Last Sunday I ran the CPC, a half-marathon through The Hague. Its proper name is the City Pier City, alluding to the fact that the run touches both the centre of The Hague and the seafront at Scheveningen, although we never actually get to see the pier. I had been preparing for about a month, slowly building up my stamina from the usual six kilometres twice a week to something rather more demanding. I felt ready for it. Victoria insisted, in a gratifying sort of way, that I should have new gear and look the part. So two weeks before I had gone to the running shop to buy new shoes. They filmed me running up and down the shop with special camera’s mounted low within the cashier’s desk and watched the way my heel and ankle behaved as my foot came down on the ground. They made the computer draw little lines and discussed the issue amongst themselves with great dedication and eventually decided I should have neutral shoes. That too was strangely gratifying, although I had no idea what the alternative would have been. I was then given four pairs to try and I ended up with a really cool pair of Japanese running shoes covered with a kind of silver fishnet stocking with bright blue bits, holes in surprising places, hoof shaped heels and a dark yellow stripe on the toe. Then last week we went to another shop and bought black running gear: condom trousers with a seem running diagonally across my thighs and two light-weight, jet-black running tops, one without sleeves for underneath and the other with long sleeves for on top. I was all set. I went for a last preparatory run around the bird sanctuary beyond Leidschendam, and surprised myself with a cool 12 kilometres/hour sustained over 14 kilometres. As I said, I was all set. Some two weeks earlier I had received my body number, 6994, personalised with the name “Jacob” , which was proudly displayed on the Omani chest in the music room and fully charged with magic electricity. On the Sunday I left the house around one o’clock for the Malieveld where it would all be happening. I was given a suitable send-off by the family with the right encouraging noises and dynamic gestures. My colleagues at work Maarten, Loes and Naomi had said they would think of me, which I trusted they were doing right at that moment. I had carefully read about the course and the recommended preparations and so had greased my nipples and drunk lots of water and went on my way upon my bicycle, badly needing a pee. The Malieveld was transformed into a base camp for 33,000 runners and their support with tents and blow-up constructions and an eternally jovial voice of a man keeping our spirits well afloat. There were plastic urinal forests strategically dotted around the place of which I made good use. The weather was wonderful: sun, blue, nice and fresh, not too hot, a perfect day for the Human Race on the run. I spent some time casing the joint, watched the runners who had done the 10 km coming in, cheered them on and then gradually made my way to the humble and humbling section D for the slowest among us. The “Elite” section right at the front, full of Kenians and Ethiopians, was expected to complete the course within one hour! The miserable lot from section D was expected to run the course between one hour and 50 minutes and two and a half hours. It appeared that the others in section D had quietly moved themselves into section C and so I joined them stealthily, hoping for a small advantage. The crowd of runners became more and more dense and more and more excited. A truly deep smell of deep-heat permeated the air. All bodily parts were moving up and down and being stretched and jiggled. Many of the runners had incredible gear with watches and special pouches for smartphones and GPS systems, others were happy to run in their garden shorts. I felt a little self-conscious, a fifty-two year old ding dong in a black condom suit, but I brushed away these wearisome thoughts and concentrated on the job before me. Small conversations erupted here and there and would quickly fall silent again as everyone’s face turned to the front of this seething mass to a point some 100 metres further along. We heard a gun go off after which the man with the jovial voice reached a hysterical pitch. Off went the first group of runners, I could just see them in the distance, tiny little dots with moving parts, the “Elite” the “Sub-top” and “Section A” all rushed off; their life depended on it. We lesser creatures were now allowed to move forward and ten minutes later the second gun went off for sections B, C and…D. A loud energetic music accompanied us, but it was so crowded we couldn’t even start jogging until well past the starting line. However, everyone was excited and happy. People along the side shouted encouraging things, we waved to the cameras and slowly things started speeding up. We were off, full of beans, jostling and occasionally getting in each other’s way, but nothing to worry about. Thousands of heads and bottoms bobbing up and down in front of me. Bottoms of all shapes and sizes: pears, peaches, apples, prunes and currants, billiard balls, and meatballs, horses, busses, cows, bulls, and people with no bottom to speak of at all. Styles of running varied from ostriches to tigers, from horses to chickens and ducks, from gorillas to Labradors, from bulls to gazelles, from the mongoose to the elephants. And there was the aardvark. Now I don’t quite know what an aardvark looks like when running, but I suspect we would be soul-mates if I did. Of course I couldn’t resist it and started running far too quickly. I may be 52 but I too am filled with testosterone and cannot resist rivalry. 8 kilometres into the race we had all become silent, determined, all of us narrowly focused on the job, the long rows of supporters with bright open faces all of them wishing us well spread along the road were punctuated by short stretches where all was quiet except the extraordinary rainfall of running feet amplified by the acoustics of the street facades. That was beautiful. Quite near the beginning a rather lovely looking lady shouted at me “come on Jacob!” and, surprised, I said “ Oh Hi,” but then couldn’t place her for the world. It was only later when the same thing happened again, and again, that I realised people were reading my name off the shirt number. The name Jacob has a dubious role in Dutch culture, the phrase True Jacob (de ware Jacob) stands for Mr Right. So I was happily encouraged by all ladies who, for whatever reason, felt that this name had a special resonance for them. For my part I needed all the encouragement I could get. At 15 kilometres the man with the hammer struck with a single, uncompromising blow. The body simply stopped wanting to work. I slowed down drastically, even had to stop and walk. I had overdone it. At 18 kilometres I was feeling extremely sorry for myself. With just 500 metres to go all rational thought had left me and then Victoria and Rosie appeared as in a dream, as shining angels shouting and hooraying. Rosie began to run beside me on the other side of the fence and kept it up all the way to the finish, a shining guide in a white cardigan all the way to the stairway to the other world. I nearly cried. I was finished in all senses of the word. I received my medal, could just about hold it up for the camera and then grabbed a disgusting bottle of some sugary drink and was nearly sick. I cycled home a very old man indeed. Brilliant. Next year I am definitely going to do it again, don’t ask why, it lies too deep within the physics of survival.
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
copyright © jacob voorthuis 1994-2012
All written material on this page is copyrighted.
Please cite Jacob Voorthuis as the author and Voorthuis.net as the publisher.