The reason that I have written a summary in English about the "Elfstedentocht" is that many of my colleagues and friends abroad were intrigued by the 'incredible skating event'.
What exactly is the "Elfstedentocht"?
It is a skating tour held on the Dutch canals. To be precise, in the northern province Fryslân (formerly: Friesland). "Elf steden" means: "eleven cities": in the medieval past, eleven villages in that province were given 'city rights', i.e. they were allowed to build a city wall around their city, have their police, etc.
On skates one can visit all eleven Friesian cities in one single day, covering the 200 km (120 miles) trajectory using frozen canals and lakes.
Is it a race?
Yes, it is a race. But only a limited number of very well trained sports(wo)men participate in the race.
The other thousands of recreational skaters just try to reach the finish, 200 km further...
How often is it held?
Regretfully, not often. It takes a very cold winter to make sure ALL the canals and lakes on the route have the sufficient ice thickness of at least 15 cm (6").
The most recent one (1997) was the 15th, the first was in 1909.
A Bit Of History..
The first time someone - Pim Mulier - skated these 200 km was in 1890. It took him 12h 55min.
Please find an overview below:
Year Winner Time Conditions Started
1909 Minne Hoekstra 13h 50m thaw 23 7 - - 1912 Coen de Koning 11h 40m thaw 60 18 38 14 1917 Coen de Koning 09h 53m mild frost, light wind 150 92 42 9 1929 Karst Leemberg 11h 09m heavy frost, strong wind 304 114 98 11 1933 Abe de Vries and
09h 05m light frost, no wind 512 378 173 57 1940 Five winners 11h 30m heavy frost, strong wind 3404 69
688 40 1941 Auke Adema 09h 19m licht frost, light wind 2500 1737 600 65 1942 Sietse de Groot 08h 44m moderat frost, light wind 4832 3946 970 277 1947 Jan van der Hoorn 10h 51m heavy frost, strong wind 2068 309 277 39 1954 Jeen van den Berg 07h 35m moderate frost 2735 2206 138 63 1956 Jan van der Hoorn 08h 46m heavy frost 6329 4848 259 109 1963 Reinier Paping 10h 59m strong frost, strong wind 9862 126
568 57 1985 Evert van Benthem 06h 46m thaw 16456 13060 277 224 1986 Evert van Benthem 06h 55m moderate frost, moderate wind 17316 14989
317 201 1997 Henk Angenent 06h 49m moderate frost, strong wind 16675 9714 306 128
Some Elfstedentochten have become legends: especially the 1963 tour where only 1.3% arrived due to the extreme weather conditions is remembered by everybody. The name "Reinier Paping" is - some 40 years later - still recognised by most adults. Sometimes endurance and camaraderie went hand in hand: in 1940 conditions were very harsh and five skaters were convinced that they would not have made it without the help of their mates, so reached the finish hand in hand.
I am not a crack, just a simple skate-enthusiast. So please find my story of how a simple skater participated...
How it all started for me
In the winter of 1995-1996 there could possibly have been an Elfstedentocht. However since there had been many injuries at another skating event at the Ijsselmeer shortly before (due to ice and weather conditions) the organisation did not want to take any risk.
I was not a member of the "De Friese Elfsteden": there was a stop on new members. However one could become a 'possible participant', implying that by means of an official lottery one could possibly get a starting license.
(Full members always got a license)
From the 'possible participants' (14.156 for 1996/1997), only 4.200 would get a license for that season.
What preceded this event
In 1994, I had skated for the first time 200 km at the Weissensee in Austria. This event is being organised (by Stichting Winter Marathon) annually as an alternative to the 'real' Elfstedentocht. At the Weissensee one can be sure of good skating conditions almost every year.
The 1994 conditions however were bad: there was a very strong storm-alike wind. It blew tents, toilets, chairs, etc. over the ice. Skating against the wind was a tiring exercise.
Eight 25 km laps later I finished without a single blister in 12h 10m. In the summer I trained on my bike and on my 5-wheel roller blades.
believe it or not: it's me!
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