Friday, October 31, 2014

TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2014...

Event: TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2014
Venue: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: 19 October 2014
Time: 9.30AM
Distance: 42.195KM (42.54KM by Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Sapphire)
Shoe: Saucony Type A6
By Frank

The trip to Amsterdam was a personal one for me. And the decision was made with haste out of no where. I needed to sort out my life. I need to get away from it. It has been different and difficult since June 2014. Therefore, I apologise to everyone whom I have "lied" to. I have no intention of doing so, but everyone has a little secret to themselves. This is mine. And letting go KL Marathon wasn't because I was tired, it was something else. It was this.

En route Amsterdam on board MH16.

And when Malaysia Airlines MH17 went down and that I blogged about it, only Roy suspected something amiss. I was driving back home when Roy text me about another Malaysia Airliner going down. I was in shocked that it was the airlines that I was suppose to fly on. And although Malaysia Airlines allowed a refund, I stood with my purchase.I had faith in them, and I shall leave everything to fate. Today, it has since been replaced by MH19, my flight back home.

When I boarded MH16 on Friday morning after almost a delay of  3 hours at 2.15AM, I was feeling empty. I was going away. And only a few knows about this for the past 3 months or so till Chee Kong posted the flight path on my Facebook, when upon arrival, my phone buzz non stop with messages! The trip, it was a tough decision to be made. The past 1 week has been difficult and there has been a lot going through my mind. There was an urgency to stay back but in the end, I chose to continue with my trip to Amsterdam. A decision had to be made. I do not know if this was right or wrong, but I was unhappy with it. I am sorry, I am truly am.

The flight was a smooth one. It was almost full and most passengers was Dutch. The food served wasn't that bad either, at least it was something Malaysian. I had briyani chicken for supper while breakfast was omelette. As the seats was a little narrow, I didn't have a good rest hence was almost awake throughout the flight. I believe I did doze off, but was just for a short while. Besides, my mind was set somewhere else, somewhere back in Malaysia.

After close to 14 hours of flying non stop, I finally arrived at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam at about 8.45AM. It was a busy airport and I was really lost. Everything was in Dutch! I couldn't activate my data sim either as it was in Dutch! And with that, I was not able to navigate myself using Google Maps. I even almost got lost at the train station. As the Chinese dialect says, I was really going "Holan"! But eventually, I finally arrived at Amsterdam Centraal via the train. It was like our KL Sentral, just bigger and much nicer of course, very gothic. From there, I took Tram 16 to a canal call Keizersgracht before walking to the other one call Prinsengracht. And that's where my hotel or rather home stay is, Prinsenhuis mark by the red door and it's indeed a small nice cozy place just beside the canal.

Amsterdam Centraal.

Prinsengracht canal.

As I was early, the room was being clean up by the cleaner. Edwin, the owner drop by shortly and he introduced to me things around before I settled down to take a light breather. As I didn't want to be nuisance to the cleaner, I made myself to Sporthallen Zuid via the tram again to collect my race kit. However, as usual, I got lost again ending up this time at the museum. Well, at least this time I was lost for a good reason as this was place was indeed beautiful. After walking around, I hop on the tram again and this time I found my way, stopping first at the Olympic Stadium, the start and finish point of the marathon. And I felt proud when I saw the Malaysian flag up there!

The museum.

Sporthallen Zuid.

Collected my race pack which was swift before entering the expo, which was rather under par. Nothing much here as things was rather on the expensive side. But I had a good time catching up with the guys from Saucony Netherlands and made a huge spending here buying waterproof and warm apparels at least for this trip and also my HK 100 trail next year. Well, at least I felt satisfied and happy with my purchase.

Found the Saucony Netherlands booth!

With the good folks from Saucony Netherlands.

Took the tram back to Prinsenhuis to clean up and have a rest as it's been too long since I last slept. The room was ready and thus I managed a short sleep while waiting for Chee Kong, Mei-Ee and Xi-Ning to arrive which they did at about 9PM. Went out nearby for groceries and dinner at a rather fine Italian restaurant before back at the room for a short catch up and it's then lights off!

I woke up at about 6AM. Though still a bit dark, I guess I was still pretty much in the Malaysian time zone and can't get myself back to sleep. Cleaned up and did some packing and quickly enough, it was 9AM and Chee Kong is awake. While he went out for his short 5KM run, I stayed put back at the room with Mei-Ee and Xi Ning.

The tram at the Heineken Experience aka Brewery.

Spot the Jalur Gemilang.

Fast forwarding, I found myself back at Sporthallen Zuid. The place is now is packed as more runners especially the international ones has arrived. Was just a short stay here before we went to the museum where we snack near a stall selling exceptionally good burger and sausages. Amsterdam is famous for hot dogs and it can be bought almost everywhere. After filling up, we took a stroll along the canal pass some tourist and shoppers spot before meeting up with Chee Kong's ex-colleague Kelvin who is also a Malaysian.

Red lights in the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam.

Nam Kee in Amsterdam's Chinatown.

We adjourned back to the hotel to rest and to clean up before meting up for dinner again at Chinatown which is actually within the famous Red Light District. We had Chinese Hong Kong cuisine at a very famous restaurant call Nam Kee. And yes, the food did not disappoint as I had my fill before going over to a pub and later back at the hotel to rest up for the big day is on the itinerary next.

Amsterdam Marathon route map.

AMSTERDAM MARATHON RACE DAY! I was up early again at 6AM. I had plenty of time to prepare myself and all from breakfast to post race ritual was done without any major hiccups. Even the bowels cooperated. And by 8AM, myself and Chee Kong left for the race site via Tram 16. The tram was packed with runners but not till sardine like back at home. Guess the people here are rather more patience with things. We soon arrive 1KM from the Olympic Stadium due to road closures. The walking distance is good for a warm up under cold conditions.

We eventually made ourselves to the race venue and deposited our luggage. As Chee Kong had to answer the call to nature, I entered the stadium by myself and did my warming up and stretch there before entering my starting pent indicated by the colour orange, a  4 hours to 3.30 hours time.

From Comrades to Amsterdam.

The start was at 9.30AM local time. There were 12,212 in total and I was among the middle pack. As I await for the start, I tried to keep calm to myself. All the training, it all boils down to one decision. The decision not to wear my heart rate monitor and hope to run within the zone of 155 to 160 beats per minute based on my own feeling, slightly more than what I was training on, the 150 beats per minute zone. The hope that I will be able to emulate my performance back in Macau Marathon 2009 will also be dependent on my pain tolerance level.

At 9.30AM sharp, the gun went off. The start was very well executed as runners were let off in waves. It took me about 9 minutes to arrive at the start gantry as I push START on my chrono to signal my start, my first ever IAAF Gold Label Marathon, and more importantly, to run something out of me, into the emptiness.

The start!

I ran halfway around the Olympic Stadium's track before exiting to the main streets of Amstelveenseweg,  a straight 2KM or so stretch before entering Vondelpark, a nice park with people strolling with their dogs of all sizes there. Though runners a plenty, I did not have any issues passing the slower ones. I need not panic as I punish the surface. And since the start, there were countless supporters line up by the streets to cheer the runners on! The surface was a little wet as I make sure that I do not slip on it. And while on the streets, I paid attention to the tram tracks and tried to run on the tarmac whenever I can.

"Into" the museum.

I felt strong and good albeit a little cold as I pass the museum under pass, a sight to behold. And from there, it was a long stretch along a canal no short of supporters too. Surprisingly, not many runners passed me nor did I pass any of them. Everyone of us was on a constant pace of about average 5 minutes per Kilometer. The question in me at that time "Was I too fast?". But at that time, I didn't think so as I was really feeling good albeit heart rate beating slightly faster.

Stadionweg followed by a u-turn at Marathonweg and Olypmpiaweg where we caught a view of the Olympic Stadium again, I made my way to where I came from and soon arrived at the 10KM mark at Churchillaan with a time of 49:14 minutes. I was 46 seconds on time! I had been sipping slowly my bottle of of GU Roctane Brew since the start at every 2KM intervals. And it was here that I finally finish it as I took the opportunity to down my first pack of gel at the nearby water station. The water station was well organised and I did not have to stop to grab my cup of water. I just had to watch the slippery surface there.

As I make my way to Amstelpark at the 15KM mark, I could already see the front runners making their way back at around 10KM ahead. The wind also got stronger here and it was assaulting me from the front including a light drizzle. I needed extra effort to move forward and this caused some discomfort on my left shoulders. Breathing began tougher as I navigated through the route along side the Amstel River. I was even thrown balance a few times when the strong wind tried to knock me off my feet and while I was till running at the same pace but at a different heart rate.

At about 17KM into the race and halfway through the Amstel River, the sponsors Mizuno had a boat on the river playing out music with supporters on it cheering. Indeed a nice gesture to keep the runners going. And towards the end of the river at Oostermeer somewhere around the 19KM mark, a performance of some soft of water jet with a person hovering on air with it kept us entertain. And it was here that I made my turn and into the 20KM mark where I took my second pack of gel and also stop for toilet break. I made a quick stop as the 4 sided urinal bowl was really convenient for the gentleman. Only a minute spent and off I went again and am glad that no momentum was wasted.

The Mizuno boat.

Hovering water stunt man?

I was hoping that the return trip along the Amstel River will be easier with tail wind assisting. However, I was wrong as it continued to be head wind as I began to struggle a little upon arriving at the halfway point in 1:46:12 hours. It's going to be tight and I needed to increase back to my normal pace. I grind my teeth, dug deep and continued pushing through the lush greenery with cows munching on the greens by the side and also windmills at the background. Even small toy dogs with their owners were there cheering for runners.

Cruising along, a runner suddenly trip and fell just slight ahead of me. He rolled to the side and was glad that he did not roll into the river. Quickly, messages was passed on from runner to runner ahead to signal to the ambulance stationed just in front. Soon, both the paramedics was on their way to help the runner. A simple yet efficient way in asking for assistance where both paramedics should be given credits too for standing by at their fullest attention at all times.

Volkstuinen Amstelglorie is where the 25KM stood. Shortly ahead, I entered Rijksweg which marks the exit from Amstel River as I made a turn around the Overamstel. Still flat as pancake, I managed to regain some lost time earlier and entered Spaklerweg and hammered it till I arrived at the 30KM mark at Amstel Tower in 2:33:54 hours.

Both my quads and my right hamstrings started to hurt a lot and I began to slow down here. Was it the extra effort running against the wind or was the pancake flat surface contributed to this? My weaker side began to take over and I knew I was in trouble here. I had to hang on to complete what I started out to do. I tried to as I pass Frankendael along Hugo De Vrieslaan.

The right hamstring began to twitch and I took my first walk hoping that it will go off. Sadly it did not as I remember what Luc told me. "Go faster when you feel like cramping", he once told me and it did work back in Macau 5 years ago. I tried it once again and yes it work but not for long as I believe it has been a while since my body and legs in particular has moved in such fast pace.

The course was pancake flat from here. I had another 10KM to go and the rain came again. Just drizzling but I was feeling cold. I remember slapping on my own forehead to remind myself that it's just another quarter marathon go and it's all over. Got to to dig deep. However, miracles did not happen this time as I struggled with pain on my right hamstring. I ran, walk and limp as time slowly ticks away.

Destroyed and shattered to pieces.

Supporters were cheering my name as it was written on my bib and even runners who passed me tried to pull me with them. I really tried to tag along but the legs just didn't want to cooperate. I was deeply disappointed as I look into my chrono and it told me that it was all dashed. With 4KM to go just before entering Vondepark, I was ripped apart from within. All I had to do now is just to bring myself back to the Olympic Stadium in the fastest time possible now.

A painful run to the finish.

Exiting Vondelpark and back onto Amstelveenseweg, it was another 2KM to go. Supporters and some who had already completed their run was lined up at the side cheering the runners on. I hobbled and ran and the final 1KM came into sight and soon the entrance to the Olympic Stadium. The final 200M or so was around the stadium's track and I eventually and finally cross the finish line with a time of 3:55:14, a time that I was not hoping for in position 767 of my age group and 4,778 of the total field.

Bird's eye view of my finish.

Having cross the finish line in my third sub 4 hours marathon, I felt horrible. My legs were in a lot of pain as I hobble to the nearest fence to lean on. As the weather was still cold, I was shivering and my legs slowly began to stiffen up as I slowly make my way out of the stadium collecting my medal and a piece of plastic blanket along the way to keep me warm. A lady called me from the back and apparently she is from Durban. She spotted my South African headwear and though I was South African. Nevertheless, we still chatted a bit before continuing making our way out where drinks and bananas are served along they exit chute.

I was finally united with Chee Kong at the spot we agreed to meet at. Mei-Ee has started her half marathon and that leave the both of us and Xi Ning to hang around the race village. The pain set in as I sat down and I was in cold, lots of it. As we were short on time, I pick myself up and limped very slowly to Sportshallen Zuid to shower up before returning better and fresher to the race village to take in some bacon roll and to drown my sorrows with beer, mind still thinking about my performance.

A marathon to forget.

The view of the Olympic Stadium.

Fast forwarding ahead, Mei-Ee too successfully completed her run. We slowly limped ourselves to the nearest tram station and we were grateful that it had resume full service for earlier, it all came to a halt which rumuors circulating that there was a bomb hoax. Glad it didn't happen. We made our way back to tho Prinsenhuis, grab our luggage and its off to Amsterdam Centraal to meet up with Kelvin for coffee before heading to Schipol Airport via the train. And from there, it's onward to my next destination, Edinburgh, Scotland on board the 9.10PM KLM flight!

The Amsterdam Marathon finisher's medal.

My marathon splits as follows:

5KM - 0:24:40
10KM - 0:49:14
15KM - 1:13:54
20KM - 1:39:48
21KM - 1:46:12
25KM - 2:06:43
30KM - 2:33:54
35KM - 3:04:57
40KM - 3:40:32
Finish - 3:55:14 (4:04:04 gun time)

My run statistics.

The Amsterdam Marathon truly deserved the IAAF God Label certification for it's a very well organised marathon, the best I ever ran in. The route may not be exceptionally scenic for it only takes the runners through 2 of the iconic places such as the museum and also the Amstel River, but the supporters make that up for their warm hospitality and cheers. And for those who are good and used to running on a pancake course, this may be a fast one for you. Just make sure you are train for the wind.

Despite achieving my third sub 4 hours marathon, I was utterly disappointed. This event taught me the lesson that I am no longer the runner I was back in year 2009. I am no longer young and neither near my best. I've already past my prime in marathon running. And unlike Macau Marathon 2009, I was still standing albeit in a lot of pain after completing the Amsterdam Marathon. Did I give my all? Did I really wanted the result I was aiming for that much? Did I have enough rest from the travelling? Did the head wind and the decision to raise my heart rate mess it all up? Was my leg "damaged" from the recent 100KM and 161KM? All these remains something unanswered.

With the conclusion of the Amsterdam Marathon, a race to be forgotten about, I would like to express my thanks to the following:

- My parents for holding up the store while I was away
- Chee Kong and Mei-Ee for planning and hosting me this trip
- Roy for helping out with certain issues and for the concern shown
- Jason and Elvin for helping out during my absence
- Team Saucony Malaysia for keeping the running clinic ongoing during my absence
- CompresSport Malaysia for providing me with the race gears
- Friends back home who have cheered and supported when my Facebook was auto updating with my progress. And thanks for the concern!

And my sincere apologies to everyone for keeping this trip and race a secret and for not replying any of your messages as I needed some time to myself. I was a lost soul in a foreign country.

* All photos here credited to Chee Kong and Marathon Photos.