Dam tot Damloop by night

When I arrived in Amsterdam this afternoon for Choral Evensong, I somehow expected to already see signs of the evening’s run. Actually, everything looked remarkably normal, aside from the big signs, which had been there last night, warning of the event.

By the time evensong was over, though, it was a different story. The whole station area was filled with people wearing matching Dam tot Dam t-shirts (a prerequisite for running this evening), and there were umpteen trucks, ready and waiting to take our clothes to the end point in Zaandam.

I’d been wondering how I was going to fill the time between the end of the service, round 6pm, and my start time, of 7.45pm. As it happened, a member of our sister choir, the Capella Nicolai, who I’ve known for sometime on Facebook, but never met in the flesh, was also running, so we met up and hung around together, and then found my other running friend Emmy.

Organizing such an event, with 25,000 participants, must have been quite a challenge. The first runners set off at 6pm, and by the time we started, nearly 2 hours later, many of the runners had already reached the Finish, 16km away. We were organized into starting groups of 2000 runners, according to our predicted finish times, and herded into starting pens. Josie and Emmy were starting in the group before me, so we split up, and hoped we would be able to find each other again in Zaandam at the other end. Finally, 10 minutes after the official start time my group was lead to the starting line by a marching band, we hung around another minute or two watching the clock, and then we were off!

Shortly after the start we entered the IJTunnel, a 1682m tunnel under the river IJ. When we entered the tunnel, to the sound of drum bands, it was still daylight, by the time I exited, it was already dark. The first stretch of the race was along the highway and was rather dull. After a few kilometres, though, the route veered off through a succession of small villages, the streets lined with people and lit with candles and torches. In addition to the official drink stations, many of the children along the route were also offering beakers of water, and holding out their hands to us as we passed.

Having woken up with the beginnings of a cold this morning, I wasn’t sure if I should run or not. Of course, pride won out, and I was determined to at least attempt the run, even if I didn’t manage to complete the course, or come in within the time limit. All in all, then, it wasn’t really surprising that after the first couple kilometres I could feel my lungs tightening up. Despite the fact that I ran the rest of the race with frequent Ventolin stops, and an eye on the location of each First Aider, I managed to continue, but never truly believed that I was going to complete the race. After all, even on a good day, I knew that the time limit was going to be tight for me. At 10km I checked the clock, and realised that if I just kept going at that pace I should be able to make it. Coming up to the 13km I spotted the dreaded car with the clock on its roof and swore at it. I was sure at that point that I was still inside the limit, but that dratted car just kept pacing me, and I was sure it was going to pull me out of the race nonetheless. Finally, it pulled off the road and lay in wait for the unlucky runners behind me.

With only a few kilometres to go, Zaandam was almost in sight. As I slowed to a walk for another hit of Ventolin, I realized that the only way that I was going to keep going was to keep on running, as my left knee buckled beneath me. Two policemen came up beside me on bicycles and observed my rather unimpressive wheezing, limping figure. “Are you going to make it?” they asked. “You bet” I gasped, and they pedaled off into the distance.

Finally we entered the town, with an unpleasant uphill section, and then through the shopping streets of Zaandam, still lined with crowds despite the late hour. On and on I plodded, each time I rounded a corner expecting to see the finish line ahead of me. Thanks to the big sign reminding us of the cameras, I remembered to look up and wave before putting my head down for the last section. Eventually, I crossed the finish line, at 2:02, 2 minutes over the official limit. After collecting my medal, book and drink, I limped up the road, and found Emmy waiting for me.

Race over, the only thing that remained was to find our bags, and then get ourselves to the train station. This turned out to be a less easy task than we expected, and in the end, I think we covered about another 5km walking round in circles. Eventually, at 11.30 we arrived at a very crowded Zaandam station, and looking at the queues for the ticket machines, were quite smug with our forward planning at having bought our train tickets home earlier. Alas, when we pulled the tickets out the pockets of our running trousers, we realised that after being subjected to 2 hours worth of sweat, the tickets were worthless.

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