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Leiden Marathon

The start of the Leiden marathon race.

While Julie was cruising to her 18thcareer marathon and staying in her beautifully consistent time range she has managed on her 8thmarathon of 2012 (along with a 50k and a 100-miler), I was dropping a bomb on the beautiful course in Leiden in the Netherlands.

Julie put together her 5thfastest marathon of her career with a 3:41.19, good for 76thplace overall in the marathon. It was a minute slower than Prague last weekend and she says it was a bit more work than the last one, but she was pleased with how it turned out. She again managed negative splits with a 1:51 first half followed by a 1:50 second. She is running consistently well despite our crazy travel schedule and food binges.

Our traveling buddy Joe Gratz was also able to have a smooth, though challenging day. He completed his first ever 10k and first ever road race of his career in just over 52 minutes. He was exhausted but happy with his first race. He may have even been bit by the racing bug as his post-race reactions were very typical runner: 20 minutes after the race, “I think the 10k is my max distance, this is about it for me”, followed by “I bet I could at least do double the distance I did today, it wasn’t that tough” an hour later.

As for me, during my last 15k routine of shuffle, run, and stop to stretch my right IT band every three to five minutes, I couldn’t help but think that I was paying back some sort of debt, that my luck had finally run out, or most likely, that I need to some more work if I want to race the way I like to.

The race was really well run and the town of Leiden was way nicer than we expected. We heard of the town and race from a woman we met in a café in San Pedro ,Guatemala. We were sitting at a table next to hers and began talking about traveling. She recommended this race to us and because we needed a plan and a small town European marathon sounded intriguing we went for it. It totally lived up to the bill and then some. We ran on bike paths around the city, both in town and in some nice country parks. We ran along waterways much of the race and were constantly cheered on by locals sitting out in front of their homes encouraging us forward – at least that is what it seemed like sense I know absolutely zero Dutch.

And while there were 8300 runners total between the amazingly well run and organized 5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon, and kids run, there weren’t a ton of marathoners. I found out after the race I was running right around the top 10 through the first half before gradually shutting down my engines to save the legs from further problems.

I had told myself after the Prague experience last week that I wasn’t going to run faster than 4:00 minute kilometers, which equates to just under 6:30 miles. That would put me in the high 2:40’s and hopefully leave me fresh enough that I could negative split and not wreck my knees as I have the past couple races. I went out in around 3:55 for the first kilometer which was acceptable, but then found myself tucked in behind three guys that were all doing the full marathon as well. They were well organized, obviously running together, and trying to keep a set pace. I also found out at the 5k mark that they had set up water bottles at the aid stations and had a guy on a bike helping them along. They were a perfect group to run with on a breezy day. They blocked the wind, held a steady pace, and shared their water at the aid stations.

But shortly before the half-way mark going around a turn, I had my first twinge of pain in the outside of my right knee. I knew immediately that it was a warning shot from my IT band and that it was only going to get worse during the run and not better. I backed it down a bit but still maintained contact with my group through a 1:23 first half. From then on though, I tried all I could think of to keep as fast a pace I could without the knee going bad on me. Around 25k into the race, I began a series of IT band stretches that wound up occurring nearly every 3 minutes for the remainder of the race.

I was able to get it done and to save the knee from serious pain. It’s not as inflamed as last week where I pushed it in harder to keep the time in check (2:47 last week), but it came at a price. It was my third worst time out of my career 15 marathons only being eclipsed by my horrendous 2008 Boston Marathon showing and a 2009 trail race that I actually won. I held on for 19thplace overall and came in at 3:02.56.

So my streak of steady 2:40’s dating back to Marathon Madness is over. It’s a wake up call that I need to get it in gear and crank it up if I’m going to race how I’d like to for the summer series of which begins one month from now with the Vancouver USA Marathon. We have one more race left next Saturday in our European series on the west coast of Ireland which should indeed be interesting. It is partially trail and supposedly climbs a mountain. I already have my training plan written out for the week including three core sessions, stretching, and yoga, along with at least three runs on my own so I can work on my pacing and form.

So in summary, Leiden is a great town, they run a great set of races, the course is beautiful, Julie and Joe did very well, and I dropped a bomb with one of my worst finishes to date. But I know what I need to do to fix things and get back to where I want to be so I’m not down, though I sure do hate missing good opportunities like the one that was available to me today. Onwards to Ireland and better racing!

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