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  Paul's rapport fra Antwerpen marathon Søndag, 11.08.13

The journey from Australia to Antwerp is a marathon itself. Three separate planes and one train journey; some 24 hours travel over 36 hours. Arriving four days early for the marathon, with the 5 km race after two days, was a good move. Antwerp is a beautiful old city suffering the ravages of modern patterns of bad behaviour - wall to wall, mindless addiction to mobile phones, poor city planning with glass and concrete stuck next to 18th century architecture, universal smoking with attending littering and stench, including young people and child-carrying parents and, of course, drunks. Walking through the streets on the marathon morning was a nightmare of drunks tipping out of bars and strip clubs, vomit and garbage. Rubens would turn in his grave. I managed to prize the marathon course from the organisers, there being no announcement of it. It seemed that the marathon, like that in Cologne, was to be grafted onto an existing half marathon course which starts at Massenhoven and ends in the Grote Markt in central, old Antwerp.
The marathon was to start early, run to Massenhoven, turn around and run back again. The HM would start 3 hours after the marathon so we slower runners would be sure to be swamped on the return trip. Since the route through the old town was very unclear, this was to be an advantage for those prone to getting lost. The middle 30 km of the course was to be a straight run along a canal. Registration was a chaotic affair at Steenplein. Luckily we thought to find this place the day before, sandwiched between the river and a four lane main road and only distantly related to the steen (castle). The woman who was (probably, but maybe not) in charge of registration must have spent hours applying her make-up, rather than studying the registration process. Nothing could happen until the computer (singular) had arrived and with the queue now 20 metres long it was going to be a struggle to process everyone before the start. So like all good Belgians, at least friends and family, people passed the time smoking! No areas were for roped of runners so one could mix freely with dogs, prams, screaming children and other marathon groupies. At the bag drop no one had a pen and the guy seemed unsure what to do with the bag after I handed it to him. I dumped the bag and left. Then the 500 metre trek to the start line in Grote Markt, well, a side street to it. No blue line, no start mat, rather timing was via a wrist band that one was to wave in front of a sensor some 5 metres after the finish line. For myself I would rather have seen a yak with a stop watch.
There were only some 100 runners in the marathon, of whom 27 were OutGames entrants, so hardly any need for the 1st and 2nd waves of runners advertised. The first 4 km through the town was a mixture (= nightmare) of cobblestones, potholes, stairs, construction sites, drunks and vomit. The roads were often no more than narrow gaps between buildings, doubling up as garbage dumps. Out of the town and along the dock area, up over a bridge, which promised to be a challenge on the return, and onto the canal road / path / cycle path / tram track / pot-holed gravel track / factory lane-way /grassy verge, to the HM turn around. This is an AIMS certified course, referring, I am sure, to the distance rather than the quality of the running surface, timing technology, support services, signage ... The weather was forecast to be hot. It was and got hotter with only a brief 10 minute relief after 4 hours from a passing cloudburst. The wind was all over the place and provided neither a cooling influence when from in front nor running assistance when from behind.
I started off well and managed 61 mins for the first 10 km. Thereafter the rot set in, breathing became chaotic, legs appeared independent of body leading to the half way turn around in 2.28, still not horrendously slow and within the cut off times. After 17 km the tail cyclists latched on to me as I was overtaken by someone half my age. The cyclists, tweedle dum and tweedle dee, were jovial fellows who managed to talk in two languages and smoke at the same time. As I lurched along, combining running with walking, then walking with running, the word 'crazy' was mentioned. A sign by the path stated 'Walking is for sissys' I translated for T dum and T dee as 'half marathons are for sissys', at which point they were in no doubt of my resolve to finish. T dum had no concept of distance suggesting that I could do the last 10 km in 1 hour, when in fact it would take at least 2 more hours to go the remaining 16 km. And then with 3 km to go he alleged that just a couple of hundred metres remained. I wondered if there was a relationship between tattoos and smoking and ability to appreciate distance, time and direction. Nevertheless, T dum and T dee remained chatty fellows and provided great support on the long drag back to the town. The last few km through the town seemed to pass quickly but that was just an illusion. Picking my way through obstacles, cafe precincts, overflowing pubs and trying not to trip over cobblestones or tumble down steps I absorbed the cheers of the children waiting to start the kiddies 3 km race and the rare cappuccino couple from a cafe who were not consumed by their mobile phones.
A final corner and the finish line loomed 50 metres away. There was little point in a finishing sprint as I had not seen another marathon runner for at least the past hour. None the less, after thanking my two cyclist mates I managed the regulation vomit show just to round off the event. In a fit of generosity the organisers gave me a bottle of water, which was preferable to the apple flavoured toilet cleaner disguised as sports drink at one drink station along the course. At all other drink stations there was only warm water and at some places you had to pour it yourself. The Grote Markt, was not as we'd left it 6 hours previously, namely empty. By late afternoon it was a jazz festival with attending 100 decibel noise and drunks. Yes, even more drunks. I think that most of these so called 'cultural festivals' in ancient European cities are merely excuses to drink and they bear little relationship to the city's cultural heritage which they purport to celebrate. So where were the medals, the results, the podium...? We sloped off back to Steenplein to collect my bag. I saw people wearing medals and thought initially they must have been winners in their age groups, but the closer we got to Steenplein it seemed that most people had medals. There must be a medal outlet around here somewhere. And then we saw her, the little old lady with a carton full of medals who was draping them over anyone who looked like a runner, namely anyone young, lean and handsome. I was the exception that proved the rule.
Now to find our way back to the apartment. Rain was falling and the trams had assumed mythical status, so we walked back. A hot bubble bath and a glass of Chardonnay ensured my blood pressure would approach zero, but nothing that an hours lie-down would not correct. Now I am psyching up for the endless trip back and a weekend in the tranquility of Laidley. Time - 5.29.18. Not quite a PW and strangely 30 mins faster than I thought I would be.

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