Rotterdam Race Report – Spoiler Alert: I finished, with two happy calves, a new personal best and 4 haunting seconds.

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Where does the time go?! I can’t believe it’s been a month since Rotterdam. Apologies for the delayed post! After Rotterdam I spent a week in Sweden visiting one of my best friends, her hubby and their adorable year old son. We went to the spa, toured around Stockholm, ate delicious treats and drank fancy cocktails (it’s a tough life recovering from a marathon while on vacation!).

Right when I got back, Andrew and I moved into our very own home! We now live in a hotel-room-sized condo in the West end of the city (new running routes galore!). Following the move, I spent a week going back to school in London, Ontario, so needless to say it’s been an active recovery.

When people have asked me how Rotterdam went, I’ve told them it was both my best and worst marathon.

I had to reach far to fight the urge to quit.

I’ll give you the coles notes version (or try to). I mentioned in a previous post my friend Clair (a fellow Angel) and I were heading to Rotterdam together. When Clair and I are healthy (we’ve both had very similar calf issues over the last year) and fit, we pace really well together. After one long tempo during training where we paced the entire way together, I compared us to Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg (except for the fact we’re no where near Olympic-level athletes haha). So needless to say I was super happy that we were doing this one together.

It was great having someone to run, go out for meals and race-strategize with leading up to the big day. I highly recommend doing races friends – and will even go so far to say I may just follow Clair around on her marathon adventures from here on out.

RACE DAY

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Luckily Clair and I were staying less than 1km from the Start/Finish area so we were able to do a quick warm up before dropping our stuff off at the hotel. We noticed it felt pretty warm during the warm up so I didn’t even bother with my sleeves (I had planned to wear during the race) or my throw away pants.

Our plan was to try and stay together for as long as possible. Clair had run her first sub 3 hour marathon in the fall in Philly, so I was hoping to try and stick with her. We decided to go with her Philly marathon race plan and see how we do.

Long story short: we went out a wee bit too fast.

Just before the half way point Clair told me I was going to drop her soon. I was worried her calves were giving her issues but she said her legs just felt like lead.

Don’t leave me Clair!

I crossed the half-way point (21.1km) feeling pretty good, but shortly after 25km I started to fade, my hamstrings got really tight and that’s when I realized I went out too fast. I have never “died” so early in a marathon before. I had no idea how I would get through the next 17kms feeling so badly.

30km onwards was the biggest mental and physical battle I have ever experienced while running. I would have actually stopped if I hadn’t had the experience in Boston the year before when it took me 10 times as long to get to the finish line then if I had just kept on running.

I had talked to my coach leading up to the race and she told me when it gets tough to break the race into 5km chunks. From 30km onwards, that’s what I did. It really helped make it more manageable, although I remember thinking “why is the marathon so long! It really should end at 30km. I need to talk to someone about this”.

I think a couple of reasons lead to my not-so-perfectly-executed-race:

  • Shake out race. With my last couple marathons I’ve done a race about six weeks in advance as prep to get into race mode. This shake out race helps test my fitness and gives me confidence. This year I had signed up for the Chilly half marathon in March, but I had the worst flu the week of and was unable to run it. Ergo no shake out race.
  •  Heat. While it was only 12ish degrees, it was sunny. And when you’ve trained in a near polar vortex for the last 4 months, 12 degrees felt like 25. On my long, cold runs leading up to the race, I trained with chocolate gels that were actually more like pudding because they were usually frozen. I loved my pudding treats at 5am on lonely Yonge Street. During the marathon they got so hot and turned to liquid, I felt like I was drinking hot chocolate syrup – which, on any given day I wasn’t running a marathon, I would enjoy, but not so much on this day. So I stopped taking gels after 25km which I know was a big mistake and could have been dangerous to my health.

Then came 3:00:04.

Seriously?

Seriously.

After 30km, I threw all motivation to finish under 3 hours out the window. At that point I really didn’t even want to finish. I just wanted to stop running.

It wasn’t until the last couple kilometers that I realized I would likely be right on the nose. I tried to pick it up and actually did run the last km 13 seconds faster than the one before that, but c’est la vie. Mentally I had given up 12.2kms ago.

The first couple days post-race, I altered between thinking, “WHAT THE…?!?!” and “WOOHOO!”

WOOHOO about: 1) crossing the marathon finish line for the first time in a year and a half 2) with smiling calves and 3) with a 3+ minute PB.

In the grand scheme of things, 42.2km is a long distance. Could I have taken 5 seconds off a three hour run to achieve my first sub 3 hour marathon that day? Oh yeah, most likely.

But I didn’t because the marathon gods want to me make hungrier for that golden sub 3.

Clair finished just behind me. While we weren’t overly thrilled with our performance, we learned a lot. PACING, PACING, PACING.

Did we dwell on it for the rest of the day? Heck no! We had a lot of yummy food and alcoholic drinks to get into our system! We spent the rest of the day on a ‘food tour’ of Rotterdam – sitting on patios, drinking local beer and eating (mainly) cheese and icecream.

I am so happy to have experienced this race with Clair. She is a great training partner, travel buddy and friend.

I’ve had a month to reflect on this marathon, and oddly enough, what I am most happy about is being able to run POST marathon. Last year, since I was injured after Boston, I couldn’t run for almost two months. And then came the months of “nervous running” thinking my calf might fall off at any time.

While coaches orders post marathon have been minimal running, the few runs I have done have made me just SO happy to finish this race injury free.

I’d like thank my cooperating calves, my family and friends (including all my Angels) for all the support for not only this marathon but all my races. Sometimes I think my friends must say to themselves, “not another race. Who cares Sarah.” But I still get so many messages of support and check-ins, which seriously helps fuel me to the finish line!

No recipes this time but if you’re ever in Rotterdam, eat cheese. If you’re ever in Stockholm, eat cinnamon buns. Life is too short not to indulge in everything.

Cheers to my first successful European marathon adventure!

 

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