#writeandrun31 day 2 – Running in the Dutch mountains

Not the turkey trot

I knew I wouldn’t have time to run today. We’re staying with family and spent most of the day shopping. So the miles I put in today were shopping miles, not running miles. By the time we finished, my feet were sore and I couldn’t keep up with my husband who was hurrying back to the car before the parking ticket ran out. So I trotted along beside him. I did this recently in Amsterdam, too. My husband said I looked like a Japanese schoolgirl (this could be a plus) and it felt like taking a small dog for a walk (not so good). My son said I looked ridiculous, but that’s never stopped me before; mothers are supposed to embarrass their teenage children. It was the first time I’d been out of breath today, even after running up a couple of flights of stairs.

What goes up must come down – the Hernense Stratenloop

A year ago, running up stairs would have been unthinkable because I had a lung infection at the end of 2013 and took my time getting back to fitness. Walking up the stairs and puffing at the top were more like it, even though earlier in the year I had been really fit, going to the gym regularly and doing bootcamp.  In 2013 I had trained for a couple of months and run my first 5km race in June, the Hernense Stratenloop. Quite a funny experience, mainly because I was very much a beginner and I hadn’t realised what sort of race it was. Hernen is a tiny village (pop. 650 – 850) so I had expected a fun run with other locals. What’s more, even though the name is Stratenloop – road run – a major section was on a sandy path through the local woods, with a gentle slope up and a gentle slope down and tree roots to negotiate. There was also a bridge over a motorway, so another hill, up and down.

Don’t let anyone tell you the Netherlands is completely flat. It isn’t, certainly not in the east of the country, and if you run, walk or cycle, you’ll find out you need to go uphill more often than you might have expected, what with bridges over motorways, canals and tunnels under motorways and other roads, as well as natural features like ancient glacial moraines and sand dunes blown by the wind. Some of those ups are mighty steep, but that is made up for by the amazing feeling of going down. Mind you, this is barely a hill, so I may be ever so slightly exaggerating about it being a Dutch mountain!

As I cycled to the start to sign in, I should have realised this wasn’t the fun run I’d been expecting. There were people in serious-looking gear doing serious-looking warming up. I convinced myself those serious guys must be the people running the 10k, which was twice round the same route. I thought they were just the fanatiekelingen, the fanatics. There are always a few of those. The London Marathon always has the serious runners and the ones dressed up as chickens or gorillas. I wasn’t dressed up, but that was the crowd I wanted to run with. The problem was, nobody was wearing fancy dress.

So I lined up at the start line and was relieved to see some other less-that-streamlined competitors. I made sure I was right at the back so I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. The starting pistol fired. We were off!

Slow bicycle race in the Dutch mountains

And off into the distance ran everyone. The fanatics. The people who looked like they wouldn’t be very fast. Everyone. Leaving me way behind. The first 100 metres was a curved street, lined with people, heading towards the castle. By the time I was halfway up the street, everyone else had disappeared on the track round the castle. Something told me this was a race I shouldn’t have entered. To add insult to injury, two cyclists had been assigned to tail the last person in the race. It was a road race and the road was closed, but for safety’s sake, they marked the last person. Me. They trailed me, wobbling from side to side, as I puffed over the bridge. I was hoping they’d give up and go to protect the real last person, the one who was really in a race, not the idiot jogger who’d signed up. But they were dedicated. They followed close on my heels the whole way. I was waiting to hear a crash as they finally lost control, tangled their handlebars and fell in a heap of twisted metal and lycra. But no, these guys were fully in control. They even managed to stay upright on the sandy path through the woods when the 10k runners started to overtake. If they ever have a slow bicycle race, those are the guys I’ll be backing to win.

Here I am, crossing the line, with the cycle heroes in hot pursuit. Actual finish time 46:39

Here I am, crossing the line, with the cycle heroes in hot pursuit. Actual finish time 46:39

Devil take the hindmost

Many years ago, my father took us to watch the cycle racing at Herne Hill Velodrome. I remember how exciting it was and the best bit was ‘devil take the hindmost’. The competitors cycled around the circuit, round and round. In every lap, the last person had to drop out so there was a slow, tactical progression round the circuit, then a furious scramble to not be last crossing the line. If the race I was in had been like that, I would have been eliminated early on. As it was, I carried on my merry way, cheered on by the scattered groups of people round the route. I didn’t get overtaken until the last kilometre. Just as I reached the top of the rise in the woods, I was overtaken by a steady stream of people who had already run 9km. Some of them even called out some encouragement. That felt really good! Then a few children shouted at me, “You’re nearly there! Keep it up!” That felt even better. The last bit through the woods was downhill, then down through the cycle tunnel under the motorway. Whee! Just the last 50 metres uphill and a final spurt (as much as that means for someone as slow as me) and I’d finished. It took me over 46 minutes, but I’d run an officially-timed race and I’d won a medal. It felt good!

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