IAU World 50K Trophy final

The IAU 50km World Trophy is a series of 18 races held in 14 different countries, from Argentina to Latvia. The winners of each race (male and female) are invited to participate in the final which, this year, was held in Assen, the Netherlands.

I qualified by winning the Boddington 50km race on June 26, barely 8 days after the Belgian 100km championships. It was a sweltering hot day, with temperatures of close to 30°C. Despite these tropical conditions, British 100km champ Martin Matthews and I set off at silly pace, passing 10km point in just over 34'. I soon felt the effects of the heat and slowed down. Matthews did the same. For the next 20km, he followed me like a shadow, accelerating and slowing down whenever I did. At 35km, I felt a bit better and decided to test my opponent. We pulled a crazy sprint of about a kilometer, at 20km/h or so. Matthews had to let go, and I quickly gained significant ground. The following 10 miles were pretty tough. The heat was taking its toll and I plodded along while pouring gallons and gallons of water over my head in order to stay cool. I crossed the finish line after 3h23'. Martin Matthews finished nine minutes later, staying just one minute ahead of first female Emma Gooderham, who had clearly run much more intelligently than us. Anyway, I had won the English championship and qualified for Assen. Mission accomplished.

Nearly two months later, on Saturday August 20, Emma and I lined up at the start in Holland, alongside 150 other athletes, amongst whom 35 invited runners for the IAU Trophy Final. Five African runners were the pre-race favourites. South African Samuel Moleshioa had run the fastest qualifying time, by winning the Loskop 50km race in a truly world class 2h44'. My personal favourite, however, was Kenya's Eliot Biwott Kiplagat, who'd won the hilly 50km Di Romagna race in Italy. Almost immediately after the starting gun went off, the Africans took charge, and quickly pulled away from the rest of the pack. I stayed in seventh place for the first half of the race. Although most of the course was shaded, it was nevertheless pretty hot, so I took great care to stay hydrated. This wasn't easy because of two minor flaws in the otherwise perfect race organisation. First, the main supply station was placed on the outside lane of the running track, requiring a detour of at least ten metres per lap. Second, water was served in plastic cups, which are impossible to drink from while running (as opposed to bottles or paper cups). I therefore had to stop to drink, losing 10-20 metres each lap. Other runners were unwilling to make this sacrifice, with dire consequences for them later in the race. After 20km, I caught up with Claude Moshiya (RSA), the first victim of the fast starting pace of the front runners. At 30km, Japanese runner Kaito Iwayama sped away from me, but he didn't drink enough either, so I caught up with him again during the final lap. The same story for Eliya Mogoboya (RSA) and John Wachira (KEN). Moleshioa dropped out altogether. There was only one man who stayed out of my reach, and that was Eliot Kiplagat, who won the race in a solid 2h54'53". I finished second in 2h57'23", and Kaito Iwayama third in 2h59'12". Three different continents on the podium, how many sports can say that? My time was a 4 minute improvement of the Belgian national record, which had stood for more than 15 years and was jointly held by Jan Vandendriessche and Marc Papanikitas. Emma Gooderham won the women's race in a superb 3h17'30", setting a marathon PB of 2h46' along the way. My dad suffered from the heat and didn't quite achieve his goal of running under 4 hours. Like so many runners that day, he started too fast and drank too little. At age 62, he's still a bit green behind the ears when it comes to ultrarunning ;-)

Animated GIF based on still pictures from Erik Van Echten.

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