Running is about getting a good time and improving. My time today in Eindhoven was not what I was aiming for: it was more or less eight minutes slower than the time I had set as a target. Of course, perhaps because I talk too much or had too much confidence I had mentioned this in conversations during the last week. But running is also about being a member of community of like-minded people, who share goals and ambitions together. Perhaps the kind of camaraderie that exists at Leiden Atletiek is normal for The Netherlands. From my experiences of living in Australia and Indonesia, this kind of club (and the friendships it facilitates) is something special. I’m lucky to be a part of it; I think not every foreigner who lives in The Netherlands has this kind of experience. So, regardless of my ‘disappointing’ time: running and training gives me a lot. Even the suffering that I experienced today was a kind of ‘privilege of the long-distance runner’. Winning or reaching one’s goal is boring and can usually be summed up in two sentences: ‘I was brilliant. It was a perfect race.’ Today, I felt like I ‘lost’ and I find losing immensely more interesting than winning. So, perhaps these notes are longer than they would have been were I to have reached my goal.
Jan offered to ride with me during the race. Probably after today’s time, he won’t offer to do it again, any time soon. Jan, it turns out is not just a man who can ruin a young boy’s dream by running him down in the last three meters of his home race in the now infamous Battle of Katwijk, he is a gentleman. Perhaps this is because of his obsession with cricket, which goes beyond even Australian levels of ridiculous cricket fanaticism. Perhaps Mr.Kortekaas is hoping for honorary English citizenship. (many Dutch people have a perverse respect ‘the English’.) I think it is possible. But, changing his name would make it easier. Jan Short Cheese (i.e. korte kaas), with ‘Jan’ being pronounced with a hard ‘j’ rather than like a ‘y’. In a few short (hehehe) years, he would be in line for a lordship for ‘services to cricket’, merely through the act of listening to it on the radio, whether he be at work, at running training or at home spending quality time with his wife and daughter. But I digress. Jan interrupted his pedaling alongside of me to introduce himself to my parents and brother who were waiting enthusiastically at the 20km mark. ‘I recognise you by the forehead’, apparently he said to my brother. Hahahahahaha. Of course, my parents and brother were immediately convinced that he was a nice guy and a gentleman: I said to them, ‘you should have seen him in Katwijk’. Hehehehehehe.
And so Eindhoven is definitely not Holland’s most beautiful city. It even makes Rotterdam picturesque. The marathon brochure could only manage to mention no more than five places of interest that runners pass by along the way. But, every kilometer or so I passed by signs advertising an upcoming concert by the jazz trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf. (And of course the concert would be on while I am in Frankfurt – one of the few European cities that rivals Eindhoven for lack of charm, romance, style.) At least the plainness of the city would make it easy to concentrate on running.
Do I feel like I let Jan down? Well, yes. Jan’s commentary went from ‘you’re running well Andy’, ‘it’s just playing at this stage’ (for the first 28-30km), to: ‘you’re losing time’, ‘come on Andy, pick it up’, ‘stick with these guys’, ‘look ahead, see what is happening ahead’, ‘nothing is happening on the ground, look ahead’, ‘wake up Andy’, ‘there is a group coming up behind you’, ‘there is another group coming up behind you, stick with them’, ‘find something from somewhere’, ‘find something from somewhere’. These comments were interspersed with references to time, ‘you’re still on time for 2:48’, then, progressively, 2:50, 2:52, and then when Jan had given up all hope, ‘it is still a very good personal best’. I think this was the only comment he made that he didn’t quite believe in. I could sense his emerging disappointment; particularly in the comment, ‘you didn’t do all those kilometers for nothing.’ If I had had the breath, I would have given him the answer that I am now writing. Jan also didn’t see the worst of it: a tsunami of runners overtook me in the last kilometer. I will ease his disappointment though, with a bottle of whiskey.
Are we there yet?
But, perhaps just a little to protect myself, I don’t feel like I totally disappointed him. Two weeks ago I ran a good race, one and a half minutes ahead of my personal best, and for 30km of today’s race, I ran well and comfortably. It was training for Eindhoven that made it possible to get my good time in Haarlem (beautiful city). I was ‘ahead of schedule and running well’ for a large part of today’s race to quote Mr.Kortekaas. I think Jan would be more disappointed if I stopped running, considering it to be too uncomfortable. I spoke with Michiel, also of Leiden Atletiek, before the race and he is improving his times and is 42 years old. Perhaps there is hope. Perhaps my improvement is not as fast as it could be; but I still got a personal best today. Running in The Netherlands makes it easy to find redemption: in less than one month there is the beginning of the Z&Z Circuit: a set of races throughout the winter, mid-winter and late-winter.
My parents, had come down from Leiden to watch, and my brother had come up from Maastricht. They enjoyed it.They saw me running well at the 20km mark and they saw me barely running at the 38km mark. They are all very well-balanced and intelligent individuals who don’t feel the need to be alone for hours and to attempt to exhaust oneself by practicing such a folly as long-distance running. On Friday, my father said, ‘run with equanimity’. I understood equanimity as meaning ‘having a clear head’, ‘being aware’ and ‘being poised, balanced’. I didn’t find equanimity during the race (well, not after 30km at least). I found it after the race, when I became satisfied in my disappointment. Perhaps this is the reality of running: unexpected satisfaction balanced by unexpected disappointment.
Living the dream. Well, almost. (photo by Erik van Leeuwen)