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Amsterdam Marathon 2018

For a long time I've been a subscriber to the theory that it is perfectly possible to run a decent marathon off consistent, but limited, training mileage - for me that meant a sub-3 hour marathon off 30 miles a week. Although I'd done this once before (see here), it was high time I put the hypothesis to the test. For real. In an actual proper marathon with all the pressures and challenges of race day.

So, did I do it? Well, kind-of...

At the end of the duathlon season, I started to look around for a new challenge. I was planning my usual summer of bike focus and time-trialling, so it seemed obvious to look for something in the Autumn. As it happens, my brother-in-law Simon lives in Amsterdam with his partner Els and daughter, so following an exchange of messages we had both entered the marathon and scheduled an October half-term family visit. And then I fell back into my normal training routine.

My approach to run training is pretty consistent, and has been for a couple of years. I average almost bang on 30 miles per week with very little fluctuation from the mean. I'd only run more than 40 miles in a week a couple of times (usually whilst traveling without a bike), and I'd only had one week with less than 15 miles for a long time (and that was on holiday and I did a bunch of cycling instead). My training focuses on 3 core sessions: a long slow run (usually off-road at the weekend), a faster interval run (usually around 30 mins of between 1-5 min efforts), and a tempo type run (either much longer intervals, or a progression, or similar). This has kept me in pretty good condition and fairly competitive in the run portion of duathlon events.

As September loomed into sight, it began to dawn on me that I was really starting to enjoy my running. I hadn't had any injury niggles for a while and I began to consider what I might be capable of with a bit more specificity. I made a plan and began to creep up the mileage - the same 3 core sessions (with a schedule to increase the length of the long run gradually), plus extra volume in place of some bike training. By the time marathon weekend came around, the numbers were looking reasonable:










1 Jan 18 - 2 Sep 18








3 Sep 18 - 16 Sep 18








17 Sep 18 - 7 Oct 18








8 Oct 18 - 21 Oct 18







In the last couple of weeks, I cut down on drinking, tried to get some regular sleep (our needy new kitten helped out by providing me with some extra napping opportunities, but also served as an annoying early morning alarm system), had a massage, and generally tried to give myself the best possible opportunity of performing well on the day. Travel to Amsterdam was pretty straight forward, we found our Air BnB, and put ourselves on the outside of a pizza.

Race Day

I jogged a couple of kms to the start with Simon, used the facilities, and made it into the stadium and my starter pen (one back from the elites) with a few minutes to spare. I necked a gel, chucked some spare clothing, and then we were off. It only took 30 secs from the gun to cross the line and I started my watch. The plan was to break the race down into 4 x 10km runs (plus a couple of extra kms at the end) - and make sure I maintained focus on the current block, rather than the enormity of the task ahead. I knew the course would be marked in kms, and 4 mins per km (or 40 minutes per 10km effort) seemed like a fairly ambitious pace, which would be easy to calculate on-the-fly and would bring me to a ~2:49 finish.

After a mile or so of heel dodging, I grabbed a set of high-5s from the kids who were serendipitously cheering from my side of the course, just as we turned into the Vondelpark. We then ran a couple of lollipops in town, before heading out along the Amstel river into the countryside. This first part of the course was perfect - well supported, perfectly flat, and engaging. The weather was perfect too - it was a touch windy on the outbound stretch of the river bank but not enough to be distracting. I never felt cold or warm all race. For 25km I just cruised along, carefully watching my pace, choosing good shoulders to run on, generally getting everything right and feeling pretty relaxed. I stopped very briefly for a pee just through halfway, but quickly recovered the lost seconds.

I stuck to the plan of a caffineated gel every 10km, with sips of water from the many feed stations. As the 30km point came closer, I had my first doubts. I was still perfectly on schedule but had already been thinking for a while about my next (and last gel). I stuck at it, and vowed to stay with a group of 7 Dutch runners that I'd been with for 5 or more kms already. Over the next 2km, all bar the 2 people driving the group fell away... and I could feel myself fighting to survive. I feel like various things then happened at once - we drifted into a dull part of the course (through a fairly deserted industrial park), I let my concentration go a little and started to think about the full 10km remaining, my legs started to hurt (not a training load sort of ache, but a done for the day soreness), and I was running low on fuel. My pace started to slide, and I started to walk the frequent aid stations making sure I got some Gatorade on board. I knew I had enough time in the bank to make 3 hours, but it wasn't pretty. I did attempt to break the 30-40km block down into 2 x 5km and lapped my watch accordingly. I dropped a minute on the first one, then hemorrhaged a further 4 minutes on the next. I guess I kind of zoned out and made it happen, but the last part of the race was a far cry from my confident first 30km. I suppose that's the 'wall'. And it ruined an otherwise beautiful set of splits...

It was great to see Zoe and the kids again on the final bend before crossing the line in 2:55:51 chip time. A decent PB, and a respectable time, but not quite what I wanted.

It took a little while, some food, and drink to get myself back together and we waited to see Simon come in. Annoyingly, despite having him tracked, we failed to see him enter the stadium and then failed again to rendez-vous afterwards. He too had met his match in the second half of the race, but still recorded a thoroughly commendable 4:24 in his first marathon (and first run of any kind over 15 miles).

A bit of sightseeing and quality family time rounded off a great trip.

So, is it possible to run sub-3 off 30 miles per week? I still think so.
Is it possible to run sub-2:50 off consistency alone? No. To break through this particular barrier, I think I will need to double down on the number of extended training weeks, or push that peak weekly mileage even higher.

Thanks to the family for coming along and supporting. Well done Simon - until next time! Ian, as usual for training help, and most importantly Mark and Daz for coming on one, or was it two?, training runs. Well done though on your Loch Ness marathon endeavours!.

Thanks for reading!