Pauwels people

Working as a Serialization Project Manager – Thomas Santy

27 May 2019
In our series ‘Pauwels People’, our colleagues introduce themselves and talk about how they experience working at Pauwels Consulting and with our clients. Today, we have with us: Thomas Santy, Serialisation Project Manager.

Thomas, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thomas: Of course! My name is Thomas Santy. I’m 30 and I live in a small town in Hainaut with my wife and our baby.

What do you do in your spare time?

Thomas: Well, I spend most of my spare time with my wife and daughter. At the moment, I’m also revamping our house, which is quite time-consuming.

What did you study?

Thomas: I have a Master in Business Engineering from the Louvain School of Management, with a specialization in Supply Chain Management. The Louvain School of Management is the international business school of the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) at Louvain-la-Neuve.

Why did you choose to study Business Engineering?

Thomas: I was mainly interested in the wide scope of this academic formation. ‘Business Engineering’ combined technical fields of study like Chemistry or Physics with more soft-skills oriented courses like Management or Political Economy.

What is your professional background?

Thomas: I have been a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry almost since the start of my career, actually. At the moment, I’m mainly focused on managing logistics, operations and supply chain projects.

How did you get in touch with Pauwels Consulting and what was your first impression of the company?

Thomas: Pauwels Consulting offered me a nice project at a time when I was looking for some new and exciting challenges. Needless to say, the company made a good first impression. (smiles)

Can you tell us a bit more about your current project?

Thomas: At the moment, I’m working in the Program Management Office for a multinational pharmaceutical company in Braine-l’Alleud. We have to implement new regulations linked to drug serialization across the whole supply chain of our client.

“Serialization is not just a random number on a box; it’s a complex set of activities impacting the whole supply chain and business.”

What is the goal of this project?

Thomas: Our main goal is to be compliant with all the regulations related to serialization for all the countries receiving drugs from and selling drugs to our client. This has to be done on a tight schedule and in a constantly changing environment.

What are your responsibilities during this project?

Thomas: Our main responsibility at the Program Management Office is to provide the structure, guidelines and controls for all the projects that need to be launched as part of the program.

What do you like about this project?

Thomas: It’s quite challenging. I like that. The environment is changing every day because many countries are still busy creating the regulations as we speak.

Our project also impacts the whole supply chain, so the End-to-End process needs to be analysed and kept under control.

What did you learn during this project?

Thomas: I’ve learned that serialization is not just a random number on a box; it’s a complex set of activities impacting the whole supply chain and business.

What are your personal ambitions for the future? What kind of projects would you like to perform next?

Thomas: Well, I really want to keep learning and growing. In the future, I would like to stay focused on supply chain and operations.

Thank you very much for this lovely interview, Thomas. I wish you all the best for the future!

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Maxime van Belle Content Marketeer

Pauwels people

Working as a consultant: GDP Consultancy

23 Apr 2019
The publication of the new EU Good Distribution Practices (GDP) Guidelines in March 2013 has urged many companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech supply chain to invest in systems and procedures to become and remain compliant with the new GDP as soon as possible.

While most large pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies have their own in-house teams to interpret, implement and follow up on the new GDP guidelines, many smaller companies are still working towards their GDP certification.

Cogezaf is one of these companies. We spoke with Cogezaf’s Managing Director Pascal Bruyr, Quality Officer Marie France Dhondt and GDP expert Lieven Van Landuyt (Pauwels Consulting) to learn how they plan to make and keep Cogezaf compliant with the EU GDP guidelines. “The demand for reliable supplies is high.”

Marie France, thank you for having us here in Gembloux. Can you tell us a little bit more about Cogezaf and its activities?

Certainly! Cogezaf is a wholesaler of pharmaceuticals. We are located in Gembloux between Brussels and Namur. We export pharmaceuticals to the African continent, in particular to Congo.

Why Congo?

Years ago, our Managing Director worked as a volunteer in Congo. He fell in love with the country and he saw huge potential in exporting pharmaceuticals to the country. That’s how Cogezaf was born.

Why is there such a huge potential in Congo?

There are a lot of foreigners in Congo. Many of them work in the mining industry. These people have to take care of their own healthcare and medicines, so the demand for pharmaceutical products and reliable supplies is high.

“We have the largest market share in Congo. We work hard to keep this position.”

What does your supply chain look like?

We get our demands from Congo. We get all the products here in Gembloux and we ship them to Matadi, the main port of Congo. From that point onwards, Getraco, our main partner in Congo, takes care of the goods. Getraco takes the goods from Matadi to Kinshasa. In Kinshasa there’s a large market place for pharmaceutical products. That’s where our clients buy our products.

Which organizations are you selling to?

We are selling pharmaceuticals to hospitals, pharmacies and local distributors. At the moment, we have the largest market share in Congo. We work hard to keep this position and to further expand our business.

Where exactly do you want to expand your business?

At the moment, we do most of our work in Kinshasa, but we plan on expanding our business to the east and to the south. We are particularly focusing on expanding our business to the province of Katanga and its capital, Lubumbashi.

“A GDP certification will be a unique selling proposition in its own right.”

How will you keep your leading position on the market?

We try to maintain our leading position through a mix of focused business development and long-term investments. For example, we currently focus on getting Cogezaf fully compliant with the EU Good Distribution Practices from March 2013.

How will a GDP Certification help you consolidate your position?

A GDP Certification will help us in 2 ways. A few months ago, we were contacted by a large pharmaceutical company to ship their products to Congo. In order to land this partnership though, we need to be fully compliant with the new EU GDP guidelines. An additional benefit of a GDP certification is that most of our competitors in Congo are not yet compliant with the GDP guidelines.

How far are you from getting the GDP certificate?

An external audit a few months ago showed that we still had some work to do. That’s why we decided to invite an external party to help us with the certification. That’s why we turned to Pauwels Consulting. “We got the GDP expert up and running in no time.”

How did you get in touch with Pauwels Consulting?

We found you through your website. We liked the clarity of your website, the professional presentation of your company and the fact that you have an office in Switzerland, the country where one of our largest pharmaceutical partners resides. And, we were also looking for a multidisciplinary team that can help us now and in the future. Woking with an external partner is an investment for sure, but we expect a good return on investment.

How much time did it take to find a GDP expert?

That must have been one month at most, mostly because I was traveling a lot at the time. We got a quick response to our initial request and we got Lieven up and running in no time. “The procedures were not yet organized in a ‘living system’.”

Which brings us to you Lieven. Lieven, can you briefly describe your project here at Cogezaf? Sure. When I came here Cogezaf had just had an external GDP audit. That audit had shown that Cogezaf had a GDP license and a couple of procedures, but these procedures were not yet organized in a ‘living system’. Cogezaf needed to invest in its quality system and the documentation of its validation and qualification procedures.

And that’s what you helped them with?

Exactly. When I came in I first analyzed the results of the audit. I saw 2 main priorities: 1) the quality system had to be rewritten to a clear plan with actions and priorities and 2) all validation and qualification procedures of systems had to be fully documented. There were plenty of procedures available, but only few of them were actually written out on paper.

How did you put your priorities into action?

My first priority was to convince all stakeholders of the importance of GDP compliance. That wasn’t too difficult: Cogezaf was determined to get the GDP certification from day 1. Then, I updated the documentation of the quality system, and the documentation of the most important systems and processes. At the same time, I trained Marie France to look after the company’s compliance with the GDP guidelines.

“GDP compliance is an on-going process.”

Are there any remaining issues with regard to the EU GDP?

Staying compliant with the EU GDP guidelines is an on-going process. We have now covered the basics. The action points from the audit have been taken care of and our progress has been reported to the company that ordered the audit.

Our next priority will be to keep the system ‘alive’ and to further complete and document the qualifications and validations of our infrastructure, materials, processes and transports.

Were you able to accomplish all your initial goals for the project?

I think we have covered 90% of the project goals. There will always be room for improvement, but we needed a pragmatic approach. We had to set our priorities within the boundaries of the EU GDP guidelines and Cogezaf’s business. We’ve certainly covered the basics. Now it’s up to Cogezaf to further complete all the documentation and to look after the implementation of all the procedures. “We consider our relation with Pauwels Consulting as a successful partnership.”

Marie France, the project has now ended. What was your general experience with Pauwels Consulting?

We are very happy overall. The quality and the speed of the work were very good. We consider our relation with Pauwels Consulting as a successful partnership. It’s a win-win situation. We were happy to pay for the excellent service we received. Working with Pauwels Consulting was a very pleasant experience overall.

Would you consider working with Pauwels Consulting again in the future?

Yes we would. We seriously consider hiring experts from Pauwels Consulting again. In particular, for future GDP audits. A little self-inspection has never hurt anyone (laughs).

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Pauwels people

Dr Veerle Deblauwe publishes article on patent search

19 Sep 2018
When one of our colleagues does something special, all of us at Pauwels Consulting are proud. Dr Veerle Deblauwe, an expert in patent search, recently published an article following the Search Matters conference in The Hague. So, high time for a chat with this special woman, to find out who she is and what she does. Welcome to the wonderful world of patent search.
Veerle, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Veerle: My name is Veerle Deblauwe. I’ve been researching and analysing patents and other scientific information, something known as patent search, for more than fifteen years. In addition, I’m a member of the Belgian Patent Information User Group and the Werkgroep Octrooien Nederland.

Mainly, my experience has been with patents and scientific research for the polymer chemical industry, the construction industry (such as roof tiles, slates, plasterboard panels and fibre cement cladding) and the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve been working as a consultant at Johnson & Johnson for five years, the last year of which was via Pauwels Consulting.

You must have an extensive academic background, presumably?

Veerle: I studied at the University of Leuven, where I completed both a master’s degree and a doctorate in organic and macromolecular chemistry.

Can you explain to the layman what patent search is?

Veerle: A patent describes an invention in detail and grants the owner the exclusive right to produce and market this invention. In essence, patent search means checking if a patent has already been published for a specific invention.

It’s an important discipline because a patent is only granted for truly new or innovative inventions. With every new product or process, a check also has to be carried out to verify that there is no infringement of existing patents belonging to others. In jargon, this is called a ‘freedom to operate search’.

In addition to a number of other sources, I mainly search in patent literature, the collection of patent documents. That is a major challenge, as you have to know your way around existing databases very well. That’s not a simple job, because they are constantly evolving, and you really have to keep your eye on the ball.

Can you tell us more about your current job?

Veerle: I work permanently for Johnson & Johnson worldwide, for scientists, researchers and patent attorneys. I work in a small team of two, the chemical patent searchers, which only consists of colleague George Chiu from the United States and myself.

It’s very important for us to complete our assignments within deadlines with a critical attitude and scientific curiosity. At the same time, however, we have to be flexible enough to deal with urgent requests that arise in the meantime and need to be handled quickly.

Is it true that an article of yours was published recently?

Veerle: Yes. On 23 to 25 April 2018, the Search Matters conference returned to The Hague. This international conference is organised every year, alternating between The Hague and Munich. It was organised by the European Patent Office, which appointed Sofia Pires of the University of Alicante and me as rapporteurs. The result appeared in the September edition of World Patent Information, a magazine specialising in my field of work.

It was fascinating to be able to attend the conference from this perspective. By the way, I’ll also be attending the Patent Information Conference in Brussels in November, another conference organised by the European Patent Office.

Is it possible to combine these conference visits with your current tasks at Johnson & Johnson?

Veerle: Yes, no problem at all. After all, these conferences are relatively short. At Search Matters, for example, I was only present for two days.

Obviously, I have to check my e-mails in the evening and I have to do a bit of extra work before and afterward. And if I know in advance that something important is coming up, I let the right people know in advance that it will be difficult to contact me.

Great to hear that you can combine all these things, Veerle. Congratulations once again on your publication and thanks for the interesting interview!

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Pauwels people

Koen and Tijs climbed Mont Blanc: the 4,810-metres high ‘roof of Europe’

21 Aug 2018
At Pauwels Consulting, we attach great importance to 'healthy minds in healthy bodies'. Lots of our colleagues are very active when it comes to sport, taking part in activities such as fun running events, cycling events and other physical sports activities, both individually and as part of a team. Recently, our colleagues Koen De Borle, recruitment consultant at Pauwels Consulting, and Tijs Billemon, IT director and business coach, climbed to the summit of Mont Blanc (4,810 metres high to be precise). An incredible achievement!

We chatted with Tijs and Koen about the preparations for this extreme sporting challenge and their experiences during this exciting climb.

koen & tijs climbed mont blanc

Hi Koen, hi Tijs, where did the idea of climbing Mont Blanc come from?

Koen: Mountains have been in our blood for a long time. When we were little, we both went to the Alps with our parents during the summer holidays. We love mountains because of the nature, tranquillity, landscape, hospitality and range of sports opportunities available.

Tijs: That’s very true. When we’re on holiday, we like a bit of action and adventure. Mont Blanc is a popular mountain among alpinists, of course. Justifiably, because it’s such a beautiful environment for mountaineering enthusiasts.

Koen: We came up with the idea of climbing Mont Blanc last summer. We were looking for a new challenge and literally wanted to go higher than we had ever gone before.

We did some research and came across the Dutch Mountain Network and experienced mountain guide Jelle Staleman. They offer guided and organised excursions, both in Europe and beyond. We didn’t take long to take the plunge and decided to register for the Mont Blanc Summit climb.

Nice! Did you already have some climbing experience?

Koen: A few years ago, Tijs and I took part in an Alpine Tour in the Austrian Ötztal. During that five-day trip, we climbed one summit each day, culminating in the Wildspitze, which is the highest summit in Tyrol at 3,774 metres. That is where we acquired extensive experience with mountain life, glacier walking, rock climbing and the most common rope techniques.

Who did you climb Mont Blanc with? Just the two of you or a larger group?

Tijs: We did the expedition as a group of four friends. We’ve known each other for a long time and we also participated in the previous Alpine Tour together, so knew that we could trust each other. Two more Dutch people joined our group via Mountain Network, so there were six of us all together.

“If everything goes well, anyone who wants to could climb that mountain in principle. However, if anything goes wrong, experience and insight are crucial.”

Mont Blanc challenge
How was the guidance during your adventure?

Koen: Well, we explicitly decided to do this climb with expert guidance and later we discovered that we’d made the right decision. The programme consisted of a preparation process, during which we practised ice and rock climbing and glacier walking on the spot.

For the first few days, we were accompanied by two local guides and for the ascent to the summit, we had one on two guidance. In addition to physical and technical preparations, the guides also prepared us psychologically. The thing is, lots of climbers want to reach the summit at all costs, but experienced guides can point out the dangers, special circumstances or dramatic experiences that sometimes make it impossible to reach the top.

For this alone, it’s essential to seek guidance when you take on such a challenge. If everything goes well, anyone who wants to could climb that mountain in principle. However, if anything goes wrong, experience and insight are crucial. If they then decide it’s better not to continue, you should trust them. Or lose your life.

What preparations did you make?

Tijs: Obviously, we left nothing to chance for this expedition. We regularly went on long bike rides or walking exercises in order to improve our basic condition and endurance. A climb of this nature also requires special material, such as specific clothing and shoes for Alpine areas.

The organisation also provided most of the technical equipment: climbing harnesses, helmets, snap hooks, ropes, ice picks and crampons. When selecting material, it’s important to only take what is strictly necessary to climb the mountain. Before you know it, the backpack weighs 8 to 12 kg. The more material and clothing you take with you, the more difficult the climb becomes…

Koen: We also participated in the introductory day in the climbing hall in Nieuwegein (the Netherlands), which was organised by Mountain Network. In addition to practical information and an introduction to other participants, we got to grips with wall and rock climbing. Balance and stability are essential, so one of the things they did was to get us to climb the wall blindfolded. That way you really learn to put your feet carefully and are constantly trying to get in the best position.

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Pauwels people

Diego finished the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail!

20 Jul 2016
Some men get a motorcycle for their 40th birthday, others buy a sports car and others run 230 kilometers under the burning Andalusian sun. We spoke with a man who chose for the last option: Diego De Doncker, Site Inspector at Pauwels Consulting. An incredible story!

Diego, two weeks ago you told us that you would participate in the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail, a 5-day ‘ultrarun’ in Andalusia. Can you briefly tell us again why you set out on this adventure?

Diego: Sure. I didn’t want a typical midlife birthday present for my 40th birthday. That’s why I decided to participate in the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail, a 5-day endurance race of 230 kilometers in Andalusia. It was my goal to explore my limits one more time.

You are back home now. So… How did you experience the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail?

Diego: It was an incredible experience! It was a hard but beautiful trail. I have seen nature at its finest and I have met many wonderful people.

Sounds great Diego. And pretty intense. And if I heard correctly, you even started with an injury?

Diego: That’s right. Three weeks before the start I got an infection in my right knee. As a result, I had to rest until the start of the trail. A few days before the trail I traveled to Andalusia to get accustomed to the heat. Apparently the combination of rest and heat had a positive effect on the injury. I only got into trouble in the fourth stage. After 45 kilometers my knee started to hurt. At that point, I still had 22 kilometers to go, but a painkiller from the medical team has kept me going.

What did a typical day look like?

Diego: Our days started around 6.30 am. There wasn’t any other choice since we had to prepare and eat breakfast with lots of carbohydrates first. After breakfast we started preparing for the race: we filled our Camelbaks and we did some stretching exercises. The trail usually started around 8.30 am or 9.00 am. To my surprise, I was part of the leading group, so I was amongst the last to start every day. After the race we always got water, coke, energy drinks and fruit. And there was always a bucket with ice water to help us recover faster. The day always ended with a great massage, a briefing for the next stage and supper. Most of us were knocked out around 9.30 pm. At that time most of us were sleeping in tents that were way too hot. (laughs)

What was your most difficult moment during the Ultimate trail?

Diego: Day 2! After the 20K mark, I was facing a steep ascent. I had to follow a steep mountain path with the mountain on one side and a ravine on the other. That took a lot of focus and it was not easy in temperatures exceeding 42 degrees and without any water left in my Camelbak.

What kept you going when things got rough?

Diego: With this trail I wanted to explore my limits one more time and I wanted to go above and beyond. So in difficult times, I thought “Well, this is what you can do. Let’s take it up a notch now. Buckle up and keep going!”

What was the hardest part? The physical or mental game?

Diego: Apparently I was well prepared for the trail. I grew stronger every single day. On the first and the second day, I came in 36th, on the third day 33rd, on the fourth day 29th and on the last day 12th. The mental game was more difficult. It is hard to prepare yourself for a heavy stage if you get up with sore legs and blisters on your feet. And during the race, you are on your own because everyone runs at his or her own pace. Since we didn’t cross many villages, there was little distraction during the stages. Quite a challenge!

Have you ever thought of giving up?

Diego: Never! My preparations for the race have taken a considerable amount of time. That was hard for me and my family. Going out in the weekends? Nope, dad has to go out running. A game of football? Nope, dad has to go running and then to the physiotherapist… I just couldn’t give up. That wouldn’t have been fair to myself or my family.

What were you thinking during the different stages of the trail?

Diego: I always ‘clear my head’ when I am running so I didn’t think a lot. (laughs) I had some regrets though that I couldn’t share the beautiful scenery with my family and friends. But I never had the time to think about that for too long. I had to keep moving forward!

What was your best moment during the trail?

Diego: I really got a kick after finishing on ‘the longest day’. That day I ran 67 kilometers. Before that, I had never run more than 44 kilometers in one day, so I was pretty anxious regarding that stage.

What did you think and feel when you crossed the finish line?

Diego: The last stage was my best stage. I came in between and before guys that were way better than me in the previous days. I was particularly proud of the fact that I was still quite OK after 5 hard days. After the finish, I got really emotional.

What will you always remember about this trail?

Diego: There were many different people and nationalities amongst the runners. I ran with construction workers, nurses, top bankers, top engineers (who make skyscrapers in the Middle East), factory workers… At that moment at that place everyone was equal. Everyone had the same goal. Everyone suffered. And everyone helped and comforted each other. A wonderful experience!

Have you already set any new goals?

Diego: No, I haven’t. I think my body will ache for the next few weeks. But I must say that I really liked the experience so I think that I will find a new extreme challenge at some point in time.

Do you have any advice for people who consider taking part in such a ‘crazy’ challenge?

Diego: If you really want to do something like this, choose something that really suits you. And of course, if you really want to go for something, give it your all!

Those are inspiring words, Diego. Thanks for sharing your story with us and all the best of luck with your future challenges and projects!

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Pauwels people

Diego is ready for the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail!

06 Jul 2016
In our series ‘Pauwels People’, our colleagues introduce themselves and talk about how they experience working at Pauwels Consulting. Today, we are going to get acquainted with Diego De Doncker, Site Inspector at Pauwels Consulting. Diego talks about his current project and about the extreme sports challenge he will face in July in honor of his 40th birthday. Curious? Be sure to read on!

Hello Diego, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Diego: Of course! My name is Diego De Doncker. I live in Ruiselede with my wife Ann, my daughter Axelle (12) and my son Jérome (9).

“I will participate in the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail, a 5-day ‘ultrarun’ or ‘ultra-marathon’.”

What is your professional background?

Diego: I studied Engineering. Then I gained experience as a foreman at Christiaens A & J, as a foreman at the ‘High Voltage’ / ‘Low Voltage’ department of Imtech and as a project leader ‘Road Works’ at Norré-Behaegel.

How and when did you get in touch with Pauwels Consulting?

Diego: About 4 years ago, I met Jan Fyens, currently Key Account Director and Parter at Pauwels Consulting. I had a great feeling about the company from the very first moment. Initially, Jan offered me a project at Elia, but eventually I started working on a project at Tuc Rail.

Can you tell us more about your current project?

Diego: Currently, I’m supervising the construction of multi-purpose workplaces and small outbuildings / annexes in Melle. I make sure that everything goes according to plan. I also follow up the different stages of progression.

I heard that your 40th birthday is coming up, and that you will celebrate it in a special way?

Diego: That’s right. I don’t want the go-to midlife birthday present, a motorcycle or something else… (laughs) Instead, I will participate in the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail, a 5-day ‘ultrarun’ or ‘ultra-marathon’.

What exactly is an ‘ultrarun’?

Diego: An ultrarun is an endurance race. In this edition, we will run 230 kilometers through Andalusia between July 11th until July 15th. That means an average of 46 kilometers per day and 7,200 altimeters in total at an average temperature of about 40 degrees.

“I want to explore my limits. That’s my goal.”
Wow, I suppose you are well prepared for this race?

Diego: I lived as a monk for eight months so I hope I am (laughs). That means no alcohol, a healthy diet and plenty of rest. And with ‘plenty of rest’ I mean leaving parties earlier than usual in order to survive a heavy training session the next day.

Why have you decided to participate in this trail?

Diego: I don’t like the idea of working out without a proper goal. It just seems so boring. That’s why I was looking for an extreme event with a friendly atmosphere. I want to explore my limits. That’s my goal.

What are you going to do in the run-up to the event? Pun intended.

Diego: (Laughs) I’m going to take plenty of rest and perform a few short low-intensity training sessions.

When will you leave for Andalusia?

Diego: I will be there two days before the start of the event. This way, I can still have some rest and get used to temperatures of about 40 ° C.

Sounds like a tough challenge, Diego. I’m curious about the outcome of your adventure. Can I contact you after the event to discuss your experiences in Andalusia?

Diego: Absolutely! I’m just as curious as you are! (laughs)

Thanks for the interview Diego. I wish you lots of fun and success in Andalusia and I look forward to hearing about your run soon!

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Pauwels people

Zermatt Marathon 2014

07 Oct 2014
On Saturday 5 July 2014 Bert Pauwels, Niels Declerck and Pascal Verbaere of Pauwels Consulting ran the Zermatt Marathon and the Zermatt Half Marathon. And all three of them - Bert, Niels and Pascal - achieved their goal! A brilliant performance which has left us with beautiful stories and photos.

Gentlemen, you’ve made it. Tell us all about it! How did you perceive the marathon?

Bert: The Zermatt Marathon was a wonderful experience! The first 20 kilometres from St. Niklaus to Zermatt were gently sloping. I ran those comfortably. But when we were leaving Zermatt …

Niels: There was an extremely steep slope. When we left the village we had to run for about 7 kilometres at an average gradient of 13 to 14%. Pure madness.

Pascal: There seemed to be no end to that slope. I was almost unable to run there. I walked quite long stretches. But because there did not seem to come an end to it, it was very heavy mentally.

So the race was both physically and mentally exhausting?

Bert: Absolutely! That 7 kilometre stretch was heavy as hell. We were running up a large ski slope. I ran the first 300 metres of the slope. I walked the rest of it. I was completely broken (laughs).

And after these 7 kilometres you had a long way to go, of course.

Bert: That’s right. Fortunately, next there was a gently sloping part, which allowed me to alternately run and walk. This made it possible to recover a bit and relax my muscles.

Pascal: But then there was another slope …

Bert: Right, yes. During the race I met a French lady who had already run 25 mountain marathons. She told me there was a ‘surprise’ at the end of this marathon. I was keen to know what the surprise was. I thought something nice was lying ahead, towards the finish. But the ‘surprise’ turned out to be an impossible slope of 3 kilometres long. Straight to the finish.

Pascal: This was a heavy mental blow. It was impossible to run on this slope.

How did you perceive this last slope, Niels?

Niels: It was indeed extremely steep. It really hurt! It was like running up a wall. No one was running at that point. Afterwards I wondered: “I got to the finish in 4h24. The winner in 2h55. How did he run this last part of the race?”

Running in the mountains is clearly a different kind of sport. And that winner ran in a whole other league (laughs).

And yet, I heard you ran up ‘the wall’ twice?

Niels: (laughs) Indeed. Bert called me before the slope. He told me he had 3 more kilometres to go. So I ran down to give him some extra motivation. I had some energy left and at such a time you can really use a mental boost. I walked the last kilometre and a half back up together with Bert.

Bert: Thanks again, Niels. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The last slope was really impossibly steep. It took me a really long time (laughs).

That is team work, Niels! Good. And, so, you had some energy left! Did you run comfortably?

Niels: I did, yes. I do a lot of exercise and I trained well in advance. Also on the treadmill. And I balanced my energy during the race because I knew it was going to be a long effort. I have also consciously enjoyed the environment and the views. We were running in a beautiful setting. I am very glad that everything went well and that I got to the top without problems.

What was the most difficult moment?

Pascal: The slopes after Zermatt and before the finish seemed endless. These were really tough moments.

Bert: The same goes for me. Around kilometre 25 my muscles were about to break down. It was hard to move my muscles. And then I realised I was only halfway through the race and that I had to run a little under 20 kilometres more. That was a difficult moment.

Niels: I had a bit of a rough spot after about 30 kilometres. That was after that long slope. But I did not have a really difficult moment, where I thought I would not make it. I do not have a lot of muscle pain now either. During and after the New York Marathon I had a more difficult time because I was focused on the time. Now I focused on the distance and the track. I just wanted to reach the top decently. The time did not matter.

Did you ever think about giving up?

Pascal: No, never. I always said: “I am going to achieve my goal.” There was no other option. The race was hard mentally, but I would do it again tomorrow.

“I feared that I would be forced to give up.”

What about you, Bert?

Bert: I’m not really sure, as a matter of fact. I don’t think I ever thought about giving up. That wasn’t on my mind. I was concerned about the time, though. I did not want to arrive outside the allocated time. And I was also concerned about my muscles. I feared that I would be forced to give up at a certain point. It would have been difficult to accept that. But I was strong mentally. It is nice that I can always rely on that.

Bert, before the race you said you did not train quite that much. Did that bother you on Saturday?

Bert: Yes (laughs). You could say it bothered me quite a lot (laughs). In an ordinary marathon I usually run the first 30 kilometres comfortably. Then it sometimes gets tougher. But the gradients were phenomenal in this race. It absolutely requires training. Because I didn’t, my muscles were so cramped at some point that I could no longer bend my legs. I forced me to relax, both mentally and physically. At these moments you really learn how to divide your energy to reach the finish. You learn to keep your muscles under control. It requires a lot of energy and concentration.

What were you thinking of during the race, Niels and Pascal?

Niels: I simply enjoyed the mountains and the environment. And I also concentrated on the race. I knew I had to stay calm. I did not force myself. When I was overtaken I consciously chose to not follow the other runners. I ran at my own pace. I constantly kept an eye on my heart rate. All these things turned it into a pleasant race.

Pascal: If you can reach such a goal with your head and your heart: that is just wonderful. I used all of my mental strength to keep on going, while I shouted encouragements for myself. And suddenly you realise what motivation can do for you.

What were your most beautiful moments?

Niels: I remember the public during our passage through Zermatt and when I arrived at 2 585 metres high. The view was amazing. And I was very glad to have successfully completed the race.

Pascal: I really enjoyed it when I took a shower at the top of the mountain and was enjoying the view afterwards. It really feels wonderful: you reached your goal, the sun is out and the view from the Matterhorn is phenomenal.

Bert: I remember several beautiful moments but the arrival was really fantastic. Then you suddenly realise that you are at the top of the mountain. And you also realise what motivation can do for you. This undertaking proves once again that if you really want something and you are really focussed, you can often do even more than what you could have imagined. Looking back I must say that it was probably not very wise to appear at the start without (almost any) training (laughs). But if you go really deep, a lot is possible.

Furthermore, I also really enjoyed the natural surroundings. And the people you meet on the way. During such a race one look is often enough to know that the other runners are having the same problems. Then you know that you are not on your own. I had a few nice chats during the race. Especially after the first ski slope I was really down. I was mentally broken. The chats with the other runners brought me back into the flow. That is what kept me going. That is how the finish line came closer kilometre by kilometre.

What did you think when you reached the top?

Bert: During the race I often thought “‘I’m all in, but I will never do this again.” During the trip I would think: “Good that I did this, but I will never do it again. This is superhuman …”

And what now?

Bert: Well … I am going to do this again (laughs). With the difference that I now realise that I really have to train for the slopes.

What did you think when you reached the top, Pascal?

Pascal: The half marathon was a difficult but beautiful experience. The feeling at the top is indescribable. I will never forget this for as long as I live. I relived fragments of the race in the past couple of days. I see these pieces of the race and the arrival. And of the surroundings. And Zermatt, the village without cars. Participating was a wonderful overall experience.

Have you already set new sports goals?

Pascal: Yes, I have. On 26 July I will probably run l’Ardennaise, a challenging race of 22.5 km near St. Hubert. One of the most beautiful regions in Belgium, if you ask me. If my legs and head have recovered sufficiently I will certainly run. Now I am going to rest some more. And then we will see.

Niels: On 3 August I will be taking part in the half trio-triathlon in Eupen together with my colleagues Tijs Billemon and Dieter Uyttersprot. Dieter will swim 1.9 km, Tijs will cycle 80 km and I will run 21 km. Really looking forward to it.

What about you, Bert? What is your next goal?

Bert: I will be running the Berlin Marathon at the end of September. I’ve definitely caught the running bug. And then …

Then what?

Bert: When we returned to Zermatt in the little train we met 2 people from West Flanders and an Englishman. Three young mountaineers. We had a really pleasant chat. Since that conversation I have been wanting to have a go at mountaineering. I have always been really attracted to nature. And you can’t get much closer than during these trips in the mountains. And if you spend time in the mountains, being a man, you feel so small. Everything around you is beautiful, but there is also a lot that can go wrong. If you do not prepare well or if you are not reading the weather correctly, you can fall prey to nature in no time. These extremes really appeal to me. At work you often encounter problems and challenges. Everything depends on how you solve these problems at that moment. I love these challenges. Searching and finding control. At work and in sports. I think I am going to inquire about mountaineering. To be continued! (laughs)

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The New York City Marathon 2013

05 Dec 2013
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!

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.

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.

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.

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)

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