My first marathon: to hell and back!

April 7, 2019, Rotterdam

The first beads of sweat are already trickling down tense faces. Behind the impressive skyline of Rotterdam, the sun peeps out, and as soon as it touches my skin, I know: it’s going to be a hot day.

The tension at the starting line is palpable. It’s quiet. Thousands of people are crammed together. Shiny faces. Sticky bodies. The smell of sweat here and there. Vaseline is passed around, a last sip of water is taken, shoelaces are tied. Time drags on. At five past ten, the starting shot finally sounds for the first group. After an excruciatingly long 20 minutes, it’s our turn.

I feel butterflies in my stomach as I ascend the famous Erasmus bridge. People are cheering and shouting as if we’ve already run a marathon. But we’ve only just begun.

After one and a half kilometers, we leave the crowd behind and I am confronted with reality. Endlessly long and, above all, dull asphalt roads with only a few spectators. No music, no encouragement. A tense silence prevails among the runners. It’s time for music, so I put in my earbuds.

5 kilometers. I have to pee. And not just a little bit. We stood in the starting area for more than one hour, drank a lot of water and now we have to get it out. But where is that toilet? They would be there every few kilometers, wouldn’t they? And indeed, while I was looking for white signs with WC on them, there are dixies scattered along the course.

10 kilometers. Second water station, I passed the first one, but I now feel that that is not wise, because although I have a camelbak on I go through it quickly. Too fast. Like my running pace. Also too fast.

15 kilometers. At the next water station everyone has figured out the system of getting into the right side of the course and grabbing a drink, except for this woman. I reach out to get a cup of water from a volunteer and get an elbow in my back, after which she runs full into my arm, lets out a cry and runs empty-handed past the water station. I let out a deep sight. I don’t feel like arguing at water stations at all.


21 kilometers. Half way. Now it’s going to start. I’m already starting to feel the right upper leg…

25 kilometers. Around me, the heads tighten, the looks grim. The shared suffering touches me. It doesn’t matter who you are, what job you do, what you look like, where you are today or what brand of clothes you wear, everyone is going through the same thing now. We don’t run against each other, we run against ourselves. No words are needed to feel this interconnectedness.

27 kilometers. Back on the Erasmus Bridge. I’ve just been overtaken by the pacers with a finish time of 4:10. Until kilometer 25 I had the secret hope that I could finish in 4:10. It was the Ego that spoke, because I had set myself only one goal and that was to finish, whole and in one piece. I try to accelerate to catch up with them, but the asphalt sticks to my soles like chewing gum, the incline of the bridge is too great. ‘Let it go Floor’, I tell myself admonishingly. ‘The real work has yet to begin.’

30 kilometers. Only now! No, this is impossible! Another 12 kilometers, how?

32 kilometers. Welcome to hell. We walk through the Kralingse Bos. I have been warned about this. Hardly any spectators, no music. Only scorching heat and runners who give up, they go for a walk. Standing still. To sit. Even lie down.

33 kilometers. I’m still in hell. My legs are up and mentally I’m starting to break down. I comfort myself with the thought: this is what you trained for. Let the emotions wash over you. The desperation, the frustration, the self-pity, let the little voices in your head talk, but you keep running. No matter what happens, you keep running.

35 kilometers. Hell is an infinitely deep pit. All around me people have gone for a walk. Some vehemently shaking their heads no. Others sighing and cursing out loud. I run on. I’m only allowed to stop if I’m throwing up. No excuses, keep running.

37 kilometers. The bottom has not yet been reached. The waves of emotions have given way to waves of nausea. At the drinking station I rinse my mouth with water and a sports drink. I can’t bear to drink anymore, I stopped eating a few kilometers ago. Burping with nausea, I keep running. Keep running.

38 kilometers. Another half hour of running, if I increase the pace to 6 minutes per kilometer then it is only 24 minutes. No way that I’m going to run longer than 24 minutes. That’s the max, I can’t handle this pain any longer. ‘So step up Floor!’ I tell myself,  ‘The faster you run, the faster hell will be over!’

39 kilometers. Where is that 40?

40 kilometers. 12 minutes left. Then this hell will end.

41,195 kilometers. There are still 1000 meters on the ground. Okay, get your eyes off the ground. Get out of that tunnel. Look around you, try to enjoy. This is your moment.

As soon as I take my eyes off the pavement and look up at all the bursting energy that’s all around me, making eye contact and real connections with the crowd, it happens. Something opens up in my heart, like a bright white light. I feel waves of emotions rushing over me: happiness, pride, strength, excitement. It’s almost too much to handle, and I feel tears welling up, making my vision blurry. I put my arms in the air and shout. The people respond, and I feel one, one with the crowd, the other runners, myself, and all my surroundings. I feel fulfilled.

42,195 kilometers. I cross the finish line, and my legs are shutting down. I try to walk as normally as possible, but it’s more like shuffling. The fatigue of my body hits me, but in my mind, I still feel that euphoric feeling. I know in my core that I’m hooked.

Floor marathon 2019

The very next day, I sign myself up for the marathon in Valencia with the promise to myself that I will show up there stronger and fitter than I did for the marathon in Rotterdam. I will run it with ease and joy. Little did I know that it would become a true test of resilience and mental strength, as I would run the marathon amidst a breakup, and I wouldn’t go with my partner to Valencia; he would be there as my ex.

Read the Marathon of Valencia: Finding Strength Amidst a Breakup.

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