I truly believe that sport and culture share strong ties. More precisely, that our own culture has an impact on the way and type of sport we practise. So many other factors have to be taken into account to define one’s relationship with sport, but I am convinced that the country we were born in and our cultural habits influence our standpoint and interests in sport. As an example, although team sports such as football or rugby are played and celebrated around the whole world, specific countries are known to be particularly good at it: Brazil, Italy or Spain for football, New-Zealand or Ireland for rugby. We can also count numerous famous national sports: Brännboll in Sweden, Field Hockey in The Netherlands, American football, etc.
Even though I appreciate the unifying power of team sports, I have never really been interested in practicing one of them. A couple of years ago, I have started to exercise more with running, and later on with fitness and gym. I found what I was striving for: the challenge of exceeding my limits. Seeing myself always improving, increasing my speed or the weights to lift, gives me a self-fulfillment feeling, and ultimately strengthened my everyday perseverance. Lately I was feeling bored during my workouts and needed a new challenge: I decided to subscribe to a half-marathon. I chose the NN CPC Loop Den Haag not only because it was the earliest one taking place, but also because it is the most popular in The Netherlands, gathering overall around 20,000 participants, from which around 9,000 for the half-marathon (there were also kids runs, 5K and 10K).
Such a big-scale event brings together an impressive mix of cultures and generations. I don’t know exactly how many different nationalities were represented, but I can guarantee that I heard runners speaking (and moaning through swear words) Spanish, French, Scandinavian, and of course a lot of English. Most probably many of them are living in the cosmopolitan country of The Netherlands, but it makes no doubt that some participants travelled just for this particular race. The elite athletes who ranked first (and broke the season record by finishing the race in 1:00:27) were competing for Kenya and Ethiopia (isn’t it also a cultural attribute that Africans are gifted for running and track & field? Only god knows what they have in their genes…).
Despite a changing and rather cold weather, the overall atmosphere of the event was cheerful and extremely international. So many people came all the way and were spread along the whole route to encourage the runners. All the elements were combined (plus some energy gels…) to get the full motivation needed to complete those 21.1K. I have trained really hard two months prior to the race and was planning on keeping a constant speed of 5:00/Km, thus finishing the race in around 1:45:00. I hardly believed it at the finish line when I realized I achieved this exact timing. I have never been so determined during a race. It took me 10K to catch and overcome the 1:50:00 flag, and was a bit lost in the crowd until the end without knowing my exact time. I arrived at the same time as people from all ages and backgrounds, and we all had different feelings: completely destroyed, more or less satisfied with the timing, or simply happy about the outstanding achievement. I was personally really excited to have met my goal, to be done (the last 3K were such a pain…) and to have taken part in this unique race.
I wrote unique because all installations and facilities fill in a big park of the city centre (Malieveld), the routes take you through lovely districts of the city up to the beach, there is a race for all-level runners, and the organisation is well managed. No wonder why it’s already the 42nd edition of the Loop Den Haag!
I soon realized that although running can be quite an individual sport, we are far from being on your own when competing with ourselves. We all came there with a different story: from a different background, with different goals, a different determination. But in the end, we were all united around the same passion.