Hi Guys, for those of you that don’t know me my name is Ben Toomey and I look after the Online Store, Inventory and Events for Pure.

Recently I competed at the 2018 Rotterdam Marathon, here is my recap.

Background

During my early to mid-twenties I ran at a pretty high level in both track and road events, I was fortunate enough to have some moderate success and run some PBs and achievements that I am quite proud of, such as the time my family and some friends thought I’d come second in the 2008 National 5000m behind Craig Mottram after watching the highlights package on TV, only to discover I’d actually had a shocker and had been lapped just as Mottram entered the final 100m. Eventually I found myself becoming attracted to the idea of marathon running.

However, in 2014 following two very humbling attempts at the marathon I found myself badly injured and had received the advice from my sports doc to “go get yourself a really good bike, because your running days are over”.

Thankfully a second opinion from a surgeon was slightly more optimistic and I made the decision to go under the knife – it was either going to work or it wasn’t and it was actually the cheaper than buying a road bike. Following the surgery there was a lengthy rehab process, countless false starts in recommencing running, further injuries, an expensive bike purchase (or two), getting hit by a car whilst on the bike, and plenty of frustration.

Finally, in mid-2016 after seeing Tim Foran at East Coast Podiatry in Kahibah and making some changes to my orthotics I managed to string some consistent training together and decided to enter the Melbourne Marathon. Training leading up to the event went ok and I’d hoped that I might be able to run a PB (which was 2:32 at the time). However, my (bad) luck would bless me again, I picked up a calf injury the week of the race, and the weatherman dealt us very windy and hot conditions on race day, which meant that I came home in 2:40:41. Upon reflection it was not the result I’d hoped for, however it did give me the belief and confidence that I could still produce some good runs in the future.

Fast forward 12 months, I’d barely missed a day of running, I had trained well and was confident and ready for a good result at Melbourne and my persistence over the past 4 years was rewarded with a PB of 2:27:17

Build up

My consistent training and fitness meant I recovered quite well from Melbourne and was pretty keen on having a crack at another marathon early 2018, following some advice from mates who’d previously run Rotterdam Marathon I decided on that as my next Marathon. I only raced once between Melbourne and Rotterdam which was the NSW 10,000m held at the Blue Track here in Newcastle, conditions were brutal, it was a hot and sticky night – I finished 2nd and ran 31:56.

I spent the next 10 weeks running between 170 and 180 km per week. A sample of a normal weeks training can be seen here:

 

Morning

Evening

Monday

rest

Easy 8-10k

Tuesday

8k of intervals at around 10k pace

Easy 8k

Wednesday

90-100min run

Pure Run – normally 8k

Thursday

Long fartlek session between 50 and 90 minutes

Easy 8k

Friday

Easy 60min run

Easy 40min run

Saturday

90minute run

Easy 8k

Sunday

Long run between 32 and 39k

Pass out on couch

 

Thursday, Friday and Saturday could be rotated based on how I was feeling during the week and my work schedule. I found this did help my sessions be of a bit better quality than if I was just forcing them out. I did the majority of my sessions solo but was lucky enough to have my wife Bridey ride the bike with me on a couple of my hardest sessions.

Overall my lead up to Rotterdam felt very similar to Melbourne I was hitting similar paces in the majority of my training sessions, although it felt like I was sometimes working a lot harder to achieve this optimistically I reasoned this to be the difference between a marathon build up in Winter vs a marathon build up in the humid Summer traditional to Newcastle. I was hopeful to have a similar first 35k to Melbourne and be able to come home a lot stronger in the last 7k due to the hardening of 6 months more training under the belt and none of those dreaded hills that hurt me so much in the back end of Melbourne.

Rotterdam Marathon

Bridey and I left for Europe on Easter Sunday a week before the race, we flew into Frankfurt before catching a train to the cool German city of Koln, where we based ourselves for the first few days. Bridey had previously based herself in Koln during a few European Track Seasons, so knew all the running loops in the fantastic forest they have on offer as well as all the good places to eat. This was a great move as I was able to adjust to the time zone and get myself settled away from the place I was going to race.

We caught the train to Rotterdam on the Thursday and settled into our accommodation. As luck would have it I’d bump into an Irish mate (Mark) who I had run against a number of times while he was living in Melbourne, Mark was staying at the same hotel and was hoping to run under 2:18 to try get himself into the Irish team for the European Championships (unfortunately he had a tough second half of the race and ran 2:21). On Friday I went for an easy run around part of the course, soaked up the city of Rotterdam before heading to the Expo to collect my numbers before spending the rest of the day eating – Mark recommended a winner pizza/pasta franchise - Vapiano. Saturday was a fairly similar day, another easy run in the morning, before heading back to the expo to drop of my bottles for the race and then putting my feet up and shovelling food in almost nonstop – my goal was to consume about 600grams of carb a day, 3 days leading into the marathon.

 

Race Day

Rotterdam is like a lot of overseas Marathons, it starts mid-morning, 10am in this case. The upside of this is that it means no 3 or 4am wake ups to get food down (Bridey was thankful). I woke up around 6:30, before getting in a small bowl of rice, some jam on toast and a banana. I went for a short walk before coming back and putting my feet up. At around 8:30 I headed off to the Sub-Elite room, where I could relax and get in a light warm up before heading back for the usual pre-race rush - Changing into race kit and racing flats, putting lube in all the right places, having a couple of sips of drink and squeezing in as many toilet stops as possible. 30minutes before the start time we were walked to the starting pen, here I was able to do a few loosening strides, go to the toilet a further few times before taking a gel and my last few sips of drink before getting into position to start the race.

Unlike any race I’ve ever been in, Rotterdam was started by the firing of a cannon – which was quite awesome. However, it also made knowing exactly when the race was going to start impossible, throw in the fact that any pre-race instructions were in Dutch. The start was chaos, it featured a massive fall, which actually ruined the race for the favoured Dutch athlete too (see video he was in yellow). Thankfully I managed to stay upright and got about settling into my own rhythm.

My goal was to try and run between 17:00 and 17:10 for each 5k split, and to feel strong and relaxed for as long as I possibly could. The first 5k went by relatively smoothly, I was running on my own which was great as I could just focus on my own rhythm and also meant that I could get a good sight of my first drink bottle at 5k and work out exactly where they were on the table. I spent the next 5k slowly chipping away at a couple of guy’s who were just up the road. I caught them at about 9km and ran with them for about 500m before moving on ahead, I went through 10k in 34:02 absolutely spot on where I wanted to be and feeling very smooth and in control.

Just after 10k a group of mainly Irish guys caught up to me – turns out they had probably been 20m behind me for the previous 9km and we formed a nice pack, and we ran through 15k in 51:10 and 20k in 68:13. In Melbourne I’d also had a nice pack, but I felt like I spent some time at the front of the group almost slowing it down and focusing on keeping it together for as long as possible feeling it would have been beneficial for all of us to stay together as long as  we could. Today however I was really focused on keeping my rhythm and if I felt my rhythm slow I’d instinctively go off the front of the group to keep things ticking along.

At 20k we turned into a slight wind and our pace certainly slowed, between 20 and 23k I had a few tough periods where it felt very hard or very easy and nothing in between. I then missed my next drink bottle at 25k, but fortunately I found my groove again and we the pack split up around 28km and I was able to keep rolling forward with the group and feeling strong. We went through 30k in 1:43:18 meaning the previous two 5k splits had been run in 17:33 and 17:32 slightly slower than my goal, and for the first time, it was a split slower than Melbourne. I was still optimistic as I felt very strong and didn’t have any hills to contend with over the next 12km.

Not long up the road, just after 31km that confidence was dashed. I fell off the back of the group I was with and had one of the guys who I’d run away from come back passed me. I felt a bit shaky and weak – I was certain my day was done. I checked my watch at 32km and realised I had still run the last 2k in right on 7minutes and hadn’t slowed, I had just gone from feeling good to feeling horrible, I focused on just getting to 35k and getting my drink, which worked. I managed to hit 35k having run the last 5k in 17:42.

I took my drink and gel and made a strong-minded decision to just focus on getting to 40k, as a result, I started to lift and believe that a PB was still possible. Unfortunately, that drink and gel didn’t stay down for long… I spewed them straight back up, all over myself – much to the joy of the crowd, who had managed to line the entire course. I was fortunate during this period to still be able to see one of the guys who’d run away from me at 31k up the road as well as the second placed female who was coming back to me quickly, this helped me stay strong and gave me something to focus on. I got to 40k in 2:19:06, which it turns out was just 4 seconds slower than what I hit in Melbourne, I had run the 5k between 35 and 40 in 18:06 which was 18 seconds quicker than Melbourne’s 5k split – surely, I could make that up and get a PB from here.

WRONG. I think I had been so mentally focused on holding together to 40k that when I passed that point, I was done. It was my finish line. I tried everything I could to muster up a strong finish – but I was all out of gas. 2:27:39 was to be my official finishing time. The last 2k were torture and getting to the finish line was a great relief and also gave me another chance to empty the contents of my stomach all over myself.

Reflection

After making a long walk out of the post event area, I managed to find Bridey and give her a hug (huge credit to her, as she had seen me chuck all over myself too). I was pretty spent and it took us almost an hour to walk the 800m or so back to our hotel as I needed a few sit downs. During this walk she asked the really tough question; “are you happy with that?” My response, I am not unhappy with it. I missed my PB by just 20 odd seconds, I felt amazing for the first 20k and the majority of the first 30k and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been tougher in a race than I was between 32 and 40k.

Now sitting back and looking at it with the benefit of 2 weeks recovery, I am still not doing cartwheels about the result, but I am now really excited about what it means for the future. I am more motivated for my next block of training than ever before and am certain that I am closer to achieving the goals I have for myself than I was after my result in Melbourne.

There are things that didn’t quite go right in Rotterdam, while I am under no illusions of the perfect Marathon ever happening – I think there are some things I can certainly improve on. I am now looking forward to getting back to the grind and gearing up for another crack at the Marathon in the second half of 2018.

If anyone out there is considering a European Marathon, I would certainly recommend Rotterdam, it is a really cool city, the event is extremely well organised. The course is flat and fast (the first 4 runners all ran 2:05 this year) and it has a great history of success for Australian’s with Robert De Castella having won the event twice.