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My experience running the Amsterdam Marathon
Amsterdam Marathon - photo by Kim Cowart
My three passions in life are running, writing and traveling. My dream is to combine all three, writing about my running adventures in far away places. My most recent adventure was at the Amsterdam Marathon.

What set this race apart from so many other big races is there were three races in one day: the full marathon, a half-marathon and an 8K. The day before the race, we took part on the Good Morning City run, which was an easy jog through Amsterdam. Four miles later, we had a better idea of the layout of the city and had already seen many of the highlights.

Because the streets in Amsterdam are quite narrow, the start times were staggered. Full marathoners began at 9:30 a.m. The course was a loop course, starting and finishing in Olympic Stadium. Spectators dotted the stand above, giving them full views of all the action on the track.

The energy was electric with music pumping at the start, and big screens around the stadium so we could see the elites take off. Five minutes after they began, I crossed the same start line.

Amsterdam is the most beautiful European city Ive ever seen. The weather was a perfect 50 degrees with plenty of shade from the gorgeous trees lining every street. The half-marathon course follows most of the full course. The advantage of the full marathoners is we got to run around the Amstel River which offered the most scenic, bucolic views. Horses running across the fields, sheep grazing in the pasture. Yes, we even ran by a few iconic windmills. I had to pinch myself to make sure it was all real.

While this is only my second European marathon experience, I have traveled to numerous other big marathons like New York and Boston. Here are a few points that set Amsterdam apart from the rest of the pack.

First, the race is cheap. At around $80, this race is by far the cheapest big city race Ive ever run. By comparison, I paid over $250 to run New York and $180 to run Boston. Half marathoners only paid $45 to run through the streets of Amsterdam. The support didnt suffer. In fact, it was even better than some of the bigger races with plenty of water, energy drink, food and bathrooms along the course.

Second, there was music at every kilometer along the race. I didnt know what a difference this would make in my mood until around the 10K mark I realized I was starting to look forward to the bands and DJs dotting the course. A marathon is 42 kilometers. So, yes, there were 42 music stations to keep us pumped and it worked.

Third, we started and finished in Olympic Stadium. Not only was it just plain cool to run around the stadium, but it also made it easy for spectators to cheer on their runners.

Fourth, there were a variety of distances to choose from. Most big city races limit themselves to the full marathon, and for good reason. Logistically, its difficult to close down the streets on a Saturday or Sunday. Accommodating tens of thousands of runners can be a challenge as well, but Amsterdam made it happen. By staggering the start times, more than 35,000 people ran either the full marathon, half-marathon or 8K.

Finally, the views were spectacular. It was like running through a postcard. Every turn offered stunning views of canals and tree-lined streets. While many streets are cobblestone, we avoided most of that. My legs were grateful.

It wasnt all roses. I was disappointed at the finish-line offerings. The only food at the finish was bananas. There was water, but only in little cups. There was also plenty of Isostar, its energy drink of choice, but my stomach did not agree, so we declined. There were food trucks, but I wasnt willing to spend money on them. They did distribute free toothpaste, so theres that. I would recommend packing some extra food in your drop bag. I didnt, and I lived to regret it.

Also, more than 16,000 runners ran the full marathon. European streets are narrow. This makes for a tricky start. I had no intention of racing, so I was fine with going with the flow. There is an attempt to organize runners by pace at the beginning, but they arent strict about it so there were quite a few people who started at the front and slowed the crowd. It wasnt until mile 10 I felt I could find a comfortable stride.

My last complaint would be transportation. We did a dry run on the buses to the stadium, only to wake up race morning to find the buses were shut down. Not even the concierge at our hotel knew that would happen, so we scrambled to find a taxi that could get us somewhat close to the stadium. Getting back to the hotel after was tricky, too. We walked quite a ways until we could find a tram to the hotel. I ran with some money just in case, and I was glad I did.

Overall, I loved the Amsterdam Marathon. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I love the diversity. I loved the energy. I loved the beauty. This flat course is well-worth your money.
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