Another year, another Crêtes de Spa. For the first time ever without my buddy Greg. Greg & I have run CDS together every year (except for 2013). The full version in 2012 & 2014 and, due to injuries & lack of shape, the 21k last year. This year no Greg however, which meant a change of game plan. On top of that, it would also be the final exam of our Start 2 Trail project!
After spending the night in a nice B&B near Spa and I decided to run the 3k to the starting line. A little warmup never hurts. I arrive at the Centre Sportif well in time and deal with the administration mumbo jumbo and get in a conversation with two Swedes. And then, contrary to the previous edition, we head for the start and I position myself somewhat in the front of the pack where I meet Nelson, Gentloopt member and super friendly guy. A bilingual countdown (this is Belgium, after all) and we’re off!
Huub van Noorden, winner of the last 2 editions, speeds off. “That’s the last I see of him before the finish line”, I think. He would turn out to be a league of his own today and I stick to my own pace. I soon enter the top 10 and am feeling comfortable, enjoying the moment.
We were warned about the snow, but when, after a few kilometers on roads and easy-running trails, we take a turn to the left and get face to face with it, I’m perplexed. I wasn’t expecting this much snow AT ALL! The first 50 meters are ok, but gradually the snow gets deeper and deeper. 10cm… 20cm… knee-deep. Wow! If this is how the rest of the trail will be, it’s going to be a very, very long day!
Things become a bit better though, but not for long. My legs have hardly recovered from the deep snow when we arrive at the first ski slope, filled with plenty of snow. I charge it hard, eager to get it over with. I’m feeling pretty strong and all goes well. I’m in 5th position, more or less.
All is well, although I’m getting tired. Preparations haven’t been perfect and my legs are starting to become heavy. I’ve been running more or less alone for 5k now and I get in some sort of automatic pilot mode. Every now and then I wake from my daydreams, in panic by the thought of being off-course. And then I see another ribbon and calm down again. All is well. Or so I think…
I hear someone yelling behind me. Remember when I said I didn’t expect to see Huub again before the finish line? Well, all daydreaming aside, I was seeing him as real as can be right now!
“Hey Huub! What happened? Did you get off track?”
‘NO! YOU DID!’
“What? No, I don’t think so? I’ve been seeing ribbons all the time.”
‘NO! You took a shortcut!’
“Ok, ok. No worries. I’m not going to cheat. I’m just going to carry on and if I missed a part of the course I’ll just tell the organisation.”
Some more yelling and then he charges on and I follow, not sure what to think of all this. We approach someone from the organization and Huub starts yelling again. I stop and we have a short talk. Apparently I did take a shortcut and I’m offered a ride back to where I went off track. I take the offer and about 5 minutes later I’m back where I was half an hour before.
“Alright, and now you are supposed to go that way”
‘Hm, I did go that way!’
“Really? Then I don’t know where you went off track.”
A bit disillusioned, I get out and start running, doing the same loop once more. Back at the point where I ran into Huub, another runner catches up with me. We check our watches and have more or less the same amount of kilometers. Apparently, I missed a turn earlier in the race and took a shortcut. I let him go and just carry on, but the fun is gone.
Nelson catches up with me, going fast. I stick with him for a while. He’s still going really strong and we talk some. I somehow make peace with the fact that I’ll probably be disqualified and we have quite some fun in the descents. In the end, he’s too strong and I have to let him go. I become 9th. The total distance is correct, but I did miss a checkpoint somewhere.
In the end, the organisation decides not to disqualify me. Apparently, I was not the only runner that missed the turn. The others probably didn’t have to run the same bit twice though, but I’m just happy I finished and ran a decent race. 9th overall isn’t too bad.
No time to be sad anyway: the guys from the Start 2 Trail project will finish any time now and I wouldn’t want to miss that for all the money in the world! Time to cheer!