With my eyes set on a half in two weeks, it was time for a tune up race. The Brussels Canal Run might be the only flat road race in Brussels and it fell right in the weekend that I wanted that tune up race. Perfect. As races they offer a 4 km, a 9 km, and a 13 km combining the 9 and 4 km routes. I pondered between the 9 and the 13, but eventually settled on the 9 since it gives a swifter recovery while not sacrificing that much “predictive power” for my half.
I will only mention the past two weeks here. For the rest you can have a glance at my original fall planning, which I have mostly followed, as well as the training section of my race two weeks earlier which describes any discrepancies.
Since the previous race was at the end of a recovery week, the week after the race (a.k.a., last week) was a regular week where I aimed to run 80 km total. As I had just raced, I did not consider a workout at the start of the week and instead just kept doing easy runs. Friday I did a 2×10 minute Threshold run on a “Brussels flat” loop running about 3:40 and 3:50 respectively. The first one might have been a bit too hard, going by the slow down, but it could be mental, still not sure about that. Two days after that workout I ran, I realise now, my last long run for this cycle: a 20 km loop where the sun got me and I was stuck with a mild heatstroke for the rest of the day.
The first days of the new week (i.e., this week) were terrible in terms of sleep. I just could not fall asleep, but still had to get up in time for meetings and the like. I was exhausted and decided to still run, but drop my planned Tuesday Threshold workout. Besides that I had shuffled runs around a bit to fit in a Saturday race and still run 80 km for the week. I came up with: 10, 14, 16, 10, 6, raceday, and run the rest I still need on Sunday. The last two days before the race were recovery runs.
As the name implies, this race follows the canal in Brussels. This makes for a mostly flat race, though the bridges ruin that idea a little bit. The street is completely blocked off for the first km and then some. Around 1.3 km they added a loop through some building’s courtyard, adding maybe 100 metre compared to running straight. The courtyard is all terrible cobbles. After that you are switching from street to side walk/bike path to go under a bridge (down, then up). Quite narrow. Luckily it widens after going under the second bridge, about 2.5 km in. After you have gone under the third bridge, the path goes up slightly towards the fourth bridge, which you have to cross. The path to that fourth bridge forces you to run either on cobbles or move further away from the edge to find some easier stone. You cross the bridge about 4 km into the race.
The next 600 metre is alright, with part of a lane blocked off to run on. Once you pass the next bridge, however, you go into some side path full of cobbles. It sucks. Once past that section, about 5.5 km into the race, you go under a bridge, and then immediately have to make an awkward turn to climb some steep two-person-wide stairs to get on top of that bridge. Oh boy. You cross the bridge and continue.
About 6.3 km in, you have gone under the first original bridge you went under. You then need to make a π turn while slightly climbing, pass the water stand, and reach the top of that bridge. You cross the canal a third time. In the past the next section has sucked due to the street not being closed off and the side walk being much too narrow. Luckily they closed off one lane today. You continue on this side of the canal and can see the finish on the other side as you pass the area. About 800 metre to go at that point. The final bridge does not require any climbing and the turns are smooth. Once you are past it, there is just a few 100 metre left to the finish.
Goals and Strategy
There are many tables out there that tell you, given a recent race time, what paces you should train at. I run most of my runs by heart rate, so I thought to use that information and work in the opposite direction. I am running a certain kind of run at pace x, check the tables, see what pace for what race that tells me to go by. This gave me around 37:30 for 10 km (3:45 pace), which sounded a bit too fast. Instead I thought to start out at 3:50 pace and see where it got me.
I also had a peek at old results. Last year that pace would have put me third, the year before that eighth, and the year before that (the first edition of the Brussels Canal Run) second. I ignored the first edition and kind of assumed last year was a fluke. Regardless, I would line up at the front, see what the first guys do, and then decide whether it is crazy to follow them.
Race was in the afternoon so I could sleep in some. The girlfriend had to go a bit earlier, she was volunteering at the race. I had some spaghetti sauce leftovers and some muesli, both a few hours in advance of the race start. Took the metro there and arrived with over an hour to spare since they had claimed to shut down bib dispersal pretty early. Got my bib and the one of Reinout, an old co-worker that I had convinced to take part in the race. Waited around briefly for him, we chatted some when he arrived, then went to drop off bags on the other side of the canal. A final pee and then a calm jog as a warmup. Reinout had no plans of warming up but joined me anyway. We ran about 2 km. When we got back to the start area, people were already lined up. Luckily it turned out to be just the 13 km people, they would be starting first. Not everyone got the memo and it took a bit for everyone of the 13 km to actually leave. The 9 km would start next. I said bye to Reinout and made my way to the front.
I expected a top 10 finish, so had no qualms about toeing the line. A guy with bright yellow shoes next to me asked if we were doing two laps. I told him that the course changed compared to two years ago and that we instead got one big loop. The 13 km was also doing that loop and would be doing the 4 km loop after they were done with the larger 9 km loop. I also noticed someone with a 13 km bib standing behind me. I pointed out to him that he should have already left, which he did after some confusion.
I wish yellow shoes good luck and we start the race. I stick to the first group. After a few 100 metre I check the watch and realise I will be nopping out of this group: 3:20s per km. I let them go and do a headcount. I see nine people, including yellow shoes. Guess that makes me tenth. Sad realisation: I once more have nobody to run with and will have to rely on myself for pacing.
Before the first km is over, I already start passing people from the 13 km. Of course, some had started a bit late, but most had not. At this point there is still tons of room. It does not last however and once we have to leave the blocked off street and go to the narrower side walk, I have to weave a lot. As mentioned in the course description, it gets a bit wider after the second bridge. Sadly this seemed to coincide with catching up with most of the 13 km people. I think the first group might have already made it clear to them to leave some room, I manage to pass mostly easily to the left of them.
The 3 km marker is the first marker I noticed and I press my watch to have an indication: 11 minutes on the dot. If their distance is to be believed, that is 3:40 pace. On the other hand, my watch claims we only did 2.86 km, which would make it 3:51 pace.
It was at the start of this busy part (~2.5 km in) that I noticed yellow shoes ahead of me. He is alone so I guess the pace in the first group was too hot for him. I can tell I am slowly getting closer to him and around 3.8 km into the race I catch up to him. We exchange hellos. I very briefly am next to him and then get ahead of him to have the choice of my line as we turn onto the first bridge. I do not look back any more and just continue what I was doing. Unless I missed somebody (which is very possible, I did not look back for people’s bibs), I am now in ninth position.
I noticed the 4 km marker and pressed the watch again: 3:50 for that km. The GPS pretty much agrees and estimates 980 metre.
The next part has a little bit of side walk and a lane closed off for our running. Pretty safe for running you would think. One lady disagreed. She was going from side walk to road and before she even had left the side walk it looked like it was going to go wrong. It did. She stumbled, managed a step or two on the road and then full on faceplanted. Do not think she even managed to really set her hands. Welp. I was not going to be of much help and had a race to run, so I just continued.
A decent cobble section came up next, which sucked, but at least there was enough room to pass people. The cobbles were slightly slippery at times, I guess my shoes just do not give enough traction. From what the girlfriend had told me via text, there were some stairs to get onto the upcoming bridge. I used that knowledge, saw it was a bit narrow and hurried in front of one 13 km guy right before we reached the stairs. I got there together with yet another 13 km guy, but he clearly saw me and moved to the right side of the stairs. This gave me just enough room to pass him on the left. I reached the top of the stairs and recall thinking “should I not feel more exhausted after that?”.
I cross the bridge and notice the girlfriend, they had positioned her there to signal the way. I have enough energy to make a moose sign for several steps and say hi in the process. Maybe too much energy if I can be that silly still. She took some pictures.
I continue, passing people from the 13 km. I go under the very first bridge I went under. While climbing back out from under it, you are forced to make a π turn so you can get to crossing the bridge. That sucks. Another guy was on the inside of the turn too, slowing things down further. I ended up coming to an almost complete standstill. Restarting sucks. The complete turn does give me the chance to look back. I notice yellow shoes about 50-100 metre behind me. However, I also notice another guy with a yellow 9 km bib. I vaguely recall passing him a bit earlier. I know nobody has passed me since letting the first group go, so I figure I am now in eighth place.
Still climbing to the top of the bridge, we pass the water stand. I do my usual point-at-water-giver so we both know who we are going for. He started jogging backwards for me so I could more easily grab the cup he was holding out. How great is that? Grabbed it alright, poured it over my head and neck and threw it in the bin.
I cross the canal for the third time. I had not noticed a marker in a while and had not looked at my watch enough either. I did notice the 7 km marker however and pressed the lap button. The 4 to 7 km split is 12:02 (4:01 pace). Was going way too slow there. Sure it had the stairs and the weird turn, but that should not affect it that much. Sad to say, I did not realise this during the race. It does explain the earlier “things are feeling quite alright still” feeling.
With about 1 km to go, I switch data screen on my watch to show the heart rate. I had forgotten to change things around before the race and opted to see the lap pace over the heart rate. Turns out my heart rate was only about 171. Shit. That is just the upper end of the estimated lactate threshold zone for me, a.k.a., what I hope to reach in a Threshold workout. I expected and should aim for higher heart rates in a race of this distance. I speed up and easily dive under 3:50s pace, going as fast as 3:30s. Too much energy left!
I cross the line. Take a short breather and quickly feel alright again. Wait around for the next two people to arrive (guy I noticed in the turn and yellow shoes) to shake their hands and tell them good job. Get herded out of the finish area to a further zone since there is not enough room right there. Wait for Reinout to finish while drinking the 0.5l water bottle they gave us plus a huge apple.
I was indeed eighth, finishing in 34:14. That is 3:48 pace if you believe the official distance, 3:54 pace if you believe my GPS’s distance. My watch seems to lowball distances pretty often, but even with other people’s distances that still puts me in the 3:51-3:53 range. Alright, but not necessarily what I was hoping for. With the way I felt at the end though, I feel like I could have (should have) gone under 3:50. After dropping off my goodie bag at the bag drop, I did a cooldown. That also felt very alright still. Ah well.
Even if I had gone faster, I do not think I would have easily caught up to the guy in front of me. He finished 53 seconds ahead. Still I wonder what I could have done if I had known to follow him from the start. To get on the podium I needed to be 2:14 faster. To win, 3:28. Neither of those seem possible right now.
The guy I had not noticed when passing does not seem to show up in the results. Not sure what happened there. Yellow shoes finished 55 seconds behind me. The first woman finished in 39:14. Reinout was 27th in 40:42.
So this was my final race before the fall goal: a half in two weeks. I hoped to use the time as an estimate of what to aim for during that race. Even with the perhaps slight sandbagging, I think I have enough to work with now. Next up is actually writing down how I will handle the two coming weeks in terms of tapering. I will have to take a look at what Pfitzinger’s “Faster Road Racing” and Jack Daniels’ “Running Formula” have to say on the matter and pick and choose from there. Hope I do not mess that up!
As for pacing, the estimators seem to place today’s effort around a 1:26ish half marathon. I will have to combine that more properly with what my heart rate has to say, so I will also have a look at how that went during the Brussels 20 km from the end of May. When you focus on a goal, suddenly every choice needs much more deliberating…