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.
The idea was born and grew within several chats on various platforms during the 2020 summer – impossible to nail it down to one single conversation. It had something to do with: we still need a fourth run for our challenge – let’s do something with loops – what about a bit of elevation gain? At the end The Iceberg track was born. It was a co-production of acceptnolimits.eu and pfadsucher.com which more and more turns into a fruitful collaboration.
If you wonder about the name “Iceberg” of the run – well, that is a different story. To be told one day. Maybe. Different platforms show different values on the actual track lengths but we agreed to make it 100 mi. At the end (during the race) we decided that this means 42 loops.
Hard to describe the running itself. At the beginning (first 5-8 loops) it was really enjoyable. You run up and then down again where you find your car parked and packed with all the supply you would possible need. And then you do that again. And again.
Slowly but surely you enter in a different dimension of time and meaning. There are two numbers you keep an eye on: loop time of the current loop and the total loop count (at the beginning you count up, at the end you count down). Everything else vanishes behind a blurry curtain. Because nothing else matters. To continue is the key, no matter what. The focus on the loop was extreme after a while. Every step felt like automatic. At the end you look on a root or a stone or a puddle in the focus of your headlamp and know immediately if you better use your right or your left foot, where exactly you need to place your poles and how much strength you need to manage that step. An extraordinary level of details are burned-in your head.
Really difficult to describe. We had all kind of weathers (expect snow) and the course really suffered. At the end it was a muddy, slippery, horrible steep something we were climbing up and down again and again. What keeps you moving? I heard different explanations during these two days in Coo but you need to find your own answer by trying to finish. If you manage to find something that pushes you enough you may be one of the happy few lunatics.
After 41h and 27m it was done. 168 km (my GPS jumped somewhere) and 11.213 m of elevation gain. An interesting experience. Thanks to all who finished, tried to and supported – it was a really intense 48h time period on this parking lot in Coo and we will tell the story a lot in the future. Next time we go there we better visit the theme park over there and take the ropeway to visit the tower. Or we directly jump to the part of drinking a beer together.
I think I shared the story on how it all began quite some times. But to wrap it all up – it started with a funny live-tracking link I found on FB back in November 2016. I was amazed as only two runners seem to run a 180k distance somewhere not too far away in the Netherlands. Without any reason and without much attention. I then contacted the FB page of that run with the question if there would be another event like this. This was the 7th of January 2017. Turned out there was another run in November 2017. The rest is history: LEO180 2017, 2018 and 2019.
It took me quite some years to decide if that day back in Januar 2017 was a good or a bad day after all but in 2019 I could finally let go and make peace it. Turned out the guys over there run a nice internet page https://www.acceptnolimits.eu and it turned out that the 4 of us started to meet from time to time for whatever reasons and started to develop a certain kind of friendship. And by friendship we mean 50% hatred, 49% of irony and bullshit and 1% of respect. You may note that this is a strange friendship and you are totally correct with that assumption. Most of the times we just invite ourselves to stupid or hard or stupid and hard (social) runs or races to find out if we are stupid and tough enough to do it. Most of the time this is the case. So this became a good tradition.
Here are a few moments I really hated them:
But we have had some moments of joy as well:
So it was bound to happen what we have been working on within the past months. acceptnolimits.eu and pfadsucher.com joint forces and came up with a 1-year-challenge consisting of 4 runs. We will use the 2 existing runs hosted by M&M in NL (or at least parts of it), run number 3 will be contributed by us with start and finish in Aachen and we made up our minds and found a ridiculous run number four which will take place in BE. To be nice to the world we will only challenge our friends and will not give away a lot of details. Just another stupid idea of underground ultra running. We will give away the GPX files to our participants only, they have one year time starting next Friday (30.10.2020) to complete all 4 runs. Multiple attempts are allowed if failure may happen.
The coronavirus destroyed all our hopes of having at least some shared adventures but in the actual situation we will need to split even the smallest group of runners as we are coming from three countries (and plan to run in all three of them) and we will need to face the runs even more alone and more secret as we initially wanted it to be. But it is like it is. And it is going to start soon…
From behind the curtain we will follow GPX tracks again. We are bound to fail and that is one of the reasons why we even consider to start. We will obviously start with the race in Germany:
Everything started back in November 2016 not with running but with watching the live tracking website of LEOs first edition. I am not sure why and how I came across this link but it was a lucky coincidence. Back in 2016 I was amazed and afraid while watching two lonely dots moving like forever through what seemed to be endless sections of nothing. This should have been a warning..
3 years later we are sitting on a table somewhere in Goirle near Tilburg, Noord-Brant, the Netherlands. Martino (2nd place finisher) just left and Maarten, Marek, Björn and me are enjoying a moment of peace and silence. It is 1800 on the first Sunday in November which means the LEO is over. It was again one of the rather busy weekends for all four of us. Although we only see us at the LEO weekends once every year we share a similar idea on how running should be organised and celebrated. This is a good feeling and we use the rare time to discuss a bit. Everything went well with LEO this year so the organisational pressure on M&M is (almost) gone: they dragged out those who could not finish, they celebrated those who were able to survive and the last runner out there should also make it to the finish 2 hours later. The last burger patties are ready to eat. Everything is as it should be. Time to widen the view from this weekend into the future. We discuss the next LEO editions. The good news is: the challenge will continue for those who dare and are fast but there may also be a soft option for those who are slow and winy. Although LEO is held in great irony and fun with a lot of joking and laughing the whole LEO family (runners, orga, supporter) knows deep inside that it is a real challenge for most humans. In our discussion we end up with the question why so few survived this year and what the reason(s) for that might have been. One of the good things with LEO is that there is no final answer to that. LEO may be one of the events where it is better if you are 101% into it – 100% may not be enough. But who knows what battle everyone fought out there. It is your problem if you go out there. You may get random help but basically you have to make sure that your plan is good enough to bring you back.
For Björn and me as participants the task was much easier compared to M&Ms orga stress. Our discussion a few days before the LEO was short. From our point of view there were two reasonable options on how to run the loops in terms of direction and order – we discussed it shortly and made a decision. All we then had to do was what we always do before any of our longer runs: prepare the Garmins, pack the backpacks with an awful lot of self-made food (I also brought some gels which turned out to be a wise decision) and enjoy the surroundings while running. The first two loops formed an 8 of 100 km total distance and we aimed for 7 km/h. We reached the CP close to 2000 – perfect in plan.
We gave ourself one hour to relax. Restart for the last 110 km loop at 2100 with 21 hours time to finish it. The first 40 km of this loop (km 100-140 for us) slowed us down. I could not maintain the 7-8 km/h speed from the first 100 km. From slowing down we got more tired and really cold. The nice ultra run night problem – the interesting part was about to begin. Some tougher hours followed on what is probably the easiest and fastest part of the track – such a waste when walking on asphalt. So we tried to sleep. A few times. With different levels of comfort, durations and cleverness. The last time we did that between 0530 and 0600 helped at the end and we learned a bit more on what makes sense and what does not regarding outside sleeping. But: what happens out there stays out there. Our last hope was the sunrise. We started with giving us rules not to be broken. Not to quit while it is dark was the first one (this one is a really essential one). When it was bright again we had to deal with a section full of sand and small ups and downs. Awful after 150 km with hurting feet and the need to maintain a steady pace. So next rule: do not quit in the Dunes (Björn is probably one of the worlds leading experts in terms of that). We managed it somehow.
And from that on timing was the absolute highest priority. I never did this mental game of running against the clock with this precision. Björn started a “game”. 10 h until cutoff, 57 km to go = 5.7 km/h. The two rules of our game were: run each hour 6 km and then walk the rest of the hour as a break. If you don’t manage this 6 km in 55 min: pause/walk the remaining 5 mins anyway. I had heard from people doing these kind plans but never did it myself. I really hated it in the beginning but realized slowly that if I focus on it and accept it provides a frame for that meaningless and endless moving – something to believe in. So game one. It really worked out in the end. Minimum was 5.5 km in one hour (there were some rather uneven parts of nature to pass) but there were a lot of 6 km hours in and a few of them even above that. We played for 8 hours.
Slowly but surely I realized that it may work to stay in time. Would it be really possible to finish this complicated beast? At 1600 with 2 hours time and around 8 km to go the relief finally came. Nothing but serious injuries would stop us know. What an amazing moment. With 53 minutes left we finished the 210 km LEO180 2019 edition. The bear (DNF) was closer in comparison to last year and it at least felt like that this was not only the extra 10 km. The fight against the time in this dimension and determination was new to me. Thanks to Björn for the idea and the strict rules.
It is time to say goodbye again and to leave the warm table in our cosy race HQ (thanks for opening the door for us this weekend) – “the Germans” are leaving. Everyone is tired – rest and recovery is urgently needed. It was again an intensive but beautiful weekend in Noord-Brabant. The challenge is completed for now. This years LEO results to be found here and here. Racereports will be posted here.
There will be a new challenge one day that is for sure. Maybe with us, maybe without. We somehow closed our LEO chapter this year:
A normal Saturday morning somewhere in the Netherlands. Random people with headlamps around. Time to start this weekends adventure of 200k ultra running. Semi self-supported. 36 hours time to finish that damn thing.
“Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?”