On a warm day in Los Angeles almost 24 years ago, Hans Koeleman, a Dutchman with Olympic dreams, circled the track in a qualifying heat of the 3000-meter steeplechase. He ran with purpose, no doubt filled with pride to be representing the Netherlands on the worlds biggest athletic stage. He would repeat the feat in Seoul in 1988, this time progressing further in the qualifying heats.
On a cold, windy, and brilliant day yesterday in the Netherlands, I joined Hans for a two-hour run through some beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Amsterdam. As we plodded through muddy bogs on parts of the reclaimed island of Ijburg, we shared tales of two lifetimes spent in pursuit of the joy of running.
For Hans, who retired from competitive running in the late 1980s, the passion for the sport--albeit on a much different level--was rekindled in 1998 when he completed his first marathon in New York City. Since then, he has gone on to complete a number of marathons and ultramarathons, including the reknown Comrades Ultra in South Africa 4 times. We discussed the logistics of the race since I have been contemplating doing it myself. Thanks to an introduction by a mutual friend Che Kincaid, I was able to pick Hans' brain for a few hours as we enjoyed the scenery.
A former hardcore member of the academia (he had abandoned his pursuit of a Ph.D. in history to work for Nike), Hans shared various historical points of interest with me throughout the run. At one point, we ran across a dike that dated back to Medieval times, passing flocks of sheep who sometimes blocked out path. Small garden plots and adjoining "sheds" dotted the landscape, offering a place for city dwellers to grow and harvest their own vegetables (apparently, the waiting lists for the plots are long). Cows grazed in nearby meadows, and ships swayed vigorously in the adjacent sea (part of the ancient Zuiderzee), anchored just off the shoreline.
We approached our turnaround point, the Muiden Castle ("Muiderslot"), and I was dumbfounded at the beauty of the area, the castle, and the sense of the "please pinch me" moment.
On our return, we gazed across the water at an island in the distance. "We have a saying in Dutch," said Hans: " 'Hij ligt voor Pampus,' which means 'he's very tired' or 'he's completely exhausted." Hans gestured out toward the island and continued his explanation. "That is Pampus Island. In the days of sailing ships, the wind at this part of the Zuiderzee, near the island, would often go completely still. The ships would be dead in the water off the coast of Pampus Island, and hence the expression."
But the run left me anything but feeling exhausted. The stimulating conversation and shared experience of a great Sunday run (with an Olympian, no less) left me as invigorated and inspired as I've felt in weeks.
A note to my track geek friends: Hans was a two-time All-American at Clemson University. In 1980, he was the ACC Champion in the mile and two-mile run. He is Clemson's record holder in the two mile run with a time of 8:33.03. Outdoors, he earned All-America honors in the 3000m steeplechase in 1981, 1982 and 1983. He won conference titles in the steeplechase twice (1982, 1983) as well as the 5000m crown in in 1983. His steeplechase p.r. is 8:18.02 (Budapest, 1985), which was the Dutch national record for over 20 years until being broken by European record holder Simon Vroemen. He competed in both the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympic games.