The “hills” of the Rotterdam Marathon, 13 April 2008

Map of the Rotterdam Marathon.

Past the 30 km mark another incline, now at the Kralingse Plas. Still one hour to go. The Erasmus Bridge at 25.5 km with an elevation difference of only 17 m nearly stopped me dead. Rotterdam is not a friendly run between 25 and 42 km, too many “hills”. Still, a marathon is only about finishing and not a PR.

Rotterdam marathon

Rotterdam is suppose to be one of the faster of the some 40 big marathon events in the world, rivalling Berlin, London and Amsterdam. Also, as you “should have done it”, I signed up, but very reluctantly as the date is wrong. It is too early in the season, with only winter runs possible as a preparation. This winter was not good, mostly 5-8 Celsius, so I couldn't do a half marathon every week-end and 10 km runs during the week as you would risk a severe cold when breathing too hard running fast. Next time I should go anyway but run slower, at 70% effort at most.

I also didn't like the Erasmus Bridge which you have to cross twice. It could be windy and very cold. New York is infamous for its three bridges, increasing your total time by 10-15 minutes, and worse, potentially killing you.

Five banana energy gel pouches of 25 grams each were suppose to help me, one at 20, 25, 30 and 35 km.

Squeezy Banana energy gel, 25 grams each.

Mixed with water, 160 ml for each pouch is advised. This is a perfect drink as it has the gentle taste of concentrated banana juice and is not as “sugary” as the isotone drinks that have around 8-12% sugars. They fitted well in the back pocket of my shorts and socks. No hindrance. Those of 45 grams are too big in size for runners my weight and better suited on a bicycle or when hiking.


Today I had an ambitious schedule, the first 4 times 5 km in 22 minutes each and the last 4 times 5 km in 23 minutes each. End time 3 hours 10 minutes plus delays of 30 seconds at 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 km for drinking. Would be also be happy with 3 hours and 15 minutes.

The line up for the start in Rotterdam seemed very good, two double lane rows for the next 2 km but I heard complaints after the run that it took 5 minutes to pass slow runners. This should create space between the slow and faster runners. Amsterdam is worse, it has a single lane for about 1 km and here you loose time, unless you get a proper start position in the 3 and 3h30m end time category.

It was only 10 Celsius today. In the cold change room “tent” some 500 m from the start, I put on old pants and a sweater to stay warm. This worked well and a ran a bit to warm up. I now resembled a “jogging drifter”, not very common. I entered the gate with the runners and here it was surprisingly warm, all body heat. The sun was out and staying close to other people really warmed me up. You could feel the radiating body heat.

At 10.30 AM the line up was already 300 m. A group of five Frenchies tried to move slowly to the head of the queue. I followed them. They shouted “toilette, toilette”, pretending they had to go to the toilets, located 20-30 m apart. We managed well and ended up 100 m from the start line, behind the Fortis (bank personnel) Relay run. Fortis is the main sponsor of the event. The Fortis runners were a displaced bunch of people. They were all dressed up in the Fortis bank outfits, but they looked like very inexperienced, not very fit people, some with overweight, doing the mandatory 10 km company jogging today. They will be disappointed today.

One minute before the start the tape separating us from the Fortis runners was taken down and the Frenchies move up quickly along the side. We ended up just behind the amateur athletics of the F category, who have the privilege to start at the start line. They are capable of doing it in 2h30m to 3 hours. We had a perfect starting position at only 50 m (14 seconds) from the start line and I might even make it on start pictures and sport news on TV.

The Fortis Relay joggers thought we were crazy, “What is the difference over 42 km”? Well, possibly 2 minutes which is a lot, but more importantly, no slow, inexperienced runners like you, forming annoying, hindering groups, you just like to kick aside. This is not a social walk in the park but a serious run where “big men could be very small and small men could be big”. It does separate the men and women from the boys and girls.

Start and first 5 km

It took me only 14 seconds from the start cannon shot to pass the start line. Our pace was good, most runners did around 14 km per hour and ascending the Erasmus Bridge was easy it seemed. I barely noticed the long incline but it is lower from the North side as the road is some 6-8 meters higher. At 5 km I clocked a time of 22m16s, on schedule for the first 5 km with target time of 22 minutes. Still the weather was cold and my legs didn't feel good. I started to realize that I wasn't in good shape.

Some runners were wearing long socks or calve warmers to keep the calves and Achilles tendons warm. Good idea in this cold weather. Vitasan compression socks are known to prevent a torn calve muscle or to speed up recovery by keeping the muscles warm and improving blood circulation.

From 5 km to 25 km

The next 5 km were slower, 22m59s. Not so good but still fine. Already one minute behind schedule. I threw the bottle I carried for drinking in a ditch and now the running was much better and I joined the runners passing me. I seemed to be doing well.

The 10 to 15 km I did in 23m10s, already 1m25s behind schedule and the running didn't feel good. Many runners were passing me again.

The 15 to 20 km I did in 23m42s, a bad omen, not in shape today. I would never make it in 3h15m.

Half marathon time, including a single short stop for power gel and drinking (20 seconds), was in 1h38m8s. Only a minute faster compared to Amsterdam last October but in Amsterdam I had a one minute delay at the start. Now I had none.

I clearly ran too few kilometres over the past 8 weeks. Only once a 13, 16, 18 and 21 km. They all felt good but this is clearly insufficient to get past 25 km.

So far the course was very flat and we had some head wind but this was made up by back winds.

From 25 to 30 km

This part is the crucial in any marathon. How do you feel, possibly already tired.

I took another power gel and a cup of water at the 25 km drinking post and headed for the Erasmus Bridge. From a distance it looked gruelling, a very long incline, getting steeper near the top, only 17 m. You could see the bulge of the bridge in the far distance. Initially I felt fine but it got bad quickly, running more and more slowly, almost coming to a grinding halt at the top of the bridge.

At 25.5 km Erasmus is a killer bridge.

The New York marathon has five bridges and these have elevations of 100 m (right at the start), 70 and 30 m.

At 26 km there was another obstacle, the Coolsingel tunnel. Here the 3h15m end time runner with the red balloons past me. For a second I tried to increase may pace to follow but quickly discovered I simply couldn't keep up. He ran a negative split, must have done the first 21 km in around 1 hour 39 minutes.

At the Blaak Station “coach” Florian handed me a bottle. “Yes, you can do it”. He shouted and ran a few meters alongside cutting a corner to keep up. This helped in the motivation but I wasn't sure if could finish today.

Too many friends and family would be disappointed if I stepped out as I am suppose to be able to do it and very few can, so I had no choice.

Within 300 meter, another incline and I had to throw the nearly full bottle to the side. Couldn't carry it, too heavy.

Reaching 30 km I noticed my heart beat was t 173. Slowing down did not work so I decided to take a two minute walk at the drinks and have two full cups of water. My heartbeat went down to 130 within two minutes.

From 30 km to the finish, getting hammered

Past 30 km I did better. My heartbeat slowly came back to only 167 and stayed. I still wasn't sure if I finish today and slowed down again as my legs were getting very sore.

A marathon is only about finishing and not a PR, else you risk injuring yourself. Too much is at stake as so few people can or want to do it.

30-35 km is the crucial part, once you get through, you will make it.

West of the Kralingse Plas another incline and North of the Plas a strong, cold head wind. These 5 km from 30-35 km seemed endless. At 34 km there was a long stretch of cobbles; not very nice on the already very sour feet. My big toe nails starting to get squished, shoes were to short, and blood blisters were developing which I found out later.

At the 35 km drinking post I stopped again for a full two minutes. A slow walk, some power gel and two full cups of water. A slow start, the muscles at the risk of stiffening up and worse, cramps. I was very happy to have made it so far, 30-35 km the crucial part of the marathon, now I would finish.

35 to 40 km seemed very long but monotonous and I slowed down again, running (or stumbling) on an automatic pilot or trance. There was another killing incline SW of the Kralingse Plas just before 40 km.

I took another stop of a minute just before the 40km drinking again two cups with the last remaining power gel. Stopping twice, in total 3 minutes over the 35-40 km killed my average speed to 10 km per hours. In reality I ran it in 27 minutes. Still okay.

From 40 to 42.2 km was very slow, felt like walking to the change room, but the finish came rather quickly. At the last 100 meters pictures and video were taken. Luckily, in Rotterdam they have a frog view point for taking pictures so the very tired, bending over running style of the exhausted runners is not as visible.


More pictures: [1] [2] [3].

See official website, start number 9705 for final score, pictures (10) and videos (finishing at 70% of the Finish movie length of some 1-2 minutes):

Final result 3 hour 34 minutes, not unreasonable it seems, rank 1515 out of 6841 persons finishing within the 5.5 hour limit, a 22% rank.

Walking to the change area was hard, muscles were stiff and the blisters were sensitive. A lukewarm but refreshing shower to wash off the salt and sweat, drinks and some food worked fine. I took the train back home stretching my legs on the train seats. There were several runners with their fans on the train.

Personal results and rank

Personal result.

Stops: 20 km: 30s; 25 km: 1m; 30 km: 1m30s; 35 km: 2 m; 39.5 km: 1m.

Suunto watch statistics: Average heart rate: 163; Highest heart rate: 178. Kcal: 2074.

35-40 km looks slow but has a total of 3 m of stops. Total time stopped: 6 m.

Net total running time 3h28m, average 12.17 km/hours.

First half marathon: net running time 1h38m, 12.92 km/hour.

Second half marathon: net running time 1h50m, 11.51 km/hour.

Rank 1515 out of 6841 finishing.

341 persons were below 3 hours. 674 persons (10%) were below 3h15m, my target time.

In the category Men 50 – 55, rank 166 out of 797. In this category, 20 men ran below 3 hours and 56 (7%) below 3h15m.

The days after

The next days I checked the damage: Nine blisters, right small toe nail gone and two large toe nails with a blood blister so they will fall off eventually.

Blood blisters below the big toe nails.

I was puncturing blisters regularly for two day and on the third day I clipped off the dead skin. The big toe nails were still sensitive but after a week they were fine again. However, they a likely to fall off in a few months when the nails have regrown half way.

Running shoes failed again, last time they were soft but too short and too small. Now they were slightly too short (toes) and the soles too stiff. The bumpy steps seemed to have slowed me down and could have made me tired earlier.

Reaction from friends and family are surprisingly positive, they all congratulate me with accomplishing the second marathon within a year, again in around 3.5 hours, and are relieved I didn't step out early. No signs of jealously, neither a stimulus to try themselves. Marathons are simply too long as the 30-42 km is the killer. My disappointment not reaching 3h15m changed quickly in being proud, another marathon in.

The congratulations seemed to resembles those when a woman gets a baby, delivery is hard but once it is done every body is happy as it is a unique personal event that cannot be duplicated.

Some advise to run a marathon

This time the preparation was minimal, just 4 runs beyond 10 km, and trying it anyway was an interesting experiment. However, the 18 and 21 km I did relatively easily, the 21.1 km in only 1h32m and the next day I felt more or less normal, just like after a walk of 20 km.

This would be a way for those that simply do not want to spend the time training or run a risk at injuries due to weak spots in the body like so many of us have and come out when running too much (e.g. chin splints, Achilles tendon injury).

Once you can run a 21 km easily, you may be ready but you will get hammered at 30 km and take a big risk getting major and possibly permanent injuries. You will damage your feet anyway by getting several blisters and the toe nails may fall off.

It is not a strong character that makes you finish a marathon but a careful character that knows how to handle of the body and recognize early signals. Any slight pain during the run must be prevented and the running style adapted, e.g. by smaller steps, slowing down or lower the tension on the painful muscle. You must get rid of pains right away, especially in the calves and Achilles tendons. When these are in pain, you could e.g. use the upper legs with shorter steps and a lower pace instead; the upper legs are the strongest and most durable muscles in your body.

So many (25%) walk the last 7 km due to sore muscles, painful tendons or cramps. Slowing down temporarily, and lots of drinking at the drinking spots with a two minute slow walk works remarkably well; this only adds a few minutes to your total time.

To prevent getting hammered at 30 km, you may have to run a weekly 16 to 21 km and sometimes even 30 km, with once or twice 6 or 10 km in between for the 16 weeks prior to a marathon..