Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 139, March 2021 | Page 25

You might think that I was trying to show off my assets , but this was the only pair that the Sweat Shop had in stock at the time – and patriotism trumped my bashfulness .
Nearly home in Leiden
And so it was , caked in salt from evaporated sweat and wearing pants that were small enough to make David Hasselhoff blush , that I was able to leave a lasting ( and hopefully favourable ) impression on the late afternoon commuters lucky enough to see me parading through Schiphol Airport . Anything goes in Amsterdam , but this was one of the few occasions when I did wear my marathon medal around my neck to hopefully offer a visual explanation of the strange sight I presented in one of the world ’ s busiest airports !

Dutch with a Difference

Breaking New Ground
With my entry secured , the next challenge was safely navigating myself halfway across Holland in a manual rental car , driving on the wrong ( that ’ s the right ) side of the road . It is amazing how versatile third gear can be , and I arrived without incident for the 10:30am start . They had over 3,000 runners taking part in the various events – there were also half marathon , 10km , 5km and 3km races – but less than 300 of these were for the full marathon . ( I found out later that this was the first year they had added the marathon distance to their running festival , and it was dropped after 2010 due to lack of demand .)
It was another double-lapper , so this meant that the second half was quite lonely , although there was quite good support along portions of the route . I really don ’ t know what it is about the Dutch and double-lappers – it seems that it is impossible to run a single-lap marathon anywhere in Holland . ( Or Pretoria .) And of course , the course was flat … in fact , it was so flat that the only deviation in altitude was the occasional dyke crossing .
Marathon van Leeuwarden , 9 June 2007
Well worth the trip !


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 .
Despite my previous experience of getting fried in Leiden the year before , I couldn ’ t help but snigger at the large amount of website space the marathon gave to “ What to do if the temperature gets over 20 o C .” ( At least , this is what I translated from , “ Er wordt zondag een temperatuur van boven de 20 graden Celsius verwacht , welke maatregelen zijn genomen ?” to mean ). However , the joke was on me , as I struggled through the last 10km with the temperature pushing the high 20s and with more humidity than you would find in a rickshaw-puller ’ s jock strap . I did manage to cool down about four kilometres from the end , when I took a refreshing dip in a dyke before grinding out the last few kilometres .
Less Than Complimentary
Relaxing with a beer back in my Amsterdam hotel lounge after the marathon , I asked the receptionist what Leeuwarden is “ famous for .” Her immediate reply was a curt , “ What do you want to go there for ?” The Dutch are normally very courteous , so I explained that I had already been there earlier that day to run marathon . After making some derisive remarks about the “ north ” of Holland ( although she has never been there ), she concluded her tirade with , “ they speak another language up there .” I ask what language they spoke “ up there ,” as it sounded pretty Dutch to me , and the reply was Dutch , but with a different accent , so she said she “ can ’ t understand them .”
This intrigued me , so I did some follow up investigations with other members of the hotel staff . It turned out that the people of Friesland do indeed speak a different language , rather imaginatively called Fries . However , no one , including a couple of hotel staff members who hailed from the “ north ,” could explain how this was different from traditional Dutch ( and both “ northern ” staff members were very forthright in stating that they did not come from Leeuwarden itself ). The best definition I got was that Fries is a “ combination of Dutch , English and German .” On reflection , this was probably why my pseudo-Afrikaans email was understood .
I found Leeuwarden pleasant and picturesque , and the people friendly . However , when I asked the Amsterdam establishment , “ What is Leeuwarden famous for ?” all I got back were coy smiles and euphemistic remarks . It was surprising that a city just over an hour ’ s drive from Amsterdam could have evolved a completely different culture and language that the rest of the country seemed to be ashamed of . After all , Leeuwarden is only as far away from Amsterdam as Springs is from Johannesburg …
Run-tourist in Leeuwarden