Nacht van Vlaanderen – A love story

It’s 17h30. I pack my stuff and leave work. It’s been a busy week with short nights and less running than I’d hoped for. Last Saturday’s 20k went great, but still… On top of that, I’ve eaten nothing but a sandwich and some corn flakes today, hardly the perfect nutrition for a marathon.

Oh well, at least I’ll have my excuses ready in case I don’ make the 3h goal I’ve been setting myself for a while now. With that in mind, I got my nerves under control and headed for Torhout. Nacht van Vlaanderen, legend amongst marathon & ultra runs, here we come

I park my car with 10cm spare in front and behind, like a boss, boosting both my confidence and manliness. I meet with Greg, we prepare ourselves and head for the start. There, we meet Nonkel & Robbie. Our team is complete! Nonkel & Greg are talking about times around 3h45-4h. This makes my decision to go alone from the beginning easier: I’m always up for a group run, but 3h45 is a bit slow for me.

Just over 8, a shot rings and the mass starts moving. We say our last goodbyes and I run off. In a glimpse, I see André, organiser of the event, cheering, yelling. How cool is that? I’ll tell you: A LOT cooler than charging 60 to 80 euro to run a marathon (cfr. Brussels Marathon) or 60 euro to run a silly marathon to become a marathonman hero (not even linking that shit because it has NOTHING to do with running). That’s how cool that is!

Anyway, back to the race. I check my watch after about 1k. 17km/h… wow! Way too fast. I settle in a nearby group. The pace feels good so I decide to stick with them. Nice little group, solid runners, steady pace. I check my watch again after about 5k: 15k/h. Too fast. No way I can keep this up for the entire race. I doubt, but decide to just carry on. I’ll just see how far it goes and build up a bit of a margin for the last bit.

I lose touch with the group after about 17k and then  run into Gwendolyn after about 20k. I check my watch. Still running 15k/h average. Nice! I tell her I’m overdoing it, but carry on. She talks a bit, encourages me, and then I’m on my own again. Halfway. I manage to keep up the pace until around 25k, but then it’s over. The calculating begins. For non runners or those who’ve never experienced this phase: the calculating phase is when things start going worse & worse, and you start to calculate how fast you have to run to still reach your goal. Since I was about 5 min ahead of schedule in this case this meant running the rest at about 13k/h. That should be doable! I slow down, try keeping the pace over 14k/h.

I reach the 35k point, still well ahead of schedule. I catch up with another runner who obviously overdid it in the first half, but a small group catches up with me. I can’t keep up. My legs hurt. My knee hurts and for the first time ever, so does my hip somehow. I slow down some more. I want to walk so bad now. I want to give in. But I’m still ahead of schedule so no way I’m giving up now. And then comes the mental blow:

I keep an eye on my watch when I’m getting near the 40k200 point. Just to know how fast I have to run the last 2k. 9 minutes. My thoughts go crazy: I can still do this, but something’s wrong: I haven’t seen the 40k sign yet! So even though my watch tells me it’s still possible… And then I see the sign… 400m ahead of me. I break down, I give in. It’s gone. I still run, but the belief is gone.

3h02’30”. Damn it! So close. The first sentiment is one of disappointment. André personally hands me my finisher’s medal and my mood improves a bit. You have to love this guy. His sincere congratulations. Beautiful. This is no 60 € corporate business run. He won’t sleep on a bed of bills tonight, neither will his sales go up due to all the publicity he made with this event. André does it out of love. I shake my head, still disappointed. I don’t wait for the others (Greg would finish in 3h36, Nonkel about 9 minutes after that), I’ve got other plans and need my sleep.

My alarm clock rings at 7. I’m tired & broken. I think about my original plan to join Kristof in his 50k run. I stand up and feel my legs hurt. The knee is flaky. I fall down again and turn over. But my alarm clock won’t let me and rings again. And again. And then around 7h55 I think: Fuck it. Even if I stop after 1 lap, that’s something. I wake up, eat something and leave. I arrive just in time and get a message of Kristof, telling me yesterday’s results are on display in the sports hall and I became 38th in 3h02. And that he misses us. I decide not to reply and just go look for him in this small crowd. He sees me before I see him. We meet with Bert, my “Loop van Vlaandere”n buddy, Thomas, the winner of that race, and some of Torhout’s very own roadrunners. Good vibes all over! And then we’re off!

We meet with Sandra Bowers, amazing athlete. We chat a bit about goals, dogs, all kinds of stuff. She was supposed to do 100k but was recently selected for the WC trail running so decided to stop after 50k. Still amazing. Pace like a metronome. And then the knee start hurting. I decide to call it a day after 20k.

Kristof decides NOT to call it a day after 50k and keeps running. Lap after lap. He calls me, excitement in his voice: “It’s going so well! I’m at 70k! Can you take over my work this evening. It’s not much.” He’s been dreaming about this ever since his attempt 2 years ago. Whenever we talk about 100k, he talks about failure (even though he still did 64k that day). I jump in. “Just keep running, I’ve got this”, I tell him. He does exactly that. He texts me after 80. Pain. Suffering. Perseverance. 92k. He’s the talk of the town. The guy who was going to run 50k but decided to just do a 100 instead. No personal coach. No special food. Nothing. He does it in just under 10h. Amazing job. Whenever the 100k subject comes up from this day onwards, it’ll be tales of heroism instead of failure. I think I’ll bring up the subject as often as possible.

It’s about a week later now. I’ve been running again. Knee feels solid. Things are good. I love running. But even though running is pretty awesome on it’s own, it wouldn’t be as awesome without my these guys. Nonkel, always the positive one. Putting in more k’s a month than any of us. Steady going, never quits. Greg, running a marathon as training for his climbing endeavours. Planning trips to the highest peaks like we plan a weekend at the coast. Kristof, fresh member of the heroic 100k club. Talking non stop while doing that 100k.

I’m getting emotional. Time to call it a day.

 

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