The Antwerp 10 Miles was my main spring goal. However, I also signed up for the 20 km door Brussel again. Last year I broke into the top 1000, running 1:27:59 on a hot sunny day. I figured if the weather turned out better this year, I could easily break that course PR. Not only am I in better shape, but hot weather also really affects me. As the date drew nearer, the weather seemed to be almost as good as it can get for running this time of year: around 16C and likely cloudy. Guess I would be taking it slightly more seriously.
Most of my spring training is detailed in my previous two race reports: first the Lier natuurloopcriterium 10.4 km, then the Antwerp 10 miles. In this section I will just describe the past three weeks since that Antwerp 10 Miles race.
Week one was a recovery week, totalling 55 km. Week two I went back to higher volume (85 km), but kept intensity at regular running (GA/Recovery). Originally the Wednesday of week two had the 12 hour relay race of my university planned, something I took part in the past two years. Two years ago I raced every lap really hard and was sore for ages. Last year I managed to take things a little easier, but also hung around for 6 hours. This year I had committed to being around the full 12 hours. Due to bad weather however, they ended up moving the race back a week. Now it fell in the week of this 20 km race.
I had planned on somewhat training through the 20 km, but not really expected to run that much just a few days before. Now I did not have much of a choice. A smarter man might have tried to find a way to not have to run. Instead, I resolved to run the laps at a really easy pace. Did not quite work out. I ended up running them around 4:10 pace, definitely faster than my regular running pace. It might be about my hypothetical marathon pace? I stayed around all day, running 36 laps, which combines to at least 20 km. I did not run the final hour as I started feeling a weird twitch around my right ankle. I was willing to sacrifice freshness, but I was not going to get injured for this. After that Wednesday, I ran 6, 10, and 6 again in the days before the 20 km race. My legs felt better day after day, but still not great.
Goals and Strategy
At first I just wanted to PR. I also figured if the weather was alright, 1:25 should be easily attainable. There is no 1:25 pacer though, but there is a 1:20 one. Based on my Antwerp time, Tinman’s equivalence calculator tells me I have a low 1:16 20 km in my legs. Antwerp is, however, a flatter course than Brussels. It crossed my mind to just follow the 1:20 pacer. The idea was in my head and it was there to stay. I figured I was OK with blowing up anyway, my spring goal had already passed three weeks earlier. After a lot of internal debate and bouncing the idea off others (and being told 1:25 is a dumb sandbagging goal), I settled on it. Follow the 1:20 pacer and see what happens.
Nothing really special in the days leading up to it. Just ensured I had a calm Saturday.
I based my Sunday morning planning on notes from last year. Woke up at 7:00 with race start planned for 10:00. Had 100g muesli and a cup and a half of black tea as quickly as I could. Listened to upbeat 90s music to help wake up. Tried to use the toilet often enough. Left around 8:30 to head to Cinquantenaire. It was lightly raining and would do so till the start. Once there (around 9:15) I passed by the tent of Brussels studentsport. I had signed up through my university and still had to pick up my bib there. Nice extras: I could easily drop my bag off and afterwards they would provide fruit, sportdrink, water, … By 9:30 I went for a little jog around the park to arrive at my wave. It was raining so I put on my hat. I had a peek at the lines for the toilet, but decided I did not feel like waiting in line.
Once in the wave, I kept walking around some and doing some stretches to keep somewhat warm. By 9:50 I squeezed into the crowd, a few rows down from the front line. My coworker (aiming for a sub 1:30) found me and we chatted briefly. I spotted a 1:20 pacer, but he went into the “elite” corral in front of us. The other 1:20 pacers joined him there. I was getting worried for a repeat of the Antwerp 10 Miles pacer mishap, where the pacer I wanted to follow was in some special separate corral and I never got close to him. Luckily before starting the race, they removed the barrier between wave 1 and the elite wave, so we could join up behind them. I managed to get near one of the pacers and decided he was going to be the one to follow. In total I spotted four of them. One on the other side of the corral I ignored. One I was standing right behind, we will call him Start Pacer. The other two were several rows up ahead, we will call those Fast Pacer and Dropped Pacer for reasons that will become clear later on.
To kill time while we waited for the start signal, I chatted for a bit with an older man with glasses who was also planning on following the pacer. He was hoping for really even splits, I preferred them going out slightly slower since the first part has quite some climbing.
For the 40th edition of this race, the gun was shot by King Filip of Belgium. We had the usual slow walk towards the starting line. It is a pretty significant bottleneck so this happens every year. Once we started, the Start Pacer I had intended on following seemed to have some trouble with the crowd. It was almost as if he had never been in a crowded race. He went at, what felt in those first few moments, a pedestrian pace and did not weave between people at all. I figured he would have some trouble for the next km and then be forced to make up time. I was not in the mood for such an uneven start, so I left Start Pacer behind and went my own pace, using the gaps I saw. If he did what I suspected, he would catch up to me again anyway and I could follow him then.
This went smooth enough and not even a kilometre into the race, I noticed I was already pretty close to the other two pacers (Fast Pacer and Dropped Pacer) I had seen several rows ahead of me at the start. I decided I would slowly bridge the gap and roll from there. About 1.5 km to the race, I was behind them and feeling confident.
As we turned up in front of the Royal Palace, suddenly someone started talking to me. “Hey, I’m the guy who messaged you on reddit”. About 10 days earlier someone had asked me a question about group runs in Brussels. He had recognised my ARTC singlet. I was a bit weirded out at first, but we made conversation the next few 100 metre. Turns out he did not know the course, so I gave him a quick overview of what to expect. I noticed I had fallen behind slightly on the pacers while talking and did a quick speed up to be back with them. I looked around and realised the guy had not followed. Oh well. We turned in front of the Palace of Justice and I spotted a km marker for the first time.
After this you pretty quickly drop into a first of three tunnels. Part of the reason I decided to go for manual lapping on this race. I stick close to the two pacers through the first tunnel. Heading into the second tunnel, the pacers are no longer sticking together. I decide to follow the faster one, Fast Pacer, of the two. After the second tunnel, I spot another km marker.
I see the split time on my watch and notice Fast Pacer has no goal of slowing down some. I decide this pacer is going faster than I wanted to go. With all the climbing in this half I expected to go out slightly slower than goal pace, not faster. I always go out way too fast in the first half of this race when pacing myself. Is it ironic that the one time I have some more self control is when I decide to ignore the pacer that was supposed to help me? I do not think too much about what pace I am holding, but I let the pacer go. I figure Dropped Pacer would catch up to me anyway if it turns out I start going too slow.
We enter Terkamerenbos and I start feeling the effort a little. However, I know there will be some reprieve soon and just try to stay consistent. Somewhere around these parts, I spot Dropped Pacer in the corner of my eye. I ensure I stay either abreast with or in front of him. We reach a top around the 7 km mark and I spot another distance marker.
Next there is some reprieve as we blast down a hill. There are some bumps back upwards, but most of the next 3 km can probably be described as descending. Somewhere around here we pass an aid station with only sports drinks. I recall a note from last year’s race report in which I stated drinking two sips of the sports drink gave me a heavy feeling in the gut. I ignore this aid station. Not like I really need to drink much during a 20 km race that is not blazing hot.
Nothing really happens in this section, I spot Dropped Pacer in the corner of my eye on the uphill parts, drop him again on the downhill parts.
I passed the midway point quite ahead of the 1:20 goal I had in mind. After a last little bump you can enjoy some downhill for quite a while to recover. In previous editions I have managed to be sometimes be so dead by this point that I could not even enjoy a speedy downhill recovery. Today, I felt largely alright and was already starting to feel pretty sure about going sub 1:20. First that little bump though.
After passing the 10 km mark, you climb up for about 1.5 km again. The height difference is negligible compared to what you have done so far, but if you blew up some already, this really sucks. As it stands, I was alright. At that point, something a little fucked up happened.
The road is turning left here and for the next several kilometres. If you are running tangents, you aim for the inside of that turn of course. This is made slightly more difficult by the charity runners you pass. There is this thing where a group will push a (mostly mentally?) handicapped person in a special wheelchair. They start before the race starts, so you spend most of the race passing different groups. This goes well, if sometimes a bit tight. This particular group though was taking up the inner two lanes of the left turn we were in. There are three car lanes total. Usually there are some gaps to squeeze in-between, but not so with this group. Some other runner almost bumped into one of the group’s runners. The group’s runner gets really mad and yells at the guy that “there is another lane to the right for you to use”. I retort “use it then” as I pass the group’s runner myself. I figure they are not in it to race nor to run a particular time. The guy must not have appreciated my comment as I suddenly see a half full water bottle flying past me and hitting an unsuspecting runner in the legs. Shit, dude, take some anger management classes.
Either way, I was alright and crested the little hill shortly after. Nothing really happened the next few kilometre as we went either downhill or were on flattish grounds. In retrospect I maybe should have tried pushing this part a bit more. I do not quite remember how I felt.
After 16 km my predicted finish time was just sub 1:18 (I notice that now, I did not make that calculation during the run). Of course, the Tervurenlaan was still to come, starting around the 17th kilometre and ending around 18.5. Before making the turn onto the Tervurenlaan, I see Fast Pacer in the distance jogging backwards. I guess he realised he was way ahead of the 1:20 he was pacing. I hope those that actually followed him did not blow up completely before the climb to come.
We start the climb and I try to find a pace where I do not blow up, but also try to avoid being my usual slow climbing self. The not blowing up part seems to work at least. I do seem to recall my legs burning a little, though I am not sure at what point it happened. Suddenly I notice someone to the left of me that I recognise: the older guy with glasses from right before the start. It is clear he is going up the hill faster than I am and I decide to just follow him till the top. This speed-up does not feel particularly bad, so I must not have been climbing fast enough.
Eventually we get past the hill and I decide it is time to immediately kick up the pace again. While I am pressing the lap button whenever I see a km marker, I am not really paying attention to the time that is shown on the watch face. Just trying to push out an effort I think I can definitely carry till the end. I think I only pass people in this section. Fast Pacer jogs backwards some more and I pass him too. The cobbles at the end are annoying as always, but I get through them without doing something dumb with my ankles.
Official results peg me at 1:18:20 (3:55/km average), Strava agrees. The last two km were done in 3:49 and 3:46. I finished 287th out of 30k finishers. I took a quick breather, got a banana, some water, my medal. I thanked Fast Pacer and Dropped Pacer, but pointed out to Fast Pacer he went way too fast. He apologised. I realised I felt alright. Too alright? After other editions I was always feeling rather dead. Now I went for a recovery jog and felt… fine. It put a slight damper on largely satisfied feelings. Could I easily have done much better still? A week later I am still not sure how I feel about it. It is unlikely the weather will be this good again soon. In other words, this course PR may easily stand for a few years. It would be a shame if it was not the best I could do on the day. My jog ended at the studentsport stand where I changed and happily used the food and drinks they provided.
The winner did it in 1:00:34. I would have needed a 1:12:51 for the top 100 and a 1:16:34 for the top 200. Still lots of room for improvement. The female winner ran 1:13:04. Of the women, I only had to let the podium finish ahead of me. Dropped pacer ran 1:19:05. Cannot be bothered finding Fast Pacer, but evidently he was on pace to be much faster than my time.
The older guy with glasses finished in 1:18:36. The coworker aiming for sub 1:30 succeeded in his goal (1:28:44), but my own PRing doubled the timegap between us. As long as no crazy runner joins the office, I should be safe for now.
This ends my spring. I guess next up I should follow through on my “try out a 1500-3000m plan” idea. I also should start thinking about what race I want to make my fall goal though. That will definitely shape my plans. I am leaning towards a flat and certified half marathon. Finding a track race around my level would also be nice, but I am not even sure where to really start looking for such a thing.