It’s one week after the Wings For Life World Run when we head for Oudenaarde. Heart of the Flemish Ardennes. Finish of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. But today it’s where I’ll partake in the Vlaamse Ardennen Loop, a 16k trail run.
It’s mostly Kim who convinced me to enter the 16k edition at the very last instance. I’m not quite sure I’ve fully recovered from the Wings For Life World Run, and as has been the case for the bigger part of the year, I don’t really feel in shape. That doesn’t keep me from setting up a rather ambitious “game plan”:
Me: I’ll just tail along with the first guys and see where it goes.
Kim: How about you just take it easy the first 10k and then see what’s left?
Me: Hm, no, I’ll think I’ll just try to follow the top 10 (in my head I said top 3).
We go for a drink in a pub on the market and do a short warm-up run. I’m feeling ok. Not great, just ok. We arrive just in time for me to position myself somewhere up front and take of my jacket. Aaaaaand GO!
I start fast, but immediately notice I’m leading the pack and slow down again. Wasn’t expecting this. One runner overtakes me and takes the lead. Perfect. I’ll just tail for a while. But not even 200 meters further, on the first ‘climb’ (a bridge), he starts slowing down. A lot. I take over again, and that’s when I see Kim for the first time. Against every agreement we had up front, I’m running in first position. I consider my options and decide to make the universal “I have no idea what’s happening myself”-sign and carry on.
After not even 2km, it’s just two of us left in the front. We take turns and when he takes the lead, he sure goes fast. Especially in the flat parts, I have to dig deep to keep up. We’re probably running over 17k an hour now.
And then comes the first climb. The first technical trail through the woods. And the first descent. My companion tags along during the climb, but I’m definitely faster in the technical parts & the downhill stretches. The guys guiding us on their MTB have to speed up to make way. I’m loose for just a few minutes, but I decide it’s too early in the race.
We stick together for another while. He falls behind again on the seconde descent of the day but catches up by shortcutting through a field. Oh well, it IS a trail run, I’ll have it. Together, we reach the third ascent of the day, the second out of 3 ascents of the Koppenberg. He takes the lead. Realising I may get stuck behind him in the downhill, I overtake him close to the top and speed up. The downhill is lovely. Fast, technical. I’m loose.
I have no clue how much there’s left, but it must be more than 5k. Not quite home yet. I keep up the pace and arrive at the final climb of the day. The Koppenberg once more, this time on the cobblestones, “as seen on tv”. It’s hard, but knowing it’s all downhill from the top onwards helps. I reach the top, still all by myself, and speed down.
The rest of the road feels like a victory lap, although there’s no time to waste. I’m sure my pursuer is still going pretty fast, so I keep the pace high. It becomes exciting for a moment when I get to a crossroad and have no clue where to go, but luckily, I spot the guys on their mountain bike and catch up with them.
The legs are tired. Obviously still feeling last week’s run. I chat a little with the MTB guys and catch up with Kim while we close in on the centre of Oudenaarde. A final climb, that bridge again. Up & over it and then straight towards the market place.
I arrive just within the hour after the start. 16k/h average. Not too bad. Number two arrives about a minute and a half later. Good test for next week’s 20k of Brussels! And last but not least: there’s an actual podium! I win a big basket of waffles & cookies. Hell yes!