Legends Trail 2024

Suddenly he was behind me. Couldn’t figure how long he had been following me – I was sure I was quite alone. Focused on following the track and listening to some music I was a bit shocked to see another human being. The track made a funny little curve to the right and then turned more than 90° to the left. In reality there were two possible paths roughly 30-40 m apart from each other which could be the ones. Normally easy with the correct zoom on the map but on Day 3 you rather stop for a second to let the GPS fix a few % more. No stupid extra meters now. We briefly looked each other. I could see the strain, the exhaustion and the emptiness in his eyes – I looked the same I guess.

“I think its this one”
“No, wait – I think its the other one”
“Ja – could be”
“Ok looks good”

And off he was. Faster walking then me he tackled yet another steep climb. It was raining. Fog rising – everything grey in grey. Legends weather on a Legends Monday – roughly 12 km from the finish line. I saw him walking off in the grey zone and knew I would need to follow. But I was forced to take the phone out to take a picture. It was one of those moments. Moments which last. Moments which summarize everything in one picture – at least for those who have been in similar situations.

Those who know know…

Before:
Preparation is important for adventures like Legends Trail. Especially to get the mental setup cleared and determined is crucial. With all uncertainties happening in my life at the moment I was not 100% sure whether or not I would be able to get the focus, to get into the zone. But well – I asked myself: do you really want to stand on that start line and the answer was a clear yes. There are so many personal reasons to go which do not matter here but one thing is for sure: deep inside you want to have an overwhelming longing to get this run done. Otherwise a start does not make a lot of sense.

Material preparation was straight forward – it gets to a routine. Running pack (everyone makes fun of me how much I carry but I think I will stick to it) and drop back with 4 smaller bags inside for each CP. Especially new socks at each checkpoint. Food was also packed in 5 portions – one for backpack, 4 for the drop back.

On Friday I picked up Uwe who saw my re-post that LT was looking for volunteers and jumped on the train for the whole weekend to get a look behind the scenes :). Its only a 1h drive from home to LT so that’s convenient. First thing was to survive the kit check including a “before” picture made by Caroline Dupont which would be completed by an “after” picture if all goes well. Can’t wait to see them. I was not feeling very well, was with slight headache the whole Friday so I greeted everyone as this is the family but went to the car for some quiet moment with my eyes closed with the hope the headache would clear and to finally put on the running cloths. The last hour before start was then again in the cafeteria of the school and its actually frightening and glorious. Runners, volunteers, crew – most of them friends – wait. Lots of chatter and laughter and excitement. Everyone knows (or think they know) what is about to start. I am not connected to German trail runners at all so it was really great to finally see more of them at LT. Tom was about to run himself, his girlfriend Moni was a volunteer, Volker who finished LT already was there with Maren to volunteer as well. It was really great to meet you and get to know you. Those events connect people and I hope it was not the last time we met.

The German delegation (Uwe took the picture) @ LT24 🙂

Night 1:

Almost

Well, the headache did not got better until it was finally time. Weather was indifferent but I decided not to put the rain jacket on – which was the right decision. There were some discussions about the conditions and whether or not the feet would stay dry for a while. Funny thinking. After 400 m the first downhill started and was full of slippery and deep mud – so we would be confronted with heavy conditions the next 280 km. After 1 km the first creek crossing was reached. No bridge – why would there be one? So that one was settled as well :). Bring it on.

During the first stage I was not really able to connect to the race. The mind was not fully there but well – its a never ending race so lets stay calm and carry on – better days to come if all goes well. The highlight of the first stretch was a part on the Ourthe where the trail went through the water. And due to high water not just a little bit into water but waist-deep. For 20-30 m. Wow – that was cold. Getting the whole lower body dipped into a winter river in the Ardennes – it was a moment for those with very special interests. Being half wet in the middle of Night 1 was a nice twist to the challenge as well. But – its Legends – we are here for the struggle. I realized that my otherwise perfect strategy with the waterproof socks was a real problem now. My feet were swimming now with no way the water could escape. I decided to act and took out the waterproof socks. I had shoe insoles in my backpack (I take them out when wearing waterproof socks as those are thick enough), put them in the shoes and continued the journey to CP1. Its one of those decisions – it really sucks to stop, unleash the muddy shoes, open the backpack, try to figure out where to put the completely wet socks, take the insoles out and get the shoes back on. But the golden rule is: if there is a small problem fix it immediately or it kills you later.

One of those moments…

Day 1:
I reached CP1 after roughly 10 h – that was pretty much in the timing I envisioned before. I was just glad that the first stretch was over and no major issues were there. Given my overall condition I was not too happy with the race yet. I fell twice on slippery mud, the headache was still there and I knew this was not even the start of thew real shit. The pasta was heel lekker and I continued on Part 2 – hoping that the daylight would do the usual magic. And it finally got better. I finally felt stronger. In the dusk of Day 1 I met a group with Adriaan and Irene – that was really good to talk and joke and climb together for some moments. With Irene I also quickly discussed the standings in our Garmin Connect running challenge and send funny messages to our lovely little FB group – brilliant moments.

Weather on Day 1 was quite good as far as I remember. We had some sun and the focus was to use the new energy to get as much daylight km in as possible. Part 2 with more than 70 km was just endless. We had the usual “in-between” CPs including one with hot soup (so good) but it was clear it would be starting to get serious in Night 2. Although I really enjoy running with others – at runs like Legends I really feel best when I am alone with myself and a bit of music to fully dig deep. I think I may offend people with it – its really nothing against anyone. But when I can do my own tempo, be alone with my thoughts and completely focus on the tasks that is when I feel calm and secure. The world quiets down and fully feel one with the challenge. Especially at Legends I love and need those moments. Sorry if that seems rude – its not meant to be. I reached CP2 in a perfect timing. I wanted to have 6-7 hours before cutoff to have a bit more room to breath when the shit would hit the fan and I managed to be fast enough. Two helpings of delicious kip curry with rice – fresh socks – and off – off to a part I was actually looking forward to.

Night 2:
Hautes Fagnes time means crunch time. As always at Legends. Before the race there were some discussions on how short the stretch up there was at this edition – but looking at the map I was quite sure the selection was well chosen. Chosen to get us in real trouble – chosen to let the ultra really start. And I was not disappointed. Endless river climbing up and down, the best part of Hoenge, Statte, Sawe and Tros-Marets – places I know by heart but with the mud and the rain it was a real party. Especially the last downhill with the km next to the lower part of the river Tros-Marets. It had everything. It started to significantly rain, mud, stones, water everywhere – finally truly in a situation which makes Legends so unique to me. It seems overwhelmingly difficult and every stone with a false step can send you down and end the race. Its a bit frightening but those are the moments to actually fully embrace – I was finally 110% in the race. Everything was against us runners but that was exactly the battle we (or at least I) came for. Naturally CP3 was a great relieve. It is a good feeling to get out of Hautes Fagnes alive and to have survived one of the more tricky stretches of LT – no matter how unique the feelings up there were. Time for some stew with mashed potatoes and some new socks.

Day 2:
At CP3 the mood was dense. All of us strained, stretched, edgy. 170 km in – Hautes Fagnes in fresh memories. The race was really on fire. CP3 was in Malmedy – and just to mention the name of the city frightens most of my friends. We know those steep hills around the city all to well. But all was well. 7 AM on Day 2 – daylight approaching – 5 h before cutoff – better than I could have hoped for. Stretch 4 started with a real treasure: the area around the Beverce pipeline. Every time I wonder if it is really allowed to send people there; esp. people with lack of sleep. But maybe that is a stupid question. It was manageable. I felt pretty good for the given conditions so Malmedy area came and became memory within a few hours. It was clear that the last stretch of Part 4 was the tricky one so it was again the task to make the most of the light, to try to not lose against cutoff (4 km/h) and focus on not making mistakes.

Somehow people know me well nowadays…

Being that good in timing meant that the complete Part 4 would be daylight – that was really great and comfortable. Part 4 ended with the greater Coo area including Iceberg downhill. Steep but home. We lived there for a while in a long gone area. And CP4 had Tortellini: wow. I love them so much. To top that Moni, Francois and Martino were there. Having dinner with some friends feeling. Was hard to have to leave the place but it was not the end and I was pretty clear at that moment that I would not miss the opportunity to return to the folks waiting at the finish. And I would not return to them in a car – I would do whatever needs to be done to return as a finisher. The dream was so close – and yet: Night 3 was lurking behind the trees.

Night 3:
And it started immediately. The first climb let to fenced farm land. Not unusual as we had to climb fences before in the race. But it was like two compartments and I couldn’t figure the direction anymore. As navigation is normally a thing I manage quite ok I knew immediately that the Night 3 was going to be much worse than expected. With a shock I realized that I was standing there and staring into the nothingness for some minutes probably falling half-asleep while standing. This brought some Adrenaline back and the brain tried to re-start. The first steep climb of Part 5 was the one to the water basin in Coo. A well known stretch but I was honestly surprised how difficult it felt after 210 km. Luckily on the top Volker and Maren were doing their Legends Safety Team job. We had to take a detour and they were explaining the way to each runner. Although I just left CP4 I asked for water as I felt horribly thirsty and I felt really hot. I think I spent too much time at CP4 and body started to shut down. A mistake in a race where no mistakes are allowed. At one point Volker looked at me questioning and I realized he was waiting since ages that I give him back the water bottle. Oh man. Not the best start of the last part at all. After that shock some more runnable parts came and the body slowly re-entered the game – at least for 1-2 hours. After that the sleepwalking started. Sleep deprivation is a beast. Slowly everything went out of control. The raindrops on the rocks looked like smileys in a way I couldn’t bear to look at them, the mossy stones turned into green frogs, every reflection of light was a runner with a headlamp. I don’t now how but I made it to CP 4.1 (Chez Ingo) where we had a great time. The real Ingo (racing himself) came in after me and Karen and Peter were there already. Suddenly all was well again. We had Toasties and Coke – we joked and laughed and listend to the intensifying rain outside.

Toasty Time – km 245 @ LT24

Outside – where the last 30 km were waiting. The last 30 km of the endlessness of Legends Trail. We could have stayed forever but Karen, Peter and me decided to group due to our conditions – at least for the first stretch in the remaining night. The moment we stepped out of the tent all illusions were gone – the horror started at that very second. None of us was well, we were all sleepwalking, couldn’t talk but we were still in – crawling up and down Ninglingspo area. A disaster. There was only one last hope: daylight. Close to this and at the end of yet another long and horrible climb I let them go their way. They were a bit faster and I couldn’t stand keeping up with them. A quick stop to eat something, put some music on would do. And then the shock: the GPS signal on the watch jumped by about 100 m – just like that. I took out the handheld but it was weird as it was showing the same position. Horror. The one thing which should not happen at all, happened. I stood there frozen and shocked in the rain for a while until I realized that would rather kill me than help. I stopped the watch track and reloaded it – didn’t change it. As the direction was still moving when I was turning I decided to use the position displayed and go straight line back to track (about 100 m away). This at least seemed to work. So I stood again on that purple line. Good. Finally the watch signal was turning when I was in the direction I moved. Good as well. It seemed to stabilize. This really hit very hard. I was confused as I almost lost everything so close to finish. With the watch issues I forgot to put the other rain jacket on and was starting to get very cold. Mistakes on top of mistakes – it was out of control. Completely. I called Maarten to make sure that I was not hallucinating and really was on track. He checked the tracker and confirmed that all was well. Matthias called as well before leaving to work. Oh – the world was still there. Random news from a very distant reality but good to hear. And the light was returning. First thing I put the real rain gear on – an hour too late but well. At least I could see the world again and the watch behaved normal again. Had a look on the tracking page after the race and I nailed it the whole time. So what was that – was I having a really bad dream? Never had something like this before. With another 30 min in heavy rain but daylight and a watch behaving normal I took it as the last strike of Legends. The last attempt to finally beat me.

Day 3:
But no. Not this time. Daylight, horrible weather, Day 3, 15-20 km to go and 6-7 hours to get there. I was exactly where I wanted to be. Nothing would stop me now. The last km did not went easy but I was still able to jog which meant I was in considerably good shape this late in the game. Some more climbing. With the rain everything was completely watered but I did not care anymore. The only job left was to get those km in. It was time to return to those waiting at the finish. It was time tick-off another Legends Trail. You would have found me crying during those last km but luckily I was alone. Alone heading to Ferriers. Hard to explain those feelings.

Finish – thanks Nick for the Video.

#4

Shoutouts to the whole LT team – whether it was the crew, the safety team, the volunteers, the support teams of the runners – another weekend which will not be forgotten.


Numbers in perspective:

There were some discussions before and after the race whether the course was easier compared to 2023. I would say: maybe a bit but with the conditions it felt harder. The numbers tell us that it was indeed a bit on top. More D+, higher climbing score. That with the conditions made 2024 a rather difficult edition of Legends Trail. This is also displayed in the finisher rate which dropped down to 30.3% (from 31.6% in 2023).

Recorded LT climb views – screenshots from @Runalize

Other than that it was Legends Trail #4 for me after 2020, 2022 and 2023. 4 finishes in a row and simply grateful to have been able to take part of this great event.

1105 Legends KM – WTF

Legends Trail 2024

00Days
00Hours
00Minutes
00Seconds

You can follow LT24 livetracking here – #119 it is: LINK

If you want to get random update or message some (de)motivation:

The preparation is in full flow:

The different Part of LT24 look like this:


That’s how the previous versions looked like – 828 km – 9 nights – 7.5 days – stories for eternity. Will it work one more time?

LegendsTrail 2020
LegendsTrail 2022
LegendsTrail 2023

Day 3

Some of the competitors of Legends Trail make it to the end: the finisher % of the race has been between 30 and 40 % during the last years (I don’t have access to the exact numbers).

The race saw a total of 195 finishers in all past editions (only considering the kids run distance; 2020 is the year with LT500 happening at the same time so not that representative with regards to finisher statistics). 12 different nations have made it into the finisher stats – Belgium naturally leads the pack with 56.4 %, followed by the Netherlands with 26.2 %. GER and FRA are around 5 % and the rest are more like the exotic finisher countries.

The % of women finishing the LT is at total around 9 % but increasing over the last years.

The average time of the LT250 winners is 48.01 h ranging from 43.03 h in 2018 to 57.35 h in 2016. Since 2019 its rather stable between 46 and 50 h. The average finish time of all runners is 60.08 h – seeing a slight increase from 2020 onwards – more towards 62ish hours.

The % of runners who enjoyed the 3rd sunrise (8 AM Legends Monday – 62 h race time) jumped from almost nothing to 50 % in 2019 and increased to somewhat around 70 % average in 2022/2023. 2020 seems to be an outlier and should not be overrated due to the above mentioned reason (LT500 happening). 2020 also happened to see the worse weather out of 2020-2023 so this may contribute to that high number as well. Overall the difficulty seems to increase over the years at least judging by the percentages of finishers with finisher times over 62 hours. Or we just neglect our training.

Data Source

But what about this third day – what is Day 3 like? First of all its actually race day 4 but no one seems to care about those first 6 LT Friday hours. Day 3 is a very special one. During my three attempts I always made it into Day 3 due to lack of abilities so I got some impressions. What makes the moments around sunrise #3 and the hours til the final cutoff unique is that almost all runners who made it that far have a very high chance to actually finish the Legends Trail. So its still a battle vs. cutoff but the odds are finally a considerable bit better compared to the chances during the first 62 hours. The runners share a dream which is almost real – the one golden moment of crossing the line and getting the beer feels very close and for the first time in the race like a somewhat realistic outcome.

To be absolutely clear – almost no runner left is without more or less serious problems. Pain is omnipresent, every single step needs an unmanageable amount of effort and with 3-5 km/h those last kilometres stretch to eternity.

If you look into those eyes – you can literally see the emptiness, you can see the horror of the past days and some just stare into an invisible nothingness. No one is able to hold long discussions, all ability to switch between languages is finally gone, some even seem to have lost all ability to talk. From an outside perspective it may seem like a nonsense and slow-motion march to an uncertain and unreachable destination. Willingness, remote-controlled.

And yet – within each and every runner there is this fire which is slowly gaining strength. You may find them standing and crying as the emotions slowly return to the destroyed bodies. You may see them standing and staring with an odd smile on their face because they finally allow themselves to believe. You may see them marching next to each other in grim silences but they are getting invisibly pulled by that end which is finally in reach.

I remember quite well meeting some LT safety team members 10k before the LT 2023 finish line with a camera interviewing people. I mean what should I tell them? The amount of thankfulness, the amount of relieve and the amount of emotions – there are no words for that. I think they understood.

Despite the unmanageable amount of discomfort of Day 3 and those final 4-6 hours of Legends Trail – to me those are the most rewarding and satisfying moments possible. They are the reason I am starting that race.

10 years

Back in 2014 we had no idea:

2014 – Limburgs Halfzware 75k

Back in 2015 we asked ourselves some questions:

Limburgs Zwarste 2015 – 100k

Back in 2016 we started to explore…

2016 – random fun

Back in 2017 we met new friends:

2017: DCUrbN 100k

Back in 2018 we tried new things:

2018: TTdR 230k

Back in 2019 we received some Dutch Bling Bling:

LEO180 2019 – 210k

Back in 2020 we explored the darkness:

2020 GR Hageland – 150k

Back in 2021 we figured daylight is also ok:

2021 Krönungsweg Bonn-AC 140k

Back in 2022 we started to conquer the unknown:

2022 The Mystique – 200k

Back in 2023 we started to relax:

2023 Biber Backyard Ultra

And what is next? After thousands of shared kms we rarely meet to run these days. But when we meet its for something big, something new – its for an adventure. On, on we go. Hop hop don’t stop!

Winter Sun

The sunrise of a winter sun during one of those longer adventures is a delicate thing. After 13 to 15 hours of darkness it should bring delight, joy, hope and a lot of other positive feelings – but this does not work properly while running.

Sunrises are beautiful and winter sunrises are amongst the most beautiful ones. The low angle of the sun above the horizon, the blazing hard winter skies sometimes mixed with dark black clouds – amazing.

And yet it feels distant – it feels like something behind a curtain. The hope it should bring feels weakened and faint, the joy it should bring is fragile and the offer of hope is misleading. On the one hand its overwhelming to welcome the sun again – its heartbreaking beautiful – yet, on the other hand, it belongs to a distant and somehow different reality. Its not meant for us – its meant for them. We can’t afford to truly focus on and happily dive into those feelings. We need the energy to endure and to carry on on our adventure. Every tiny bit of energy needs to be channeled into the mission to not give up – to not fail.

The sun during one of those glistening winter days feels hart and cold. Spreading all that lights on the surfaces we are used to seen in 2D LED-cones feels like wasted. All that beauty, all these wonderful reflections on all those wet surfaces are so astounding that its hart to stand. But those are not meant for us. A quick picture for social media and for the time being when the run is over is the max we can afford.

And then the sunset closes in. Way too early – as if we had known it from the beginning that this whole sun show was a big fraud. Showing the beauty of life to some but not to us. Luring us into false positive emotions.

But then – “finally” – darkness rises once more. Bringing back the hopelessness.

It would break us if we weren’t already broken.

And on we go. Into the darkness.

2023

After the pandemic years 2021 and 2022 with the two Slams (Titanic Slam in 2021 and Marvel Slam in 2022) it was finally time to get back to a “normal” schedule in 2023. Whatever that would mean.

February 2023:
As a kind of tradition the long-distance running year started with the Legends Trail in February 2023. It was the usual fight with the elements and with the own body – but at the end it was finish #3 at the third attempt. Maintaining the 100%. Its a race hard to describe but the final thoughts from my race report in February summarize the 280k of emotions quite well:

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.

LT 2023 – The Bus. The Walk. The Paradise.

March 2023:
As a Legends Trail cool-down I decided to enter the flat 24h race in Sittard. A nice and boring course – no excuses at hand for any break. I secretly hoped for a PB (>166k; something in the range of 180k should be doable for I hope) but at the end there was still some tiredness in the body so the mind could not push and required some breaks. I DNFed with a 100 mi attempt – at least the minimum goal was achieved.

April-June 2023:
In April we seized the chance to test out the new hiking trail Venntrilogie, in May we met for a running weekend in Sauerland and finally the first Backyard of 2023 in June – the Biber Backyard Ultra. Tough track for a backyard and mind and body were not really ready that day so it ended early.

July 2023:
Summer. Usually a time unsuited for running. But it was time to collect another long distance and the Schinder Prison Break offered a new format for me and a new chance for some decent running. Even better: as it was an escape running event it involved a lot of planning of the best track on the computer before it even started. Something I really love. The event itself was a great journey. The first night I was alone with my backpack but then I was accompanied by a great crew. The greatest crew. Car support, running without backpack, meeting my friends. It made running in the heat much more comfortable (although it was still a real torture). 48h of escaping and 241k – it was a nice adventure.

Prison Break 2023 – without crew you can’t conquer the desert!

August 2023:
Another transition month – connecting two long events. The home event – the Monschau Marathon – offered a good chance to squeeze in a long run. I never ran the K70 distance before and with a midnight start in Aachen it nicely added up to a 100k training run.

September 2023:
Showtime again. This time further away from home and for the first time in the lovely Vosges region in France. 200k Infernal Trail des Vosges was a well organized event. A bit too big and too commercial compared to what I usually run but a great team and great supporters at start/finish and the various CPs. A midnight start with a burning Infernal logo, a really spicy track, over 10k D+ of elevation gain and a brutiful landscape. On top of this – again hot weather. A tough one – 50 hours of fighting and it was done. It was satisfying to see that these things are doable backed with the experience of the last years. All in all a great trip – thanks to Claudia for the support.

The Vosges@Infernal Trail des Vosges

October-December 2023:
The final period of the year. Plans were made and could not executed. As an alternative and to get another long run in I chose another hiking track which is fairly new on the map of NRW and in a region I’ve never been before. It was a nice run on the Hohe Mark Steig but also pretty lonely and tough in a most of the time empty stretch of land.

In total 5×100 mi+ runs in 2023 – 2 less compared to 2022. Around 3800 km in 2023 – also less km compared to 2022. 72k of D+ in 2023 in total. A difficult year in many aspects but a year with great moments while running and some rare shared moments with good friends.

DateTime[km]#
Legends Trail 202317.02.202366h 56m275,0031
24h Sittard 202318.03.202324h 0m163,0032
Schinder Prison Break 48h 202307.07.202348h 0m241,5933
Infernal Trail des Vosges 202307.09.202350h 14m215,8034
Hohe Mark Steig 202301.11.202328h 36m161,0035
Sum1262h 29m6.676
Average36h 4m190,75
Updated List of Ultras – +5 in 2023
Statshunter as of December 2023 #tilehunter

The picture of the year can only be the one below – curious what 2024 may bring?!

Hydration while running – so important!

It Does Not Matter

An often discussed question while comparing different distance running tasks is: what is more difficult? The only true answer is – it does not matter.

But lets have a look into the various factors which can contribute to difficulty and what they may/should/can mean – or at least: what they mean to me while striving:

Support. Clearly this is a nice to have. Really. It helps a lot to see friendly faces esp. if their supply bottles are full. On the other hand this distracts you. Breaks your rhythm. And no matter how desperate you were waiting for those moments of relieve – at the end they are dangerous. Offering you a possibility for an easy way out. A quick DNF. You cool down (body and mind) quite fast and its getting more and more difficult to get back into it the longer you rest. To leave those nice folks to continue is getting more and more brutal.

Race Atmosphere. Also great. A lot of people source all of their energy from the competition. But to be dependent from this does not help at all. What if you end up in these useless and nonsense adventures you do with a bunch of friends. There is no one competing. No one to run to or away from. Sometimes no one is following what you are doing. What drives you then? What is THE motivation to finish although its stupid? I overcame this a long time ago. I can envision an entry into an excel sheet, a Garmin badge or the chat entry into a group of idiots as my reward and grade it equally high as an official finish at a race. I would have stopped a million times if I needed a race around me (I still enjoy the atmosphere though).

Other Runners. Also a nice thing. Even better if its friends during one of the stupid long adventure runs. On the other hand its not only you then. A certain percentages of their problems become yours as well. If the other(s) DNF what are you going to do? Will you have the guts or will you fall as well? So to be able to manage everything alone is essential. Maybe esp. in the moments where you are not alone. Because everything can happen.

CPs. Similar to support. Really nice. A warm, cozy and safe place if you are lucky. Some food. Friendly people. So why not stay for good? So many runners couldn’t resist the comfort. So enter the door carefully. Brace yourself. Make sure to remain a cold, distant and not belonging atmosphere deep inside you. While eating through delicious Tortellini with ham, cheese and pesto (credits to CP4@LT – you are amazing!) be clear to yourself: your destiny is that dark world outside of that door. All too soon you will need to face the hell again.

Conditions. Nothing to say here really: its the same for everyone. Of course that is a strange statement when its only the two of you out there on that ferry in Ijmuiden with rain and wind howling and punching your face. Its around 4°C but feels like freezing. Its the middle of the night and every human on earth is safely sleeping. But. So? Its the same for everyone. Just shout it often enough into that night until it makes you laugh or believe. Whatever. It does not matter.

At the end it should be crystal clear: it does not matter. Not at all.

What drives me at the end is shear determination. Determination to get the task done. What else would have made me finish?

That one LEO180 at the end of night 2 – alone for what felt like days. With a bad ankle. It hurt quite a bit and although nothing serious it was immensely annoying. I stuffed frozen gras into my socks to cool. Then I met a surprise support which felt nice until I realised that the promised Coke was empty. There I stood. Too far from finish to dream with enough issues for a solid DNF. With my no coke face. But I started to realize that I should accept all my issues. Welcome them. Collect them. Wear them like an invisible crown. Make them my little treasures and make it my task to deliver them to the finish.

That other LEO180. This time it was the two of us. After a horrible second night we were left with 60k and 10h of time limits. Moving with 4-5 km/h. A clear DNF – 0% chance to finish. Both of us were at the very low. But B. came up with a little game. We should run 6k starting from the full hour without any excuses and stops and were then allowed to walk the rest of the hour. We finished with 50min spare.

There are tons of more moments like this – you will find them in all those report across that page. Letting the demons and problems being a part of you has been THE essential thing to get it done. Each and every situation was too much to endure – the relieve of resistance and finally finishing is a priceless reward.

No-Coke-2018

Hohe Mark Steig 2023

The Hohe Mark Steig is the main hiking route in the Naturpark Hohe Mark. Its a pretty recent addition to the hiking trail network and was opened during Corona times. Next to the main route there are tons of shorter side/theme/connection trails. The 6 main stages of the #hohemarksteig from Wesel to Olfen add up to roughly 140k (I started at the train station in Wesel). There is an extra section called “Wasserroute” looping back from Olfen to Haltern am See. All in all it added up to somewhat around 160k – and we all know what that means.

As it was a last minute decision I parked the car in Haltern to be able to have one supply/safe spot after 94k and a secured ride home. After the usual DB experience in the trains between Haltern and Wesel I start around noon from Wesel.

Here is the story of the run:

As a start into the run season with very view CPs I decided to go all in with gear. This means 3-4 L of liquid, 1-2 kg food, a bag of additional/replacement clothing, first aid equipment, a certain amount (ok a rather generous amount) of electronic (power banks/cable). All in all with backpack 10-12 kg.

The Hohe Mark Steig connects like a band the interesting areas in the Naturpark Hohe Mark. As there is a lot of connection needed long stretches of the Hohe Mark Steig are broad and straight forest/open field stretches. Also lots of km following canals/rivers both “on Deich” as well as on asphalt are included. This is worth mentioning for the pure trail guys – nothing for you. The best description would be the german race category “Landschaftslauf”. All in all a wide open, empty and flat area and the Hohe Mark Steig connects it well. The smaller areas like the Venn part at the beginning the Hohe Mark forest as well as “Die Haard” forest are nice to visit (for whatever reason some of them were pretty dark so don’t ask for too many details – I may have missed them). If you are interested in visiting the area but not interested in running it all I would plan 2-3 loop tours starting in Haltern covering Die Haard, Hohe Mark and the lake area. Should be easy to squeeze those day tours out of Hohe Mark Steig and all of those connection trails/theme routes. Also Wesel and the Venn area would make a nice day hike. Lastly to those real ultra runners: go grab an FKT. With support this should be a really fast 100 miler!

I took it easy trying to enjoy the environment as much as doable. Tried to reset the tiredness with a one hour car break from 0230-0330 in the night – repacked food and water as well and started on the last stretch.

All in all a nice little adventure. The feeling of remoteness, endless nights and disconnection with the world is back. Tempted to say finally. It´s the love and hate relationship between real discomfort and the feeling of wandering beyond which defines distance running for me.

Few more pictures:

General Remarks:

Last not least: the marking is really good for 98% of the way. Very view sections are not perfect. The marking did not match the GPX to 100% as well – but this may be my mistake. Also there – its really close and not a big deal. Only those who zoom in on their devices would notice. One thing though: they build up new shelters along the – many of them. Which is great. BUT: there is nothing in – only a small board at the back where you can stand/lean/sit sort of thing. NO bank to properly sit and sleep. I mean – that is clearly a missed opportunity. The official banks you find plenty along the way are nice and purple but only designed so that two people can sit on them. Most of them have no back and are way to short to lay down. Can it be that they are not meant to sleep on? Can’t be or?

Hohe Mark Steig

Change of plans. Instead of the planned long run it will be a shorter edition starting tomorrow around noon. Exploring the Hohe Mark Steig (https://www.hohe-mark-steig.de).

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DNF

By following the live-scoring of the individual Championships of Backyard Running (aka. Big Dog´s Backyard Ultra) which may or may bot approximately half-way of what everyone think could be the limit – there is an interesting terminology to be found on that tracking page.

In normal ultra races there are usually three things which can happen apart from finishing:

DNS: Did Not Start/Show aka “something went wrong and that’s why I couldn’t come”

DSQ: Disqualified aka “oops”

DNF: Did Not Finish aka “‘something‘ happened along the way which, unfortunately, made me diverge from the initial plan of finishing. You know. Well. Fuck.”

The Backyard family added three more detailed sub-levels to DNF – among them one really great one. Those three sub-levels are:

OVER: Backyard-specific expression of finishing (a loop) but over the given time limit of one hour per loop.

DNC: Did Not Complete loop. Well – it says quite clearly what it is. But in an honoring way. Its not a simple DNF – it values somehow the runner who had the guts to start the (most of the time) hopeless try to complete another loop. To go out another time. To fight the overwhelming task.

And then there is:

RTC: Refuse To Continue. And I mean: wow. Its not a simple DNF – its an RTC. A REFUSE to continue. Its a different and way more intense expression of a delicate situation. We all know runners (incl. ourselves) and their (our) various reasons and explanations of why they (we) did not finish a certain run/race. But the deeper story behind most of those “stories” is nicely summarized by the expression: RTC. Because at the end – whomever/whatever we are blaming for our failure – the reason of discontinuing is mostly to be found within ourselves. The strong inner voice, the strong outside discomforts, the whatever – it is our decision and its an active one. We actively refuse to go further because in front of us lays the uncertain beyond, even more misery or whatever makes us pull the easy option. The way out. The instant relief.

And by that I don’t mean to underestimate any effort taken nor want to criticise any RTC. It never comes easy and may be the better/safer/more reasonable/healthier option in many cases.

But still. Did Not Finish is a fact. REFUSE TO CONTINUE requires an active decision. A decision which could have been a different one. It feels like it leaves the door to continue a tiny bit open. Some would say both expressions are the same and technically that’s true. On the other hand – its a completely different view on the things – a view only those can understand who really dealt with certain circumstances…

Next time casualties arise I will try to remember – try to make myself clear that its me, and only me, who is making an active decision to not continue. It will certainly make the decision more difficult and by that hopefully pushing me beyond that point.

Just go on…