This past weekend, we traveled to Brussels so that Willem could cross something off his bucket list: run in the Brussels half-marathon (20km de Bruxelles/20km door Brussel). The Brussels 20k has been run annually since 1980, and has grown every year. This year, almost 37,000 runners from 120 countries took part. Willem had signed up to run the race with a group of our friends from LSE.
We stayed overnight with one of the guys running the half-marathon with Willem. On the morning of the race we woke up bright and early. I say bright, but what we saw out the window was rain. Cold, gray and rainy—not the type of weather that makes one excited to get outside and run, that’s for sure. Luckily the rain tapered off before the race started; however, the clouds stayed around for the whole day. I could tell Willem was nervous (even though he tried not to show it) because he could barely finish his breakfast. I tried to tell him it is only natural to feel sick right before your first big race, and to reassure him that the feeling would go away as soon as the adrenaline of the race kicked in. We took the metro to Parc du Cinquantenaire, which was the starting and finishing point of the course. The metro was already filled with other people who were also on their way to the race. Either that or someone was about to film a spandex commercial we weren’t aware of.
The park was swarming with people by the time we got there, and it took us a while to find the others. Once all five guys were assembled and ready to go, they made their way over to the staging area at the starting line. Since the Brussels 20k is run by so many people, they must start in waves of 6,000 runners. This staggers the runners and prevents bottlenecks and injuries along the course. The wave you are placed in depends on your predicted finish time. The first wave is made up of professional runners, and the following waves are composed of increasingly amateur or novice runners. Willem and his friends were placed in the fourth wave.
The starting gun sounded for the first wave at 10am sharp. That was my cue to go, so I wished the guys luck and they went off to their places. I walked to the edge of the park so I could get a better view of the starting line. The sight of all those runners poised to begin was incredible. The tension and excitement in the air was making me nervous, and I wasn’t even running!
I watched the runners stream out of the park and on their way. My friend Suzanne, who lives in Brussels, had arranged to meet me that day, so I made my way back to the metro station where she was waiting for me. I knew I had at least an hour and a half before the guys would be nearing the finish line, so Suzanne and I walked to a nearby Le Pain Quotidien for croissants and coffee. I felt so guilty and lazy sitting there chatting with Suzanne in the warm and cozy café while the boys were out there running their hearts out in the cold! After about an hour we walked back to the race course and found a place to stand 500 meters from the finish line.
I was shocked at how fast the first runners finished. The winner crossed the finish line in under an hour! That means he was running at a pace of more than 20km/hr. I don’t even think I can bike that fast for a full 20km.
All five of the LSE guys finished the course in less than two hours. Willem’s final time was 1:52:21, a personal record for him. I’m so proud of him! One of Belgium’s own royals, Prince Philippe, also ran the race—and Willem now gets to say that he beat Belgium’s prince in a race. Not bad for one weekend, right?