01 Aug, 2013

Zero Gutzpah in Holland

Zero Gutzpah in Holland

TCS Amsterdam Marathon, 21 October, The Netherlands

The hotel we stayed in was abuzz with road runners who had travelled far and wide to run one of the fastest courses in the world. The days preceding the event were filled with exploring the stunning city, nights aboard boats on canals and walks through the Red Light District.


Race day was chilly but there was an air of excitement on the Metro ride from Amsterdam Zuid to the Olympic Stadium, which was host to the 1928 Olympic Games. On arrival, loads of the portaloos were still locked, but thankfully there were some on the grounds – if you know me, you’ll know that I have to go to the loo three or four times before a race, due to nerves.


While waiting for the start, I met some interesting people from Leiden in Holland, as well as Kazakhstan and Scotland, but only saw two or three South African shirts among the 13 000 runners. If the woman next to me hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known that the gun had gone off for the start. Around nine minutes later, I finally crossed the start line. In New York, with its 44 000 people last year, I got across the start line in about two minutes!



We started through the stunning Vondelpark and through some of Amsterdam’s streets and beautiful canals. My Garmin told me I was running at a 6:05min/km pace, a little too fast for what I anticipated but I felt strong! I kept thinking of what my dad had said a week earlier: “If you feel you’re going too fast, or that you can go faster, don’t!” At the 12km mark, we entered the area along the Amstel River, which I was really looking forward to, as I’d seen stunning pictures online with beautiful windmills that epitomise Holland. While beautiful, we had to contend with a very strong south-westerly wind, which, at one point was so strong that I had to run with both hands on my bib for fear of it flying away!


The river section was out-and-back along each bank, so it was a little disheartening seeing hundreds of runners across the river passing 23km when I was at 14km. It was at this point that I put my iPod on, and it never left my ears until the final finish line. There were few spectators and little entertainment along the route, so I had to dig deep, despite the flat course. I came through the half marathon mark in 2:10, one of my fastest ever half marathon times, and at 26km I met up with my mom, who replenished my resources and gave me a little moral support. We had to endure the next 7km through an industrial area with little spectators along the route, and then at 35km, the 4:30 bus was hot on my heels, so I found Lil’ Wayne’s Knockout on my playlist and picked up the pace.



At 39km, the strangest thing happened! A fellow runner tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a spectator who’d been trying to get my attention. The spectator happened to be my former Marketing Manager who was in Amsterdam on business – he literally walked out of his hotel and saw me running by. This chance meeting really gave me a push for the last 3km, and when I saw the sign that said “Last 1km”, I pushed still harder, thinking of New York’s last mile through Central Park, about my husband, my mom in the stands and generally just about how badly I wanted this race to be over. My official net time was 4:31:55 but I’m counting 56 seconds off for my stop to bring me to 4:30:59. My legs were not as tired as I’d expected, but I think they were secretly longing for a hill along the course to relieve some of the muscles that I had been using over and over again on the flat course.


The race was very well organised, but the course was boring, mainly due to the fact that I felt that Amsterdam’s people did not get involved! Hearing one person yell your name, or scream “Go South Africa” goes such a long way. It’s the smallest gesture, but makes such a difference!