Longtime reader, first time reporter.
There are many joys to having old friends spread around the world: you have a free place to stay in interesting places that you’d probably never visit otherwise; you get to catch up on life’s myriad challenges and hilarities while indulging in the local food and drink; and there’s always a local run to do to expand one’s running horizons. Taking advantage of this, last weekend, Marianne and I visited Nijmegen in the Netherlands to run the world famous Zevenheuvelenloop (I’d not heard of it either . . .). Those of you who know a little about the aptly named low countries will be a little surprised to know that this translates as the 7 hills run. Hills. Netherlands. Who knew? With a certain confidence (or perhaps hubris) we decided that they couldn’t really be actual hills but more minor lumps that the Dutch had somehow managed to convince themselves were hills. It was also an unusual distance of 15K (both men’s and women’s 15K world records have been set there) so it would be a fun challenge and guaranteed new PB.
With more than 26,000 runners, this was very definitely a big city race despite being held in a small town and, as we lined up (a good way) behind Tirunesh Dibaba (Olympic 10,000m champion) and Leonord Komon (world record holder for the 10K road race) with the good wishes of Haile Gebrselassie ringing in our ears, we knew this was a serious event. The race itself followed a very pleasant, rural route with wave starts ensuring you were up to full speed as soon as you crossed the start line. As I wended my way, counting the number of hills (lumps) I had actually run up while holding something in reserve for the last, downhill, 4K and looking out for our friends it seemed like a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday admiring the Dutch countryside. I knew from my in depth pre-race reconnaissance (I’d looked at the race website) that there was a serious hill that started at the 10K point and climbed steadily for the following kilometre but that this was the last hill. However, by the time I’d reached the bottom of this climb, I’d only counted five hills. Convinced I’d managed to overlook a minor mound somewhere in the previous 10K I “powered” my way up this hill, reached the top a little tired, rounded a corner ready for the downhill and was confronted by the seventh hill. Cursing the race organisers, I reached the top of this last hill, cheered on by the sympathetic/sadistic local crowds and found some sort of rhythm for the last 4K down to the finish.
I find that results and times in mass participation events are always a little hard to judge but I went round in 62:10, which, if I’d maintained that pace for another 6K, would have beaten my half marathon PB by 4 minutes, and finished in 1,385th place. Given I had been following the unusual training plan of barely running for 5 weeks due to a combination of illness and a sore achilles this was most pleasing. Marianne ran 64:27 to finish a very respectable 12th in her age category and didn’t seem to mind too much that I overtook her at 8K and didn’t wait for her. We celebrated with Indonesian food (the Dutch equivalent of a good balti) and a little too much wine with our friends.
This was the best supported (even better than the Birmingham Half) and well organised mass participation event I’ve ever run and, should you find yourself in the eastern Netherlands next November, I would heartily recommend it. Being a 15K race, it also has the advantage of being an almost certain PB at the distance.
For those of you who wish to practice your Dutch, full results, and information for next year, can be found here – http://www.zevenheuvelenloop.nl