Behind the Curtain

Winter is coming. Soon the running season is over and the ultra running season starts. Finally all the hustle and bustle ends. The trails are slowly but surely emptying again. It gets colder and darker. Rare sunlight spreads over half-frozen muddy, dirty and lonely trails. One is the only human striving through the nothingness. The breath freezes to clouds of mist in front of the headlamp and the crunch of the trail shoes on frozen ground is the only noise to be heard. Miles are coming and miles are going out there in the fresh, ice-cold and crisp shapes.

Blurry figures on the move.

As it will be Corona-winter too and with rising numbers nothing is certain and granted. We are not sure which of our plans will become reality but we want to be prepared.

So my friends and me sat together to review ultra running. Not that ultra running in general was in question but I think there is one thing that unites and drives all of us: the longing of this one feeling. In our post-LT 250/500 race reviews we have been discussing quite a lot about our personal experiences out there and the moments we talked about most were not the ones full of joy or success. But the moments in which one finally understands and accepts the vastness of the surroundings and what a small piece oneself is in this big puzzle. The moments of exceeding the obvious borders the race puts upon you and the awareness that there is more beyond. VPsucher came back from his 360k DH win with similar experiences of sheer existence in the middle of the dunes with no human around for hours. It is a lonely but great feeling. Remote. Tackled. Beaten. And yet: moving and full of determination to finish.

One of the special moments in 2020. And I was only the one taking the picture.

We started to create something to share these moments together with a small group of similar-minded runners and friends. Running and racing on the grounds and in the areas we love with a certain level of difficulty. Rare-support to self-support events of pure running. Enjoying the art of creating the GPX-files and looking forward to fill them with some running. The set of runs we came up with will be challenging enough to have plenty options to fail. We combined them to a set for the real collectors among us.

We may spread the rumours when it seems applicable. Or we may not. Behind the curtain we will do some running of the type we think running should be: low-cost, free of limits, simple and pure. The paths ahead are laid out. Who will be able to follow them until the very end? In a good, old tradition it is meant to start around Halloween 2020.

On? On!

The circle is closed – AOBtD 2020

Let me start with the Another One Bites the Dust poem by Teun Geurts. Teun was supporting this year and his words fit perfectly – thanks Teun:

They were thirteen and they were running
They started running when the sun went down
They ran into the dark and all through the night
When the sun came up and warmed the dust
And still the thirteen were running

They ran for no special reason, it’s just what they do
They ran for no special reason, into the light

The sun ran its course all through the sky
And still the thirteen were running
They ran their course on the face of the earth
The wind in their faces, biting the dust
And still the thirteen were running

They ran for no special reason, it’s just what they do
They ran for no special reason, chasing the light

The light started to fade from the sky
And still the thirteen were running
Rain on their faces, washing the dust
Hundreds of swallows sweeping the sky
And still the thirteen were running

They ran for no special reason, it’s just what they do
They ran for no special reason, into the night

The Legends Slam 2019-2020 is done. Since the very first race of the series The Great Escape back in November 2019 the idea of just crossing one by one of it from the agenda somehow got me. What was a far away dream back then started to become more and more realistic. Even more so with the Legends Trail 250 finish this February. Only one to go. Corona hit all of us and races were cancelled one by one and Another One Bites the Dust was postponed and finally cancelled. But not for the 13 runners still in the race for The Legends Slam.

Being one of the lucky ones I was allowed to participate in a very special race. Huge thanks to the LT Team/Legendary Friends for putting the whole trail city up for the few of us. It was a very nice, calm and unique atmosphere. As I did not bring any crew, Fanny thankfully agreed to help me and did an amazing job. We grew into a good team and her support became more and more crucial the longer the race lasted and helped a lot to keep me up and running.

The race itself is hard to describe – you better do it yourself to understand how it is. Basically it is all about timing and thing which can happen to you is, that you find a rhythm that consumes you in a way that you stop thinking and act like a machine doing the same job over and over again – run the same 6.3 km loop:

AOBtD splits

For me it started to become difficult somewhat around loop 18. But well, on one point it should get difficult. I was not able to make up my mind to fully switch to race mode and I stayed with the mantra: just finish the 28 loops by whatever means. Then you are free again.

What impressed me most was the fact how those 12 runners around me faced the task. Running amongst these Legends made me proud. No mistakes, discipline and precision all over. It was like looking at a fine-tuned pice of art. Every step well chosen, each corner perfectly cut, each piece of runnable ground used – amazing performance.

And finally. Saturday night 23:55 it was finally over. 28 loops done – Legends Slam 2019-2020 finished. What a relieve it was…

The Finish.
The DNF job needs to be done!
The End.

I think it is time to rest now. And to say thank you to my family who accepts my running and to the inner circle of runners/friends which was formed throughout the last 2-3 exciting years and which is always a source of motivation and power. This success would not have been possible without all of you. What can possibly come after all of this? Who knows.

But with friends like I have I expect it to be spectacular.

The Last Race

Although nothing is certain in these viral days, the clock is ticking. 11 days left until showdown. Another One Bites the Dust has been cancelled a few days ago due to the current COVID-19 situation in Belgium. But as AOBtD is the last run in The Legends Slam (finish The Great Escape, Bello Gallico, Legends Trail 250/500 and AOBtD within one year) the RD decided to let those eligible for the Slam 2019/2020 run the race as a special AOBtD Slam edition. Instead of 100 participants the start field will be down to only 13 runners, the big barbecue and the big party (from what I heard) will probably be much smaller and we will need to respect the rules of the new normal.

As the The Great Escape 2019, Bello Gallico 2019 and the Legends Trail 250 2020 have been outstanding and unique experiences, the wish to also get the necessary 28 AOBtD loops for the slam is huge. The Great Escape 2019 was way steeper then I imagined, Bello Gallico 2019 was was darker than imagined plus a bit wet and Legends Trail 250 2020 was beyond in many categories but most of all was extremely long. To finish the circle AOBtD will most probably be a mental challenge with no distraction along the way. Loop after loop after loop…

Another One Bites the Dust is held in the now pretty popular last human standing format. There is one loop you need to run. You have 60 minutes to do so. Every hour starts a new loop. If you are not in the starting box at the beginning of each new loop (for whatever reason) you are out. The race continues as long as there are runners left in the race. If only one runner is left, this runner needs to complete one loop in one hour alone to win, or receives a DNF (as all other runners before) – in which case there will be no winner. Simple thing. The loop at AOBtD is described to be 5.959 km long (although participants of the last years editions claim that it is more like 6.2 to 6.3 km long). This means to cross the 100 mi barrier (which will give you the Slam finish) one needs to run 28 loops/hours. That will be fun. 13 runner with max. 1 person as support each for at least 28 h circling on a 5.959 km loop…

Stay tuned for updates close to race day. It will be a long journey. Again.

Halbzeit 2020

Was ein erstes Halbjahr 2020. Der Start ins Jahr war schon vielversprechend: zuerst die Tour im Hohen Venn mit Maarten und Marek und dann natürlich der etwas feuchte mAMa 2020.

Und dann der Legends Trail 250 2020. Was eine erstaunliche Reise durch 3 Nächte und zwei Tage es doch war. An Tag 3 endlich aus dem letzten unendlichen Flusstal aufzutauchen, das Ziel zum Greifen nah mit dem letzten Sonnenaufgang im Rücken – es war ein unbeschreibliches Gefühl. Über 60 Stunden Eins mit der Natur und jetzt sollte es zurück ins echte Leben gehen? Soziale Interaktion? Wie soll das funktionieren?

LT250 – KM 259/261 – 60+h – coming home. Or am I leaving home?

Es folgte die Corona-Zeit welche durch einige Challenges doch kurzweiliger und laufintensiver wurde als gedacht. Wir waren hier in Deutschland doch sehr privilegiert was die Einschränkungen anging. Duivelse Uitdaging 1 & 2 by Marek waren jedenfalls ein amüsanter Zeitvertreib. Mit den momentan möglichen Lockerungen kehrte auch endlich das lange Laufen zurück. Ein Gruppenlauf auf der verbesserten UTDS-Strecke war der perfekte Wiedereinstieg in das Ultralaufen und die perfekte Gelegenheit im Legends-Trail Gebiet in Erinnerungen zu schwelgen. Exquisite Truppe – gerade in diesem Gebiet. Experten-Runde quasi. UTDS Legends Edition.

Wie unterschiedlich und doch gleich die Momente. Sogar den direkten Bild-Vergleich gibt es – war das Wetter beim LT250 wirklich so schön?

Insgesamt steht 2020 nach 200 Tagen nicht schlecht da.

Progression Graph from RUNALYZE. 2019 vs. 2020 – Tag 200.

Und wie soll es jetzt weiter gehen? Schwer vorauszusagen mit dem Virus im Hintergrund. Doch die Pläne sind soweit gemacht. In 5 Wochen wird es richtig ernst. Der letzte Teil des Legends-Slam steht an: Another One Bites the Dust – AOBtD. 28 x 6.3 km warten mindestens – jede Stunde eine Runde. Keine Möglichkeit Zeit rauszulaufen: das wird eine langsame und konstante Qual. Aber die Verlockung den Slam zu erringen ist riesig. Hoffen wir, dass die Motivation und die Kraft für diesen würdigen Abschluss der Legends Trail Reihe reichen.

#1 #2 #3 – #4?

Anfang September und Ende Oktober sind 2 privatere und exklusivere Läufe geplant. Darüber wird es erst im Nachgang oder kurz vorher Infos zu geben. Wenn das alles so läuft wie geplant sollte 2020 mit genügend Herausforderungen zu Ende gehen.

UTDS 2020 – Legends Edition

Olav: „Hey Tim, that does not look elegant anymore“!

And he was right. Damn right. We were around 30 hours into our small ultra running restart session last weekend and I was feeling the usual side effects of being that long on my feet. But let’s start the story from the beginning.

Cow pic.

We (7 funny persons from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany) started at 0758 on Saturday 4th of July in Sart-lez-Spa to conquer the Ultra Tour des Sources track. The UTDS is not only a 157k race but also a way-marked path to challenge interested people. As it covers some nice and for most of us well-known areas of the Ardennes we thought it may be fun to try this with a self-support social run. Maarten was so kind to carefully check and revise the official GPS-track. We discussed some parts of the track and somehow concluded on a few „improvements“ around the nice city Coo. Somehow the original track avoids a few interesting passages. For whatever reason. No one knows. Really. Believe us.

Rest for the wicked.

The first 67k of our little adventure were quite enjoyable yet not too difficult. Unfortunately we lost our first colleague quite early in the game. The remaining six of us run/walked through Spa, visited the nice stream Le Ninglinspo and crossed the river L´ Amblève for the first time. In between we stopped from time to time to refill water and empty some bottles of sweet drinks and were then confronted with the fact that this group would not work until the end. Different reasons made 50% of us to use the track-back option on their watches to head straight back to the car. This still summed up to almost 100k for them.

Break@30k

Ultra running starts when the comfort zone is gone. And to lose half of our friends while running should be a clear sign for this. Maarten, Olav and me as the remaining three directly ran into our first problem. Water. It was a warm and sweaty Saturday and our supply was depleted. The next planned water pickup (cemetery) was still 13k away and we were already out of water. We got away by knocking on friendly peoples door to fill-up and made use of an outside water tap in the next village (we asked before). Refilled we entered the interesting part of the adventure. With the dark the slight rain came and the wind was suddenly present on the heights. Perfect. This is the setting you want to enter the self-improved most difficult part of the whole journey in the middle of the Ardennes. Finally the feeling of the Legends Trail adventure back in February was creeping back into our heads. I realized that I was accompanied by two LT500 finishers who survived a whole week in far worse conditions by watching Maarten and Olav speeding into this as if it was nothing. Impressive. We had a beautiful night. It was wet, cold and warm at the same time, we paused on a cold but dry planked backyard on a hill and we were surprised with a fixed rope route climb we didn’t knew before. Easy. Not.

All is well.

As it is with all good things – this night ended. So did the rain. We were still in and somehow moving. I have to apologize guys from preventing you to do some proper running. We decided to have our first proper stop in a bakery in Malmedy at km 121 Sunday morning. Interesting strategy of us to wait 24h with this. Coffee, Fanta, Ham and Eggs. Nice breakfast. Although strange to sit dirty and smelling within the midst of all the Sunday morning people.

Breakfast@121k

The setting of the last quarter of the track were the Hautes Fagnes. This meant an endless long climb up to Signal de Botrange. Always amazing to reach this highest point. We directly started with our second and last longer indoor break. Soup and Fanta.

Running downhill from that spot means always some beautiful but technical trails. Hard to manage with a stiff and painful body. But these are the moments of ultra running you have to be thankful for. Because beyond these moments the finish tastes even sweeter. We arrived after 33h38m and 162k with 4500 D+ m at the cars. Done. Thanks for this amazing weekend all of you.

At the end we may have not been the most elegant people out there but elegance may also not be the prime reason why we do kind of things.

runalyze.com162.17 km Laufen: UTDS special04.07.2020
1d 09:38:5312:27/km4,516 m
https://runalyze.com/shared/b6ya3

Duivelse Uitdaging #1 and #2

If you dance with the devil you should not be afraid to burn your fingers

The Devil and someone else

This was #1:

51 days for 666 km

This was #2:

44 days for 666 km

In total I lost 79 days of my life to this bullshit. 79 days for 1332 km means 16.86 km/d. Not too bad at all. Although it was sometimes fun and I am easily motivated by stupid things it was also a challenge. I learned the hard way what it means to just ignore all arguments and just get things done. No matter what nice things could have been the alternatives. No matter how much I hated it sometimes to not just run as long as I wanted but to run as long as it was needed to cross out the next distance of that funny lists. I encountered it with a new mental strategy. You start a run of lets say 33.30 km and you force yourself to think of something nice the first 28 km of the run. By that you really forget that you are running and by this basically just „wait“ until its over. To endure is a big part of endurance. And this is no coincidence. The last 5 km you enjoy your short run. Now I am afraid of that point in future I will use this strategy in a real race.

But lets forget about this. Thanks Maarten for the fun. Enough is enough and done is done. I am so tired of checking an Excel sheet before I start a run, so tired of starting the run with putting a distance goal on the watch (does it even works without entering something there?) and so tired of not being „allowed“ to just run as long as I want. It was a good mental exercise but it is time to say goodbye.

I am going back to where I belong. Into the woods, into the void and into the endlessness. Hoping to meet a few people out there to run some tracks together and to come back destroyed but with tons of nice stories to tell.

Stop. That. Distancing.

***Please don’t get me wrong: stay safe, go outside, don’t touch each other, keep 1.5 m distance and stay Corona-negative!***

Please? Asking for my friends. Everyone is now talking about distance – its everywhere in the news. Let me tell you: this is not good for my friends. They have been ok in the past and before this virus started. A bunch of totally normal LSD (Long Slow Distances) runners. But now? They are being pushed from all that distance-talking:

  • they create sheet after sheet full of nonsense running challenges – soon they will be lost in these columns and rows forever
  • they are being asked by their family members: who are you and what´s that smell?
  • some of them even started to run in loops again and again
  • some consider LSD is not enough and go for long-distance-inline-skating or other extreme sports
  • some wake up in the morning and think it is a normal thing to start the a day with a marathon
  • some open their weekly Strava stats and wonder why this number has 3 digits and a 2 in the front
  • some even say they are haunted by the Devil himself

Please. Give them the races back. And the group runs. The above simply can’t be the new normal – my friends will not be able to stop running soon. Forever running – imagine. No one wants that. This is something for the professionals.

Enough of funny challenges – enough of entering numbers in sheets. Where are the races/runs that punch us in the faces and allow us to rest the week before (and call it tapering) and the weeks after (and call it resting)? We need them back! ASAP!

Some of my friends would – as a first step – also being ok with banning all Germans from running. But let’s ignore them for now. Some are also asking to get the winter back. Waist-deep ice-cold water, snow and mud is what they want. Let’s ignore those too for now.

When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went.
And so, you just ran?
Yeah.

Forrest Gump

50 Miles of Beverau

Ach, das war doch mal nett. Für die Duivelse Uitdaging Challenge von Marek Vis fehlten unter anderem noch die 80 km und damit die längste Distanz. In Zeiten der Kontaktbeschränkungen und des Alleinelaufens kam spontan die Idee: warum nicht auf die Beverau-Runde zurückgreifen und den Lauffreunden Bescheid geben? Für alle gut erreichbar gelegen, angenehme Länge und meist breite Wege. Da fällt das Abstand halten leicht und wenn nicht alle gleichzeitig kommen würden? Lange genug würde ich ja unterwegs sein. Gesagt getan. Kurz durchgerechnet sollten entweder 30 oder 31 dieser ca. 2,65 km langen Runde für die 80 km reichen (je nach GPS-Verhalten). 9-10 Stunden sollten es tun.

Die Geschichte der Runde ist schnell erzählt. Sie startet offiziell an einem der Treffpunkte des LTB Aachen, welcher zugleich auch der Start des mAMa ist. Das Schöne an der Runde ist: es gibt nur eine Straßenquerung, sie ist nicht zu kurz, beleuchtet und daher ideal zum Rundendrehen. Die Geschichte, dass H und L auf dieser Runde schonmal Marathon gelaufen sind ist schon so alt, dass es mittlerweile einer Legende gleicht. Wie kann man auch so verrückt sein auf einer Stadtrunde immer im Kreis Marathon laufen. Also wirklich…

Gestartet bin ich um 0516. Merkwürdigerweise allein. Ab 7 Uhr wurde es dann aber deutlich lebhafter. Die ersten 3 Gäste trafen ein. In zwei Pärchen ging es dann in beiden Richtungen auf die Strecke. Nach jeder Runde wurde der Partner gewechselt. Speed-Dating. Oder so. Um halb 9 warteten schon die nächsten beiden Gäste und es ging in Dreierformation für 3 Runden auf die Strecke. Anschließend haben mich meine beiden Jungs für zwei Runden begleitet (gut, den einen musste ich schieben) – abgelöst von L auf dem Rad. Genau eine Runde nach der ersten Radbegleitung folgte direkt die Nächste! Perfekt. Das Wetter wollte wohl auch zur Abwechslung beitragen und stellte kurz auf Unwetter. Wir standen eine Weile frierend im Tunnel unter der Bahnstrecke aber H hatte mir extra Wassermelone mitgebracht – wunderbar. Die Sonne kehrte zurück und der Endspurt rückte näher. Der VPsucher kam mit J. kurz vorbei um „Hallo“ zu sagen und zum Zieleinlauf gab es dann nochmal Gäste! Ein sehr kurzweiliger Lauf, wenn auch ein wenig anstrengend. 30 Runden reichen für 80 km – für die 50 Meilen fehlten noch 400 m, also nochmal kurz hin und her an Start/Ziel. 9h49m – passt. Die 50 Meilen von Beverau sind abgehakt.

Vielen Dank für all die Gäste auf dieser kleinen Beverau-Corona-Party – schön euch alle wiedergesehen zu haben. Wo machen wir denn die noch fehlenden 70 km nächstes Wochenende? 😀

Legends Trail 250 – Flashback

For me ultra running truly starts at the point where I have given up. To continue a run after this point seems mentally and physically impossible – the battle is finally lost at the end of a long fight.

Beyond that point it is not getting any easier or less painful. Quite the contrary. But as I already lost against myself I am truly whole again. No longer divided between the urge to continue and the longing to quit. I don’t have to go through those deepest of all valleys again. There is suddenly a feeble light at the end of this tunnel.

CP1. Night 1/3 down.

It´s Sunday evening – somewhere out there. What a journey so far – 200k in 48h. Two nights and two days full of ups and downs: both physically and mentally.

Around 10k earlier I was in a good condition. The 4th and last CP finally in reach, the promised bad weather still calm and the head in a good mood full of hope again.

And now? Pouring, cold rain, really tough last kilometres (and that despite the fact that it was mostly going downhill on easy terrain) and again some thoughts on the greater meaning of all that. Plus: the track is gone. The GPX of that stage ended 200 m ago but where is that checkpoint now. It is cold and getting dark – the third night is about to start. There are some houses but the street is empty and abandoned. What am I doing here? What a cold and lonely place. I am exhausted and desperate for some rest or better: the end of all of this. It takes me 10 minutes to actually see the LT sign directing me to the back of a house and the door to the warm and comfortable CP. A sign of how desperate the situation seems to be. After the now routine actions at the CP and two plates of Pasta – decisions have to be made.

Or wait – there is nothing more to decide on: the path ahead finally crystal clear. Although it was comfortable to not run for some moments and just sit indoor, although the weather out there is awful and although the final stages is again 60k long and mostly dark. Although it will take more energy I have left…

It is time. Time to be superior of all that doubts and problems. Time to really earn that moment of relieve at the very end. The only option left with no matter what is waiting out there is: to go out again and finish.

Finish.
Finish.
Finish. Thanks Harry de Vries for all the pictures!