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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in 2017 we started the car to drive to Goirle with the intention to head into a remarkable adventure. We met a lot of people for the first time unsure if we would be welcome – if we would fit into this group. Looking back at that legendary first pre-race evening – it seems like ages ago – there are no doubts left anymore. Tons of memories have been created since then. I would love to tell them all but our time on earth is limited. Although the first edition of LEO180 was a DNF I decided to come back the next years and meanwhile the area feels like home. A home which is also inhabited by loneliness, vastness, lots of sand, pain, exhaustion and empty coke bottles. But still a home.
It is about to start the car again to add another story – whatever the end of this story may be.
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:
Der Pfadsucher hat sich nach dem Helipad 2019 Ende April nun schon viel zu lange auf die faule Haut gelegt. Schon knapp drei Wochen rum und noch nichts Zählbares auf der Uhr seitdem. Wird dringend Zeit das zu ändern! Des Pfadsuchers Fahrplan für dieses Jahr sieht schließlich noch 2-3 Mittelstrecken vor. Als Bonbon gibt es obendrauf eventuell noch eine kurze Langstrecke. Da sollte man sich fit halten.
Langstrecke ist ein gutes Stichwort. Der VPsucher hat sich im November 2017 das erste Mal solo im Nonstop-Langstrecken-Bereich umgesehen, 2018 haben wir es mit Support zunächst zusammen und der Pfadsucher anschließend noch solo geschafft sich dieser neuen Disziplin zu nähern.
Bisher war es eher zaghaft, doch bald wird der VPsucher ernst machen. In wenigen Wochen wird er versuchen die Langstrecke endgültig zu erobern. 362k nonstop – unvorstellbar. Es wird spannend – stay tuned! Bis dahin gilt es in Bewegung zu bleiben. Heute Abend gehts endlich mal wieder zu zweit in auf den Trail. Ein bisschen die Beine ausschütteln.
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?“
If you don’t beat him you don’t deserve that beer!
Eine Straße. Endlich. Ein kurzer Blick nach links: 2-3 Häuser recht weit weg. Rechts ist überhaupt nichts zu sehen. Überhaupt ist es recht kalt und dunkel. Liegt vielleicht daran, dass es ungefähr 0300 am Morgen ist. Im November. Leichter Regen hat eingesetzt und es sind gefühlt 3 Grad Celsius.
Das soll reichen. Der SOS-Knopf auf der linken Schulter ist schon gedrückt. Die Absprachen schon getroffen. In 10 Kilometern, also ungefähr bei der nächsten Straße wird das Auto stehen.
In den letzten endlosen und letztlich erfolglosen Stunden des Kampfes mit dem eigenen Willen ist einfach zu viel verloren gegangen. Und zwar genug um die Aufgabe einfach genug zu machen. Zu bedrückend die Weite und Leere der Gegend. Zu viel musste schon früh im Rennen mit den Emotionen gearbeitet werden. Und dann ist er da der Punkt an dem alles kalt und leer bleibt. Die Energie aufgebraucht ist. Die kalt-nasse Novembernacht ist ins Herz und in den Kopf gekrochen.
Das alles war im November 2017. Am Ende einer lauftechnisch sehr schlechten Periode für den Pfadsucher. In der Rückschau bleibt das Erlebte sehr eindrucksvoll. Der Lauf und die Strecke haben es von den Bedingungen und Anforderungen einfach in sich. Wie gemacht um dort im Herzen der Niederlande einfach „verloren“ zu gehen. Über allem steht das Motte „It is better to go too far, than not far enough“ – aber es gibt einen Punkt da ist es einfach zu viel.
Es kommt immer mal wieder einer dieser Tage, an dem man eine Entscheidung treffen muss. Angesichts des gerade Geschriebenen verbietet sich jede Illusion:
das scheint weit weg von möglich oder vernünftig
diese Strecke ist so einsam und erscheint dadurch doppelt endlos
die Strapazen für Kopf und Körper sind nicht zu unterschätzen
die Chance auf ein happy end scheinen verschwindend gering
Fazit: unter diesen Bedingungen hat es keinen Sinn!
Auf der anderen Seit muss man im Auge behalten, dass sich an den Bedingungen für die 2018er Edition ein entscheidendes Detail ändern wird: die Strecke wird um 10 km verlängert – bei gleichem Zeitlimit. Daraus ergibt sich:
das Tempo muss um 4,64 m/min von 88,46 m/min auf 93,10 m/min gesteigert werden. FAST FÜNF METER – JEDE EINZELNE MINUTE! ÜBER 2000 MINUTEN LANG!
ob bei dem Tempo alle Abzweige zu finden sein werden ist mehr als fraglich
immerhin werden wir nicht durch weitere offizielle VPs aufgehalten – deren Zahl bleibt bei 1
Fazit: ist wie wenn man nen hässlichen Stein umdreht um zu sehen, dass die Unterseite noch hässlicher ist.
Ok – a few more words about the last weekend. Everything started with watching dots on the live tracking page of the LEO180 2016, a short question via FB, a short registration form, some thoughts and then there is that moment when you are knocking on Maartens door. There were a lot of people already there – all of them never seen before. And it takes only a few minutes for you to feel at home. Jokes, race experiences, pasta plus a „funny“ one hour watching and laughing about Yiannis – a nice evening. After a short night with interrupted sleep it is already 0600 Saturday morning, and nine runners are standing at a random street in the NL – packed and ready.
From that time on everything was as it should be: Pfadsucher and VPsucher together on their way through a truely beautiful track covering a best of of the middle of nowhere parts in the heart of the NL. Nice selection. We both felt strong and had a really good pace at the first 87 km towards the only real aid. By the way – thanks for all the spots in between where we could meet and greet various selections of organizators/supporters. We had an almost daylight finish on the 87 km aid station – perfect in plan and not bad placed in the whole field.
The next part of the race between km 93 and 118 is a really tough one but we made it quite ok. Everyone who have been out there knows – you just have to find a solution for this part and make sure to forget everything as soon as possible after you left this part.
Beyond that part the race, the running and everything was again really difficult for me. There were some few things adding up, but the real problem was the mind. As always. Lets make it a short story: at km 130 I decided to quit for what felt there to be countless of reasons. It was a horrible decision. Even more horrible to walk the next 9k of the race with a speed that would allow a finish. There was enough time, the usual problems were not too severe, the sun was about to say hello in 3 hours. You are asked if you really want to quit, you are asked if it is ok for you if the VPsucher continues… Sure, it is ok. And yes it is still good to be around, to watch what is not longer your race, to see them running again, to welcome most of them at the finish line. All of that is ok. But it is also tough. See them doing what should be your job. This will keep me thinking for quite a while.
At the end we had a really nice weekend. Thanks for all the fun, the support, the nice conversations, the place to sleep plus all your spirit and thoughts about ultra running. And thanks for the invitation for next years LEO180! I will think about it. At the moment the probability of me returning is not too high – but this might change. So long – stay strong and running: Yiannis is watching you!
The list of the 5 heroes finishing the LEO180 2017 can be found here.