After last fall’s disappointment due to food poisoning, I had decided that I would “get some revenge” this time around. In the weeks and months leading up to it, however, I realised I did not really care. I had run a good (flat!) half in March and the hilly 20 km door Brussel was losing its appeal. A week before the race though, I found out it was going to be a cool day. Low 10s C, possible clouds. I felt the itch to give it a go after all and signed up Tuesday, with the race on Sunday. No elite bib for me this time because they had already run out. It seems more people are interested in racing again now that COVID is “solved”.
After the interclub three weeks ago, I had a little niggle that made me abandon the plans I had to start proper workouts again. I gave it another week of easy running instead, with elliptical on Sunday after a night of too much drinking and not enough sleeping. Last week I then tried a little Threshold-of-sorts workout. I only did 2 km at higher pace and it was not quite fast enough, but I figured just something to get the legs moving would have to do. My long run on Saturday was longer than usual: 32 km in the hilly Ardennes versus the usual flatter 27-28 km. Finally, this week is also race week. I ended up with 14k, 13k, 12.5k, 13k, 10k, and 6k. Tuesday had a few strides and a km around goal race pace. Saturday some final strides.
So to summarise: prior to interclub week was just maintaining base. Interclub week was 101 km with a little workout and two races. Week after was 101 km, no workouts. Last week was 111 km with rustbuster workout and a heftier long run. Race week had some race pace and strides but mostly controlling the volume.
Goal and Strategy
I have kept the same goal as in fall: 1:13:xx. I always try to plan out how to tackle the paces in this race, but in reality I will just end up ignoring it anyway. Probably just aim for the 3:40-3:45 range at the start and then see how it ends up going.
One data point I hope to remember as I write this part out prior to the race: in the half marathon in March, my heart rate was 165 and up but remained under 170 till perhaps 14 km when it hovered at 170. Then from 16-17 km I started my “push” towards the finish and it went up a few beats more to around 175. I think that might have been a bit too controlled still, so going a little harder could be appropriate.
My night was not perfect, but nowhere near as bad as before the last 20 km. There was some festival happening a kilometre or so away and their music was so loud. I could not drown it out while in the bedroom with earplugs in even. I had hoped to (try to) sleep by around 22:00. Instead it was not till 1:00, when the festival finally ended. I got tempted to call the police about a noise complaint. I have gotten old.
Woke up as planned at 7:00, basically copying older schedules. Quickly try to get my breakfast (140g muesli, double that soy milk) and a cup of black tea down. Spend the rest of the morning trying to use the toilet as much as possible. Left home a little past 8:30, not quite sure I was all emptied out, but it would have to be enough. Arrived by 9:30ish at the “Les Gazelles de Bruxelles” tent I was expecting to find in the same location as last time. Said some “hi”s, did some leg swings to warm up the hips. Went to have a look at a port-a-potty just in case, but the line was long and in the end there was no toilet paper anyway.
Did a bit of jogging back and forth, then went to sneak into the elite corral. No way was I going to start in box 1 mostly behind 6000 people in the “1:14:00-1:34:59” range. I was not the only one to do this. Them running out of elite bibs made it a bit of a shitshow perhaps. Either way, gave my wife my sweater and jogged some more in the corral. Bumped into Dieter, who I had met at a race in Mechelen back in maybe September and then again at the last 20 km. We talked a bit, shared goals, got on with our warmups. An off-hand comment the day before had made me think about something though: Dieter and I were neck-and-neck in the 5000 we raced in Mechelen, why not just stick with him?
The officials made another attempt at filtering out non-elite people, but that was a mess and I avoided “detection”. I lined up a few rows down in the elite box, ready for racing.
Just like last year, we were placed a little ways away from the actual start line. I have no clue why they keep doing that. Looking over people (it helps to be taller than your average distance runner), I noticed the start line’s bottle neck was even worse than usual. Besides being just a bit wider than a van, as usual, there were also two about knee-height hills on each side, around where the wheels of said van would be. I had no clue what that was about, my guess is something from the park service to keep cars out? I did however realise I would want to aim for the exact middle of the start line. Those hills looked a mess.
The gun went off and there was the usual congested jog towards the start line (well, besides from those actually trying to win the race). I was not stressed. It helped that I did not have an elite bib now, so I knew I was going to get chip time instead of gun time. The pace picked up and as we cross around the start line, the little hills are doing what I feared… but only to others. Some people struggling, at least one falling. Unrelated to the hill, a guy right in front of me fell over a circular sewer access manhole. Rather, the manhole was a bit lower than the rest of the surface, creating a little step. Guy in front of me must have hit it and he face planted. Whoops. I cried out what a mess this was, waved my arms to warn others, and ran past the guy on the floor. There must have been more casualties of either that or the two hills, a guy two or three runners in front of me was rubbing and looking at his upper leg / lower butt.
With that behind us, I focused on what felt like a reasonable effort. The first ~700m is still downhill, so the pace is high. After that we are running towards the royal park, mostly upwards. I was passing people, people were passing me, it was the usual mess in the early parts of a race. Looking at my watch, the pace was a bit hot, but I decided on glancing at my heart rate instead of my pace at this point. The HR was still fine.
A bit before hitting the edge of the park in front of the royal palace, I recognised a guy who I had seen a few times before by now. He was clearly going slower than those around him. I had seen him do this in some local races and even in the Belgian Champs half marathon back in March. He lines up at the front, where he does not belong, seemingly tries to hang on for a bit, and drops back. Even at the Belgian Champs, where you had to pinky promise to run sub 1h20, he lined up at the start next to a bunch of 1h guys. I passed him at 1 km or so. He finished just about last in 1h30. So now I once again was passing him. I had to squeeze a little to get past him and some others, so I did a slight shoulder bump as I passed him. I was equally ashamed about that as he is about his shenanigans. Nooot at aaaall.
As we curved towards the royal palace, I spotted Dieter a little ahead of me. That worked out! I closed the gap, asked him how he felt (he had a hamstring niggle the past week). He said it seemed to hold up, so I wished him good luck and decided to hang around him.
As we head towards the Palace of Justice, there is the first water station. I lost track of Dieter there. He might have been just behind me, but I was not looking back. I took a sip or two from a water bottle and offered others the rest. I’m writing that part down because I see it as a sign of feeling relaxed. I recognised it as such too at the time, which in turn further eased any nerves I might have had (not that you are very nervous when you hop in a race without important goal or expectations).
As we pass the Palace of Justice, it is tunnel time. There are three tunnels over the next three km. On the downs I seemed to always go faster than those around me, on the ups I always struggled in comparison and got passed in turn. I did not let it distract me, just tried to keep the effort somewhat consistent. Sometimes I saw Dieter, sometimes I saw a woman who, I found out further in the race, was in second position. With the pace changes I did not try to keep exact pace with either, but I kept an eye on both, figuring they’d run consistently enough that I might appreciate being near them later on.
When you are past the tunnels (6ish km in) and hit the forest, Ter Kamerenbos, you are still climbing for a bit. The peak is around 7 km. I felt alright enough still as we kept climbing. Around the start of the forest another woman popped up. The one from before was also still nearby, as was Dieter. It was also somewhere around this point that the handisporters started shouting at the two women: telling them they were second and third, encouraging them on. Lots and lots of “Allez les filles!”. Quite the extra crowd encouragement that way, even if it was not directed at me. I figured I should hang somewhat near them till the cresting of the hill or, if it felt a bit too hot, be able to close the gap again on the bit of downhill right after. I do not know any more which of the two it ended up being, but on the downhill I think I passed all three of them.
The downhill goes back to an uphill around 7.5 km, but then from 8 km it switches back to net downhill till 10 km in. Throughout this stretch, there was some yoyoing in positions, not just those three I mentioned but of course all the other people still taking part in this race too. It is just that they ended up being near me for a big chunk of the race that I actually remembered.
We crossed the 10 km marker in a group together though. Me and the new second place woman next to one another, the now third place woman and Dieter behind us in the group, together with some others. Since learning that they were second and third, I had on the one hand decided to definitely trust their pacing, but to also ensure I would not get in their way: in turns and squeezing through gaps, I gave way.
From 10 km there is a bit of climbing again till 11.5-12 km. I decided to not get dropped from this group on uphills so increased the effort a little. My heart rate had been mostly upper 160s again throughout the race, so I probably had more in the tank still any way.
We stuck together till the top of the hill and then it is time to bomb down. For about a kilometre I can use my longer legs and I figured I might as well. I do not know how much of a gap I get on my group, but for a while they are definitely not right behind me. I pass a bunch of other people and feel good. As I hit the bottom of the downhill, just shy of 13 km in, it flattens out for a while. I feel a slight hint of a side stitch, is that from bombing down the hill? In going down, I had caught up to another group, but I let them go again and try to find my own pace. I do not want the hint to become an actual side stitch. It disappears and I am a bit alone between groups. No point speeding up or slowing down to hang with one so I just stick to my own mental game.
After a few km of that, the second place woman catches up to me again. I do not recall whether the third one was close behind, I am inclined to say no. I also do not recall seeing Dieter around. I match my pace to the second place woman. If she caught up, then clearly I was not going fast enough. For a while we run next to each other again. Soon we will hit the dreaded final climb: Tervurenlaan. Somewhat poetically, somewhere along this stretch a certain song was blasting: Highway to Hell by AC/DC. I had an inner chuckle at that.
As we reach the turn onto Tervurenlaan, I decidedly take the lead of our little group. I still felt strong enough and I wanted to ensure starting the hill first, not at the back of a group that probably climbs better than I do. I push the pace a bit to maybe string out our group on the final flattish parts before the climb.
And then the climbing starts.
You go up about 40 metres over 1 km. The first third or so I am feeling great, thinking to myself “wait, was this it?”. Then it gets a bit steeper and the work starts in earnest. I tried my best to not slow down too much. To not let too many people pass me. Not many do. Perhaps three or four people pass me during the climb and I try to somewhat pace off them if at all possible. None of those people was Dieter or the second place woman. By this point I had made it my own little battle to stay ahead of them.
As we crest this final hill, I know I am in the clear. I am still feeling good enough and pick up the pace again for the final ~2 km stretch. I pick off the people that had passed me on the climb, confident I can keep up this effort till the finish. My wife is waiting a little before the finish, ready to take another picture. I am less energetic than at the 2 km mark, but still feel good enough to wave and put up my thumbs. Somewhere prior to that I had also flashed the old moose hand sign to one of the official photographers.
As always the very last few 100m suck, you go up slightly and then there are terrible cobbles. You know you are basically there though and push out whatever you have left.
Easy peasy PR. I was only expecting a course record, but I actually ran the 20 km faster than I did during the half marathon Belgian Championships back in March. Official time of 1:12:14. My watch agrees because I did not have an elite bib this time around. Chip time all the way, baby. I also “PRed” my placing in this race: 139th. At least I have validated my jumping in the elite box (they have 200 spots).
I did not feel particularly dead after the race, so I might have played it too conservatively still. Of course, that is easy to say afterwards. Maybe I would have blown up otherwise. If the race was held more often and under consistent weather, it would be easier to shoot for a next milestone next time. Now I will just have to hope next year is similar weather and I am in similar shape. Assuming I take part.
The second place woman was not far behind me, finishing in 1:12:30. Dieter finished in 1:12:32. The third place woman ended quite a bit further down: 1:13:56.
Former co-worker and current co-worker managed to somehow finish in exactly the same chip time: 1:29:15. A PR for both of them, the first time under 1h30 for both of them. I will have to convince them to race each other, evidently. They are still a minute off that other co-worker, who will probably scold himself for not being in shape to take part in this edition.
For future pace planning purposes, these times were required for certain positions in this year’s edition. A top 100 sounds like a nice goal. Attainable? Who knows.
With how I felt afterwards, I am curious what I can really do on a half marathon on a good day with a good group. Shaving off some time definitely feels like a possibility, it is just difficult to estimate just how much time. Racing in a sort of group like that felt nice. Not preoccupied with pace, it was just a matter of going by feel and racing tactics along the lines of “do I hold on, do I try to run away, do I need to not react on these people?”. Makes for more excitement for me during the race. Perhaps a bit less present in my track races. That said, I do like my pretty numbers at the end.
I should do another track race in the coming month, I am just undecided which one to do. Or when for that matter. I have been liking some more adventurous long runs. Those are impossible to combine with a race weekend, so I need to make tough choices. If I am honest with myself, the races are more time constrained. It is racing season! I am not getting younger! The adventurous long runs I can do no matter the time of year or the time I have spent on this world.
I also need to actually reintroduce speedwork. My training has been severely lacking on that front. That will be the primary focus after this recovery week. Also time to actually restart some core and general strength work. It felt fine during this race, but I am sure it can be better.