Behind the race - An insight into the Long Course Weekend Belgium with Matthias Lievens

13 Feb, 2024 (Tue)
Participants share a moment of celebration on the LCW red carpet

Participants share a moment of celebration on the LCW red carpet

In this interview series, Ahotu will be speaking with the people behind some of the most unique races across the globe. We’ll be discussing the history of the event, challenges and how to overcome them, attracting sponsors, reaching new runners and more!

Thanks for joining us Matthias. For those that don’t know you or the LCW Belgium, could you please introduce yourself and the race?

Of course! My name is Matthias Lievens and I act as Race Director for the Belgian version of the Long Course Weekend. I’m a passionate sports enthusiast and event organizer, a combination that led me to this role.

After I took part in Long Course Weekend Wales back in 2019, I was immediately sold. I was captivated by the event’s unique atmosphere and knew I had to bring this experience to Belgium. Fast forward five years, we’re the biggest multi-sport event in Belgium and are currently making preparations for our 4th (and biggest) edition this September.

For those new to the Long Course Weekend format, how does the event work? How does it differ from a regular triathlon?

Long Course Weekend is a one-of-a-kind sports event. Over a single weekend, we host a series of 11 races, that span across 3 disciplines over 3 days: swimming, cycling and running. What really makes our event stand out is how it lets each participant customize their own sports-packed weekend just the way they like it. Athletes have the option to compete in a full triathlon (over 3 days), mix and match disciplines according to their own preference, or focus on a single discipline. Because we offer a variety of disciplines and distances, Long Course Weekend Belgium really has something for everyone. You could be a pro athlete, a total newcomer, or a family looking for a fun day out.

The Long Course Weekend also takes place in the UK, New Zealand and Spain. What does the Belgian version offer participants?

Apart from our unique concept, what really makes our race stand out is its location, Nieuwpoort. The city offers an amazing spot for swimming in the inner harbour and serves as the perfect starting point for our cycling and running courses. Our bike courses wind through historic World War sites, Flanders Fields and the classic cobblestone streets. The 180k course also features the famous Kemmelberg (a notable hill amongst the otherwise relatively flat Flanders landscape), adding an extra challenge for the cyclists.

The running courses, on the other hand, are flat, making them excellent for beginners or those looking to break their personal running records. The courses take you through the beautiful polders and along the coastal scenery of Nieuwpoort and nearby areas.

And then, there’s the grand finale: all our races end with a big, vibrant red carpet finish. It’s a special moment for every finisher, with friends and family cheering on the sidelines as they receive their well-deserved medal.

Matthias oversees the various races that make up the Long Course Weekend Belgium

Matthias oversees the various races that make up the Long Course Weekend Belgium

How long has the race been taking place and how has it grown?

This year’s weekend over the 20th – 22nd of September will be our 4th edition. Each year, we’ve seen a strong increase in the number of participants. This includes both new faces getting into the concept, as well as returning athletes who are keen to take on more disciplines than before.

So far this year, the sign-up numbers are already looking great. We’re actually expecting to double our participant count from the 2023 edition, which is super exciting for us.

Which countries do your participants come from?

Last year, we welcomed participants from over 30 countries, which was really exciting for us. Naturally, a lot of our athletes come from neighboring countries like the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and France. But what’s truly thrilling is seeing a growing number of participants traveling from far-off places to join us here in Belgium. We’ve had athletes from as far as South Africa, Chile and the Philippines. It feels fantastic to welcome these international participants and offer them a unique experience in our event. We’re pleased to work with Ahotu to increase our international participation and reach.

Thousands of participants take part from 30+ countries across the globe

Thousands of participants take part from 30+ countries across the globe

There are a lot of moving parts to your event, with various distances, race formats and thousands of participants. What logistical challenges does this represent?

Each day has its own challenges. On Swim Day, we have around 500 athletes in the water, where anything can happen. To ensure safety, we deploy a large team of rescuers and first-aiders who remain on high alert along the sidelines, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

Bike Day brings its own set of complexities. We are committed to designing one-loop courses, which, especially for the 180k distance, is quite a logistical feat. However, this setup greatly enhances the experience for our participants, making the effort worthwhile.

The most demanding day, though, is Run Day. With thousands of runners on the course simultaneously, managing the aid stations becomes a critical task. Ensuring that all athletes have access to their nutrition at the right times is crucial for their performance and safety. This requires meticulous planning and coordination to keep everything running smoothly and to provide the best possible experience for all involved.

What is your favourite thing about putting on the event?

This has to be the 4th medal ceremony on Sunday. This is where we celebrate all the full Long Course Weekend finishers. It’s a truly special moment, each finisher walks through a guard of honour to receive their well-deserved and unique fourth medal. They’ve given their all for 3 straight days and this is the time we celebrate their incredible effort and achievement.

Besides that, there’s a huge sense of relief and satisfaction for me at the end of the event. Knowing that our team pulled off another epic event, providing a unique experience to so many different people, each with their own stories, is immensely rewarding. At this moment, with the weight lifted off my shoulders, I already begin to look forward to the next edition!

LCW races offer participants the chance to test themselves across multiple disciplines

LCW races offer participants the chance to test themselves across multiple disciplines

Are there any partners / sponsors you would like to shout out?

We’ve had amazing partners over the years helping us build this event. A huge thanks to our host city, Nieuwpoort, our sport nutrition partner Etixx and Bodycross for our LCW merchandise. Thanks to SwimTribe for the swim training sessions and Peaks for wetsuit rentals on swim day. We’re pleased to be working with Ahotu to increase our digital reach and help even more participants across the globe discover and enjoy our unique race weekend. There are so many more who contribute to making this event a success and we’re grateful to each one of them!

Where else do Long Course Weekend organise events?

The Long Course Weekend events are held in several awesome places. Of course the original one in Wales, then we’ve got New Zealand, a cool dual-edition in Mallorca and as of 2024, we’ve added Yorkshire to the mix! Each location has its own unique vibe and elements to the concept.

What would you recommend participants do during their time in Belgium?

The city of Nieuwpoort and the beach of Nieuwpoort. You can take a walk along the harbour channel and visit the largest pleasure port in Northern Europe. You can also check out the Albert I monument and more in the city and the surrounding area. Hungry? Try the Flemish beef stew, Moules-frites or of course Belgian chocolate! After your sporting challenge, reward yourself with a Belgian beer!

If you have a bit more time, consider visiting the stunning medieval cities of Bruges and Ghent. Both cities are renowned for their historical charm, picturesque canals and rich cultural heritage. They are definitely worth a visit and offer a delightful taste of Belgian history and culture.

The LCW Belgium offers a wide range of distances and disciplines to enjoy

The LCW Belgium offers a wide range of distances and disciplines to enjoy

When is the next edition of the Long Course Weekend Belgium?

The next edition is from the 20th to 22nd of September, check out our Instagram for regular updates on the race @LCWBelgium

Interested in taking part? You can register for the 2024 edition of the Long Course Weekend Belgium on Ahotu – Long Course Weekend Belgium

To feature in our interview series you can drop us an email on [email protected]

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