Vrouwentriathlon 2012

This time last year I was psyching myself up to take part in my first triathlon, the slowest runner in the world complete with my great hulk of a bike. A year later and I was ready to line up again, this time with a streamlined road bike and more regular running training under my belt. Whilst I’m still far from athletic, I was keen to see how I’d shape up on the same course from last year, and was hoping that I might manage to scrape a time under one and half hours.

I’d been under the weather since my last triathlon 3 weeks ago, had no appetite for 3 weeks, and for two weeks hadn’t managed to train at all. With one week to go before the race, I had a lazy weekend, slept a lot, and thought things were returning to an even keel. And then, life threw a spanner in the works – Rasha developed an abscess on his neck and a visit to the vet was required. Catching Rasha is always a challenge, he’s rather timid, but this time was ridiculous. It took 20 minutes to get him into the travel box, and in the process he scratched up one of my arms, and graced it with a vampire bite.

After first aid at the vet, followed by a visit to the doctor, both Rasha and I came away with a course of antibiotics and I had a rather dubious prognosis for the triathlon on Sunday. Rasha was bouncing around like nothing had happened by Wednesday morning, it took me a bit longer!

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After a day or two in a sling, and the rest of the week sporting a rather unpleasant wet bandage, the bite was healing nicely, and on Friday I took the plunge and went for my normal Friday lunchtime swim. The arm held up fine and I deemed it good to go.

As ever I found myself lacking anything to eat on the Sunday morning before the race. After all the excitement of the previous week, I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, and ended up napping on the sofa on Saturday evening rather than visiting the supermarket as originally planned. I thought I could at least pick something up from the snack machine at the train station, but the small station I used was lacking the amenities I’m used to taking advantage of in Delft. Luckily there was a little stall selling food at the race, not a lot of choice – muffins and gevulde koek, but anything will do when you’re desperate.

As I was hanging around before the race, someone came and tapped me on the shoulder – a Scottish girl who I’d met last year. Like me, she’d raced on a standard bike last year, but upgraded to a road bike for this year’s race. It was really nice to have someone to hang around with and chat to during the long wait before the race. Although I wasn’t as early as last year, there was still a long wait since registration closed an hour before the start, and of course I was dependent on train schedules.

The water was a balmy 21C – warmer in fact than the surrounding air, which was lovely. All the other tri’s I’ve done it’s been 18C, which is doable without a wetsuit, but it certainly takes your breath away. Today, especially with the wind, it was nicer waiting in the water than out! I made the mistake of going into the shallow bit and standing up though, and then could’t get warm again, in the five minutes remaining before the start, I couldn’t stop shivering.

The Vrouwentriathlon uses a deep water start, so we we all entered the water and waited patiently for the start. Just as I was getting tired of waiting the starting horn went off and we were on our way. As I took my first strokes I heard my new pal call out ‘was that the start’?

There were about 150 of us signed up for the 1/8th distance today, and the swim was pretty crowded at the start, even though I stuck to the edge. The first 100m I was stuck in the melee and struggling to find clear water to swim in, so I deliberately hung back a little to get away from the person next to me who kept switching to breaststroke and kicking me.

I had to take a short breaststroke break to catch my breath part way through but basically did the whole thing in crawl. Once I was about 200m in I found my groove and managed to keep going pretty nicely. I noticed in the pool last Friday that I’m beginning to be able to swim a little further without having to stop and gasp for breath at the end of each lap, that definitely pays off in the open water! Of course, when all your training is in a pool, you’re used to having the chance to hang off the wall now and again to rest. None of that in the middle of a lake!

There was a lot of wind, but it wasn’t as rough out there as I’d feared from the shore. I had no feeling how fast I was going, but it felt like I was in the water for ever. Finally I reached the turn around point, and knew that there wasn’t far to go. There was a good number of people behind me. While I wasn’t super fast, I did respectably, I’d say. I don’t really have a strong leg in triathlon, I’m pretty weak in all disciplines, but of the three, I’m probably relatively speaking best in the water – or put otherwise, more people are weak swimming than on the bike or running!

I forgot to stop the Garmin until I almost ready to exit transition. At that point it was showing 12 minutes plus something. I managed to derive the time from the logs afterwards though, and it turned out that I swam the 500m course in 10:13min, my fastest swim yet and 8 minutes faster than last year when I was too scared of floundering in the middle of the lake to push myself.

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photo: John de Boer

I managed to get through transition pretty quickly, my hands weren’t as stiff as the last tri, thanks to the warmer water temperature so I didn’t fumble so long with my laces. A quick swig of water and I was off, much faster than a lot of the other girls around me. There were still quite a few swimmers in the water.

I grabbed my bike, ran out to the mount line, jumped on, started pedaling and BOOM! I was hit by a huge wall of wind. The bike was a real struggle today, I never really felt that I manage to get into a groove, and was fighting the wind much of the way (I read later that is was gale force 5/6). It was pretty weird to find myself in the middle of the cyclists, having only ever been right at the back thus far. Whilst I did spot some Ironman trisuits, and there were some fancy bikes there, this triathlon is also aimed at first timers and aims to encourage women to have a go at triathlon whatever their level of experience.

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photo: John de Boer

For some unknown reason I had the oddest mantra running through my head the whole bike ride – ‘Remember you’re a womble‘ ūüôā I’ve no idea where that came from, to be honest, but it stuck. Before I knew it, every time the wind strengthened, I found myself muttering, “come on womble. you can do this. remember you’re a womble”. I think the stress of the past week caught up to me!

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photo: John de Boer

The bike course is a nice, mostly wide, recreational path, but has the disadvantage of being very busy with roller bladers, pedestrians and many small people on tricycles. You really have to watch out, and there were times when I had to slow quite a bit because of little people wavering from one side of the road to the other, or family groups riding 5 abreast.

I managed to pass a couple girls, but was overtaken by many more. If I want to improve on the bike I really have to a) train more (since my normal training involves riding to work and back each day, a round trip of 13km), and b) buy some clipless pedals. For my feeling the bike was tough and I was slow. Actually, my average speed turns out to be slightly higher than the tri 3 weeks ago, so I’m pretty happy about that. My legs were pretty tired when I finished, though, and I felt that far more than 3 weeks ago going into the run. I managed a good dismount, no wobbling, and no falling over and gouging holes in my shin so all good!

I left wobbly as anything coming off the bike, but I didn’t hang around. I racked my bike, took another quick swig of water and ran out again. Straightaway I could feel my stomach beginning to cramp a little, thanks to the antibiotics. Fortunately after one little grumble it settled down and let me finish the race in peace.

It took a good km before my legs felt like they loosened up a bit, but I just kept plodding along. I did the first km in 6:11, which for me is pretty good in the circumstances. At the start of the year I couldn’t have run this pace even without the swim and bike beforehand. As with the bike I was overtaken by more girls than I managed to overtake, but at least I reeled in a couple!

The course was a bit annoying, last year it was an out and back, with the furthest part being along a field. This year it was a shorter out and back, which we had to do twice. Personally I like running on grass, plus all that back and forth is a bit boring and the turn points grind you to a halt.
Still, I managed to run a pretty steady 5K, and whilst I was ready to be done, I wasn’t miserable like the last time around either. By the end I was really getting into my stride, but it took a while! This time is still almost a minute faster than last year’s 5K PR and a good 11 minutes faster than my time at the Vrouwentriathlon last year.

Finally, I was making the approach towards the finish line. I managed to overtake one girl on the final stretch, and finished in 1:34:28. I finished 89 out of 129 (plus 4 DNFs), a definite improvement on last year!

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photo: John de Boer

All things being equal I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t reach my goal of sub 1:30, but given the circumstances leading up to the race and that I nearly didn’t manage to race at all, it’s an ok result. Not to be daunted, I signed up for one final triathlon this year, in the middle of August, and I also have a swim-run event in the beginning of August.

Maasdijk Marathon Triathlon

It’s been 10 months since I did my second and most recent triathlon. ¬†Since then I’ve made leaps and bounds with running, but hadn’t been near the swimming pool in months. ¬†Having discovered a new pool near the office, I’ve finally recovered my swimming mojo, but with only 3 swims in the lead up to the triathlon, things were going to be interesting.

One of the most appealing things about this triathlon was that the cycling course was a point-to-point, unlike the two I did last year, both of which involved cycling 2 loops of a 10K course.  The route for the Maasdijk Marathon follows the course of the Maas river, and is very scenic.  As luck would have it, the weather was beautiful, and although windy, nothing like the storms of the previous day.

My bike and I left the house in good time, and battled for space in the train.  Even this early, we were crammed in with a couple other bikes, and despite my first class railcard, staying with the bike meant sitting on a fold out chair in the door space Рnot so comfortable.  You have to wonder at my planning.  For a race of about an hour and a half, I spent 2 hours on the train in each direction.

Arriving in Oss, I set out on the bike for the yacht harbour in Lithoijen, where the swim would be taking place. ¬†It was a ride of about 7km, and fairly straightforward although I did get a bit turned around along the way. ¬†I had a reasonable amount of time, but didn’t want to hang around too much in case I’d miscalculated. ¬†I had no choice but to stop, though, when I came across this orange monstrosity half way.

This was, you understand, during the period where Euro 2012 fever what at its highest.  Given another week or two and the Dutch were sadly dispatched from the competition.  Not only this street, but also the one joining it on the left had orange sleeves on every single tree.  What a horrific sight!

Arriving in Lithoijen I picked up my starters pack –¬†commemorative¬†t-shirt, yet another icky pink swimming cap, start number and the all important timing chip, and was tattooed on arm and leg with my start number. ¬†This is one of those things which I’ve read about in other people race reports, but it’s the first time I’ve been body marked. ¬†It’s not uncommon that your age group is also written on, but that didn’t happen here. ¬†Not that it would have mattered – no chance of me being competitive enough to worry whether someone else is in my age group or not!

Formalities dispensed with I took my bike to the transition area, where we each had our own numbered spot, and a box waiting for our gear.  Because the bike course was point-to-point, everything in the boxes would be transported during the race to the second transition point, ready for the run.

Everything ready to go, there was nothing to do but nervously wait for the start. ¬†We’d be swimming in the harbour, a nice sheltered area, in idyllic countryside. ¬†Whilst it’s been a while since I’ve swum in open water, I’d swum 2km in the pool two days previously. ¬†Not that it’s really comparable, but at least I knew that the distance (500m) on its own wouldn’t be a problem. ¬†The water was 18C, the same as at my two previous triathlons, and although it’s a bit chilly, it’s doable without a wetsuit. ¬†Which is good, since I don’t own a wetsuit!

Learning from my previous triathlons, I took the opportunity during the wait, and around the start of the Police Triathlon which started 15 minute before us, to warm up ¬†a little and acclimatize to the water. ¬†This is something that at least for me is really necessary. ¬† When the water’s that cold it takes your breath away and you need some time to adjust before starting to swim.

Finally it was time for the start, and we lined up on the beach waiting for the starting signal. ¬†I made sure to start at the back, I have no desire to get mown down by the speedy people. Despite trying to take it at my own pace, I went out pretty fast, spurred on by everyone around me. ¬†I did have to take a couple short breaststroke breaks to catch my breath, but I was happy with how it went, especially considering how little swimming I’ve done this year.

I certainly came out of the water at the back of the pack, but there were quite a few people further behind. I did have some hassles with a few breaststrokers near the end, couldn’t get past them, but wanted to swim a notch faster than they were, and their legs got in the way! ¬†You never appreciate was a space consuming stroke breaststroke is until you’re stuck trying to pass a breaststroker!

11 minutes after running into the water I was emerging again, pulling off my swimming cap and in transition. ¬†After the cold of the water, my fingers were numb and I had a terrible time tying up my shoelaces. ¬†I definitely need to invest in some ¬†elastic quick tie laces. ¬†Shoes finally on, I fiddled with my race number, which I’d strung on a chain of plastic ties, since I couldn’t find my race belt. ¬†You have to wear the number on your bike on the bike, and your front for the run, so you need a way of moving it without having to unpin and repin it mid race!

I was pretty surprised when I came out of the water into transition to find it quite crowded, a novel experience for me, since I’m used to everyone being long gone by the time I get this far! ¬†By the time I was ready to leave though, many of the other triathletes had already left. ¬†But still…

I ran with my bike to the mounting line, jumped on, and then headed up a short slope on to the dyke running alongside the Maas.  The other great thing about this bike course, was that there was no traffic.  Aside from some walkers (taking part in a walking event also organized under the banner of the Maasdijk Marathon) we had the road to ourselves.

The course was mostly along the dike running along the Maas, meaning that every now and again we left the dike (steep downhill) and then joined it again (steep uphill). Very often, these two things happened more or less straight after each other, with a tightish turn, but for the rest the course was easy and fun to ride.  Although we were hit by the wind at some places, the course was fairly sheltered which made the ride very enjoyable.

I was quite surprised that it took until the 5th km or so before i was passed by anyone. I was expecting the swim stragglers to catch up with me very quickly, but as it was I got quite far into the route. I was overtaken by one girl who I managed to stay close behind (but not too close, since I’m paranoid about accidentally drafting) for most of the race, and then another couple faster people around the 15km mark. Pretty amazing really that I held off the people behind me for that long – most of the slower swimmers make up for their weakness in the water by strength on the bike and run, unlike me who just plods ¬†along in all disciplines!

I managed to hold a pretty good speed for the first 15km or so, but after that it gradually dropped off a bit, particularly on the final km where I was beginning to doubt whether I’d somehow taken a wrong turning as I’d expected to reach the end of the course!

Around 18km I saw ahead of me a girl running with her bike, it turned out she had a flat. I offered my repair gear but she said she’d rather just run with her bike to T2 at this point. With hindsight I wonder if she knew the bike course was 22.5km rather than the standard 20km?

There was lots of support along the way, today’s race was part of a bigger event, which not only featured a marathon, but also a skate marathon, a walking event, kayaking and more besides. Clearly all the local villages were involved, and there were plenty of people dotted along the way to cheer us on. I even got handed a sponge at one point – I was quite proud of myself for managing to grab that on the way by, especially since my bike handling is rather dodgy, and I didn’t even considering trying to drink on the ride! What I did do, however, was stuff a few pieces of chocolate into my mouth for some extra energy along the way. ¬†A mucky business since the chocolate was melting in the heat of the day.

Finally, blessedly, just when I was running out of steam I arrived at the end of the bike course and¬†came into T2. I made a very wobbly dismount, and very nearly crashed over like I did at the last tri, but managed to stay on my feet this time. Clearly I need to do more longer rides so that I’m more stable at the dismounting point. ¬†Probably braving clipless pedals would also help since my legs might be less tired too.

I took a quick slug of water in T2, looked around in some confusion trying to figure out the route out again, and I was off for the final part of the event. ¬†I was already happy that I’d managed to run with my bike to its parking spot, rather than walk, and although my legs felt stiff, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I was surprised to see quite a few empty bike spots in T2, though how many were from people who hadn’t turned up, or who perhaps had already finished and left, I’m not sure.

The run turned out to be fairly solitary, and also the least interesting part of the course, much of it being along main roads. I had one main aim in today’s tri, and that was to complete the run course without walking. I’m proud to say that I achieved it, and that although I felt slow and a little tired, I also felt pretty strong and steady. ¬†Taking into account that my Garmin recorded a slightly short course (even taking the distance in T2 into account, it would only be 4.8km), I ran the equivalent of a 31 minute 5K – pretty good for someone who at the beginning of the year had a 32min+ PR, even without the swim and bike tacked on the front!

So the run was basically a case of plod, plod, plod. I didn’t see any other competitors until the final kilometre. I can’t quite tell in hindsight if the run flew by, or seemed to take forever. I was very much ready for the finish, but not really struggling, and certainly far happier about life in general than this point in my previous two tri’s. Finally, I approached the dyke again and a lady with a checklist called out my name and cheered me on.

It turns out we were very close to the end, just a little bit down the dyke, a u-turn and then back again towards the finish. As I was running along away from the finish I heard the same lady call out someone’s name behind me. After all that solitude, finally another runner, and she was steadily gaining on me. I did my best, but I had to let her pass. I sped up a little, knowing the end was in sight, and tried to keep with her, but failed. As this was happening, we passed another lady running in the opposite direction (ahead of us) – she must have slowed a lot in the run, because there was no sign of her on the bike, and I’d not see her at all during the run.

I sped up for the finish, but but those ladies were out of my grasp! I did my best to smile and wave for the camera and then put my head down for the final sprint, as the commentator called out my name and my time: 1:34 and loose change. I couldn’t stop the huge grin spreading over my face – my last tri I did in 1:43:31, and the first one in 1:59:50. Whilst none of the distances were quite the same, I’ve clearly improved!

 

Final time: 1:34:53

  • Swim: 11:09 (500m)
  • T1: 2:50
  • Bike: 50:26 (22.5km)
  • T2: 3:50 (there was quite a long run in and out of T2)
  • Run: 28:38 (4.6km)

Compared to my (normalized – yes I’m a numbers nerd) time from the last tri, that’s 25s slower on the swim, 3:30 faster on the bike and a whopping 7:30 faster in the run. ¬†Considering that I didn’t really train for the event, I was more than happy with that. ¬†Perhaps more to the point, the whole experience felt a lot easier than my last triathlon, particularly the run at the end.

Lions Heuvelloop

I spotted this race a little while ago, when I was looking for something a bit more off road than the standard fare. My original plan was to run the 10K, but when Ger threw down the gauntlet and suggested joining him for the half marathon in Almere, I figured I’d better start adding in some longer runs. Whilst running is going far, far better at the moment than I could have dreamed at the start of the year, I still don’t much fancy my chances at getting out on my own in the weekend for a long run, and to be honest, running 15K on the roads is just not appealing to me. So, organized events it’s going to be, but that comes with one hitch. Running a race, and not giving it your all? Hard for anyone, but when you’re as slow as me, and coming last is almost certain in a small event, running a race at easy pace is a huge mental challenge.

According to the mighty Mr Daniels (who I keep confusing with Paul Daniels, a TV magician, for those who weren’t growing up in the UK in the 1980s), my race pace for 15K should be 6:04 min/km. Take that with a pinch of salt, since my usual training runs are around 6km, and I’ve only done 4 10K runs this year. Clearly, having not trained for longer distance, my best would be slower than this. My long run pace should apparently be between 7:03 min/km and 7:30 min/km. My basic aim for this run was to try and land closer to the 7 min/km end of easy, which would give me a 1:45 time. Last year’s slowest runner did the race in 1:38, and I didn’t want to be totally embarrassed!

I also decided to finally dig out my heart rate meter. Since I haven’t used it in a few years, the numbers would probably not be very informative during the run, but would hopefully give me some kind of idea for the future.

Luck was on my side when I took the train to the race this morning, as I only had a couple minutes to wait in Haarlem for my connection. Given that this is my 4th race in that part of the country this year, and every time I’ve had to wait close on half an hour, I was a little surprised. But it turned out that there was a race on at the circuit in Zandvoort (where I ran a couple weeks ago), and there was an extra train service.

The route to the course was well signposted… except for the fact that the signs pointed to the start of the race which was a bit of a distance from the sports hall where the numbers were being handed out. Having been misdirected by one of the volunteers (should have ignored him and the signs and trusted my own instincts) I first ended up at the start and then had to double back. Luckily I’d allowed plenty of time, and it all worked out, but I was a little stressed until I had my start number safely in hand.

Given the forecast of 10C and rain, I decided to wear a jacket. I regretted it before the start, but during some of the colder parts of the race, I was quite glad of it. In fact we were pretty lucky – a few drizzly moments, but it never got too wet.

The start of the race was unlike anything I’ve encountered before – the 5K, 10K and 15K were all starting together, with the 10K and 15K running the same course. There was a barrier splitting the road running under the start banner, and the 5K lined up on one side of the start, and the 10K and 15K lined up on the other, so that the two races were facing each other.

As ever, when the start shot went off I jumped, and then choked on the smoke. No klaxon for this race then! As we shuffled up to the start, the fastest 5K runners came streaming past us in the opposite direction.

The first kilometre or so was on the roads, taking us out of town and down to the dunes. The overall profile of the race was that the first section was downhill, the middle section in the dunes up and down, and then the final section back into town, uphill. A mean way to finish a race I thought, and was glad I’d checked out the course profile and was prepared for it.

I started near the back of the pack, and of course, by the time we reached the dunes I was already losing sight of most people. I could arguably have gone out a little slower, but it would have been hard! I really did my best to hold myself back, because I was pretty worried about not having the energy to make it through the second half comfortably.

The part of the dunes we were running in is normally not open to the public. In fact, apparently it’s opened only once a year, for this race, which made it rather a special experience. On entering the reserve, we were met by a large flock of sheep and the distinct smell of farmyard (for which you may read, animal poo).

The race was well organized, with a good number of volunteers along the way to keep you on the right path. There were virtually no spectators, though, which made it very peaceful. For the first half of the loop I was running behind two other runners, who were a little distance in front. I wasn’t really sure if there was anyone else behind us, though I guessed not.

At about 4km in, the rear guard cyclist came by and asked if I was a 10K runner. I said no, and then asked if I was the last runner. The answer wasn’t clear since he was cycling off into the distance, but he did shout out that he’d be back for me later, which was really all the answer I needed! I didn’t expect anything else, though, and just focused on keeping the other two runners in sight. I hadn’t been sure what distance they were running, but since the cyclist went on past them, I concluded they were both fellow 15K runners.

Not long after the 15K leader came past on his second lap. Wow, that guy was flying! With hindsight, I realize now that the cyclist wasn’t picking up the last 10K runner, but was in fact leading the fastest runner. It was quite some time, easily a kilometre or more before the man in second place came past.

The course was a mix of quite open, barren landscape, and little wooded sections. The latter always seemed to be accompanied with inclines, but it was really nice to run on the soft pine needles. Aside from the first and last 2km or so, the course was on trails. In some places, fairly firm, but in a few places very soft sand, which was quite hard work, even if it did feel good under foot.

Not too far after the cyclist had passed me I saw a small group of highland cattle ahead, and my two fellow runners gingerly making their way through them. The path was quite narrow, through the trees at that point, and the cows didn’t leave much room. As I passed by them, one of them turned and moved towards me. I slowed to a walk as I passed so as not to startle it whilst there was only a foot or so between us, and then continued. A volunteer on the other side, standing next to his bike said ‘I was told that the cows wouldn’t do anything’, but the tone of his voice, and the fact that he had his bike at the ready to rush for help, implied that he was feeling a bit uncertain about them too!

By this point we were coming up to the 5K point, and hit the hardest climb of the route, which was through very deep, soft sand. I took it easy, but kept on running up the hill, passing one of the runners, who I never did see again. I expected him to come past later on, but there was no sign of him.

I was pretty happy with how things were going at this point. Whilst there was still a long way to go, I was running easily and steadily and still felt strong. Past the 6K point, and there was a small table set up with water. I walked briefly whilst I drank, ate a small piece of cereal bar, and then continued.

Before long I was nearing the end of the first loop. Somewhat incongruously I came past the only spectators – a woman with a group of 3 small girls, huddled together under a pink umbrella. They cheered me on, and I waved at the girls. Then I rounded the corner and came back to the main entry road. Two men with flags who were trying to wave me left, as I indicated that I had a lap to go and needed to go to the right. Standard procedure when you’re last! They cheered me on, and off I went for lap number 2, watching one of the volunteers pull up the road markings behind me.

My hips were tightening up, and I had a bit of shoulder pain, so I tried to loosen myself up a bit as I went. By this point I was 8K in, so just over halfway. Knowing what was coming up ahead made the remaining distance much less daunting, and I wasn’t feeling too tired.

My remaining fellow runner was still in sight, although given the how winding the path was I only caught sight of her now and again. Really, this didn’t feel like a race at all, just a solo run out in nature, and I was totally relaxed. I also was still convinced that the man I’d overtaken must be behind me somewhere, so I didn’t even think I was last.

Coming up on the cows again, and I could see that they’d huddled even less conveniently in the middle of the path than the first time around. I saw the woman ahead gingerly pass, going up off the path to give them a bit more room, and when I came to pass, followed her example.

That hurdle over, the next one was the hill around kilometre 10. Definitely harder work than the first time around, but I focused on taking short steps and was soon at the top. I ran the first 10K in about 1:08, which is pretty much the same as the race in Arnhem last month, and faster than we ran Tel Aviv last week. Hands down, today’s race was far more relaxed than either of those, both of which really took a lot more effort, the first because of the hills and the second because of the climate & my lack of sleep, I guess.

The water volunteer was still waiting for me, and I gratefully took some water, like the first time around, leaving my empty cup on the bench for him to collect without having to bend all the way down to the ground.

My legs were tiring by now, but I felt otherwise good. Time seemed to pass by in a dream, and before I knew it I was approaching the end of the loop. Suddenly, out of nowhere came the cyclist, saying ‘promised I’d be back’. Oh, I said in some surprise. Am I last? I thought there was another man behind me.’ I guess he had done the 10K after all, leaving me bringing up the rear. Still, at least this time I was finishing with someone else just in front, as opposed to half an hour behind the next slowest person.

With my cyclist pal, the last few kilometres flew by. With him leading I felt like I picked up pace a little. When we reached the end of the loop there was a small crowd waiting with their bikes. I grinned at them, and waved enthusiastically. If I was going to finish last, then I was determined to make it absolutely clear that I was finishing strong!

We chatted and joked as we went – one cyclist on either side, and then a few more behind us. My new escort told me that we had both a doctor and a forensic scientist in the group, ‘just in case’! Then, onto the final leg – out of the dunes and straight uphill. Mean, very mean, but I didn’t let it defeat me and held steady.

Then we turned on to the final road before the finish. They must have just held the prize giving, because everyone that came towards me was clutching a trophy. I waved at each one and congratulated them as I went by – some things are worth using up a little extra breath for.

And then round the corner I came, expecting, I must admit, to be met with a huge crowd of adoring fans, just as in the Vlietloop last year, and as I saw at Rondje Nederland last month. But no. Everyone aside from the volunteers had already gone home, apparently. Nonetheless, the volunteers gave me a big cheer, and I was very grateful to them!

I came in with a net time of 1:45:23, and I have to be honest and say that I had to work hard not to be disappointed. This was, after all, pretty much spot on what I should have done for a long run (actually, on the fast side of long run pace), and a PR by 4:14. It’s just that compared to the 4:30 I’ve knocked off my 5K time, it seems little paltry!

I had to work hard at reminding myself that not only did I take this at a deliberately slower pace, but that the fact that I finished strong, meant that I paced myself well for those 15km. Plus, when I ran the 1:49:37 at the Bruggenloop in December, I was really pushing myself the whole way, whereas today I was very relaxed. And, of course, December’s 15K was a road race, whereas today’s run was almost all off road.

Heh, a PR is a PR, and one that’s achieved when not going all out, is surely even more of an achievement.

So that’s my fifth run of 15+K ever, and I’m pretty happy with how it went. Now I need to plan the next long run, but first the 10K in Rotterdam next week.

Tel Aviv Marathon – 10K

If there’s one thing I wasn’t for this race, it was well rested. ¬†Between a middle of the night flight that had me arriving in Tel Aviv at 4.30am the day before, and then a night in a youth hostel, in which people were coming and going all hours, I was exhausted. ¬†To add insult to injury, the clock change in Israel took place the morning of the race, so an already short night was truncated further. ¬† The Israeli climate being warmer than ours, all the day’s races were starting in the early morning. ¬†We got off fairly lightly, with a start time of 8:30, ¬†but I was still up at 6am to get ready.

Luckily, the race start was not far from my hostel and indeed, the first kilometre of the race was down my street. ¬†Waiting for Elisheva, I saw the half marathoners coming by and panicked briefly that we’d got the times confused and missed the start.

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Elisheva laughed at me for pinning my race number to my running skirt (with the hope it would be less annoying, as I hate brushing my arms against the number the whole time when I’m running), and pointed out that people would be staring at my crotch when they read it. ¬†A valid point, but since I didn’t expect anyone to be looking at it, I didn’t really care.

The 10K was split into two waves, with the faster runners setting off at 8:10, and the slower runners, namely us, starting twenty minutes later. We wandered down the road with plenty of time, and stood on the side to watch the first runners start.

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Bizarrely, as we were standing waiting, a woman came up to us, pointed at my start number and started talking to her children in rapid Hebrew, gesturing the whole time at the number pinned to my skirt. Who’d have thought? Turned out that the children’s father was running, and she was explaining to them the features of the start number – the coloured band indicating which race we were in, the number indicating our wave, and the letter indicating our corral within that wave.

I was pretty relieved that I was with Elisheva – whilst many of the announcements were also repeated in English, obviously the main language of proceedings was Hebrew, and I’d have felt a little lost on my own.

Unlike many of the races I’ve run, a large percentage of the participants (including ourselves) were wearing the race t-shirt – orange for the men, and red for the women, making for quite an impressive sight as we waited to start.

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Eventually the (Hebrew) countdown began, the klaxon was honked, and after the usual shuffle to the starting line, we were off.

We very quickly found ourselves frustrated by the crowds, and spent a lot of time trying to dodge our way past people. It’s the first time I’ve run a race with someone else, and I really had to pay extra attention to pacing, and trying not to lose track of each other when we passed people, or when other people barged between us. Despite the crowds, we set off at a pretty good lick.

During the first kilometre or so we were passed by a small group of runners, one of whom was pushing someone in a wheelchair. We were torn between being impressed at their effort, and determination not to let this group get ahead of us. After a couple times passing the wheelchair, and being passed we finally surged ahead a little as the crowd thinned out and never saw the group again. Phew, pride intact!

It became clear pretty fast that Elisheva has one big advantage over me – living in Jerusalem, she’s used to running on hills. As far as she was concerned, Tel Aviv was flat as a pancake in comparison. For me it was a different story. Whilst the course in Tel Aviv was certainly flatter than Zandvoort Circuit Run and Rondje Nederland, I’d walked about 20km the day before, and the long, gradual slopes, the likes of which I can’t practice on at home, were really hard on my legs. As a result, I was pretty relieved when Elisheva suggested walking for a little bit at the 3km point. Looking back at my phone, our splits for the first 3km were 6:18, 6:17 and 6:39, which is faster than I’ve started any 10K. Looking at the elevation profile after the fact, that’s pretty impressive given we were steadily climbing the whole time, but not particularly smart!

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From that point on we alternated walking and running. Sometimes walking perhaps longer than we strictly needed to simply because we were too busy chatting! There were quite a few race photographers along the way, so we did our best not to be caught walking. We didn’t entirely succeed though!

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Around the 5km kilometre we reached the water stand. I had it in my head that there was only one water point, so we didn’t want to miss it. Although we were lucky that it wasn’t too hot (considering where we were), I was feeling the effects of the humidity, not helped by the fact that sweat plus sunscreen was making my face feel pretty icky.

When we reached the water though there was no-one manning the stall, and no cups available either. Following the lead of those around us, we each picked up a 1.5l water bottle and gulped away as if we were in the middle of the desert. Definitely a mistake. A pint or more of water later we continued, and straight away I could feel the water sloshing around inside me. What was I thinking? The next kilometre was rather uncomfortable until it all settled down, and I was glad when we hit another up hill section and we walked a little.

As we went, Elisheva was pointing out the landmarks along our way. I really had my own personal tour guide. We ran a small section along the highway, past the skyscraper where we’d eaten the night before. It was fun to spot familiar landmarks in a strange city.

The route was a kinky out and back, with a loop at the far end. By this time we were heading back towards the first familiar section, and began to feel that we were making good progress.

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I had no idea what sort of time we were making, but after our first fast 3km we’d slowed down a lot, both running at a more leisurely pace and taking our walking breaks. I was really tiring by this point, a cumulation of inadequate sleep, too much walking the day before, and the climate. I was worrying the whole time about slowing Elisheva down, but she reassured me afterwards that that wasn’t the case.

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This whole second section we’d found ourselves a new nemesis – a group of baby pink clad girls, all very skinny and perky, who were jogging along, chatting and laughing like the whole thing was effortless. Every time we passed them, they’d end up overtaking us again on a walking section, until finally we sprinted past them and put some good distance between us.

Finally we turned onto the road running alongside the beach. The cool wind was quite a relief, but unfortunately we were running straight into it, making the last stretch a little harder work.

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We managed to pick up the pace a little, but no final sprint for us today. We crossed the finish line, triumphant, and for once I remembered to grab my phone and stop it straight away – 1:15, faster than I’d expected, given the walk breaks we’d taken. For some strange reason, our results have never appeared on the official website (Elisheva had to check for me, I was thwarted by the Hebrew. For an international race, they missed on a few of the finer details!), so I’m glad I had the phone with me.

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Our medals were rather unceremoniously handed to us, so I put Elisheva’s around her neck for her, and she reciprocated with mine.

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We didn’t head back to the hostel straight away, but first wandered over to the post-race party to check out the ‘air bar’ – rather incongruously a Dutch fietscafe (mobile bar, which the drinkers move by cycling), which was a stand provided by the Israeli asthma society.

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We showed up coughing and brandishing our matching Ventolin inhalers, every bit an advert for the asthmatic athlete. After chatting a while, admiring the giant inflatable lungs, and stocking up on leaflets and stickers, we scored ourselves some free yoghurt and departed back to the hostel for a much needed shower.

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One final 5km walk to the bus station, and we left the modern city of Tel Aviv for Jerusalem. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to appreciate much of the scenery between the two, or the dramatic entrance into Jerusalem, because almost as soon as we started moving, I dozed off.

Zandvoort Circuit Run

Where do I start? This was just the perfect day and the perfect race, I couldn’t have asked for better. I don’t know why, but this is my favourite of all the 5Ks I’ve done. Maybe it’s just that I’ve set a PR there two years in a row now, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been blessed with a beautiful sunny day on both occasions, but I think it’s also the atmosphere – walking down the street from the station to the race, you notice immediately that all the houses are decorated with bunting, or race flags. Hanging from a few windows are displays of race shirts with start numbers from previous years. The 5K doesn’t actually leave the circuit and go through the town like the 12km, but still, you have the feeling that the whole town is celebrating.

Last year I started in quite a bit of stress having walked to the start, missing the baggage drop and then wandering around desperately trying to find it whilst the time was ticking away. This year I made sure to leave plenty of time and got rid of my bag as soon as possible. I decided just a couple days ago to run the race in my VFFs (Vibrams Five Fingers – the froggy shoes with individual toe slots). It was a bold move, but I feel faster in them, and after my successful 6K park run in them the other days, I decided I was finally ready to wear them to a race. This is the last 5K I have planned for the moment, and it knew it would take me rather a while to dare try them out in a longer race. Keeping my options open, though, I went to the race in my normal running shoes, and packed the VFFs in my bag. When I got to Zandvoort I switched and warmed up a little in the VFFs, just to be sure that I was going to be happy in them. Needless to say, everyone was staring and pointing at me, between the VFFs and the little black running dress (hereafter known as the LBD).

I decided to throw caution to the winds in another way today, and paired the LBD with my tri-shorts again, but no t-shirt. Such nakedness is totally unprecedented but the weather forecast was predicting record temperatures again, and I was pretty warm running in my normal running tights midweek. I was beginning to regret my decision when I arrived in Zandvoort, the sky was overcast and there was a chill wind. I double-checked the weather, hmmm, apparently the sun was only supposed to come out in the afternoon – I guess I should have looked earlier.

Still, luck was on my side, and by the time I entered the race course, the sun was already breaking through the clouds and the sky was getting bluer. In the shadow it was still pretty chilly, but out in the sun it was getting warm.

With plenty of time to spare, I ended up being one of the first people let into the corrals, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was in the second corral. By the time the warming up was finished, the few runners who were allowed to start in the front corral had arrived – there was only about 10 of them, and so we were all moved forwards. Before I knew it, I found myself right at the very front, with only about 3 lines of people in front of me. I was standing right at the bottom of the start banner, quite an incredible feeling.

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In the past I used to feel nervous and nauseous before every race… today I was just raring to go, bouncing on the balls of my froggy feet and itching to go out there and prove myself. For once I felt no doubt, I was just going to go out there and do it!

The final countdown, 5…4…3…2…1, and BANG! So close by I could actually hear the starting pistol! The first girls went haring off into the distance, and it wasn’t long before I could see them rounding the first bend, led by the bicycles. I was keeping up a fair pace, still totally enthralled by being right in the front, watching the small stream of runners in front of me.

I never once regretted my decision to wear the VFF’s, I was feeling light on my feet and enjoying the run. The first km took us around a small loop and back along the pitlane, past the start. I knew that the 1st km marker was round about the start line, but not exactly where it was. Not having seen it as we came back over the start I decided to hit the lap button, and take my chances. I didn’t actually look at my watch to check my pace – I didn’t really need to since the official clock was running and I knew that I must have been over the line pretty quickly. The clock was showing 5:35 as I went by. Uh oh, way too fast. I tried to rein myself in but my legs had decided on a pace, and I couldn’t do much to change it! Then, just a little past the start line, what did I spot but the 1km marker… hit the watch again, figured I’d at least know where the first km really did end, even if my concept of pace was rather lost already.

I remember the second km as being tough from last year… in fact the course was undulating right from the beginning so even in the first km we’d tackled our first uphill section. At no point today did I feel like the uphill stretches would defeat me. They certainly took their toll, but I felt strong on every single one, and never felt like I was slowing down too significantly.

Before I knew it we were already at the second km marker. I hit the lap button, and then started to wonder… hang on, had I hit the lap button the first time round or the stop button? Panicked, hit start, because I thought the clock wasn’t running, then realised that I’d hit it twice at the beginning so in fact I’d just stopped it. Hit start again, think I may have also lapped it again for good measure. So that was the first 2km down and I didn’t really know if I was going too fast or too slow.

So I did the only thing I could and carried on the way I was, with the knowledge that at the 3km point I could check my pace and adjust if necessary. Quite up and down here, but I was having fun. It was warm, but not unpleasantly so, and I was enjoying the feeling of being out at the front of the pack. Sure, plenty of people had overtaken me, but plenty more were still behind me. What a novel experience!

The time was just flying by. Obviously, being the fastest 5K I’ve ever run, I was out there for less time, but still, for my perception it was also just so much easier then previous races. Most of the other 5Ks I’ve been gritting my teeth and counting down to the finish. Today I was struggling as ever with my breathing, but my legs were fresh and I had plenty of energy.

We hit the 3K marker and finally I was able to see an actual time: 5:39 min for that last kilometre. Wow, I was really flying! Given that I was feeling like I’d been running a pretty steady race I was doing better than I thought possible. I was hoping for about 5:50min/km which would have had me nicely clear of my 30:00 goal, but this was really solid.

By this point breathing was getting harder and harder, and I tried to slacken off a little, but I just couldn’t do it. Faffed around with my inhaler, as ever getting it back in my pocket was too much of a hassle – the thought crossed my mind, yet another inhaler in hand race photo then!

Hardly any time seemed to go by before we crossed the 4km marker, really consistent at 5:39 min/km. Even without knowing what I’d done in the first two kilometre as I was sure as I could ever be that the sub 30:00 was going to be mine. Now for the hardest thing, stay calm and focused, don’t start picking up speed yet, no matter how much temptation that 4km board always gives.

We came round the final bend, and was astonished to see the finish line up ahead, still a long final stretch, but closer than I realised. I was really fighting to breathe, and fighting my inclination to push on faster. Not yet, not yet, wait until the finish line is in front of you. I got a little closer, yep, my eyes weren’t deceiving me, I could see 27 on the clock.

I was thanking my lucky stars for my brilliant front of the pack start – let’s be honest, sub 30 is sub 30, and would be amazing even if I’d been last over the start and the clock was reading 35:00. But to actually have the chance to SEE my sub 30 on the clock? Oh yes, it made that moment oh so much sweeter!

Finally I was nearing the race photographers. I remembered my intention to actually try and look like I was taking that race by storm ūüôā Flung my arms up in the air, completely forgot to smile, let loose and kicked my legs up a gear into a finish line gallop and went for it! As I flew by 28:30 registered in my mind. Whether that was the time on my approach, or the time as I crossed, I couldn’t tell you. Forgot to stop the Garmin. Sigh. Whatever. I didn’t need the Garmin to let me know that I’d trampled my goal time into the dust!

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Wandered past the first aiders trying to remember how to breathe, and then turned around to stop and stare at the finish line in awe. When I saw that the clock was still showing a sub 30:00 time I snapped a photo for posterity, and then went to claim my hard earned medal, tears running down my cheeks. I set the goal of running a sub 30 minute 5K in the beginning of 2010, although I guess I’ve been thinking of it ever since my first 5K in Spring 2009. It’s taken me a long time to get here.

We had a long wait then. The men’s race starts a half hour after the ladies, and we had to wait first for the whole pack to start, and then for everyone to complete their first lap before we could cross the circuit and get back to the main pavillion.

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I went back to the baggage claim for my bag – toes burning… surely another blood blister forming on top off, underneath, or next to the existing ones. As I was waiting for my bag, the lady next to me admired my dress and then said ‘you got that from my sister, I guess? from hiphardlopen.nl’. I agreed, and she said, she’s over hearing wearing one of the new skirts that just came in… come meet her! Pretty cool, I really like the way they do things – a small, out-of-the-house online store, with great service and always a personal note in with your order. It was nice to put a face to one of the names! After a little chat about the comfiness of the Running Skirts gear, and a bit about my VFFs I left them to prepare for the 12km and found a place to change. Bit of a hobble back to the station, but the soles of my toes got less and less sore as I went – it’s amazing how fast they recover.

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Considering that I came second to last in my 10K last Sunday, I’m thrilled to bits with these results – I’ve never been so far in the front of the field before. My time today was nearly 2 minutes faster than that of the CPC a fortnight ago, and nearly 5 minutes faster than when I ran Zandvoort this time last year. I’ve made huge progress so far this year.

Zandvoort

Rondje Nederland 10K

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….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ūüôā

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.

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City-Pier-City 5K

To say I ran the City-Pier-City is a bit of a misnomer. For one thing, I only ran the 5K not the full half marathon, which is what most people assume when you say you ran the CPC, and for another, the 5K doesn’t actually make it as far as the pier anyway. That aside, it’s the most famous local race, and one I’ve been planning to do for years. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll actually go for the ‘real’ thing.

My current official 5K PR is 33:02, set last March at Zandvoort. My unofficial 5K PR is 32:20, set 4 weeks ago at the 10K in Groot uit Schoorl. So, going into the race, the thoughts in my head were, ‘new PR – got to be more than doable… sub 31:00 would be brilliant, but I’d still be happy with sub 32:00… sub 30:00? don’t think I’m quite there yet… but you never know’.

One nice thing about this race, it’s only 15 minutes away by train and on familiar territory. I’ve never run in that area, but I used to live a couple minutes walk from the finish, and the route went past the English church, where I used sing.

After yesterday’s gardening I was pretty stiff this morning, but was loosening up nicely by the time I got into The Hague. I decided not to mess around with bag drop offs, and didn’t carry anything with me – with such a short train journey I figured I could live without taking a book to read, and since the sun was shining I figured I didn’t need to worry about taking a sweater.

When I got to the start there were already a lot of people filling the corrals, and since I didn’t have anything better to do, decided to also line up straight away. I’m sure the corrals were supposed to be segregated, but there was no sign of that, and people were just lining up from the start, so I followed suit. I was pretty shocked when I realised how close to the start line I was, since I’m used to being so far back I can barely see it, and worried about getting in people’s way, so I figured I’d just hug the right hand side and try not to be a nuisance!

So, a long, long wait whilst they counted down the clock, organized a few Mexican waves… the usual loud music and bla bla bla over the loudspeakers, and we were finally off. Even thought I was near the front it took a minute or more to cross the line, longer than I’d expected. I couldn’t see a clock, so I had no idea for the finish what time I should be looking for.

I was in the middle of a very mixed bunch – lots and lots of kids, never seen that before, but apparently there were a lot of schools taking part (I heard announced at the end that one school had over 400 kids running!). I very quickly realised that I shouldn’t be worrying too much about holding other people back because I was really struggling to run my own pace, thanks primarily to the number of people running in groups… at an even slower pace than me (who’d have thought it was possible). Bizarrely enough, I was overtaking people every time I got a chance, including a lot of walkers. I’m used to seeing people walk a little, especially further on in a race, but not in the first 1km, and certainly not when starting at the front of the pack.

The first km I was pretty sure that I should put thoughts of a PR out of my head, as my experience in the Rotterdam Ladies Run last year (slowest non-triathlon 5K ever) showed me just how slowed down you can be by the crowds. Still, I did my best to keep my own speed, and try to get around those holding me up, and before I knew it the first km was already by.

The second kilometre is mostly already lost in memory, but took us down towards the peace palace, along a bit of road I used to cycle down twice a week. All I can remember from that part of the race is the hassle of getting stuck behind people – I’ve been very lucky to date that this hasn’t been much of a problem, but I have to say that it rather spoilt today’s experience for me. Whilst the atmosphere at a big race is great, I’m very much coming to prefer the more low key events.

Kilometre number 3, and we turned off to the right and ran past the English church. Quite a funny feeling, since I realised that the Sunday morning service would be taking place, and that friends of mine would be inside singing in the choir. The road was slightly uphill, and also brick, which is never that nice to run on. Part way along I veered off onto the cycle path which was slightly smoother running, but it still wasn’t that comfortable. I’ve been spoilt with my trail running of late!

I was beginning to feel the results of my efforts at this point. I still had no idea what sort of pace I was running, and if I was on target or not, the only thing I could do was continue at the same pace.

Finally we hit the 4th kilometre marker, and I knew we were on the homeward stretch. Apparently I gained some speed back in that km, with an average pace of 6:00 min/km. I was really at the point where I was hanging on for dear life… I became aware that the sweat was pouring down my face, as were the tears – always a constant factor when I run, but by some miracle my nose wasn’t running like a leaky tap – definitely a first, I can’t remember when that last happened!

It was pretty hard hanging back at the end, but I knew I’d blow up if I tried to speed up too soon for the finish. We came across a random time clock, which was reading 26:50 as I passed… of course I started wondering, how far into the final kilometre were we? Surely not halfway… anyway, I realised as I was pondering what this time meant, I had no idea when I crossed the start, so it was all pretty meaningless.

Finally I turned the corner back onto the Maliveld and along the final stretch to the finish. Distance markers counting us down to the end. I tried to hold back, couldn’t. Slowly sped up, and a bit more… tried to read the clock in the distance. 32 something? Hmmm… that means I didn’t do so well as I thought. No, hang on… 30 something? Really, could it be possible? Yep, saw it tick over onto 31… gave it everything I had for that final stretch, saw the photographers on the side… a bit too late… threw my arms in the air and crossed that finish line.

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And then fumbled, and staggered. Tried to get the phone out of my pocket, unlock it, stop the clock. Should have got it out when I was running, but it would have been too distracting. The time: 30:17.

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What I posted on DailyMile on the way home: “crikey, blimey, WOW! Only hit phone out of pocket when I stopped, how long did I fumble I wonder? 18s worth???!! Doubt it! Either way HUGE PR and so, so close!!!!”

Afterwards I wandered around the Malieveld for a bit trying to find the tent to pick up my race t-shirt, and kept my eyes peeled for my fellow DailyMile runners, to no avail.

The final results:

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Conclusions: I wouldn’t do the 5K here again unless they organized the start better, tripping over all those people through the race was annoying, but I guess it wouldn’t be an issue at the 10K or the Half so much. But I’m glad to have finally ticked off one of my more local races, the one that everybody around here always asks if you’ve done.

Groet uit Schoorl – 10K

I’m not sure when I changed from being a person who hated the idea of running into someone who thinks that signing up for a 10K race is the perfect way to celebrate a birthday, but there you go.

Looking back at my records I realize just how few 10Ks I’ve run. 2 in fact, since my most recent race at Egmond was 10.5km, just to be awkward. Since it’s been so long, this seemed like a great opportunity to set a new benchmark for myself and see where I was at. The first 10K in 2008, I ran in 1:06:52. Since then I’ve only become slower, with my second 10K in 2009, taking me 1:10:36. I’ve been running far more regularly though recently, and so in the week leading up to the race I had some hopes that I might at least manage to run faster that than most recent race, and hopefully get somewhere close to my fastest time. Having put in 40km the day before the race, running, cycling and skating, though I wasn’t sure that I’d be in great shape, and decided to take the race as it came.

Despite all the NS’s best efforts, I managed to arrive in Schoorl in plenty of time for the race. In fact, having allowed for train chaos I ended up hanging around for over an hour before the race, with the choice between an overheated, overcrowded sports hall, or waiting outside in the snow. Obviously, I choose the latter option, and had a nice time chatting to a local lady who always comes out to support the race and had been standing at the finish line clapping for everyone coming in, for a couple hours.

Finally it was time to head to the start line, and try to keep warm in the crowd of shivering runners. Eventually, after the elite runners and the business teams had set off we were able to walk up to the start line, and with our own starting shot, we were on our way. I say eventually… we probably only started 3 minutes or so after the first runners, which is nothing compared to the wait at larger events. When I ran the Damloop in 2009 I set off about 2 hours behind the elite runners… who had already arrived in Zaandam quite some time before.

The course was rather narrow the whole way, and I had the very unusual experience of never being out of the crowd. As a back of the pack runner, I’m used to things thinning out very quickly and having a lot of room. Of course, there were people overtaking me the whole race, but I also did my own fair share of passing, and found myself pacing those around me without struggling to keep up.

My Garmin was spot on with the km markers for the whole race, almost unheard of. I checked it at the first km marker to see how I was getting on, and saw I’d run the first kilometre in 6:40 min. More or less stationary for many of the runners I know, but for me, heading towards rocket fuelled. To beat my previous 1:10 time, I needed to keep under 7 min/km, so things were going well.

Schoorl map

I kept going, and was surprised as we reach the 2km marker to realise I was still feeling good – breathing easily, legs moving steadily. Usually the 2nd kilometre is the point where the initial adrenalin has worn off and things are beginning to feel like hard work, so that was a pleasant surprise. We were on a path through the woods at this point, though to be honest I was hardly taking in my surroundings, as I was far too focused on my breathing and the sound of the footfalls around me.

We hit the 3rd km and my average pace was only improving, at around 6:35min/km. At this point I really began to believe that if I kept the pace up I would at least set myself a new PR on the first 5K, though I had little expectation I could hold that pace for the rest of the race. Still, the first 5K in 32:30 would leave me with a bit of wiggle room for my 1:10 goal, even if I slowed down in the second half… which I always do.

We’d hit Groet at this point, and were met by a loud band. This was more or less the only mental marker point I had for the race, and it comes rather early in. After passing a little way through the town we veered off to the left and entered into the dunes. This was where the route started to get a little tougher. The surface changed, and was rather sandy with a little snow mixed in. More to the point, the path started to climb. We’d had a little up and down before (in fact the elevation profile from Garmin shows that the previous climb had been much steeper), but this was just non-ending… Such a gradual gradient, but there was virtually no relief from it.

Despite the climb, I was still holding steady at the end of the 4th kilometre. We passed the aid point but I didn’t even think about getting a drink, I was in the best rhythm I’ve ever had, and I didn’t plan to lose it.

Further and further we went through the dunes, I kept expecting the path to dip down again and give us a bit of relief, but no, we just kept gradually gaining height. Before I knew it we’d hit the 5km marker, and a clock. I’d intended to check my start time, but I never even saw the clock at the start line. Either way, it didn’t really matter, my Garmin was almost perfectly in sync with the markers and I knew from the average pace it was showing that I’d just run a 5K PR!

Onwards and upwards then, and this was where I really had to dig in to hold the pace. Now I had greater things in mind… having run a 6:30min/km average for the first 5K I was on target for a 1:05 finish, outside of my wildest dreams. I had no idea if I could hold the pace, but I wasn’t going to let it slip now without a fight. This is probably the first time I found myself actually running a race without any goal in mind other than making it to the finish line in one piece, and without being picked up by the sweeper van for being too slow.

Up, up the path went, and down, down a little my pace went. Not by a lot, mind you, the 7th km the slowest of the race, took me 6:43min/km. A week ago I’d have considered it miraculous if that had been my fastest pace. Finally, blessedly we began the approach back into Schoorl, the path turned finally downhill, and I managed to grab a bit of speed back.

We hit the 8km point and I was pretty sure I was going to PR. I had to work pretty hard then to keep my focus and to just relax and not push myself too hard. Another turn and I recognized the path from the start. Not so long and we’d be coming past the 9km marker I’d seen on the way out.

We hit 9km, and my pace had increased slightly again. I wasn’t thinking of anything at this point except staying in control. The PR was in sight, my breathing was sitting on the edge, and the only thing I needed to do was just keep things running steady.

One more turn onto the main street, lined with crowds all cheering. I sped up a little, who wouldn’t… passed the final Mizuno banner over the street and set my focus on that finish line. The clock was ticking down, 1:09 and small change… even though I knew that the time on the clock was meaningless, my sole focus was to cross before the 1:10 hit… hardly aware of anything around me, my head went down, my legs and arms started pumping and I burst into a sprint and flew across the finish.

 

For once in my life I remembered almost instantly to stop the Garmin: 1:05:00, which showed a perfect 1:05:00, far, far better than I expected to do. Checking the official results, it turns out that I set 3 PRs out there:

the first 5K: 32:39 (breaks last year’s Zandvoort time of 33:02)
the second 5K: 32:20 (just beat my own new 5K PR!)
and the real biggie: my new 10K PR: 1:04:59!

Kwart Marathon van Egmond

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¬†Ren√©e 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 ūüôā

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.

 

Bruggenloop

A couple months ago, around the time of the half marathon, I signed myself up for my last race of the year to make sure that I had an incentive to keep running once the half was over. There aren’t so many races to choose from this late in the year, but the one I had in mind was the Rotterdam Bruggenloop – a 15K loop around Rotterdam, taking in 5 of the city’s bridges. I haven’t really been training very well for it, but judging by my training logs in the run up to the half marathon, I’ve been putting in more regular running, cycling and swimming, even if my running mileage is far too low.

 

The race weekend dawned wet and full of stress. A flat tyre on my way home from work and train chaos on my way to Amsterdam on Friday night left me exhausted and stressed, and Saturday I followed things up with a concert in Haarlem. By the time Sunday came around I wanted nothing more than to spend the day curled up on the sofa with the cats, but spurred on by my DailyMile friends, one of whom was running as well, I pulled myself together and headed out in the direction of Rotterdam.

The start and finish of the race was the Feijenoord Stadium, which is on the other side of Rotterdam so I had to take a tram from the centre to get there. Whilst I was waiting for the tram, in a crowd full of runners, who should suddenly materialize but J, my DailyMile friend. We’ve never met, but we recognized each other from the various race photos we’ve posted. The tram journey was quite long, so it was great to have some company on the way down.

Arriving at Feijenoord, we sought out the changing areas – nicely organized, they had a system where you could leave your bag in the heated changing area, and just store valuables in a safe. Considering how long the queues can be to store your bag at some races, this was very welcome, as were the toilets in the changing area, which also were queue free, a definite rarity.

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We had quite a bit of time to kill before the race, so we hung around, laughing at the people taking part in the warm up, who looked ridiculous. Nothing like middle-aged bearded men doing aerobics moves on a cold grey Sunday afternoon! Given the timing of the race, there were a fair few Santas handing around, some running, some observing, and the loudspeakers were blasting out Christmas songs.

Finally we were ready for the off – J in the faster corral, and myself at the back. I was worried that I’d lose a lot of time after the starting shot before I’d get across the start line – crucial, because there was a 2 hour time limit on the race. Based on my recent running performance, I was very dubious about my ability to finish the race in the time limit, and although I was determined to give it my best shot, there were definitely moments when I was sure it was a lost cause and that I shouldn’t bother.

A couple minutes before the start, they removed the barrier at the front of our corral, and we were able to move forwards… as ever, the sound of the starting shot was lost to me, but in no time we were shuffling forward, and then crossing the start – just 3 minutes down on the clock, that gave me 1 hour and 57 minutes to play with.

Normally I run with my Garmin, although I use it primarily to gather statistics and the route map to look at later, rather than looking at it much during the race. This time around, I decided not only to use the Garmin, but also to use the Runmeter app on my iPhone. I had a couple of reasons – firstly, I configured it to post updates to DailyMile, so that any of my pals who had nothing better to do could see my progress, and secondly it gives audio feedback every lap about pace, which given I was racing the clock would be useful. I could of course, have checked the pace information on my watch, but I don’t find that so handy.

At the last minute, I decided that since I was going to run with earphones for the audio feedback, maybe I’d listen to some music as well. I haven’t run with music in the longest time, I think, since I ran the Damloop in 2009. Often I just find it distracting, and in a race, it’s nice to hear the crowds and take in the atmosphere, but in this case I was daunted by the distance, by my exhaustion, and by the fact that it would get dark during the course of the race, so whilst I was waiting for the start I stuck on Vivald’s Four Seasons, more or less because it was the first thing I could think of that I might actually be able to run to. Psalms didn’t really seem like quite the thing.

As ever, the adrenalin of being in a crowd of runners got me moving off to a good start. I had thought that I would set a target pace that would get me to the finish in time and do by best to stick to it, but when the moment came I just decided to run as my legs would take me. I’m always very cautious, perhaps too cautious, about going out too fast and running out of steam, but on the basis that there was a decent change the clock might beat me on this occasion, I decided to through caution to the wind and just go with what felt good. If I blew up and crashed out, then at least I’d know I gave it my all.

We crossed the first bridge very quickly, minimal climbing required. After that, the new few km lead us up to the Erasmusbrug, my first mental goal post in the race. I was feeling in pretty good form at the beginning, although worrying about the distance left to cover, and as I crossed the Erasmusbridge, I recalled one of my first races, the 5K Ladies Run in 2009, that started at the top of the bridge.

Coming down the other side, it wasn’t long until we reached the first aid post. I was beginning to feel a little daunted by what was lying ahead, and the first seeds of doubt were starting in my mind. I decided to walk the aid post and drink my water slowly, rather than choking on it as I ran, before continuing.

Up until this point Vivaldi had been doing a great job of keeping me going… every time one of the lively sections started it picked me, and when I was flagging it brought me back up to pace again. At the 5K point there was a time clock, reading 37 minutes or so. This was a really good sign, since it meant that my pace thus far was more than enough to get me to the finish, if only I could hold it.

The next four km or so were dark. We were running along the river, along the same stretch of road I covered in the Rotterdam Half Marathon 10K, 2 years ago. That race was a week before the Damloop on a similarly cold, grizzly day, and I can’t say that I found much in the experience to enjoy. It was an out and back route, on a fairly boring course, and I finished it with the sinking feeling that the 16K to follow was going to be a horrible experience. I don’t suppose that those memories really helped with my mood during this race.

Just after the aid station, Vivaldi had come to and end… with hindsight I should have put it on repeat, but I really wasn’t sure that I was going to listen to it the whole way.

Finally we approached the next aid station, around the 9km point. My legs were tired, my feet were sore, and my lungs weren’t really enjoying themselves either, so as I approached the aid station I decided to walk whilst I drank, and then spend a little time getting the music up and running again, and to eat some of the sports beans I’d cunningly brought along with me, having learnt from the experience at the half marathon that extra energy along the way is a good thing.

Refuelled, mentally and physically, I started running again, up the sliproad of the huge Van Brienenoord bridge. There was a double back in the course as we got on to the bridge, and I was cheered to see a decent line of runners behind me. Throughout the course I’d been steadily overtaken and I had no clue if I was right at the back or not, so this was a really reassuring sight.

I did my best to run up the bridge, but it just went on and on. Eventually I decided to play it smart and stick to a brisk walk, I still had a little over 5K to go, after all. Part way up the bridge we crossed the 10K mats, where they’d placed another time clock – 1:14 since the start which meant that I had 45 minutes to complete the final 5K. This was really the first time in the race where I was sure that, barring disaster, I’d be able to make it, even if I had to walk some of it.

As soon as the bridge levelled off I started running again, only to come to a halt 20m or so further when I saw someone leaning over the side of the bridge throwing up. There wasn’t a whole lot I could really do to help other than wait until she was finished impressively vomiting over the side, and then hand over my remaining clean tissue and chat with her for a few minutes to be sure she was at least more or less ok.

After a couple minutes she told me she was doing better, and waved me on my way. I felt a little guilty leaving her, but decided to trust her judgement that she’d be ok. On the downhill stretch, and buoyed by the sports beans and my short break I felt like I was flying on the way down, and passing the 11K mark, knew that I was on the home stretch.

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It was well and truly dark by this point, but the route was illuminated by the lights that all the runners were wearing. Past the 12K marker, and Runmeter burst into life to announce to me that J had left a comment for me on DailyMile – the knowledge that he’d crossed the finish line, spurred me on further, and I did my best to ignore my aching feet knowing that the end was almost in sight.

13K… 14K… finally the Stadium loomed into view out of the darkness, and I knew that I was nearly there. I’m sure I had a silly grin on my face for that last km as I knew that I was going to finish the race that I was sure would defeat me.

And then, there it was, what 2 hours previously had been a start line, was transformed to the finish, the crowds along the barriers were cheering us on, and with 7 minutes before the finish line closed, I was finally crossing it.

My final time: 1:49:37. This was my first ever 15K, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. Extrapolating from my 16K Damloop time, though, it was an improvement of about 4 minutes, which I was delighted with, especially given that the 16K I ran in September was so much slower.

Uitslag  bruggenloop 2011