Both start and finish at Utrecht Science Park

UU students and staff walk marathon in their own city: ‘Long live Strava’

Olympos-trainer Kjeld van Hees, renners Hester Haasdijk-Spoelder en Noortje van Hoef. Foto: Koen van den Helder
Runners Noortje van Hoef and Hester Haasdijk-Spoelder and on the right Olympos coach Kjeld van Hees. Photo: Koen van den Helder

Thousands of runners will gather at the Cambridgelaan on Sunday. The real die-hards will run a 42-kilometre course through Amelisweerd, Lunetten, and the city centre and back to USP. But the runners of the quarter and half marathons will also walk a beautiful route through many spots familiar to Utrecht residents. 

That will be true for UU sourcing and procurement coordinator Hester Haasdijk-Spoelder (51), medicine student Noortje van Hoef (24) and biology student Nouk Lax (22). Hester and Noortje are both preparing in small groups for the half and quarter marathons, respectively. They train at Olympos Sports Centre, which offers numerous training sessions for runners. Nouk trains by herself. 

The three are studying, living, or working in Utrecht, and are looking forward to the event. Nouk, who’s from Brabant but now lives in student housing in Zeist, says: “Utrecht feels like my home away from home. Just having the start at De Uithof makes this so special.” On Sunday, her friends and her parents will be present to cheer her on. “That will give me a huge boost.”

Noortje, who lives in Utrecht, will also see a few familiar faces in the crowds. “It’s a lot of fun to run through your own city. Many of my friends and roommates will come to watch, so I’ll definitely send them a message.”

Kjeld, Hester en Noortje voor de training. Foto: Koen van den Helder

Kjeld, Hester and Noortje training. Photo: Koen van den Helder

Training together
Hester and Noortje are full of praise for their Olympos trainer Kjeld van Hees. “Kjeld motivates me with his commitment and enthusiasm,” Hester says. “He gives you custom homework and teaches you the right techniques. That really helps me progress.”

She doesn’t enjoy running much. “I was tricked into it almost ten years ago by a colleague who wanted to join the relay marathon.” Still, since then, she’s been running regularly and she has kept up with training at Olympos. “It’s nice to have something for yourself, without husband and child.” “And also,” she adds, “I just really love eating, so exercise is the sensible thing to do.”

Noortje says she started running with a friend. “That was during Covid, because that way, we could see each other sometimes.” She’s currently training for the quarter triathlon and she still enjoys training with others. 

Uitleg tijdens de training. Foto: Koen van den Helder

Kjeld explains an exercise. Photo: Koen van den Helder

Occasionally, they share a drink after the training sessions, but outside the training they mainly keep in touch through Strava – sort of a social media platform where you can keep track of sports-related achievements. “It motivates to see what others are doing,” Hester says. And then, jokingly: “Long live Strava!”

Trainer Kjeld also likes to use Strava. “It creates a sense of community,” he says. He likes sharing his passion for running with the group. “The advantage of training with a group is the social aspect. The enthusiasm will follow automatically. In my training sessions, I try to discover the runners’ goals, and then I try to help them through varied training sessions.”

The training sessions start with a warming up on the hockey fields. There, they do numerous walking exercises. After that, they run a lap around the USP and through Amelisweerd. For Hester, the technical part is the most important. “I would never do those exercises by myself,” she says. Noortje prefers the parts where they run through the woods.

Training. Foto: Koen van den Helder

Photo: Koen van den Helder

Videos on Instagram
Individual athlete Nouk has a very different approach. She only started running this past December. She was inspired by a friend who ran the Eindhoven half marathon. And as Nouk wanted to become a little bit more athletic, she started running too. 

“It started with an occasional three-kilometre run, and I enjoyed it. Then I thought: why not run a little bit further every time, and then train for a half marathon as well?” And that’s the goal for this Sunday.

She does not have a trainer to help her prepare for this distance. She watches a lot of videos on Instagram, and finds training schedules and exercises online. She uses that in her training. 

“When I first started training, I didn’t want to slow others down as a beginner. That’s why I reasoned that I should first get to a certain level before I could train with others,” she says. “But now, I still prefer to empty my mind during a run after a long day, with some music in my ears. The hour flies by.”

Nouk maakt een selfie.

Photo: Selfie Nouk Lax

There’s an additional challenge to running for Nouk. “I sometimes suffer from rheumatism,” she says. She waves it off. “It doesn’t always bother me, but sometimes my knee hurts a bit. That means I have to pay more attention to it, like in the past few weeks.” Thankfully, she’s now able to run without pain, and doesn’t anticipate many issues for this weekend.

Hester, too, is all too aware that joining the Utrecht marathon is not a given. One member of her four-person running group passed away last year; another is dealing with cancer, and a third is injured. “It does feel extra special to be able to run here,” she says sadly. 


Participants of the Utrecht marathon can choose to be sponsored to raise money for KWF, the cancer research foundation. There are special events for children, companies, and students. This year, for the first time, student teams can compete for the ‘Utregse Studentenbokaal’ (Utrecht Student Trophy, ed.). Read more on the marathon website.

It's not just the runners who will enjoy this Sunday at the Utrecht Science Park; there’s fun for cyclists, too. They can ride the Giro d’Utrecht around Utrecht and Amstersfoort. Read more on the website.