Saturday, 4h50. Damn you alarm clock. But no time to waste because today I’m running La Bouillonnante. For once I managed to enter in time and the fact that this race always sells out so fast makes me all the more excited! Straight into my running outfit for the day, quick breakfast, pick up Thierry and onwards to Bouillon where we arrive together with Thomas Beirnaert, 2 times winner of Crêtes de Spa, winner of the first Loop van Vlaanderen,… We say our hello’s and head for the castle of Bouillon where the starting line awaits us.
We chat a bit with Thomas and his modest podium ambitions for the day. He seems very determined, ready to make up for the little DSQ at Crêtes de Spa. Thierry brought an extra pair of sticks and I decide to give them a try. I’ll need them during CCC for sure, might as well get used to them. I attach them to my backpack and gear up. 8.45 (and some), while someone of the organisation is still trying to push everyone to the inner yard of the castle, it suddenly becomes clear that the start was given and off we go. Thierry & I say our goodbye’s and I speed downhill, trying to get a decent position before things get narrow.
That doesn’t happen until after about 3k when we arrive at the first big ascent. All goes well, but just when I started the descent, I hear cries for help. I pass on the message and head down where I see Thomas lying. This can’t be happening. I speed down and check with him. He seems alert but his leg is bleeding. Can’t really make out what has happened (He’d end up with 12 stitches later that day. His knee was hurt badly. More on his blog soon, I’m sure). After I’m assured the organisation was called and there’s plenty of help, I wish him good luck and continue.
First supply post, all goes well. I’m going fast, about 10.9k/h average. Too fast probably, but I’m having fun! I get a bit isolated and speed up to catch up with a small group of about 4 people. I know the group will split up when the 34k runners have to take a right somewhere, so I try to stick around so not to fall alone entirely. Turns out except for one, they’re all doing the 56k. Fun bunch too, so I stick around.
They seem to be a bit faster in the ascents though, so whenever there’s a more technical descent, I take a bit of a lead to compensate for that. No lack of technical descents by the way, most of them are really fast and a combo of soil and solid rocks, hardly any gravel, so I’m having a blast. Still, the ascents are many as well, so eventually, I have to let them go, although I’m still doing over 10 an hour and a quick calculation tells me that, if I manage to do the remaining 20k at a pace of 8k/h, I’ll be in in less than 6 hours!
And then I arrive at the wall: A 150m ascent in just 600m. Yep, you read that right: averaging 25%. It’s deadly and it’s really draining my legs. But eventually, I’m at the top, only to run down for about 1k and arrive at a shorter, smaller version of the same thing. Please let this stop! haha!
I catch up with one of the guys of the little group I was in earlier. We stick together for a little while, but at yet another ascent, I have to let him go again when I feel cramps coming up. I combine running and walking to prevent the cramps from breaking through entirely and still manage to keep a decent pace until the last supply post. The first crossing of the Semois river is getting really close now and I’m not really looking forward to that, not knowing what it will do to my legs.
Turns out the water does miracles to my legs. After the first crossing they feel fresher than they have over the last 10k and I’m already looking forward to the second one. A climb, a descent, and there it is. I plunge in and cross in no time. Another ascent, but close to the top a photographer informs me that from here onwards, it’s just 2k, most of which descending and then the climb to the castle. I’m flying now and overtake quite some other runners. And then there it is: the castle!
There’s a big crowd and they’re all very lively. The boost this gives me makes me forget my legs and I sprint up the stairs and the final ascent and across the line! 6h18, 38th out of 476 runners! Couldn’t be happier! Quick shower, chocolate milk, ice cream and then wait for Thierry to arrive and back home with stories to tell and pictures to show.