It’s been a weird year so far. Starting it with an Achilles injury, I saw my ambitious goals for 2015 ruined. No record times this year, I thought. So I decided to focus on one thing, and one thing only: UTMB. I would ignore all races and just prepare myself as good as possible without getting distracted by races in between. Eye on the prize! And then I got sick and it just wouldn’t go away for over a month. I tried not to worry: there was still time. After all, UTMB wasn’t until august. And then somehow, in the midst of all that, I broke my PR. on the 10k during the Ghent Ekiden race. Needless to say, I had mixed feelings when I got a free race bib for the Haven Gent Loopt Semi Marathon. Still sick, but then again, that didn’t seem to bother me on that 10k. I had no clue what to expect.
The last week before a race is generally known as tapering week. Just a few short, low intensity runs. Some relax high-speed bits to stimulate the muscles, but no more than that. So the 33k run on Wednesday wasn’t ideal, and neither was the 23k run the day after I guess. The truth is that I never really made a goal out of this race and I felt I couldn’t start at 100% anyway, so I didn’t bother trying. I rested on Friday though, and did a relax 10k on Saturday, so that’s something, right? And then… race-day!
As tradition has it, I have to rush myself to the bib pickup desk in order to be in time and I arrive with a single minute to spare. The bike ride to the start was, well… a nice warm-up I guess. I wait around for my friends to arrive and for the run-bike folks to start and then squeeze myself in between the runners at the front, somewhere in the top 30 or so, where I think I belong. We leave about 6 minutes after the run-bike teams. The first long stretch is pretty wide and I decide to go a bit around so I have some space. To my own surprise, I easily join the top 10 and a bit later the top 6 of the race.
A beep. I check my watch… first kilometer in 3.30. Waaaay to fast, I think. But it feels good so I continue. We catch up with the first bike-run team after just 2km and we are in the middle of them from then onwards, which is not always easy. They jump off their bikes unannounced and we have to make the craziest evasion maneuvers. Meanwhile, a group of 3 has formed itself around me: Sven, Mustapha and myself. The others both look a lot more professional than I did so I decide to just hang in the back and see how long I’ll last. Sven turns out to have a very uneven pace and I have to let them go from time to time, but somehow always manage to catch up again. Mustapha always stays close to Sven until he has to avoid a bike-run team around km 5. We stick together for a while until he falls behind around km 7.
All alone now, Sven just 40m in front of me. He gestures to catch up, but I take care not to rush. I close in slowly and when I finally catch up, he speeds up again. This goes on for another few kilometers but the longer we’re running, the easier it becomes to catch up again. And then, from the 15k point onwards, we stick together. The wind is in the back and we run side by side. I’m feeling solid and we keep the pace high. Still doing those 3.40 kilometers. I can hardly believe this.
And then we reach the Volvo factory. I’d fallen slightly behind Sven again, but I catch up after a few turns. Breathing is hard inside, but the nice folks from the Volvo factory are playing classical music and they even have a speaker cheering for us. Cars on the conveyor belts left and right… This is awesome. Somehow, I’m in the advantage here. Whether it’s because of the trail running or whatever the reason is: I’m better in the turns. By the time we leave the factory, there’s a small gap which I intend to keep.
Sven closes in just slightly, but then we arrive at the Honda factory. More turns and I make the most of them. The gap is a lot bigger when we leave the factory and with only a few kilometers to go, I speed up. The 19k sign… the 20k sign and a bit further a 4k/9k sign for the shorter distances, which means there’s exactly 1k to go. I got this. I refuse to look back. Turns, I hate them now. Where’s that damn finish line? Behind this turn? The next one? There it is! I keep the pace steady. If I’d known I’d finish 4th, just 3 seconds after the number 3, I’d have sprinted. But whatever. With a time of 1.16.01 I got way more than I could have hoped for.
Next up: the Antwerp Marathon / Antwerp 10 Miles double, just like last year. Except this year, I’ll be pacing the 1h30 group during the 10 miles. So if that’s your goal, come say hi. You can recognize me by the ridiculously big balloon saying “1h30”.