It was a Wednesday afternoon when I heard that my presence in Amsterdam was requested for the following Monday. Last-minute travel is always a panicked affair, but I still tried to see if I could find a marathon to run. As luck would have it, the Amsterdam Marathon was on the weekend I was in town, but as luck wouldn’t have it, they had closed their entries several weeks beforehand.
Undeterred I sent an imploring email to the contacts listed on the website, politely requesting a last-minute entry. As this is a ‘big city’ race with thousands of competitors, my expectation for a positive response (or any response at all) was not high. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise when I received a reply just over an hour later, stating that if I was willing to part with 69 Euros, then a marathon entry was mine.
A year after the Dutch summer sun beat me up, I was back in Amsterdam to speak at a conference. To satisfy my insatiable hunger for marathons, I was faced with a repeat visit to Leiden or a 150km drive to the extreme north of the Netherlands. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me… so the saying goes. I wasn’t going to chance another midday massacre in the middle of summer and therefore decided to head north to Leeuwarden, with just over 100,000 residents the largest city in the province of Friesland.
It is often very entertaining to read the English section of foreign marathon websites, which tend to be full of unintentionally funny translations. The Leeuwarden Marathon avoided this problem by having no English section. Google translate had not yet been invented, so this tested the limits of my rudimentary Afrikaans taal skills, as I had to translate what appeared to be Dutch text.
I managed to figure out the important details – like the race date and start time – and also that this was a pre-entry only race, and I had missed the deadline. I wrote a passionate, imploring letter to the organisers in my best Afrikaans to plead for a late entry, and a reply came back a short while later in English to say they would accommodate my petition.
If you ever want to run at marathon in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of summer in the middle of a heat wave, then the Leiden Marathon in South Holland is the one to do. European summers can be something of an oxymoron, but the organisers managed to time the 2006 edition of the race to be run in the middle of a genuine heat wave. Fifteen years later and I can still vividly remember the four-and-a-bit hours I spent slogging it out in the sweltering mid-30s, and this is still the hottest of the 241 marathons I’ve run (to date), even beating out the Two Countries Marathon in Musina for the honour!