A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 18; 1st Edition
15.5 miles run in 2024 races
Race: Asselronde 25km
Place: Apeldoorn, The Netherlands
Miles from home: 4198 miles
Weather: 50, rainy, quite windy
*Before I start this recap, I have to say I can't believe I have been writing race recaps on this blog for 18 different years. To be honest, most of the time it feels like I am just writing these for me to refer to when I am looking back at memories, even though I know they have been quite helpful to a number of people. That latter portion is why, even when I feel like I am shouting into a void, I do my very best to not just tell you, dear reader, about my own race but to provide as much useful information as possible about the race itself so you can be prepared if you ever wish to run it.
That said, let's start year 18!*
My racing has been in the crapper for the past year and a half. Yes, all race results are relative and if I hear a well-meaning friend say something akin to "I'd give my right arm to run THAT speed for one mile" one more time I might never mention a bad race result again, but FOR ME, I haven't been up to my own desires lately. There are a variety of reasons why I think that’s possible but the fact remains that it just is.
The past few months, however I can distinctly point to one thing which has kept me down, having me DNFing my first ever half-marathon, canceling other races and running the lowest mileage I have ever run in a month since I started keep track on January 1st, 2006: my first ever knee injury. Granted, I know that 24 years into a running career, I’m pretty lucky that this is the first time I’ve had anything go wrong with my knee but that doesn’t make me feel any happier about the fact that I have it now. It’s improving, at least slowly, and it appears there is no need for surgery or anything drastic but it is mucking up my plans.
As such, I knew the race that I was doing outside of Amsterdam in Apeldoorn (a city which immediately like three friends of mine had stories about visiting even though I had never heard of it prior to me booking this race) this weekend was not going to be my best. I hadn't factored getting a cold/flu/hacking of disgusting stuff the week before the race into my plans, but when does anyone really? I got here to Amsterdam on Friday afternoon after an overnight flight from my residence in Minneapolis. I felt decent on Thursday when I left but after being up all night, catching a train from Amsterdam to Apeldoorn, I basically slept the whole day away. I woke up, grabbed some dinner and went back to bed. When my alarm went off a 10 a.m. (the race was at 11:45 a.m.) I had slept for thirteen hours. Even all that slumber and more or less half a bottle of NyQuil only left me feeling decent enough to contemplate whether I should run the race. I am a big proponent of NOT needing to be the toughest guy in the room when it comes to things like races and if you are too sick, too injured or whatever, it doesn't matter if you spent a lot of money to do a race, sometimes it is smart not to race. However, I felt decent enough that I felt a race like this might suck, but it wouldn't do any additional damage. So I soldiered up he nerve to get ready, dressed, and headed to the start about a mile away.
As I was out of country, I did not get my bib number mailed to me and had to pick it up at a theatre which also acted like a staging area for the race. But as I drew close, I saw no other runners and no way into the theatre. I will cut to the chase: the race was the next day.
What had thrown me was I originally thought about doing the marathon, which DID take place on this day but a little outside the city. When I decided that would be too much of a hassle for me coming into town, I switched to the 25 km. I promptly forgot that the 25 km race took place on Sunday. So I trudged back to my AirBnb, ate some lunch and took a nap. I got up a few hours later, just long enough to go get some dinner, drink the other half of the bottle of NyQuil, and then promptly sleep again for another 13 hours.
When I got up on the actual race morning, I felt a lot better than I had even two days prior, but having to motivate yourself to do something for the second time when you weren’t even able to do it the first time is not exactly what I consider fun. As the knee seem to be cooperating I decided that I was going to give this a shot after all. Back to the staging area I went where this time there were THOUSANDS of people milling around. Hell, I didn't know it was THAT big of a race! It is fun to race in different countries and notice so many varying things about runners. I noticed here in Netherlands is how unbelievably tall everybody is. That should’ve been too much of a surprise, as I knew this is the tallest country in the world, but there were very few heads that I was looking down upon as I got into the starting corral for my race.
On top of forgetting the race date, I had also put out of my mind that this was not a half-marathon but a 25km race which would be 2.5 miles longer. You'd think two plus decades into a running career that you can't make simple mistakes, but rest assured, you can! In addition, while yesterday had been cloudy, today was windy and rainy. Throw in a hilly and undulating course and this was not exactly a recipe for success. However, I’ve often said that sometimes when you feel like crap when you start a race, it’s good to know that you probably won’t feel any worse the rest of the day. Positive thinking!
I knew that one of the two biggest hills in this course began around the 3rd mile. As such, I wanted to get out in these first few miles and see what I had in my legs before the inevitable slowdown later. I was seeded in the second corral, which meant that I had to run past many people who seemed to have massively overestimated their finishing time. It took me over two minutes of walking just to get to the starting line and I was in Corral B! There were many more behind me which tells you how many runners were there. (Nearly 3,000 finished this race alone and there were other races going on the same day.)
I felt like death warmed over but at least I could breathe. When my 1st mile showed me a 7:22 I was actually quite pleased as it felt at least 20 seconds slower. The 2nd mile was the exact same thing with the 7:22 even though I was moderately going uphill both miles. The 3rd mile gave me a 7:28 as a continued an upward trajectory, and I was feeling shockingly good. Here, as I prepped for the big hill, was one of the favorite moments of the day. Often in Europe they have a Yield sign with a big "!" in the middle of it to get your attention. It usually has another sign underneath to tell you what should get your attention and this did not disappoint. As we passed over some cattleguards in the road (which the race had generously laid some mats over so that we would not twist our ankles) I began tittering to myself when I saw what I now know is the word for “cattle grid" in Dutch.
Yep. Wildrooster. I was wondering how crazy of a cock one has to be to get its own sign. This tickled me for at least half of a mile.
To 15 km
The problem with Dutch is that it looks like it is English until you try to read it and then you realize it isn't. There are enough similarities that makes you think you know what is being said until you don't. Luckily, numbers are the same in all languages. Kinda.
The hill we were climbing had signs telling us it was "500m to The TOP" with a large inflatable arch with "The TOP" written on it up ahead. I could see, however, that the hill still climbed, at least a little way after this arch so I didn't know if "The TOP" was some brand marketing or what. Either way, crossing under the arch and still going up was a bit cruel.
Between the fourth and fifth miles there are four false summits. Or I guess three false summits and then finally the high point. I was
quite pleased that it was only an 8:08 mile for me when I finally got to the top of the fourth mile. It had felt much
slower. Because of the false summits in the next mile, I was happy with a 7:52 for the next mile. I say this especially as I was not thoroughly drenched from the sometimes hard, sometimes spitting rain we were running into and the ever shifting wind which always seemed to be in our face. One fortunate thing about running slower than one is capable of doing is that I was surrounded by many more runners. I tried to use their bodies to shield me form the wind as much as possible. For once, in this land if giants, this actually worked for me!
We were blessed with a downhill at the 6th mile and I ran a 7:19 which was nice to see on the watch. I was a bit sad to see my pace slow to 7:47 and 7:44 for the 7th and 8th miles if only because I knew these miles were still going downhill, even if it wasn't much at all. At this point, I was beginning to feel the effects of the day, the sickness, the weather, and the fact that I have only run over 10 miles once in the past three months. I note at 14 km (or 8.6 miles) the paved course turned into a hard-packed surface for the next mile. I was surprised to see this because I had thought much of the course was going to be trail and had run so long on paved portions, actually seeing what I expected came as a shock. A quick upgrade as we approached the 9th mile, followed by a quick downhill to the aid station left me quite tired. I was really wishing this was a half-marathon and not a 25 km right now.
I walked through the aid station, eating a quarter of a banana and careful not to drink the "tee" or "sportsdrink" as I had no idea what either of those would do to my system. I turned the corner to be back on pavement again and locked eyes with a fellow runner. "Running is stupid," I said. He laughed and said "And we are paying for it!"
To the half-marathon:
My walk break netted me an 8:41 mile which was fortunately the slowest mile of the entire race. Even as we continued uphill I at least ran an 8:10 for the 11th mile. Runners stretched far ahead of me on what I at first perceived was a rather wide bike path. When I saw cars coming the other direction I realized that, no, this is a road. I am used to sch enormous sprawling 6-lane highways going through the middle of cities that I forgot that you don't always need that to get cars around!
My energy was ebbing quickly but I was in pure run mode. I am disappointed to say I did not see much of my surroundings as I was running with eyes half-closed, using as little energy to think or see or process information as possible. I had recalled that once we hit the top of the big hill we had been climbing that it was all downhill. But it was clear there were still some small ups and downs to deal with before that happened and each one took a small part of my soul. I was using runners as markers to pace myself. Knowing I run downhills better than most (and uphills worse than most) I would let Pink Shirt Girl or Far Too Many Slogans on Shirt Guy, get in front of me before reeling them back in on the downhills.
Then it suddenly hit me. I hadn't once thought about my knee all day! The cure to knee pain is to be so sick you don't think about it! But in all seriousness, on these downhills, I hadn't once held back because of fear of injury. This pleased me immensely. A 7:48 for
the 12th mile and then an 8:02 for the 13th had me once again wishing I was running a half-marathon as I could finally see the downhill ahead.
To the Finish:
My 14th mile wasn't exactly the blistering pace I was hoping for and I was thrown off how slow it was by the number of people I was passing. I only netted a 7:59 each as I continue to fight the wind and the rain. Suddenly, as we went around a traffic circle, both just stopped. I was carrying about five pound of water on my body but at least I wasn't adding any more!
I was now in adulation mode and was finding gears I hadn't felt since a long time before. I ran a 7:33 for the 15th mile and set my sights on the finish line ahead. A few runners either passed me or got passed by me but I wasn't trying to earn an extra spot or two in the standings. I knew that this was going to be one of my worst race finishes in a long time and a dozen runners here or there wasn't going to change that.
When 15.5 miles went by on my watch which almost always UNDERshoots my distance (what a 25 km race equals) and I still had a bit to go, I chuckled. I was getting my money's worth today. I finished the last .7 of a mile at 7:27 pace and crossed the finish.
I crossed in front of someone I had seen a couple of times who looked like the race director and gave him a fist bump. I had finished in a time of 2:02:08. This made me 787th of 2833 finishers. I had run the notoriously challenging Around the Bay 30k road race in Canada ( the day after running a 10k in South Carolina) in 2:10:00. Over three miles longer in less than eight minutes of time. Obviously this was not my best day.
But it was one of them. It was definitely a victorious day for me. Not in the time category, obviously. But when it came to over coming some challenges, I will remember this race for a long time.
Now it is time to heal this knee, kick this cold, and have a good year of racing.