Another Belgian Championship after taking part in the 10k road race last fall. I of course stand no chance to compete with the big dogs (or the medium dogs for that matter), but I still like taking part in these championships because there are bound to be enough fast people to run with… and it helps that it still sounds cool to me to be able to say you take part in the Belgian Championship. Anyway, I heard about this half marathon about a month in advance. I had no other plans. I figured I might as well hop in and see what I could manage.
While I only decided on this race about a month out, I will give some more training context than that here. A month does not paint much of a picture. Instead I will start from the week of 6 December, giving you 14 weeks of context, race week included. I will refer to them counting down from 14 to 1.
In a normal week, I would be aiming for about 108 km total: every day has some running, two of them are workout days, one is a long run of ~27 km. I am not fiddling much with the total weekly distance at the moment, I like the consistency, and there is only so much time I can give to my running. Every third or fourth week is a down week. Workout paces are based on my fall PRs in the 5 and 10 km. I have also been trying to start eating a bit during long runs. By which I mean some sort of energy bar or similar, maybe halfway through the run. In December and January, there were not as many normal weeks as one might hope, but you will read more about that further down.
Notations are Jack Daniels’. R is Repetition is intervals at ~1500-mile race pace, rest 2-3 times the time spent on the rep. T is Threshold (the lactate one), so around 1 hour race pace. I do not feel like I hit the right paces very often, but as I tell myself when that happens: at least I am doing something.
Week 14 (107k) went alright. I had just done a down week the week prior. Tuesday workout was 10×400m R. I aimed for 74s per rep, but afterwards realised I had planned 73s instead. At the time I noted not being sure how possible that felt on the day though. Thursday I did 2×10 min T in a hilly forest with iffy roads. Pace was a bit all over the place, but the heart rate also did not creep as high as I wanted. Either way, I figured it was all better than nothing. For future reference in this section: ideally T pace is about 3:35 per km, so if I talk about T work in terms of distance, you can calculate back to actual minutes.
Week 13 (68k) had two T workouts, both 5×5 minutes, both not quite hitting paces due to terrain, turns, hills. I was also combining workouts (and easy runs) with heatmapping Brussels which made it far from ideal to properly focus. Then Thursday afternoon I started feeling shit, had stomach problems again (see last 20k BXL). I skipped Friday, tried a Saturday run which also felt shit, skipped Sunday. Tried Monday still shit, skipped Tuesday. Kept rest of week 12 (75k) mostly easy and short, then squeezed out a 25k long run on Saturday. No running Sunday either due to a long flight and being stuck in an airport for a layover that kept getting delayed.
Week 11 (105k) was more normal again. Started off easy, then did a T workout on Friday: 2k on, short jog, 4k on. Sleep was way short, but it was flat, straight, and smooth ground so I actually hit paces for once. Week 10 (100k) I knew the weekend and next weekend would get rough and tricky, so I frontloaded some distance (and my long run) and did not do any workouts. Lost Saturday due to travel again, been unlucky with flight delays.
Week 9 (70k) was planned as a down week when it came to running. This was also done to make it fit with a hiking trip in Utah we had planned. I was going to make a travel report on that trip, buuuut I have been lazy with it so far. Maybe it will pop up one day. Just like in Slovenia, the hiking ended up taking a bit too much of my time/will. I am OK with some combo of the two, but I do still vastly prefer keeping my running alright. We failed getting that balance right for me. I got tired, I skipped a day of running, I ended up calling an earlier end to my hiking (i.e., I spent the penultimate day mostly napping). The right balance, again, to me, is not quite there yet on these hiking trips where the girlfriend’s sister tags along. Hiking is her top priority so she understandably wants to maximise it. I then also lost Sunday and Monday. We spent all of Sunday travelling, landed Monday, and I did not want to risk running on those tired legs on Monday. The rest of that week 8 (95k) was taken easy in terms of workouts. Distance was readded immediately though.
Week 7 (97k) had another missed day. I got my COVID-19 boostershot on Monday afternoon and was knocked out by it on Tuesday. I decided to skip one of the two planned workouts. Friday I then did 3×2k T, getting slightly hindered by mud and construction messes. Paces were not quite what I was aiming for.
Week 6 (109k) was finally a normal week again. Tuesday I did 5×2k T…ish, was slower and in the hilly forest again. Still, I was running faster than normal easy runs for those intervals. When I don’t hit paces, I can always just say I am training like Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Small victories. Thursday was a track workout: 3×400, 4×400, 3×400 R, longer jogs between sets. Mostly hitting the 73-74s I was aiming for. I did get sore/tired feeling in various parts of my upper body. I have been very lazy when it comes to strength work and I took this as a hint that I should get back on that.
Week 5 (87k) I did a down week to align it with the race, which I by then had decided to run. Now I could have three regular weeks (4, 3, 2) and then a bit of a taper the week of the race (1). I also did some pilates a few times this week.
Week 4 (109k) I did two T workouts: 3×2k T and 4×2k T. Paces still a bit all over the place due to the combo with heatmapping and forest running. Either way it was good to have a normal week again. Especially as it did not last long. That weekend I was an idiot and overdid the strength work a bit. Essentially I jumped straight back in to a routine that I was doing when I was doing consistent strength work ages ago (like… over a year ago). Hip did not feel quite right after that, quite sore.
Week 3 (109k) I felt the consequences of my stupidity when I did my Tuesday workout. I did 3-4-3 × 400m R, started feeling the left hip at some point and then things went from bad to worse. Felt terrible through the afternoon, painful when walking. It got better by the evening and the next day I could walk and run without issue. By the end of the workday I started feeling it a little again though. I think sitting all day might not be good for it. Either way, that made me stop doing workouts. Distance easy running did not seem to be a trigger at all, so that continued.
In week 2 (109k), I tried some careful very controlled strides on Monday. Hip immediately flared up, so that week I also did not do any workouts (or strides).
In week 1 (89k) it was time to seriously think about the actual race. I did 3×1k HMP on Tuesday. It went fine, but then in the evening the hip acted up again. That had me a little worried: what would an entire race at that pace do then? Things got worse on Friday: I had to get up real early for work, then sit in a crappy chair all day. By the time the workday was done, the hip was already feeling tired. I decided to do my planned 10k jog and that was a bad idea. The hip started feeling progressively worse throughout the run and felt downright bad again afterwards. Not ideal 40 hours before your race. I decided to skip Saturday’s run altogether, doing 30 minutes of elliptical, and gambled on just doing the race and hoping for the best. This week ended up looking like this: 13k, 16k with 3×1k @ HMP, 13k, 13k, 10k, elliptical, race day.
Goal and Strategy
I have only raced one half marathon before. It was years ago (4 Nov 2018) and it had such fun obstacles as stairs. At the time I ran 1:23:48, but that is essentially useless to decide on what to run now. Besides “faster than that” perhaps.
Instead, I threw this fall’s PRs into some calculators.
- Tinman calc, 5k PR: 1:17:07
- Tinman calc, 10k PR: 1:16:49
- JD calc, 5k PR: 1:16:22
- JD calc, 10k PR: 1:16:28
- Pfitz faster road racing appendix table: 1:16:11 - 1:18:30, but at the faster half of that range as it bases itself on a 16:30-17:00 5k range. Assuming linear approach, that makes it 1:16:57.
In other words, they all seem to agree somewhat. I did not know whether I was in the same shape as in fall, per se, due to the less than ideal past months. I thought I might as well aim for 1:17, i.e., 1:16:59, though. The course was supposed to be flat and I did not see any obvious difficult turns, so that works in my favour. The goal pace is an even 3:39 (well, 3:38.9) per kilometre. In important splits that is
If I could find someone to run with, that would be ideal. In reality with these things it will probably be a bit messy the first 5-10 km before we all settle into our paces.
I had to wake up at 6:00 to get ready and catch my ride. Had my, now usual, bowl of muesli with soy milk (150g muesli, 300g soy milk). A cup of black tea. A few trips to the bathroom. I went on over to a friend that would also be running today to catch a ride. We arrived at the race location by about 8:20, start of the race was going to be at 9:30. Calmly getting ready, grab bibs, few bathroom attempts, talk to some other faces we recognised. Did my leg swings to warm up the hips muscles. Jogged four laps on the track as warmup. Avoided strides or anything in case the hips would not be happy with it. It all felt fine, though the lower back of my left thigh felt a tiny bit sore oddly enough.
Eventually we all lined up at the start. I placed myself towards the latter half of the pack: you have to run 1h20 or faster to take part in this one, so my 1:16:59 goal is nothing special. Without any pomp or ceremony or countdown, the gun was fired and off we were. (After shuffling to the starting mat in the crowd)
We did half a lap of the athletics track and went out on the street. Someone managed to fall on the first turn out of the place: it was crowded which made the turn a bit tight and harder to see the change to paving stones of the streets as well. Sounded a bit like a cyclist wiping out in a corner, but without screeching brakes. About half a km in I found myself at the front of a pack, with another pack just ahead. Not quite sure what pace I was going or what, I decided to quickly bridge the gap. Easier to fall back in a km or two than the other way around. I settled in at the back of that pack.
Also at the back of that pack was a woman that seemed to have two pacers, or at least two guys that seemed to be running right in front of her as a block. No clue if that was on purpose. I figured I should explicitly try following her for now, that pace might be more consistent than a random guy in this pack. So as the pack flowed and reshaped around me, I mostly focused on matching her pace. I think this lasted till the first 3 or so km were done.
|Distance||Split||Goal diff||Cumul||Goal diff|
|1||3:33||- 6||3:33||- 6|
|2||3:32||- 7||7:05||- 13|
|3||3:33||- 6||10:38||- 19|
Either way at some point the pack seemed to be breaking in two. The woman I had been pacing off was going with the front pack, but that pace felt a bit too hot for me. I say feel, but I think this might have been mostly the watch splits making me think this rather than an actual feeling. Running still felt pretty smooth and easy here, but I figured that was to be expected so early in the race. Either way, splits looked too fast, so I stuck to the slower pack. Still settled in, seeing what happens. We were running (generally) southwards for this section which meant there was a headwind. I was happy not to be the leader here.
We reached the Schelde river just under 7k into the race and I felt like we had slowed down a bit too much. I also figured there would now a bit of a tailwind, so I would not kill myself if I moved to the front. I promptly did so and pushed the pace. I also figured by leading now, perhaps people would be guilted into leading again later on. We ran northwards till about 9k, then westwards till just under 11k, when we turned away from the water. I led for most of this section. You felt the wind coming from the south while running westwards, but not in a way that you felt you were fighting it like when we ran southwards earlier.
Looking at the results afterwards, I crossed the 10 km timing mat at the head of a group of at least 10 people. More still if you consider a 3s gap as still being the same group.
|Distance||Split||Goal diff||Cumul||Goal diff|
|4||3:36||- 3||14:14||- 22|
|6||3:43||+ 4||21:36||- 18|
|7||3:45||+ 6||25:21||- 12|
|8||3:37||- 2||28:58||- 14|
|9||3:43||+ 4||32:41||- 9|
Shortly after turning away from the water, I slowed down marginally and ostentatiously ran a bit more on the non-logical side of the path / road. A guy or two took the bait and passed me. I tried settling in behind them. I did not stay there too long and I moved to the front a few more times to ensure the pace stayed high enough. It sucked with the headwind, but I figured I had to ensure we kept moving. I always saw the same 2-3 others actually coming to the front of our pack. I felt there were others behind us still, but they seemed happy to just sit and wait. Looking at the 13.1k timing mat results afterwards, our group had at least 8 runners and some more stragglers just behind.
On a longer straight section around 13-14k we were forced into single file. I was in 3rd-4th position and sort of made the other guy move into third, I settled into fourth. By the end of the single file section though, the third guy was having trouble and a little gap was forming on the front two. Someone behind me shouted to stay connected to those front two. I glanced back and saw someone that had not been near the front of our group all day. Sadly he was right and I did not want that gap to form either. I could not go the petty way and not react, forcing him to do the bridging himself. I passed the third guy and briefly pushed a bit harder to close the gap again. The guy that had yelled happily just followed me.
We turned onto the Schelde again and I moved into second or alongside the other guy near the front. This other guy had pushed a few times already a few km before, little surges of sorts. It seemed like he was doing another one, harder still, and I decided to fully match it. So far into the race was no time to sit around. In case our pack got strung out, I did not want to be a few places down and see it break up ahead of me. After another km or so, he faltered again though. I kept the pace up and felt there were still guys behind me. We passed through another water station and the group split apart entirely.
Somebody passed me around the 17k mark and I decided to try to match his pace. It was noticeably faster, but I figured it was time to start squeezing my body for what was left still. 6-700 metre further I did have to let him go, it was going a little too fast. Shortly after he also slowed down though and I ran maybe 10 metre behind him for a while as we ran westwards along the river.
The 18.1k timing mat tells me I crossed it in the company of three other guys, so I might be misremembering the exact moment some of these things happened. It is easy to forget something when you’re fully focused on running an honest pace.
|Distance||Split||Goal diff||Cumul||Goal diff|
|11||3:40||+ 1||40:00||- 8|
|12||3:38||- 1||43:38||- 9|
|13||3:38||- 1||47:16||- 10|
|14||3:43||+ 4||50:59||- 6|
|15||3:40||+ 1||54:39||- 5|
|16||3:37||- 2||58:16||- 7|
|17||3:38||- 1||1:01:54||- 8|
|18||3:31||- 8||1:05:25||- 16|
|19||3:38||- 1||1:09:03||- 17|
By about 19 km, we left the loop and ran the way back to the track where the start & finish were. At this point it was just a matter of staying focused and hanging on to the pace that felt fast enough, but not that fast that I’d die before reaching the finish. There was another section with a bit of a headwind, but I had nobody near me at this point. I just focused on my stride and on the guy I could see ahead of me. If our distance suddenly grew, I would know to mentally check I was not slowing down.
I turned back on the track, slowly trying to reel in a guy before me in the final 200-250 metre there was left. I had been closing in, but there was not much left in the tank. Meanwhile I heard someone behind me doing his final kick and approaching. That gave me some extra boost and in the final turn I gave what I had left. I closed the gap to the guy before me, but couldn’t overtake him. The guy behind me caught up to me, but couldn’t overtake me either.
|Distance||Split||Goal diff||Cumul||Goal diff|
|20||3:37||- 2||1:12:40||- 19|
|21||3:38||- 1||1:16:18||- 20|
Official results have me finishing in 1:16:48, but as I mentioned that is guntime. My watch gives me 1:16:43, which would definitely match up with chip time if the results showed it. I guess that is the downside of the elite wave at these events. I had a similar experience in the Brussels 20k last fall. I am taking the supposed chip time as my shiny new PR. Sue me.
I finished in 134th position. I quite like the progression of my position throughout the race, based on their timing mats.
Technically I also broke my 10 mile and 20 km PBs here. Taking the average pace of this race, it puts them at 58:31 and 1:12:44, respectively. Of course I had only ran a 10 miler the one time years ago in Antwerp and my 20 kms usually happen in Brussels where it is rather hilly.
I think the woman I tried to follow early on ended up finishing in 1:15:46. Seventh female, third Belgian. Probably would have had trouble hanging on to that in the latter part of the race. Not quite sure about others I (briefly) ran alongside of. There are not many pictures to find bib numbers with.
My hip was not as beat up afterwards as I had feared going by the week prior to the race. There were some sore spots, but all in all it seems OK. Later in the week it still is a bit nagging uncomfortable at various moments. I will be laying off the workouts for a while to ensure it heals. I know those sore spots could easily get worse again. Sadly that also means no races in the immediate future. I had hoped to squeeze in a track 5000m over the coming months, but I will have to see how the hip evolves. I have to be a 100% sure everything is OK again before I throw that at it. Beyond that 5000m plan, I do still hope to get revenge for my failed Brussels 20k. That would be the last weekend of May. A new personal course record should be doable. A PR for the distance seems out of reach after shattering it during this race.