I had kind of figured that I was done getting flown at others’ expense to compete in races. But it turns out not! Last year (with no help from me) my club, Leiden Atletiek, won the Dutch championships for cross country running, and with this victory came an invitation to the European Club Champions Cup in Albufeira, Portugal. Each team is allowed up to one foreigner, and I have been running fast enough to help the team, so they brought me with. It is definitely interesting traveling with a team whose language you don’t understand to a third country whose language you also don’t speak. My Spanish – left over from high school – makes me possibly more conversant in Portuguese than I am in Dutch, but that is more commentary on the sad state of my ability to learn the language of my new home than a claim that I could get by in Portugal.
Anyway, I had some adventures getting to the hotel the first night, but eventually we got to race day. The course started with a 630 meter loop, and then had five laps of a 1820 meter loop, for a total of just shy of 10 km. About 120 of us started, ran 250 meters, and made a U-turn. I was definitely in the back half of the pack already, and just trying to relax while not ending up in last. We came through 630 meters in about 1:51, or 4:45 mile pace. I let myself slip back through the field a bit, trying to conserve energy for later.
I wouldn’t call the course hilly, but it had hills, and it was certainly challenging. It started with a short straightaway, followed by a U-turn, the inside of which was sand but the outside of which was grass. This was true of most turns on the course. After a bit of straight, the course made some gentle turns and then dropped into an artificial depression that had been dug out. About a two meter drop, five meters across the bottom, and then climb back out. Then up an easy but sandy grade, back down, up a meaningful climb with some sand, back down, and up a very short climb and back through sandy S-turns. Then over two artificial bumps and start over.
The tight turns made find a rhythm difficult, but I ran the first two laps well. I moved up a few spaces, and was on a decent pace. I slowed a bit from the first lap to the second, but less than those around me did.
Then I hit lap three. At this point, I still hadn’t figured out how to deal with the sandy turns. When I went wide to maintain footing, I would get passed on the inside. Try to take the best line, I would get passed on the outside. Work to accelerate through the turns, get passed late in the straights. I don’t know if I am just really bad at sand, or if I am not in shape, or I just had a bad day. But I was passed by many more racers than I overtook. I ended up 72nd out of 110 finishers, and 4th for my team (top 4 out of 6 scored points). My time was about 33:30; if there was a halfway split I probably would have been about 16 flat there.
On the other hand, the only other 40+ runner dropped out after one lap, so I can claim an age group victory…
Oh well. Next up: Rotterdam Marathon. I’m not getting any younger, and they don’t make courses faster, so it is time to set a new marathon personal best. Hopefully one I can be proud of.