When my family decided to take a trip to Europe this fall, one of my first thoughts was finding a European marathon to run. If I’m traveling all that way, I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to run an international marathon.
I settled on Brussels, mainly because it was the easiest logistically. We could fly straight into the city, and it was early October, so I could run it at the beginning of the trip, then focus on enjoying our vacation.
I looked at the race website when I entered the marathon. It included an option for viewing the information in English — an important consideration when selecting an international race!
But for some reason, I never checked the elevation chart until about a week before we left for Europe. There are hills in this race! I had pictured Brussels as having a similar topography as Amsterdam: flat as a central Illinois cornfield. Not so.
I’ve run hilly marathons before, but I was glad I had been doing what passes for hill training in Champaign-Urbana — running the parking garages.
One tip a friend gave me before I left for Europe was to print out my pace band in kilometers rather than miles. Running a course marked in kilometers is nice because you see progress more quickly — you arrive at the next kilometer sign more quickly than the next mile marker. But late in the race, the kilometers were testing my math skills (which are practically nonexistent after 10 miles anyway) in trying to convert to miles to figure out how much distance I had left to cover.
We arrived in Brussels two days before the marathon. Lucky me: Europe was having an usually warm spell for late September and early October. Great for hanging out in the park or sightseeing. Not so great for running a marathon, particularly one with a (relatively late) 9 a.m. start.
The hills were not bad, though, even for a flatlander. The toughest was an uphill climb for probably three-quarters of a mile, beginning at mile No. 22. And although it was warm, we ran through several shady, wooded parks.
The race started in Cinquantenaire Park, passing under a huge monumental arch, built in 1880 for the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence. Much of the first few miles was run on cobblestones — different from what I’m used to in the other marathons I’ve run. The only incident came barely 2 miles into the race, when a guy running behind me wiped out on the cobblestones, kicking me hard in the calf and nearly bringing me down with him. I managed to stay on my feet, and once we left the central part of the city, we were on blacktop.
The race course went out of town to the east and through a huge park surrounding the Africa Museum. When we returned to Brussels, we again passed through Cinquantenaire Park and under the monument. I saw more of Brussels than I ever would have by just sightseeing in the central city.
The race finished in the Grand Place, the main square in the center of the city, surrounded by gorgeous old buildings and chocolate shops.
I didn’t have any expectation of running very fast, as I hadn’t trained quite as hard for this one as others. And then there’s the jet lag. But in spite of having hardly slept for three nights prior to the race, I felt good the whole 26.2 miles. It certainly wasn’t one of my faster marathons. But it was one of my best in terms of holding a steady pace for most of the race and feeling good at the finish.
My favorite part of the race: Being cheered on in French. “Allez.” “Bravo Madame!”
I’m looking forward to running another international marathon someday. Maybe Amsterdam.
Photos: Top, Runners pass through the central part of Brussels early in the race. Middle: Runners pass under the monumental arch at Cinquantenaire Park for the second time near the end of the race. Bottom: The finish line was in Grand Place, the historic square in Brussels.