De Zestig van Texel 120K – 2015 race report
4.00am and I’m leaving a hotel in the dark on an island off the coast of Holland. It was pretty chilly and my stomach was at its limit after the food assault that commenced from 2.15am when my alarm woke me from that familiar disturbed pre-race sleep. I was in Texel to race 120KM around the island and back – an event that’s been running for over 25 years and one of the best in Holland.
I’d been on the island for a few days, staying with some very friendly people in Den Burg. The race organiser had kindly arranged accommodation for me and it made for a very pleasant few days, being part of normal day-to-day life. On arrival at the harbour I had been shown a couple of parts of the course en-route to my ultra ‘foster home.’
On the Saturday I attended a premiere of a short film on a Dutch ultra-running legend whose life had clearly had an impact on so many – Jan Knippenberg. He will always be remembered for his incredible run from Holland to Stockholm and it was clear his family and friends were still very proud of the enormous achievement. Whilst the film was in Dutch it was inspiring to watch and to think about the barriers Jan was breaking by doing something so audacious. The film really put me in the mood for running and I’ve thought about it a lot since I was first told of his story a few days earlier when I stayed a night on the mainland with Ton Peters. Each of the 120K runners would be accompanied by a cyclist for most of the route and Ton had kindly volunteered to be mine. I ran with Ton on the Friday on his local trails before he dropped me at the ferry that would take me to Texel.
The start was cold and I had flashbacks of Trans Gran Canaria only a month before where I’d started the race wearing too much due to standing around in the cold wind. Not this time. Shorts, top and gilet meant I was still cold but would be fine when I finally got moving. No big fuss at the start-line and we were released at 04:35. Head-torches were needed as we started off with a couple of laps of a sports field before joining our cycle support and heading out of town towards the coast.
After about 10 mins with no-one else in sight, Ton spoke “It’s going to be a long lonely day” his way of pointing out that it wasn’t exactly the plan we had briefly discussed the night before but we both knew it wasn’t a reckless pace. So that was it – I was committed now.
When we got to the coast and headed north it was still dark, and would remain so for the next few hours. The wind picked up and it started to drizzle as I fixed my sights on the lighthouse miles away in the distance. With the wet weather, wind and darkness it felt for a while like I was running at home in Scotland. Ton and I chatted now and again – I knew from the time we’d already spent together that there would no pressure to talk but it was nice to have company. The man knows what’s involved in running and racing long distances and it felt like a team effort right from the start.
Navigation wasn’t straightforward in the dark and a couple of times we had to retrace our steps but fortunately nothing far off-track. I was just glad that I didn’t have to worry too much about directions for once.
When we finally reached the lighthouse we turned south and along the west coast where we’d cover some trails and the first beach sections of the race. It was nice to take the head-torch off when the sun came up and the trails felt good as we cruised along.
Before I knew it I was picking up a hand-held bottle and saying goodbye to Ton as I headed onto the soft sand for the first of 4 beach sections. I’d meet him further south before a few miles of road and the long second beach section. The sand was softer than I’d hoped but the wind was behind me and I made relatively good progress. Coming over the dunes I could see Ton and he had some food options ready. We moved on quickly along miles of quiet forest road before saying good-bye again for a much longer stretch of beach. This was tougher than the first section and you had to choose your pain – soft deep sand with a more direct route or firmer sand near the shore that was visibly longer. There were some flags on the beach when it opened up into a large bay which at least offered me some reassurance that I was still on-course. After another 20 minutes I was glad to see the flags lead off the bay and onto the dunes. The dunes were slow and sapping. I reached Ton and we headed down the trail and onto the road for another 5K before reaching the turnaround point at 60K.
They were still sorting the timing mats at the most southern point of the course and I dropped a few seconds squeezing past the chip people (which would be used for the 60K race and relay, setting off a little later). We reckoned I had a gap of about 8 mins from 2nd and 3rd (Daniel Oralek – a sub 7 hr 100K runner and Pieter Mans – the dutch favourite). Pieter was the first we saw with Daniel close behind and it didn’t look as if I’d increased my lead across the first 2 beach sections. I really couldn’t afford to ease up at all and I felt the pressure as I headed back across the sand dunes onto the long beach – this time with a strong headwind. It was tough. I felt like I was going backwards despite my efforts and I was worried that I might be losing my lead. I was relieved to get off the beach and as I got back onto some firm ground and moved with some pace I started to recognise the area – but there was no Ton and after a few more minutes and debating with myself on what to do, I turned around and headed back to the beach. I was sure Ton had said I’d come off the beach at the same point but I knew the organisers had added a couple of kilometres on the return leg somewhere for this year’s race. It must have been here. I headed north again and kept my eye on my watch and came off further up the beach and over the dunes. Not entirely sure if it was right but I eventually saw some flags marking a trail through the woods. Panic was over the minute I spotted Ton drinking a well-deserved coffee.
I had no idea what this had done to my lead and the confusion went off-the-scale when I left Ton for the last time towards the final 5K of beach. Over the dunes I spotted 2 x runners coming towards me. It was Daniel and Pieter. WTF?? my only reaction. We stopped for a few minutes and chatted about what had gone wrong. I was heading towards the 4th section of beach and they hadn’t come off the 3rd section, through the forest and into the checkpoint. No-one was really sure what to do and we chatted for too long. Eventually they headed off back up the path (in the wrong direction) and I moved onto the final section of beach. I had no idea where this left me and I hoped that it wouldn’t affect the outcome too much.
Back on the path I spoke to Ton about what had happened as the wind continued to blow head on. I was still in front so it was head down and push on back towards the lighthouse where we’d turn south again with what we hoped would be a tailwind.
Throughout the whole race I’d had the course record in mind. The first half of the race had gone to plan, turning round at 60K in just under 4hrs 30. But with the headwind on the beach, taking a wrong turn and stopping to chat about directions it was going to be extremely tight.
We talked about it as I tried to maintain a good pace. The beach sections had taken a bit of a toll on my hips and there was a fair amount of tightness and pain. With 20K to go I was trying to work out in my head what I needed to do and at that point Ton confirmed that the record was actually 3mins quicker than I thought.
I pushed hard but my pace had dropped and what was easy going for 70K+ was now difficult to maintain. Ton slowed for drinks when I needed them and I tried to get some additional energy into me for the final push.
With less than 5K to go I think we both felt I wasn’t going to make it but I pushed on anyway. I suspect Ton didn’t want to pressurise me as he could see how hard I was working and that the smiles and relaxed running were now nowhere to be seen. I probably just needed a “dry your eyes and move your ass” but I guess that might have resulted in some colourful scottish language in response. Who knows!?
I ran as hard as I could in the last K but as I couldn’t see the finish I wasn’t convinced that I was nearly there as my watch said I’d already covered the distance. I sprinted to the line but missed the CR by 46 seconds. The crowds at the finish were fantastic and I should have been happy about the win but I felt like I’d let people down by a measly 46 seconds.
My ultra ‘foster-parents’ Gerrit and Betsie were at the finish with a bunch of flowers – I was so chuffed that they had come out to see me and it made the finish really special.
Daniel finished in second place about 35mins back with 3rd going to the talented Christiaan van Meurs.
So that was it bar the recovery. I really enjoyed the race – a new challenge is always refreshing. The people of Texel were incredibly hospitable and kind, making me feel very welcome and relaxed. I’m hoping they’ll have me back – I have unfinished business.
Huge thanks to Martien Baars (race director), Jan-Albert Lantink, Gerrit and Betsie who kindly invited me to stay in their home, all the friendly people around the course and Daniel, Pieter and Christiaan for a competitive race.
Finally I’d like to thank Ton Peters – my team-mate for the day / host / room-mate / navigator / drinks man / training partner / advisor. Meeting Ton was worth the trip alone. He has such a genuine passion for the sport, a wealth of running experience and knowledge and an obvious love of the mountains and the wild. He’s a real inspiration and I’m lucky to have spent some time in his company.
- Shoes: Pearl Izumi EM Road N1
- Socks: Feetures Elite light cushion
- Handheld bottles: Nathan VaporMax+ and SpeedDraw+
- Hydration: Osmo Active hydration
- Nutrition: HoneyStinger waffles and chews, bananas
Visit www.paulgiblin.co.uk for distance running support.