At Dave's request, here's a report on my experience at this year's Rotterdam Marathon.
The back story goes like this: Our daughter Emma is doing a year of university in England. We decided shortly after Christmas it would be a great idea to visit her before she returns to Canada and visit a couple of other European countries with our son Ethan and a school friend of his. Periodic runner that I am, and feeling quite sluggish after too much turkey and pie, I checked out the marathon schedule in hopes there was a spring race in Europe that could anchor part of our schedule and motivate me to get into shape. Lo and behold, one day before Boston, there was this year's ABM AMRO Rotterdam Marathon. I'm no Duff when it comes to knowledge of the competitive athletics scene, but I did happen to recall a world record was once set there. And, more importantly, Holland was a country my wife Kate was very interested in visiting.
Needless to say, I quickly registered for the race, and signed up the boys for the 10k.
So how was it? It was great. Here are some things I can tell you.
1) The course is flat, flat, flat. Duh, it's Holland, right? And after running Boston the last two years (before they lowered the qualifying time to keep riff-raff like me out), I sure didn't miss the Newton Hills.
2) The event is extremely well supported. They estimated that more than 900,000 people came out to cheer the runners on. I believe it. It's the Netherlands' largest one-day sporting event. People really got into it, and you couldn't help but get a lift from their support.
3) It's a nice size. There were about 7,300 runners in the marathon itself, including runners in team relays. And there was a healthy 6,500 runners in the 10k which started 15 minutes after the marathon. It was just a great atmosphere.The race attracts elites -- the winner, Ethiopia's Yemane Adane ran 2:04:48, and a Canadian, Dylan Wykes of Kingston qualified as our third man for the London Olympics, finishing third in 2:10:47. How cool is that! The race also pulls in runners of all kinds of ability and from all over Europe. I don't know what the heck some of them were saying, but it was fun listening to their banter.
4) It's wonderfully well organized. There's great coordination of the corrals, excellent management of the water stations, clear signage and timing throughout the course.
As for my day, I can't complain at all. We based ourselves in an apartment in Amsterdam, and took an early train to Rotterdam (about 1 hour) to get to the start line for the 10:30 gun. We had done a dry run two days earlier to pick up our race kits at the modest-sized race expo at Rotterdam's world trade centre. (Did you know that more shipping passes through Rotterdam than any port in the world? Me neither).
Race day dawned cool, peaking at a high of 8 and quite grey, with occasional sunny patches, and windy. I actually like those conditions, although perhaps with a little less wind. I wore long sleeves and gloves and a running toque, although at times I took the hat and gloves off only later to put them back on. I know that this year's runners in Boston would have happily settled for that kind of weather considering how hot it was in Beantown (congrats all for pushing through!). As an aside, a few years ago officials actually halted the Rotterdam race while it was in progress when the temperature soared to over 30 and they ran out of water on the course (much like Chicago had to do). Such is the unpredictability of the spring marathon season no matter where you are, I guess.
Back to the race. One criticism of the Rotterdam course that I had picked up in a runners' forum is that the early stages of the course are quite narrow and congested. Unfortunately, that is true. I was not aiming for a PB by any stretch of the imagination and started well back. We were pretty tightly packed for the first 10k before things gradually started to open up. I wasn't sure whether I would suffer any consequences of jet lag, etc., and I was happy for the slow start and may in fact have benefitted from it because by mid-race I was feeling quite good. I managed to sustain, didn't hit any kind of wall, and unusually for me I came within seconds of running a negative split for the marathon, finishing in 3:57.16. In fact I recovered so well after the race that it suggests I could have been more aggressive. Not that it matters at all. It was a great experience and I was hoping for anything around 4 hours. At the finish line we were greeted by big crowds and thumping music. The medal was quite lovely, with an orange ribbon of course, and there were blankets and food and lots of staff to help.
I'm happy to report that Ethan and his friend Casey had an equally excellent experience running the 10k. They finished together in the first 25% of entrants. Kate escorted a very happy group back to Amsterdam that evening for a celebratory dinner.
Last thing I would add is that it's always neat to find quirks or innovations at marathons. In my only other European marathon, in Stockholm, I was stunned to see stations set up late in the race where runners were handed sliced pickles. I passed. In Rotterdam, they did something so sensible that I had never seen before -- the water and Extran (like Gatorade) cups that were handed out at the stations were each topped with a thin layer of foam that had two v-shaped notches cut out of it. It meant you could drink and run without splashing liquid all over yourself, and in the case of the water cups you could also use it as a cooling sponge. How cool was that!
I know some club members are off to Berlin later this year. I hear it's one of the great races and I look forward to reading about that. If anyone wants to learn more about Rotterdam as a future race destination I'd be only too happy to help with any questions.
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