LEO180 2021 – The Void

„There are no questions for the answers I found.“

What was initially planned as an adventure for two was unfortunately at the last moment cut down to only one runner. What was initially planned as an early Saturday morning start was at the last moment changed to a Saturday midnight start. It is never a good idea to directly head into a weekend run after a full work week and it is certainly stupid to undertake such a mission alone. But the time for discussions, re-planning and worries may come – last weekend was not the right moment for these things. Time was ticking for the Titanic Slam finish and the circumstances, the spontaneous last minute changes set the frame for the weekend: it was time for all in. With only a few days left in 2021, with the memories of the DNF during the first attempt in mind – there was no room for hope.

Do it the LEO180 way.

A midnight start after working the whole day plus two hours of driving through the darkness meant a cold and somehow unprepared start into the 222 km long adventure. It meant also that the first 77 km would not offer any supply possibilities. Not that this was needed but it always feels good to have some spots with breaks coming up and dividing the distance into smaller pieces. But well – it was not going to be a comfortable run. Oirschotse Heide at night is always a blast… the constructions at the canal Groote Beerze destroyed the track two times causing a lot of delay and extra kms at detours… all in all it was a considerable tough first half night – 8 miserable and dark hours.

Darkness.

After an amazing 1h15m lunch break at km 77 at Maarten´s with some nice discussions about the next parts, tactics and the usual nonsense the journey continued. It was a depressing feeling with 16h of darkness ahead. This second night was bound to bring the decision to the one or the other end and I was really interested on which and it would be. Before the second darkness there were a few hours of good weather, of light and even sun:

The first half of that second night with another car stop run by the brilliant Monica & Berry support team was still feeling somewhat normal. I reached the DNF point (km 140) from this summer around midnight with 24h of running done. From there I was heading into some unknown parts as the Titanic Slam Edition of LEO180 features considerable different areas – especially in the part between km 140 and km 180.

Sleeping in the rain.

And there it was: the real struggle. Unbearable sleeping attacks, parts where moving felt like being under tons of water, the freezing cold from outside and within, the upcoming wind and rain – pure horror. What to do with no decent place to sleep? With no support in this darkest moment? Zombie walking through the streets, standing around with no orientation staring into the wet darkness for minutes on end, several sleep stops barely covered with the emergency blanked trying to find some sleep in the rain. It was a clear DNF with more than enough reasons for a cry for help – for someone to pull me out of it and making it stop.

I somehow managed to sustain until 6 in the morning (although losing 2-3 h from the schedule within only 20 km) and Monica and Berry came with the car once more. Wow. Warm soup, warm coffee, some minutes of sleep inside the car, some humans to talk to. Here was the DNF chance but deep within I knew I had to continue and Monica and Berry were quite strict on that as well.

The safe spot @100 miles.

Finally the light came and with the light the assurance that the third darkness would come as well – with so much time lost in night number two. I ran into Sander who brought soup again around km 180 – how amazing was that. He even joined me for some km of „running“ towards the Loonse and Drunense Dunes. Sorry Sander that I was not the best partner for conversation but it was good to see a friendly human and hear some talking in this huge, dark, grey, empty and tired Brabant.

What felt like barely conscious I walked through the dunes and fought through to the city Haaren. Sunday weather was miserable – all grey, rain every other hour and not even getting really bright. Whatsoever. If there is misery usually someone just adds more misery. I did not care about anything anymore. And then everything felt like gone. All emotions, all power, all motivation, all the fight which brought me to Haaren at around km 200 was gone. I was empty but so deep within like never before. I entered the void. I knew I there was no medical emergency that would stop me from finishing, there was plenty of time as well – but what for? It was a frightening feeling: not seeing a sense or a reason in anything. Not even in reaching the finish. I slowly walked through the empty streets somehow not stopping to call for help. I took the phone out and called Maarten as we planned that to arrange and discuss the finish schedule. It was weird to discuss that: I knew that it was the correct moment to do that and justified as well but what in the hell would push me through the last 20 km?

Remember. The. Plan.

And then I defeated the void. Not sure how, but I managed to find my emotions again. I did not care if they were good or bad – it was just good to feel anything. Anything to build-up fear or hope on, which then would lead to a little bit of adrenaline and finally to a little bit of running. Slowly I re-entered the world. That was a completely new experience. The last 15 km were the all-in again. I did not care about anything anymore but to approach the finish.

The Final Countdown – 10 km to go.

To finally end this dark horror. And after 42 hours and 15 minutes it was done. Maarten was there to pick me up and everything turned into a painful but shiny after run joy. We stayed awake for some more hours just to discuss running a bit, to enjoy friendship, to eat and drink.

Relief. I came back from a different place for exactly that moment.

It was a hell of a journey which would not have been possible without the support of Maarten, Monica, Berry and Sander and the possibility to take HQ for this foolish run at Maarten and Linda – thanks for the support and for having me. The Dutch Ultra Family was once more there when desperately needed.

The Medal.

I really like to sit, eat, chat and drink on that table somewhere in Goirle. But sometimes I just need to stand up and go for a LEO180 run. LEO180 is tough for a reason. That makes it unlikely to finish but interesting as well. Finishing LEO180 Titanic Slam Edition within 2021 also meant to finish the Titanic Slam itself. But that will be another story.

Throwback LEO180

Another November gone – another November without LEO180. Beautiful memories:

LEO180 – 2017

LEO180 – 2018

LEO180 – 2019

Duinhopper 2021

A true journey changes those who are brave enough to travel wholeheartedly.

About:

The Duinhopper is a 220 km long GPX track provided by acceptnolimits.eu on the Duinhopper page. It covers the whole coast of the Netherlands between Hoek van Holland and Den Helder. How you organize yourself while running, how you manage this long distance is your problem – there is no further service provided. If you are interested in running this track – get in contact with the guys from acceptnolimits.eu and check out the above mentioned Duinhopper page for reports, hints and videos. The original Duinhopper is meant to be run in the winter time in the months January or February.

After the latest activities at the Dutch coast there has been an update post – see here:
En dan is er ineens weer ultra activiteit op het Duinhopper parcours.

The Plan:

While checking possible dates for long distance running weekends in 2021 we found the first weekend of October as one of the few possible options this year. As the Duinhopper is part of a private running challenge the decision on the course was easily made. We decided to keep our appearance on the coast secret until the very start of our run. For the fun and the surprise of it. As mentioned above the DH is normally meant to be run in winter but the challenge allows to differ from that. The final thing to do was logistics planning and it turned out that the best option we found is to park the car in the middle of the course at a train station (from where we could shuttle to the start and take a train back from finish line to the car as well). We decided to use the official parking at Driehuis train station which is 1,2 km off track but good connected via train and at km 120 of 220.

The travel to Driehuis by car and the train transfer to Hoek van Holland was horrible. We lost one hour in the traffic jams around Amsterdam and another hour because of a closed bridge (train just stopped and we had to wait for a transfer bus to the next station to pick-up another train). We finally announced to our running family what we were going to try and hit the start button on all our devices. Game on.

The First Night:

We started on Friday 1st of October at 21:37 – with the 48h time limit we had only one task: to reach the finish in Den Helder on Sunday 3rd of October before 21:37. Sounds like more than enough time considering that it is 220 km run.

We had light rain and some wind – but nothing too horrible. After a few hours the sky became clear and we had great running conditions. Within the first marathon the haven and boulevard of Scheveningen was probably the highlight of the night. Always amazing to enter civilization after hours of dark and calm nature. We made quite good progress and our first 15 min break around km 50 because we were quite tired. But sun was near.

Lights all along the coast…

The First Day:

Around km 50 the Dunes became more and more serious. The track does not alway uses existing patches – as with every great adventure: you need to walk your own path if you want to succeed. The sun was rising revealing the surrounding – and no kidding: we were amazed. What a beautiful coast. Km 50-99 cover a variety of different Dune areas – all of them different – all of them beautiful. Sometimes Savanna-like (a wide grassland full of animals) sometimes Sahara-like (sand) and sometimes covered with dwarfs (don’t ask). We had a blast. Not too fresh anymore, not fast but we had good weather and moments of pure unity with nature. We even stopped for the second 15 min break to take a nap in the sun. A dear was lying 5 meters away from us and stayed there as if he wanted to protect (or control) the sleepy Germans.

At the end of this stretch the next most welcomed surprise was waiting for us. Maarten and his car with some supply.

The news of us travelling along the coast was squeezed through the secret channels of the internet (we know we have to thank Maarten for a lot of work behind the scenes) and we were closely watched and supported by an amazing Dutch long distance running family. Maarten met us a second time at around km 103 – sending us on our last part to our car. He even found the time to shoot an amazing drone video:

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Thanks to Maarten for this amazing shot!

The Second Night:

We reached the car at km 120 in the dark and in more and more intense rain. Long distance running reality hit us hard. All wet and freezing – changing clothes – repacking backs – trying to dry the feet a bit – eat something – finally a sleep in the warm car. The moment the alarm clock rang was so absurd. Kind of warm and dry sitting in a car looking into what was now clearly more than light rain and wind… In these moments: if you have any doubts don’t speak about it. We both were thinking the same about what would be reasonable to do but consequently did the opposite of it. I think we can agree that we do not want to speak about that second night. Luckily we managed to move a little, luckily the hardest rain and wind stopped after a few hours, luckily we were wise and brave enough to split up (after all these years of running we did this the first time) and luckily even the darkest and wettest night has to end. Even in the hardest moments with your best friend you have to stay rational and make wise decisions. Both of us were fighting different battles – and we did this alone. Pushed by the hope that it would be beneficial for a united finish. At the end of the night we were joined by Addie and Margret and had another section of great support. Can’t thank you enough!

Some rain again – km 175 Schoorl

The Second Day:

The first daylight of day 2 revealed the Dunes around Schoorl. A nice hit in the face. And, even more horrible, the last 9 km of real Dunes down to the beach. Exhausted, hopelessness, slightly unconscious and zombie-walking through the endless hills. It. Must. End. So pissed about the Dunes at that moment. But finally – the Beach – and another family member: Francois. Three figures shuffling on the beach. Absurd feeling. Would this endless beach really bring us to Den Helder? Still 38 km to go – long hours of „running“ ahead. But we were still in, we had support and we had hope. We met Francois´ car at km 191 and 204 – great to have something to hold on. It felt like no progress at all sometimes but slowly we were approaching.

The Final:

We left the beach 12km before the finish line. From now on it would be cycling/walking paths through mild Dunes followed by the last long grass part on the dike of Den Helder. Completely exhausted the final relief was slowly approaching. We would really do it. Together with this certainty the sun was back. Some unforgettable km up there in North Holland. Painful but happy moments.

The FB call from our running family was the ultimate sign – we did it. And off course we were not alone – Francois came with beer. I mean: how great was that.

Duinhopper 2021 – job done!

The numbers:

225,66 km; 45:35h; 2600D+; 50% TS

The Shoutout:

Maarten, Addie, Margret, Francois, Stefan, all members of the TS group – one for all, all for one! Fantastic long distance family!