CPC Loop den Haag / The Hague Half Marathon

The one target race in this year’s marathon build up. Despite feeling that I’d missed some quality since a good run at Stamford 30K I felt in good shape for a PB & flew out wit the intention of hitting 5 minute miles from the start which would bring me back in just under 66 minutes – more than a minute off my PB from Cardiff & a time I’d be elated with (Andy thought low 65’s, but I think the pills he’d been taking for a recent virus had gone to his head)!

We flew out on Saturday morning, & after a short train ride from Schipol we were soon checked in & out for a short 30 minutes & some strides. At last I felt pretty fresh & was reigning myself in through some good relaxed strides along a perfect trail/boulevard outside the hotel. A relaxing lunch in the sun & then an afternoon nap before hitting the local Italian for some proper carb loading! No romantic meal here, having bumped into Andy & Neil we managed to add them to our booking.

With it being a 2.30pm start it was a bit of a strange day, another short run in the morning for me, covering the first & last 1K & then a stroll into town for a simple breakfast. The atmosphere was steadily building already (10am) with a full programme of racing throughout the day starting with kids runs, a 5K, 10K & finally our Half! 30,000+ runners in total.

There was a separate area for elites, with drinks, food etc provided but with just two toilets for 50+ runners & no warm up area it wasn’t ideal. Luckily it was a warm day so it wasn’t such an issue. At around 2pm we were walked to the start where we were able to warm up properly. It was then elbows out time to battle to stay in the first few rows of the start with one side of the road reserved for just the Africans & a few Dutch.

It was a chaotic start, but after a few hundred meters we were into our stride & things soon spread out. After about 700m there was a left turn into the brunt of the wind & at that point I dropped into a group of 7-8 that seemed to be on about the right pace. After a couple of miles in this group I felt the pace was slowing slightly & there was certainly no cohesion within the group. Being unsure of the strength in the group, & also becoming frustrated by people not taking their turns on the front I decided to put my head down & push on to a group of three who were around 200m up the road. 200 meters doesn’t sound much, but working at 10 seconds a mile faster to catch them meant a long push over a couple of mile & a final spurt to latch on & take a rest for a mile.

That had been my plan anyway, especially having worked solo into the wind! Unfortunately it seems everybody racing was getting hung up on positions & was largely racing rather than working together. The group of 3 I had been chasing down had already tuned to 2 as one had dropped well off the pace. As soon as the remaining two noticed I was a new addition to the group the Norwegian (Rolf Steier) immediately pushed the pace & I went with the acceleration. That dropped the other runner (Irish I think) & it was the two of us racing all the way to the finish from around the 5 mile mark!

It was tough going from 10K as we’d been battling a strong wind pretty much from the start, so it was good to be racing to help remain focussed. I had settled into a rhythm after a few miles & had decided against checking my Garmin at any point. I felt good, & with Andy supporting on a bike we had updates at quite regular intervals.

The only slight incline was by the sea at around 15K although you certainly couldn’t call it a hill. Once we turned off the coast we were on the long (5K) stretch back to the finish which was almost straight. The wind was coming from the side now, & although slightly against us it was nothing too bad after what we’d encountered earl on! the last 5K was very much about racing each other & even the crowd (I have to say the support was very good throughout) seemed to be able to see that we were racing & took sides depending whose name they could pronounce best!

Although Rolf got a gap of 10-15 metres with just over a mile to go I was able to make that back up by the 20K mark & pushed on from there. The crowds picked up significantly within the final 1K, although I barely noticed until after the race! At the 20K point we caught a straggler who we had been targeting since turning from the coast (Henri Manninen, Flying Fin). This seemed to wake him up & he latched on to me immediately!

A final left turn & we were onto the final 300 meter stretch alongside the grandstands. I had no idea how close we were to breaking into the 65’s, however it was irrelevant as I had given it everything all the way & particularly through the final 2-3 miles. We raced off the final bend with the Fin getting a small gap that I was able to close to within 1 second at the finish.

66:05/21st for a new Personal Best by almost a minute. I was delighted, especially given the windy conditions & not feeling in top shape in the build up. As usual it was a quick turnaround after getting a drink & a change of top to run back down the course to cheer Jo in. A quick 1K with Neil who also ran well to just dip under 67 & then it was only another 1K before I spotted Jo! Running well & focussed I could tell from my watch she was on for a big run & after chasing her all the way to the finish (arguing with police officers & hurdling barriers to run along the canal at the finish) I couldn’t believe it when I saw she might sneak under 89 minutes! Finishing strong she did it, 88:56! So back I went to the 20K mark where I managed to cross the race to the right side & eventually get back to the meet area.

Link to Strava splits: www.strava.com/activities/266091299

Link to official race results: www.nncpcloopdenhaag.com/report-2015/race-results/

A brilliant day for us, & a race I’d thoroughly recommend for anybody looking for a well organised big city race with PB potential. The world record was set here by Wanjiru & today’s race was won in 59:20 by Stanley Biwott (I believe they were close to WR pace through halfway) – if only we’d had few rabbits to help take the wind through the first half! After getting changed we were straight off for a beer/prosecco in the sun, then to the hotel to freshen up & out for more beers & two huge steaks – just what was needed!

There is also a 5K & 10K, each race having several waves to ensure it isn’t too congested at the start although it was still pretty tight towards the front! Good value race entry, easy connection from Schiphol airport, reasonable priced hotels, good bars & restaurants & less than 3 miles to the beach! All being well we’ll be back.

We stayed on for a couple of nights, with Monday morning’s recovery run being a VERY easy pace up to the sea & back. Monday’s celebrations were finished with an excellent meal at a recommended local seafod restaurant – Les Ombrelles. Perfect!

After a couple of easy days it’s now back to London training & the final push towards our respective targets there. There’s going to be some hard work to come in the next few weeks!

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