Amsterdam Marathon 2016 Race Report (sort of year-end review)

Background
There were lots of new things about this particular training cycle. I’ve always been a consistent runner but, for years now, I’ve been stuck in a rut. Part of the problem was because we moved around so much that it was impossible to find a reliable “everything” running route. Either the routes were too short for long runs or too segmented by street crossings for speedwork. The other problem was that I wasn’t setting any real goals for my running. Month over month goals are fine but, in order to progress, you kind of have to throw a few uncomfortable situations in there. So, after much delay and getting a really bad case of the flu last season, I signed up for 6 races this year.

On schedule was:

  • EcoTrail Paris (18km) – March 19th
  • La Pyrénéenne (10km) – May 15th
  • La Course Royale in Versailles (15km) – June 19th
  • EcoTrail Brussels (18km) – September 24th
  • Lyon Semi Marathon – October 2nd
  • Amsterdam Marathon – October 16th

The two trail races and the Versailles run, which was an all-terrain course, were thrown in there to satisfy my craving for off-road runs – I do miss trail running daily.

This is, by far, the most number of hard effort races I’ve signed up for within the same year. When I lived in Brooklyn, I frequently signed up for the NYRR events, but I never really “raced” them. I hadn’t really discovered “racing” until much later on in my running. When I was staying in Virginia Beach, I raced my best 5k at 23:35 and that was really hard for me. I actually trained for that run, and I placed second in my age group. When Chris and I lived in Split (Croatia), I ran a 1.32km staircase race and finished in 11min 50s, placing first in my age group. I genuinely trained for that one too! Of course, we were so excited about the free buffet that came with the race entry, that we skipped the awards ceremony and I missed out on a snazzy medal (maybe a trophy!) In any case… those 2 runs were really the only ones I’d consider hard effort races, following my NYC Marathon and Maratón de Santiago, both of which were a long long time ago.

Having just surfaced on the other side of all my races this year, I feel really good about doing what I did. I PR’d during La Pyrénéenne and finally skimmed a 50min 10k. I PR’d my Lyon Semi with 1h 50min. And I PR’d Amsterdam with 4h 2min. It wasn’t the PR I wanted, but it’s still 18min off my previous marathon PR.

Training
I was coming off of a minimal base heading into my first EcoTrail. That first race was really meant to get me back into training mode. Unfortunately, I picked up the flu shortly after that race which, ironically, compelled me to sign up for 5 more races for the rest of the year (plus 1 next year – the Marathon de Paris in April).

La Pyrénéenne was my first real race this year. It’s a local 10k held in the 19th arrondissement. There are fewer than 2,000 participants and it’s a hell of a hilly course running through Belleville and Ménilmontant. The start of the course is mostly downhill, then flat, and then a long hard ascent up Rue de Ménilmontant before another fast descent. Then a slight downhill gradient all along Boulevard de Belleville and Boulevard de Ménilmontant, past Père Lachaise and around heading back on a slight uphill to finish at Place Gambetta.

Coming off La Pyrénéenne made me realize how much I enjoyed hilly courses. As much as I’d like to think I could’ve run an even faster 10k on all flat, that’s probably not true for me. I’m incredibly efficient at running uphill and I’m almost at the point where I can charge hard downhill without breaking. And it’s just so much more fun than a flat and fast course.

Following my 10k, I knew I needed to stretch out my legs for the longer distances coming up. So I put in lots of easy runs during the week and did a couple of 15-17km runs to start building my base. This was all pre “training plan”, which I didn’t actually put together until about mid-July. It was a nice comfy 4 months out from Amsterdam.

The plan was pretty straightforward. 4 runs a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday): 1 easy w/ strides, 1 speedwork, 1 easy, and 1 long run. As I got closer to Amsterdam, there were slight variations: increased distance of easy runs, increased number of strides, cut downs/ Short Tempo/ Long Tempo for speedwork, and more cut downs plus marathon pace towards the final laps for long runs.

This was the first time I toyed with cut downs, which I’m surprisingly good at doing. I’ve always paced conservatively, so I like to start slow and gradually speed up. I’m way less good at it once I start the cut down at about 13mi (21km). Learning the concept of running on tired legs was a nice addition to my training repertoire but … it’s something that I’ve yet to master.

I felt a little aggressive about my base building phase, mainly because I was out of practice. My long runs were 9mi, 11mi, 13mi, 15mi, 10mi, 16mi, 18mi, 11mi, 13.2mi – with the last one being my Lyon Semi. The first 3rd of my plan averaged 26mi/week, the second third was about 33mi/week, and my peak week was 38mi.

In retrospect, the Lyon Semi was scheduled way too close to my marathon. I seriously aggravated my hip flexors following my half marathon PR, which came back in full force during the Amsterdam Marathon.

Goal
Okay, so I know this was a stretch, but I really thought it was possible to get an 8% improvement over my 4:20:00 marathon. If I did, that would’ve put me at 3hr 59min. So I decided to train for a 3hr 50min finish, with the assumption that I’ll actually finish right around 4 hours.

The Course
The course starts and finishes at the Olympic Stadium, which is pretty cool. It will take you through Vondelpark, the Rijksmuseum, and along the Amstel River. Most of the roads are narrow and, because there’s about 30,000 runners running with you, it’s safe to say that you should expect quite a few bottlenecks. The course is mostly flat, with the occasional small grade hills, especially when running underneath the overpasses.

Pre-race
We had, what appeared like, a minor Smashrun emergency the day before the race – also our day of travel. So we had to pack up Chris’ computer and bring his monitor all the way to Amsterdam so we could put a patch together and release it before Sunday. Like clockwork, Thalys was delayed on the way up from Paris, but we still made good time.

I left Chris to work on the patch and I headed out to grab my race bib. We stayed close to the stadium, so it was easy for me to get to the marathon expo. They had a well-oiled operation going. I found the sign for bib pick-up and also got my race shirt within 5min of entering the building. Then they funnel you through to the expo (two buildings of it) before you can get back out. I wasn’t in the mood to linger. It was a cloudy, rainy, miserable day out and I needed to head back to help with QA testing.

When I got back, Chris had already furiously coded away with a solution. We tested it and everything looked good. We also found out that it wasn’t as big of a problem as we thought it was and didn’t need to bring the computer at all. Ah well.

By then, it was almost 5pm, so we went to the city for our dinner reservation… for ramen! It was the perfect pre-race dinner. You see, Chris had found a study indicating that marathoners consuming carbs the day before the race at a quantity of >7 g/kg body mass had significantly faster overall race speeds and maintained it for a much longer period of time than marathoners who didn’t. What’s more is that those who consumed that much carbs ran an average of 13% faster. Basically, he tried to get as much carbs into my system as I could tolerate over the course of 36 hours. So soup for dinner, the day before the race, was such a welcome change – without compromising the carbs! I also had 2 beers the night before, because fuel. I really should’ve had 3.

Race morning
I woke up at 7:30am, ahead of my 7:45am alarm, feeling pretty sharp. Showered and dressed by 8am. I ate 1 hard-boiled egg, a banana, and a stroopwafle – I kid you not. And an espresso. Then Chris and I planned our meeting points and walked to the Olympic stadium so that I could line up by 8:45am.

It was a little messy getting into the stadium. There’s a separate public entrance and one giant entrance for all the marathoners. You’re literally shoulder to shoulder with other runners for about 15min before you’re inside. Once you’re in, though, it clears up pretty quickly and it’s easy to spot the separate corrals.

Now then… I ran this thinking in kilometer splits, so we’ll have to do the breakdown in kilometer splits.

Km 1-5: target was 5:31-5:48/km
I ran a little faster than I wanted in the beginning, but I wasn’t far off. It was a bit of struggle to lock down my pace, because it was much more crowded than I anticipated. The spectators both inside and outside the stadium were totally nuts. So much cheering! So much joy!

The first turn off just outside the stadium was really slow for some reason so I tried to stick as close to the side as possible. There was quite a bit of uneven pavement to get used to and the tram tracks were a hazard and a half. There were also a couple of islands in the middle of the road for the tram/bus stops, so there was a bit of hop-on-hop-off action going on. The course narrowed significantly as we turned into Vondelpark, so it took a lot of mental energy to just focus on not stepping on someone’s feet or bumping into them while trying to squeeze past. And it didn’t really clear up until we ran past the Rijksmuseum.

Splits: 5:29, 5:27, 5:28, 5:30, 5:20

Km 6-20: target was 5:34-5:37
Km 6-10 was when I first realized how hot the sun was going to be. After leaving Vondelpark, most of the course was pretty exposed and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. I was running with my watch set to show my lap pace so I was aware that I was running way too fast again. I was getting worried about the heat and started wondering if I should bank more in the first half than trying to run a reverse split. I wavered back and forth, but decided that I was gonna try and stick as close as possible to 5:30 unless I was breaking away from a crowd that’s running slower in front of me.

At km 14, we entered Amstelpark and started running along the Amstel River. The crowd thinned out pretty quickly at this point so it was much quieter, and the next 6km is all pavement and no shade. The temperature went up a bit. I missed my music. It was a last minute decision to not run with music, making this my first marathon without music. I guess I figured, if I could PR so well in Lyon without music, who’s to say it won’t be the same with my marathon?

Anyway, I ate the piece of banana I picked up from the last water station, thinking that it’ll be somewhat hydrating. The next water station was on the other side at 20km. Most of the runners around me looked a little beat by the time we got to the turn off to cross to the other side of the river. That sponge station felt AH-mazing.

Splits: 5:21, 5:27, 5:17, 5:24, 5:17, 5:26, 5:24, 5:28, 5:23, 5:28, 5:38, 5:23, 5:29, 5:28, 5:29

Km 21-35: target was 5:29-5:34/km
I assessed everything at the half marathon mark. Was I hungry? Still thirsty? Overheated? How did I feel about running another half of what I just ran? It was a bit of a downer that I didn’t “race” my first half knowing that I could’ve done it in 1:50, but I also knew that I was starting to feel tired. I don’t ever drink too much at water stations – I don’t like the sloshing of the water in my stomach. But coming off that last 6km under the sun really got to me.

Spotted Chris as km 24! He was generous enough to say that I looked good. Ha! He asked if I needed anything, to which the guys next to me said: “an ice cold beer!” And to which Chris responded: “ok, you wait right here and I’ll be back with a beer in 10min.” Haha. Anyway… it was such a relief to hear from him that there was a water stop just past km 25. So we parted ways and I hurried off to the next km marker.

I think I drank two glasses of water and carried along one of the ISO energy drinks for back-up. It really slowed me down at km 27. I tried to pick up my pace again, but I couldn’t manage to hit my target zones and really fell off a cliff at km 31-32. It was a little disheartening. But, much like Dory, I just kept going.

Splits: 5:28, 5:29, 5:30, 5:35, 5:35, 5:34, 6:13, 5:36, 5:44, 5:46, 6:14, 6:21, 5:43, 5:43, 5:35

Last 7km: target – run it as fast as I can
Which is to say that it wasn’t very fast at this point. Can anyone else spot the wall in there?

My right hip started to kill me after km 35. I felt like I was just shuffling my feet, but they were still giving me trouble. This was a lot of speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down. Anything to keep my legs from slowing down to a walk. I would look for something in the distance, and pick up my stride. Then slow down for the next couple hundred meters. I did this for the last 5k, before I settled back into the rhythm of the runners near me.

I was so relieved to be running through Vondelpark on the return. The spectators were still so cheerful. I got lots of “Go Jacklyn! Go!” I can’t even imagine what I looked like at km 39-40, after having sponged my hair, my neck, and my arms sporadically for the last several kilometers just to cool down.

Approaching the stadium, I managed to pick up my feet a bit. Honestly… you could be crawling back into that stadium and you still wouldn’t be able to help but feel like you’re so cool for finishing your marathon at the Olympic Stadium. So I did what I imagined was a full-out sprint, plastered on a smile, and laughed a little as I crossed the finish line.

Splits: 6:16, 5:50, 6:17, 6:50, 6:09, 6:07, 6:17, 5:29

Post-race
A few minutes later, a guy ran up to me, “Hey! You run around Buttes Chaumont, right?” Crazy! Same guy I see running around my local park in Paris, who actually spoke to me in French mid-run around Buttes Chaumont… at the time when my French vocabulary was limited to maybe 30 words.

He asked how it went. “It was okay.” “But did you enjoy the long run?” Huh… I know he was referring to just this one run. On that particular day. But this long run really felt like it started for me back in April. I guess I don’t feel like I sacrificed that much because it’s not like I went on any special diet. I didn’t really change my sleeping habits. I didn’t skip spending two weeks with my friend and my sister this summer. Or skip the Brooklyn Brewery Mash, which involved so many Brooklyn lagers, preceding my 18mi run. So, with that and my several PR’s in mind, I turned to him with a big smile and said “I did!”

I met Chris about 20min later, with a beer waiting for me. Win! I was pretty sore, but not immobile. We had two flights of stairs up to our Airbnb so I was in pretty decent shape to be walking up and down. We headed straight to the city after and filled up on Indonesian food. Then we walked around for the next 3-4 hours before I felt like crashing.

My legs, as expected, were a bit stiff the day after on Monday. Nothing out of the ordinary. We walked around some more and explored the De Pijp neighborhood before our train back to Paris. Tuesday was about the same, but I felt less awkward walking quickly from place to place. By Wednesday, I felt ready to run again, but laid low for another day before starting my reverse-taper.

I’ve got a bit of work to do for my next marathon and I have to look into my hip flexor issue. A little consistent strength training will probably go a very long way. Nevertheless, this was a strong year for my running. I’m looking forward to next year already!

Running Events

Every race is an excuse to celebrate my training, so I’m always on the lookout for my favorite distances. Although, it’s gotten much tougher to find the right events. Mainly, because I’m traveling so much, but also because races have become really expensive.

How is it ever acceptable for anyone to pay $100 for a half marathon?

So, I do a lot of searching, but there’s really no site that can filter by cost, which makes no sense to me. I even went as far as consider creating a website that listed every race but categorize the heck out of it for super awesome filtering by:

  • length,
  • terrain,
  • elevation profile,
  • location,
  • type (fun run vs. adventure trail, for-profit vs. charity-driven etc.),
  • number of participants,
  • and, of course, by cost.

Someone should’ve built that site already. I’ve looked and I haven’t found it.

Why don’t certain events include a route of the run? That’s so lame.

Seriously, just give me an elevation profile when it matters.

I need a better site for race listings. Does anybody know one that lists all or most events internationally, notes the size of each event, and/or has a filter for cost?

I’m currently using http://marathons.ahotu.com/, http://aimsworldrunning.com/Calendar.htm, and http://www.runinternational.eu/. Your go-to online resource(s)?

On HR Training

I have a very unsophisticated relationship with my HR monitor. For a $70 piece of equipment, I really should do more with it than just strap it across my chest before a run and view my HR alongside pace after my run. This thing isn’t even comfortable.

Really, it should make it easier for me to check my resting HR every morning. Because, who wakes up and checks their HR before getting out of bed?

I’m whining but, I also get the point. I know that it’s what you do with the HR data that matters, not necessarily how often you track it. All else being equal, everything really comes down to average HR and how it changes over time. Just compare runs of the same distance, performed at the same perceived effort level.

As your aerobic fitness improves, you’ll be able to do the same run, at the same pace, but with a lower overall average HR. Told you. Unsophisticated.

It’s surprisingly accurate. You just have to be honest with yourself about the different factors that affect your training.

Of course, sheer repetition plays a key role in why my oversimplified method works. Being disciplined about consistency helps. I bet there are other runners who probably do something similar.

There’s not much number crunching. No secret mathematical formulas. No need for rebalancing or creating some sort of index for validating intensity. Just a simple trend line. Really, what more do you need?

There are theories…

There are a lot of different methods espoused by the running community when it comes to heart rate training. I imagine somewhere on this planet, there’s an entire physical library section dedicated to it. It’s why I consider heart rate zones a “black hole” in athletic training. It’s so easy to get sucked into the details.

There’s the age-adjusted method, the Karvonen Method, Joe Friel’s LTHR zones, Zoladz Formula, Jack Daniels VDOT estimates sort of, the Maffetone Method, and a plethora of other takes on how to create your heart rate training zones. How you navigate these different theories can make or break your progress. If you overshoot your thresholds, you’ll pay the price.

So I often wonder, why do I even bother with it?

Runners and our need for structure. I like the occasional reminder of what works and what doesn’t. A top running coach put that together? I’ll take it! You don’t learn if you don’t try, and I don’t mind testing different training methodologies.

Besides, there are few things more definitive than your heart rate. Assuming that you don’t have a fluke HR monitor. Aerobic fitness isn’t something that can phone it in. You either have it or you don’t. You’re either improving or you’re stagnant. Occasionally, it’ll go down, but that’s expected when you’re detraining or just running for maintenance.

All the different theories are just guides. I guess it’s why a lot of runners who do train by HR tweak their zones all the time. The theories are just there to give us a general idea of where the cut offs are for the different zones. It’s entirely subjective. Although, it gives you a starting point.

Study the pro’s, take what works, learn from everything else. Repeat with all other training methodologies.

Marjanska Skalinada

I’ve never been a big fan of running stairs. I seek hills, but I have very little tolerance for running stairs. The two are fundamentally different. If I had to describe what it felt like to run stairs, I’d say it’s like running a Cooper Test entirely uphill.

You don’t really ease in to it and you can quickly skim the surface of your max HR if you haven’t trained much on it. Actually, if you have very little tolerance for spending any time at all at your red zone, you’d probably really hate running stairs.

There’s no gray area: you’re either running it one-step or two-steps, you walk at some point, or you jog all the way. Today, I watched the winning runner silently sprint past four men, over six flights of stairs, and then proceeded to continue sprinting up two steps at a time with about 300 more steps to go. That guy was a monster. I was not.

Although, I did finish at the top of my age group again.

This is, perhaps, the only time I could call an 11 min 50 sec 1.32 km run as a personal best.

Marjanska Skalinada

Fitness trackers are a lot like playing video games

It’s been a while since I last played a video game. Traveling often and bootstrapping isn’t really conducive to gaming, so I had to give that up. Although, I sometimes wonder if other people notice that fitness trackers are constantly mimicking the coolness factor of newer video games. I’m always oggling new tech, so it’s hard not to notice.

Take a look at this game reel, which demonstrates the Snowdrop engine, fairly new in gaming technology.

The first impression that most people have is that it’s hyper realistic, which makes it pretty awesome. The second impression most of us might have are the awesome UI elements.

Part of the reason why Smashrun looks the way that it does is because all three of us are gamers. Of course, it helps that @chrislukic used to build badass dashboards for investment banks and I used to work on a data analytics platform for S&P. From the moment Smashrun went live, we were all about understanding data.

Video games have always made an effort to provide context through UI elements as a way to link the player with the game’s narrative.

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 8.05.26 PM

The only way you’ll finish a game is if you’re invested in it and the only way you’ll feel invested in a game is if you’re part of the story. We felt the same way about running. That’s why Smashrun has dashboards.

The only way you’ll stick with running is if you know where you stand as a runner. What’s the story behind your running? What’s the big picture? The context is important because you’re more likely to stay motivated if you know how each run stacks against each other:

You just ran your fastest 9mi run in 6 months.
This was your lowest average HR in a year.
This was the most negative splits you’ve ever run.

Gratuitous data is so frustrating sometimes because it gives fitness tracking (and fitness trackers) a bad name. I am down with Quantified Us.

We should make like players in a game and utilize what information we have to keep moving forward. Google’s Hummingbird engine got it right with its adaptive algorithm. Moov has the potential to change the wearable tech market with smart hardware. Even Garmin’s Vivofit (which I oppose on principle, because I’m not a fan of glorified pedometers) is making a difference by automatically adjusting your goals based on performance. It’s also the one thing that Nike+ did right with Kinect Training.