Oh boy, the big one, if you’re from Belgium. There are longer races, with a marathon and a half marathon early October. There are similarly big races, with the Antwerp 10 miles. The Brussels’ 20k though. It has been around for a while now. My dad used to run it, not that I remember that anymore, I was too young at the time. I reckon it is the most important running race one can run in Belgium.
Working up to it these past months has been going great, I used Hal Higdon’s intermediate half marathon plan as a guideline. Some moving around to fit with the available races in the neighbourhood. No issues had popped up at any point of this, until (how wonderful) the very last week. My right knee sometimes felt a bit odd the past weeks, but I attributed it to working in three pair of new shoes (two regular pairs, one running shoe pair). The very last week, something went wrong. After my last long run the previous Sunday, my right knee was in pain, to the left side and a bit lower than the kneecap. By in pain I mean excruciating pain whenever weight shifted to it. This is, of course, terrible. Luckily this was a taper week so running was turned down quite a bit, but it was not healing as quickly as I hoped. By Sunday morning the pain still crept up in the same way, but it had lessened quite a bit: no longer from just walking, very manageable when running. I decided to risk running the 20k because I had worked so long for it and it felt OK enough. The pain went away once things really started.
So to race day! The race starts and ends in Parc du Cinquantenaire and this happens in six waves of over 6,000 people each, totalling up to about 40,000 people. Ever so slightly bigger than my previous biggest race which had about 2,400 people. I arrived near the area at about 9:30, 30 minutes before the official start, thinking that was plenty of time. Turns out I had forgotten that big crowds are not very efficient to go through. After a quick last minute piss, I made my way to my starting box, box two. Arrived in time, but there might be a need to come earlier in the future to warm up in a calm manner.
With Ravel’s Bolero blaring through the speakers, as is traditional at this 20k, the boxes were getting pretty crowded. I fear I was a bit back in my own box, but I was not sure what to expect yet anyway, it was something I could live with. I did frown at people from another box (you can tell by their bib) standing around in mine. Not to be elitist, there are plenty of people better than I am after all, but you just know they may get in the way at some point, and indeed, plenty of them would.
A first gun shot set box one on their way, six minutes later the gun shot for box two sounded too. Off we were! Though not quite due to the bottlenecks at the park exits. Had to walk there first, essentially. Of course I had already pressed start on my activity. Would make pacing a bit more confusing during the race, but I managed. Once out the park, I started overtaking more and more people which made me fear I was starting a bit too fast. I held on though, since it did not feel particularly fast and I blamed it on the others running too slowly.
About two to three kilometers into the race, I passed two girls, walking next to each other. A glance back after passing them told me they had a number in the 1000s. In other words, they made up some time when signing up, got placed in the best box and quickly learned they were not up to par for it. Bit silly of them, I can only hope they filled in those times because they had never run anything of three kilometer and had completely, zero, none experience. If that is not the case, then they are probably just assholes. (Or got injured, in which case I apologise, but I doubt it)
On the Louisalaan, we went through some tunnels. First time I did that. The air felt a bit weird and like it had some static in it, if that is even possible. That is what my skin registered though. Coming out of a tunnel is surprisingly steep, keep that in mind if you ever need to run through one.
Also of note: the trash at the very first waterstand. I would guess over 10k people had passed by at that point and the street was completely and utterly littered with waterbottles. You really had to watch out where you placed your feet to not slip over one. I can only think in horror how that must have been like for the waves after me.
After the Louisalaan, the race winds through Ter Kameren bos where we reach the highest point of the race, 125 meter at 7.2km. For comparison the lowest point is 53 meter. I passed the halfway point at 45m11s (official timing, did not know my official time when I passed it) and after that it is mostly chugging along with the crowd till kilometer 17 and the dreaded Tervurenlaan. Dreaded because I had already been warned about it being a killer by several other people who had run this race. Dreaded because on the profile map it does look dreadful enough so late in the race. Over the course of little under a kilometer, you are climbing and climbing. As it turns out though, I was pretty OK with that. It did not noticeably tire me out and I had nothing to fear.
While managing this final hill, the Arc de Triomphe where the finish line is located springs into view. Do not see this as a hint to immediately start sprinting, it is still 1.5 to 2 kilometer. I kept up my steady pace and some final sprint to the last kilometer. Over the line and time to rest at last. After a few minutes though, I had already regained my breath and all the signs of exhaustion. Makes me think that I could have pushed myself harder during the race itself. Live and learn for next year. On the other hand, as I am writing this, my right knee is screaming for rest and has trouble sustaining my weight if I move around. Though now I notice the general pain area seems to be a bit lower than the knee, at the start of the shinbone. I assume the cause is still the same though, whatever it is. I am definitely taking myself off running for the coming week. Hope that does the trick. If not, a trip to the doctor will be in order.
Now to the good part, the times! Good indeed. I had set out to run 1h40m, back when I signed up and after the knee troubles the past week that remained the goal. As mentioned before I was overtaking quite a bit of people at the start and I feel like that did not change throughout the race. I overtook more people than the other way around, as far as I could tell. My official time at the line was 1 hour 30 minutes 41 seconds. If I had known I would be so close to breaking 1h30, I probably would have started sprinting a bit sooner. Still overjoyed with the time though. Accompanying it is my rank, 2833rd. I think I can conclude that next year will be a start from box one, barring any injuries.