Nightcrawler – Marvel Slam 2022 #4

No Ourthe – No Party!

Final track of the Marvel Slam done.

About time to finish what has been proven to be a demanding but very interesting set of runs. Seizing an open window in the family agenda I started the car close to 0500 Saturday morning to pick up Björn so that we can start our 1.5 h drive deep into the heart of the Ardennes Bleues – to the Barrage de Nisramont. It is not only the heart of the Ardennes Bleues but also the place where Ourthe Occidental and Ourthe Oriental unite in the Lake Nisramont to continue as Ourthe down to Liége. The track of Nightcrawler followes Ourthe Oriental up to the village Ourthe and down to Nisramont again before running up Ourthe Occidental up to the village Ourt and down again. What a mess. It requires a stable genius to come up with this kind of tracks. Funnily we are good friends. All attendees of the Legends Trails/Great Escape runs have a certain history with the Ourthe. Both runs feature the Ourthe during crucial moments of the race. Mostly moments at the half-conscious end of them. You don´t joke about that river, you always safe some energy to survive the parts at that river because you know deep insight: #noourthenoparty

It was a silent ride to Nisramont. Both tired we followed foggy streets to this abandoned parking lot down by the river. The last minutes preparation went silent but fast (somehow there meanwhile is a rythm, a routine in those few well planned last packings). Leaving the car was a weird thing in this early Saturday morning unsure what would wait for us. Although the toughest parts of the Ourthe are further down the river it was clear enough that the first and last kms on both arms would be the usual Ourthe terrain: rocky, slippery, steep and endless. Parts where 5 km/h is a decent speed but you should not panic when there are sections with on 3 km/h in it.

Ourthe Oriental

We started with some hope due to the soon upcoming sun which would allow us to run without headlamp soon after the start. We had been warned that the this first „loop“ was the more difficult one. It was a good and decent trail run on the first kms and we made progress with around 6 km/h on average until km 14. This is where the first funny twist was waiting for us: 600-900 m through a fully overgrown part close by the river. What have been a small paths years ago turned into a funny jungle of small trees, bushes and thorns. Lots of them.

The Wall of Thorns – aka. the MOMA of the Ardennes Bleues

We knew it is only a short section but still it was ridiculous even to our standards. The speed dropped to 30-40 min/km – what a waste of precious time of our lifes. But track is track and it got better once out of this part. Ourthe Oriental offered a few more funny offtrail/fence-climbing/river-following sections until we hit the biggest problem: hunting. We were prepared and warned but tried to enter the forbidden section nevertheless. Turned out this was no good idea as we were spotted quite fast – unlucky timing.

We had to turn back and take a detour. That decreased our mood significantly. But we found a detour of 2 km which allowed us to return safely to the track. We made it to Ourthe, refilled at a supermarket in Gouvy and started the return to the car using the exact same paths (including the hunting deviation and – it goes without saying – the lovely thorny section). It took us around 16 h for the first 90 km.

The Two Rivers!

Ourthe Occidental

After an 80 min break at/in the car we continued. And what a mess it was… The feeling to leave the warmer car around midnight with over 100 km to go – special moments of pure joy. After the first shivering meters we were down at the river again. Too tired to make decent progress in the endless Ourthe Occidental windings… Our average dropped below 4 km/h so we seized the first ability to take another break after 14 km on the second loop to reset. Luckily we found THE perfect place to lay down for 30 min. A small shack with straw bales which we could enter unseen in this dark night. To not directly lay on the cold ground was a huge improvement – wrapped in emergency blankets we enjoyed 30 min of sleep. It did what it we hoped for – we were way faster after that rest. With every step the track got easier and the sunrise was approaching as well. The closer we made it to Libramont at km 140 the easier the track got. We sped-up and reached Libramont around noon. After a quick refill at a shop and half an hour indoor rest with some Pommes frites we reach the second end of the track: Ourt. After crossing the few more demaning km right after the start of the return we tried to make as much daylight km on the runnable parts as possible. We knew what was waiting for us. Before the final countdown of the last 14 km to the car we decided to repeat our rest strategy in our nice and cozy shack. With the certainity that no matter how horrible it would be it would be all over in around 3 hours we re-started shivering in light rain. Somehow we made it and even enjoyed it. We were awake enough to talk a bit which always help to stay in the reality.

Seing the car again at 0100 Monday morning was a huge relieve. It was done. All was well.

The Two Cities!

42h 15m for 207 km – 100% of the Marvel Slam done. What a nice set:

It is time to say goodbye to some marvellous moments. Time to go on…

Mere Shadows

The real superheroes are the unseen ones.

The weather finally decided to adapt to the calendar. The rain, the mud and the fog are uniting with the all engulfing darkness again. It is that time of the year again to lie in bed all day and listen to the sound of the drops and the wind outdoors.

Or not.

Lots have been written about how these conditions change the way distances running feels. It certainly adds a whole different level of remoteness, loneliness and vastness to it. Some enjoy this immensely.

Social media begins to fill with end of year summaries – looking back to what has been going on this year. It is not the time to jump on that train. There is unfinished business.

But one thing is clear already. With what has been going on behind the curtain in a certain challenge called „Marvel Slam“ self-supported unlisted distance running entered a new level. The level of braveness, stubbornness and determination was and still is extraordinary. Unmatched performances have been run on these hidden tracks, tons of personal limits have been broken and the barrier between what is bearable and what is impossible has been ignored many times.

Wether or not the folks finish their slam (due date is the end of the year) – we have seen, ran, followed, supported and dot-watched some real heroes.

Unseen and mostly offline they followed what was put on their schedule. They shared their updates to the other happy few and went on.

It is a really astonishing experience to see this happen and to be a part of it.

Dark World – Marvel Slam 2022 #3

Third track of the Marvel Slam done.

And it was a very special one as it covered 100 miles of Hautes Fagnes finest paths. A selection of all the most interesting and beautiful spots in that area. Dark World consists of 3 loops (60k, 50k, 50k) all starting/ending at Baraque Michel restaurant/parking lot.

I – or I should say we – have a history with that place. Unforgotten runs under the most bizarre conditions. Baraque Michel has been a starting place for those ever since – but in addition to that start in the middle we entered that area from every possible direction to cover as much as possible of this special area. Memorable moments of the Legends Trail, the UTDS (Legends Edition), countless training runs and funny river or tile collection projects took place here over the years.

Some of those pictures below taken during my Dark World attempt in 2022 may help you to acknowledge the beauty – to understand it fully you may want to consider to spend a day and night or two up there.

I started Dark World on 1st of October 2022 with the rising sun at around 0800. A massive band of heavy rain flooded the area the night before and just stopped when I started (actually – I delayed my start a bit to not get completely wet from the beginning). Doing Dark World alone offered that amount of flexibility. Light rain but also some amount of sun accompanied me during the first loop. The whole area was completely covered by water. It felt good to be back in this vastness. It took me a bit more than 9 hours to finish the first 60 km loop. After a 40 min recovery in the car (repacking, refuelling, changing cloths and rest) I started the second loop at 1800 Saturday evening – totally aware that I was about to get into more serious problems.

The second loop – „Three Rivers of Pain“ – is a ridiculous technical and demanding terrain. Up and down the trails close by the various rivers in Hautes Fagnes is very special. The roaring water, the slippery stones and roots – every step a challenge and 100% focus needed. All in all a not so pleasant moments in light to medium rain. I reached the car really exhausted close to 0500 Sunday morning in intensifying rain.

I decided for a longer break in the car both to recover a bit more, get completely dry, sleep a bit and wait for the most horrible part of the rain to pass. I re-started after 1 hour 20 min break onto the third loop. The first 10 km of this loop is Hautes Fagnes pure before the easiest part of the run starts. The sections down to Eupen and the transfer to Lac Gileppe are not too technical and running is the first priority. The final 18 km of the track are again demanding and full of funny twists and turns. Offtrail sections, horribly steep climbs, wet and grassy overgrown Fagnes part until its finally done.

Hautes Fagnes at its best.

31h 44m for 100 miles – 75% of the Marvel Slam done.

75%

One final run of the Marvel Slam left.

Backyard Ultra Satellite Championships 2022

„… until its not.“

Just pulled a freshly washed Team GER jersey out of the washing machine while watching the YouTube live coverage of the very same race I left days ago. How weird is that, how unbelievable that Team BEL is still running. Outperforming everything everyone thought would be possible. 101 yards x 6.706 km – 4 nights/4 days of hourly running the very same loop. Deepest respect and congratulations to the whole Team BEL. They succeeded in fulfilling their #breaking100 goal.

Team Kerel for Germany 🙂

How minute my own 33 yards seem with that performance in comparison. But the Backyard format is unforgiving and the task is simply to stay in the race as long as possible with no excuses allowed to stop for any other reason than not being able to manage to run 6.7 km in one hour. And that is what I did. Starting from loop 31 I had problems with the muscles in my legs that wont allow me to make big steps anymore. But I stayed in for two more loops until it was no longer feasible to run/walk faster than 5 km/h. I was lucky that I started the loop 33 „quickly“ enough to be able to hobble in in time. 220 km in 33 hours was simply the physical limit in this race. What gave hope for a possible next backyard is that the rest of the body was fine – no bigger issues with eating/exhaustion.

Team Germany 2022

It is with great misery to leave the team alone. Everyone dropping felt the same – that shows the nice spirit of this team event. Everyone of the German Team went to their individual limits and quite a few PBs were broken. We saw a lot of really good performances and the German race ended with 3 out of 4 reamining runners dropping out after 45 yards (300 km) and Hendrik finishing and winning the race with 46 yards. Congratulations to the whole team. With 484 loops Team Germany placed 14 out of 37 countries – definitely something with room form improvement.

A great experience to be part of that event – to be part of Team Germany. My individual performance was place 167 out of 555 runners total. All in all something to be happy with.

The bright side of life.

The final team and individual results can be found in this Google Sheet.

Overview #teamGER

The backyard ultra running format is not my favorite kind of running. But together with my support Mike Bruce (thanks a million) we discussed in the aftermaths a few things which could be improved both on the running and on the supporting end. Who knows when this knowledge may be handy. What I will certainly do is join the team another time in 2024 when my performance qualifies me and the team asks for for it.

Where dreams going to die. Or not.
Runalyze Video

2022 Backyard Ultra Satellite Team Championships – Team Germany

00Days
00Hours
00Minutes
00Seconds

Time is ticking. Slowly but surely.

I remember quite well how it all of this began back in July in the Bienwald Stadion in Kandel. Assisting at my first Backyard Ultra ever under the given conditions was a very interesting experience. But that is the past. It lead to a spot in the German Team at the 2022 Backyard Ultra Satellites and it is time to play this game seriously. Whatever this will mean.

Here is the teaser for the upcoming races next weekend:

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Here is my intro video:

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See all the other team members of Team Germany in the below youtube channel „German Backyard TV“ – follow us on our mission to run a few more loops. Looking forward to form one team with all those strong runners:

Coverage by country of the original YouTube stream!

Live coverage of the championships are most probably accessible through the below YouTube channel:

Tiles

Imagine a world divided into small pieces. A world covered by a net of squares. Each time you record a running activity with GPS data and upload this activity your freshly conquered tiles switch color and are added to your collection.

This is the principle behind calculations like Statshunter (needs a Strava account with your activites to calculate the heatmap and stats) or the Tiles Counter accessible in Runalyze as beta feature under premium subscription.

What an amazing idea for everyone interested in exploring new areas, for everyone who wants to make sure a specific area is „really“ covered. Soon new tracks for running are created with the intention to collect new tiles – to extend the explored area – to wipe out the grey spots on the map. It made us run in areas we would never have visited without these tools – it made us to enter the most unlikely and most remote areas.

Funny enough the tiles at Runalyze (1,2 x 0,6 km) and Statshuter (1 x 1 mi) have different sizes so the heatmaps look different:

All-in-all a great way to view and analyze your Strava/Runalyze database. Have fun exploring!

The Ferry

Velsen Zuid – Velsen Noord

It was one of those moments.

120k in our Duinhopper adventure back in October 2021 sitting in the dry car gazing into the pouring rain hammering on the car. After a not completely comfortable and relaxing 30 min sleep the task ahead seemed unbearable. Leaving the shelter of the car to continue into a clearly rainy and stormy second night to fight for another 100k to the finish in Den Helder seems like the last thing we should do. Nonsense and useless. We were at the only safe place along our adventure – a safe place that could easily bring us home – could bring us far away from that misery.

Although we tried to pack everything before the nap there was quite a lot of things to do. Packing, unpacking, packing and unpacking again… Horrible plan with two people in a narrow car. We tried not to forget anything while wiggling into new layers of cloths which would get soaked quite fast in that weather anyways. Our mood was reaching below-zero-levels.

The first kms out there again were hilarious. The rain reduced the headlamp light to almost nothing, the surfaces of the various GPS devices hard to read with almost no eyesight. After 3 km we reach Ijmuiden haven where we were supposed to use the ferry. How bizarre. When we approached the dock the ferry was about to leave. We sprinted the last meter through the wind and somehow entered the boat at the last second.

And then the time stopped. The other guests stared at us as. Their views told us the we were looking like strangers from another planet. It is not exactly a long ferry transfer but the wind, the cold and the rain hit us and eliminated the last energy we had in us. Our bodies hardly warmed up from the 3 km stretch after the initial cold shock leaving the car merely minutes before. The whole world seemed like a dark and icy mess. Once at the other side we left the ferry shivering, destroyed and deadly tired from that freezing transfer. Miserable km followed that transfer. Barely able to move, too stiff to run and left with very little hope. It got so horrible that we tried to sleep once we passed the last buildings of Ijmuiden. We were so messed up that we did not manage to find a proper spot and layed down on the side of a big path wrapped in safety blankets. This was the least helpful and comfort sleep break ever. Somehow we continued. At that moment we had no clue that the whole night would be like that. That it simply would not get any better. That we had to fight more endless dark and rainy hours – that we would need to split because we could not synchronise moving speeds and the needs for instant breaks.

I don’t know what made us fighting through but the reward was waiting. With the upcoming daylight we got company and support, we found some hope, we gained some speed and at the very end of the upcoming day we would see the blasting sun again. And we would see Den Helder. This may not seem much but it meant the world to us.

Since this night the Dutch coast is forever linked to that horror.

Wolverine – Marvel Slam 2022 #2

Second track of the Marvel Slam 2022 done.

When opportunities arise one needs to step up and act. No matter what. With the ongoing and increasing heat wave which would dominate the weekend there was only one logical decision: start with a night so that two full nights would fall into the run and should ease up the heat pressure. Everything was packed and ready Friday evening after work – Wolverine was attacked around 2100 in the evening.

At the end it took me 41h39m to finish this 202 km track. Hard to describe what happened while running – the biggest concern was the water supply with these weather conditions. The backpack was heavier than usual because I always carried as much water as possible. With the help of cemeteries, school parking lots with water taps, shops, restaurants etc. everything worked out with regards to water.

The track is divided into three parts 95 rather normal km – a tough section between km 95 and km 170 with lots of funny climbing included – and an again less technical final section between km 170 and the end.

It was a unique experience as I was running alone and this time without any support and also without any chance of support in case needed. Completely remote except the virtual connection via social media. At the end everything went well. No bigger problems, no major mistakes and a huge relieve once it was done and the car was still there where I left it.

Marvel Slam – 50% done

Time to rest until the next Marvel track calls for action. Left are 160 km in Hautes Fagnes and the long trip along #noourthenoparty. Both tough – both overgrown at the moment. So its time to relax and wait until the upcoming fall eliminates the vegetation and clears the paths.

Bienwald Backyard Ultra 2022

Ok. I think I like the format. Although far away in terms of running capabilities (the experts tend to have a way higher basic running speed and are thus able to enjoy longer rest periods) and not quite fitting to my non-competitive mentality while running – backyard running has something appealing. With its unique rhythm, its simplicity and its strong structure it calms and slows down every stress and is able to create its own small universe. A universe where nothing else matters then to follow the flow and wait. Wait for something from which you at the beginning do not exactly know what it may. An interesting experience.

To wait is something I more and more value while running longer distances – something which is often described to be something bad or boring or is considered to be a waste of time. During long distance running to wait for me is the essential part – an underlying feeling which is able to compensate for short term exhaustion, or the usual ups and downs and good and bad moments. Something to find comfort in and to hold on to.

It was my first Bienwald Backyard Ultra and brought me into contact to a lot of new faces (as I only rarely run races in Germany) and it was really worth the drive-down. A huge shoutout to Michael, his family, friends and to the whole TSV Kandel team. Great place to race, amazing support, great checkpoint (Pommes 24/7) and a really friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

#coke

Suddenly, 28h after race start, I was in a situation I was really unprepared for: second last man standing. Only the two of us were running. There were plenty of reason why I decided (what a strange situation to be able to decide when the race would stop) to not run beyond 29 yards. It just felt right and I am really happy to be able to assist Norman to the well-deserved silver ticket – he will be undoubtedly a great representative in the German national team for the Backyard championships this October.

One day I may try this format again to try to go further and try to really play this game to the end. Whatever this may mean.