Yesterday (8 April), it was finally time for the first marathon of the season. And what a marathon! I think the Hel van Groesbeek is perhaps the best marathon there is in the Netherlands, because the course runs through my favourite training area. In addition, "Hell" is also a great test to see how you are doing so early in the season. I was really looking forward to this race despite the rising nerves in the week before. How am I doing? How much progress have I made since last year? Will I achieve my goal of top 25 (52nd last year)? With all the time and energy that I put into training, I want to achieve something!
I am fairly at the front of the starting area, stylishly dressed in my new cXp clothes, chatting with some acquaintances. Every now and then I look around to see where my competitors are. I keep an eye on men like Freddie van der Schoot, Mark Baudoin and Anne van Leeuwen, who were 5 to 10 minutes ahead of me last year. The start goes well and after a bit of a tussle I find myself in a nice group with indeed Freddie, Mark and Anne, and also Maikel Govaarts (several times Dutch Champion XC with the Masters) and Roy Peters. I don't know the rest. I decide to stay in this group to see what happens.
It doesn't take long (around km 15) before I notice that Freddie doesn't have the best legs today, and mine are doing fine! That gives me confidence. I remain in the group but am already moving forward a little. A few minutes later, at the top of the 'Looi Piep' (that little rocky thing), my teammate Roy van Heeswijk (also known as 'Rocket Roy') is waiting for me. Apparently, Roy ran out of fuel quickly today, but luckily he always has a spare tank. Roy joins our group and we ride at a good pace towards the Grundig forest, the most difficult part of the course. There, our group starts to crack and I see that some of my competitors have to let go. Roy and I come through it fine.
At the pass through the start-finish, Roy takes the lead and switches up a gear. At that moment Roy Peters is still with us (if I remember correctly). I don't really know him but I know he was in the top 20 last year. During the second lap, he also has to let go. Roy and I pick up the pace a bit because the legs still feel ok. From that moment on, we are riding with two riders. In the beginning of the third lap we pick up Frank Molenaar who rides with us for a while, but eventually he too has to drop out. In the meantime, my father, who is somewhere along the side with fresh water bottles, tells me that we are in 17th and 18th place! Nothing special for Roy, but for me it's more than expected! On the long straights, we catch a glimpse of the group riding in front of us, but they are just too fast for us to follow. Now it is important not to fall still and to maintain our positions. This is easier said than done, because we are running out of fuel!
"Too bad there's lactic acid in those water bottles! Roy calls out to me. And indeed, the legs fill up quickly now. But knowing that I'm going to ride top 20 here gives me enough fighting spirit to bite through the pain. The third time in the Grundig forest I have trouble to keep up with my teammate Roy, there is a gap of I think 30 to 40 seconds. I throw in another Cup Red Xplosion energy booster and give on the long straight asphalt stretch next to the golf course another big boost! This way I can make up some time in the last kilometres and finish 10 seconds behind Roy.
My total race time was 4 hours and 52 minutes, good for a 20th place (8th in the 30+ category) as it turned out. My dad had made a small calculation error, but that should not spoil the fun! The Top 20 is full of marathon specialists, I am proud to be among them. Top 15 next year? The margins are getting smaller, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. I am already looking forward to it!