This was our twin town’s first staging of the event since the pandemic and my first visit too since 2019 (my third in total). It really was lovely to be back.
It was Sam Rudd’s first visit and we made it into something of a boys’ road trip. It could be summarised as a few days of hearty eating and drinking actually, with a run thrown in for distraction. We took the Hull-Rotterdam ferry and appreciated two very calm crossings. On the way out, Sam’s alarm buzzed at 5.15am. He was on the bunk above and I was already awake, fortunately.
“Was that your normal work alarm going off?” I asked him later.
“That wasn’t my alarm. It was my irregular heart beat alert on my Garmin.”
“You have an irregular heart beat?!”
“No. I’d just taken my watch off and rolled onto it in my sleep. It was probably the vibration of the ship. Or my kidneys.”
Hamminkeln is just over the Dutch border so easily reachable in about 2-3 hours from Rotterdam or Amsterdam. We arrived the day before the race and so went to look around the nearby historic town of Xanten first. We then had a walk along the Rhine and watched the industrial barges go by. The Rhine is a proper river, dwarfing anything we have in this country. Our accommodation was a self catering holiday let attached to a farm on the outskirts of Hamminkeln (with electric car charging…) and the hosts explained that tomorrow’s 10k started only 500m from the farm. I knew this not to be true as it was at least a mile walk into town and to the event area, but politely nodded.
The weather had been very muggy so far and we awoke on Friday to heavy rain. Very English, but much warmer. We had a soggy walk into town, stopped for selfies at Sedgefield Strasse and then went to the Town Hall. I was slightly disconcerted by the lack of activity. Normally on the day before the race it’s a very busy area, with lots of people helping with the event setup. Today there was no-one around at all. Even the Town Hall was spookily quiet. A local chap asked us what time it opened, the town hall, and we explained who we were (he spoke good English) and so although we couldn’t help him, we had a lovely chat about the race and about Sedgefield. The rain wouldn’t stop and so we took shelter in a café.
It was whilst in there and a bit of online research that we discovered that this year’s event, as well as being on a different day (Friday evening, not Sunday morning, it’s okay we knew this part) also had a new route and a different start/finish area. Right! So as the rain eased we headed out to the town’s (very impressive) sportplatz where it was all going off, some 500m from our accommodation. Few people were around this early still but we introduced ourselves to Jörg the new race director and then went back to our digs for some pasta.
Staying just 500m from the start was great. We wandered over just before the first races began and met up with Phil and Alda. The Hamminkeln event always punches above its weight with a number of different races in junior categories first, followed by the 5k then the 10k. They set up a timing gantry and PA system and have a range of other family activities also going on. We met up with my old host Rolf, who was doing the 5k with Alda and Phil as well as Hermann, who was previously the RD for the event. These names won’t be familiar to everyone but their faces may be. Hermann and a large group are making the return journey for the Serpentine next month. In 2019 we all ended up in Coxhoe Club on the Sunday afternoon after a walk around Durham. In there the guys started to play darts and this is something they’ve continued back home, forming their own team such that Alda was recently tasked to recce a pub in Consett and the Navy Club in Darlington for two fixtures for them. Cultural legacy, what?
A reminder that we were there for the running. Alda and Phil gave their excuses (Alda something about not running since whenever and Phil about still feeling the effects of a spiked bottle at Hardwick Live). They weren’t going to run it all they said, but their finish time and the extended view we had of them for the last kilometre clearly disproved that. They both did very well and were obviously chuffed with it. Rolf also ran a good time.
Then onto our turn and the 10k. Sam always talks his chances down and in similar fashion I explained I’m in lousy form generally at the minute and have struggled with a dickie stomach for several weeks too. I did strangely feel the pressure of representing the club though and despite the downplay, I did want to run well. We started near the back and Sam kept just behind me at the start. The normal route for the event is four urban laps of the town, but in this new-style evening race, it was two 5km laps out in the countryside to the west. The rain had long stopped, it was very warm and we got into our running. We saw a number of people out marshalling and clapping who recognised the Sedgefield vest (or occasionally me) and gave lots of lovely support and encouragement. If they didn’t immediately recognise the vest, I generally helped them by pointing it out, which meant they were ready on the second lap. Hamminkeln 2018 remains my 10k PB and whilst I was nowhere near that form, I was quite pleased with how I was moving. Sam didn’t come past in the first kilometre or so and I began to realise this would be like a number of training runs we’ve done together. He’s very modest but is a great sprinter and at a number of sessions, he’ll come bounding effortlessly past on the final rep or so, often with a dry comment. So we got onto the second lap and still he hadn’t overtaken. It kept me right.
The route was flat but not uninteresting. Think Sedgefield East Park, with connecting narrow country lanes. It actually took us right past our accommodation too and the whole host family and their neighbours took the time to come out and cheer us, which was lovely. The second lap was really quite tough but I settled in with several other guys and ground it out. I’m not in race shape at all but the terrain and the knowledge that 10k doesn’t last forever were enough. There were also enough right angle turns for me to realise that Sam wasn’t in view and therefore wouldn’t come bounding and mickey taking past in the final stages. I finished exhausted in an okay 51 minutes. Sam had struggled a little, he said, and came in a couple of minutes behind, pleased in the circumstances.
Hamminkeln isn’t just about the running though. It’s about the guy who saw our running vests afterwards and brought his daughter over to show her, keenly explaining they lived on Sedegfield Strasse and wanted to make the link. Was there a Hamminkeln Street in Sedgefield, he wanted to know and we showed him the Google Street images of Hamminkeln Place. They thought that was cool. It was about the feller who’d talked to us earlier in the day outside the Town Hall and then decided to come along to support at the race and chat to us again. It was about getting to know Jörg the new Race Director and congratulating him on a super job. It was about going for a late meal afterwards with Rolf, Hermann and their partners, once it had all quietened down and the chance to catch up properly. I was really pleased to have made the effort to go out there again.
On the drive back the next day, Sam and I spent an enjoyable afternoon in Rotterdam, going up the Euromast amongst other sights and then a North Sea crossing home, during which all of his organs behaved normally.
For obvious logistical and financial reasons, a Hamminkeln visit can’t be for everyone, I realise that, but considering I don’t even live in Sedgefield, I really do recommend it. It’s good to have a reason for maintaining the twinning and Harriers are always made to feel extremely welcome.