The Flemish. (northern Belgiumers). I have fallen for them, but they suffer hills
Over the weekend I took part in a trail run an hour’s drive east of my house, outside the city of Liege, Belgium. Much of my running over the last 18 months has been in larger races such as a couple of 20k races in Brussels, a marathon ekidon relay, a beach marathon near Amsterdam and the Berlin marathon. This was only my second smaller Flemish running event and was found by my good dutch friend Hans. Definitely different from what I am used to.
The race was a hilly, muddy and at times rather slippery 14k trail run that went for long stretches in creek beds and provided some fantastic scenic moments when rising up to crests over valleys.
Hans and I started the race with really no expectations or thoughts as to a race plan or how good anyone in the 150 or so crowd would be. After a km or so I’m feeling great and really itching to go for it. We were perhaps a third of the way back in the pack and I get a sense that I should really have a hard dash and if I ran out of steam then so be it. Off I went. For the next 5 kms or so the track weaves through a creek bed with rolling pebbles, ensuring your eyes are always towards the floor. I manage to pass a number of people until a big gap opens up and in a clearing I notice that the next guy is 200 Metres or so ahead and he is charging. I settle into a pace and try to maintain the gap. Stocked with my run so far, thinking I must be about 10th or so. The race so far has been all about the slippery downhill. While I have never found it to be the case, the Flemish stereotype is that they are risk adverse and conversative. I found this in their running. Strong on the uphill but not so sure footed going back down. Like the rev Hale would do, I attacked hard on the downhill and finally caught up to the guy in front of me. As I passed him, we were at the bottom of a 300m or so uphill slog, and there was no-one on the hill. I asked him how far we had run, he said 9km and yelled out – “you are now in third” – what the heck? I pushed hard up the hill, trying to open up the gap, I could think of nothing better than getting in the top 3. For the next km I extended the gap a little but out of nowhere this gangly man with a serious face and legs that looked like they had been to war came up behind. I stopped at the only drink station for 2 seconds at 10km and he blasted past. My only podium finish since highschool was slipping through my fingers! I sprinted past him within the first 100m, wasting a huge amount of energy but wanting to demoralise the man, which worked a treat as I could tell by his fading footsteps that he was slowing down. The track was always sign posted but at one junction there were two routes and no signs. I stopped and spun around yelling to the the war man which way to go. He didn’t say a word. Just waiting till he had ran past and said “this way”. I was getting angry. One km to go. And we battled back and forth. I got him in the last few hundred meters, the podium pulling me forward. 2nd place! Not third, the guy had been wrong. So happy, because I would have definitely settled for third! Hans, taking it easy as on the comeback from injury, came in 29th.