I ran the DLL Marathon Eindhoven!
I covered two milestones with this race – I hit a PR (personal record) and I ran my first full marathon in Europe. Overall, the race went incredibly well, and I am still surprised just how good I did. My 4:32 minute time is far from impressive, although it is great for me (a 20 minute faster time than my fastest marathon), but what really makes the race successful is the fact I felt really well. I only cracked, i.e. hit the wall at around mile 22-23, and it only laster for just under 2 miles, when Acyuta came to pick me up as he usually does, and helped me push to the finish.
The race took place on October 9th, 2016 in Eindhoven, Netherlands, a city about an hour and half south of Amsterdam. We decided to take an impromptu trip to Europe, and being the crazy runner that I am, I figured I’d take advantage of this vacation and make it a runcation as well (just kidding, that’s not crazy – any runner would do the same). Our plan was to visit Amsterdam and Oslo, and I almost fainted when I found out THE Amsterdam marathon is the weekend after our trip ends and we return to Costa Rica. I was almost ready to change my dates, but I calmed down a bit when I found out the race is totally sold out. But of course, it’s THE Amsterdam marathon. Must be pretty awesome, and therefore pretty popular.
October is apparently THE running month in Europe, and I’d say the peak of the US running season falls around the same month as well. At the beginning of fall, the temperatures drop just enough to make the races comfortable, and runners had the whole summer to (relatively) comfortably train and prep for their race(s). I found out that besides Amsterdam, a number of other big city marathons were happening this month, from Brussels to Cologne to Lisbon. A few of those were driving distance from our attractions, and happening over the two weekends that we were there.
I seriously considered running the Brussels marathon, because I lived in Belgium for three years during my studies. However, after reading the race description, I changed my mind. ‘This is a challenging hilly marathon that is advisable for experienced runners only’, is what it said. I’ve run my first marathon in Denver (bad idea), and a 21 miler in Big Sur (because the marathon was sold out). Hills + long race = no thanks.
The description of the Eindhoven marathon convinced me to sign up, on the other hand. It said it was popular for the support alongside the course – over 100.000 spectators come together to cheer on the runners. And it was an excellent choice! The race definitely lived up to it’s popularity.
This was my fourth marathon, but after finishing it I for the first time really FELT like a marathon runner. That is because I finally hit a respectable time, and because I had a good race. I overall felt well the whole time, and it was all thanks to running with a good strategy.
I learned a few important valuable lessons in this race:
- Pacing is key to running a strong marathon
- Set realistic goals
- Listen to your body, every race is different no matter the training or past race times
Pacing is key to running a strong marathon
This was the very first race I ran with a pace group. I know, I know. You’ve heard this before! So have I, but this is the very first time I actually did it. And it’s the first time I experienced the positive effects of pacing myself just right. I oftentimes get overwhelmed by the adrenaline, and shoot like out of a canon the first few miles. I also never know where the race will take me, so I have this philosophy: “run well while you can”, thinking that running those first few miles faster will anyways deduct a few minutes of my overall time. But that is often a wrong mentality! Specially in a race as long as the marathon.
The way I found my pace was completely coincidental. A race wouldn’t be a race without hilarious mishaps! DLL Marathon Eindhoven offered an app that you can use to track runner’s progress during the race. I ran the full marathon, which had a comfortable 10 am start time, while my husband ran the 10k, which was to start at 3:30pm, after my predicted finish. We downloaded the app to track each other, but right at the start of the marathon, I realized my app wasn’t working right and he wouldn’t be able to track me. So Acyuta began playing with it right when I was supposed to take off. Usually races are pretty big, and often I end up starting 5, even 10 minutes after the gun time, and there are still many people crossing the start line. But because they separated all the full, half, 10k, and 5k runners, within a minute or two, the start line cleared up!
I realized everyone was off and told him forget about it, I’m out. I had to speed up to catch everyone! I crossed the start line basically the last one (I think I saw I couple of runners after me, also late), and was working to catch the end tail of the race. Everyone cheered, laughed, and took pictures of me. It was both exciting and humiliating! (I haven’t found any official race photos of me as the last runner to share). Now, as anyone knows, running solo in a race isn’t fun, as a matter of fact, it’s very demoralizing. I got a tad worried I’d be running alone and in the back, but luckily I caught up within the first mile. I ran that mile at just under 9 min/mile pace, definitely too fast for an average marathon pace.
My lungs were a bit shot from the fresh air, having to catch up in the first mile. So when I found the 4:30 marathon pace group, I decided to stay with them and recover, setting into a comfortable pace. That didn’t take long, and by mile 2 or 3 I realized this is a great group to stay with! I ended up finding my pacers basically by accident. Now I’ve learned my lesson – I’m running with a pace group every time from now on!
Set realistic goals
Finding a pace group may sound easy enough, but if you are running a new distance, trying to break a PR, or in an unknown terrain, all you can do is guess – but the pace you predict to run might not be the right one.
I set a 4h – 4:20h goal for my first marathon back in 2013, based on my 1:56 half marathon time. But I lived and trained in Florida, and I ran in Denver (bad idea – it was hilly, elevated and cold). My goal went out the window real quick, and throughout the race, I had to readjust my goal a few times. That can get very disappointing – and disappointment isn’t a good running buddy.
After Denver, I ran a Half Ironman, half marathon and Ragnar within three months time, and got injured. It took time to get over it, and I began running slower. My second two full marathons were flatter, but not much faster. I finished all three marathons within a five minute gap (4:52 – 4:57), and I knew well that 4:30 finish time would be a whole 22 minutes faster than my PR. But 4:30 was in line with my abilities, and it has been my goal before, I had just never hit it. In a marathon 20 minutes are easily lost, and I know exactly where I lost mine in the those three marathons – hitting a wall at mile 20!
My training pace, and overall feeling, I decided 4:30 was a realistic goal to shoot for at around mile 5. Going in with previous experience, I was also ready to readjust my goal if the need arose. There were 21 miles left to go, after all.
Listen to your body, every race is different no matter the training or past race times
As I ran with my pace group, I checked my Garmin to see we were hitting a comfortable 10:15 min/mile pace every mile. I simply couldn’t believe how well I felt running this slow this early in the race! I am usually closer to 9:30 min/mile pace at the beginning, and it feels just fine for the first few miles. But alas, Runner’s World and all the running advice in the world was right after all – Start slow to keep your tank full (check my point #1).
I know I can run 10:15 pace any day of the week, but I still made sure to check in with myself every few miles to see if I felt well in this pace. There were moments when I wanted to speed up, feeling good, but part of my high spirits was the fact I was in a relatively big group, and never alone. I really felt like other people, their energy and adrenaline, carried me as well, and I didn’t want to separate.
Listening to my body became more important than listening to my mind and trying to calculate my pace. Because, considering my last race, there would simply be no chance I’d hit 4:30 goal.
I ran the Tamarindo Half Marathon in Costa Rica just three weeks before the Eindhoven marathon. That was my slowest half marathon time to date, excluding my Half Ironman – 2:15. I was pretty demoralized after that race, I simply couldn’t understand why my past few halves have been progressively slower. The race was full of rolling hills, but not hilly enough to justify the time. It was also relatively humid and hot, but the race began at 4:30am to avoid the heat, and I had been in Costa Rica for some time, running here, getting used to the temperatures. However, I might be able to assign my slow time to my belly issues. Although I felt well the day before, during the race I experienced some cramps. As soon as I finished, the belly pain and cramps got worse and I spent the next few hours cramped up on the bed, running to the bathroom every few minutes. I even threw up twice.
Reason I’m contemplating my race is, all logic would say that if I finished a half marathon three weeks ago at 2:15, there is little chance I can finish a marathon at the same pace, in 4:30. At the time of the Tamarindo race, I didn’t know I will run a full next month, so I wasn’t pacing myself or anything.
But logic aside, I felt so much better in Eindhoven than Tamarindo, and I went with my feeling rather than previous race time.
The race was a breeze for the first half marathon, and I continued to run strong up to mile 22ish. At that point I began to crack. I felt that good old feeling I got in every single marathon before this one creep in. Some call it hitting a wall. I slowed down to the point of feeling like I wasn’t even moving. I refuse to stop and walk, however. I learned that was a bad idea during my first marathon, so although my legs were cramping, and my knees hurt badly, I continued to run slowly. At that point my pace group began to slowly pull ahead. That was a hard moment – they were exactly what I needed to keep going. But the pain was too strong, and my body simply couldn’t keep up with them.
I have my own running angel however – my husband. He found me and paced me from around mile 24 on. He said I looked way better than in any of my previous marathons, and kept on cheering on me as we ran. We hit the city center again, where there were spectators everywhere! The finish line strip is so long… It’s both great and horrible!
You have people cheering for almost full two kilometers at the end, and the city center is very beautiful to look at as you are running through. But because everyone is cheering and all, it seems like you are already there. But no! You have to keep on running. I was screaming inside – where the heck is the finish line!? Acyuta was super excited with all the spectators, so I just kept on rolling forward despite almost freaking out at this point. A few turns here and there, and then there it was – finally. The finish line!
Because of that finish, the marathon really felt like a Tour de France, or some other amazing race like that. Europeans like to party – races were starting every few hours from 10 am to 3:30 pm, and the city was packed with people all day long. By the time I came in, some were already half drunk, eating and drinking all day while cheering on the runners.
After the race, I slowly walked (in some serious pain and cramps) to the hotel, where Acyuta dropped me off to go run this race! Acyuta and I ran our first marathon together in Denver, but after that painful experience, he just doesn’t want to do a full again. He battled injuries in previous years too. This time, he said I looked so much better (read: less in pain) than in the previous two fulls – and that seeing me suffering in previous races made him think he never wants to do a full again. So it might seem I’ll be able to talk him into another one some time soon, now that I’ve proved that i can ran a marathon well and survive…
But for now, he loves running 10ks or halves when I’m suffering on the full. He of course did amazing, running the 10k in some 48 minutes or so. He came back, and we ordered delicious room service, relaxed, talked, laughed in semi-delirium that one feels after a marathon. I felt well, and we even went out to the movies at night. I saw Bridget Jones’ Baby! I ‘recovered’ from the race by walking tons the next two days around Amsterdam, and doing some gentle yoga.