After much waiting and little practicing, the running race Catherine signed us up for was upon us.
At three o’clock we convened at our apartment with Helen and Matthijs for pasta (fuel of champions), before hitting the (longer than expected) road to Gasselte, which is practically in Groningen, about 200km from Amsterdam.
Thankfully, the weather was very pleasant, clear and fresh. We wouldn’t be having any problems with rain that evening. And on cue at 18:19, the sun dipped below the horizon just as we were arriving, in time for sign in.
Race numbers allocated, we made our way to the errr, bar to get changed into our race clothes and decide on what configuration of clothing we would wear. That sorted, final adjustments to head straps for the torches and action-cam strapped into place, we waited for 19:20, our official start time.
Though of course, it wouldn’t be right without a picture first.
And with that, off to the start-line!
We went off into the woods, and quickly the group of 50-60 or so runners formed a single-file line, with a lot of dodging and weaving to avoid patches of deep boggy mud. It was pitch black in the forest and very very quiet. Not unlike the conditions I experienced with Matt here.
As you can see in the picture above, I did take the action cam with me, but apart from very few sections, it looks like a film made from the point of view of a blind person. I’ll cobble something together later on.
Nevertheless, running through the forest and at night is entirely magical. Unlike road-running, which you can pretty much do with your eyes shut, the forest floor is completely uneven, slippery and full of surprises. To get through it, a lot of concentration is required. This is easy in a pack, because the multitude of head-torches lights up the majority of the path. But when the pack thins out, you’re forced to look everywhere and really pay attention to what you’re running over. I actually found the experience really engaging. Loath as I am to claim I was “at one with nature”, I was definitely close to it. And when I say close to it, I almost mean that literally. When I let my attention slip, or looked at my watch, or tried to look at the scenery (or lack thereof) or see the night sky, I almost fell flat on my face. This happened more than once, until I learnt my lesson and just concentrated on where my feet were going.
After 7-8km through the woods, we opened up on what was once a sand quarry, and is now a lake surrounded by mountain bike trails. This is where things got really interesting, as the tracks weave about to make the most use of the space, and sometimes double back, meaning you’re actually running towards people until they veer off in another direction and you realise that they were on another track. This is also the section where the “hills” come into it.
At 20 meters high (and that’s me being generous), these hills were more a bump in the road than a major daunting force to be conquered. Still, they provided for some good scrambling, in the traditional trail running way, hands on knees to provide a bit of extra force. My usual cheeriness had me call out to my team-mates “UTMB here we come!!”, which was met by a resounding “F±*% you!”……I may have a bit more work ahead of me to convince them…..
The last three km or so plunged back into the woods, for the really soggy bit, where water seeps into your shoes, socks get really wet and the mud splashes commence. At this point I got separated from Matthijs and Catherine, so I upped the ante a bit to see how quickly I could plow through the terrain (turns out, not much faster than I was already going).
We rejoined the road, saw the marshall who told us we were at the end, but…surprise surprise, another marshall a bit further pointed us in the direction of the soggiest track yet, which had deep pools of cold water and squelchy mud do run through. Oh and a really slippery patch of mud on the final, sharp, corner which I think may have caught a fair few people out…
Finally, there was the finish, complete with drinks, sweets, crisps, and of course, liquorice (we are in the Netherlands after all). Final photo taken, breath caught up, and off to the most important part of any race, the bar for hot soup and beer.
I also made one crucial mistake. I left my normal shoes in the car, 700 metres away, and there was no way in hell I was putting my wet running shoes back on. So I did the only other thing I could do:
Thankfully, it was a very clear night and I could distract myself by looking for Big Bear and Little Bear, the only two constellations I know.
So trail running. Something for me?
Yes! 1000 times yes! It’s so much more exciting than road running! It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, you need to focus really hard and pay attention. Things that aren’t always a necessity in our automaton urban lives. A way to reconnect with nature? Definitely. An escape? Possibly. A great, healthy and fun way to spend your Saturday night? Absolutely. Will we be doing it again? Well…..
Thank you to Matt, for joining us in this endeavour. Congratulations to Catherine for completing her first ever foot race (not the first race I’d have chosen). And lastly, thank you Helen, for waiting, and doing all the driving, long after we’d fallen asleep!
PS: shame on you, McDonalds Hogeveen for not having a veggie burger, how were we supposed to feed our hardworking driver!?!?