Just a week after my last visit to Charleroi, I was back in grim South Belgium. This time I was on my way to the Netherlands, to run my first half-marathon. I thought I might as well do one somewhere reasonably flat so I was doing the CPC Loop in Den Haag. I got a train to Brussels, had an hour before the train to Den Haag and went back to one of my favourite cafes from the previous weekend for a quick coffee.
The next day in Den Haag I walked into town from where I was staying, and had a look around. The start of the race was at Malieveld, and hours before the start there were already plenty of people jogging around and warming up. It was overcast and quite chilly - not good waiting around weather, but pretty much ideal for running.
The start time approached, and I headed for the line. The CPC Loop is a huge event, with thousands of runners, and I found myself about three quarters of the way back down the field. The hooter went, and off we would have gone if there wasn't a huge bottleneck for us all to file slowly through. Ten minutes after the start, I crossed the line, and five minutes after that I was able to start running.
We headed out into the suburbs of Den Haag. There were a few spectators on the early part of the route, but soon it was just the runners and the road. The sound of pounding feet on tarmac was all I could hear. The clouds were slowly breaking up, and with the sun coming out I was looking forward to the first water point at 5km. I reached it about 25 minutes after I'd started running.
The course then took a turn towards the coast. The second 5km went reasonably quickly, and I was there in just over an hour. I wanted to finish in under two hours, so given my 15 minute delay at the start it looked like I might possibly be on for it. But I was starting to get a pain in my foot which was not ideal.
We reached the beach at Scheveningen with sun shining through a sea mist. By now, my foot was hurting a lot and I was having to slow down. I reached the 15km mark after about 1h40m, and by 16km I had to stop running for a bit. But once I'd stopped, I couldn't really get going again, and the last 5km were a painful mix of short runs and long walks. I reached the finish in 2h20 minutes.
I trudged back to my hostel, and earned the hatred of all my roommates by spending about an hour in the shower. My foot pain had been caused by my trainers rubbing on the joint of my big toe, which had never happened before so I don't know why it happened then. Once I'd managed to peel my sock off, I found less skin and more blood than is normally ideal. I thought it was probably time for a new pair of trainers when I got home.
The day after the race, I headed to Amsterdam. Arnold, who I'd met in Australia a year and a half earlier, was living in Amsterdam these days so I was meeting up with him. The hour had changed, so I had to get up at a savage time to make it to the capital by 10, and my post-half marathon fatigue was extreme.
We moved slowly around Amsterdam and saw a few of the sights, stopping for many coffees as we went. We passed through the Vondelpark, and if I'd have been on my own I'd have probably slept there in the spring sunshine for a couple of days.
I liked Amsterdam but with bruised and bleeding feet and aching muscles I thought I was probably not in a fit state to fully appreciate it. After only a few hours it was time for me to head back to Belgium for my flight home. We headed back to the station, took a quick free boat trip across the IJ, and then I headed off. It was a long slow journey back to Brussels, and then on to Charleroi for the fourth time in just a week.