We’ve just had a fantastic weekend in Rotterdam. We loved the marathon, although it has to be said that the results weren’t exactly what we were hoping for. Despite this, it looks like we have found another event to add to the annual race calendar! Here are our reasons for wanting to go back.

Travel

Rotterdam is easy to get to. You can fly direct from London City airport with a flight time of only 45 minutes. The bus journey into the city from the airport is between 10 and 25 minutes.  Alternatively you can fly to Schiphol airport (Amsterdam) which has a fast (25 min), frequent train link to Rotterdam Central station. This is quicker and cheaper, for us, than travelling to many places in the UK.

Rotterdam – the city

The architecture in Rotterdam is rather unusual – an eclectic mix of styles both new and old. At first we were unsure but as time passed it sort of grew on us. A large part of the city was destroyed during the war and some of it was hastily and unimaginatively re-built.  In more recent years some more thought has gone into the designs, resulting in structures such as the amazing Markthal with its colourful “Horn of Plenty” art work. The harbour and islands add interest and proved to be a good place for our pre-race shake out.

The city is also very vibrant and friendly if not a bit manic at times (particularly the anarchic scooter drivers). Apparently 70% of  the population are singles between 20-40 years of age and on this warm, sunny weekend everyone seemed to be outdoors.

Accomodation

As in most cities there is a huge variety of accommodation. We actually stayed in the Mainport Hotel situated on the river with sweeping views of the water and the city and overlooking the race-start. Admittedly not a cheap option, the hotel was extremely comfortable and interestingly decorated with a seven continents theme. The rooms were spacious and well appointed and although there were spa facilities on site we even had our own sauna in the bathroom.

The Expo

The marathon expo was in a central location in the town near the start of the race which meant that some of the other (shorter) races being held over the weekend were underway during our visit. It was a lively affair with music playing at the entrance and the race-car display showing the course record. It all helped to create a race-ready atmosphere. Inside the centre the number pick-up was efficient and there were numerous stands selling useful products and some advertising other marathons.

The race t-shirt was good quality and well designed by New Balance. Sadly, for us, the New Balance stand sold out of the iron-on stickers containing the marathon’s “You’ll Never Run Alone” slogan early on the Saturday morning. With the weather forecast predicting unseasonably high temperatures and sun for race-day there was a very thoughtful tube of sun cream added to the goody bag.

Start/Finish

This is quite a big marathon with 17,000 runners. It had a  wave start with 7 minute gaps between the waves. There were plenty of portaloos both outside and inside the start pens and in general it was well organised. The best thing about the start, though,  was the singing of the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” borrowed from the local football club Feyenoord and ultimately from our own club in Liverpool. Any race that begins (and ends) with this song is a must for us. And if there was ever a race to come last in this is it. Watch the last finisher video here.

While talking about the finish we must mention the ‘smart’ medal. This is a feature that we haven’t come across before – a medal containing a chip and an accompanying, downloadable app that enables you to scan the medal and see features of your race on your smart phone. An interesting idea and one that, no doubt, we will be seeing more of in the future.

The Course

The marathon course was flat but interesting and, with the right weather conditions, potentially very fast. Three world records have been broken here in the past. The route included both city and more rural areas and even passed a couple of windmills (guess who didn’t see them?) and the famous yellow Cube Houses.

The only slight incline was when crossing the spectacular Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge). This white steel structure, nick-named ‘The Swan’, links the north and south parts of the city and was crossed in both directions during the marathon. The course did get narrow and congested at times particularly along the canal paths. The finish was on Coolsingel, one of the main roads in the city centre.

Sponges in drinking cups

This was such a brilliant idea that it needed a section of its own. At the water stations on the course we were handed water in a paper cup with a sponge fitted in the top of the cup. This sponge was about 2cm deep and had two small v shapes cut out of it (a bit like the plastic lids on take-away coffee cups). The idea was you drank the water through the holes and the sponge stopped it spilling. As you drank some of the water soaked into the sponge. This cup could the be discarded and the wet sponge used to cool yourself down (guess who didn’t work this out?).  We’re not sure how eco-friendly this set-up is but it worked perfectly (for most runners).

Support

The support for the marathon was amazing. Probably the best we have seen in a race of this size. 900,000 people were out on the streets. Much of the route was lined with spectators and in some places, for example on the Erasmusbrug, they were two or three deep. The supporters were very vocal and encouraging and made full use of the participants names on their bibs. On a number of occasions we were both encouraged to keep running when we might otherwise have stopped because of their support.

Alongside the individual supporters were frequent entertainment points with everything from brass bands (or Dutch equivalent) to DJ’s playing Techno Rock.

At 34k there was also the possibility of receiving a personal video messages on one of four huge screens. These were activated by individual runner’s chips and we watched participants being reduced to tears at the sight of their friends and family wishing them luck.

Flowers

There is a tradition in Rotterdam to give flowers to marathon finishers. We have come across this at other European marathons but not to the same extent. When one of our party decided to buy us each a rose (admittedly after we had expressed our disappointment at not having been presented with any flowers of our own) the stall owner, who was closing for the day, decided to give us all her remaining flowers. Needless to say we were delighted. The flowers accompanied us for the rest of the day and into the evening and even made it home to London on the plane. We think this is a lovely touch and would be happy to see it become more wide spread.

Friends

As much as we enjoy the running and travelling to new places, as always what made the weekend special were the people we spent it with. It was good to chat to others runners from the Netherlands, made easy by their impeccable English, but the lasting memories will come from friends who we met up with from home. We were particularly pleased to have Jon Evans back running with us after some time out with an injury and actually he probably had the best race of us all.  Each time we go away our relationships with our running friends strengthen and our shared memories grow.

This was another amazing trip and we never forget how lucky we are.

Finally

What makes a marathon for us special isn’t just one aspect of the race but a number of factors coming together over the course of the weekend. The results we got in Rotterdam weren’t what we hoped for when we set out. Cam ran 3:35 and Jacquie 4:07. It was much hotter than we expected and the event took place in full sunshine on a course that had no shade. Neither of us altered our race plan, despite what we already know about the effect of heat on running pace and announcements at the start recommending runners factor in the temperature.  Consequently both of us struggled towards the end. Despite the results the weekend was a huge success and we will definitely return to Rotterdam and hopefully get a chance to run it in cooler conditions.

Apart from the points we mentioned above another positive to take away from this weekend is that it was possibly a really good training run for our next race – the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in South Africa. Conditions there will probably be warm and sunny. Hopefully we can do some work to continue to improve our heat adaptation over the next two weeks to be ready just in time for Cape Town. The adventure continues.