Three times, Julian and I escaped total disaster over our last two weeks in Europe. Instead, everything worked out smoothly and we came back with new PRs (and a little bit of cash).

The first near-nightmare came immediately before Cork City Sports, when Julian forgot one of his spikes in the accommodation. I believe I’ve written about this previously, so I’ll be short: fortunately, a friend (Shouts out AAron) had a pair of flats in his size, and he still beat all of us. Turned out alright.

Our first flirtation with travel catastrophe came in the form of poor planning in Cork: While Julian and I had planned to take a flight from Dublin to Amsterdam the evening after the race, giving us plenty of time to hang out with friends and grab a couple drinks post-cork, a friend pointed out during the pre-race breakfast that we’d purchased tickets for flights at 6:30 AM instead of 6:30 PM. Fortunately, we adjusted our plans just in time to catch a 1:00 AM bus that night, and while trying to catch a full supply of Zs on the bus and, later, on an incredibly bumpy flight wasn’t exactly ideal, we made it successfully to the next stage of our journey, so we couldn’t complain too much.  

Our final foray into travel hell came the day of our competition at Heusden-Zolder. At about 3:00 PM, I was taking my pre-race nap when Julian knocked on my door to ask what time we’d go to pick up the rental car. Our race was around 10 PM that evening, so I said we’d go around 5, grab a bite in Antwerp, then make the drive over to Heusden. I’d checked online, and it’d be about a 45 minute walk/bus ride to get to the station where we could pick up our car. Fortunately, before he left, Julian asked when the rental place closed. I looked it up. 4 PM. Crap. We threw our stuff (both spikes this time) in our bags and sprinted to the bus stop just in time to catch the 3:12 bus— our last chance to make it as Europcar’s last customers for the day. To be fair, we probably could have made it to the meet without the car, as a bus runs to Heusden-Zolder, but after our race we’d have either been stranded at the track or sleeping on a friend’s floor in a nearby city. Not exactly the best way to go into the race. Luckily, we got the car, returned it with no damages, and all was well.

I guess I played a risky game that night as well, as our AirBnB in Edegem expired that evening and I had nowhere to stay the next day, but our host, Patrick (his place was awesome) let me stay the next day, and that worked out fine too.

The Races

On July 22, Julian and I both contested the 5k in the C heat of the KBC Nacht van de Atletiek (Night of Athletics). With PBs of 13:55 and 13:53, respectively, going into the race, he and I hoped to improve our marks in a traditionally quality field. We’d looked up some of our competitors beforehand, and the heat sheets promised at least 5 other sub 14 guys, so we knew to expect a high quality race.

Unfortunately, it rained a good bit before and during our competition, and in the thousand meters after the pacer dropped out (he went 2k at 66s), we slowed to 3k in 8:22, with everyone up front looking at each other, waiting for someone else to take the lead. At 3200, knowing I didn’t come out to Heusden to run slow, I took the lead and dropped the pace a bit. I definitely hadn’t planned on leading 1000m out there, but after coming through 2 miles so slow, I knew it’d be my only chance at a PR.

Annoyed at having led more than any other athlete at this point in the race, I let a few athletes go by me with 800 to go, responding to their move as soon as they went by me. With 200 to go, I was chasing down the runner in first, some tall guy who’d led about a lap before moving out into lane two, kindly imploring the rest of us to do the work for him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the job done, and Julian came flying by me again in the last 200 to finish in second, but we both finished in around 60 seconds for the last lap for new PBs of 13:46 and 13:47. Heusden-Zolder was officially the OSAC Nacht Van de Personal Bests.

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The next day, Julian and I parted ways. While he went off to explore Europe with his girlfriend, I moved to a different location in Antwerp for the Flanders Cup Antwerp Athletic Gala meeting on July 29.

I have to say, this meet was excellent to us. They worked to provide the Zap Fitness athletes and myself free accommodation in a Bed & Breakfast in Merksem called Fiets en Slaap, and they put on a meet that had a fantastic carnival feel to it. For athletes such as myself who are balling on a budget, this sort of accommodation is incredibly helpful to the bottom line— I’ve still gotta pay rent, and don’t have a ton of money to do so. Furthermore, our hosts Cis and Lud at the Bed and Breakfast treated us incredibly well, even coming to the meet to cheer us on! They were truly fantastic, and, while it’s obviously a bit of a niche, I highly encourage anyone looking to vacation in Belgium to check them out.

The meet was a bit mediocre unfortunately. Despite perfect weather and a plan to trade off leads 600 by 600 in the race, none of us ran particularly quickly, most likely because we went out at a suicidal pace: 65-66 through a full 400. Because we were all committed to sharing the lead, we all went with it, and none of the five sub 8:40 guys in the race broke that mark. The whole race felt tough, and I definitely had some ugly hurdles and waters in that second half of the race as my body punished me for the overly ambitious start. Still, shouts out to Aaron winning in 8:40 while I came second in 8:44. I’ve definitely made progress to run 8:44 in a disappointing race in that caliber of field while going out in 66 seconds for the first lap. As for Aaron, the dude stepped on glass two hours before the race, and we had to wipe his blood off the floor. Then his shoe came untied halfway through the steeplechase and he still manages to put all of us in the locker? An impressive performance by any measure, and I’m incredibly happy for him and his fat check.

I then came back to pace the 1500 in 2:30 for the k (bang on, btw), which earned me 50 Euro for an epic night out. After being led astray by some girl we’d both matched with on Tinder and some other girls who, after we’d decided to leave the first club, sent us to a pretty lame venue in the red light district that– go figure– was 17+ and populated almost exclusively by dudes, we got a recommendation for a couple clubs we couldn’t get into because they had a summer membership. While lamenting our misfortune and almost calling it quits at a bar across the street, we decided to talk to some girls. As it turns out, “English??” is a pretty good pickup line (which is probably why any girls we used it to when asking for directions seemed to brush us off or think we were creeps), and we ended up befriending a group of awesome Somalian and Moroccan women who told us the membership fee was a facade, brought us into the club, and danced with us until around 4 am, when Brandon and Aaron had to leave to make their 6:15 cab to the airport. Even in the face of bad recommendations, language barriers, and fake membership fees, the Ocean State/Zap boys always have a good time.

Anyway, I’m now in London kicking it with my boy Davey K’s family and resting up for next year’s effort. I promised Ray I wouldn’t get fat, so nothing crazy to come in the next week. My year-in-review will come next week sometime!

Until then,

J