentionally) slowing down a bit and I was finally hitting those 6:52 splits, but not for long. I passed the 20K mark in 1:23 and the half marathon in 1:28 and change, but I was slowing down even more. For a minute I thought I might be able to make it, but deep down I knew that the damage was already done--there was no way I could keep up the pace for another half, so maybe it was going to be 3:03 or 3:05. Things kept going well for a little while longer, but I was now running between 7:10 and 7:30 depending on the wind.

It was nice that the course was marked every kilometer. It made it feel like it went by very fast--there were just a lot more of them and doing the math started getting harder and harder as the marathon dragged on. Overall this was a perfectly-organized marathon. At 30K, I passed someone and got a little bit of a second wind, but a few kilometers later I finally ran out of fuel and I hit the wall. The aid stations (every 5K) only provided water and the Dutch version of Gatorade, but what I really needed to stay in the race was a gel or two. Unfortunately, I had left those at home.

The last part of the race started winding its way through the town of Spijkenisse, back to the track where we had started. A few very windy sections in the last three miles combined with a climb over a major bridge offered a meeting (and plenty of face time) with "de man met de hamer" (the man with the hammer), as the Dutch like to call "the wall." The runner that I had passed earlier sped by me like I was standing still and I did not have anything left. Going for a hold-the-pace-until-you-break strategy inevitably makes you run into a brick wall and does not make for many fun-filled final miles--I could not wait for this run to be over.

With aunt Maria and uncle Frank

As I turned onto the track, I looked behind me one more time and saw another competitor gaining on me. I sped up a little bit hold my position and after about 300 yards on the track I crossed the finish in 19th place overall in 3:12:08. Not bad, considering the circumstances. Also, this is a new PR and a Boston Qualifier, but still a long way from the elusive sub-3.

The Winners

My aunt and uncle (they took all the pictures for this post--thanks!) had come to the track to see me finish and I caught up with them after the marathon, which was great. It was a great time to be in Holland, because it was "Sint Nikolaas" (the Dutch version of Santa Claus) when I arrived (Dec. 5th). We had many chocolates and traditional holiday pastries, including my mom's famous apple pie.

Oma's Famous Apple Pie--Yum!

The winner of the marathon was the German runner Ralf Preibisch (2:32-CR) and Belgian runner Bart de Grove, who was very helpful in explaining the course to me prior to the race, came in second (2:42).

Next Up: Taking a little break now and will pick it up after the holidays again to try it once more (hopefully with more rest) in Redding (Jan 18).

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