The watery landscape of the Low Lands means that its cities are engineered to live with water: to accommodate it, rather than to combat it. Leiden is one such watery city and although it is part of the greater Randstad, it upholds its own proud identity: marked by the Siege of Leiden, its university, a cheese, and extraordinary shenanigans and misbehaviour on October 3. The boundaries of the city proper are marked by the singels, the outer canals. As in other cities, such as Utrecht and Gouda, the singels form a course for an annual running race. The distances are non-standard, making it at odds with the will-to-uniformity and standardisation in so much of athletics culture. The singelloops lend themselves to tales of who performed well or who fluffed it or who took advantage of a gap in competition to make their name known.
The Leiden Singelloop, after being held annually since 1976, was interrupted by Covid for two years. The defending champ though is Marco van Erp, a mechanical engineer and athlete at Leiden Atletiek. So, he’s had an extended period to enjoy his title as King of the Singels.
So, the stage is set for a Friday night showdown. Leiden is alive with mild-spring weather. Covid restrictions are a distant memory. The tourists are back. The terraces are full. Marco’s competition will come from a friendly, nearby rival. Perhaps a training partner. ‘Healthy’ but ‘intense rivalry’, no doubt. Leidenaars will line the streets cheering participating friends and family. Out of an interest to know how Marco trains and what motivates him to maintain his running, I put some questions to him.
What stage are you at with your running?
Running started for me in 2010, when I ran a couple of times a week next to playing (field) hockey and tennis. My PE teacher in secondary school encouraged me to run a 10 km, which I finished in 38.49. This was the Meierijloop in Vught. I finished ten minutes behind the winner – Ezekial Kiptoo Chebii, of Kenya – who would later do a half-marathon under 60minutes. This encouraged me so much that I replaced my old tennis shoes for real running shoes and one year later I gave up on hockey and tennis when I started to run competitively in university. I joined the student athletics club Asterix (in Eindhoven) and started to focus on track races. I gradually increased the number of runs and mileage per week to 6 and 60-80 km, respectively.
For years I ran PB after PB, until 2017, when I got seriously injured in my foot (fasciitis plantaris). Since then I continued to improve most of my PBs, but sometimes still being injured in my foot again, becoming wiser with every injury and realizing how much I really enjoy all those moments during running. Lately, I’m again in the best shape I’ve ever been and more relaxed in training, doing less mileage and not focused on pace too much. My next goal is to run the 1500 below 4 minutes, making the list complete of track distances and magic numbers, after successfully doing this as well for 800 (sub-2), 3000 (sub-9), 3000 steeple (sub-10) and 5000 (sub-15).
The next stage is to focus on longer distances, even though I’d like to keep doing track races to get a PB here and there. I’d work more towards the 5-10-15-HM in the next years and eventually doing a couple of marathons in combination with trail runs.
What role does running play in your everyday life?
Running plays a key role in my personal life, as an engineer I have to do a lot of analytical thinking and problem solving at work. I wouldn’t be able to release the energy if it is not without running. The thing I desire most after a day of work is going for a run, to empty my head, release the energy and closing the work chapter in my head for that day. Vice versa it also works synergetic, my focus is the best just after running, the reason why I like to do running in the middle of a work day, occasionally, when meetings allow. Additionally, I like to stay healthy and improve myself on kind of different aspects, personal traits that I developed and am still developing because of the running, and the positive effect it has on my fitness level.
How do you interact, work with your coach(es)? What are the training programs that have the strongest benefit for you?
Especially in track season, I discuss which races I’m planning to do with my trainer Bram (and Han nowadays) and follow most of the sessions that Bram plans for me in his training plans. The exception is doing a bit less mileage sometimes when I feel that my body needs some more recovery. I especially like the fast and short intervals on the track, and benefit from taking it really easy the days before important races.
What I value in Bram as a trainer is his professionalism and knowledge. He’s (still) guiding a lot of athletes and even though I’m quite stubborn and do things differently sometimes (with respect to the training schedules he’s writing for me), in the end Bram always turns out to be right. Han has supported me in a completely different way during the past Covid years. While remaining under Bram’s training schedules, Han has given me many training sessions, sometimes even privately with him on the bike, giving me the opportunity to start to know him better, also on a personal level.
What are your favourite kind of races and how do you prepare for them? What is your mindset during a race?
Track races definitely, although I also really enjoy the big road races with all the supporters along the route. I always eat three hours before the start of the race, either pasta or bread with sugary toppings – like jam or honey. I always do the same set of exercises during my warming up. During the race I’m really focused, but I do hear the support from relatives and try to enjoy the surroundings.
What are the races which have been particularly satisfying or disappointing?
A race that I was disappointed about is Wageningen track meeting 1500 in 2020. The race contained a lot of pushing and nobody really wanted to take the lead to increase the pace. Retrospectively, my legs were too exhausted to cope with the pace changes that came with the pushing, and because of that my focus was also not optimal. What I learned from a race like this is to be especially focussed in difficult races like this, and that I could stay out of the heat and save my strength for the moment that people start increasing the pace again.
How do you avoid injury or if injured, how do you work through it?
What works for me is to not run too much mileage, I try to go to the physiotherapist as soon as possible when I start to feel pain and take it a bit easy when it’s busy in my personal life. I stay really focussed when I’m injured and think about the running goals I have, this helps me in following the recommendations and daily exercises from the physiotherapist.
What I learned in the past years from my body is that because of doing less mileage you are much more recovered for every hard training and therefore doing those much more on suppleness. Your fatigue level is thus less throughout the whole week and you are much more able to push during a race, also without forcing the body so quickly as before.
Tell us about your experience with the Singelloop. What are you hoping for in this year’s race?
Three years ago I did the Singelloop for the first time, enjoying it very much with so many supporters along the route, and the beautiful surroundings, along the singels of Leiden. My goal is to defend my title and to battle with my team mates to see which one of us is the strongest.
What shoes will you wear for it? What’s your take on the carbon plate shoes? How often do you use them?
I’ll run on the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2, initially I was refusing to buy them because I thought it was unfair competition, but now that I have them, I love the shoes, making your race much easier and reducing the muscle pain after the race. I’ve only ran on them a couple of times, but I do run my track intervals on the carbon-plated Nike Zoom Flies.
The numbers game:
800 – 1.59
1500 – 4.02
3000 – 8.41
5000 – 14.54
10 km – 31.48