Merlijn Smeele

merlijn trail
Nationality: the Netherlands
Residence: Nijmegen, the Netherlands

While completing over 25 races within 5 years, I learned how to cover and enjoy distances from 10 to 90K, without major injuries. 

In 2017 I started training for more adventurous races abroad, including my first 100miler. Since my DNF (Did Not Finish) at the Javelina Jundred in October 2017, I’ve been on a humble journey to get back on track after a long-term injury.

It took me three (!) years with many ups and downs, but since January 2021 I’m back in training and feel better and stronger than ever. 

I enjoy the lifelong journey of gradual improvement, growing the distance, and learning to cope with challenges on the way. 

There are many reasons why we want to run.
Whether we like to look and feel better, live more healthy, become more confident, or want to challenge or prove ourselves, taking that first step is a whole different story. 

People that got me started 
I think that inspiration in one way or another is always the reason to take the first step and also to stay motivated.
It can be a friend, family or someone like Usain Bolt that inspires us to start running or even to run a Marathon. 

The first people in my life that inspired me to run were my parents. They joined a running club when they were in their sixties. My mother still ran when she was 82! 

I started in 2009 with a step-by-step course on my mp3 player and for a few years I ran just once in a while and never more than 5K. April 2013 I decided to train for the Amsterdam Marathon because my boyfriend at that time encouraged me to do so. 

What I like about running 
The benefits of running are countless.
What I really enjoy is the freedom to run where and whenever I want, feeling alive, living consciously and just being in the moment. The joy of being outdoors, exploring the world, while getting to know myself a little better every day and surprise myself with what I’m capable of. That is what makes me lace up my shoes every time again. 

Trial and Error 
Between my very first run in 2009 and finishing my first marathon in 2013, I got injured a few times. My first Marathon I hit the wall…
But I contributed the race to my father, who had died of cancer, and to other people who fight for their life.
That made me want to finish, no matter how.
So I did, with the help of the audience and with the mental support of my boyfriend, who ran with me. 

By trying different exercises, techniques, new shoes and many hours of training, I learned how to improve gradually and enjoyed running more and more.
By reading and practicing a lot I learned how to listen better to my body and how to recover from an Achilles Tendon injury and runner’s knee just by myself. 

I discovered that being consistent is key in injury prevention and recovery, but also that nutrition, strength, fitness, endurance, sleep and relaxation are all equally essential for lifelong health and happiness, as much as social connection and being in nature. 

Exploring running 
After my first Marathon I discovered a whole new world of running varieties.
I didn’t know there were so many running adventures all over the world. From a marathon to the most challenging multiday expeditions. One day I’d love to run on Top of the World in the Happiest Country on Earth: Bhutan. 

In 2014 I ran 2 Marathons (without hitting the wall:-) and my first Ultra training of 51K, which I really loved. 

In 2015 I focused on running more efficiently and improving my finish time. My biggest goal was to run a Marathon under 4 hours with fun and injury-free, which I managed to do (3:56). It motivated me to keep improving and run my first 100K in 2016, of which I completed 90K:-) 

The goal for 2020 was to get back on track and in that Summer I managed to run small distances pain-free again on a regular basis. Hallelujah! After three years of physiotherapy, recovery, setbacks, work stress, breakup and worries of being a caregiver, I really enjoy finding my way back in running and life. 

My goals for 2021 
Like every year, my overall goal is to run with fun and injury-free.

  • My first goal is to run the 117K Streekpad around Nijmegen, the oldest town in the Netherlands for Memories on the Move.
  • My biggest goal for 2021 is to run ca 175K from Nijmegen to Maastricht, the second oldest town in the Netherlands. Here’s an update about how it all went: Family and Roman Footsteps flooded by the Meuse.
  • My third goal is to complete the 100K Run Winschoten, the oldest ultramarathon in the Netherlands.
    Update: I skipped that race and did a 5-day solo run & cycle ‘expedition’ instead along the Dutch ‘Zuiderwaterlinie‘.

What I do to run with fun 
It demands commitment and consistency to enjoy running injury-free and see improvements. That means running 3-5 times a week in combination with some stability and strength training, foam rolling, stretching and relaxing. 

To reach my 2021 goals I hired Andy Jones-Wilkins, a CTS coach and world-class runner, who I’m incredibly happy with. 

It also involves eating and drinking healthy and consciously. I eat as naturally as possible: unprocessed food, no unnatural sugars, no gels. 

Originally I planned to drink no alcohol for 365 days. I adjusted that plan a bit and just go with the flow after a race or when on a holiday. I really like it though to drink not at all during weeks of training. 

On average I drink 2 coffee’s a day plus ca 3l water per day and herbal tea. I enjoy fruit, nuts, vegetables, legumes, polenta and eat mostly vegan, which really seems to help me with my recovery. I eat more carbs like oatmeal and (sweet) potatoes when my training is more intense. I read the ChiRunning book of Danny Dreyer regularly to keep improving my Running Techniques. 

My gear 
I like to run “light”, without devices, apart from the Garmin Forerunner 610 to keep track of my training results. DCRainmaker is a source I always check if I’m looking for new gear. 

Running shoes 
With my first pair Nike Free 5.0 I ran my first 3 Marathons. I used Nike Free 3.0 since 2015 for shorter distances and daily use, and in 2016 I ran on the Hoka Clifton in ultramarathons. In 2017 I ran on Merrel Master Move Glide Trail running shoes and Altra-Superior 3.0 Trail running shoes. 

Currently I train on Saucony Kinvara 10, Altra Superior 3.0 Trail-Running Shoes, Merrell Skyfire trail. In Summer I run short distances on minimalistic shoes like the Nike free RN Flyknit and Merrell Trail Glove 4.

My goals for 2022
After the exciting self-managed ‘expeditions’ of 2021, but also lots of loneliness and isolation, the focus of 2022 is to maintain an overall healthy happy lifestyle and fitness level through al sorts of activities, from running to gardening, with more social life, fun and connection. Thinking about new goals while doing regular short runs. No pressure;-)

I ran the following races in 2017:

  • Stevensloop Half Marathon in Nijmegen (Netherlands) on March 19,  13.1 miles/21.1K. Goal: finish and run with fun. YEP, done it. Took it slow. Just a training, while catching up with my running buddy.
  • Conquer the Wall Marathon on May 13 in Beijing, China! My first adventure race! Goal: complete marathon distance. Ran, fell on my knee and completed 33K in 9,5 hours because of cut-off time! The experience of a lifetime! But too many stairs:-)
  • Den Haag (Netherlands) 9 hours solo in on June 17. Goal: 80K Completed 76K. Very happy with result, as preparation time after Conquer the Wall Marathon was a bit short, and this kind of race takes a totally different kind of training. Was the only female participant:-( .... so I won:-)
  • Javelina Jundred (Phoenix, Arizona, USA) 100 mile on October 28. Goal <24 hours. I gave up after 2 loops because of the painful glute that was bothering me since China. I was afraid of doing permanent damage to my nerves when the pain got worse and was fearful of running alone in the night because of lack of experience and I had no crew/friends/support to pick me up. I also felt responsible for my 83-year old mom so I didn't want to take the risk.
    On hindsight the real reason I quit was that I wasn't eager enough to push through the low moments, as there would be no one to celebrate my win with if I did. After I had quit I learned that I could have asked for a massage and for a pacer. I wish they would have told me when I was about to give up, as I'm positive I would have finished if I had had some company....


I ran the following races in 2016:

  • CPC Loop Half Marathon in Den Haag (Netherlands) on March 6, 13.1 miles/21.1K. Goal: improve my finish time. Originally I aimed for 1:30. Then I realized I made a calculation mistake and that 1:45 was more realistic, though still challenging. Guess what: I did exactly that! Progress of 20 minutes compared to last year:-)
  • Stevensloop Half Marathon in Nijmegen (Netherlands) on March 13,  13.1 miles/21.1K. Goal: finish and run with fun. YEP, done it. Took it slow, just 1 week after the CPC. Satisfied with my 1:54, even though a painful knee forced me to a positive split.
  • Roads to Rhodes Marathon (Greece) in April 26.2 miles/42.2K. Goal: improve my Marathon time; aim for 3:30. YEP, finished the race but at a very slow pace, because of the painful knee and stomach issues. Here's the race report. (The physiotherapist fixed it a week later with just one quick move...)
  • Ultrarun Steenbergen (Netherlands) 6 hours solo in May. Goal: 60K. YEP, finished the race with a new PR of 55K. Happy although I didn't reach my goal. Here's why:-)
  • Den Haag (Netherlands) 9 hours solo in June. Goal: 75K YEP, finished first! Was thrilled with my 74.062K despite stomach trouble during the first half of the race and the rainy windy weather.
  • Boxmeerdaagse (Netherlands) in July. Goal: run 4 ultra trails in 1 week Ran and completed 2 of them; skipped the other 2 because of lack of time of my running mate. Enjoyed both runs a lot! Trained the other hours on my own to get ready for Winschoten.
  • RUN Winschoten (Netherlands) 100K in September. Goal < 12 hours. It took me 11:19:03 hours to finish 90K and I couldn't start the last lap because of the cut-off time. My first 100K resulted in my first DNF (Did Not Finish), but very pleased and proud nevertheless.

I keep track of my progress on Strava where you can follow my results if you like:-) I ran the following races in 2015:

  • CPC Loop Half Marathon in Den Haag in March 13.1 miles/21.1K. YEP, Done it! My first Half Marathon
  • Leiden Marathon in May 26.2 miles/42.2K YEP, Done it! PR! 4:19
  • Amersfoort Marathon in June 10K YEP, Done it! PR!
  • Den Haag 6 hours solo in June. Goal: 50-55K YEP, Done it! PR! I ran 54K and won the 2nd place:-)
  • Boxmeerdaagse in August. Goal: run 2 trails of 42.6 and 48K in 1 week YEP, Done it! PR: 2 ultra's (46.6 and 49.9K) in 1 week
  • Eindhoven Marathon in October 26.2 miles/42.2K. Goal: < 4hours YEAH YEAH YEAH! DONE IT! PR!! 3:56 HAPPY!
  • ZevenHeuvelenloop in Nijmegen in November 15K YEP, Done it! PR (was my first 15K race:-)
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