Tunnel Vision: the Dam to Dam Weekend is a Dutch delight

Edition 30 August 2018, by John Mahnen

The Dam tot Damloop is an annual event held in Amsterdam and Zaandam. What started years ago as 10-mile race has grown to several events held on a September weekend including the biggest road running race in the Netherlands. This year’s edition will be held in the weekend of 22 and 23 September.

In 1980, the director of an event organisation known as Le Champion had the idea to organize a running event which would make use of a tunnel connecting Amsterdam to the environs north of the city. He had come across a newspaper clipping describing the Dam tot Dam race held in 1959 which had been organized to promote the building of a tunnel to connect Amsterdam to Zaandam. The Hempont ferry was the main connection at that time and finally two tunnels were built to make the transit over the IJ more efficient. In the end, the IJ Tunnel would be the passage of choice for the run with a course winding through Amsterdam North on the way to the finish in Zaandam.

Over the years, the event has gown in size and stature and now features several different events spanning two days. The marquis event is the Silver Label 10-mile race which grew out of the second edition that saw the invitation of elite runners with world record holder Fernando Mamede and Dutch record holder Carla Beurskens taking the men’s and women’s titles. In the first five years of its running, Beurskens became a three-time winner of the race – an achievement since matched by Heléna Barócsi, Hellen Kimaiyo, Tegla Loroupeand Lornah Kiplagat.

From the 1990s onwards, the elite race has been dominated by East African (particularly Kenyan) runners. Indeed, since 1993 the winners of the men’s and women’s races have been Kenyan-born on all but six occasions. Leonard Patrick Komon is the current men’s course record holder with his time of 44:27 minutes in 2011 (the second fastest ever for the distance). Linet Masai set the current women’s record in 2009 with her run of 50:39 minutes.

The Dam tot Damloop 10-miler attracts high level of participation: almost 10,000 runners competed in 1990, rising to almost 20,000 in 1999 and nearly 40,000 in 2008. In 2018, some 50,000 runners will take part in the main race. The tickets for the recreational runners sold out as per usual in a matter of hours earlier this year. A fun-run held on the Saturday night, a five-miler called Damloop by Night, has grown to the largest of its kind in The Netherlands. Both walking and cycling events complete the offering. All told, some 80,000 take an active part in the Dam tot Dam weekend.

The impressive numbers of the Dam tot Dam do not stop with participants. A small army of some 1,300 volunteers are needed to run the four events whether it be getting the personal effects in bags from the start to the finish or picking up the exhausted and injured in the broom wagon. The event also brings out plenty of public to the barricades lining the route. The spectators lining the streets are estimated to be some 200,000. The economic impact of the weekend is also nothing to be sneezed at. Economists have estimated the direct economic impact at a million euros while the indirect impact including the estimated savings realized from all those runners living healthier is several times that amount. Nearly a million euros are also raised each year by harriers running for some 80 different good causes. While the head of the pack is there for a serious run over the nearly 16 kilometers, most participants take part in Dam tot Dam for the atmosphere. From the entrance of the IJ Tunnel, where there are greeted by the drum band Brazza, to the podia of Zaandam, the event is full of entertainment for all and the party in Zaandam is the just reward for all those who have earned their finisher’s medals.

The event does have a serious side and several runners have lost their lives due to heart attacks or heat stroke over the years. The organization does its utmost to ensure the safety of the runners but in such large numbers, a casualty is always going to be a statistical possibility. Numerous watering stations ensure that the participant stay hydrated and this year’s edition will see the addition of ice bath, vital in quickly cooling the bodies and any runners who may be in danger of heat stroke.

Whether or not you want to run, walk, cycle or merely cheer on the rest, there is great fun to be had at the spectacle that grew out of a 50’s protest! The action starts nearby Amsterdam’s Central Station and finishes in the Peperstraat in Zaandam.

For more information, see: http://www.damloop.nl/ en/