Big hero image for

Brussels

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28 October 2018

On October 16th, 2011, I ran the official Amsterdam marathon, my second ever full marathon. It’s been 7 years, but reading the report today makes me feel like no time has passed.

Lots of things changed, that’s for sure. But then again, the amount of time feels insignificant to me. I feel like I’m the same person, although the molecules of which my body is made of are a completely different set from 2011. Funny how that works.

Seven Years.

Quite a long time. 20 percent of my whole life so far.

I came up with the goal of doing the 28 EU capital marathons some day between the Amsterdam and Copenhagen marathon. Both city marathons kind of happened to me, and coincidentally were also EU capitals. So it made sense to research a bit to find out if the 26 remaining EU capitals also had official marathons. I remember that time very fondly, it felt like planning a voyage to an unknown continent in the 15th century to me.

From the beginning on, it was obvious this was going to take many years. But that didn’t matter to me at all. Nor was I determined to tick off the challenge as soon as possible or as slowly as possible. I just had fun planning these races and seeing where we could go next spring or next autumn.

As the years went on and the sports bug bit me more and more, I began to try and do more of the EU marathons in each year. It was just so much fun to me I wanted to experience more of it. That led to additional marathons, longer triathlons, a few endurance swims and SwimRuns, and even repeats of EU marathons. I just can’t stop, because to me this is a very enjoyable use of my free time.

“What’s Next?”

It’s probably the question I’ve gotten most of them all as my EU challenge came closer to its end. I sometimes jokingly answer, “The UN of course!”, but that’s not realistic in my situation. Truth is, there is no specific next goal. There are many. Most of them are smaller than the EU challenge and they are all rather insignificant in comparison.

It doesn’t matter.

I just really like to run long races and will continue to do so whenever possible and my body allows me to do it.

Brussels

From the very beginning, this final EU marathon occasion didn’t feel like the huge fireworks ceremony to me. More like just another great marathon run I’m looking forward to. Still, it acted as a moment to breath and reflect. I’m still not entirely sure what my feelings about completing the challenge really are. There’s a bit of everything in it.

After preparing myself to run marathons again after a break of a few months, by doing another challenge, 3 marathons in 2 weeks, I felt strong and ready for a solid run in Brussels after a somewhat mixed year in terms of athletics.

The city is really special, not just to me, but also to Europe. As the home of the European Commission and several other EU institutions, it’s the capital city of the EU of sorts, and so I chose it as the grand finale.

We took a plane from Hamburg, of course Sophie and all our four daughters came with me.

The big sisters helping the little sister to fasten her seat belts in a Brussels taxi
The big sisters helping the little sister to fasten her seat belts in a Brussels taxi

After arriving in our beautiful Brussels AirBnB Sophie and I were exhausted through and through. We just now realized that four children seem to be the limit to what we can handle while doing weekend city trips like this. Also, our kids are at ages (6, 4, 2, 0) in which they have other ideas for spending their time. For that reason, it’s great the EU capital runs are over. In contrast, the mentioned 3 in 2 challenge in rural Austria was perfect for the kids. Scenic areas, nature, animals, clean air, no busy traffic, non-stressful travel.

I think I’ll still continue to run city marathons from time to time, but then probably on my own or just with the older ones of our kids. And also put a bigger focus on nature when choosing family vacations with marathons. Seems to make sense.

But we can’t forget that this trip had to offer great advantages for everyone as well. First and foremost, that’s the Belgian Triple:

Somehow, this tiny nation seems to have perfected the art-forms of creation in the three fields. We got some delicious Neuhaus chocolate and happily ate fries at the popular Maison Antoine.

I bought this type of Belgian craft beer from a huge grocery store selection without knowing anything about it, and without failure, it tasted really great
I bought this type of Belgian craft beer from a huge grocery store selection without knowing anything about it, and without failure, it tasted really great

Brussels had chosen a great location epicenter for the marathon race. Right inside the Parc du Cinquantenaire, which has a huge triumphal arch. A very popular accessory for any city that thinks something of itself.

Also, winter is coming
Also, winter is coming

The expo was situated inside a historic cars museum. A very interesting place! Right when entering, a man dressed in a red jacket greeted me by my name. To my surprise, it was René, who volunteered at the Rauchwart marathon I ran four weeks ago, and who is a good friend of Jürgen, the Rauchwart marathon initiator and my marathon buddy from Austria. Funny how the marathon running scene isn’t as big as you might think. René likes to run a lot as well and has an interesting long term goal: running all destination city’s marathons of the Emirates airline – as he is employed at Emirates. That will take a while, too!

Collected a sparse starter’s package – the upside is very little waste
Collected a sparse starter’s package – the upside is very little waste

At this Autoworld expo we saw an advertisement stand of an event called Arcticmarathon up north in Svalbard. Not far from the North Pole – now that’s something to add to my list as well!

Julie did a great job of finding my name on the huge wall of runners
Julie did a great job of finding my name on the huge wall of runners

The event here looked a bit bigger that it was. The parallel half marathon race is the reason. Around 8,000 half marathoners and just 2,000 full marathoners were registered. René told me about this year’s Calcutta marathon in India, which he ran, where the ratio was 20,000 half marathoners to exactly 96 full marathons – talk about a huge discrepancy!

Enjoying the museum
Enjoying the museum
Brussels sightseeing: Europe, celebrating diversity
Brussels sightseeing: Europe, celebrating diversity
Back at the AirBnB we found this similar family – just the size differences don’t fit perfectly to ours
Back at the AirBnB we found this similar family – just the size differences don’t fit perfectly to ours

The evening before the race we had pasta and the next morning oatmeal with honey, as is tradition with my marathons. Provides me with the optimum amount of nutrients for a long run.

The night was an hour longer because of one of the last Daylight Saving Time shifts. The EU recently put out a directive to urge its member states to get rid of DST because a poll of millions of EU citizens clearly spoke out in favor of just that. Sounds democratic to me. In 2019, the countries of the EU will have to decide. So far, I think Germany’s government hasn’t made a decision about that, but I strongly hope for the abolishment of DST. These 1 hour gains before my fall marathons are the only positive consequence of DST I can think of, in addition to a bunch of negative effects, for example the kids being out of their rhythms for about a week again.

Public Transport

Usually, Brussels seems to have a very good public transport system, including street cars, which are awesome in general. We rode them for fun a bunch of times. But they have one slight problem: they don’t work during events that make the closing of some streets necessary. E.g., a marathon race. After waging my options I chose to run the 4.5 kilometers through the cold morning to the start of the race. Hoping to warm up a bit.

The problem is the remaining half an hour after the arrival at the start!
The problem is the remaining half an hour after the arrival at the start!
Good thing the crowd was increasing, cheers to penguin herd style warmth sharing
Good thing the crowds were increasing, cheers to penguin collony style warmth sharing
And by accident, here’s René again
And by accident, here’s René again

Talking with him also moves the thoughts away from the cold. Two degrees above zero is not much.

The announcer talked quite a bit, mostly in French obviously. Many other countries’ citizens were present today, as Brussels is a very international city. The last few minutes flew away that way. Here’s my last remaining EU capital marathon.

Let’s Do This!

Sure enough, I run this thing wearing a EU flag cape – like I got any other choice!
Sure enough, I run this thing wearing a EU flag cape – like I got any other choice!
A horse statue with one leg up. According to the untrue rumors, this guy has been injured in battle – but more probably, not.
A horse statue with one leg up. According to the untrue rumors, this guy has been injured in battle – but more probably, not.

Although it’s very cold, the weather is quite nice actually. Not much wind and no rain or hail. I’ve had a lot worse during marathons. A bit more sun would’ve been nice, but who am I to complain about the weather.

Playing music in this cold is also respectable
Playing music in this cold is also respectable

Brussels also has to offer some slight hills. We run through three short car tunnels right near the beginning. Down, and up. Gets you warmed up.

Inside the tunnels the air was noticeably warmer
Inside the tunnels the air was noticeably warmer

I have recently read a few running books, in one of which the nasal breathing technique was mentioned. Apparently it can be good for the cardiovascular system by breathing purely through one’s nose while running. Humidifies and filters the air as well as it forces you to stay at a slower pace. I tried it for a few kilometers, but the cold made it quite hard to do. So I switched back to the Breath of the Dragon, a Yoga breathing style. Breathing in through the nose and then forcefully breathing out through the mouth. Keeps the system going and it’s great for reaching a mindful state while running.

The Heroes

During this race I thought about my current running heroes quite a bit. Those are Patrick Lange, who had won the IRONMAN Hawaii World Championships just a few weeks earlier, with an amazing marathon, setting a new course record for the second year in a row. His running style is so well rounded I usually try my best to imitate it.

The other one is Scott Jurek, an ultramarathon genius. He’s won all the crazy long world renowned races like the Western States 100 miler or the Badwater Ultra 135 in crazy hot Death Valley, while being a healthy vegan. I really enjoyed his books, North as well as Eat & Run in the last few weeks.

As I think about how these guys would go about a comparably easy race like this one, we leave the grey city and enter a green and fall-colored park. This place is not far from our apartment, which is why I can suddenly see my little ones.

Sophie managed to get them all ready in time and come here – which can be tougher than a marathon run
Sophie managed to get them all ready in time and come here – which can be tougher than a marathon run
Some big cuddles for each one of them
Some big cuddles for each one of them

It’s funny to think back to 2011’s Amsterdam marathon, when Sophie was pregnant with our first-born, Julie. Around that time we joked that we would be doing the 28th marathon in Brussels together, pushing our future four kids on a wheeled contraption I would build for the occasion. Well, we got the four kids part right. Crazy enough.

Europe is running
Europe is running

The course is nice and diverse. There’s very little of noisy city and lots of calm nature instead. I appreciate it. Because of the cold weather and non-central location of many parts, crowds are small and rare. It’s a race to retract into one’s self. I like that, too.

Aid stations are well maintained by hard as nails volunteers, standing there for hours in the cold handing out drinks. “De l’eau?”, they politely ask. The isotonic drink they offer is called “A A”, pronounced in a way that makes my kids laugh afterwards. It sounds like a kids’ term for ‘poo’ in German.

A gothic church and the entrance to a forrest, will there be witches and vampires?
A gothic church and the entrance to a forrest, medieval flair
Passing the pacers
Passing the pacers

At the half marathon mark, there’s a short stretch on which the course leads back along this same road. Right at this moment, the leader is seen.

Strong stride at kilometer 37 for him
Strong stride at kilometer 37 for him

The pacer car shows a 2:04. After “just” 37 kilometers, this guy is far away from a record breaking time. It must be the cold. His stride is still very impressive, it always is with these fast runners.

The Trails

We exit the Brussels region and enter a rather large forrest, or park area. It’s nature, clean air, no crowds again.

The red vest in front of me says “Emirates” – there’s René again!
The red vest in front of me says “Emirates” – there’s René again!

It is around here that I first notice people commenting on my EU flag cape. So far no one paid attention, or maybe they all despised the idea. I don’t know.

I feel a bit insecure about carrying that political message around
I feel a bit insecure about carrying that political message around

After the recent years’ right-wing and nationalistic movements in several EU countries, I’m more than ever convinced the project “European Union” has been the right choice for our continent. 73 years and counting without a war in this previously war-torn region speak a strong language. Not to mention the economic and every day life advantages for every single citizen during this current shift towards globalism. I spoke to historian and journalist friends, and they agree. (Sometimes I’m lazy and just copy their opinions, to be honest. Opinion-outsourcing to trusted sources, if you will. Saves time!)

It’s always easy to see the few negative aspects and ignore the countless invisible advantages.

“L‘Union européenne!”

Here, after two thirds of the race, the positive comments about my EU fandom started. And that felt good. It’s always the young people that embrace the union, from what I witness. That’s a good sign as we are the ones that will create the future. “L‘Union européenne!”, “L’Europe!”, “Go Europe!” they say to me. It sure makes me smile. The doubtful people – if they existed – keep their opinion to themselves, which I also appreciate.

Europe is a Great Place

Feels good like this easy downhill section
Feels good like this easy downhill section

In the spirit of unification, we reach a point where us full marathoners and the 8,000 half marathoners are united on the same broad street. Those half marathoners started their race one and a half hours later than us, so that there was a big amount of runners finishing around the same time. The only difference is the pace. I am running towards a 3:50 hours finish and the half marathoners here are going to finish in about 2:15 hours, making their pace noticeably slower than mine. But it’s not a problem, they are not in my way. I enjoy the company.

Reunited
Reunited

This course really isn’t the easiest with all its slight uphill and downhill parts. It’s nothing compared to the mountain marathon I ran a few weeks ago, but it’s also no walk in the park to have a five percent uphill stretch after 40 kilometers. The pace suffers!

After that last hill is done, a great view of the huge triumphal arch presents itself. Now that’s a nice bonus! With less than two kilometers left and the finish line in view, I feel reminded of the last kilometers of Bucharest’s marathon, coming towards the people’s palace. That was quite some race as well.

The crowds are intensifying here. Some supportive EU comments are thrown my way. Cobblestone, as we near the gates.

Just need to check my mail real fast while the others suffer
Just need to check my mail real fast while the others suffer
I’m thinking, in less than a minute, this 7 year challenge will be done
I’m thinking, in less than a minute, this 7 year challenge will be done
Crawling distance now
Crawling distance now
And here we are
And here we are

Challenge Completed

It’s hard to grasp for me. Still is. I repeatedly imagined this moment for a good part of the previous 7 years, but in the end nothing really came close to the reality of crossing that finish line. I first thought it might have been emotion overload that made me feel a bit numb, but it’s not that. Sadness or nostalgia that it’s over? Relief? Also not the case.

So here are some words from Scott Jurek that resonated with me.

“Whatever quantitative measure of success you set out to achieve becomes either unattainable or meaningless. The reward of running – of anything – lies within us. As I sought bigger rewards and more victories in my sport, it was a lesson I learned over and over again. We focus on something external to motivate us, but we need to remember that it’s the process of reaching for that prize – not the prize itself – that can bring us peace and joy.”

That truth is somewhere within us, and it’s easy to forget about it and confuse the physical goal for the ultimate goal.

It’s the runs that fulfill me. It’s the excellent hot Belgian waffle right after the finish line. The heated up and cozy DriveNow car that takes me back to the apartment. Sophie’s and the kids’ big hugs and support, the hot bath, the pizza and beer in the evening. It’s all of it.

The journey continues
The journey continues

Now Back to Earth, WHAT’S NEXT?!

There are lots of marathon events to be run and I’d like to run many of them. So far, in 2018, I have completed 9 runs of marathon distance or greater, so I would like to do 3 more to reach my 2018 goal of 12 marathons. Not yet sure which races they will be, but I think it’ll be possible.

In 2019 I will run a few ultramarathons like the 90 Mile Beach Ultra in New Zealand’s Northlands (actually just 62k, not 90 miles), the Bieler Lauftage 100 km, the traditional Hamburg Marathon in April, and I’m signed up for IRONMAN Hamburg again, because it’s on my birthday in 2019. Other events I’d like to do in 2019 and beyond include:

And probably many more. As long as my body allows me to, I plan on using it to run.

Thanks for following me along this journey, I hope you had some enjoyment reading my posts! There’s a good chance I’ll write more about upcoming experiences I deem interesting enough. In the meantime, you can check out my new personal blog over at www.teesche.com if you’d like to know what I’m up to besides running.

“Life is not a race. Neither is a [ultra]marathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive towards a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters most, is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step you’re taking now.” – Scott Jurek

The End

Medal and racing number
‹ Previously: Bucharest Marathon
Bucharest Marathon