Amsterdam Marathon Race Report using Stryd

It's been 12 days since I did the Amsterdam marathon and I've been mulling my result over and over in my mind. It certainly didn't go to plan!

As a recap, I bought a Stryd power meter earlier in the year in order to help me try and get under 4 hours in the marathon. Previous attempts using pace and heart rate gave me results of 4:12 and 4:13. Styrd uses power as the main metric, so at Amsterdam my plan was to run by power and to ignore pace and heart rate.

The start of the marathon weekend

We flew from Toulouse to Amsterdam on the Friday (my 59th birthday :))and arrived to pouring rain. Not an encouraging start. Thankfully after 2 hours of downpour it stopped.

Welcome to Amsterdm!
We had booked to stay in the Conscious Tire Station hotel and we were really happy with our choice. Cool, chic hotel, comfy and clean, restaurant on site and only a 20 minute walk to the race start. Perfect.

Tire Station Hotel
Bathroom sign...ooh err!
Such a comfy bed, except for the thin pillows
The only negative was that Bill had got a gastro a couple of days earlier. He felt he could run but it was an anxious time. Marathons and toilets always cause anxiety even at the best of times.

After settling into the hotel, we went out for a quick leg stretch, a 30 minuter jog around Vondelpark. It felt good and the weather was perfect. Cool and fresh.  Then it was back to the hotel to check for the umpteenth time, the marathon route and to plan our race strategies.

In the evening we made use of the hotel happy hour telling ourselves that one glass of wine wouldn't hurt and after all it was my birthday. Then we headed to a pasta restaurant "Pastai", for a romantic birthday meal for 2. To my surprise, Bill had turned it into a party for 16! I'm not usually one for surprises but this was a lovely one and helped me to relax. Our party were all family - siblings plus their kids and partners and it was a really great, evening. Well done hubby :).

Expo here we come

Saturday we all met up at the expo to collect our bib numbers and I also planned to visit the Stryd stand. Exciting!
The expo was heaving but it was well organised with lots of stalls to tempt you. I fell in love with a heated massage cushion but Bill  thankfully put a stop to my possible impulse buy which was just as well since we only had hand luggage. I got a free calf and back massage though (it felt SO good), so it kind of compensated.

I know the Dutch are tall but .....

We then headed over to the Stryd stand I was so excited to meet other Stryders. Being a fairly new product, there are not many about. As a side note, during training, I had worked out that my marathon power was 148 watts but I had been advised to do the first 30 km at around 146-147 watts and then to increase to 148-149 watts if I felt good. I was aware though that at that power, I could probably only manage 4:05 - 4:08 in the marathon. It was kind of disappointing to think that I might not make it under 4:00 but then in reality, that was what I was capable of. I was told that the Stryd rep could advise me on a power to race at although I had already planned my race power so I was just wanting him to reaffirm.


The Stryd rep who was very nice and enthusiastic got out his calculator and said that I could in fact run at 151-158 watts. That came as a shock to me. It was kind of exciting knowing that he thought that I could run a bit faster but then I had not done my marathon runs at that power so a big question mark came into my head. The Stryd guy didn't know me personally or how my training had gone, plus he didn't know my other training metrics like my fatigue factor and running economy, so he was basing this number purely on a percentage of my critical power. (Sorry this might not mean much to you if you've never used a running power meter).

I went away with lots to think about. Running at a higher power could well give me the chance to get in under 4 hours but I hadn't done my marathon paced runs at that power so...........hmmm.

The evening we spent in the hotel restaurant (just the two of us) and had a superb meal of fish and pasta and then we were tucked up in bed by 9.30pm after having checked our race kit a hundred times over. I planned to run in my Uglow clothes which are the lightest and most comfy clothes I have ever worn, Brooks Ghost 11 trainers, Garmin Fenix 5S watch, Stryd power meter and my nutrition was going to be Tailwind, gel bars and caffeine bullets.

Race outfit - Uglow, Stryd, Garmin Fenix 5S, Tailwind, Caffein Bullets
Race Ready

Race Morning

We both slept surprising well and we were up at 6:30am. A quick shower and a fill up of our hydration bladders (one less thing to do later) with Tailwind, we then headed to breakfast. It was easy to spot other runners who were all looking a little bit anxious and fuelling their bodies with mountains of food. I only managed yogurt with muesli and a banana but that was my normal breakfast anyway. Bill manged to eat something in spite of his stomach anxieties and we had bought Imodium just in case. Back up in the room, panic as his hydration bladder had sprung a leak. Thankfully I am a bit anal about having spares of things, so we did have a spare bladder. Phew.

Pre Race Jitters

I felt surprisingly calm on our 20 minute walk to the stadium. In fact I felt kind of excited that today was perhaps going to be MY day. Training had gone well. I didn't have any injuries apart from a niggling lower back and I had put in over 100 km more training than in my preparation for the Nice marathon a year ago.

My main anxiety at the start was toilets. I always need at least 2 stress pees but the queues were quite long so I knew that only one was going to be possible. Bill too was anxious but he was feeling better than the day before so he was a bit relieved.  I must say though that were more toilets than I had thought there would be and they were clean and with paper. Sorry about all the toilet talk!

Then we headed into the stadium with the 1600 other runners and set off to find our pen. We had both put ourselves down for the 3:30-4:00 pen. Bill had previously done a 3:47 but because of his gastric situation he was hoping just to finish.
Ready to Run

And we were off

It took about 7 minutes for our pen to cross the timing mat and then we were off. I am always stressed a few minutes before the start but the moment I cross the start mat, then I am fine. I had my Garmin Fenix 5S and had the screen set to just show power. This was so I wouldn't get distracted by pace or heart rate. 

The first km was a crush. Everyone trying to get through the narrow street and in fact at one point we all came to a standstill!! It took about 2 km before it became less crowded and I could settle in. At this point I checked in on my power. I was doing 151 watts. Now what did I say I had planned to do? 146-147 watts. I was feeling strong and my legs were light so I reasoned to myself (in a split second), that the Stryd rep had said I could do 151-158 watts, so surely I was fine. 

The marathon route took us round a few streets and then into Vondelpark. We then went along a long stretch of road where we could see the faster runners coming back down the other side. That was a bit demoralising but I was feeling strong so I put my head down and chugged along. 151 watts creeping up to 152 watts.....

10 km in 56:43.

Then we headed along the Amstel River. Many runners apparently don't like this part as there are less spectators but I loved it. There were boats on the river and someone doing acrobatics on some kind of  air jet ski. Then there were the huge houses and apparently windmills, which somehow I missed. It was a long stretch though and suddenly I came across Bill. That was a surprise as I thought he would be way ahead of me. I worried that he was struggling since we had only done about 16 km but he said that he felt fine and was just being cautions. We ran together for a couple of km's and then I left him and ran on. 

I was now doing about 152-154 watts but bit by bit I realised that I was starting to feel a little tired. I wasn't even half way so there was a bit of anxiety. I decided to slow down a bit but by the time I got to half way, I found I had no choice. Suddenly I was forced to do 148 watts and as each km went on, my power got lower and lower. And then the toe cramps came. I've never had toe cramps whilst running so this was a first.

21.1 km in 1:58:40

After the toe cramps, came the calf cramps. I slowed down even more to stop them and every time I tried to speed up, the cramps reappeared. I realised by 25 km that I had made a stupid rookie error. I had started too fast.... AGAIN!! I was gutted. I had let my heart rule my head and changed my marathon strategy to suit what I wanted rather than what I was capable of.

30 km in 2:53:39

By 30 km I was running at around 135 watts and the calf cramps would not let me go any faster. At around 32 km, there was a loud clattering behind me and the 4 hour pacer with his merry band of followers passed me. Feeling motivated, I tried to keep up with him but it was just too uncomfortable, so I let him fade into the distance as my power started declining even more. The frustrating thing was that I felt my nutrition and hydration strategy was perfect, mentally I felt strong and motivated (unlike the Nice-Cannes marathon) but my calf cramps were just not going to let me run faster. 

Gradually my power became 125-128 watts which is my slow easy run power and I was doing what I could to keep moving forward. My dream of passing other runners in the final few km's was the opposite. I was being passed by what seemed like everybody. I didn't stop though and I never walked except when I couldn't get my gel bar out of my pocket.

40 km in 3:59:12

With a final push in the last couple of km's I entered the Olympic stadium. What a wonderful sight and the support was enormous. I crossed the line and immediately was congratulated by a marshal who took me by the shoulders and told me to take some nice deep breaths. Did I look that bad?! Then he wished me a nice stay in Amsterdam which I found touching.

42.2 km in 4:13:23 (yes, another 4:13 to add to my list)

You can see in the graph where my power started to dip. Power is yellow and blue is pace.

Stryd power graph
Stryd power graph

I found Bill waiting for me and he had done brilliantly considering it being touch and go, finishing in 4:01. After collecting our plastic cape and banana, we headed back to the hotel, or tried to at least. The roads were all blocked as the half marathon was in full swing so we had to take all sorts of detours, limping along and shuffling at the speed of nothing.
Thankful to have finished
Between limping and wincing our way up and down pavements, we analysed every part of our marathon and could talk of nothing else. All our group had finished their respective races but we hadn't been able to catch up with them because of the crowds. I wanted to be happy for finishing but I was also so disappointed with myself. 4 months of training to be spoilt in a split second decision.

Post Race Analysis

First off I didn't achieve my objective and secondly I didn't stick to my race plan. But I did finish and I was 20 seconds faster than my marathon last year so there are some positives.

Main errors:
  • Not sticking to my race plan and getting persuaded that I could run at a faster power. I hadn't trained for that power and consequently my muscles were not used to it, hence the cramps.
  • Letting my heart rule my head.
  • Going too fast in the first half. The real race starts at 30 km.

Staying Positive

I have zero regrets training and racing by using the Stryd power meter. Training went so well and  running by power made sure that I didn't over do it but at the same time allowed me to run more miles. With previous marathon training plans, I often had injuries or niggles. I do still keep an eye on my heart rate, as in the past MAF training has helped me enormously.

I am already planning another marathon for next year in order to redeem myself :). My running club are planning to do the Marathon de Royan, Charente Maritime at the end of May next year. Up until marathon training begins, I'll do some months of base training i.e. slow, steady miles at a low heart rate and work on strengthening my calves to help minimise those horrible cramps and then it will be back to another marathon power training plan.