So there we were, Sunday morning, before the big race. Met up with my friends at 9 pm, an hour before the start. The sun was shining bright, perhaps the biggest potential source of problems for the day?
Many running friends had given me tips for a good race, such as:
- Eat pasta for breakfast. I did that (wholemeal!).
- Just pick a cute little ass and keep following that. (Hmm, perhaps not the most scientific piece of advice ever…)
- Drink a lot during the race. (Fair enough.) And when you need to pee, don’t be afraid and look up a tree (which I would turn out to do twice).
We lined up in our starting boxes, me and two other friends in the sixth and last one, our green starting numbers pinned to our chest. (I was 30462.) The first cannon shot went off before I was even in the box. But we wouldn’t leave until nearly half an hour later anyway.
The tension was palpable. I felt pretty excited/nervous. Would my knee hold out? Would I finish the race? In a good time? Even before starting, my pulse was already at 118 bpm!
Sixth cannon blast and off we went, just walking out of the park, everybody having to go through the gates, but then km 0 started at the Schuman roundabout. After that you turn into rue de la Loi, which provided an amazing sight of a sea of thousands and thousands of bobbing heads stretching out in front of you. Looked pretty impressive, something like this:
But my start wasn’t good. Even though I had the impression I was running really slowly (another piece of advice: don’t start too fast), I couldn’t control my heart rate. And when we hit the first tunnel, after 3 km, I got really dizzy and was afraid I was going to faint and I’d have to give up. Was it the heat? The stress? Lack of oxygen in the tunnel? I don’t know. But this wasn’t going well. Giving up already at that point would have been a massive bummer.
So I thought about the most important tip one of my friends had given me: never give up! When I was certain I wasn’t going to faint or get a heart failure, I just walked for a bit until I was out of the tunnel, where there seemed to be more oxygen. I kept on jogging extremely slowly for a couple of minutes - the only people not overtaking me were the ones walking. I sort of stumbled through two more tunnels on avenue Louise, until we got to Bois de la Cambre. By then, I was feeling much better again, and I managed to find a reasonable, steady pace.
From then onwards, it was an extremely pleasant experience. All these people, going for the same objective, the people standing next to the road cheering you on, the jazz and drum bands pumping out some beats to keep you motivated. As said, it was a beautiful day, the atmosphere was great, and I tremendously enjoyed the run: the greenery, cracking jokes with other runners, sloshing some refreshing water over my head every few kilometres.
After that first initial spot of bother, I didn’t have any more problems. Nothing was hurting, and as I counted down the kilometres, my confidence just kept on growing. Even the dreaded uphill stretch of avenue de Tervueren, a massive uphill section of 2 kilometres, like a fucking Everest you have to tame before you reach the last kilometer, went super smoothly. After that, there’s the last flat section, and you can see the arches of Parc du Cinquantenaire, the finish line, before you.
I pulled out everything I had left (which apparently was still quite a lot), and just went for it. It was a great feeling, those last few hundred meters, the people cheering (I had three fans by the finish line), it was just bliss. Total euphoria. I almost cried. Seriously.
And so I crossed the finish line after 2 hours, 22 minutes and 37 seconds, which ended me in 23,142nd place. Even so, they gave me a gold medal. And a Mars bar.
(I ate the Mars bar.)
And that was it. I’m so happy I did this. People who have run before may make less big a deal of it, but I’m super stoked I brought this project to a positive end.
Now, perhaps, I will learn how to skateboard.