BONGS in the Netherlands – Eindhoven marathon

No not that kind of bong! I don’t think Eindhoven is that kind of town. More cake shop than coffee house if you get my drift. No, the only fumes drifting round the Sofitel were the easily identified scent of stinky runner (it was a bit of a giveaway that despite the heavy work involved in changing gazillions of beds, it was the staff lift that smelled fresh and clean and the guest lifts that reeked of sweat!). 

Yes, your editor had been beguiled by a special offer into staying at the same hotel as the elite runners. Half my age, half my size, twice my speed, and cruelly given to loud conversations in the corridor at 8:30am when I’d been kept up all night before the marathon by the ruddy church clock. BONG. BONG. ….. gah! The place we stayed in last year wasn’t anywhere near as conveniently located but the sound insulation was better. 
So Sunday morning, the marathon I’d been training for all summer, and there I was feeling completely foul and weeping into my other half’s (mainly clean) hanky over breakfast and thinking of not even starting it. But luckily my OH always knows the right thing to say: in this case, he pointed out that I could, of course, always pull out. And then he went back to his bagel, fruit salad etc while I (prone to runner’s trots) had a gel (eww).
He deposited me in the start pen with a Hazelnut Nougat & Dark Chocolate (not a mars bar at all) bar and a sport drink. Of course like the first day of school you start making friends, in this case, the kind gents of the 4:30 pacing team who saw my name on my bib and serenaded me in Dutch. Bless them.
It’s not actually that big a race – about twice the size of Abingdon maybe, if you count the relay racers. So you’re over the line in a minute or so, the balloons of the 4:00 and 4:15 pacers ahead and the 4:30 ones just behind.

The evening before I’d written out a pacing band (google Marco marathon pacing) which was held together with a paper clip. So every km I’d look down to see if I was on schedule. Roughly it goes, race pace plus 12 secs/mile for first 2 miles, race pace plus 6secs for the next few, then 9 miles @ race pace and 9 miles a scratch below. Negative splits.

At first my calf was hurting. But I’ve had this before in races and it always settles down once I’ve warmed up. Same now. No problem.
By 3k I’d overtaken the 4:15 pacers and stepped up to 9:15 pace. Well that was OK. The route wasn’t as flat as I remembered though. There were bits under bridges and, indeed, over motorways! But, see, they were at the start of the loop. You forget them because the end of the 13 mile loop is a maze through the town, cheered on by pavementfuls of people who may well have been drinking since well before you reached the first water stop.

What I like about this race – apart from the “pretty nearly flat” bit of course – is that it breaks down into nice small bits. Next km. Then a music station. Maybe another km marker. Then a water/sponge station. Maybe another km marker. Then an “own drinks & sports drinks” station. Apart from the first eigen dranke station they were all fantastic – there would be a “spotter” out ahead and all you had to do was give ’em a yell and by the time you got there they’d be handing your drink to you. I loved them all. The drinks guys, the samba guys, the many, many orange brass bands.

14km. Time to up the pace again to 9:09 (though I’d laboriously written the pace band out in mins/km as the Garmin isn’t exact enough). Well so far so good. The main thing – no sign of the dreaded runners’ trots that had sent me into a portapotty in London (and Abingdon) (and Helsinki though I wasn’t racing that one). The “no sleep last night” issue had been cured with a nap through kms 8-10. Did you know you can catnap while running? You can! As long as there aren’t too many potholes or other runners.

Checked off each km. Usually 10 secs up on schedule. Once 10secs down. By half way I was 10 secs ahead again. Felt at least as OK as I did at half way last year. I can do it, I thought. If I don’t screw up I’ve got it. Boston. Sub-4. Don’t screw up. You’ve got the chance, do it for all the people who got cramp, or were sick, or got injured, or whatever. Don’t waste it. Next km. Hold that pace.

The gels and sport drink (rubberbanded together at every “own drinks” stop) were bloating me out a little. The photos are going to be shocking. Gut hanging out and teeth gritted…! I felt confident enough now not to force down all the sport drink, and tried to pull my top down over my tummy. 

26k and that meant only 10 miles to go. Well ten miles at race pace, I’ve done that on a dark evening after work. Don’t screw up.
My right hip started playing up & I tried to straighten up a bit. But that’s never slowed me down. Gritted my teeth. Come on. 27k. Okay, done. Now 28k. Good, done. Now speed up some more, to about 9 min miles. Only a few seconds/mile more. Come on. 29k. Yes, that’s the right pace. …. 32k. Only a 10k left to do now. Any eejit can do a 10k. Last drink’n’ gel coming up at 36-37k. Right. Only 5k to go now and you’re getting into town with hordes of drunk lowlanders to egg you on. They think I’m smiling & I get lots of shout-outs but I’m not, I’m gritting my teeth! 
Still on pace. 
40k. Now… you see… I did a maths degree. And ever since, in the first term, they made us formally prove that 1+0=1 and 1+1=2, my grasp of arithmetic has never been quite the same again. What if I had done the sums wrong? Perhaps more to the point what if my pace judgement goes to pot? The band gave me 7 seconds of leeway. I put my foot down. Elbows out, head back. 200m. I mean it’s a two loop course, you’d think I’d be familiar with it by now, but where the hell is the finish line, is it not here yet?!
Cross line, burst into tears because 3:59:01 – sub-4 at last, and qualified for Boston 2012.
Then I was sick. Twice. Oddly, orange… don’t know why… gels and sport drink both clear… but thus fulfilling my second ambition, viz to be theatrically stricken at finish line!

Boston 2012 here I come (if they don’t change the standards!). I was a shortsighted, asthmatic, bookish child and this is the first time I’ve ever qualified for anything athletic in my life. Yay!