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The May running challenge

Winter vs Running

Winter and running aren’t exactly connected in my head. I’ll go for occasional runs throughout the winter months – usually one on Christmas day for example to make up for all the glorious food. So at the first sign of spring, that’s when it happens: I get that feeling again, l want to go outside and run, relieve myself from stress and breathe in the fresh air. Also, when the clocks change in March I can go run again after work, as it doesn’t get dark that early anymore.

Spring vs Running

This year March came and brought with it that same familiar feeling. For me running as such is nice, but running with a purpose is better. A few people around me had a very clear purpose: they were training for the 20km of Brussels. I’ve only ever done one half marathon and I specifically chose that one as it was a trail run along the Wolverhampton-Birmingham canal. I wouldn’t even attempt running on concrete, as I’ve had surgery on my foot and wear in-soles pretty much all the time.

Setting my goals

So instead I picked a different goal, more to my liking: the Abbey run. It’s an annual trail race, 16km from the Abbey of Averbode to the Abbey of Tongerlo, and you get an abbey beer at the finish. What’s not to like? Well, maybe the running bit… But as I mentioned, I’ve done the 21,0975km that are widely known as a half marathon, so 16km seemed… reasonable. Ahem.

I drew up a training plan and started training in March for the Abbey run, taking place mid May 2018. Unfortunately, peer-pressure is very real and more of my friends started signing up for the Brussels 20km. So after a while I made myself a deal: if I could do the 16km of the Abbey run and get in shape for that, then I should also be able to do 20km 2 weeks later, right?!

I didn’t feel quite as comfortable after the 2 months of training this time round as when I did after 4 months of training in 2017 before my half marathon. But I tried my best and ran 13km two weeks before the race, so felt moderately confident. My biggest worry however was the weather.

Abbey Run

I don’t mind the cold or the rain that much when I run, because those are conditions you can dress for. But running in the heat? No, thank you. I kept checking the weather forecast frantically, but on the day of the Abbey run it was cloudy, and even a bit chilly when we were queueing up at the start. The race track mostly went through the woods, so when the sun did come out in the afternoon we were comfortably sheltered by the trees most of the time.

I really loved the race and running through that woodland area. In comparison to most runners I’m slow (I know because of so many of them passing me by) but I kept a good average pace of 6:30min per kilometer, which is 9 seconds faster in comparison to my first half marathon. My Runkeeper tracker tells me I finished the race in 1:46:32, but then it also tells me I ran 16,39km in total. Don’t you just hate it when you are approaching the finish and your tracker tells you you ran the full distance, yet you can’t spot the finish line yet so you’re definitely doing more than the full distance? Ah well, at least we got a free abbey beer afterwards.

Well chuffed with this effort (I’m blaming this euphoric feeling for winning me over) I signed up for the 20km just over two weeks later. I did a 14km run about 10 days after the Abbey run, but with an average pace of 6:52min per kilometer I was slow. For good reason: it was so hot – more than 25°C during that run and clearly that is too high for me. So a mild panic about the temperature on race day for the 20km of Brussels slowly started forming.

Brussels 20km

Race day came and yeah, it was hot. Really hot. And so. Many. People! The queues for the loos were ridiculous. After waiting a good while and the start time creeping closer we followed a few other adventurous women into the bushes and had a wee there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many women weeing in the bushes at once, so there is a little pre-race female bonding moment for ya.

I was in a later wave than most of my friends, and luckily the sun was hiding behind the clouds while we waited to get going. But it would be a steady 27 degrees all the way through. And finally off we went! It is a lovely course and amazing feeling with all the spectators on the side cheering you on, a very new feeling to me. But it was long and hot and that is exactly how I shall remember it until the end of times.

After about 8km I was ready to quit. I kept asking myself why on earth anyone would do this to themselves, I was overheated and miserable. The main thing that kept me going was knowing that my friends were all in earlier waves, and so I’d keep them waiting (longer) for me by quitting the race. What saved me however were the sprinklers. I turned around a corner, and there they were, these watery inventions from heaven. I ran right through them, got soaked and felt so much better. They do say not to get your feet wet as it can result in chafing, but I couldn’t care less at this point. And I ran on.

Quite glad my brother-in-law had told me it wasn’t exactly 20km, more like 21km and it helped me mentally to keep pushing myself. Close to the end I was very tempted to give up and just start walking, like so many others around me. But I figured it would be better to keep running, even very slowly, rather than walking. So with an average page of 7:09min per kilometer and a total of 2:29:37 for 20,91km (according to my Runkeeper tracker) I made it to the finish line.

I’m very proud of finishing this race despite the slow pace, because I know how much effort and perseverance it took. Unfortunately it left me a bit disgusted of running in the heat, and with the summer we’ve had in Belgium I’ve not had many opportunities to go for a ‘cool’ run. I’ve been looking for a next challenge, even considered attempting a marathon (and marathon training that is) in early Spring next year, but I haven’t had the time to commit to any specific challenge so far.

Do you struggle running in the heat? How do you deal with it?

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