Thursday, May 30, 2013


Despite 27 years living in the Land of Opportunity, there is (at least) one opportunity that, until this past weekend, has evaded me: competing as an international athlete.

Welcome to the athletic complex of Dubnica nad V├íhom, Slovakia.

Welcome to the European Champion Clubs Cup, aka ECCC.

Photo by Luuk Wagenaar
How did I get here?  Heck if I know!  My boyfriend got an offer to move to Amsterdam for work, we decided to make it a team effort, I started running more, I joined a track club, some teammates had babies and became temporarily distracted from running sub-38-minute 10k times, another teammate was forced to leave Amsterdam for a work opportunity elsewhere in the Netherlands, another teammate became injured, another teammate is focusing on her first Ironman, another teammate is studying abroad in Argentina... and suddenly, with a fairly ho-hum 11:19 3000m, I become the most likely female 3k candidate to travel to Slovakia with the 2012 Dutch track and field champions, Phanos.  Expenses paid!  From whence came this life of mine?  Ask no questions.  Just take the train to Rotterdam, get on a plane to Vienna, get on a bus to Dubnica, and go with the flow.  And take your camera, this may never happen again.

From the first rendezvous at tiny Rotterdam Den Haag Airport, the sub-cliques and goofy groups found among track and field athletes emerged.  There's nothing quite like it, and it's one reason that track and field is my favorite sport (sorry, Ultimate). 

It was our high jumper's birthday.  Lovely wave.
Throwers always seem bigger when standing in the airplane aisle next to your seat.

This pretty well sums up distance running, in my opinion.

My race itself was nothing to shout about.  The womens 3000m began at 10:50, which allowed me to spend the remainder of the day earnestly spectating.  I was easily the least concerned runner at the start line of my race, and ostentatiously the only person snapping photos during the pre-race warm up.  I think most of the other runners were at least 5 years younger than me, as well.  They represented athletic clubs from Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Israel, and the Netherlands (that's me), and generally fell into two camps:  tiny and intimidating, or tiny and intimidated.  I felt like Yogi the Bear in comparison.

No better place than the warm-up area for catching Wouter's 3000m steeplechase.

The race started slowly and ended faster.  I was told (after the fact) that track meets in which point accumulation is more important that individual performance often see this trend in the longer distances.   Runners bide their time until deciding to make a race of it in the final laps.  Why?  In my mind, it is a foreign strategy in more ways than one.  I ended up running in lane 2 for most of the race, and finally made a dash for it sometime after the first mile.  A series of three 50-meter accelerations sufficed to pull myself and those interested in racing away from those who were not.  After intentionally slowing to allow the girl from LC Zurich to pass me, it turned into a 1200m race and ended with me placing 2nd to her by less than one second.  Of course, I've been thinking about that one second.  Other exciting moments in the race included the girl from Denmark elbowing me for position in the first 50m and saying the f-word twice.  Also, Miriam van Reijen (she's kind of a big Dutch deal) called my splits!  Very kind.

The day comprised a definite mixed bag of athletes.  Overall, the level of competition was lower than I'd expected, which certainly worked in my favor.  "With all due respect," said a teammate, "I didn't expect the womens 3000 to be one of our strongest events."  Neither did I, friend.  Neither did I.  

That said, almost every event had a Phanos face present, and there were several that featured a Phanos face among the top three.

This is Nynke, my roommate for the weekend and mother of one.

These girls are, I believe, 17 and 16 years old.  The girl in 4th has an older sister who competed for the Netherlands in the 4x400m  4x100m relay at the 2012 Olympics.  Our top 100m girl is not pictured here.

Koen Smet, in red and kicking ass at the second hurdle, is on his way to the under-23 European Championships for the 110m HH.

This is Madiea Ghafoor.  She turns 21 in September.  She ran a 52.72 400m.  If running in the USA for an NCAA DI college team, she would be ranked in the top 15 nationally.  Her anchor leg of the 4x400m relay was something to behold.

Most of our prodigy sprinters and jumpers train with Team Terol Rozenstruik.  Oscar Terol is well-liked by his athletes, and is also somewhat of a professional smart-ass, which I appreciate.

The other trainer, Urta Rozenstruik, is a one-time Netherlands bobsledder, hilarious storyteller, and threw shot put for our team.

Here's an unfortunately not-so-action shot of Jorgen, the other "buitenlander" on the team, and our triple jumper.  He moved from Italy (near Firenze/Florence) to Amsterdam only a few months before Ed and I moved here.  His Dutch is much, much better than mine.  His dad is Dutch.  That's my excuse.

This is Luuk, who typically runs the 800m in about 1:55 or so, but tried his legs at the 1500m and did a pretty good job.

Here's Daan (running in 3rd), the other half of "Team 3000" this weekend.  He wins all the 10k's around town.  Had I been hired at ASICS back in the fall, I would have been his manager.  Ha, ha.

And then there's Maureen Koster.  This girl busted out a 4:17.87 for the 1500m, crushing the second-place finisher by just shy of 20 seconds.  A 4:17.87, for context, converts to roughly 4:37 for a USA-standard 1600m high school race.  If Maureen Koster were an American high school girl running outdoor track in 2013, a 4:37 would land her the #1 time for US high school girls by 2 seconds, edging a gal from none other than Camas, WA.  Maureen (say "Mo-Rain", with a Dutchy-"R" sound) also delivered a 2:04.36 800m scarcely a week ago... which would be another #1 USA high school girl time (again, a crown currently worn by Alexa Efraimson of Camas).

I am faster than all of you.
Since Maureen Koster is 21, ranking her times among American high schoolers isn't a fair comparison.  Let's see how she measures up to the 2013 NCAA DI Tracksters headed to Nationals.  Oh... hm... top 15 nationally ranked in the 1500m and top 5 in the 800m.  No big deal!

Relaxing at lunch.

I was a bit shy and star-struck when I learned that Miriam van Reijen, top-marathoner and author of this newly-released runner's cookbook, would be running the 5000m for Phanos.  The meet schedule ordained that both mens and womens 5k would kick off much later in the afternoon, thus she and our other top-marathoner-cum-5000m-moonlighter, Jelte Brontsema, wore faces of utmost (and uncharacteristic) severity throughout much of the day:

Miriam = 2:41 marathon.  Jelte = 2:23 marathon.  Me = Whoa.

The meet concluded with fireworks and team awards.  Phanos women were a mere two ten points from a podium finish, which was tough, and I think that a lot of people were visualizing the flubbed baton exchange in the 4x100m, or thinking about one-second spreads in the 3k that could have garnered an extra point or two.  All in all, though, there wasn't too much griping.  Did I mention there were fireworks?

Note:  Oops!  It was a two-point spread BEFORE the final event.  For several days I've been mistaken in thinking (and, to my chagrin, sharing) that the final difference was only 2 points.

Fireworks... hopefully no PTSD was triggered this day in Dubnica.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Mens team (nearly everyone), closing ceremonies

Womens team (somewhat less than everyone), closing ceremonies.

Yet more adventures followed, especially for those with a bit of extra juice in the legs.  Someone had the excellent idea to run back to the hotel, about 9.5 km away in a spa town tucked between leafy green hills.

By the time we reached the hotel, we'd endured a pretty steep uphill, a pretty steep downhill, and good-natured heckling from other teams who'd beaten us back to Trencianska Teplice via bus.  I slept well that night.  Which was good, because... we had until 3:00pm Sunday to squeeze in another 1:45 of trail running.  

Nynke, me, Daan, Jelte, Luuk
I made a somewhat immature decision to follow Daan and Jelte down and up and down a second near-700-foot "hill."  It was, for my less-conditioned legs, een beetje zwaar, but Daan and Jelte are kind companions and saw me through.

Here's all that needs to be said about the difficulty level of that duurloopje:

It was a highly memorable run, definitely makes my lifetime top 5 for best long runs.  Completely wasted, I enjoyed a massage from our trainer, Gerard, who magically made my piriformis knot disappear, and offered me a volunteer spot in the medical tent for the NK (Netherlands Championships) in July, for which I am very, very excited.  Then, brain cells worthless from lack of sugar and oxygen, I passed out on a bench in the hotel gazebo to the music of a million rustling leaves, birds, and a backdrop of uncountable shades of green.  

See all photos from the track meet here, and more miscellaneous and long run photos here.

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