I’ve been so lucky to run in some amazing places, and taking parts in local races is one of my favourite ways to get to know somewhere. You see so much, and you get a real taste of the culture running alongside locals and experiencing the atmosphere! It’s awesome, and something I reckon all runners should try at least once, especially if the race is a bit of a party, and Grachtenloop is definitely a big party!
I always feel really at home in Holland. Maybe it’s because the weather is a bit like the UK. Maybe it’s because I can identify with a culture that puts an emphasis on chips, mayo and beer. Maybe it’s because the people are friendly, kind and open. Whatever it is, I love visiting Holland, and now I love running in Holland! Probably just as well, given I’m an ambassador for a brand which has it's European office just outside Amsterdam!
Grachtenloop is an annual fundraising race held in Haarlam (home of 361 in Europe!), a small town just outside Amsterdam and on the coast of Holland. It’s a gorgeous place. Canals cut through the neat streets, there are pretty squares and people leave their bikes out on the street without a care (something that would never happen in London). The course loops through the streets and along the canals, past locals cheering out of windows, having picnics on the street or simply cycling along going about their business. It’s the perfect way to observe Dutch life.
A whole host of races were on, from a kids race through to the 10k that I took part in, and the town was buzzing! There was so much energy, it just fizzed through me and I definitely forgot how sore my legs were after a day of hiking and how tired I was after a long journey from Geneva. Plus I wasn’t just in town for this race, the whole weekend was about 361 Europe Ambassadors meeting up and getting inspired to - let’s be on brand - go beyond expectations, and oh did it work!
Right at the moment my training is focused on strength training, so I’m not running mega miles, and after hiking my legs were not totally up for speed, so this race was all about repping the Backpackers and hitting party pace hard. I ran the whole thing with Laura, and it was a great excuse to catch up, have a natter and really enjoy the run, taking in everything Haarlam has to offer. I bang on about it a lot (poor Laura knows, I gabbed her ear off about it for half the race), but I really love a bit of easy running. Running that makes you feel good. You don’t always have to be pushing yourself, and what’s the point of running if it feels like punishment? This race definitely was not a punishment, it felt good. Yeah my legs were a bit heavy, and I did have a little groan when I realised we’d not even run 2km, being on the headline sponsor’s team means you get put in the first pen. With the fast people. So you get carried away and put too much in. However we did pulling back, easing up on the pace, sticking to nose-nose breathing (my preferred approach to regulating my pace) and just enjoyed the ride.
One of the best things about running in a place you don’t know is that if the race is a couple of laps of the same route it doesn’t matter, because you’re never going to see everything on your first lap, so you’re not going to get bored. There were whole streets during the second lap that I could’ve sworn we’d not seen on the first. I’m sure we had, I didn’t get the sense we’d strayed from the course! The Dutch are quite into their cobbled streets, which are super pretty, but also really hard on your feet! I ran in my 361 Spinject shoes, a responsive neutral shoe that also managed to hold my foot securely while I navigated those annoying (but very pretty!) stones. It’s a little firmer than many of the running shoes I wear, but that helped me navigate the uneven surfaces more confidently while also staying nimble on my feet.
About an hour before this race I wasn’t sure if I’d run it. My flight was delayed, then I couldn’t find my taxi and then ended up in traffic for what seemed like forever. I was feeling pretty ropey, but as soon as I was out the taxi and with the team I knew I could do the thing. The energy was buzzing, everyone had each other’s backs and suddenly everything seemed within my grasp! I went on to have an amazing race and came away feeling absolutely brilliant! It’s amazing what community can do, and this race was the perfect way to celebrate the start of my relationship with 361 Europe. I can’t wait to go even further Beyond Expectations.
* Thanks to 361 Europe for supporting me to take part in this race, and in all my adventures as a runner. As always, all opinions are my own*
*All images 361 Europe by Max Wilcocks *