t’s better to burn than to fade away – Sfinx Ekiden Gent

Well, I had my DNF (Did Not Finish), and I ’ve pretty much started my whole long distance running career with a DNS (Did Not Start. True story: I was on the train for the Brussels Half Marathon when I realised I forgot my running shoes). So it was about time to fill the gap that was the most intriguing of all 3-letter combos: The magical DSQ: Disqualified. The first Venice Runners Sfinx Ekiden Gent participation was one to remember.

But let ’s not get ahead of things. First, there was that bomb threat. Someone had left his/her suitcase in an inappropriate spot and given the current terrorist threat level, the organisation called the mine clearance service and the start was delayed indefinitely. I was sick and it was cold. My enthusiasm and that of my fellow Venice Beach runners dropped below zero. But then suddenly, we were allowed access to the start area and just 20 minutes later Pascal, our first runner, was on his way. Meanwhile, with things moving very quickly all of a sudden (and the more pleasant temperature inside the tent near the starting line), I was getting excited about this. Pascal was back in well under 22 minutes! Nice! Olivier was up next for his 10k. He did his first lap in a solid 19.33. With the wind picking up some more, it was pretty impressive he managed to do his second lap in just over 20 minutes, launching Ronny after 39.37. Ronny basically confirmed what we already knew: He ’s in great shape and he did his 5k in 23 ‘18” to prove this.

And all of a sudden our ridiculously short Tasuki was in my hands. I bolt off, trying to get out of the mass at the relay zone and get some space. Wow, headwind! The first 2k stretch is as straight as a ruler, wind at 12 o ‘clock. I try to find some shelter but there is no-one near that has a pace that more or less matches mine so I move from runner to runner. 1st k in 3.25, about 17.5k/h… that ’s probably a bit too fast. I ease down and get in a more or less comfortable pace. Around the bend and wind in the back. Switch to a bigger stride, sail on, get some speed and control that breathing! The long bend towards the start now, try to keep the pace. Every breath I take is a reminder that I should be at home in bed drinking hot milk with honey instead, but I refuse to give in. I know the team will be halfway the bend to cheer so I push on. There they are, screaming their lungs out. I try not to burst into laughing and carry on! What a team!

Once around the bend, the headwind kicks in again, this time, options for shelter are even scarcer. Keep the pace, keep the pace. This is hard, but there ’ll be time to catch breath when I ’m around the bend. This all goes surprisingly well considering being sick and my lack of training. I reach the bend, push on until halfway and start sailing, let my heartbeat drop a few beats per minute. Once I got that under control, there ’s about 2k to go and I pick up some speed. The bend… the team, cheering even louder. Almost there, trying to squeeze out all there ’s left. I see Johan and wave. And across the line! 36.03. I ’ve never run a faster 10k. I pretty much scream Johan away but he does the smart thing and sticks to his pace. The smart thing to do. He does his 5k in a more than solid 25 ‘44”.

And then it ’s Ilias ' turn. He starts off fast yet controlled, determined to speed up in the last 2k of his race. We position ourselves in the usual spot in the bend in order to yell him through the last 200 meters or so. Ilias is fast. Ridiculously fast. Less than 20 minutes later, he ’s there. That ’s strange. We ’re ecstatic. But it can ’t be right. It isn ’t. Ilias tells us he never saw the turn where he was supposed to do his 2k loop. He finishes in 20 ‘20”, a really good time for a 5k, a ridiculous time for a 7.2k.

The fact that Ilias ' time was about 3 minutes faster than the second best time on the 7.2k must have stuck out like a sore thumb, so the organisation easily caught our involuntary cheating and there it was: my very first DSQ. Still, I think everybody is really happy about our race. I know I am. A personal best while being sick and with a ton of wind kind of smells like an indicator for great things to come. And being at the bottom of the results with a DSQ instead of being somewhere around position 15 has it ’s charm as well. After all, “t ’s better to burn than to fade away”.

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