Reports From the Front: The Belfius Brussels International Full and Half Marathon

Ok, ok, another “lost post” from the archives, my apologies to it’s author M.L. Lee.  I really need to focus more… 🙁  JAK

From M.L.:

“Faced with the choice of exercise or eating less, M.L. Lee started running at 26 in Chicago, shorter distances along the beautiful waterfront.  Moving to NY and taking a few years to get settled, she came back to the activity with the goal of running her first Marathon before age 35.  A nerdy injury-less childhood, while leaving full use of her knees, resulted in no conceptual understanding of how to properly run or do any sort of athletic motion. Severe shin splints got in the way two years in a row and at age 34, she sucked it up and started training by seeking out those with actual knowledge of the sport.  While she explored a number of approaches and paths, she knew immediately upon meeting the Dashing Whippets who she was going to put on her NYRR team affiliation.Why?  Well… because aside from running, travel, and dark swiss chocolate, high-fiving is one of her great loves in life; and there is no organization more willing to fill that need than the awesome Dashing Whippets! Go Whippets!!  Unstopped by a hurricane, she ran her first marathon in 2012 and has been hooked ever since.”

I love to travel and run. Putting the two together has increased my enjoyment of both.  Something about endurance racing engulfs you in the culture and comradery of a place. Outside of NYC races over a 10k are an even bigger deal for the hosting location and wearing your medal afterwards – no matter how clueless a tourist you are, generally generates positive vibes from those you meet.

I was surprised when DWRT Vice President Matthew Wong suggested I contribute to the blog with articles about my experiences. I’m new to endurance racing and significantly slower than many/most DW members. Admittedly, I have some concerns about how credible super speedy runners might feel about a blog written by someone who has no hope of ever qualifying for Boston.  That said, perhaps you super speedy folk have never been able to clearly see the blur of landscape, i.e. the course around you. I mean what does Einstein see out the window of his light speed train?

At any rate, for my first entry, I chose the Belfius Brussels International Full and Half Marathon.  Work this year involved quite a bit more travel, always a challenge for those training for a marathon.  Jet lag plus general confusion with one way streets and driving protocol has resulted in more than one “interesting” traffic encounter.  Scheduled the first weekend of October with 14,000 participants between the two distances offered, this race was the perfect solution to my need for a supported NYC Marathon preparatory long run.

The Course:  The marathon, half and even the 5K are really great ways to see the city.  The half distance loops around all the major attractions in the city.  The full takes you farther abreast to picturesque Parc de Tervuren.  Even through the haze of my pacing issues, I found myself appreciating the views on more than one occasion.  It is a hilly course, ideal for NY Marathon trainers that have not yet made peace with the elevation changes.   Mile 1.5-4.5 is uphill over 200ft, Mile 14-16 is a 225 ft climb, Mile 17-20 is a 150 ft climb, Mile 23 is a 125 ft climb with the last ½ mile up 75 ft.  I have to admit, the last part of mile 23 wiped the smile off my face.  Still, I would really only complain about the finish.  While extremely cool to loop it through the city, it winds a bit much and is over wet cobblestones. For those that like to sprint to the finish, it might be good to use heavier tread shoes.

The Vibe:  Polite.  Very polite.  Example: The FAQ explains that, for lining up pre-race, people are not assigned to stalls because we are all civil and can line up responsibly in a manner that is respectful to other runners.  Cheerers are present and politely spectating, prepared to give a high-five, though thoughtfully reserved, in case that is not your deal.  This is in stark contrast to the Spanish contingency that ran the race with a full fan club draped and swathed in red and yellow and unabashedly enthusiastic for all, albeit especially their fellow countrymen/women.  I personally loved them both for coming out.

Still, Brussels – with the UN so close by – could not be more international with runners from all over the world.  The UN Peacekeepers volunteer security all along the race.  For those of you wondering, no matter how seriously into keeping the peace they look, they will absolutely high-five you when requested.

Course Support:  There were 15 water stations every 3-5K, there is also AA, an unfortunately named electrolyte beverage that has less sugar than Gatorade, I’m proudly told by locals.  It’s provided in 8oz bottles that the volunteers have already pre-opened!  Additionally, these stops offer natural fuel, i.e. banana or dried apricots.

Toilet Talk: As for bathrooms, porto-pottys line the start and finish. Otherwise, you enter the woods at mile 4.  I saw very few facilities along the way and a lot of people fertilizing the countryside…BYO-TP.

Gear:  Brussels is a bit like London.  Wear your wet weather gear.  If you’re a 4hr plus marathoner (like me), you might want a hydration belt with a single 8-12oz bottle, but you won’t need more than that given how much water is provided (you can always fill your bottles).  My year, the expo offered limited gear and did not take credit cards.  Fuel is very different from what is offered in the US.  Gels are significantly more liquid, but also smaller and none of the brands you’d typically find in the Running Company or Paragon are available.  In the case you really need something or just want to see what international folk buy in the way of gear, try Jogging Plus: it’s the NY equivalent of the Running Company.  It’s located near the Castle convenient to a train station “Trone”.

This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, its board, or its captains.


More about Dashing Whippets Running Team

The Dashing Whippets Running Team is a New York based running team that is founded on, and driven by, the diversity of our team members. With team members from all over the city, the country and the world, and with greatly different running goals, we find unity in recognizing and appreciating each others differences and our mutual enjoyment of running and participating in the New York running community and beyond.

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