Running and (inadvertently) Winning: Jolijn Swager

Jolijn has a habit of winning races. If not winning, then at least popping up smilingly on the podium. Some of us spend our whole amateur careers without enjoying the glory of flowers, vouchers or an envelop filled with a few euro notes. But, little beats the satisfaction of gaining a PB and steadily improving over a period of months or years. Recently, Jolijn has been setting new PBs in 10kms: first in Delft, then more recently at the 10 van Noordwijk. Nonetheless, winning races provides certain insights into this sport, than one might otherwise gain.

JS in St Moritz: photo by Erik van Leeuwen

In April, Jolijn won the Singelloop in Leiden, which she mentions in the interview below. This was particularly meaningful for her as Leiden is her home town. She grew up just a few minutes away from the Leiden Atletiek track, but is a relative late-comer to long-distance running after growing up playing other sports. It was curious to hear from her that even after the winning the Singelloop, she wasn’t featured in the Leidsch Dagblad; there was only a feature reserved for the male winner (in this case, fellow Leiden Atletiek athlete, Marco van Erp). In Panama, after winning a half-marathon, she received one third of the prize money the male division winner won. Ooooh. Such differences in prize money and attention seem out of step with efforts at equalising sport across genders. Yet, it is also relevant to remember the conservatism of athletics: a women’s marathon was first held in the Olympics in 1984. Although Jolijn hardly runs only to win, these moments of clear discrepancy are a minor point of consternation.

In our conversation, Jolijn didn’t belabour these points: but they merely came up as observations from her numerous experiences of finding herself finishing at the pointy end of certain races.

Jolijn’s runs pop up on Strava from all over the Netherlands and further afield. Running fits into her agenda: squeezed in between her work in publishing and travelling. Arrival at a new city is marked by testing the running terrain. While going for a run with Jolijn around the Vliet and nearby parklands we spoke of various matters. This is a summary of the conversation that followed:


How did you get interested in running seriously?

In my youth I did some gymnastics, circus/acrobatics and volleyball. I was switching between sports and couldn’t find my real passion. Why didn’t I start running earlier?! I love the fact that you can run everywhere; just relaxed or racing; alone or with friends; with music or without. Every step can be different.

“Oh the places you will go.”Photo by Ruchama Mast

In 2016, my colleagues started training for the Sky Radio business run. I thought that’s nothing for me, since I didn’t sport for years (something I can’t imagine now). But they convinced me to participate and I came in second at the 5k (just in 20 minutes) without real training. Afterwards, I did some runs for myself in Leiden where I met trainer Ed Zijl. He invited me to join his racing team at Voorschoten Athletics. In the beginning, I didn’t want to. Too many obligations for me. But after a while I subscribed myself and couldn’t stop running. 😉 After two years, I changed groups to Bram Wassenaar (and Han Kulker) at Leiden athletics. A great group with a high level of runners to learn from. 

What have been your favourite memories as a runner?

There are so many memorable running moments. For example two in my hometown Leiden and two abroad. In Leiden, I did win the famous ‘Singelloop’, a must do or win for runners born or living in Leiden. It’s not about the time, but just about the nice atmosphere and the title ‘queen of the Singels’ for one year. 

Another unforgettable run was my second prize at the half marathon of Leiden in 1:20:24, a little bit slower than my fastest half marathon, but with very warm conditions. I thought that I was losing so many time with the high temperature and that I could never compete for the prizes, but my competitors had the same problems. The best races are the one with surprises like these. 

Abroad, I ran the half marathon of Panama with a humidity of 95 percent. It went slower than in the Netherlands, but it was such an experience to start so early in the morning, to run with other Latin American runners (I was by far the tallest and just average in the Netherlands) and to be in the local newspaper with my first prize. 

Last but not least, a training in the mountains with very good memories. We went to Austria for a high altitude stage and somebody had the idea of running up the highest mountain in the area (Sölden). I decided to participate with some others. The view was incredible with snow on the top and I had never run uphill for almost 15k with a rise of 1500 meters. I will go back this summer.

What is your favourite course around Leiden?

It if difficult for me to say. I get bored easily, so love to vary the routes I run. In Leiden, I like to run along the canals ‘de Vliet’ and ‘de Zijl’. And of course, along the Singels in the city center. I also love to run in other places, from my work in Amsterdam for example, from a friend’s house in Utrecht and in foreign places. 

What do you regard as being the most beneficial session of the week?

I always need some time to get into the good rhythm. That’s maybe one of the reasons that I prefer long relaxed runs. On Sundays, I use to run in the dunes of Wassenaar/Meijendel with some running mates. I love the combination of nature, good trainings and chatting all the way (and good coffee afterwards). I enjoy training very much at LA with so many inspiring runners: Dominic Bersee, Amina Maatoug, Noah Schutte, Seppe van ‘t Westende and Maikel Stolwijk.

What are your main targets for your current training block?

Doing the hard yards with regular training partner, Michiel: photo by Erik van Leeuwen

I would love to run my first marathon in Berlin on the 25th of September. I’ve never run that far, so very excited to do this. I hope to reach the finishing line in under three hours. I’m not yet sure how I’m going to set my goals for it: whether to go hard or whether to use it as a testing marathon for another marathon next yet.  

JS’s PBs:

5K: 17:55
10k: 36:11
21k: 1:19:05


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