I ran my Personal Record on the marathon after my fiftieth birthday in the Two Rivers marathon in March 2023. The clock stopped after 2h38. In blog 1 and blog 2 I shared eight tips that comprise the lessons I learned in preparation for this.
In this blog I describe the last three weeks leading up to the marathon. They did not go smoothly. And not at all by the book. The blog closes with the story of the marathon itself. With four more tips that can also help you to run a Personal Record on the marathon.
Tip 9: Letting go and hanging on
Monday evening March 6, my lower back hurts so much that I literally can’t run more than ten meters. With twenty days to go until the Two Rivers marathon, I realize that I need to quickly make a Plan B to just be able to start at all. ‘Keep calm, Bertje’, I tell myself. I remember similar situations when I was a lot younger. Inexperienced, easily panicking, assuming the victim’s role. The result was a very frustrated Bert who blamed himself for everything and went head-down with his own negative thoughts.
I find myself smiling. Because of the situation I find myself in. For knowing that God allows this to happen -right now. I realise that I am being tested. Not so much physically, but especially mentally and spiritually.
I place the situation with Him Who is in control of everything. And sometimes allows things to happen that we would have liked to see differently. If I’m not supposed to run the Two Rivers, then I won’t. No matter how ready I thought I was and how much I would like to start. I must let go.
At the same time, I know that I should continue concentrating on racing March 26. If I lose focus and let go of the discipline of daily workouts and reaching my ideal race weight, I risk to prematurely abort my marathon mission. I must hang on.
Letting go and hanging on. Both at the same time.
And take my responsibility. That starts with making an appointment with a quality sports masseur. As soon as possible, nearby. Because I can go to Velofit the next day, I schedule an appointment. It turns out that a chain of muscles in my lower left back has stiffened up. I probably contracted that while doing pull-ups yesterday, and then aggravated it during the two Bootcamps I gave yesterday. I hear the echo of Jan Klein Poelhuis’s voice when I told him that I was going to do pull-ups three times a week ‘because I think I should be able to do that’. Jan’s wise answer: ‘After the marathon, Bert’. So that advice had gone in one ear and out the other.
The massage includes instructions for stretching exercises. Plus a running ban until at least the next appointment, one week later. There goes my plan for a 100 kilometer week. No 10×1000 in 3.25/km; no 40 kilometers with 4x8km in 4.00/km, and no endurance runs. Instead I get on my road bike: strangely enough, I don’t feel my back on my bike. I also continue teaching the Bootcamps and do all exercises that my back allows me. The running segments in the Bootcamps hurt a lot, but I decide to do anyway.
During the massage one week later, my back has already improved a lot. Thank God! Running however is not yet possible. I keep doing my cycling workouts and notice during the week that the sore spot in my lower back is getting smaller and smaller. Friday 17 March I lace my running shoes for a test run. The first kilometers my lower back is still hurting a bit. As the training progresses, my back loosens up and I decide to make it a bit longer than intended. I realise that my back is coming together! In the end, I run 12 kilometers with the last kilometers close to 4.00/ km. I thank God for the recovery. I know I will be able to run the Two Rivers next Sunday. In South African: alles sal reg kom. Everything will come right.
Tip 10: The reverse taper
With one week to go, the signal is green again. I contemplate how to organize that final week. From my failed Rotterdam marathon of 2019 I learned that I have to log running kilometers. To prevent my legs from blocking after 25 kilometers. To have a chance at that personal record in the marathon, I have to induce ‘pre-fatigue’. Put the right tension on legs.
After two weeks of not running (except for four 3km slow-runs during the Bootcamp and the 12 kilometers on Friday 17 March), my legs feel as fresh as a daisy. And so, unplanned but deliberately, I decide on a reverse taper. In weeks 3 and 2 in advance of the marathon, I ran close to nothing. The run trainings were replaced by bike sessions. Week 1 (the week before the marathon) was focused on logging running kilometers. This is what I trained in the final week.
|233 Watt Endurance ride
|2x2km 3.36/km 4x1km 3.30/km
The last week (from Sunday to Saturday), I trained 10h15. That included 73 running kilometers.
Tip 11: Plan your race
“How do you want to race?” Raymond de Kuiper asks my this important question. He will accompany me on the bike during the marathon. My answer is my race plan. Its been set up with the aim of running sub-2h40. The first input is therefore the average time per kilometer. To be exact: 3min47.5 per kilometer. Frankly, this is the most important variable. Just like my half marathon in February, I’m going to add up the seconds per kilometer that I run faster than the 3min47.5 per kilometer that would have me finishing at 2h40. I opt for this plan because I know that I belong to the large group of marathon runners who need to start the last phase with some margin in the beginning. This gives me a time bonus to defend when I enter the inevitable war in the last kilometres.
Of course I don’t just keep an eye on the time. The second input is the wattage I want to run. The Stryd app shows that I should run at 375 Watt.
That wattage should bring me across the finish in 2:35:15 – plus or minus three minutes. Heart rate is the third variable. For the first 32km, the bandwidth is between 150 and 155. In the last 10 kilometers I will disregard my heart rate: that will not be my limiting factor.
The weather is the fourth factor for the race plan. Too often, I check the weather app the days leading up to the marathon. That is because the weather forecast is not really favourable. The prediction is between 4 and 7 degrees Celsius, rain, and wind. In Holland, the wind is especially important. The Two Rivers marathon largely follows the dikes along the edges of the Maas and Waal. You are exposed to the winds almost everywhere. The good news is that the wind direction will change during the week. On race day, the wind blows in the back in the first 14 kilometres, and the final 10km. The middle section will have cross- and headwind. That is way better than the other way around.
The expected rain also means I have to make wise clothing choices. Comfort is the leading principle. On my feet, I wear a double pair of socks. My compression socks slip too much, and I bought my Nike VaporFlys a size too big on purpose so that my feet still have room when they start to swell at the end. On my legs I wear a thin, long tight. I just don’t like the feel of cold water on my bare knees and legs. I also wear an undershirt with short sleeves, arm warmers, and an aero 3in1Sports time trial shirt. All nice and tight. On my head, I have my Hawaii 2007 Ironman cap. Backwards, cause that’s how I like it. As I tend to get cold hands, my hands are covered by warm GripGrap cycling gloves.
Nutrition is the last part of the race plan. In tip 8 in the second blog I wrote how I attained my ideal race weight of 77.2 kilograms on the day of the race. My glycogen tanks were already full the day before. Three hours before the start, I eat a light breakfast of three pancakes with appelstroop and marmelade. I also drink half a liter of water. Less than usual due to the cold and rainy conditions. On the way to the start in Zaltbommel I drink another half-liter containing 80 grams of carbohydrates and quite a bit of salt. For the race, I give Raymond gets three bottles. Each contains 500ml with 80 grams of carbohydrates and extra salt
During the race, he will give me a bottle every 5 kilometers. This will give me 0.6 liters of fluid per hour and 90 grams of carbohydrates. That is my simple and straightforward nutrition plan.
Tip 12: Race your plan
After a final pee and a kilometer easy warmup with Jan Klein Poelhuis, we both line up at the start ten minutes before the start. I feel calm and ready. After the start, I have to make some effort to set the right pace. Typical for important races is that I don’t have a good feel for the pace in the first kilometers. I rely on my GPS. It seems upset – it says 3min50/km, slower than how the pace feels – so I ask the guy running next to me what his GPS shows. Also 3min50. As that is a bit too slow, I accelerate slightly and pass the first kilometer in 3min47.68. Exactly on target.
The leading group comes to shapes. In it are David de Vos, Nixon Fernandes, your writer, and Gijs Question Mark. (I have not been able to find out Gijs’ last name. He is doing the relay – him running the first half marathon and his teammate the second half). Me and Gijs do most of the work in the first kilometers. I actually like that as it allows me to run my own pace. Already in the opening kilometers, I hear David talking to Nixon about having the urge to pee. After only four kilometers, he stops for a bathroom break. Nixon also stops. He turns out to be David’s personal pacer today and shows solidarity. Raymond keeps an eye on what is happening behind us. “They are closing the gap, Bert,” he says. Two kilometers later, the duo rejoins.
That is totally fine. Things are going very smoothly in this part of the race. The wind is in our back, my legs are fresh, my heart rate low and my wattages are exactly on target. And, most importantly, every kilometer I collect bonus seconds. At kilometer five I am already29 seconds ahead of schedule, and at kilometer ten I have gained 61 seconds. The wattage on the first 10 km is 376 Watt. Spot on. The nutrition is also going down very well.
The four of us enjoy the dikes of the Bommelerwaard. At kilometer eighteen, for the first time I feel a bit of fatigue. A slight cramp in my upper left leg. I try to ‘run around it’ and do not pay too much attention to it. Two kilometers later, the cramp is gone. When the dike descends towards the half marathon point, I enjoy the push that gravity gives me and accelerate. This actually separates me a bit from David and Nixon.
We have now arrived at the half marathon point. Gijs Question Mark, who earlier complained about the tempo begin too high, has had a miraculous resurrection and has run away from us. (David and Nixon soon reconnected after my dike-downhill surge). His relay mate takes over. His fresh legs make him run away from us. We pass the halfway mark in 1:17.40, with a wattage of 375 Watts and a whopping 140 bonus seconds.
Around kilometer 25, my legs start to show signs of fatigue. I am having a bad patch and have to let go of David and Nixon. Raymond tells me not to force anything. I did not plan to force anything yet, so I just run my own pace. The gap increases to twenty meters, and then stabilises. Without really having to work for it, I can claw my way back to the two leaders and rejoin them it. My priority is and remains to run a good time. Position is secondary to that. However, if I can win the race, I definitely will do that.
At kilometer 28 I unexpectedly find myself in the lead. Raymond reports that David was having cramps. He also had to pee (again). Exactly what I wanted to prevent by drinking less water before the start and putting extra salt in my nutrition bottles. Loyal Nixon stayed with his buddy. And so I suddenly have got a gap of close to a minute. If they want to come back, they’ll have to run for it. Thinking of the text on the back of my shirt, I push a bit extra the next few kilometers. Every David has its Goliath.
David and Nixon however prove to be much too strong. They close the gap and pass me. In my endeavour to have them to run away from me as slowly as possible, I continue collecting bonus seconds by running sub-3min47.5 kilometers. At kilometer 34, the grand total is 187, which is more than three minutes ahead of my 2h40 schedule.
From that point the decline sets in. Fortunately, my stomach is good and I can continue to fuel up. That’s not the limiter. My heart rate is also fine. The problem is my legs. They just really hurt. At various points, which I can’t remember afterwards, I almost cramp. The many running kilometers in the preparation save me from a cramp that forces me to a halt. However, I can no longer produce sub-3min47.5 kilometers.
I switch to defense mode. My mental arithmetic is getting less and less now. I rely on Raymond who informs me every kilometer about what is left of my bonus. In the distance I see the Martinus Nijhoff bridge. It approaches. Slowly. Behind that, I know Zaltbommel and the finish.
‘It has to happen NOW, Bertje!’ That is me talking to me at kilometer 39. I realise that a sub-2h40 marathon is in the making – as long as I can maintain the pace. The last five kilometers went in 3:51, 3:51, 3:53, 3:57 and 3:56. That means I still have 155 bonus seconds. Raymond notices that I am having a hard time and encourages me. The fortieth kilometer elapses in 3:58.
I have now passed the bridge and now run towards Zaltbommel. The course winds from left to right and nastily goes up and down the city wall. My legs hurt terribly. ‘If you run the final two kilometers in five minutes, you’ve got it!’ says Raymond. I keep pushing as hard as I can, cause I don’t want to give away my hard-earned bonus seconds.
My intention to run all kilometers sub-4.00 falls in the penultimate kilometer: 4:03. At kilometer 41 the wheels almost fall off, and I manage to squeeze out a 4:07-kilometer. The last twohundred meters towards the finish I attempt some sort of final sprint. In the distance, I see the clock which show 2h38. That looks better than 2h39 on the finish photo. I cross the finish line exactly one second before the clocks jumps to 2h39.
(The good mathematician wonders why I had to sprint for that sub-2h39. Didn’t I have enough bonus seconds? You are right. The difference is in my watch’s GPS distance – 42.4 kilometers – and the ‘ real track).
After the finish, the pain I have reached prevails me to realise what I have accomplished. Using Raymond’s bicycle as a walking frame, I stumble back to the park where the tent is with my backpack and dry clothes. When I get there, I lay down my sore body on a bench. I just lie there – suffering pain. Only now do I feel how deep I’ve gone. My legs refuse service. When I try get up to go to the showers, I can’t. I am transported to the shower facilities by wheelchair, where Raymond has to help me undress.
After a nice, long and warm shower I already feel a bit better. I can actually hobble back (walking wouldn’t be the right word) to the finish and independently climb the steps to the podium. David de Vos occupies the highest step. Respect for his win in 2h35. Including two sanitary stops and cramps. Nixon Fernandes is second and I am third. And so I finally ran my long aspired sub-2h40. The text of the finishers shirt has thus proved to be prophetic. Jy sal daar kom. You will get there.
Soli Deo gloria
As you have understood by now, my personal record on the marathon did not come out of the blue.
I have to correct myself. To me, this achievement came out of the blue. It was a gift from heaven. I close this blog with a song that praises and honors Him.
In many of the training sessions leading up to the Two Rivers marathon, my mind played In die hemel is de Heer. Written by South African Louis Britzz. I’ve listened to that song I-don’t-know-how-many times – often also in the Dutch version by André van Zyl. The lyrics are etched in my memory. So that I can play this song any time without a phone or headphones. Also during the marathon itself. I wish you God’s blessing while listen to it.