I signed up for this race a few weeks ago – it wasn’t part of the great master plan (well, ok, I never really did have a great master plan), but when I realized that I had races planned for 4 out of the 5 weekends of March, it seemed a shame not to fill in the missing week… plus, this course was out in the east of the country, more interesting terrain than I usually run in and off road.
The race has the added bonus of running through the Open Air Museum, which has historical building from all over the Netherlands, and I’ve always thought would be worth a visit. Of course, I didn’t manage to see very much of it, but it did provide a very nice backdrop.
So, yes, the plan was definitely never to race this one, and when I walked uphill from the station to the start (a 5km walk that should have been 3km, but I veered a little of course at the start), I thought to myself ‘hmm, better take this one easy, no need to go wild’. Unfortunately, at the same time I had last week’s 30:08 5K time still in my head, and the fact that last year’s results gave both 5K and 10K chip times was rather tempting….
The weather forecast was for chilly and rainy, but we were blessed with some sunshine and it stayed dry throughout. Much appreciated, although I regretted my long sleeves at times. I had a little bit of time to kill before the race, so I watched the 5K runners coming in, and took a few quick snaps of the buildings around me.
I’ve been fighting with my Garmin recently, but decided to give it another shot, having reset the satellites. Having managed to pick up the signal fine at Arnhem station, as soon as I entered the building at the museum of course it threw a fit, and I switched it off…. needless to say, I ended up standing at the start peering anxiously at the screen, wondering if he’d ever manage to connect again before the starting shot.
In desperation, I ended up taking my phone out of the back pocket of my shorts, and starting Runmeter a couple minutes before the start. Just before the shot was fired, I realised that the Garmin had locked in and tried, and failed, to get my phone back in my shorts. So, I started the race with it in the back pocket of the running dress, not an ideal fit. Probably it would have be fine there, but because the pocket doesn’t zip, I was terrified it would fall out – if it had been my old phone I might not have worried, but I’ve only had this one for a week! In the end I took it back out again and ran the first 5K with it clutched in my hand, which was pretty inconvenient.
The course started with a small downhill stretch, which was swiftly followed with a long, tough, uphill section. I found it pretty challenging, and was amazed when Garmin showed me a 6:08 split for the first km, admittedly slightly in advance of the first km marker.
This was probably the beginning of my downfall… having struggled up that hill and felt like I was going very slowly, the pace Garmin told me I’d run the first km was much faster than I expected, and instead of using caution and letting up a bit, it only fueled me to keep pushing, rather than contemplate the obvious fact that there might be bigger, scarier hills to come.
The second km very quickly took us into a downhill section. Hands down this was the best moment of the whole race for me, it just felt so good to be in the woods, running a long downhill stretch, the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. For a while there I felt like I was flying. As entertainment, we had a small boy on a tricycle who suddenly barreled past us down the side of the road. No-one around me knew quite what to make of it, but we all breathed a sigh of relief when he reach the bottom without taking a spill.
This second kilometre I ran in 5:26, which I think is a new personal record for me, but also a good sign that I was really going too fast for the beginning of a reasonably long race, even given that it was mostly downhill at this point.
Kilometre 3 and things started to level out. We were running into the woods now, having been skirting the outside, and were on a dirt path that was very soft, loose and uneven. I had to pay pretty good attention not to come a cropper here, but apparently I was still keeping up a fast lick.
Foolishly at this point my mind started reckoning all the split times I’d seen flying by on the Garmin, and wondering if a sub 30:00 for the first half of the race might be on the cards after all. What a mistake – this had never been my plan, this was certainly not the day for it, after all my 30:08 of last week was on a far faster course, and anyway there was still another loop to run once that first 5K was done.
The path started slowly moving uphill again here, but I was still pushing and beginning to pay the price. Breathing was getting harder and I knew that I was going to need to slacken off at some point and recharge my lungs for the second loop and the steep hill at the beginning. Finally we re-entered the park, and were running on brick paths, which felt really unpleasant underfoot after running on the paths in the woods.
Past the 4th km marker, Garmin has me at 6:15 for this split, so I was still going pretty strong, and then the final loops through the museum park. I suppose we must have gone past some interesting historical building at this point, but I wasn’t really paying much attention. I was pushing on as best as I could for the end of the first loop, struggling against the constant incline. We ran a section along the tram lines, and I remembered reading the sign earlier forbidding such behaviour, and wondering where the trams actually were!
Then just as we came to the last corner before the finish line, with 5K down, there was a small stand with two ladies handing out cups of water. I hadn’t planned to take any, just one thing too many to think about, but changed my mind at the last minute. Until I saw that clock at the finish though, I didn’t plan to try and drink it, so I ran that last little section past the crowds, hearing the commentator saying something though I didn’t know what… clocked that the clock said 31:something, and then slowed to a walk to drink my water.
I ended up walking a little way to get myself a little bit together, let my lungs catch up on life, finally put the phone away in the pocket of my shorts (which reminds me that I saw one guy at the start who had his phone down the front of his shorts, which made me giggle!), and extracted the tissues I had stashed to do something about the horrific state of my nose.
Then I mustered up courage, wanting nothing more than to just sit down and stop, and starting running again up that dratted first hill. The walking break was maybe not the best thing I could have done because having stopped I had a really hard time getting started again.
Finally the hill was behind me and I could relax into the glorious long downhill. Except, I couldn’t. My legs didn’t seem to be getting the signals from my brain to stretch out and relax a bit, and I felt like I was shuffling the whole time. Actually, according to Garmin I was still running a pretty decent pace at this stage, but it really didn’t feel like it.
Knowing that the easiest bit was behind me, the remaining 3km were just pure slog. My legs were just slowing down and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything to fire them back up again. For once, I was breathing pretty easily because I couldn’t run fast enough to actually tax my lungs.
There were a number of times earlier on in the race when I wondered if I was the last runner, but it turns out that there had been a number of people behind me. In those last 3 kms they all slowly came by and left me for dust, I just had nothing left in my legs to give.
Finally we reentered the park and I knew that the end was nearly in sight. The course does a square figure of eight, and coming in I could see the other runners in the loop up ahead of me. Eventually we came back around, and at the cross over point I could see the last runner, complete with bicycle escort. I wanted to wave encouragement at her, but I was too exhausted to manage anything by that point.
Finally, blessedly that last stretch, past where the water cups had been, and around the last corner, listening to the cheering of the crowds and the brass band playing… I heard the announcer try to announce me – first my number, then a rather garbled attempt at my name, which never ceases to cause difficulties to non-native speakers. As I crossed the line I saw the 1:07:xx on the clock.
Very mixed feelings when I crossed the finish – definitely slower than I wanted to be, but on the other hand, I pleased with the fact that I stuck it out and didn’t give up and walk, which was a very tempting prospect at any number of moments. Compared to Groet uit Schoorl where I felt strong the whole way around, this was a far tougher race for me, mentally and physically.
The race over I hung at the finish line for a few minutes, because I wanted to add my support for the final runner. The band struck up quite the fanfare, the cyclists backed off a little to give her some room, and she came smiling around the corner and over the finish line. I really did clap until my hands were sore, probably uniquely in the crowd, I’ve been there too 🙂
Actually, according to the official results I did come in last today, not sure what happened to her results.
It was a long walk back down the hill into Arnhem afterwards, I was pretty sore and totally exhausted. The woods were glorious in the late afternoon sun though.