My training plan for the 20 km door Brussel on 29 May asks for a tune up race. I however want to stay within Brussels and this greatly reduces the amount of options I have. As such, I went for a race I did last year while preparing for the 20 km: Les 10km de l’ULB, a race organised by the Cercle des Sciences (CdS), a student group for science students at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). Two reasons will likely always convince me to pass by this race: my own student group evolved out of theirs in the 40s for the purpose of the science students at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB, the Dutch equivalent of the ULB); and a lot of the money raised goes to science research. I had to shuffle my plan around a bit to fit it in, but I figured a race was better than nothing and the alternative of doing a time trial on a track sounded horrible.
I have been following Pete Pfitzinger’s lowest half marathon plan (12 weeks with up to 76 km per week) with some modifications. I had to shuffle the weeks around quite a bit to fit this race in properly, but all in all I felt OK with the preparation. I am now halfway through the 12 weeks and this was a nice moment to see where I stand. The week leading up to the race was heavy though, leaving my legs quite tired on Thursday. The rest day on Friday and the short recovery run on Saturday really were needed to get my legs in somewhat decent race shape.
I am unsure whether the leg tiredness is due to me shuffling the weeks around and ending up with a heavier week earlier than intended or whether it would have been happening regardless at this point. I am hoping for the latter of course as it would give me more confidence going into the final six weeks of this plan. I think the next two weeks will be telling.
The course is mostly the same as last year’s, though they changed the direction around and took some different turns. All in all I think the distance is pretty much the same. The hills are all still there as well. I went to check it out two weeks prior and it could definitely ruin your legs soon if you do not pay attention. On their site they mentioned the course was actually 10.3 km long.
In the first two kilometre, you climb 15-20 metre, descend them, and then climb them again. It briefly flattens out somewhat and then climbs another 15-20 metre to bring you at the end of the third km. By this point the road has also turned first into cobbles, then into a dirt path.
From that point on it is mostly downhill till 4.1 km in, with two downsides in the form of sharp turns. One turn of close to π and another well over π/2. Both force you to slow down and speed back up. You have now also reached the lowest point of the course, so naturally it is time to start climbing again. All the way till 6.5 km in you are going to be mostly unhappy with the grade you are running on. On the way there, you also pass a water stand in case you need to splash some in your face. Right before the water stand is an intermediate time measurement.
On the plus side, that was also the highest point and up until 8.3 km you can take advantage of that by (mostly) descending. Time to catch your breath for the final speed ups, if you have anything left. And immediately lose it again. Over the next 400 metre, you climb 20 metre you were no longer in the mood for. You are almost at the finish though and can now cruise downwards (again, mostly) until the final few hundred metre of the race, which go up again to squeeze the most out of your final kick.
Goals and Strategy
Goals before the race were (from estimated hard to easy):
- Sub 40. I did not realistically think I could make it though, the course is 10.3km (according to their website) and the hills in it are substantial enough to make proper pacing difficult.
- Top 50. Going by last year’s times, I thought the improvement could be there to maybe just make it. Last year’s 50th person ran it in 40:56. (last year I was 177th out of 2447 finishers with 44:52)
- Sub 42. If it were exactly 10km, this should have definitely been possible, I reckoned. The extra 300 metre add more than a minute though, so I did not feel particularly sure still.
- Do better than the girlfriend. She was aiming for top female, I figured I should try to at least run faster than that then. Going by our results in races we both did, this goal seemed definitely attainable.
- Break my 10k PR from training. This was set at 43:45 from a lactate threshold run on completely flat terrain in Eindhoven (The Netherlands) two weeks prior. The time uses Strava’s “estimated best effort”.
- Break my 10k PR from racing. This was set last year on this course in the other direction at 44:52.
Phew, that was quite the long list of goals. I blame it on not racing a 10k often. That is, this was my second 10k, my first one being this race last year and I still did not know what to really expect from it. I did have a 9 km about two months ago and completely blew up in that due to bad planning of the race itself. Not much to learn from that beyond that I need to pace myself better.
Which leads me to my relatively simple strategy. In an attempt to avoid blowing up again, I planned to start at a heart rate of 170. This is what I usually aim for during my tempo runs, so I assumed it should be manageable throughout a 10 km race. The idea was to keep it at this for at least the first six km and then see how much I had left to speed up.
Morning of the Race
I did not sleep very well, having some trouble falling asleep and waking up during the night, requiring another 1h30 to fall asleep again. I did not consciously feel very tired, but I imagine some influence on my body remained. After waking up at 7:45, I ate my usual pre-race food of two times two slices of bread with americain préparé while drinking a bunch of water.
The girlfriend and I took the metro and the tram to get to the start around 9:30 (with the race starting at 10:30). Bib pick up and bag drop off were efficient, so we waited a bit before starting our warmup. Warmup was just a little jog, we forgot about strides and the like as we were focused on making sure to get a final toilet trip in before the race.
The weather was about perfect with some sun and around 8 degrees Celcius. We lined up around the fourth or fifth line and did our usual sighing at people that clearly did not belong at the front, realising many people behind us likely thought the same about us. One of those was a girl in front of me (one person separating us) with headphones on and looking overdressed. She will play a bit of a role at the start.
At exactly 10:30, the race was started. Two steps past the start line, the girl I mentioned before fell on the ground. I am assuming she was starting slower than the people right behind her expected or was not paying attention because of the music. Some feet must have hit each other and down she went. Whatever the reason, she was sprawled in my way. In a split second I decided that the fastest way around her was to jump over her. Yeah. I jumped with my legs spread enough to not hit her in the face by accident, landed safely on the other side and ran on.
Slight adrenaline rush and I sprinted past some people for a few 100 metre before trying to reign myself in, the goal was to run at 170 HR after all. I saw a guy from a local racing team (RCB, Racing Club de Bruxelles) named François, he had his name on the back of his team shirt. I stayed near him till about halfway the third kilometre but eventually he started pulling away while I tried to keep my heart rate under control. I appreciate he had his name on his back as it allowed me to look him up in the results afterwards.
Kilometre one in 3:54, kilometre two in 4:08.
While my heart rate stayed where I wanted it in the first two kilometre, suddenly I noticed it was at 175 and I tried my best to get it back down a bit. Did not work quite as well as I hoped and I gambled it would not kill me near the end of the race. As I passed the almost π turn, I scanned the people behind me to find the girlfriend. I did not see her, which was some relief at least. I reached the lowest point of the course and knew the suffering would really start now.
Kilometre three in 4:34, kilometre four in 4:14.
Somewhere in the fifth kilometre a female passed me, telling me the girlfriend was not going to win today, because this girl was zooming. Shortly after, another guy from RCB caught up to me, this one called Geatan. (Seriously, names on the back of the shirts, so handy) While he caught up to me, he did not actually pull away from me and I simply trailed him for a while as we made our way up the hill. My heart rate hovered dangerously close to 180 and hit it a few times, getting me worried I was overdoing it. Keeping it nice and calm till the sixth kilometre was not quite happening, but I also did not feel like letting Gaetan drop me. Decisions, decisions.
Kilometre five in 4:27, kilometre six in 4:46.
Well I decided to stick to Gaetan and suck up the problems later. Just beyond the sixth kilometre was the water stand. I never planned on actually drinking anything so just accepted a bottle and emptied it on my head before tossing it smoothly in the bin. Gaetan must have had more trouble with it or must have slowed down a bit to drink properly, because suddenly he was gone from my side.
The downhill started, which I was happy with, immediately passing two people. Soon some pretty bad cobbles started. I had anticipated this however, when I checked out the course two weeks prior, and moved to the earth/grass area on the side of the road. Bad idea. It had rained enough to make this muddy and slippery and after a few steps I switched back to balancing on the cobbles. This too I had anticipated, having found out that the middle part of the road was the most flat. I could not however move onto it as the two people I had just passed had passed me again because of my muddy adventure, blocking my middle lane. Sighing, I passed them on the left side before moving to the middle. It still was pretty bad, but the best I was going to get on this section. The cobbles finally ended about 7.2 km into the race.
Kilometre seven in 4:00, kilometre eight in 4:23.
During the final serious climb, from km 8.1 to 8.5, yet another guy from team RCB joined me. This one did not have his name on the back of shirt, so he shall be called noname. He pulled a few metres away, but never created a really substantial gap. During the final kilometre, I was beginning to struggle. My right calf started feeling pretty darn sore/slight cramping and I felt a side stitch developing. I kept telling myself it was just a little bit, but a kilometre can feel pretty long still. The slight pains slowed me down enough to bring my heart rate back closer to some semblance of control in the lower 170s.
We came out of the forest and turned through the second to last turn. Noname was still a few metre before me and I decided I would bite through the pain and start a final kick in these last few 100 metre of slight uphill. Surprisingly this speed up made the pain go away (adrenaline?) and I pushed all I had left. I passed noname right before the final turn and managed to somehow speed up just a bit more racing towards the finish line. I crossed the line as my heart rate hit 188, a new maximum for me, I will have to slightly adjust training zones.
Kilometre nine in 4:23, kilometre ten in 4:03.
Well, the first three goals failed, the last three succeeded. Good enough? My official time was 42:47, Strava says the same. Annoyingly, my watch stopped at 9.97 km, so Strava rounds that down to 9.9 km. Sigh. The competition was definitely stronger this year, this time placed me only in 140th position of the 2639 finishers. The top three males were 32:46, 32:49, and 34:12.
The girlfriend finished in 44:11, but was not near the podium, she finished seventh female. To be fair, I was not near the female podium either. Their podium times were 39:17, 40:17, and 41:23. I did go faster than the fourth female, one spot worse compared to last year.
From the RCB guys that I had briefly run with or behind, François had the best time with 41:02 in 84th place. Noname I believe finished nine seconds faster than me, 133rd position with a time of 42:38, though I do not know his name so am not 100% sure. This would indicate he started quite a few rows behind me. Gaetan finished 147th with 42:58. I never looked back, so I cannot confirm, but I feel like I must have created a gap after the water stand and that it just mostly stayed that way till the finish.
I must admit, I was disappointed during (more people passing me than I had wanted) and right after the race (because of my time). Especially when I noticed I recovered pretty quickly from the effort, making it feel like I could have and should have gone faster. The more I think about it though, the more OK I am with it. Especially the part where I did not blow up completely. Not to mention it is not the goal race of this spring, so there is only so much I can expect from it. I do however believe I should try to become more realistic in my goals. The time of “noob gainz” is over, sadly.
Up to the next race, which will likely be the 6 km race in the “15 km de Woluwe-Saint-Lambert” event on 8 May. Unless the girlfriend and I decide to take the leap into crazy and do a 10,000 metre time trial on the track for Pfitz’ “tune up race”. I would mostly do it out of curiosity of what my PB could be on the flat.