Sunday, 18 December 2011

Spijkenisse Marathon

Spijkenisse is a little town just outside Rotterdam in the Netherlands.  They host one of the few central european marathons in December so I thought I would go along.  A new friend put me up for the weekend.  Thanks, Robin.  My training for this has been patchy and, mostly because of the rain and wind, I haven't been out as much as I should.

The local running club was very friendly and they had events at several distances on the day.  Registration was stress free and I even had time for a chat with some locals who were interested that I had travelled "so far" to their event.

In terms of weather, this one had it all:  Wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, thunder and lightning.  That was just the first hour... 

The start was good natured and relaxed.  A few hundred like minded souls lined up for the start.  The skies were grey and the temperature hovered around 3C (37F).  Although the wind was brisk, the rain had held off to this point.  The clouds, however, were so low, it seemed I could reach up and pull them from the sky as they whisked past.

The race began with a circuit of the track which immediately put me in mind of the 10km d'Uccle from the spring.Sadly, the comparison ended soon after as within two kilometres of leaving the start, the rain began to fall.  I usually overheat quickly as I jog but, even so, I had dressed warmly for this event.  I rapidly began to think I hadn't done enough as the rain soaked through and wind whipped away all the warmth.  Quickly, a storm blew in with jagged bolts of lightning crashing into the woods as we ran through them.  Some of the bolts were so close that there was no separating the blinding brightness from the deafening thunder.  It was with some relief that I exited the woods.

Then the hail started.  Not just light hail, either.  Pieces up to a centimetre across, whipped sideways by the wind.  Even facing the floor, they were slammed painfully into the side of my face so I had to run with one gloved hand shielding my exposed skin.  After what felt like an eternity (probably 5 or 10 minutes), the hail eased into snow and then sleet.  This whole section from 2k to 9k was some of the hardest I have ever done, especially as I had the whole internal "What the hell am I doing this for?  This is not fun!" dialogue going on.

Around 9k, after we had turned away from the main canal-side, the rain gradually subsided and over the next few km the clouds departed, presumably having spent themselves in their earlier fury.  The sun came out and, although the wind never really dropped, the warmth balanced the windchill for most of the rest of the event.  In spite o the conditions, I made very good time to about 18k but then, yet again, toilet trouble struck.  After that pause, I never really got back into my rhythm. 

Even so, things went well until about 30k where my energy ran out.  I kept going until 35k but by then I was done for and had to start walking for a couple of hundred metres every kilometre.  The spikes in pace are clearly visible on the GPS record over the last 7k.  I did summon up the energy to jog the whole of the last kilometre, though, and this was in no small part due to the encoragement of the course marshals who were positive and helpful to the very last.

As you can see, I was delighted to finish and the thoughtfully provided warm beef soup was an absolute lifesaver.  I hung around at the finish to applaud the few that came in after me.

Reading the above, it sounds like some sort of hell.  Actually, I may have made too much of the low points.  Sure, it was hard.  And cold.  And exhausting.  But the scenery was beautiful and the people were most welcoming with spectators at many points on the course.  The experience was unexpected in many ways but, knowing what is in store, I would probably try this again.  The sense of achievement at the finish was totally worth it.