For the first time ever, a Belgian Championship was to be held for the 10 kilometre road race. To do so, an established street race was picked out and the Belgian Championship would just be held as a part of that race. That race was the Optiek Sonck Streetrace in Lokeren which has been organised for the past 33 years.
In a moment of “why the fuck not”, I decided I would take part in it. I did not stand a chance, but I was curious to compare myself to the better runners in Belgium on an equal playing field. Add to the fact that this race was flat and on actual roads, both of which I had not experienced in a 10 km race yet. I figured this could be a nice moment to set a new PR. Only downside: the race was held in the afternoon. At the start of August. I suck in warm weather.
For the past two months, I have just been doing some base building. The main goal of which is trying to get used to some more weekly distance. I have been stagnating a bit around 66 km per week as I try to iron out some small pains and niggles before pushing further. This base building has been mostly easy runs with a tempo on Thursday every second week and a bunch of strides added to the Thursday of those other weeks.
My tapering was limited to race week. Monday was a day off, as usual. Tuesday was shortened by a few kilometre to 11.5 with some strides and 1200 metre at the hoped race pace. Wednesday was an 8 km recovery run and Thursday another day off. Friday was 5 km recovery with a few strides at the end. Saturday was race day.
Start and finish is at the local stadium. Two loops are run on the streets of the village. Half of the loop follows the river that runs through the town. This river, or rather, its bridges, make for the only small pieces of “elevation” in the race. There are some patches of cobblestones, the nice-to-run-on well maintained kind, as well as about half a kilometre (total) of gravel. All in all, nothing to be worried about.
The only actually worrying thing: there is virtually no shaded area to hide you from the sun beating down on you.
Goals and Strategy
Due to no specific preparation, I had nothing to lose going into this race. During the 1200m @ race pace attempt on Tuesday, I kept a sub 4:00 pace easily without really raising my heart rate. I have also been meaning to go under 40 minutes for the 10 km. Things seemed to be neatly falling into place, so I set a goal of going for a sub 4:00 pace and just seeing if I could carry it to the end.
If nothing else, I figured I should be able to PR easily enough. My PR was 42:47 from a race back in April.
Day of the Race
I tried sleeping in a bit, but mostly failed at that. The girlfriend and I had some pasta leftovers and slowly got ready. We had to take the train to Lokeren, but due to the race not starting until 15:15, we had plenty of time to get ready. The weather seemed OK, it was actually clouded. By the time we headed out though, the clouds were already mostly gone and the temperature had climbed some.
By the time we were doing our warmup, the sun was properly beating down and the temperature had reached lower mid 20s. That little jog already had me sweating like a madman and I knew the race itself would be suffering.
Because of all the actual fast people present, I did not start anywhere near the front. As we started off, this turned out to be advantageous in that I was unable to do my usual much too fast start. There was not really any way through and I just followed the crowd till we left the stadium. By that point, the road was wide enough for any manoeuvring and quickly people found their spot. The crowd’s usual stringing out happened and people settled into their pace.
I quickly realised I was going to have trouble keeping the pace sub 4:00. I started going slightly slower, but still managed to keep on passing people, which helped morale. After we crossed the river a first time, we were unto a narrow gravel path. I had to go on to the adjacent grass a few times to pass people and just hoped there were no hidden holes anywhere. Luckily this did not last long and once we crossed the river back to the original side, there were not enough people around me any more for it to matter. The road wound next to the river for a few 100 metre more before it turned away so we could loop back to the stadium.
Kilometre one in 3:56, two in 4:05, and three in 4:07.
Around the three kilometre mark was a water stand. At least, that is what I expected. Instead, they were offering wet sponges. The idea looked nice in theory, but I did not feel it was efficient in refreshing me. I would have rather had a cup of water and emptied it on my head directly.
We turned left and on this street there was a small amount of shade on the right side. Everybody headed straight for the shaded side. Alas, it was not meant to be as a few 100 metre further we were directed onto the sidewalk on the left side of the street. This part of the street was not closed down and we had to turn left eventually anyway.
Before long, we were back in the centre of the village and there was more of a crowd cheering us on. We passed the entrance of the stadium and started the second loop. Again we were offered a sponge, which I used, but here also a cup of water, which I also simply emptied on my head. Meanwhile I had been trying to slow myself down a bit more again, as my heart rate had happily climbed into the low 180s. The highest I have seen my heart rate ever so far has been 190, so 180s get me to pay attention.
Kilometre four in 4:14, five in 4:17, six in 4:19.
I chugged on and slowly caught up to people here and there. It was nice not to be on the receiving end of that for once. The sun also disappeared behind a cloud for about five minutes, giving some relief. I crossed the river twice and passed the sponge stand once more.
Turning left onto the street with the little bit of shade on the right side, I noticed nobody was running on the shaded side this time around. The extra metres you had to run for the rather small gain were not worth the effort and so I too continued without avoiding the sun.
As we entered the final two kilometre, I decided I might as well let the heart rate continue its upward creep and sped up again. We went through the village centre, and the crowds, and twice I almost hit a crossing spectator. The first one was a little girl crossing from my right hand side to my left hand side. She only looked to her right before crossing. I will forgive her, she must have been five or so and all adults nearby were trying to make her get out of the way. The second one was some 30-40 year old idiot who decided to cross nowhere near the official crossing. Upon spotting me and realising he was right in my path, he apparently thought it best not to really move at all. Fuck that guy.
Kilometre seven in 4:20, eight in 4:17, nine in 4:14.
During the final kilometre, my heart rate averaged 188 (as mentioned before, my max is 190). I was pushing out whatever I had left. I passed one more guy with about 700 metre to go, he looked like his body had given up, he was going pretty slow. I reentered the track and remembered that I could not just sprint to the finish, but instead had to first do another lap. I managed to kick out a sub 4:00 pace again, but was oh so glad once I crossed the line.
My time was nowhere near sub 40, but I did break my PR by over a minute. The watch says 41:35, the official results do not seem to take chip time into account and put me at 41:44. That might have to do with it being a championship: with all the different age categories they want to have first over the line = winner. I ranked 159th out of 496 participants. The girlfriend ran it in 44:38, making her 39th out of 121 females.
I cannot say I was close to the winner, he did it in 30:06. Nor the female winner for that matter, who managed 35:11. I expected as much. A result that did catch me by surprise however, was a certain Eddy Vierendeels. This 64 year old guy ran the 10 km in 36:41. When I saw that, I googled him. Turns out he is the former world record holder in that age category despite only having started running in 2002, when he was 50. Welp, talk about possibly wasted potential.
I will likely take the coming week off, get rid of those pains and niggles properly before looking forward towards a fall goal. I am not quite sure yet what that will be exactly, but am currently leaning towards making a more organised effort at a sub 40 10 km. If I find another flat one. If I do not immediately find an exact goal, I will just continue my base building regime. I sort of like the simplicity of it right now.