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Rotterdam marathon 2024: I ran as fast as I could


“What an impressive turnout of volunteers!,” I remark to brother Ard when we drive through an army of volunteers who are setting up an aid station at the Pascalweg in Rotterdam Lombardijen. It’s early Sunday morning, a quarter to eight, a time when Rotterdam normally is still asleep. “They’re all here for you, Bert,” he answers dryly. His words strike an emotional chord, because he unconsciously says what these people do: sacrifice their free Sunday so that they can hand me a cup of water. And the other 50,000 runners who start this day at the various distances.

How much is given today. By the volunteers to the participants. By the participants in the competition. By the audience to the participants. That constant exchange of giving and receiving, from start to finish, is perhaps what Mayor Aboutaleb meant when he said: ‘The marathon elevates the city, so to speak.’

Drankpost Rotterdam marathon

Ard drops me off at Slinge station, where an early metro takes me to the marathon church service at the Waterpleinkerk. The service concludes with the song ‘Ga maar gerust’. In English: ‘Go in peace and be assured’:

Go in peace and be assured, for I will go with you.

I am your beacon, even in the deepest night. I am the voice that will always rise within you. I am the hand awaiting your friendship. I am the light that guides your footsteps. I am the wind through which you breathe.


Go in peace and be assured, for I will go with you 
I am your beacon, even in the deepest night.
I am the voice that will alway rise within you.
I am the hand that awaits your friendship
I am the light that precedes your feet
I am the wind through which you breathe

Pushing the boundaries

Running as fast as I can. That’s my goal for th Rotterdam marathon 2024. I want to explore whether I can push the boundary of 2u38:58, set at the Two Rivers marathon where I achieved my personal best last year.

Pushing boundaries has intrigued me all my life. I have a fascination for people who attempt to move the limid. Eliud Kipchoge, the first human to run the marathon in under two hours. Epke Zonderland, who combined three flight elements in a row in the Olympic high bar final in London 2012. Alex Honnold, who free solo climbed El Capitan.

When you move the limit, you balance between order and chaos. One foot is on familiar, safe ground while the other foot steps into the unknown, in the zone of chaos and danger.

The process of pushing boundaries is risky, enlightening, thrilling, confronting – and sometimes extremely frustrating. In 2019, I also ran the Rotterdam Marathon. Back then, I also wanted to run as fast as I could. Until kilometer 25, I was on pace for 2 hours, 35 minutes. One kilometer later, I came to a standstill. Literally. My legs cramped up on both sides, front and back. Seventeen kilometers of walking later, I limped across the finish line. Encouraged by the crowd, I tried to resume running every few minutes, but I just couldn’t.

That experience, along with the marathons I’ve completed in Ironman distance triathlons, have taught me that cramping is my limiting factor. Not nutrition, not my cardiovascular function, not my energy management, and not my mental skills. The main goal of my preparation was to enter the last 10 kilometers as ‘muscle-fit’ as possible.

Never – even when I was young and wild – do I run so many kilometers in preparation. Week after week, consistently and disciplined. In addition, I cycle three to six hours per week and do four strength and stability exercises with Berts Bootcamp every week. Another significant change is not to start as light as possible. During the Two Rivers marathon, I weighed 77 kilograms, in Rotterdam 81 kilograms. I feel much better about it and even  stronger.

Twice during my preparation, I run a full-distance marathon. These session go so well that I look forward with confidence to the 32-kilometer mark. That’s where the marathon starts. Last year, during the Two Rivers marathon, at that point the decline began. My quads screamed in pain and forced me to slow down. Would I be able to maintain my pace this year? If I could, then I should be able to achieve a time of 2 hours and 35 minutes. Translated into time per kilometer: 3 minutes and 40 seconds – from start to finish.

Schema Rotterdam marathonSchema Rotterdam marathonSchema Rotterdam marathonSchema Rotterdam marathonThe start

“What time are you aiming for?” I ask the runners around me. I’m in the race pen and considering setting up a 2-hour 35-minute group. A tall, slender guy, who also turns out to be from Utrecht, seems like a good partner in crime. “I’m aiming at 2 hours and 35 minutes. Our pacer is in the starting pen on the other side; he’s pacing a 2h35-lady.” After the impressive minute of silence in memory of Kevin Kiptum and the final rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Lee Towers, the starting gun goes off at 10 a.m. In my mind, I hear the echo of the second verse of “Go Ahead and Be Assured”:

Go ahead and be assured, for I will go with you. I am the sun, before which darkness kneels. I am the greeting with which you too can rise. I am the hope, that seed deep in your soul. I am the song that whispers in the trees. I am the day that dawns in your dream.

Go in peace and be assured, for I will go with you.
I am the sun, for which the darkness kneels.
I am the salute, with which you too can rise.
I am the hope, the seed deep in your soul.
I am the song that whispers in the trees.
I am the day that dawns within your dream.

The first kilometer, crossing the Erasmus Bridge, I’m being overtaken on both sides. It’s a struggle to find the right pace. After two kilometers, I’m already running ten seconds too fast, while the other 2h35-runner is now forty meters ahead of me. I decide to let him go and stick to my own pace.

Still, I hit the five-kilometer mark in 18 minutes and 20 seconds – twenty seconds too fast. “Slow down, Bert, slow down!” I tell myself. The legs feel so good and this pace is so relaxed that the temptation to go with the 2-hour 35-minute group forming a hundred meters ahead of me is strong. I restrain myself because I know that every second I run too fast now will cost me double in the final. Plan the race, race the plan. That’s what I have to do until at least kilometer thirty. At the 10-kilometer mark, I’m exactly on schedule: 36 minutes and 41 seconds. I’m running along the Havenspoorpad, on the border of Barendrecht, where I’m constantly cheered on by CAV Energie members and other friends and acquaintances from my hometown. Goosebumps.

The middle part

By now, a group of four has joined me, running relaxed yet with a firm and steady pace. I hitch my wagon to theirs and enjoy the ease with which I’m running. As we turn onto Slinge, I can’t believe my eyes. The crowd is ten persons thick, and somewhere in there is my family. The moment I spot Abel and Jada on the sidelines, I briefly leave the perfect line to give them a high-five. They’ve never seen Daddy race at the highest level because they simply weren’t around then. I’m so grateful that they can witness my passion in action one more time.

After the turnaround on Slinge, I manage to give them another high-five on the way back, while our group catches sight of the 2-hour 35-minute group that has formed. Around the 16-kilometer mark, our group catches up. By now, I’ve heard from Ard that I’m second in the Dutch Championships for men aged 50-54. That’s a sub-goal, but ever so secretly I scan the group to see if anyone’s start number begins with ’50’. Not so.

I reach the halfway point in 1 hour, 17 minutes, and 11 seconds. That’s perfectly on schedule, but the freshness has worn off by now. I feel my legs as we pass the Erasmus at 27 kilometers. I’m definitely not the strongest in the group, and I really notice it as we later run through the Westblaaktunnel. Going uphill isn’t as smooth anymore, but I manage to keep up with the group. It’s no longer compact but stretched out.

The final

The intriguing aspect of a marathon is that the race eventually shifts. It’s the point where controlled and strategic running gives way to battling and fighting. No longer running with your head, but from the heart. In this Rotterdam marathon, my turning point comes at kilometer 32. Both calves are have flashes of cramp and my quads are tightening up and painful. I recall the lesson I learned in the Almere triathlon of 2007, where at kilometer 30, I was in third place, five minutes behind the leader. In the race report of that day, I wrote:

I contemplate the three options for the final hour of the race. I don’t even consider option one. That would be to slow down, to have a bit less pain, and accept a losing positions. Option two is the most appealing: maintain this pace and hope the others have to slow down. Option three is the most difficult: to accelerate and explore the absolute limit of what my body can handle. That means constantly pushing myself, step by step, to keep going hard and not give in to pain, nausea, or anything else. I dread entering that territory because I know the consequences. A lot of pain, and the risk of complete collapse.

Between kilometers 25 and 30, I dare not yet make a decision and maintain my current pace. When I hit kilometer 30, I make the decision: I’m going for option three. All or nothing. To ensure that after the finish, I have no regrets and don’t have to live with the uncertainty of ‘what if…’

Suppose I end up second by maintaining my current pace. A good result, second place, but I’ll never know what would have happened if I had gone for option three. Maybe I would have won. Maybe I would have collapsed and had to be taken away on a stretcher. The unbearable thing is: you’ll never know. Regret is a past that hinders you.

At kilometer thirty, I accelerate from 4:20/km to 4:10/km. The gap to Chris Brands decreases by 5 seconds. Cramps shoot through my calves, a signal that I’m on the edge. Kilometer 31 is also in 4:10. I gain another 7 seconds on Chris, and now I’m within two minutes. That gives me courage. I hear that Chris and Teevu Toivanen, the Finnish leader, are struggling. With the last ten kilometers in forty or forty-one minutes, I’ll win the race. I keep my focus and maintain a positive mindset. My legs however protest vehemently, but I simply ignore them. Just past the 32-kilometer mark, the body submits to the mind. As if four iron claws are sinking in both my lower and upper legs, so hard I am hit with cramps. As if 220 volts are shot through my legs, causing the muscles to contract maximally. I come to a sudden stop.

During the Rotterdam Marathon 2024, I decide to keep running as hard as possible, with a slight margin to prevent cramps from setting in. I slowly detach from the 2-hour 35-minute group, relax as much as I can, and focus on the present. My task is simple: run 10 kilometers, one by one, each under 4 minutes per kilometer. With that, I can limit the damage and still achieve a personal record.

At kilometer 35, Raymond and Ard are waiting. While Ard hands me the last nutrition, he asks how I’m doing. “Fighting the cramps, Ard,” I manage to utter. “Keep going, Bert. For Abel and Jada!” Exactly the encouragement I needed. Kilometer after kilometer, I manage to maintain clocking sub-4 minute splits. The crowds, which is lined up in thick rows in the last kilometers, also lend a hand. In the final kilometer, I see Abel, Jada, and Tabitha on the side. This time, I dare not deviate from the ideal line, as I’m now very close to cramping.

After 2 hours, 38 minutes, and 16 seconds, I cross the finish. In a new personal record, and second in the Dutch Championships for men aged 50-54. I can barely move, and shuffle to the first aid post where I need some time to function again. Marinus van Dam awaits for me at the exit. Using his bike as a walker, I waddle to Schouwburgplein, where I reunite with Tabitha, Abel, and Jada. At the awards ceremony for the Dutch Championships, I need assistance to get onto the podium. It has been worth it. I have run this marathon 2024 as hard as I can.

NK podium M50 Rotterdam marathon


Every achievement is fuelled by a motivation. If you want to perform at your peak in a marathon, you must be motivated to endure the pain that inevitably comes with long-distance running. In the past, I performed best when I was angry, feeling that I had been wronged. Conversely, I couldn’t push myself to the limit if there was nothing to fight for. In fact, I didn’t know how to motivate myself to dig deep in races without feeling destructively entitled, as it’s termed in relational ethics.

It’s been a journey of more than twenty years. After my 2024 Rotterdam marathon, I know that I can dig just as deep as before – but this time, from a positive motivation. Not to prove myself, not to justify myself, but simply because I love running hard. In those final kilometers, I was both tough on myself – and simultaneously kind and compassionate. As Gerrie Knetemann said: I allowed myself to suffer.

Go ahead and be assured, for I will go with you. I am the love that someone bestows upon you. I am the highest note that you can strike. I am the distance that beckons longingly. And when you come home, the last mist vanished, I am the hand that wipes away all your tears.

Go ahead in peace, for I will go with you.
I am the love that man bestows upon you.
I am the highest note that you can strike.
I am the distance that beckons longingly.
And, when you come home, the mist vanished,
I am the hand, that wipes away your tears.

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