The Hell of ’63

Have you heard of the Elfstedentocht? Literally translating to the Eleven Cities Marathon, this is a 200km ice-scating race held in the northern province of Friesland. This marathon is the biggest natural ice-scating tour in the world and it tours through eleven historical cities.

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The thing is, it is only held when the natural ice along the entire course is at least 15 centimeters thick. When the ice is thick enough, the tour is announced and then it begins within 48 hours. Every year, the Dutch hope with all of their hearts that the race will be able to go ahead. History has shown that the Elfstedentocht was somtimes held on consecutive years, but then at other times, there can be gaps of 20 or more years where the event could not be held. We are currently in one of those gaps, with this year marking 20 years since the last race (in 1997). It was a great event and a spectacle that attracted an estimated two million people to the province of Friesland and approximately 2,000 reporters from all over the world.

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The year of 1963 was a significant one. The Elfstedentocht of 1963 became known as “The hell of ’63” when only 69 of the 10,000 participants were able to finish the race! This was due to the extremely low temperatures that year, with the average temperature hovering around -18 °C, and there was also a very harsh easterly wind. Conditions were so horrendous that year, that the 1963 winner, Reinier Paping, became a national hero, and that year’s tour itself became legendary.

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So legendary in fact, that the Dutch have made a movie about it. ‘De Hel van ’63’ is a fantastic movie. It gave me a real insight into the Elfstedentocht, what is involved in completing this race, the determination required, rules to abide by, and the pure Dutch pride felt by all those who take part in the race. Even if you think your Dutch is not up to it, please give it a go and watch this movie. You will enjoy it more than you expect!

Kristen

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