I wrote this marathon blog whilst waiting for my delayed flight out of Rotterdam airport – so my body was still sore, and to a degree, so was my pride!
For Rotterdam marathon, my fourth, I wanted to change up my training in order to achieve a personal best time – my current being 3:19. I read numerous different books and articles on varying training modalities for distance running – put a plan together – and on the whole – stuck to it. I remained injury-free and generally felt pretty good with the training block as a whole. I was fairly confident that I had a 3:15 in my locker.
The day before the race was sunny and warm – a sign of things to come. The city had a real buzz – outdoor bars filled with people and the marathon expo – where runners all go to collect their race numbers – really boosted the sense of anticipation. We met a couple of Serbian runners – one of which is a race director of a half marathon in Banja Luka, Bosnia. These guys met at a race previously, and we ended up meeting up pre-race and having some drinks afterwards. The running community is a very friendly and welcoming one.
The race day was hot, as was the day before. The predicted warm weather led to the organisers sending out an advanced email advising runners to pay particular attention to their hydration. For me, I probably should have accepted that the heat would likely end my chance of a personal best and instead set out at a sustainable pace for the 42km. But after 4 months of training towards a set goal, that is hard, psychologically, to do last minute.
So, for the first half of the race my pacing was on track for a 3.15 finish with reasonably consistent 4:37 per km pace.
At the 20km mark, I stopped as I was having an issue tearing open my first energy gel at one of the drinks stations. Following this, I seemed to lose my running rhythm. I was taking water on board regularly to remain hydrated, however with the loss of salt through sweat without being replaced with appropriate electrolytes, my body began to cramp up pretty badly. At one stage I tried to stretch out my quads, leading to my hamstrings cramping, then I tried to stretch my hamstrings which led to my hip flexors locking up!
From 25km onwards, and with the realisation that any chance of a personal best had subsided, it was a case of trying to hang on and finish. By 32km, I was unable to run 1km without stopping and stretching. By 37km, I was still unsure if I’d finish! At the point, the road markings became a main source of fascination. One finishes, another begins, and as each passed I was a step nearer completion. Aside from summoning up all the mental strength I could manage, two main things prevented me quitting:
1. I have been posting my training updates regularly on Instagram to update people how I would train for a marathon – to then not complete it would be embarrassing
2. If I quit, what sort of message does that send to my clients who I want to change habits, push themselves, get comfortable being uncomfortable?!
But the mind wanders. I considered that I could claim to have pulled a muscle in order to quit. I really wanted to walk to the side of the road and call it a day.
The reality is that trying and failing bothers me. The euphoria, happiness and relief of the runners’ zone post-race was noticeable. Not for me though. Partly because I was getting sick in a portable toilet, but also because to me, it’s a failure. But the difference between trying and failing versus trying and quitting is huge. One will spur me on to do better, the other would make me question my character and my mental toughness.
Before I decide which torturous event I wish to tackle next, I’ll review what went wrong with my training, my nutrition and my tapering. The heat was definitely not the only reason and most probably wasn’t even the main reason. It’d be a good excuse, but you learn nothing from those.
The city of Rotterdam (and Amsterdam which was visited beforehand) were lovely. Rotterdam, in particular had such a lovely vibe around the whole marathon weekend. It’s a race I’d recommend to others – just I’d also recommend that you aim to enjoy it more than I did.
This race will be a learning experience. Next time, I’ll do better.
About the author
Darren O’Toole is a Personal Trainer and founder of Dynamic Fitness Training. He is a running enthusiast who has completed four marathons and countless half-marathons. He trains clients with various goals including those preparing for races. If you would like more information or to book a free consultation, get in touch.
5 lessons for marathon runners Darren shared after his last marathon in Belgrade. Putting them down in a blog was therapy for him, but may well just help you to not make the same mistakes.