“Come on, hurry up, we are leaving in 4 minutes” shouted The Hubster just before 7am. The small regional airport is only 15 miles away, but apparently we need to leave 3 1/2 hours before the flight, just in case we hit traffic. I’m not driving, it’s his trip, so I let him get on with the timings for things. I just nod, and 5 minutes later than planned I’m ready to go.
Today feels a little odd…we are off to Amsterdam for a few days. The land of the bicycle, and yet bikes are not the main feature of this trip. This weekend is all about running….The Amsterdam marathon to be precise. The Hubster, who has been sporting a knee injury for months, was hoping to be fit for the marathon, his first since his little run across the desert (Marathon Des Sables….yes we are both bonkers). Unfortunately, the injury took longer than anticipated, so he downgraded his run to the 8k instead. He gets to run, and that’s important. For me though, it’s just a jolly in Amsterdam, a city that I love.
We pick up Clare and Darren on the way, and arriving at the airport with over 2 hours to spare, settle in for breakfast, and to wait for the rest of the running group we are flying with.
I like flying, every trip is the start of an adventure, and always pick the window seat. I’m not a thrill seeker naturally, but love the feeling when the plane takes off and the world below gets smaller and smaller. The bigger the plane the better, but this is a short flight, so a small plane. We fly along the patchwork landscape of the south coast, and from the window, the rivers glistening in the autumn sun, all spread out below us, like the fine fibres from tree roots, with the Thames as it’s massive trunk.
Before we knew it, we touched down in Schiphol Airport just outside of Amsterdam. The airport is massive, as befits a European capital’s airport, and very efficient. I became separated from the group, so headed off through customs to get our bags. We haven’t quite left the EU yet, but with a marathon this weekend, the queues to get through passport control were huge. I spotted an empty queue, labelled EU passports, and headed straight to the passport booth. Less than a minute and I was through. I suspect it will take me a lot longer the next time.
The train station to the centre of Amsterdam runs right from the Airport, so our transfer was straightforward. After purchasing a 5 day transport card (covering bus, metro and trams) we headed off to our hotel.
The hotel boasted a view from all rooms, and we were lucky to get a 9th floor room….so we certainly got a view. After a quick change, we headed over to the Marathon Expo, and met up with the rest of the group for the afternoon and evening. Myself and Darren were a little underwhelmed with the running Expo if I’m to be honest. After all, other than trainers, gels and running clothes, it’s not like there’s much new to buy. Go to a cycling expo, and all the latest gear is on show, along with displays of all those bikes that you’d like, but will never buy because your husband/wife/significant other would probably leave you. I mean, last time I went to the Ride London Expo, I got to sit on Bradley Wiggins throne.Nothing quite like that here.
For about a week before the trip I had been dealing with a niggle of a back muscle in spasm. Walking around and cycling was generally releasing it, sitting still or lying down made it worse. In view of this, I had been continuing with most of my normal training sessions…strength work, turbo sessions, and short rides. During each activity I felt like my body was back to normal, and then after a day at work (sitting mostly) it would just spasm back up, and only getting up and wandering around the office would get me mobile again.
Although I was dreading all the sitting around on the journey, I was hopeful that by walking around the city it would start to sort it out. On that first day, walking around the city, painkillers, and a few drinks in the evening relaxed everything nicely. I slept soundly and all was good.
Day 2 – I woke up and felt very stiff. Clearly I had overdone it on the walking front yesterday, and my body was paying the price. With Darren and I being cyclists, we had decided that day to head to the Rapha store….isn’t that what everyone comes to Amsterdam for?? It was in a nice area anyway that I wanted to explore, so we jumped on a tram and headed off. Christmas presents were chosen, coffee and Dutch apple cake consumed, and the rest of the day was to be an adventure.
With no specific plans we planned to wander around & soak in the atmosphere of Dutch weekend life. As we started to meander, I found myself having to cling onto the Hubster more and more. Every uneven cobble, or slight misstep sent me into a contorted mess, with a searing pain shooting across my back. I clearly couldn’t continue like this, and so we left Clare & Darren to do their own thing whilst we hunted for a Pharmacy in search of stronger painkillers and anti-inflammatories. On the way back, we passed a Chinese Massage parlour….a pretty good one it turned out, not a dubious one, and an hour later I felt more comfortable than I had done in a week. Hoping that this lovely Chinese woman had ‘fixed’ me, off we went to enjoy the rest of the day. Food, drinks, more food (including the mega waffle) and we wandered aimlessly through the streets from earlier until it was time to return to our hotel and meet up with the others.
Then I made the mistake to sit down for a few minutes before going out to dinner…..this is a major misjudgement. I started to slowly cease up again, but not before watching the sun go down over Amsterdam from the hotel room window. Briefly all my aches & pains disappeared
Day 3 – Race day. Since I am clearly in no state to hang around waiting for the runners to finish up their various events, we decided that today I should simply take it easy, and give my back a chance to relax. I slept so well, but getting out of bed had the feeling of ageing 20 years. I always remember my paternal grandmother having a twisted body, and being tiny as a result. I’m not sure what her condition was, but she was considered mobility impaired. I stood up as straight as I could, looked in the mirror and this old and twisted figure stared back at me. I try so hard to be fit, and healthy but it seems that this body is fighting against me. It’s been quite a fight over the last few weeks, and I’m not really sure who’s the strongest. Today it’s not me winning…..and I hate that.
After making my way down for a late breakfast, I knew that if I was to get out of my hotel room today, I was going to need to do something. You Tube found me a good set of mobilisation exercises, and so I stretched, and pretzelled my body, until it decided to give up the fight, and allowed me to start moving again.
Today’s destination for me is VondelPark. I recall coming through here on my last stay in Amsterdam many (many) years ago. What struck me most then was the relative tranquility other than the squawk of the birds. I’m not exaggerating here. We are still in Western Europe, and you would expect very similar birds to any other park in London or Paris. Yet, since the 1970’s Green Rose Ringed Parakeets have thrived in the parks around Amsterdam. There are thought to be around 4000 of these birds wild now in Amsterdam, although their origins has several urban myths attached. Today, on the day of the Amsterdam marathon, half marathon & 8km events, the park is buzzing. It reminds me a little of the large Parks in London. There are families, runners, cyclists…and of course the marathon all enjoying the space. I sit here writing this from a lovely bar in the centre, just watching the world go by.
I’ll leave you here today……part 2 to come in a day or two.