Zeeland marathon, Holland’s thoughest

The early hour wasn’t a problem this time. I’d taken my precautions and went to bed really early. The dark sky and pouring rain however was. Running the Dutch coast for four hours suddenly became a lot less attractive. There was nothing left but hoping that the weather forecast would be right for once (“clearing up around noon”) and after a small stop in Bruges FFWD to Zoutelande.

Zoutelande turned out to be just as drenched as Belgium, so we quickly took shelter in a local Bakery while we waited for the busses to arrive. We met up with Greg, the only missing member from our Run to the Hills delegation and got on the busses to the starting point in Haamstede, where we arrived just short of 2 hours before the actual start. Nothing left to do but fill those 2 hours by judging the ladies, calling Dutch people “morons” and decide on the outfit to wear. Time flew and before we knew it, we were all walking towards the start. The skies had cleared up and it seemed like everyone in Haamstede had come out to see the runners and the atmosphere was amazing. Flags waving, clapping and yelling and there was even a Belgian flag, which was saluted with appropriate dignity.

The church bells rang 12 times, a shot rang and the 2012 Zeeland marathon came to life. Because we started in the ‘4h15″ and slower’ grid, the mass slowly started moving. We took the time this gave us to judge more ladies and call more Dutch guys “morons”, there was some commotion when Nonkel got the content of one of those gel-tubes on his foot and leg . He yelled, we laughed. Well, Kristof didn’t laugh long, his bottle of water was demanded by Nonkel to clean off the sticky stuff. Greg and I laughed even harder now.

During the first part of the still impressive delta bridge, the group fell apart a bit and I decided to join Kristof who had taken a small lead on us. If we were going to fall apart, I might as well join the fastest part of the team, I thought. Greg caught up with us to ask us what the plan was (“didn’t you say you weren’t going to run more than 10km/h?”), but when we said we were going to just go with the feeling and see where it brought us, he fell back to his own pace. It would turn out to be a good decision: he would finish easily in just under 4 hours. Meanwhile, our speed had risen to a solid 11.5km/h.

But Kristof kept speeding up, even though he’s only been training again for a month or so. It didn’t take long before we caught up with the 4h00″ pacer group. Around that time, Kristof decided he would try to stick with me until the halfway point and then fall back to his normal pace and see where he’d end up. But with that decision made, he seemed to speed up even more. We were soon running about 13, 13.5km/h. Around 20km, the sand began and Kristof started having a hard time. I tried to motivate him to go for the 3h45″ pacer group which was running about 300 meters in front of us, but every time I sped up a little, Kristof had to let go. We said our goodbyes and wished each other good luck. And I took off alone.

From then onwards, things started moving fast. About a minute later I’d caught up with the pacer group, which I overtook 10 seconds later because their pace was getting on my nerves. I sped up some more and was soon running 3’30” kilometers as if it’s all I’d ever done. I was starting to fear this was going to turn against me later in the race, but I decided to take my chances for it. The Dutch folks by the side of the road screamed me forward: After seeing people who were running 11 to 12 km/h for the last 10 minutes or so, suddenly there was this crazy Belgian kid who was overtaking them at 14km/h, smiling, high fiving with the little kids, pulling sprints uphill and in the loose sand…

A small selection of the things I heard: “So, Martijn, still looking fresh!”, “Ho Martijn, good speed!”, “Hey Martijn, what are you doing pulling sprints uphill after 35k?”. Dutch people obviously aren’t familiar with the name Marijn, but anyway, It was making me fly, so thanks! Maybe they aren’t that bad after all, those Dutchies!

The usual dip around 35 came, but only barely: I just started to feel my legs a little. Brains work strange in full race though: Instead of slowing down, all I could think of was: “7 more km, I can do this! I can still catch that 3h30″ pacer group! Run! Run!” and I sped up some more. But the 3h30″ group was nowhere to be seen. Around the 70% point, someone had told me I was running on a 3h38″ schedule, so they couldn’t be far anymore. I checked my Garmin: 12.3km/h average. I should have bypassed them. Where were they (It would turn out later that there was no 3h30″ pacer group)? Maybe they’d started faster because there was a really hard part near the end? All these thoughts flew through my head, but not for long. Soon they made place for one dominating thought: “Run! Run!”.

The last part on the beach and I was still overtaking people, be it less fast then in the beginning. I was starting to come in company that had a pace that was closer to mine. But where they were starting to get exhausted, I was still rather fresh. I overtook 3 more on the last stairs and after the final descend I started sprinting. I yelled to the guy in front of me that it wasn’t over yet, but he had no answer ready and I flew by him at, according to my Garmin, about 22.5km/h.

I finished at position 110 in 3h26″ something something (after the correction at the start I won some places, making me 106th in just under 3h26″). When I look at the 21k times of the people that finished around me, they all have about 1h36″ (which makes sense given the heavier second part of the race). I passed at 1h51″…

After 4h16″, the entire Run to the Hills team was in. Kristof had suffered during the second half, but given his rather limited preparation and his fast start, that’s still a really good result. Showers were taken, stories told and we laughed at Kristof who was walking around in his boxers since his pants were in Greg’s car, but then it was time to head home.

All in, we went home with a nice experience, t-shirt and medal, not to mention some stories that we’ll remember for years. I can highly recommend this one to everyone who wants to run a marathon that has that little bit extra. Extra shout-out to the organisation and volunteers who did an amazing job. Really nice folks, those Dutchies :-).

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