When I set my alarm last night, I was wondering why I was so crazy to sign up for a race in Noord Holland that required leaving the house before 7.30am. And, indeed, getting out of bed was not really a pleasurable experience. As an afterthought, on my way out of the house, I grabbed a woolly hat that I’ve recently unearthed, and I was exceedingly grateful for it. It wasn’t really, really cold, about 4C, but the only time that I wasn’t feeling on the cold side was when I was running. I even ended up keeping the hat on whilst I was in the train.
Egmond is not actually all that far away, but the train schedules were such that I spent 25 minutes on Haarlem station waiting for my connection. I was not only freezing, but also rather in need of the loo. Not having any small change, there wasn’t much I could do about the latter! The road into Egmond is closed for the race, and they were running a pendelbus service for runners from the nearby train stations. Luckily I had hardly any time to wait, that all seemed to be organized very smoothly.
Arriving in Egmond, I had quite a bit of time to kill. I probably could have caught one train later, but I didn’t want to risk it. So, I found myself a cup of tea, and went to pick up my race t-shirt – the first blue one of my collection.
Finally, it was time to brave the cold and wander up to the starting line. Oh, how I missed my hat at that moment! Luckily I timed things pretty well, so I only had a few minutes to wait before we got going. I was, of course, in the last startvak, and was surprised at how many people with faster bibs, and also a few half marathon bibs joined us. As ever, when you start at the back, you don’t get a very good idea of what’s happening up at the start. A nice touch, though, was that having led us up closer to the start, they gave another starting shot for my group, which we could actually here (the first time I ran in a small race, I jumped in shock at the starting shot, because I’d never actually heard it before!)
The first 3 or so kilometres of the route are through the town, and already you notice that the course is more undulating than usual in The Netherlands. The roads were fairly crowded, and it was hard in the beginning to run anything other than the pace of the crowd, which luckily was fairly comfortable for me.
Since I knew that Renée S., a friend of mine from DailyMile, was also running, I was keeping half an eye out for her as people came past. We hadn’t managed to meet up before the race, but I knew she was starting in the same startvak, and that there was a good chance she would overtake me.
Indeed, during the last section through town I saw someone go buy in a pink running skirt, and I was convinced it was her. How I could be so certain, given we’ve not yet met, and I’ve only seen a few race photos on DM, I don’t know, but I was really sure. So, I picked up speed a little and caught her up, and then continued a foot or two ahead so that I could turn to see the name on her bib. Just as I clocked the name, she recognized me, and somehow we managed an awkward one armed hug without breaking pace. We chatted a little, and then she went on ahead again. I thought of pushing the pace to see if I could keep up, but decided to stick with my current safe pace, since we hadn’t hit the hard bit of the course yet.
Suddenly the beach was in sight, as we ran downhill a little, through the finish line, where I clocked lots of lovely shiny medals lying in wait for us in 7kms time. The beach was the part I was dreading the most – the course at Egmond is the most challenging I’ve run so far, with 2km along the beach, and then the rest of the course back through the dunes.
We were lucky that we had a beautiful morning to be running. It may have been cold, but the sun was shining, which given the storms of the past week, was unexpected and a huge bonus.
Onto the beach, then, and the first few metres were pretty tough going through loose sand. Just as I was considering how miserable the next 2km were going to be, we got onto the harder sand, and suddenly I had the biggest grin on my face! This was my first time running on sand, so I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be lovely. For those 2km I just enjoyed the sun on my face and the sea breeze, and felt happy to be out there.
By the end of the beach section I was tiring, and ready to get going on the dunes. There’s a steep climb from the beach to the dunes, back on the really soft sand, and it was tough going. Even had I wanted to run it (and I don’t think I could have done), there was no choice – the course narrowed down, and everyone was walking. That small section of walking was more tiring than any of the previous 5km, and I could feel that I was breathing much harder than when I’d been running.
Down the other side, and we were onto the brick paths of the dunes. After a small downhill, we went straight into the first long uphill section. I did my best, but I did have to walk a little near the top. That first part of the dunes was hard going – a couple big hills (go ahead, snigger, all ye that don’t run in The Netherlands… in other circumstances I would scoff at them too) that I struggled with. I also didn’t really enjoy running on the brick surface, for all that there are quite a few brick paved roads in my area that I run on, I don’t like them. I started out the day with a sore right foot, and it didn’t appreciate the harder surface at all.
After those first hills the course leveled off quite a bit and I managed to keep to a fairly steady pace, albeit slower than in the first half of the race. I was definitely tiring by this point, my foot was hurting and I wasn’t breathing so easily either. Still, after those first two hills where I walked a little, I didn’t stop again, and just kept plodding onwards.
Finally the 9km point was in sight, and we began to hear the bands again in the town centre. The path took a sudden left turn – one final, unexpected hill to get up, the ‘Bloedweg’, which seemed an appropriate name. I didn’t let that hill beat me, and kept on running, and then, there we were, coming back into Egmond.
As ever, that final section was longer than anticipated, especially given that this was a 10.5km race, rather than the more usual 10km. I tried to pick up my pace slowly, although I could feel that my lungs didn’t have much left in them, and that a full sprint was going to be too much.
And then, there it was, the Finish line that we’d seen 7km earlier. 1:27 and small change on the clock as I crossed – at which point I realized that I was only 3 minutes from the cut off point, thanks to the delay in starting at the back. Funnily enough, having been so concerned about not making the time limit for the Bruggenloop, I was totally unconcerned about it today. With both the beach running and the dunes being total unknowns, I had absolutely no idea what sort of time I should expect, except that it would be slower than I would normally run a 10K. And of course, there was that tricky little 0.5km at the end to reckon in as well.
Over the line, and there was a sudden log jam before the medals. It took a while to figure out what was going on, but it turned out that they’d run out of medals. You have to wonder how, given that they know how many people are signed up, but apparently there may have been quite a lot of half marathon people who changed their minds on the day and ran the quarter. For all that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, you feel a bit weird walking around after the race without a medal, and can’t help but wonder if people that see you think you didn’t manage to complete it. Yep, I missed my medal! They did take down start numbers of everyone that didn’t get one, and apparently are going to mail them out to us. I hope they really do stick to that, I’m getting rather fond of my medal corner 🙂
All in all, I was pretty pleased how it went today. It was tough, but perhaps not as tough as I expected, in part thanks to the good luck with had with the weather. Whilst I found the dunes hard going, for the most part I enjoyed the race – being on the beach and in the dunes is far more to my liking than being in the city. Part of me thinks you’d have to be nuts to do the half marathon, and the other part of me thinks that if I did another half, this would be a really nice course to do.