Maikel of Leiden

He’s probably one of the most famous folks in Leiden. If you bump into Maikel on a street in Leiden and start talking with him, within moments someone else he knows will walk by. And then a few moments later, someone else. And, then a little while later, another person. Sooner or later, if someone in the little impromptu gathering doesn’t realise the snowballing nature of the occasion, the whole town could be gathered around. Six degrees of separation from Maikel Stolwijk, perhaps: but most have one at the most. This is no accident: Stolly-boy divides his time between running at Leiden Atletiek, working at SportCity, working another job at Cafe in de oude Marenpoort on the corner of the Lange Mare and the Oude Vest, running the lines at ASC Football Club, and, during quiet times, partying with mates.

Bringing home the bacon

Thus it is also no surprise that when Maikel won the Leiden Marathon in October 2021, he was more than just a popular winner. He was the local boy come good. It was the first time in the marathon’s history that a local had won the race. If it hadn’t been won by international athletes, then at least it was Dutch athletes from other parts of the Low Lands.

But the Pandemic had played into Maikel’s hands. The Pandemic had enabled the occasion and cleared the path for his possible victory. The Leiden Marathon, rather than being in April, was now in October. And, falling in autumn, and just one week after the city’s biggest party, it was now in amongst a very busy schedule of (almost) post-Pandemic European marathons: Hamburg, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Frankfurt were all happening roughly about the same time. Leiden, unlike these others was a small player on the European-marathon scene. So, with the top athletes having their energies directed elsewhere, Maikel took his chance.

But the race still needed to be won. Running a marathon is no party and the distance has to be respected. Unlike the bigger races, there wouldn’t be many other competitors to pace himself against. So, in-stepped a few of his cohort. Sarah Lahti, his coach Bram, his friend Jochem, his old coach, the legendary Jan Kortekaas and perhaps a few others. Of course, he knew the route well; for he had used the roads and bicycle paths during his training. Like any marathon, though, it is a waiting game: running consistently, not overdoing it to soon and maintaining a steady pace.

By the time he entered the city’s walls, he had a friend waiting for him. Maikel’s lead was comfortable enough for aforementioned friend to drape the city’s flag – red and white with a pair of keys – around his shoulders. Maikel ran the last four kilometres, perhaps the toughest moment of any marathon, draped in his beloved city’s colours, lapping up the cheers of friends, family, and those who knew him from his various roles about town. He crossed the line down by the still-being-refurbished town hall. Maikel had seized his moment. Although his time of 2:33:06 was slower than the winner of the 2019 marathon (Lema’s 2:16:08), one can only compete against those who show-up on the day. Moreover, a marathon time of 2:33 effectively run alone, is nothing to sniff at. It’s a cracking time. Apparently, the win kicked off a decent night of drinking.

I’ve known Maikel since I joined Leiden Atletiek around 2014. He makes fun of my accent and my inability to speak Dutch. These kind of jokes don’t grow old. We’ve had one close race (Nijmegen half-marathon in March), but basically he has still got some separation on me. In thinking of the ‘local legends of Leiden’, he is definitely one of them. For me, he’s a runner whom I am seeking to catch. I’m curious about his running path. So, I put some questions to him.

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You started off playing football. Why did you change from playing football to running?

I went from football to individual running because I could improve myself much more in that and sometimes also found it annoying that sometimes people in your team had had too much fun the night before with too many drinks and that with a group can simply have consequences. If I do that now I can only look at myself in the mirror. I knew from the past that the running talent was there and I also thought that I would become quite strong (90+ kilos) and thought that that had to change.

Photo: Stolwijk Senior

So that’s when the adventure started in earnest and that was probably 10 years ago.

What have been some significant races for you?

Leiden Marathon, definitely, when I came first. And furthermore my first marathon in Rotterdam on 8th April, 2018. I turned 35 that day and had a few goals. Enjoy and run, then under three hours if possible and run my father’s time out of the books (2.54.18). I achieved these goals and celebrated my birthday wonderfully afterwards all together.

What have you learned from your different coaches over the years?

I think every trainer teaches you something so I can’t really pick a favorite, also because I trained with all of them very well. In my youth years with Norbert Groenewegen and Ada de Bruijn and later with Bram Wassenaar.

Then I stopped for a while because my interest went more to football and partying (the so-called ‘third half’) and then picked up again 10 years ago at Jan Kortekaas and then taken over by Hans Wesseling. When we noticed together that my level at that time no longer matched the rest of the group, I stepped up a level and I returned to Bram Wassenaar who now does it together with Han Kulker.

How was it to win in Leiden?

Yes, what can I say….. winning in your own city is just super nice, a lot of famous people and this is no longer off the books. Because fast guys often come, this never happens and a podium place would be a miracle, but actually winning it was the best.

The race actually went according to plan, first 16 km I was paced by Sarah Lathi (2x Olympic final 10,000) and after that I did it myself and was able to run fairly constant with only slowing down a little bit. When we entered Leiden at 37 km, we really started to enjoy ourselves. Family and friends were all there and I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

It did get a bit harder in Leiden but because of the distraction you forget the pain.

Maikel, Nienke Brinkman, Sarah Lahti

How did you go recently in Rotterdam?

I had little confidence owing to the injury and covid but just went for a run and wanted to enjoy everything. That worked. I got a PB by 10 seconds and was pleased. I didn’t expect that.

At 24 km, I suffered from an old injury again and at 28 km, I hesitated very briefly to stop but I had to keep going and would not let anyone stand in front of me and I had to show character and that gave me the strength to continue with a slightly slower pace, but enough for a PB. You just want to experience the finish on the Coolsingel. It was a great feeling and I got goosebumps again. What an atmosphere and you forget all the aches and pains. What a crowd.

What are your goals for 2022?

The new goal is to run the Amsterdam marathon in October, which is also the Dutch National Championships, and see how far we can get there. Maybe a PB or time below 2.30 or a nice final ranking, first get through the summer whole and without pain.

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