Settlement. Containment. Survival. The three stages of a marathon.

This weekend just passed saw the long overdue 40th edition of the Rotterdam Marathon which was originally scheduled for almost 19 months ago in April 2020. When I initially signed up for this race it was with the intention of it being somewhat of a family affair as my wife & daughter were due to travel with me and we had planned a week long holiday in Portugal for afterwards. This time round it was just me boarding the flight as a new edition to the family meant it didn’t make sense for the others to travel as it would have been impossible for Michelle to navigate her way around the course in support.

This year has been a very frustrating year for me on the injuries front. A heel injury in March took the best part of 2 months to fully recover from and this was then compounded by a hip injury just when I felt like I was getting back on track. This again took a couple of months to get over and it was well into August before I was running pain free. This had me debating whether or not I would go ahead and race as I was quite unfit at this stage and wasn’t sure that I had enough time to properly train. After a lot of procrastination it was decided that I would increase the weekly volume and see how the body reacted and if there were no setbacks after a few weeks then I would book a flight. A sneaky text to Lucy got me an entry to the sold out Ratoath Half Marathon which I used a tune up race. Thanks Lucy!! The Monday after Ratoath I felt good and bit the bullet & booked the flight.

The rest of the training went seamlessly enough up until the last couple of weeks. Due to starting training so late I had made the decision that I would effectively train right up to the race & forego a taper. In the end I did an unplanned taper as a bout of food poisoning 10 days out had me bed bound for a few days. In hindsight the rest probably did me good but the loss of fluids was definitely a concern. It happened in the best possible week though as I had just about enough time on my side to get back on track and the original plan of no taper was probably a bit foolish anyway.

Representing the club out there was Sadanand and I, although it seems this was unbeknownst to each other! Perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to the Whatsapp Group as Rotterdam itself isn’t exactly the most thrilling of places and it was boring over there on my own for the couple of days before the race. To kill a bit of time on the Saturday I went to see the new James Bond movie which was a great way to pass 3 hours.

The race itself really couldn’t have gone much better. Conditions were ideal with wind perhaps being the only issue on what is a supremely flat course. Having said that, the wind had noticeably eased over the weekend compared to what it was on Friday when I arrived. The route itself is effectively like a malformed figure of 8 with a large lower loop of roughly 25k with a shorter upper loop of 15k. The two loops are linked by the architecturally magnificent Erasmusbrug Bridge which is where the race starts and you run over it two times, once in either direction.

Stage 1: Settlement.

The first 10km or so of a marathon is all about finding a rhythm and settling into it. Ideally you will be behind your target pace at this point with plenty of energy left in the legs to push on later. This went without incident and I settled into a pack and cruised along.

Stage 2: Containment.

This stage is all about containing yourself and trying to exert as little energy as possible for as long as possible. Between 10–30km really shapes the race. Focus is needed to make sure that the group

you’re in aren’t dropping off the pace. If this happens then you need to be brave enough to push on alone and try catch the group in front. Where possible you nestle in with a group and let the pack do the work, especially in windy sections. I ran a good portion of this section with a Norwegian guy called Ole who was the absolute spits of one of the Ingebritsen Brothers. It turns out he is from the same village as them. We worked together here and pushed on when necessary. When we were crossing back over the bridge towards the northern loop I spotted a Bros Pearse singlet and struck up conversation with a guy called Andy Durcan. Unfortunately I lost Ole at this point but ran with Andy for the next 5km or so.

Stage 3: Survival.

The last stage is all about surviving. You are never going to get through a marathon without hitting a tough spot. In Rotterdam the worst part of the race also happens to be the part when you’re at your lowest ebb. From 30-40km you are effectively doing a loop of a park but there are no spectators whatsoever in this section and the field was completely spread out so there were no groups to work with. The 35–40km section seemed to go on forever before you eventually get back into the city and the crowds pick up again. With no groups around at this stage I just kept setting myself targets of trying to pick off individual runners. It’s very satisfying at 40km to be overtaking runners and it’s evidence that your own strategy has worked. The last 2km were great and similar to Dublin with regards to the crowd. My fastest km of the marathon was the last one which again was very satisfying. The home stretch is on a road called the Coolsingel which had a grandstand erected on either side with huge crowds roaring you on. With about two hundred metres to go I ended up side by side with my new pal Ole from earlier. A quick fist bump with him and we sprinted home together, both elated to be finished.

Throughout the race I had made a conscious decision not to look at elapsed time. Instead I worked off 5km lap splits and knew if I managed these correctly the rest would look after itself. When I looked at the clock crossing the finish line and saw 2 hours 43 I was chuffed. Everything came together on the day and I don’t believe I had anything else in me, especially given where I was earlier in the year with the injuries and even with the food poisoning still so fresh in the memory. It was a 6 minute pb and that in itself makes it worthwhile.

By complete chance I then bumped into Sadanand in the bag drop area afterwards whose recent good form had followed through and he ran a huge pb to finish in a very impressive 2.39. Sadanand has made massive progress this year and has had a few breakout performances. If he can keep up the rate of progression then who knows but there might be a threat to Mr Duffy’s marathon club record!

Overall it’s very hard to find any fault with the race. The organisation was top notch, the Expo was so efficient (in and out in 5 minutes), the course itself is very fair, and the conditions were picture perfect. After the race I went for a load of delicious pints with Andy from Bros Pearse where we joyously kept tabs on a different Norwegian called Ole who didn’t have quite as good a day as my mate from earlier. 5-0 to Liverpool and an upgrade to business class on the flight home. Things just kept getting better! Running a marathon is like managing Man Utd when Ole’s at the wheel. Just trust the process, he just needs time J