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Duinen Trail; Sand is not my element

I feel hot and empty, my legs feel heavy, I’ve sand in my shoes, and the guy in front of me is swinging his elbows so far back, he almost hits me every step he takes. I look at my watch. How far did we already run during this Schoorlse Duinen Trail? The answer is terrifying. Only a kilometer and a half. This is not going to be a good day. Sand is not my element.

The sand dunes are beautiful. The forest is beautiful. I can see it, I just can’t feel it. My legs don’t want to move. I don’t have the power to push. And the sun… why? Why now? Why burn like this? It’s October. It should be fresh, chilly, and rainy. Not hot. Seriously, we never had such a hot end of October ever.

 

Sand, sand and sand

I kind of knew it, but now I know for sure. Sand is not my element. Not my thing. Neither is starting a race directly uphill. I’m a diesel, I have to start slow, but there is no slow today. The loose sand is killing my legs, the sun is draining my energy. Why did I do this again?

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Worst of all, I left my headphones in our cabin. Sara did ask me if I wanted to bring them, I denied: “I’m just going to enjoy myself today, by looking at all the beauty around me.” Well, I don’t, and now I don’t have a podcast to quiet my mind.

The idea of leaving my headphones at home wasn’t so crazy. I did enjoy it here. This is day 3 running here in the Schoorlse duinen, with 53 meters the highest sand dunes in the Netherlands. The first 2 days were cool, but today? No. My legs feel like 50 kilos each. Why? Why can’t I run today? I know I should answer that question tomorrow, but my mind doesn’t want to be quiet.

 

How wrong was I?

Five kilometers in the race I take a gel. I haven’t been eating properly this week. Not for a race like this. Maybe I’ve taken this trail too lightly. After last week’s 26+ kilometers run, I thought this would be easy. How wrong was I?

The gel helps a bit. Or is it the coolness of the trees? I finally find my pace. So it was the food? We went out for dinner Thursday evening. A culinary highlight at Vandeijck in Riethoven, but not really a sports dinner. Friday I still felt full, so I didn’t eat a lot. To be honest, Saturday neither. Is that it? One gel and my problems are solved?

 

Heart rate

The answer comes two kilometers later, when my legs feel heavy again, and I’m struggling to get uphill and I can’t get my heart rate down. So, if it isn’t the food what is in then? I took it easy this week, didn’t I? I only ran with Sara. One week of hard training, one week medium, one week hard and one week of easy training. That’s my rhythm. It worked so far. Did I do too much? 30 kilometers in total is not too much, is it?

Or isn’t it the 30 kilometers. Is it the fact that I’ve been running Thursday, Friday and Saturday as well? Normally I rest 2 days before a race. This week not, because I’m training with Sara as well. Yesterday we ran 5.5 kilometers. That run felt good, but I have to admit, when we walked into town in the afternoon my legs felt heavy. Is that the same heaviness as I feel now?

 

DNF, Did Not Finish

The stairs in the Schoorlse DuinenAfter 40 minutes I give up. Not the race, just the struggle. I’ve never scored a DNF, Did Not Finish, and I’m not planning to have one behind my name now. But if I can’t run uphill today, at least I can walk, and run downhill and on the flats.

And that’s what I do for the next half hour. Run, walk, run and walk again. Where in the beginning everybody was racing past me, now I’m not the only one, taking it slow. Not the only one struggling with the sand and the sun.

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Slowly I catch my breath, and when we have to run up the same stairs as I did the day before with Sara, I notice it’s going easy. Somehow my legs start to feel better.

 

Refreshments

At the 12 kilometer point refreshments are awaiting us. I grab a piece of orange and a banana, take a moment to eat them and follow my way. My legs finally seem to respond. I keep walking uphill, just to be sure, but on the flats my pace is going up.

Shortly after passing the bird’s lake, I see Sara on the side of the path. I stop for a moment, for a kiss and a hug, then I’m off again, up a high sand dune that takes me to the beach. There I look for the shoreline. Most people keep running behind each other, where the sand is soft. I decide to find my own path.

The beach brings us back to the parking lot, where the finish line is. My last kilometers have been my fastest of today, and now the race is almost over. It’s not fair.

One more single track, one more track of loose sand, then I round the corner and run underneath the finish arch with just one thought on my mind; sand is not my element. No more sand trails for me. At least, not for a while….

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