A Grand Summer of Running: Nijmegen

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Life has been interesting. Charlie the dog joined our family. We got married. My back healed well after surgery. And I was lucky enough to run in some superb places. This is a short series of impressions from the trails I explored this summer.

Come on, he’s just a guy. It’s necessary ro remind myself. Thomas Dunckerbeck is one of the best ultra runners in the Netherlands, in the world — a giant in the world of trail running. But I know him because he was the kind physical therapist helping my mother after she broke her ankle. I’m visiting my parents this June and, with some prodding from my mom, I’d reached out to him. A little run perhaps?

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That’s him: my mom’s PT and one of the best runners around. Photo: Barbara Kerkhof

My surgery to fix a herniated disc is about ten weeks ago and I’m only just running again, gently. Thomas knows this. He’s kind enough to start very slowly as we pass my old school, de Klokkenberg, at dusk. Past my favorite soccer field, into the quiet we move, slowly weaving our way through the hilly woods between Nijmegen and Beek.

Basically, I watch and learn. His stride is so light, his posture perfectly upright with a slight lean. As I work and sweat, gasp and struggle to land quietly — my physical condition is frankly pretty rotten — he chats and moves. Thomas turns out to be an amateur WWII historian, too. He shows me hidden spots under the trees where brave allied soldiers held off the Germans, almost 70 years ago. Allowing me time to recover, he chats and points and teaches.

Yes, he’s just a guy. But running with a modest legend is a little different. At this moment, as I’m trying to feel what my new and improved spine can handle, it’s inspirational.

We have beers and roasted nuts when we come home in the dark after a solid — read: challenging — 8 miles. Later, a thought creeps up when I go to bed. It’s a happy thought, I realize, channeling Arnold: I’ll be back.

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