And then Lammersdorf entered the game. Located in the beautiful Nordeifel this second edition of the Biber Backyard Ultra raised some attention so that the orga crew felt confident to see the 24h barrier fall this time (first edition lasted 16h). Organized by a super nice team the runners felt like being at home with a bunch of friends. The track set out is very interesting. Due to lots of uphill and downhill sections its pretty clear for the runners when to walk and when to run. So that problem was solved for us runners right away. Only a few meters of the track would reasonably allow both walking and running – so this was left to be decided along the way if its more a „I run that part“ or „I will rather walk“ loop. As a walker I did not even start to think about this to not bother me with these kind of decisions during the race. Consistency is key in distance running so an ever same rhythm helps with that. With 120 m D+ of elevation gain and some traily downhill section it will probably not make it into the record books of the backyard history but its really a nice loop to run as it offers a variety of undergrounds and views.
The second Biber Backyard Ultra stated 0800 03.06.2023 with more than 70 runners and perfect weather. A sunny Saturday, a chilly and brisk full moon night followed by yet another sunny start into Sunday framed the race weekend perfectly. Lots of people came with specific goals in mind – may it be the first Marathon, yet another Marathon, first Ultra, longest distance ever, 100 km, 100 mi, as long as it goes… Pretty nice atmosphere amongst the runners – lots of good conversations along the loops. Lots of personal best have been achieved. Knowing the dedication this takes in such a race one can only congratulate to all those runners pushing to their personal limits – and beyond.
4 runners were able to finish loop 24, two continued for loop 25 and the race was won after 26 loops by a member of the pfadsucher-Team – congratulations Björn. Although this was not what you really aimed for that piece of wood may become handy in the day-to-day life.
Despite the nice event and an over all great weekend 20 loops is clearly not what I came for. What is more: as this was Backyard #3 for me the dynamics of this format are now pretty clear to me. The downside of this knowledge is that it’s now even more obvious that to perform in the 30+ loop area in Backyards a certain fitness level needs to be available. Its not only the ultra mind side of things (in which if fell kind of at home) but also the ability to actually run with a higher basic speed. The way I like to run and the way I run day-to-day does not allow any of this fitness to really ever sink in. Therefor I guess this was my last Backyard at least for a longer period. Depending how the rest of German runners evolve in that format I will be available to run for the German team during the World Team Championships 2024 if my the ranking calls for that. Current Roster to be found here – qualification period ends August 15, 2024. Go catch some loops for a stronger German Team in 2024!
A new hiking track in our area with available GPX track; not officially announced/opened yet – of course our attention was drawn. So we packed our bags, submitted the track to the Fastest Known Time website (to be on the safe side) and took the bus from Aachen to Bütgenbach.
We started this little adventure close to 8 pm on Saturday evening (22.04.2023) in Bütgenbach. The first section from Bütgenbach to Malmedy (first 22 km) covered some new sections for some of us – nice paths along the river Warche. The part from Malmedy to Signal de Botrange uses tracks also covered by the Dark World Bonus Loop. Following the river Hill the downhill to Eupen comes up with a lot of new planked paths which have been build the last months specific for the Venntrilogie. With the sun now being up and the warmer conditions we decided to refill water at the cemetery in Raeren as this would keep us in the unsupported section with regards to FKT listing. Surprisingly the track from Raeren to the Drielandenpunt covered some new combinations of paths – good to update the memories and inner map of a rather well-known area.
Unfortunately running was not within the abilities of the Pfadsucher we had to hike a lot. In the restarting rain we finished the 108 km in 19h53m. All in all a nice connection of interesting and beautiful areas within the Euregio.
No real focus, no real motivation for more. It was like the usual 24h for me – the first 12h with around 100k were fine and in plan. My realistic target distance should have been ideally something between 170-190k: must be possible with 100k in the first 12h. But – also usual – the second half was much more difficult. Sore and blocked thighs were making running more and more uncomfortable. Walking mixed with a bit of running is something which is almost always possible so I continued to reach the 100 mi. I wonder what the best strategy would be to finally reach 180k+. Maybe it will work out another day.
It was nice to meet some of the Dutch again and one month after Legends Trail 100 mi is ok as a running restart.
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.
3 starts at Legends Trail – 3 finishes: 2020, 2022 and 2023 – clean sheet/100% aka. triple. Pretty ok!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
31h 44m for 100 miles – 75% of the Marvel Slam done.
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.
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.
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 final team and individual results can be found in this Google Sheet.
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.
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.
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.