Friday, January 16, 2015

Recap of a Race I'll Definitely, Probably, Maybe Never Run

The Egmond Halve Marathon is a Dutch classic.

It is not my cup of tea.

It starts with nearly 10km of beach running in the hard, canted sand along the North Sea.  It ends with a mile of Uphill Lite that the Dutch like to overdramatize and call the "Bloedweg" (Blood Road).  It's in the middle of Coastal Northern European January, which can (and usually does) mean the weather is "inclement."  When you call it "inclement," you will need to shout the word through your blue lips to make it audible over the howling wind.  This year, the final mile was also into a steady 35 mph headwind (with 45 mph gusts).  This is the type of wind that the Dutch like to underdramatize and call "a fresh breeze."

Despite often cold, windy, sandy, (kind of) hilly, cold, and windy conditions year after year, the darn thing just won't die.  It's been around for 40-odd years now, and would attract upwards of 17,700 participants, if the number wasn't capped at 17,500 the year after the number grew to 17,700.

This year, Ed and I attended, as spectators, in part to get a measure of the fuss.  We had two friends, several coworkers, and many Phanos faces running, and the weather was not too shabby by Egmond standards:  Only "severe" on the radar, no worse.  And it wasn't raining!

The course was diverted due to lack of shore, and start times were delayed 30 minutes.  That was good, because we were riding into the wind on our bikes from where we had stayed the night in Castricum, 6 km from the starting line.  Being so near to the race on Sunday morning meant that Ed and I could not look out our apartment window in Amsterdam and decide to spend the day on the couch watching Doctor Who.  We were committed to watching Joe and Mark and everyone else.

The wind was the sort you can recline onto without falling over.  It was the sort that will blow one leg into the other like a crafty junior high schooler in the hallway, making you trip on yourself.  It was the sort that Dutch people like to call "fris!"while leyezing (laughing through their eyes?) as they churn past you on their steel-framed omafietsen like you are standing still on your composite-frame hybrid, because you are.

There wasn't much of a "warm-up" to be had.  Most smart folks were tucked in the lee of a tall, broad apartment building adjacent to the start corrals.  That's where I was, anyway.  I finally left the shelter and endured a grueling fight through the elements, sweating and panting, high on endorphins.  Then I reached the pub two blocks away and drank coffee with Ed while we watched the race unfold on the six television screens lining the walls.

We left the pub and ran down to the dunes, where the runners would start the mile-long incline to the finish.  Into the wind.  Looked tough.

I'm no stranger to cold, windy, and wet, but for the last couple of years, I've been fortunate to have the option to live with the wind at my back.  It's pretty great: the warmth, the quiet, the lack of telephones ringing and knocking at the door and deadlines and staring at charts.  For ten years, I was deaf to most things that weren't pounding out various jobs, going to school, going to more school, more jobs, volunteer jobs, moving across the country, more jobs, and then moving across the ocean.  Settling here felt like hitting the turnaround, and the relative peace and ease has been, yeah, really nice.  Even when it's boring, it's nice.  I sit around a lot and write junk and think about working on my nursing license application.  I read.  For fun.  I volunteer, doing the things that I enjoy doing.  Sometimes I work.  Sometimes I clean the bathrooms and hang the clothes to dry.  Living "wind mee" is hardly any effort at all.

But... I sometimes feel a bit guilty, for being so lazy.

 And I sometimes miss the camaraderie of running into the wind with other people.  Metaphorically, working (regular, paid working, I mean).  Literally, 17,000 people, all  heading into the same wind for the final mile.  For most every runner out there, it was cold, and it was challenging, and it was probably painful.  When you are cold and fighting and in pain surrounded by thousands of other people also cold and fighting and in pain, that makes it less like dying and more like living.  It makes it, some say, fun.

Despite running on sand, in wind, with seafoam blowing off the whitecaps and hitting them in the face for half an hour, people still managed solid times.  We happily donated 1 km of "wind tegen" running and met our shivering friend Joe, who'd clocked under 1:55 for his first half.  We stood around waiting for others, being generally pleased.  We talked to our Running Holland coach friend, Frank, who said that the wind really hadn't been that bad at all.  Joe said the same.  Others agreed.

Ah, Egmond. All right.  Maybe I'll see you next year.  Can I put hot tea in a Gu belt?

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