I could say and so began the Sylvestercross, one of the most renowned cross-country runs in The Netherlands. In fact the Sylvestercross celebrated its 30th Anniversary yesterday. From talking to a few fellow runners, the run began as a gathering of the Athletic Club Pijnenburg with the real intention of doing something prior to tucking into a few beers and oliebollen. It is now on the international calendar and recognised by the Dutch Athletic Union. It also plays host to the National School Championships for Cross-Country Running.
So here was I in my first ever cross-country run. The day began “bloody” miserably – misty, cold, wet with that mizzle rain that is not really rain. Luckily for me I was not running until 3pm in the Presentation Run. By that time the weather had cheered up a little.
The Presentation Run is three rounds of 2,9 km and you can choose if you do 1, 2 or 3 rounds – the 3rd round totals 8,6 km. The terrain is “rough” and hilly. You run through woods and open ground, the latter quite sandy. I thought that it would be excellent training for the Egmond Half Marathon next week.
We had the pleasure of seeing the Prominent Men’s Race. It certainly provided inspiration and proved that, even in this weather, it was possible to run in shorts and a running vest!
We began in one huge mass – men & women together. I had no idea where I should stand. In a couple of my previous runs I had been too near the front and so started too fast. This time I hung back a little. I got chatting to a lady in mittens, a bobble hat and running jacket, “oh we walk the first round and gradually get faster…” umm this did not sound very ambitious. And then, “what time do you expect to do?”. I always try to set myself a target time (it is often subclaused by a “wish time” or would n’t it be great.. time) and I had difficulty with this one. The distance is strange – 8.6 km and the terrain is totally unknown. So I thought about my last 10 klm on nice flat land of 48 mins and thought – hopefully a bit faster – so 45 mins was the target. “That is fast…” said my new friend – I had no idea what was fast… The Prominent Men had run times of 30 something so I figured 15 mins a round should be doable….
As we set off it was clear that the parcours was not really designed for all these people to go off at once. There was a lot of crowding and we jogged over the start. The ground was AWFUL! To give them their due the organisers had done everything possible to make the run work. Over the entire course sand had been spread, so it was not particularly dangerous. the problem was that some 1300 people all wanted to run on the sand path.
I spent most of the first round concentrating on my feet and dodging round people slower than me without slipping and sliding too much. Short steps taking care to find sandy, muddy even slushy parts to avoid ice. There was a lot of queuing and I was slowed down to almost a stop on several occasions. I only thought that this would be good for my “not to start too fast” goal!
We were almost immediately plunged into a wood. Running between the trees, dodging branches, tress stumps and holes in the ground – quite fun – except for the ice! One particular part of course was slightly uphill and had three tracks that you could follow. Search, search, search but NO WAY could you find the BEST route because it just was not there!! Running round people was also treacherous so your really had to adopt the rhythm of the person in front of you and see, from their steps, how slippery the next steps would be for you.
So out of the wood and slushing over the down to begin the 2nd round. I started to allow myself to be irritated by the conditions. Body did not feel great. Could not work out why. Legs good. Breathing good. So what was it. Focus, focus on finding my own rhythm. Mmmm and yet another round after this….I felt as though I was going REALLY slowly but focus, focus – get the job done.
I somehow managed to run through this dip and had also created some space for myself. As I started the 3rd round the winner of the Men’s race was just finishing. The person beside me chuckled a bit – “we had better hurry up then!” I exclaimed. And so I did. It was if extra life had been pumped into me. I relished the lumps and bumps and snaking course. I knew where the “wheeee” bits were and the “hup, hup, hup” bits – as well as that slippery slimey part – that would also be conquered. I was almost sprinting and wondered if I was getting a bit too carried away. But no. I really did run and run!
Could not believe that as I bounded out of the wood with the smell of the finish in my nostrils two VERY slow men were taking the best part of the course. It’s a good job I am small as I dodged around them and sprinted towards the line. I heard my name – I guess that I was the only girls coming in at that time… – but wow! It felt great! The path to the finish was steeped in sand so a stumbled through to feel a shove in my back from the man hot on my heels – I carried on through – and crossed the line in bruto time 46 something – yes! yes! yes! that was AMAZING!
My husband had been standing by the clock and roughly estimated that my first round was c. 17 mins (WHAT!! sooo slow – OK next time closer to the start!) and my slow feeling 2nd round 15 mins – so much for my timing estimate. In the end my net time was 45,15 – just 15 secs over my goal – if I had not been held up….. well we will only know that next time!!
Conclusion: I would thoroughly recommend this cross-country running to every runner!