It’s been a goal of ours to do an Amsterdam race while we live in the Netherlands (we’ve done others in the NL—CPC in den Haag and the Zevenheuvelenloop in Nijmegen, plus Tim did the Leiden Half and something in Rotterdam). With the half marathon (and the full marathon) sounding a little too ambitious for this fall, we registered in March for Dam tot Dam, a 10-mile September race that sells out the day it opens. (This was my first time online-queueing to register for a race! It’s stressful!)
After a week+ of more or less constant rain, and the first days where I saw fur-trimmed coats at the train, summer seemed to shake its falling fist one last time this weekend. Race day (yesterday) was cloudy, but rain-free, hovering right around 20 C. Suddenly Raceday Eve involved not questions about running in a raincoat, but about hydration and keeping cool on the course. I ran in shorts, and let me tell you, I don’t run in shorts unless I am absolutely certain I won’t be cold.
Dam tot Dam is large, in that Dutch race style that has been the bane of my running existence at events like the recent CPC. Literally 55,000 people ran yesterday, according to my race emails, and the waves went on for hours: elites, business-run corporate teams, and then us regular folks. One of our Dutch friends kind of pooh-poohed Dam tot Dam when we mentioned it, implying that any Dutch person who’s ever gone out for a jog will sign up for Dam tot Dam. Well, let me tell you:
I am one of those people, because I loved this race.
Dam tot Dam was the most fun I’ve had at a race in several races. With the music, spectators, and overall festive vibe, it was more like what I’d imagined a Rock and Roll would be when we did the (devoid of all spectators) Edinburgh Half. The one-way Dam tot Dam course began just beyond the Centraal Station in Amsterdam, and finished in Zaandam (way too far from the station in Zaandam). I waited in my running pen at 2:30 looking up at the canal houses on the Prins Hendrikkade and marveling about how every building in Amsterdam is different, and knowing to raise my hand and cheer when the announcer asked who was running the race for the eerste keer. I remembered to hit “start” on my new Garmin when I finally funneled through the starting gate. We were off.
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s still true: I love kilometers. I train in miles, and so when that first or second kilometer mark pops up in a race, I get so excited. In this case, Dam tot Dam evacuates central Amsterdam pretty quickly—the course disappears right away into the Ijtunnel. Just before we passed into the tunnel we went under NEMO, where people were outside cheering on the runners. Inside the tunnel a percussion band was playing and the beat was echoing everywhere. Racing is awesome, I was thinking. Then I wondered if maybe my problem in races is that I get my runner’s high in the first ten minutes (?).
In an unexpected wrinkle, my Garmin lost its signal in the tunnel, and we were in that tunnel for a while. It was hot in the tunnel, and I wasn’t sad to come out of it. From this point on there was an ongoing math problem in my head, because my watch was counting miles, and it had lost some ground in the tunnel. The race had kilometer markers, and I knew I should be able to figure out based on those how many miles I was at…
I don’t really do race math.
And I don’t run with a camera, but if I were to do a race with one, this would have been a winner. Even without it, the race is like a series of snapshots in my mind. We popped out of the Ijtunnel around 2k, and immediately people started peeling off to pee along the side of the course. We quickly came into the neighborhoods of Amsterdam Noord, which were really fun. There had been thick crowds at the start of the race, and there would be thick crowds at the end in Zaandam, but in the middle we ran through a lot of neighborhoods. Residents had strung colorful Dutch flags (I think of them as the Hoera! flags) across the streets and people were out having parties in their driveways and outside pubs. Kids were waiting to high-five runners (I always high-five kids if I can) and a fair number of people were offering their own water stands, which was great, because this race was warm.
I was sweating quite a lot by the time I cleared the tunnel; and from about 3km, water was seriously on my mind. I want to personally hug every spectator along that course who set out a hose or sprinkler. When I saw the first one, I did the Jersey Slide across about 25 runners to make sure I got under that cold water. Those hoses were life-savers, although I was a bit intimidated by the one woman who seemed to have a fire-department-force hose… and the really happy guy with the Super Soaker.
Around 6k a big unleashed dog wandered into the race. I was not pleased by this and had to run faster. Shortly afterward I realized I was running a little ways behind a guy in a bear suit. (I can’t even imagine how hot he must have been.) I had to pass him, although it took me a couple kilometers to do it. You can’t get beat by the guy in a bear suit.
A variety of people with signs, stereos, or impromptu bands kept the course interesting and gave the middle of the race a really fun atmosphere. I even saw a woman painting her impressions of the race on a huge canvas, while all the neighborhood kids watched. (These fans must have all taken Run Like a Girl’s spectating course!) Of course, I was in a pretty late wave, so some of these people had been yard-partying for half a day by the time I got there.
I don’t know how much of it was mental, the product of a good day and a fun course, but I felt great during this run. I kept thinking that I must run out of steam soon, but I didn’t. I kept ticking off those kilometers, and was pumped when I crossed to the double-digits. When we came into Zaandam, I was amazed by how thick the crowds got along the route. (All along the course, even though I didn’t think any of our friends were there, I scanned constantly for anyone I might know! OK, and a couple times I waved to strangers for the heck of it.)
During the very last stretch of the race, maybe 1-1:30, I raced some guy. He was running alongside me and we both seemed to still have some energy so I dared myself to try and stick with him. At the very end he pulled ahead, but high-fived me after we crossed the finish (during those crucial 10 seconds where you decide if you’re about to heave on the ground or not).
Victory pizza has rarely tasted so good! Of the Dutch races we’ve done, I’d recommend this well over CPC den Haag, particularly for the attractiveness of the course— as well as the crowdedness factor. Even though Dam tot Dam was huge, I never felt as trapped in the pack as I did in CPC. Zevenheuvelenloop had a very pretty course (more rural) but less fan support and interesting things along the way.
Plus, look at this crazy building in Zaandam, which we passed on the way to the station! It was a hotel. Along this whole stretch of faux-traditional Dutch buildings, I felt like I was in Disneyland. Or maybe I’d passed by one too many race-side parties…