A couple of sore-legged days have passed since nine CIEE students took the start line of the Dam tot Damloop race, one of the biggest races in Europe and the world. It was brisk Sunday morning, perfect running weather with a slight breeze, when 65,000 runners from all over Europe participated in the 30thanniversary of the Dam to Dam. With the first gun sounding off at 10:30 and our team’s starting time a short 5 minutes after, the ten miles seemed more unbearable than one could have imagined.
Having hardly trained (I only found out nine days before the run that I was racing because a spot had opened up), I undoubtedly felt intimidated by the thousands of athletes who wore matching shirts with their teammates intensely warming up. Ten miles seemed like a lot to me, considering I hadn’t ran that much at one time, let alone raced it, since my cross country days in high school. Nevertheless, the opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up, so I signed up and on Sunday morning I rode my bike anxiously to meet up with my CIEE team.
The nine of us took the start line together at about 10:15, chatting about how we just wanted it to start so we could get it over with it, while simultaneously competing over who of us was going to get come in last (thankfully the last group went off at 15:00, so it would’ve been quite tough to be the actual last person to finish the race). As our 10:35 gun went off, my usual cross country race-mode-adrenaline kicked in, and off we all went. What I didn’t know when I first ran away from the start line, however, was the beauty and camaraderie I would experience on this unforgettable ten mile trek from Prins Hendrikkade to the heart of Zaandam. Running cross country and track for four years in high school and always having a craving for long runs and races, I have seen a lot of trails and raced a lot of races in my life. But until the Dam to Dam race, I had never experienced so much magnificence in my surroundings and unyielding encouragement from bystanders I did not know. The second we came out the first tunnel that marked 2 kilometers, we were met with a band performing on one side, and cheering fans on the other. The constant chatter from the sidelines revitalized me, and was one of the main reasons I didn’t slow down the whole race.
We ran along beautiful stretches of water and green fields, with marching bands, singers, musicians, and DJs every half a kilometer. There was never once a quiet point in the race, which I found quintessential in helping me ignore my aching legs and tired lungs. The different types of noise flooding my ears every other minute also made the race go by incredibly fast and helped keep me from checking my watch every second.
When we weren’t hearing music, we were running through neighborhoods that looked like they could be in a fairytale—narrow roads with brick cottages that had streams running in front of them and a mini-bridge to walk on to get to the front door. All along these neighborhoods little children and their families were cheering at us in Dutch (I think) and although I couldn’t understand the big signs they made or their cheers, the inspiration and support was awe-inspiring. The amity I felt with everyone on the sidelines and the people running the race with me was enough to help me push through to the finish.
Although the last couple of miles were tough, the hundreds and hundreds of people lining the finish made it easy and worthwhile. Once I crossed the finish line and received a medal, although my legs were mad at me for the agony I had just put them through, I knew I had made the right decision in signing up for the Dam to Dam race. Once everyone on our team finished and we had all gathered together, we all had the same reaction of “Wow, we just participated in an once-in-a-lifetime experience, and although it hurt, we wouldn’t take it back.” A big thanks to CIEE for giving us the opportunity to partake in this one in a lifetime event!
Student Fall 2014