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Race Report: The NN Rotterdam Marathon Sunday 9th April

By Jon Laye

‘Cool, Cool, Hot, Hot, Cool’

or ‘This could be the high point of my marathon career?’

Why is it that the Netherlands, and the Dutch in general, are so very cool? I’ve only just arrived in the country and I’m on an über-fast intercity train from Schiphol Airport to Rotterdam and the train guard is apologising over the PA system for the third time that the train will be a whole 8 minutes late. And he is doing that in three different languages! How cool is that?

And then minutes later I am walking out of the massive architectural boomerang-shaped structure of ‘Rotterdam Centraal’ Station and there is the city and it is cool: modern glass and chrome skyscrapers, tasteful green urban spaces, chic young people cycling here and there on eco-friendly push bikes and oh-so-hip electric trams on manicured grass avenues swishing by. Rotterdam, man it is COOL!

The next morning I get up early and leave my hotel to just stretch my legs pre-marathon and whoa (!) there go the Kenyans on their warm-up jog – just like me. Yep, this cool thing is catching, man! Then 2 hours later, I’m queued up with 13,063 other marathon runners (and an additional 12,000 10km racers too) and BOOM, the race is started by some local troops firing an antique field cannon – how cool is that?

 

Within minutes all of us are running across the breath-taking Erasmus Bridge, which really is utterly awesome, and on every street corner there are large enthusiastic crowds and DJs playing ear-splitting Euro techno-techno!!! Man, this is utterly……

…..actually things are really FAR from cool. The temperature has rocketed. The sun is shining down onto the city streets and the breeze has dropped to nothing and we are all getting very, very dehydrated. The wide roads that we are running along give way to urban parkways and then paths along the canals and suddenly we are being squeezed and constricted so that I can’t run where I want nor at the speed that I want. My plan is to stick with the 3:15:00 pacers, but according to my watch, their pace setting is all over the shop. I am just about keeping up with one of the pacemakers: he is running 7:20 for one mile and then he is running 7:04 for the next mile and I am really struggling in the heat. And to make things worse my ribs are killing me and I am struggling to breathe deeply (exactly how I managed to tear most of the intercostal muscles/crack a rib or two on the left side of my ribcage precisely 7 days before race day whilst enjoying an easy jog on Ilkley Moor is a sad and sorry tale of self-induced injury – suffice it to say that retired rock climbers should not be allowed out unsupervised). All things considered, this is NOT cool.

At the 10 mile point I am revising my plan: I am just going to try to survive this race, and all thoughts of a personal best have already gone. I slow down sufficiently to entirely lose sight of the 3:15:00 pacemaker – and then all of a sudden, I am overtaken by another 3:15:00 pacemaker! What the….? How can two 3:15:00 pacemakers be separated by 5 minutes at the 11 mile mark? This is just not cool!

I am just going to have to grind this one out. At the side of the road, the Umpapa Band and their rendition of ‘The Eye of the Tiger’ is failing to lift my spirits.  Even the sight of the lovely thoughtful locals who have set up little knee-high trestle tables with platters of cheese and grapes and cups of water for the runners is not pulling me out of the sweltering black hole of suffering that I have dumped myself in. As we round a corner and cross a chip mat, video messages from family, friends and loved ones are automatically queued up on 4 enormous TV screens for us to run beneath (and the bloke next to me, collapses into sobbing hysterics as recorded footage of his kids doing a dance for the camera and singing words of encouragement is all too much).

It is NOT fun and then suddenly – whoosh, there on the other side of the road flash the Kenyans and Ethiopians en route for a 2:06:04, and I know that I am going to be out here for another 80 minutes or more and it is so very hot.

Lots of people are walking now, but at last I realize that I am on the last corner and there is just the long home straight left to go. We are surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of locals politely clapping and so in a moment of madness I am frantically waving my arms at them and shouting, “Come on, I can’t hear you! COME ON, I WANT TO HEAR YOU CHEER!” The ten people behind the barrier next to me start to cheer, and then the ten people next to them, and then the twenty next to them and then the 50 next to them and then a couple of hundred and on and on! And so, like the Dutch equivalent of a Mexican wave, 100s and 100s of wonderful spectators cheer and scream and roar their loudest at me as I wobble down the home straight!! They are shouting, ‘GO JOWN, GO JOWN, GO!” and it is MY name they are mispronouncing (in a really hip kind of way) and I am laughing (because they must all think I am a celebrity or something) and I am crying my eyes out but there are no tears coming because I am so dehydrated, and I am waving and then for one delirious ecstatic moment I realize that this is probably going to be the highpoint of my marathon career. And that, I have to say is utterly, undeniably COOL!

For the record, Dutch media reported that this was the second hottest Rotterdam Marathon and the early summer weather was probably in part responsible for nearly a million people coming out to spectate.

So the question is whether I would recommend it to others? The forecast of hot weather meant that the organisers put on extra sponge points and extra water I think. And I imagine that was probably very typical of the organisation as a whole.  Everything from the registration and trade show to the actual start of the race was very busy but seemed to be well organised and really pretty slick. I noticed numerous places where kerbs had been temporarily tarmacked over to reduce the risk of runners tripping. And there were hundreds of officials and volunteers throughout. The crowds were brilliant and the route was actually quite interesting, crossing the Erasmus Bridge twice and following a canal or two, passing beneath the famous Cube Houses and alongside the amazing Market Hall and even passing a couple of windmills (which I failed to notice). On the face of it, it would seem to be a really good PB race. The route is entirely flat and should have been fast, but actually running back over the Erasmus Bridge confronts one with what seems like a massive hill. Similarly, there are a number of points where the route is very constricted. As with most big city races, it was really not possible to run at one’s own pace for the first 6 or 7 miles and unfortunately the point at which one would normally want to settle down and focus on running comfortably was that point at which the route constricted to a relatively narrow pathway where one had to run at the crowd’s speed. I am really not sure what was going on with the pacemakers, but without doubt even within the first 3 or 4 miles they were going way too fast if they were aiming for even splits. And as per usual, how in heaven’s name is it that 5 hour-plus marathon runners managed to get into the sub-3 hour race pens?? I tripped over no less than 3 (largish) women in front of me who were already jogging or even walking in the first mile and a half and causing utter chaos for all those hundreds/thousands of runners behind them trying to relax and get in to their racing pace? It seems churlish to point these things out, because that is what large marathons are like. I am not convinced this is a PB race, but in all honesty it is a very amazing marathon and I recommend it strongly. Oh, and it is also pretty cool too.

 

Position Name Country Cat Category Position Time Chip Time
1 Marius Kimutai Kenya MSr 1 of 2954 2:06:04 2:06:03
25 Meskerem Assefa Ethiopia FSr 1 of 1032 2:24:18 2:24:17
1580 Jon Laye UK M45 216 of 1647 3:23:26 3:22:32

 

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