Heuvelrugloop: Hilly home run

Do you have a favourite race?

I bet you do. Even if it does not immediately come to mind, you must have a race that is (metaphorically) written on the calendar in permanent marker. That race that trumps all others.

While you think about it, let me tell you about my latest half marathon, the Heuvelrugloop.

The Heuvelrugloop has something for everyone; from its flat 4.2 km run on paved roads, to its hilly half marathon over sandy trails.

It is beautiful, challenging and well organized. It is at the top of my racing list, but not because of the reasons I just mentioned.

I love it because it is the only race where I can entirely avoid the race porta potties. I can prepare at home (read: go to the loo obsessively) before I casually stroll out of my own front door to the start.

My house (pictured below) might even be slightly closer to the start than the official changing rooms and bib pickup (the blue tent). All other races pale compared to this convenience.

As you can imagine, I have a history with this race. The first time I did it was in 2015, long after I started running races in the Netherlands and even longer after moving into this town.

Among friends

My experience of running it three times is that when it goes your way, it feels fantastic. You end triumphantly on the village square while everyone from the running group to the neighbours cheers you over the line.

The first time I ran the 10 km in 57:56. I was overjoyed. It was one of my first 10 kilometers under an hour and my whole running club was there to celebrate my achievement.

On the other hand, when it is not your day, it’s can be quite brutal. Let say you run the 21 km and come in second-to-last: You are still met by dozens of acquaintances, except now everyone has had a couple of beers and make a point of telling how weary they have grown waiting for you.

Not only do I have a bit of history with this race, I also feel that I somehow have a score to settle with it.

I feel like I need to show the hills that I’m not easily intimidated.


Allow me to elaborate on the “hills” a bit. The race’s name, Heuvelrugloop, translates roughly to “Hill Ridge Run”.

The course doesn’t have hillS, but one big hill that the race organizers found 4 different angles to summit. It’s hard to tell from the course map, but some of the sections are repeated, so you end up doing the same pesky peak 6 times.

Getting back to the previously mentioned (hypothetical) “second-to-last in the race” incident: I was determined to show this race I am not one to back down from a bit of elevation.

Lone runner

As the day drew nearer, I began to realize that I would be running the race alone. While I knew some people who were running the 10 km, no one I knew was going to do the half marathon. In previous years I had a similar predicament but managed to run the first 8km with a friend and my husband until they had to turn left for the 10km finish and I continued to finish the half.

For this race that particular friend was overseas and my husband in line for ACL reconstruction surgery.  I was forced to run solo. While I had spent 8 weeks training with only the company of podcasts and upbeat power tunes, a part of me assumed the race itself would be a bit more social.

Imagine my utter surprise when another friend texted me two hours before the race. She decided to run at the last minute and had seen my name on the starting list. As luck would have it, I managed to find her just before the gun went off.

Rocky start

The race starts in town but almost immediately heads into the forest along a bike path. Since the 10 and 21 km races start together, this causes hundreds of runners to be funnelled together. I could tell my friend found the slower masses frustrating, but I was happy to warm my legs up a bit.

At the 3 km mark you start the first attack of The Hill. This road is a two-lane motorway with more than enough space to overtake others. My accomplice made use of this chance to pass as many runners as possible, while I hung on for dear life and tried not to breathe heavily while passing friends and acquaintances.

At 6 km we reached the highest point of the race. It was here that I realized I was making a mistake by trying to stick with her. I gobbled down a caffeine gel and stubbornly hoped the downhill would restore some of my energy.

Soon we reached the bottom of the hill and turned right to stay on the half marathon course. I would like to think that my caffeine gel kicked in, but more likely my comrade saw the terror in my eyes and backed off the pace a bit. Since we were not even halfway, I really appreciated going slower.

11 to 12 km takes you up the hill again and just as you think you are over the top, the race lets you do a U-turn so you can shuffle up the short decline you briefly cruised down. From here the course basically keeps going up until you reach the highest point for the second time. Then the final 3 km descends into town.

Tables turned

When I saw the 18 km sign, I was transformed into a horse who could smell its stable. I felt my feet become lighter and every step felt effortless. I was rearing to race down the hill as fast as I can. I looked to my side and saw the same dread I felt 10 km ago. While I had started feeling better and better, my friend had started having GI issues. She was feeling awful and we still had 3 km to go.

She had given me some slack before halfway, now it was my turn to back off the pace and hold back. Despite not speeding up, we still manage to pass runners in the last kilometer and even achieved a little sprint at the end.

Goal overachieved

I ran a 28-minute course PB finishing in 1:5o:58.

The race that threatened to be a sad solo affair unexpectedly turned into a social run filled with camaraderie and shared suffering. This was without a doubt one of my most epic and enjoyable half marathons to date.

As I was saying

The Heuvelrugloop is my favourite race.

The atmosphere is warm, welcoming and friendly. It is probably one of those races where people randomly befriend you in the porta potty queue (I say probably; I cannot confirm this first hand).

You know what I mean; it’s a race where strangers offer to take photos of you at the finish.

I recommend that you grab the permanent marker and make a giant cross in June 2019. Not only is this race breathtakingly beautiful and unexpectedly challenging, it manages to capture something of what it is like living in this stunning area of the Netherlands.

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