Running in Holland
By Gertjan Lahuis
About the Author:
Gertjan Lahuis started running in 2011 and ran his first marathon in 2012 in Rotterdam (3:14). He has completed 90 marathon/ultra’s in 38 different countries. He likes to do trail runs and to travel, so, it’s a perfect situation if he can combine the two. Two years ago, at the age of 42, he ran a personal best (2:58) in the Paris Marathon. He lives in the middle of Holland, next to National Park, the “Veluwe”, which offers him excellent training courses and hosts many trail runs. In 2017 he hopes to reach 100 marathons.
Running in Holland, what can I say about it?
First, I might have to explain to some people that Holland is not a province of the Netherlands or something like that. We use the terms Holland and The Netherlands interchangeably, but with both terms, we refer to the country in between England and Germany. Although the historical meaning of the two terms have some differences.
The geographical location is also a determining factor for many runners to come to Holland to run their personal bests in races. Especially the Rotterdam and Amsterdam marathons that are usually very fast marathons. Despite these world-renowned fast courses, they often the second choice of the top-runners of the world, as we cannot compete with the budgets of Berlin, Paris and London. But the temperatures are usually very good with about 15 degrees in spring (Rotterdam) and fall (Amsterdam). And what’s more, Holland is totally flat! Whereas I sometimes experience, when running a marathon abroad, the course is advertised as totally flat, but it’s more like a relative thing. For the city it might be flat, but there are still some small hills. Not in Amsterdam and Rotterdam! Well… in Rotterdam you have to “climb” the Erasmusbridge twice, but you can hardly call it a climb.
So, we held (and still have some) world records in running disciplines. Rotterdam has had the world record for the marathon distance for many years by Belayneh Densamo, running 2:06:50 in 1988. It would stand for 10 years. Of course, nowadays it’s not special anymore. But with second or third choice runners and very young talents, our two major marathons every year manage to have a bunch of runners finishing in 2:05 and 2:06. And it’s not as crowded as the Berlin/Paris/London marathon, so if you’re aiming for a personal best, come to Holland!
About other distances and races; just as in most other countries trail running is booming popular in Holland. We have many of them. Even though we don’t have hills or mountains (with the exception of a small part near the German/Belgium border in the very south of Holland, called South Limburg), we still have some beautiful trails. We have beautiful nature and race directors usually make the races more difficult to run through sandy courses, mud, dunes and artificial (small) hills. Many single-tracks through the woods and heathland. They manage to make the trail runs – even the long ones – 95 to 100% off-road. And if we really want to climb some higher hills, the Ardennen, a beautiful area in Belgium, is only half an hour across the border and offer many trail runs. If you’re into trail running, you should also try the ones on the small islands to the north of Holland, called “Waddeneilanden”. They are very beautiful.
Probably due to the financial crisis, running in general has become popular, because all you need is a pair of running shoes and go! So, if you’re on holiday in Holland, every weekend you will have at least 20 races within a 20 mile distance. The number of participants varies since popular trail runs usually have a maximum number of participants (around 600 for 3 or 4 distances) to protect the nature. In local road races in small villages, the number of runners varies from 100 to a couple of hundred. If there is some prize money, races will attract some more runners. And, as we have fast courses, we have some road-races with top world runners from Africa, usually preparing for big marathons.
We still have the world record for the 15km (okay, it’s not a popular distance worldwide), at the Seven Hills Road Race in Nijmegen. That says enough about the “hills” in our country, that a world record can already hold for 6 years on a “hilly” (the Dutch way) course. We also hold World Records on the road for the 4 miles distance (both men and women) at the “4 miles of Groningen”. Both races attract about 20.000 runners.
Entry for a race varies from about $5 up to $25 for road races for small distances (up to half marathon). For marathons you usually pay about $25-35, but for the big marathons you have to pay about $85, depending on how early you register. We even have some (at least 2) free marathons. For low-budget runners you can find marathons for about $15. And, although we are a small country, you can find almost every weekend a couple of marathons. From the very north of the country to the very south it will only costs you 3 to 3 1/2 hours by car, so distance is usually not a problem.
As Holland is a small but highly populated country there are many running-groups around the country. You can also become a member of an official Athletics Club, which makes you automatically a member of the Royal Dutch Athletics Union (KNAU) which will sometimes give you benefits like discounts on races. As a member, you can also buy ($25 yearly) a “race-license”, which allows you to start in front of the bunch if you’re aiming for a fast time or want to go for a good classification. Strangely enough, membership fees for both the running groups and Athletic Clubs don’t differ that much, you pay somewhere between $70 and $220. There are no races in Holland for which you need to be a member of the KNAU (except the national championships).
We also have a 100 Marathon Club for people who have run 100 marathons/ultra’s or more, or just planning to do this. They have more than 400 members (no membership fees). People from Holland and Belgium can become a member. They really have a great website with almost all races prefilled, so you only have to select the marathon/ultra and fill in some details like your time and bib number. It’s a very flexible site, as you can also see the results of other members from the club in the race you just added, or see details from all races run by members in general. We now have a bit more than 100 people who already reached 100 marathons. One important thing. The Club have limits to complete a marathon (5 hours for a flat one). If there is altitude or other difficult circumstances, limits can be flexible. So, walking a marathon will not get you very high on the list.
So, for fast times and beautiful trail-running (without serious climbing) I have one big advice: come to Holland!
Thanks to Gertjan for an interesting article about “Running in Holland”. It is one in a series of such articles and Maddog invites runners around the world to submit an article about running in their country. Please share your knowledge and experiences with runners from other countries!