Thursday, September 13, 2007
I wrote this on the plane ride home while the memories were fresh and the leg pain dreadful every time I stood up. As the old saying goes, "If it was easy, everybody'd be doing it"
Here I though Korea was a fast and furious trip last October when I was there for five days. Now I was off to Holland for four days (after the time change). Left home at 8:30 Wednesday morning and arrived in Amsterdam at 6:30 Thursday morning. Then there was a three hour train from the airport to Groningen and finally another to Winschoten where the race was to be held. Of course then I misssed my shuttle to the registration hall called "De Klinker" (no joke, it's a theatre for operas and musical shows) and set out to find a phone to call my ride. I walked around with my two heavy bags until I found a phone but couldn't get it to work as I needed to dial another '0' in front of the number, but didn't know that. By now I was in total frustration wondering what I should do when a lady walked by and, seeing me in my obvious state, said, "Are you searching somezing?" I told her my story and she was kind enough to take me to her husband's office where he called the shuttle for me and arranged to have the them pick me up at his office there. He was also doing the race on Saturday as part of the 10 x 10 relay. How nice everyone was here!
Got picked up and went over to De Klinker (that name never got old the whole trip, trust me) with Herman, another super resident of Winschoten who had lived in Canada for a couple years a long time ago. We chatted and left for the hotel when two others showed up from the UK. There wasn't much to see around the hotel, it was kind of in the middle of nowhere. Everyone from the team showed up as the day went on and it was a reunion of sorts as several people there were also in Korea. There were the competitors: Darren, Jack, Rick, Bruce, Jenn, Marianne, and Paula. Support were: Armand (team manager), Tommy (team doctor), Kandise, Bonnie, Carl, and Marie. We had a team meeting after dinner and that was the end of my thirty hour day.
Darren and I had arranged to get up at 7 am to do a quick run but when I woke up and looked at my watch it was 9:30! Haven't pulled a twelve hour sleep for a long time. That day we drove to Groningen to do a bit of shopping but as it's not really a tourist destination there weren't many souvenirs to be found. That evening ater dinner was the athlete's parade which I enjoyed because, especially here, the streets of Winschoten were lined the whole way with people cheering all the countries' athletes. With a little prep for the next day we were off to bed.
The weather on race morning wasn't that cold but overcast with a steady drizzle and windy. It was perfect for Darren and I, both from BC, seeing as we hadn't seen much of the sun this summer and we couldn't have been happier. Kandise and Armand went ahead of us in the van with our supplies but I didn't realise I couldn't see them before the start to pick up my water bottle and belt and grease up my feet. They were at an aid station across town from the start where the bus dropped us off. I would have to grab it as I went by the first time.
Darren and I started near the back of the "corral" where the athlete's were and we were reminded how few Europeans subscribe to the use of deodorant. The group was made up of 100km, 50km, and relay runners. I was glad we started behind so many people so I wasn't tempted to go out too hard with the fast guys (and girls). Darren went out ahead and was looking strong the whole day. We would pace each other a bunch of times then he'd go ahead, then I'd go ahead and on the run went. I stopped the second time I saw Kandise to lube up the old toes, which took about 90 seconds. Enough time for me to go out too hard after that where I caught up to Darren again in about six kilometers. Hoped I wouldn't pay for that later. The weather couldn't decide what it wanted to do. It was drizzling then got sunny, then cloudy, then rain again. Oh, and it was windy the whole time. Mostly straight on headwinds. Even though the route was sheltered mostly as we went through town , there was still some open areas that hammered us.
The great thing about this course, unlike Korea or the Elk/Beaver 100s, was that it wound through the town with so many twists and turns that you didn't have it memorized until around the 7th or 8th lap. No stretch was longer than a kilometer which was awesome too, it kept me on my toes and didn't lull me into boredom going down a three or four kilometer straight run.
Then there were the crowds. This was an event like I've never been to. Not only are there people in the streets, they're on their front lawns in chairs, at tables, under tents. It's a huge carnival. It's not like other races where people come and go or move around like a marathon or Ironman, these folks were glued to their chairs and did not move for the whole race. If it rained they got umbrellas but stayed put. The landscape is not like our wide streets at home with sidewalks everywhere, these were like narrow back alleys with brick houses on each side. And they cheered. A lot. It was an amazing and uplifting feeling when I could hear "Go Canada" (pronounced Cah-Nah-Dah). There was a paper distributed with the runners' names so as you approached a group, they'd quickly look up your number and yell your name. After a few laps they weren't even looking me up, they knew the Canada singlet and cheered half a block away. It was a Mardi-Gras. There was "Orange Street" that had the trees on the sides wrapped in orange paper, streamers and flags and tents and signs (the biggest actually saying "Orange Street"") were all in orange. There were kids here even handing out cut-up oranges but the 100k runners weren't allowed to take any aid from anyone but at the designated stations. There were a lot of "sponge stations" set up by the local kids. As I watched other runners use them, the little kids would chase them and pick up the used sponges off the ground and put them back in the same bucket of water along with dirt, leaves and sweat from the runner. I decided it wasn't hot enough for a recycled sponge.
Another section had to have a hundred small wooden cut-outs of four foot tall cartoon moose in all different colours. I still don't know the significance of that display. Along this same stretch were flags up and down the streets above us with ribbons and streamers and balloons and bands playing. Of course as the laps accumulated, we got more tired, more in need of support, the more drunk and boistrous the spectators got. At some areas you could smell the beer from the pubs and at tables in yards. Made me want to be done so I could join them. There was one group who would sing "O, Canada" as Darren and I ran past - every time. There was also a group of young teens who shouted, "Ya, Canada - Southpark!!"
What I can't say enough of as well is the support our crews gave us. Everything from simple high-fives to babying us when we needed it. Special appreciation goes out to Kandise from me who had a bottle ready every time I went around and would offer suggestions on what to eat or drink when she knew I wasn't thinking straight.
I had another one of those times mid-race where I think, "How can I go on and finish this thing when I feel so bad?" (at 40km). What makes people go forward when every step hurts and we'd love to do nothing but stop. I think we reach a certain plateau of pain that hopefully doesn't get worse, only manageable. I do everything I can to tell myself to go on. I do a lot math to figure out my splits and if I can go under eight hours. At 70km I knew I was on a good pace to a PB. All I needed to do was stay at or under five minute kms. With one lap to go Kandise gave me my Canada hat and I set out into the winds for the final trip around. Getting greedy at the 98km mark I figured I could break 7:50 and managed to run just under. Had I known Darren was less than a minute behind, I would have had us come across the line together for a great picture as we both had PBs.
When I was done the legs felt so bad just walking that you couldn't imagine having to run anymore, even if the race was longer. That's the way I felt at around the 60km mark but still kept moving forward. Maybe it's the mind counting down the kms for the body until it can stop.
After a hot shower and cheering everyone in, we wrapped it up and went back to the hotel. No medals, no finisher's t-shirts. Just the runner and their race. Happy or sad it always feels good to finish - and eat ice cream.
Posted by Darin at 9:10 p.m.