On Sunday, November 3, Bert Pauwels and Niels Declerck ran the legendary marathon of New York. Bert finished in 4h40, Niels finished in 2h50. Two extraordinary achievements! We asked Bert and Niels how they experienced running the largest marathon on earth.

“The New York City Marathon is just insane!”

Bert and Niels… Congratulations on your amazing achievements in New York. What did the New York City Marathon look and feel like?

Niels: It was just insane! The marathon was very well organized, and the event was very impressive overall.

Bert: Same here. The event was well organized, especially if you take into consideration that the organization welcomed more than 50,000 runners and more than 2 million spectators.

What did your ‘marathon day’ look like?

Niels: On Sunday morning, an ING coach took us from our hotel to Staten Island. Once we got there, the NYPD showed us to the start zone. After an hour’s wait we could start the race.

You had to wait for an hour? That is quite long when you are ready to run, isn’t it?

Bert: Oh, the wait wasn’t too bad. The people from ING took good care of us. In fact, those people took good care of us before, during and after the race. If it wasn’t for them, it would have taken us much longer to get to the start zone.

Most other runners had to get there by cab or public transport. They had to take the subway, the ferry and a bus to reach the start zone. So getting to the start zone with a coach and waiting for just one hour wasn’t too bad after all!

“It felt great running with the fastest athletes on earth.”
Then the race started. What did the start look like?

Niels: Impressive!

Bert: No wonder! Niels started from the front row. The view must have been spectacular over there (laughter).

Niels: Starting from the front row was amazing indeed. We started at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn. The professional runners started on the right hand side of the bridge; we started on the left hand side of the bridge.

Since we started at the foot of the bridge our first meters went steep uphill. It was a hard but also an amazing start because the professional runners ran with us for the first few hundred meters. It felt great running with the fastest athletes on earth.

Did you attempt to keep up with the professional runners?

Niels: No, I didn’t. That would have been a very bad idea (laughter). I just focussed on my own run. But I truly enjoyed that moment!

“The race was surprisingly hilly.”
How did you experience the remaining 42 kilometers of the marathon?

Bert: I had the time of my life! From the start at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the finish in Central Park, the sideways were packed with an impressive crowd! There was so much to see and enjoy… I can’t recall how many DJs and bands I saw and heard.

Niels: The spectators carried the craziest flags and panels to support and entertain the runners. That was great, because the race was pretty challenging. I had expected some hilly parts, but the whole race turned out to be surprisingly hilly.

Bert: The wind was not in our favor either. The New York City Marathon has long straight running zones. We faced a 20 mph head wind from start to finish. That gave the race a little extra ‘bite’ (laughter).

“The security was impressive.”
The media reported about draconic security measures. How did you experience this?

Bert: The security was impressive indeed. Right from the start we were followed by a dozen helicopters. They followed us from start to finish. Except for the runners, no one was allowed to come near the bridges. Not from the air and not from the water. And before and after the race we were checked multiple times.

Niels: I saw a giant police force with many dogs, presumably to detect bombs. The police were literally everywhere. I did not see one, two or four agents at a time, but entire squads of ten to twenty officers at once. I also saw many mobile camera towers along the course. All action was recorded.

Bert: I read that the police even detected 1,400 private cameras before the race. If something would happen before, during or after the race, the police would have instant footage of the incident.

“The NYC Marathon is so much more than a race!”
Was the organization of the marathon equally impressive?

Bert: Yes it was! The organization was amazing. Considering that there were more than 50,000 runners and more than 2 million spectators, everything went ’smooth and easy’. Kudos to the organizing committee!

Niels, you finished the marathon in 2h50. That’s an astonishing average of 9,5 miles per hour. You finished as the 289th runner. This means that you left more than 50,000 runners behind you. How does that feel?

Niels: (smiles) It feels OK, but let’s not make too big a deal about it. I am most of all satisfied for achieving my personal goal. Considering all circumstances (a hilly race with lots of wind), I am very happy for finishing in such a great time.

Did you every fear that you would not be able to finish in 2h50?

Niels: At first I thought I would not be able to make it in 2h50. But I checked my times throughout the race. When I reached the halfway point in 1h21 I knew that I could slow down a bit and still make it in 2h50. That’s when I knew that I could do it.

“I didn’t have much time to think.”
What did you think about during the race?

Bert: To be honest, I didn’t have much time to think. The passionate spectators along the track amazed and inspired me all the way to Central Park. Since I wasn’t running that fast, I had plenty of time to enjoy all the festivities along the road.

Niels: (smiles) I may have run a bit faster, but I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the spectators as well. I did focus on eating and drinking though. I made sure to drink each mile and to eat a power gel every 30 minutes. I also focused on my heart rate. That’s the only way to run a ‘comfortable’ race.

Bert: I was also amazed by the many runners that had dressed up for the run. I saw runners in a bear suit, a custom suit and the flag of their home country. I couldn’t resist taking pictures from these funny creatures along the road.

“And suddenly I saw my girlfriend on a big screen!”
What was your greatest moment and why?

Niels: Before the race, family and friends could send in pictures and video messages to support their runners. As such, all of a sudden, I saw my girlfriend and my family on a big screen at the side of the road. That gave an incredible boost!

I also enjoyed running with the professional athletes on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. And it goes without saying that I enjoyed the finish. The feeling you get when you cross the finish line… that feeling cannot be described.

Bert: Right before the marathon it hit me that I was about to do something you don’t do every day. That was an amazing feeling. And after the race I was incredibly happy for having completed the whole race.

Did you have any stress before the race?

Bert: No, not really.

Niels: (laughter) Oh yes, you did, Bert! The day before the race you were a bit stressed.

Bert: Well, I hand’t taken the wind into account, so I didn’t know what to expect. I may have been just a bit stressed. That’s right. (laughter)

“My head said yes but may body screamed no.”
Did you experience any difficult moments?

Bert: Of course I did (smiles)! The first 35 kilometers went very smoothly. But all of a sudden I started suffering from respiratory issues. I wanted to move on but my body didn’t agree with me. So I had to slow down a bit.

Niels: I had a great race up the 30K or 35K mark as well. But then I ran on First Avenue. We had run uphill for a long time, we faced a strong head wind and we had to ‘climb’ a bridge. That’s when things started to get tough.

How did you survive these difficult moments?

Bert: I slowed down and I walked for a few minutes. I just had to. My head said “yes” but my body screamed “no”. In situations like this, it’s better to listen to your body than to that little voice in your head that still wants to move on.

Niels: I took a food gel with caffeine. And I put on my music. I never listen to music when I’m running because you may risk running too fast. I prefer running at my own pace instead of following the rhythm of the music. At this point in the race though, my music gave me an extra boost.

“I was devastated. My whole body hurt, especially my legs!”
How did you feel right after finishing the marathon?

Niels: I was devastated! The contrast between running and walking hit me like a rock. I couldn’t walk anymore. My whole body hurt, especially my legs. When I had recovered a bit we heard that we had to walk an extra 5(!) kilometers to our hotel. We had to take a detour as a result of the security measures. Those 5 kilometers really hurt.

Bert: So true! After the race we walked for another hour to our hotel. I remember cooling down fast. We had already received a blanket at the finish line, but we only received a  warm poncho 45 minutes after finishing the race. That was a bit too late.

How do you feel now, a few days after the marathon?

Niels: I feel OK. I suffered from soar legs for two days though. I had great difficulties climbing up and down the stairs. But I’m fine again. Fortunately I didn’t feel sick after the race. I just suffered from a lot of pain (smiles).

Bert: I never suffered from pain, nor did I suffer from stiffness. I am very grateful! (smiles).

“I drove to work straight away.”
What did you do after the marathon?

Bert: On Sunday night we had steak with fries, and we enjoyed some wine and a few beers.

Niels: We had to make up for the run. (laughter)

Bert: That’s right. On Monday we had our medal engraved. We left New York on Monday night. We arrived in Brussels on Tuesday morning. I drove to work straight away.

Niels: And I took another two days off to recover. (laughter)

What now? Have you set any new goals yet?

Niels: I will run the Kerstcorrida in Deerlijk on December 22. That’s a 15K race.

Bert: Is that on a Sunday? Can I come? (smiles)

Niels: Of course you can! (smiles)

Bert: Then there you have my answer! The Kerstcorrida will be my next goal as well! (smiles)


Niels ran the NYC Marathon in 2h50, Bert ran the NYC marathon in 4h40. We are very proud of our colleagues’ determination and achievements! Bert and Niels now consider running the 2014 Marathon of Berlin. They also consider running a 50 or 60K trail through nature. We wish them lots of fun and all the best of luck with these new challenges!

Niels and Bert want to thank ING for securing their tickets for the New York City Marathon and for taking great care of them throughout the marathon weekend. Great work!


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