If the miles behind me could be put into words before you, you would feel my efforts, my struggles, my desires. Most of all you would see my joy. Watch me from afar run the trails and hills and miles upon miles and you will see ...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Belgium Night of Flanders

Held in the West Flanders area of Belgium, this was the 30th edition of this race. Along with the 100k there was a 10k, marathon, and 100k walk happening simultaneously. The 10k went a different direction so we never saw them but there were plenty of marathoners and open 100k runners.
I thought before I left how in all my travels and connections I've never been delayed or late to any destinations. This trip was not to be as smooth as past ones. Fellow teammate and friend Judy Wilson was leaving on a different plane from Vancouver about half an hour after mine but we both connected in Heathrow to fly together to Brussels on the same flight. We decided that I would wait at the gate in London for her to arrive.
My plane left the terminal on time but within minutes it was announced we were going back to drop off a passenger with medical issues. Of course they had to offload the baggage for the person as well so that took a few minutes also. In all we left an hour late. I was wondering what Judie would be thinking when she showed up at our gate in Heathrow and I wasn't there.
Arriving to Heathrow I ran to catch the bus to take me to the proper terminal and get another boarding pass. I asked at the counter if my bags would make it on the next plane to Brussels and she phoned someone to confirm they just made it. Now I had to do the same. I ran to security and the metal detectors and waited an agonizingly amount of time. From there I sprinted down some huge escalators, just caught the train to the right gate, took the next sets of escalators two by two (they each must have been four stories worth of climbing) and at the very top turned to see Judie waiting at our gate. I raised my arms, totally out of breath, in triumph like I'd finished the 100k already. Things always work out somehow.
Having not slept on the plane as usual, I could barely stay awake (okay, I didn't stay awake) on the train to Lichtervelde. It was a hot hour and a half sitting there but we finally arrived with no telephones in sight to call our contact to pick us up and take us to Torhout where the hotel was. A little mini shuttle bus showed up and the driver was apparently looking for five Mexican runners but figured we were close enough and took us to the hotel. We made it fine and met up with some other team members there.
I was rooming with Vladimir Banas, whom I was with in Italy as well, and team manager Armand LeBlanc. As usual I was extremely tired and crashed around 10pm but was up at 2am then again for good at 4am listening to the ipod. I hate traveling that direction for that reason - I can never sleep the whole night.
On Thursday we went and drove around Torhout and had lunch. The athlete's parade was supposed to start at 7:30 but when we showed up at 7:20 we found that everyone had left on the route already. We went in the direction we figured they would have gone but found no one so we went to the hall where it finished up and where the pasta party was. The parade finally showed up but by then we'd staked out a table close to the food. It didn't matter anyways because we ate alphabetically by country.
In a way it was nice that we didn't start until 8pm Friday night because usually the night before the race is crazy trying to label all our stuff and figure out which aid stations to put everything at. This time we had all Friday to leisurely get organized. It was still a bit chaotic around 5pm but that is our way.
Over to the start we drove and eventually met up with everyone else. Right on time the gun sounded and the night began. I'd been running sub-7 minute miles in training and feeling good so I started out fast but comfortable. It was a place I'd never been before: I could see the leaders for the first hour or so and was with the second pack for quite a while. The first of five laps was almost 23km with the next four being around 19km. It was only 20 degrees but felt hot when the wind wasn't blowing. My goal this race was to go under 7:30, something I've come within 9 minutes of in the past. My ultimate goal was to be under 8 hours so I could qualify for the World team if I choose to run again next year. Everything felt awesome until around two and a half hours when my quads tightened up a bit but I knew it wasn't going to be a big deal. I did slow down a bit though.
My first lap of 23 km went by in 1:34 for a 6:35 minute per mile pace. The next lap of 19 km was done in 1:24, 6:51 pace and my marathon time was 2:58. A quick calculation (and laugh to myself) saw I could finish under 7 hours but I knew this pace would never last. It started getting dark by the third lap and there was a few lights set up with generators in the places that were out of town. Much like Winschoten two years ago the people of the two towns we ran through came out in force for much of the race. In the town centres there were huge stages set up and music blaring all night. I couldn't believe the amount of people partying until all hours. Often I'd be running through these squares having to dodge the drunks walking on the street.
By this time I found out that Jack's back problems had acted up and he was walking. Jen and Rick were also out due to stomach and hamstring issues respectively. I passed Darren Frose's brother, Don, on the third lap while he was contending with recurring achilles' problems. Not boding well for the team times. At the end of the second lap I started keeping track of my 10k splits to get a better idea of my speed and how much I was slowing down.
On the fourth lap I was sticking with a runner from Belarus. We didn't say anything to each other the whole time, it was just understood that we'd run together. I saw him at the beginning of the race ahead of me because he has a pretty unique running style. I ended up catching him on the fourth lap when he was doubled over throwing up in town. I figured he was done but not long after he was right beside me. Whenever we'd go through an aid station he'd catch up soon enough. One time he stopped for a bathroom break and I thought for sure I wouldn't see him again but twenty minutes I heard his footsteps again. He was feeling bad on the fifth lap because he kept hitting the bushes and going slower. I was doing the math and figured I could still break 8 hours even at this pace if nothing else happened. Then on the last lap something happened: Darren caught me around 88km and kept on going.
Up until then I was content to cruise in with this Belarus runner and even continued with him for a few minutes after Darren went past. Then I started thinking if Darren was right there, Vladimir from our team could be right behind HIM. Not that I'm out to beat my fellow teammates, I just wanted to make sure I'd be able to run in Gibralter next year if I wanted to. I tried to explain to my shadow that the guy who just went by was Canadian and we had to speed up. Nothing was getting through and I did feel bad as I took off after Darren. I found out this guy finished in 7:58 so he still had a decent finish to the race.
I figured I had spotted Darren about half a km. I could barely see him up the road especially through the less-lit areas. Maybe because I'd been running a little easier than I thought I had the energy to bridge the gap in about five minutes. Now we had around 7 km to the finish. I didn't know what was going on in his mind as we ran side by side, I figured it would play out however it did and I just went with it.
We were definitely beyond "conversational pace" because we didn't say too much to each other. I think we were both hoping the other would say we should slow down. I had cruised past a runner from Norway en route to catching up with Darren. Darren had said he just wanted to beat that guy because in Italy he'd shadowed Darren for a good part of the race letting him set the pace and had beaten him in the end. Darren wanted his revenge. However around 3km to go we heard footsteps and I was even a little shocked to see this guy go past us because he looked beaten when I went by him twenty minutes prior. Anyways, I was hoping Darren would take off after him because I wouldn't have minded to slow down somewhat. We let him go and finished off the race at our torrid pace coming in together at 7:50 in 39th and 40th places. Maybe next year he'll get his revenge.
This 100k was probably the best I've felt mentally and physically. I had no stomach issues or foot problems other than I could feel some toenails protesting towards the end of the race, nothing new there. I was in the race mentally the whole time and was concentrating on my 10k splits. The last 10k with Darren pushing me was 47:39, the fastest since the 40-50km split.
A first for me as well - I was able to drink beer after the race which is something my stomach doesn't usually let me do after an event like this. It was a bit odd drinking at 6 in the morning but we had been up for 24 hours after all.
The next day started at noon after a brief sleep. We went to Torhout again to get our medals and t-shirts and watch the awards presentation. After that was dinner and a walk-around in Brugges, about twenty minutes outside of Torhout. The next day we all went our separate ways, some of us going home and some on to visit areas of Belgium. Myself, Armand, team member Bruce Barteaux and his wife, Bonnie, set out to see some of the war memorials in the area.
We went through France to Dieppe, Arras, and Vimy. Then to Ypres, Belgium, and did our own tour of the area. Tuesday was off to Brussels overnight then catch the plane home. I would recommend anyone going over to that area to see some of these old battlefields and cemetaries. There is so much history it would take years to see it all. I'm grateful to have visited these areas and pay respects to those who enable us to have the lives we do now.
Of course when I flew to Frankfurt I found out there would be more delays: there was only one runway operating so we were 90 minutes late leaving. This meant I'd miss my connection in Calgary and I hoped Carrie would check the flights. Luckily I called her in Calgary and she said that she had seen my flight had left, she just didn't know I wasn't on it. I got on another flight and eventually landed two and a half hours later than I was supposed to. What a relief to get home.
Coming up next is the World Police Fire Games at the end of July/early August. I'm doing the bike portion of the triathlon, the Grouse Grind, and the Bike Climb up Seymour mountain. I don't plan to really train for any of these, I'm just going out to do them. I may do the Grind once a week but that's about it. I need to get back into the running and stay healthy for the Commonwealth 100k in England on September 19th. Our Canada team has a good chance to podium with this one.

A link with pictures will follow soon.


Scott said...

Nice race report, all stories should include a vomiting Belarusian. Awesome job as always, hope your doing well down there. Managing quite well up here running with the bears, rattlesnakes and cougars. Talk to you soon.

Anonymous said...

Followed your blog for a while now. You must have a very supportive, independant family in order for you to maintain this type of training and competition schedule. Hope you appreciate them and give back when your running days are over.