Marcella Herzog (23) was watching television with mixed feelings last Sunday. In sunny Sardinia, the cream of the European crop was battling it out for the medal during the European Championship for cross country. Two weeks previous, Herzog had unexpectedly earned her place on the podium during the Warandecross in Tilburg, but the Dutch federation (KNAU) did not succeed in putting together a four-person team. ‘The coach did say that if I keep progressing as I have been, I would be earning an individual spot in next year’s EC.’
Missing the trip to Italy at least ensured that Herzog had more time to finish her bachelor’s thesis. She wants to hand in the final version before the new year, since she is flying to South Africa for high altitude training. After graduating, she will be leaving Groningen for good. It is the city where her mindset turned into that of a top athlete.
Herzog started running when she was 16. She says she was not ‘much of a fanatic’, even though she always wanted to be the best in other sports. When she started working as a ski instructor in Austria, her running shoes were left behind in the closet. But she has realised she has a natural ability and wants to use it. Once she moved to Groningen, she joined Team4Mijl, where trainer Eddy Kiemel motivated her to train every day.
‘That was pretty tough in the beginning’, Herzog says, laughing. ‘In that first year I also joined Gyas and I participated in the introduction period. I don’t think Eddy even knew that. I rowed, attended all the drinks and quickly found out that I wasn’t well-rested enough for my running training. Precisely because my trainer allowed me the freedom to explore student life, the message became clear: if I really wanted this, I’d have to make choices.’
One of those choices was a stay abroad as part of her studies. ‘It coincided with preparations for the EC for people under 23 years old in July 2015. I wouldn’t have been able to prepare properly abroad, so I decided to do that the following year. Unfortunately, I ended up missing the EC due to an injury.’
Her season was saved by a silver medal at the Dutch Championships, a performance she almost matches in 2016. At the most recent DC, she won the bronze medal.
In February of this year, Herzog ended up in Hamburg after all, spending a semester there. Back in the Netherlands, she moved to Arnhem to be able to train at the Papendal sports centre. But not before she completed the 4 Mile as best female Dutch runner.
‘The next day I showed up late to class at the RUG with my running shoes dangling from my bag. The teacher did make a snide remark about that.’
In Arnhem, where she stays a lot because of the training, she is without her former team- and housemates. ‘That is a shame. Especially my housemates knew that I wore my sports outfit most of the time anyway. They also always made sure that there was dinner waiting for me when I got home late from training. We were a really close-knit group. Some athletes prefer to all live together, but I really enjoyed being surrounded by people of varied interests.’
‘I’m progressing faster than I had expected. My new coach believes that I will match the level of the European top within 18 months, and that I may even be able to go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo in four years. But first, I want to go to the EC in Berlin in 2018. Right now, on paper, I’m focused on the controversial Olympic Games of 1936, the subject of my thesis. Potentially being able to walk around that stadium myself has taken on a magical quality.’
The surname Herzog is well-known in the world of athletics. For years, Marcella’s sister Adrienne was part of the international top for the middle and long distances. In 2015, she was suspended for two years because of doping. ‘That was hard to deal with at first. I was a rookie in the world of athletics. Losse Veter, a running blog, asked how ‘the sister’ would do. That was an annoying comparison. Fortunately, that time is behind me and I’ve made my own name within the running world.’
The sisters may just appear at the start together this time. Adrienne’s suspension is over, but her re-entrance was postponed due to her pregnancy. ‘I visited her in the summer in Colorado, where she lives. We ran together. For the first time ever she didn’t ask me if she was going too fast. We trained at a really high level together. She would like to win a medal at the EC cross country. I hope we can run together next year.’