Running against loneliness

Tim van Loon will run his first one-hundred-kilometre course to support an initiative for lonely youngsters.
Photo Roelof Kleis

It will be an adventure this saturday, that is for sure. He has never walked more than 55 kilometres uninterrupted, and even that only once. But he is ready. And this is not just for himself; with this ultra-run, Tim van Loon collects money for Join Us, a national organisation that endeavours to help lonely youths.

Tim van Loon works as a privacy and security officer at Education & Student Affairs. ‘I advise policy-making teams, study advisors and teachers on all manner of issues related to privacy. Loneliness is not a part of my work, but I do hear the stories in my vicinity. It impacts me. Loneliness is something awful, something I recognise from my own past. With this hike and the sponsoring action, I hope to raise awareness, inspire people and help youngsters.’

Were you lonely?

‘I would prefer to stay indoors rather than socialise. I was withdrawn and would rather watch a movie on the couch with a bag of chips. I spent my time behind my computer and could only seldomly be found in a bar. Life wasn’t all that exciting. So, I know where loneliness comes from. I see how corona affects young people and how grave the impact is.’

You decided to start running?

‘A few years ago, I decided it was time to work on my endurance. My time as a student had impacted my body. I was about 20 kilogrammes overweight; my current weight is about 72 kilos. I started suffering from hay fever, which affected my lungs. When my wife and I moved in together, I started running. In a sweater and low-quality shoes, I started to jog.’

To keep a classical story short: Tim van Loon made all the classic mistakes starting runners make. He went from injury to injury, ran some competitions, became slightly better, but the injuries kept holding him back. In 2019, just before the start of the pandemic, he decided to change his approach and enlisted the help of a coach. He started to work on his running technique, and the coach asked him what his running goal was.

Tim van Loon vertelt in vlogs over zijn loopavonturen

And that was to run a marathon?

‘Yes. I chose the Leiden marathon. I trained diligently and with discipline, and then the covid pandemic started. The Leiden Marathon was cancelled. But I managed to join the postponed marathon in the fall, a virtual marathon using an app, and not in Leiden. I ran in the Binnenveld and completed the course in 3 hours and 45 minutes. Last year, I ran a real marathon in Eindhoven in 3 hours and 24 minutes, half an hour faster. So, I thought: okay, now I know the trick that training smarter and more effectively increases my running speed. What is my next goal?’

An ultra run?

‘I thought of running from Wageningen to my parents’ house in Breda, which is 86 kilometres. But, since that is not a nice, round number, I made it one hundred. I calculated that I could run 9.5 to10 km/hr, including breaks. Not very fast, but difficult. Running slowly is the hardest thing there is. I often run too fast, and that is something you must avoid at all costs on a 100 kilometre-trajectory. It would drain your energy supply too fast.’

You are running for Join us, against loneliness. Who will accompany you?

‘No one. I run alone. I don’t want anyone cycling next to me or in front of me. When I run, I stay in my own cocoon, by myself. I need that to concentrate on running. I have arranged to meet some friends along the way. I aim to take a longer break to rest, change clothes and rub Vaseline on any chafes etc., at 60 kilometres.’

A mental switch has flipped. You can do more than you think.

Tim van Loon, ultra runner and ESA policy officer at WUR

How has running benefited you?

‘Tremendously. You are constantly pushing your limits. I never thought of myself as an athlete, and I never imaged I would run more than a kilometre. During my first training, I had to stop at the end of the street. Now I focus on health and fitness. A mental switch has flipped. You can do more than you think. I no longer think in terms of impossibilities but in terms of possibilities. I need to run to de-stress.’

What is there after Breda?

‘No new goals for now. Just relaxed running, keeping my fitness level up and discovering new routes. I trained and worked really hard for two years. My body needs to rest and recover. I want to spend more time with my family. My daughter was born in November, and we are in the middle of renovating. So first: time for something else. In the fall, there will be another marathon.’

To support the fundraising activity, click here. You can find more on Join Us here.

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