The Dutch sure know how to host a race. Taking place in late September, thousands of runners get together for Dam tot Damloop, an 8K night race on the Saturday followed by a 16K full-day event on the Sunday. Whether running, cheering, or simply looking for a party, the weekend has a little something for everyone.
We’d only traveled to Amsterdam with plans of running the Sunday race and hadn’t originally signed up for it but couldn’t resist, people raved about Damloop by Night, a 5EM (8K) night race in the heart of Zaandam. All of which brings us to the Saturday night before the main race, we board a train from Amsterdam Central to Zaandam. We have no idea where we are, as we get closer, the crowd gets thicker and thicker, hundreds of runners decked out in neon everything, glow sticks, and holiday lights.I suddenly feel slightly naked sporting my one head lamp.
The sun quickly sets, but the night lights up. We wait in our corral for the race to begin and are surrounded by music being blasted and dancers leading choregraphed warm-ups featuring light sabres across multiple podiums.It’s a full-on dance party warm-up. I’ve never seen anything like it, and although there’s a short second where I contemplate abandoning the run to spend the night dancing, there’s no time to waste. We are off! The 8K route twists and winds, taking us along the stunning waterfront, through tiny neighbourhood streets, and bar-heavy areas. Everyone is cheering, music is blaring, and I even get the satisfaction of dancing along with some others along the route. We could be running in circles for all we know, but we don’t mind – the energy is unbelievable. Even after the race ends, the party continues well into the night at Dam to Dam Park, but we can’t stay. We have to start our trek back to Amsterdam to rest up before the actual race we signed up for, and the next morning is approaching fast.
I can’t find my usual pre-race breakfast anywhere and must settle for a croissant and Stroopwaffle – a Dutch delicacy consisting of honey squeezed between two mini waffles. Tasty, but not your usual pre-hard effort breakfast. We make our way over to the blue corral that has a scheduled start of 11:45 AM. Along the way, we get to watch elites crossing the finish line and soon enough, skies clear-up and temperatures quickly rise. It’s bound to be beautiful day. This time the start line is right at Amsterdam Central with the finish located in Zaandam, 10 EM (16K) away.
With an anticipated 50,000 runners taking part, the starts are staggered between 10:19 AM and 2:55 PM, meaning the city pretty much shuts down for this race. The Dutch don’t mind, this is by far the biggest running event held annually in Holland. Before long, the gun goes off and runners eagerly get moving. It’s a crowded race – the first hundred metres we spend weaving through runners trying to reach our desired race pace. Soon enough, the road turns into a tunnel where the bang of bass drums creates a resonating vibration through the entire tunnel and my body – it’s unreal. The tunnel goes on for 2K, emerging into the now 25-degree heat waiting for us on the other side. The route takes us through open fields, parks, canal ways, waterfronts, and some of the same neighbourhoods as the night prior. There’s less neon in the light of day, but the positivity from the previous night is still obvious.
Race organizers have anticipated the heat and have set multiple water, fruit, and sponge stations, though it’s impossible to go 2K without feeling refreshed thanks to a bounty of homes who have set up sprinklers and hoses that spray onto the street. The energy from Saturday night is alive once again – cheering, dancing, and music continues throughout the entire course. 16K rolls by until we make the turn onto Zaandam’s main shopping street for a final uphill. The uphill quickly turns into an enjoyable downhill and we’re cheered on by hundreds of spectators pushing us to emit the last bit of energy left into the final 500m. Crossing the finish line, we are immediately rewarded with a sports drink and sparkling new medal to add to our international collection.
I hesitated before choosing to run Dam tot Damloop – was the travel to Amsterdam for a 10-mile race worth it? It really was. The race is one of Holland’s largest events – it was incredibly organized, animated, and scenic and the energy was simple like nothing I had experienced before. Despite the 50,000 runners, majority came from Western Europe which has us immersed in the local culture – something I actively look for while traveling abroad.
Dam tot Damloop should be added to anyone’s list. With it taking place in late September, it’s the perfect opportunity for a unique tune-up run for upcoming fall races.
Cindy Gallant is a runner living in Toronto. She is a member of High Park Rouge Runners and ASICS Runners.