World records, 30,000 bananas and a marriage proposal: anything goes at the Rotterdam marathon

Written by John Mahnen

With the skates oiled and tucked back into the closet, it’s time to bring the running shoes back into regular use. Running is a serious affair in The Netherlands with some 1.5 inhabitants estimated to be regulars but with the explosion of running events in this country, many over shorter distances, the number of people who lace up trainers and hit the streets is most certainly much higher.

For most runners, the ancient athletic challenge known as the marathon is the summit of their achievements. Some will attempt just one in their lives while many will go on to run multiple events in the course of their lives. The Netherlands boast a number of these prestigious races and while Rotterdam often plays second fiddle to Amsterdam, when it comes to marathons, the harbor city boasts the bigger and better of the two. Nearly 14,000 participants lined up at the start of the 2018 edition in Rotterdam, some 2000 more than Amsterdam. While the Amsterdam race is more popular with runners from abroad, the Rotterdam Marathon is known as a very fast course and has produced two world record times.

The 2019 edition of the Nationale Nederlanden Rotterdam Marathon will be run on Sunday, 7 April. The timing generally means that the weather will be favorable but unseasonably high temperatures have called for measures to be taken in the past and windy days mean the elite times will suffer. The race has roots dating back to 1909 when a Belgian named Niset took the laurels, but the first edition in the modern era was run in 1981 and traditionally the start and finish take place in the city center at the Coolsingel in front of City Hall. The start was moved in 2018 to the foot of the Erasmusbrug. The starter’s pistol is accompanied by a rousing rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sung by local hero Lee Towers. The event has been dominated for the last two decades by the Kenyans and Ethiopians. No Dutchman has ever won the race, but the women’s race has been won 7 times by a runner with the Dutch nationality. In 2018, Kenyan Kenneth Kipkemoi broke the tape a 2:05:44 while Visiline Jepkesho of Ethiopia took the honors for the ladies.

In addition to the main event, there is a Quarter Marathon, a City Run (4.2km) and a Kid’s Run. For business teams, there are relays to be run dividing the arduous task of taming the Rotterdam tarmac among colleagues. For the non-runners, Rotterdam is known for its raucous supports who line the route and make a day of cheering on the harriers. The event brings out the best of the port city and its inhabitants. High-fives along the route are commonplace and even a marriage proposal at the finish are among the happy memories on offer.

The Rotterdam Marathon is a big deal in Rotterdam. To be sure, it cannot compare to a London, New York or Boston in terms of stature and budget but Nationale Nederlanden and the City of Rotterdam underwrite a big part of the budget, which is the better part of a million euros and a local fruit importer takes care of the 30,000 bananas needed to nourish the participants. Major parts of the city are shut down to traffic and pedestrians, cyclist and automobiles are forced to find alternatives to reach their destinations. Some 1,800 volunteers are needed to keep the event running smoothly and keep the runners safe. But long after the winners have crossed the finish line, some of the most beautiful stories play out. Scenes of joy as well as heartbreak as some runners better their personal goals while others are forced to abandon or grimace with pain as injuries wreak havoc on tired bodies and feet. Many who run the marathon do so for another, often raising money for good causes. While the NN Rotterdam Marathon is associated to an official charity partner (in 2019 it is the Linda Foundation) many runners raise money for smaller causes close to their hearts.

Still others set out to complete the 42,195 meters for someone who could not. In 2018, Marian de Jong was the last official finisher. Her time of just under 6 hours did not keep Rotterdam Mayor Aboutaleb and the Kenyan winner Kenneth Kipkemoi from greeting her at the finish. She was presented with two medals , Marian had lost her husband the year prior but that same man who used to cycle alongside Marian on her training runs was with her at the finish. He was with Marian through it all she and as she ran the ran the last meters to the finish hand-in-hand with her grandchildren there was a least one hand on back, guiding her to the end and creating another magical moment of sport for the ages. There’s something for everyone at the Rotterdam Marathon so whether it’s a pair of trainers or a folding chair for you, check out the latest details at: www.nnmarathonrotterdam.nl.