When you are stripped down to your pure core the world is a different one. A world with a different intensity – with a different meaning of things – with a different heartbeat. It’s the world beyond the curtain. It’s the world of the happy few – a pure experience.
And then the moments were there. The moments I envisioned before and during the race – the moments I came for. Not just a usual Monday – the Legends Trail Monday. All efforts of the past long hours were meant to reach exactly this: the final 10k of Legends Trail with enough time that the finish is safe. As if nature wanted to join the party a glistening sun flooded the hills of the final stretch. It’s a bit like dream walking. Shook by the emotions of the upcoming finish. Deeply connected to the surroundings. Unbelievable thankful for being able to reach that point and to be part of this story once more. One of the last hills brought a nice view and standing there in the warm sun was an amazing feeling. It could have last forever but it was not done yet. There was a finish waiting, there were people waiting – time to ultimately finish it off – time to also tick-off the last kilometres of Legends Trail 2023.
This years Legends Trail had some few changes. The track was only uploaded to the various GPS devices at race registration and what became clear at that very moment: the start was not the finish – we had to take a little bus tour to the start location. Registration was without major problems. Always nice to meet the Legends Trail Family members, have a quick chat and discuss the upcoming. After getting through the check-in I went back to the car to eat something and have some minutes of sleep and relaxation before it all would finally start. I also had some glances on the map – lots of familiar parts but also bigger stretches I have never seen before (or could not remember). The hour before the start all runners group in one room and you can basically touch the excitement in the air. A quick briefing followed by the bus ride to the start – a fast countdown and off we were. Start time was Friday 17.02.2023 19:00.
Start – CP1 – Night #1:
Nice idea to go to Barrage de Nisramont for the start. With this little change the famous Ourthe parts could be in this years edition as well. For me this meant flashbacks to the Nightcrawler run back in November. The memories were still fresh so I was warned. I deliberately stayed in the first half of the pack (95 starters in total) to be able to define my tempo up and downhill and to not loose time to whatever happens to the other runners. I was already thinking of the bigger picture with regards to cut-off timing. Legends Trail for a slow runner like me means: there is zero room for mistakes. Efficiency and accuracy in running, navigation together with lack of stupid decisions is key to success. Ourthe was beautiful but brutal. The whole valley was flooded by our headlamps and the blinking red lights on our backs. Amazing reflections – amazing mood. A focused worm of light battling through the steep climbs, relentless paths on the edge of the water. It all worked out quite well for me. On our way from Ourthe to CP1 we also past the start/finish location from Legends Trail 2020 – happy memories. I think we have to thank dear Olav for inventing the hashtag #noourthenoparty – so happy to see this one is pretty famous by now. Good things are meant to stay. Reached CP1 in the early dark and cold morning hours of Saturday. The usual routine took place – repacking food, refilling water and coke, have to helpings of the amazing pasta, unpack the feet to let them rest and dry a bit – repacking everything and re-start on the next stretch.
CP1 – CP2 – Day #1:
The stretch to Malmedy. Malmedy is an area everyone would normally skip but hey – it’s Legends Trail. Malmedy is famous for ridiculous climbs so we were warned that the finish of that stretch was bound to be horrible. Even more important to get some running done at the beginning to make up some time. The weather was so matching to the tasks ahead. It was all grey and dizzy. The light drizzle which has accompanying us in the first night continued throughout the day. It was not really getting “light”. Nice for a race with 3 full nights in – more feelings of darkness. There was another tiny problem on our way to Malmedy: greater Coo area. It goes without saying that all the really tough climbs of that area made it through the final selection: we had to climb “The Bassin”, “The Iceberg” and some more in that area. Pleased with the selection. The final part to Malmedy was then as expected – we could see the city quite early but whenever we were almost there the track turned back for some more climbing. It requires some mental stability to cope with that. The food on CP2 was rice with chicken curry – delicious two helpings. Met Tim and Fre – they seemed to be happy how the race evolved. Francois was there as well and took care of my feet – thanks a million my friend. Next stretch would be Hautes Fagnes in the night. Actually a well-known area I really like. But with 120 km in and the second night it would not be exactly easy. I decided to gear up with regards to warm/waterproof clothing and expected the worst when leaving CP2.
CP2 – CP3 – Night #2:
It should live up to my expectations. The weather intensified to a stronger drizzle and the wind was a more stormy one. This mixtures made it extremely uncomfortable to be out. It reduced the view to barely nothing; although above 0°C it felt like minus temps. It even came to a point where covering the face seemed to be a good idea. Despite the clothing I felt immensely cold and was not the only one. And yes next to these things there was Hautes Fagnes. In top form. Completely wet and overwhelmingly muddy. Even with some fresh tree cutting which meant some 100 meters of stumbling through the mess. Not entirely sure what was more horrible – climbing up and down the Fagnes rivers/valley or the exposed stretches up there. All in all harder than expected. Getting really tired I lay down for 20 minutes on trail in my safety blanket and this at least helped to reduce the optical illusions of huts, beds, things you can lay down on to a certain extend. It was getting ultra. Slowly but surely. Pretty crashed I arrived at CP3 where there was mashed potatoes/stew/vegetables on the dining menu. More than welcome. It was one of the moments with tiny doubts. Haute Fagnes was survived but to a rather high price. The finish was still too far way to be a realistic thing to dream of. But well. It was light again, there are still a few hours spare to cut-off – so gear up and go.
CP3- CP4 – Day #2:
The stretch near Spa/Theux. The well-known Olne-Spa-Olne area. I was wondering which part made it in. The weather was getting more stable bits by bits. The rain seemed to ultimately stop. This was certainly a plus. The goal was clear – make as much as possible during daylight and then be in at around midnight at CP4 to have 2-3 hours spare to cut-off. The daylight part of the stretch was ok. I slowly allowed myself to think about the finish which was boosting the mood. The approaching darkness destroyed all hope again. I suddenly started to feel all the strain, all the exhaustion and all the effort which lay behind me. This together with some really funny climbs made this to another critical point. I managed to calm down again and stabilize myself and my movement (which is crucial when climbing muddy “paths” where every misstep could have horrible consequences). Really tough hours but luckily the plan to be at around midnight at CP4 worked out. The menu was Tortellini with bacon and pesto. Was my favorite already last year and was pure heaven in that third night. The clouds meanwhile were gone completely meaning that cold would be a problem to live with. A final time repacking everything, putting warmer layers on, thank everyone at CP4. A weird feeling. An overwhelming exhaustion mixed with the certainty that once CP4 was behind me the finish possibility would jump from a mere dream to exactly this: a realistic option.
CP4 – Finish – Night #3 / Day #3:
With no real clue of what was waiting the only option was to stay focused and work hard to not to slow down too much. Everyone at CP4 warned about the last stretch and indeed we were not disappointed. Especially the first half in the darkness was Legends Trails at its finest with 6 km Ninglinspo between km 240 – 246 as the ultimate highlight. I mean how could they. No one would allow half-concious people do these parts. No one. Another mean climb was waiting before reaching the last safe spot – CP4.1 – Chez Ingo. The boss itself was there and nothing is better than a few toasties in the very early morning. What a feeling – morning number 3 was creeping up, the toughest climbs of the last section were done and although the rest would not be exactly easy the job was finally getting easier. Keep an eye on the timing – enjoy some coke in the early morning sun – and approach the finish. Some parts where running was possible – really welcome. Every done km a gift. And nature was a blast in this early Monday morning. Having to climb up to quite a bit the views running down were stunning. Very emotional section. Almost certain timing would work out – out there in the wonderful Ardennes Bleue – what could be better. Funnily we came close to a village called Paradis… I really should stop crying when finally reaching that line. And then it was over. Shaking hand with Tim became a tradition the last years – don’t want to miss these moments.
281.66 km – 66:56:23 total race time – 5:09:35 pause at CPs – 10181 m D+ – 40 min of sleep (2 x 20 minutes in night #2 Hautes Fagnes and night #3 before Ninglinspo area).
Navigation was carried out on my Fenix 6X Pro. So happy how well that works – what a brilliant watch. Didn’t need my backup handheld at all.
2022 vs. 2023
There were a lot of discussions about LT22 vs. LT23. Although not relevant below two graphs comparing LT22 to LT23. For me LT23 was 3 s/km slower compared to LT23 – in total 14 minutes difference (basically nothing). Comparing the two Climb Score graphics in Runalyze the difference between both editions gets bit clearer. Climb Score elevated from 9.6 to 9.8 – almost a 10.0. Talking to Tim before the start once the tracks were clear: its really difficult for such a long distance and the distant areas to find good connection parts. You don’t want to eliminate the highlights but need to connect them logically. From my own experience with creating tracks Tim and his team are close to perfection. A Climb Score of 10 is something you can achieve on a hill rep-style run like Iceberg but it will be almost impossible to get the Legends Trail to this level. LT23 was close enough, definitely brutal enough and great combination – honours to the creators. Now I only need to stop myself and not try to draw a combination myself.