Amsterdam Marathon 2007

Yesterday we were up early and on the train -- I mean the bus, since the train tracks were closed for maintenance -- and then the tram to the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam (site of the 1928 Olympics) for traca da broon's second running of a marathon. She was nervous, suspicious that she hadn't trained enough over the preceding four months.

The place was wild with health, 20,000 string beans still a little groggy from their pasta freakouts the night before, all milling about, strapping on water-bottle belts, munching Power Bars and sucking Power Gels, stretching, and -- for God's sake -- jogging all over the place. Everyone packed into the stadium, the runners spread all around the track, with the Ethiopians and other first-class strictly running machines all in front, tiny heads seemingly balanced on top of leg muscles.

Somehow I spotted my darling amidst all this humanity.

The gun went off. And it took ten minutes for them all to squeeze out of the stadium, to great fanfare and loud cheering. She passed under the brick entrance and was gone.

Leaving me to kill five hours in Amsterdam. Inspired by all this running, I decided to walk to the Leidseplein, about a four and a half kilometer trek, mostly through Vondel Park. Well, by the halfway point I was limping on my bad knee and whimpering for a tram, but there was none to be had out in "nature."

I was following the course in the opposite direction, and before long who came trotting by but my baby. She looked great! And, seeing me hunched beneath my backpack laden with her clothes, my books, old dirty sticks of gum and the like, asked me how I was. "Oh, fine, fine!" I nearly added, with a whine: "You go on without me!" We waved. She was gone again.

Staggering, hobbling, I finally arrived at an Irish pub on the Leidseplein and found a table. I had really worked up an appetite and ordered the Full Irish Breakfast. As a hefty chunk of Black Pudding dripping in yolk speared to a piece of toast was all headed toward my watering mouth, an old Irish guy at the table directly across from me got up and stumbled over.

"I'm going to be a bit nosy and have a look at your breakfast." I hesitated, then moved my trembling arms away from my plate. "Yeah, yeah, looks okay. What'd they charge you for that?" he inquired. "Nine euros." "Not bad. I make that for myself every day." When I didn't say anything , but only stared at him with what I hoped was impatient indifference, he went back to his table, and I tucked in vigorously.

Then his wife came back from the toilet (yes, you say that enough times and it becomes okay -- no one was bathing in there, believe me). And the man said to her, "Have a look at the boy's breakfast." And she came over to scrutinize. "Now, could you eat all that?" he called. "No, I couldn't," she said -- with almost a sniff of disdain.

They got distracted by rugby on the telly, and I resumed my feed. Then I began reading a manuscript I'm going to be editing, about avatars and Second Life and whatnot. But the lighting was bad, and eventually my back started hurting, and my eyes were swimming and stinging from smoke, and I needed to walk. Right around this time, traca must have been reaching the halfway point -- 13.1 miles into her run.

I headed down the street and strolled into a Smartshop, which still had seven kinds of magic mushrooms lining the display window. The man, working alone in there, gave me a friendly hello, and we had the following exchange in half Dutch, half English.

"So, what's going to happen with the ban?"
"Well, we're eight votes away in the parliament from blocking it, a huge petition is going around, and there's going to be a huge demonstration next Saturday."
"What about these Growboxes?"

"They have psilocybin in them because they are live myceliums, so those will be banned too."
"So, if they do actually ban this stuff, what's next?"
He plunked down a little glass vial in front of me, and a syringe. "This is next. Spores have no drug in them, they will always be legal. Inject the spores into the growing medium, and voila, 30 days or so."
"So the ban will just accomplish moving production into people's houses?"
"Correct. That and LSD will make a big comeback."
He told me about a Web site devoted to reversing the ban (which traca had already found for me), showed me a bunch of other, interesting things -- but I'd had my walk and soon returned to the Irish bar.

Where I noticed something new.

On the back of the little flyer it said, "You think Red Bull gives you wings? This is like a jet-pack." I was sorely tempted, but had work to do and instead ordered my fourth Diet Coke -- which still has coca leaf extract in it, by the way.

Eventually, I simply couldn't read anymore in the dingy light amid so many restless rugby fans, and it was time anyway to return to the stadium and see if she would make it. She hadn't called me on the cell phone, which was a good sign. But I was worried she'd be broken somehow, and how would we get her home?

I took a tram and found a place near the stadium and waited. Many of the people coming by wore faces twisted in horrific grimaces, many were shambling along on God knows what secret energy stores, what final scraps of determination and sheer will, many were crying. But then, right when she said she'd be finishing, here she came, all smiles and waves.

I could hardly believe it. What gets into a person to do such a thing? I was surprised at the lump that had formed in my throat. My mouth was hanging open. I yelled encouragement at her and started snapping photos. After she ran by, I headed for the stadium and basked in the wonder of thousands of exhausted but grinning runners, cheered on to the blasting sounds of Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine." I had always thought of that song in terms of LSD slang, but these people appeared not to use that to walk on sunshine. Again, it takes all kinds.

We met at our prearranged spot. She looked wonderful! Was not even out of breath. Said her leg cramped a bit when she bent down once, but that was it.

Ate bananas on the way. Listened to the new Radiohead at the 30K point. She showed me her medal. I was so proud of her I couldn't think of what to say. It was like meeting an alien. "What is it like on your planet?"

Enjoying our first day's benefits of having a dogsitter, we took a tram back to the Leidseplein for a well-earned pint.

And then came back to Haarlem and had what passes here for Mexican food. You're likely to find almost anything in your burrito. Sketchy-looking "salad" items, baby corn, cucumber. With fascination I dug a chunk of steamed celery from mine.

At long last, homeways was rightways -- and we were off to bed, after a long, hard day.


the plunge said...

Excellent account! Very impressed with Traca's accomplishment, too. What's this about a second life book?

TLB said...

Congrats to traca--we always knew she had it in her.

Trevor said...

Congratulations, Traca! And Grendel, too! It sounds like you both tackled and defeated some serious challenges, each of you playing to your strengths. Grendel, do things like that happen everywhere you go? I'm still not sure if you're just tuned to it, or if you really do just attract more crazy than the rest of us.

Meanwhile, how to drink AGWA: "Bolivian Kiss Ritual - All served on a coffee saucer or similar; Take a finger pinch of dried lime powder and put it in your mouth or take a bite of fresh lime then follow by taking a shot of chilled AGWA de Bolivia. The lime changes the PH of the mouth, which activates the alkaloids of the Coca leaf to produce a powerful effect."

Once UI students get a hold of this, I'm never going downtown again.

Grendel said...

Here's a pretty funny review of Agwa in the liquor press.

As for the Second Life book, not sure what I'm allowed to say about it till it's pubbed. It's quite good actually and really interesting. Had never heard of Gors or Furs, for example, nor knew that some people are actually making a living from doing things there like creating scaly skin for your avatar or building castles or boats or dragon wings. It was at one point supposedly the fastest-growing economy in world history. The book compares it to Los Angeles in the late 20s. But it's also about WOW and other game-oriented avatar hangouts, more of a philosophy book about real vs. "real" and how there isn't much difference as far as human nervous system responses go. It's got a great title, but I'll let you know it when it's closer to being on shelves.

Trevor said...

I just read over the weekend that there are more WOW players than farmers in this country.

Grendel said...

World of Warcraft for anyone wondering.

T-bone said...

Very excellent! Go Traca! It feels like I was there; it will be very soon, very soon. On that day, Gillymonster and I were busy picking up Samuel Clemmons, aka Ace the second (Ace of Hearts) from a shelter outside of Hannibal, MO where there weren't any people to speak of let alone marathons.

PJKM said...

Well done, Traca. I felt fatigued just reading Grendel's excellent account. I was a helper at the end of the New York Marathon once, and that was exhausting enough.

I hope you were wearing sensible tracksuit bottoms.

Mark said...

Just stumbled on this. Ran the marathon too. When I saw Traca's photo I think I remember her passing me somewhere along the Amstel leg. Funny how you remember faces during these things.

Great account. Congratultions.