With the autumn marathon shelved this year, 5 intrepid harriers instead set out on the duathlon of road biking from Calais to Brussels, running the half marathon and biking back again. While tasting many Belgian beers en route of course. Needless to say, the idea was both thought up and agreed upon while we were all in the Pantiles Tap (purveyor of many fine continental brews).
Gandalf, Thorin, Legolas, Bilbo and Gollum (referring to Simon Howden, Carol Tsang, Steve Austin, Geoff Turner and myself in no particular order) set out via the tunnel at Folkstone in a Honda Civic sporting 5 bikes, 5 people and enough luggage to require us to cooperate with operation stack on the M20 for 30 minutes.
The route was quite simple, mostly flat but with strong headwinds, starting from just outside of the Calais port and venturing due east along some minor roads (with one minor motorway incident), past Dunkirk and following a canal path until just before Bruges. For a few of us it was already the longest cycle we’d attempted at 60 miles, arriving at a favourite of Carol’s called the ‘Bikers Loft’ frequented by hundreds of vintage motorcycles brought in from their long journeys there. Come the evening there was an impromptu wedding in the bar, complete with self-service kitchen for both dinner and the Kwak-related breakfast hangover cure.
Setting out from Bruges to Brussels finally brought about some hills and variety in the course, with a short stop over in another beautiful city called Gent. I picked a fight with a waiter over the strength of Belgian beer and Steve picked a fight with some tram tracks, sadly being the end of his ride for the day. Not to be outdone, I went for round two with tramlines myself and put a tram’s brakes to the test with while heading out of the city.
Geoff and I arrived late in Brussels through the Morrocan quarter but a little earlier than the support car, giving us time to contemplate the next day’s half marathon over a number of strong pints in the Meininger hostel (it being a hostel explained the other 5 people in our room). Upon the rest of the groups’ arrival, Carol’s patented ‘perfect halfpreparation’ was in full swing as we headed to a local Italian for an 11pm pizza. Steve then further improved his situation as the hostel room’s mosquito magnet overnight.
Being my least pressured half of all time, arriving on the line at Brussels‘ Arc De Triomphe (no relation) was a welcome experience, with nothing to prove for once. Thankfully my competitive spirit took over half way to produce a favourable time after sticking with the 1:30 pacers for a while. The weather was definitely on our side for most of the holiday and definitely on race day, with basking sun throughout. Although a hilly course, I think its definitely possible to get a PB if you’re aware of the hill at around 16km and would recommend it, although Brussels itself isn’t a patch on the rest of historic Belgium.
In true Belgian style, the finish goody bag contained a bottle of 8.5% Duvel to help relax with and we were able to meet up with Brussels-based harrier Jonathan Gaventa to give us a quick tour.
Full route, although my bike wheel meter clocked up 264 miles in the end
Photos if you haven’t seen them yet