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Rotterdam 2017: my first sub-3 hour marathon (1)

We all have our goals in running (and in life). Some are the short-term targets we set ourselves for the season ahead: “run a fast 10k” or “set a new half marathon PB”.  Others are more aspirational and help us to focus our efforts on achieving a significant milestone: “complete a couch to 5k programme” or “run a first marathon/ultra” or even “run a 10in10!“. For the last two years I’ve had a very simple(!) running goal. To run a sub-3 hour marathon. On 9 April 2017, I travelled to Rotterdam in an attempt to join the sub-3 hour club.

The Rotterdam marathon is regularly voted one of the top marathons in the world, just one step down from the world majors. It’s a large event with over 15,000 entries to the marathon and many thousands more entering a number of shorter races held over the weekend. Many of the best elite and amateur runners choose to race in Rotterdam (despite a high quality April racing calendar that includes marathons in London and Boston) attracted by the flat and fast course. The perfect place for a sub-3 hour marathon attempt then?

Let’s backtrack a little. Regular readers (yes there are a few of you!) will know that my main focus for 2017 is the Brathay 10in10 (now just a month away). So, if I’m seriously training for running 10 hilly marathons in 10 days why chase a goal at the opposite end of the marathon running spectrum? I have two sensible answers to this question. First, my 10in10 training plan has always been based on getting myself as fit, fast and strong as I possibly can be. Not just focusing on endurance. Second, chasing the sub-3 hour marathon goal has provided the motivation and focus for my training that I needed to get through those tough, high mileage winter months.

Comedy taper advice
Beware the tapering runner

And the less sensible answers? I’m not getting younger and soon I’ll start to slow down. I want to know how fast I can be. I wanted a marathon PB that started with a 2, and the buzz that goes with it. Sometimes, we just have to let the running junkie have his day!

My preparation for Rotterdam had, in general, gone very well with some encouraging racing performances along the way. Even a severe bout of fatigue three weeks before the race was soon overcome with a few days rest and so I entered my two-week taper feeling pretty confident. For runners, tapering is something of a necessary evil. Reducing the amount and/or intensity of your training in the run up to a big race is crucial if you want to turn up to the start feeling rested, refreshed and ready to go. It also provides the opportunity to think about those things we often neglect: stretching, nutrition and getting enough sleep.

But forcing yourself not to run can be mentally very tough. Every little ache and tweak feels as if it’s a major trauma. We become grumpy and irritable. When maranoia really kicks in, runners are not the best people to be around (I’ll admit to being terrible in the run up to Berlin in 2016). Fortunately, this time my taper progressed with little incident. A great 12 mile tempo run. A couple of local 4 mile races for speed. One great track session. And, importantly for me, lots of sleep. A realistic attempt at a sub-3 hour marathon was on the cards.

Erasmus bridge on marathon day
The stunning Erasmus Bridge – part of the marathon course

Rotterdam is a great city to visit for a long weekend. And easy to get to from Hull, with its overnight ferry to the Netherland’s second city and Europe’s largest port. Travelling with friends (one who was also running the marathon) helped set a relaxed tone as we spent a couple of days taking in what Rotterdam has to offer.  It’s historic riverside and maritime district. The food and drink market located in the stunning Markthal. A boat trip (full of resting marathoners) that highlighted the sheer scale of the Port of Rotterdam. And plenty of places to put your feet up, grab a coffee and pastry, and watch the world pass by.

Suitably rested, hydrated and fuelled I settled down for one last good sleep before the big day. I was confident I had done all I could to give myself a great chance of realising my dream. There was nothing else to do or worry about. All I had to do now was run. Fast. For a long time.

And on that note, I really will see you at the start…

Find out how race day went in part 2 of my Rotterdam marathon blog.