A couple months ago, around the time of the half marathon, I signed myself up for my last race of the year to make sure that I had an incentive to keep running once the half was over. There aren’t so many races to choose from this late in the year, but the one I had in mind was the Rotterdam Bruggenloop – a 15K loop around Rotterdam, taking in 5 of the city’s bridges. I haven’t really been training very well for it, but judging by my training logs in the run up to the half marathon, I’ve been putting in more regular running, cycling and swimming, even if my running mileage is far too low.
The race weekend dawned wet and full of stress. A flat tyre on my way home from work and train chaos on my way to Amsterdam on Friday night left me exhausted and stressed, and Saturday I followed things up with a concert in Haarlem. By the time Sunday came around I wanted nothing more than to spend the day curled up on the sofa with the cats, but spurred on by my DailyMile friends, one of whom was running as well, I pulled myself together and headed out in the direction of Rotterdam.
The start and finish of the race was the Feijenoord Stadium, which is on the other side of Rotterdam so I had to take a tram from the centre to get there. Whilst I was waiting for the tram, in a crowd full of runners, who should suddenly materialize but J, my DailyMile friend. We’ve never met, but we recognized each other from the various race photos we’ve posted. The tram journey was quite long, so it was great to have some company on the way down.
Arriving at Feijenoord, we sought out the changing areas – nicely organized, they had a system where you could leave your bag in the heated changing area, and just store valuables in a safe. Considering how long the queues can be to store your bag at some races, this was very welcome, as were the toilets in the changing area, which also were queue free, a definite rarity.
We had quite a bit of time to kill before the race, so we hung around, laughing at the people taking part in the warm up, who looked ridiculous. Nothing like middle-aged bearded men doing aerobics moves on a cold grey Sunday afternoon! Given the timing of the race, there were a fair few Santas handing around, some running, some observing, and the loudspeakers were blasting out Christmas songs.
Finally we were ready for the off – J in the faster corral, and myself at the back. I was worried that I’d lose a lot of time after the starting shot before I’d get across the start line – crucial, because there was a 2 hour time limit on the race. Based on my recent running performance, I was very dubious about my ability to finish the race in the time limit, and although I was determined to give it my best shot, there were definitely moments when I was sure it was a lost cause and that I shouldn’t bother.
A couple minutes before the start, they removed the barrier at the front of our corral, and we were able to move forwards… as ever, the sound of the starting shot was lost to me, but in no time we were shuffling forward, and then crossing the start – just 3 minutes down on the clock, that gave me 1 hour and 57 minutes to play with.
Normally I run with my Garmin, although I use it primarily to gather statistics and the route map to look at later, rather than looking at it much during the race. This time around, I decided not only to use the Garmin, but also to use the Runmeter app on my iPhone. I had a couple of reasons – firstly, I configured it to post updates to DailyMile, so that any of my pals who had nothing better to do could see my progress, and secondly it gives audio feedback every lap about pace, which given I was racing the clock would be useful. I could of course, have checked the pace information on my watch, but I don’t find that so handy.
At the last minute, I decided that since I was going to run with earphones for the audio feedback, maybe I’d listen to some music as well. I haven’t run with music in the longest time, I think, since I ran the Damloop in 2009. Often I just find it distracting, and in a race, it’s nice to hear the crowds and take in the atmosphere, but in this case I was daunted by the distance, by my exhaustion, and by the fact that it would get dark during the course of the race, so whilst I was waiting for the start I stuck on Vivald’s Four Seasons, more or less because it was the first thing I could think of that I might actually be able to run to. Psalms didn’t really seem like quite the thing.
As ever, the adrenalin of being in a crowd of runners got me moving off to a good start. I had thought that I would set a target pace that would get me to the finish in time and do by best to stick to it, but when the moment came I just decided to run as my legs would take me. I’m always very cautious, perhaps too cautious, about going out too fast and running out of steam, but on the basis that there was a decent change the clock might beat me on this occasion, I decided to through caution to the wind and just go with what felt good. If I blew up and crashed out, then at least I’d know I gave it my all.
We crossed the first bridge very quickly, minimal climbing required. After that, the new few km lead us up to the Erasmusbrug, my first mental goal post in the race. I was feeling in pretty good form at the beginning, although worrying about the distance left to cover, and as I crossed the Erasmusbridge, I recalled one of my first races, the 5K Ladies Run in 2009, that started at the top of the bridge.
Coming down the other side, it wasn’t long until we reached the first aid post. I was beginning to feel a little daunted by what was lying ahead, and the first seeds of doubt were starting in my mind. I decided to walk the aid post and drink my water slowly, rather than choking on it as I ran, before continuing.
Up until this point Vivaldi had been doing a great job of keeping me going… every time one of the lively sections started it picked me, and when I was flagging it brought me back up to pace again. At the 5K point there was a time clock, reading 37 minutes or so. This was a really good sign, since it meant that my pace thus far was more than enough to get me to the finish, if only I could hold it.
The next four km or so were dark. We were running along the river, along the same stretch of road I covered in the Rotterdam Half Marathon 10K, 2 years ago. That race was a week before the Damloop on a similarly cold, grizzly day, and I can’t say that I found much in the experience to enjoy. It was an out and back route, on a fairly boring course, and I finished it with the sinking feeling that the 16K to follow was going to be a horrible experience. I don’t suppose that those memories really helped with my mood during this race.
Just after the aid station, Vivaldi had come to and end… with hindsight I should have put it on repeat, but I really wasn’t sure that I was going to listen to it the whole way.
Finally we approached the next aid station, around the 9km point. My legs were tired, my feet were sore, and my lungs weren’t really enjoying themselves either, so as I approached the aid station I decided to walk whilst I drank, and then spend a little time getting the music up and running again, and to eat some of the sports beans I’d cunningly brought along with me, having learnt from the experience at the half marathon that extra energy along the way is a good thing.
Refuelled, mentally and physically, I started running again, up the sliproad of the huge Van Brienenoord bridge. There was a double back in the course as we got on to the bridge, and I was cheered to see a decent line of runners behind me. Throughout the course I’d been steadily overtaken and I had no clue if I was right at the back or not, so this was a really reassuring sight.
I did my best to run up the bridge, but it just went on and on. Eventually I decided to play it smart and stick to a brisk walk, I still had a little over 5K to go, after all. Part way up the bridge we crossed the 10K mats, where they’d placed another time clock – 1:14 since the start which meant that I had 45 minutes to complete the final 5K. This was really the first time in the race where I was sure that, barring disaster, I’d be able to make it, even if I had to walk some of it.
As soon as the bridge levelled off I started running again, only to come to a halt 20m or so further when I saw someone leaning over the side of the bridge throwing up. There wasn’t a whole lot I could really do to help other than wait until she was finished impressively vomiting over the side, and then hand over my remaining clean tissue and chat with her for a few minutes to be sure she was at least more or less ok.
After a couple minutes she told me she was doing better, and waved me on my way. I felt a little guilty leaving her, but decided to trust her judgement that she’d be ok. On the downhill stretch, and buoyed by the sports beans and my short break I felt like I was flying on the way down, and passing the 11K mark, knew that I was on the home stretch.
It was well and truly dark by this point, but the route was illuminated by the lights that all the runners were wearing. Past the 12K marker, and Runmeter burst into life to announce to me that J had left a comment for me on DailyMile – the knowledge that he’d crossed the finish line, spurred me on further, and I did my best to ignore my aching feet knowing that the end was almost in sight.
13K… 14K… finally the Stadium loomed into view out of the darkness, and I knew that I was nearly there. I’m sure I had a silly grin on my face for that last km as I knew that I was going to finish the race that I was sure would defeat me.
And then, there it was, what 2 hours previously had been a start line, was transformed to the finish, the crowds along the barriers were cheering us on, and with 7 minutes before the finish line closed, I was finally crossing it.
My final time: 1:49:37. This was my first ever 15K, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. Extrapolating from my 16K Damloop time, though, it was an improvement of about 4 minutes, which I was delighted with, especially given that the 16K I ran in September was so much slower.