Race day! I ’m slightly stressed out. I hate races in the afternoon. What to eat? What to do to waste time? I prep my gear, take stuff for all kinds of weather conditions, have a shower and just leave. As tradition has it, I arrive just in time to pick up my bib and go leave the rest of my gear at the deposit. 45 minutes until the start. Ypres is buzzing with activity. Some Belgian celebrities show up, but my attention goes out to the amazing Marc Herremans & Wielemie. Strong & stubborn, examples for many, be it against their will.
And then suddenly, everything goes fast. We move underneath the impressive Menin Gate. 5 minutes, 1 minute… and off we go! I ’m in the 4th row but since the first stretch is quite wide, I can easily move up until I ’m in about 20th position. I try to get my pace right, which is always hard in the beginning. The weird race format of the Wings For Life World Run makes it quite hard to decide on the pace: The faster you run, the longer you ’ll have to keep running. My game plan? 4 minutes a km. 15km/h. And then just see where it ends. First km sign… 3:57. Second km: 7.58. I got this! Some other guys seem to have more or less the same idea and within a few km, we ’re in a group of about 7 people, Somewhere in the top 10 to 20. We talk a bit. I ’m in the company of some guys who run their marathons at 16km/h, which is something I ’ve never managed. Intimidated at first, but not so much when I leave one of them behind after about 10k. I pay attention to 2 things only: the km signs on the side of the road and my watch.
15k sign: 0:59:40-ish. After being by myself for a few km, I close in on another runner. His bicycling companion has me know that he went to check on the leaders and that they looked like they ’d drop out at the 21k point. He also has me know that the guy right in front of me runs a marathon at 16k/h. We ’ve heard that before. I catch up with him. I see my mom, sis and her kids at the 17k point. Always a boost in morale. I spot the legendary tyne cot cemetery, but before I reach it, I run into Kim (who cycled all the way from Ghent to Ypres to join me for the better part of the run). From here onwards, no more spilling half cups on myself! Another boost in morale, and another one when I spot my family again at the next supply post at 20k. I lose my companion of the last 4k. Just Kim and me now.
While Kim entertains me and serves me everything I need on an imaginary golden plate, 2 runners stay close behind, sometimes catching up, only to fall behind again. 4 minutes for every kilometer, over and over again. 25km in 1h39, 30km just under 2h, 35km in 2h20… I ’m starting to lose my thin margin. The decline is slow but unavoidable. To make things worse, the heavy headwind brings rain and light hail. But I also spot who I think is the current number 3 (but is actually the number 2) in the race. He ’s slowed down a lot and I catch up with him in no time. We wish each other luck and I carry on. I reach 42k in a bit over 2h48, not that far behind schedule. The marathon well under 2h50. An unofficial improvement of my previous record by about 12 minutes.
One runner catches up with me again. We stick together for a while. A biker tells us we ’re 2 and 3. I have to let him go. 49k. I have to walk for a half a minute or so. I ’m suffering. I decide to walk every kilometer or so because I have a feeling I ’ll last longer like this. I refuse to look back. I refuse to ask Kim how far my first pursuer is behind me. Afraid to find out it ’s just 50 meters. Afraid I ’ll start taking things easy if I find out it ’s a lot. And then, out of nowhere, the sun breaks through the clouds and I start smiling. When Kim asks me what I ’m thinking about, all I can say is: “I love this so much! I ’m in so much pain, but God I love this”. 50k, check.
At 53km, we ’re joined by a camera crew. And then some other bikers. And I immediately realize what it means: I ’m next. It ’s just us 3 now. And then on a big road, I suddenly spot a runner. “Is that number 2?”, I ask. Kim nods. I fall silent and speed up. I close in fast. He ’s tired. I ’m tired. My legs burn. I have to slow down. I ’m still closing in. The car ’s closing in fast now. He stops, but he ’s out of reach. The car passed me by. It ’s over. 56.4km. 3rd Nationally. 75th worldwide. After a short interview with Zohra (who makes some remarks about my “funny suite”. Well, Zohra, it ’s skins compression gear and given how it worked miracles today, I suggest you get some yourself!), I run to Misha, the number 2, to congratulate him and we get in the van together. We ’re dropped off at the Ypres market square, rather anonymously. In the end, we ’re just two in a really long list of names, not unlike the one on the Menin Gate where it all started today. Although that ’s where the comparison ends I guess. The higher goal today may have been just as noble, the price they paid was a lot more than 2 days of heavy legs.
Thanks to Gerben for most of these pictures