It was one of the moments I realized what I would be facing – in the first night approaching a climb I saw headlamps. But not somewhere in front of me but literally ABOVE me. I stopped for a moment hoping it was the moon or some bright stars shining through the trees but no: those were cleary moving LEDs. Seconds later the crawl started.
L´ Infernal Trail des Vosges is an (ultra) trail race in the Vosges mountains in the North-East of France. Covering distances from 15 to 200k this event is for everyone. And apparently everyone accepts the invite. The tiny town Saint-Nabord turns into a huge trail running festival for a whole really long weekend in September (2023 was the 15th edition of the event). Some of the shorter distances have more than 500 participants – a whole runners village/expo is built up – a sound system, light shows, fire work – you name it. Normally nothing I desperately hope for but the vibe was great – festival feeling. 700+ volunteers work relentlessly to run the village and all CP along the course. Although you don’t get anywhere with English they do their best to care about you and whatever which you may have. Big shoutout to orga/volunteers – this was an amazing job. Magnifique!
Luckily the #IT200 as the longest race starts first – so the hustle and bustle was not too bizarre at the start. I am lucky to have great friends and could take the train to Freiburg where I was picked-up and brought to the start (and picked-up after the finish on Sunday). What a service – thank you! Midnight start is not my favourite kind of thing as it just adds more sleep deprivation to the story. We arrived in Saint-Narbord 3 hours before start – enough time to place the drop-backs, check the backpack, make it through the kit check into the huge start area to wait for the start.
What a start it was. After a few probably useful information in French which I did not understand we were ask to quiet down and epic music was played culminating in the countdown to start. A proper firework, more music and a burning L´ Infernal logo sent us off into the Vosges night – pretty emotional for a start.
Although I obviously checked the track, the total distance and the elevation gain quite a bit upfront to the race I was unsure how this would actually feel in reality. The first climb made one thing really clear: it was going to be brutal. From the LegendsTrails runs I am used to ridiculous climbing but the Vosges are higher and steeper compared to the Ardennes. Overall it was a bit less technical (e.g. there is no Ourthe part in IT200) – but only a tiny bit. There were Mountainbike parks, ski slopes, senseless up and down on small rivers, straight and direct climbs with more than 30% slope – both up and down. In summary: a real brutal and pure ultra experience. And it never stopped – there was no mercy with the runners at all. One hit after the other. Something which drains you both physically and mentally until you are stripped-down to your core with nothing left. To continue in this stage is what ultra is all about. On top of this the weather added another difficulty with bright and sunny days with 30°C on Friday and even a bit hotter on Saturday. Heat can be a real problem. Nothing you need on top of the above described.
On the other hand: Vosges – how beautiful are you? Superb landscape, fantastique views! Not too many people out there – a perfect area. It was a great journey through those valley and over all those hills/mountains.
The checkpoints provided the needed breaks from all of that. In addition to the CP there were some unmanned water points dividing difficult stretches – well organized. Always enough water and supply at hand even in hot conditions (although there were stretches where I consumed 2L of water). The strategy for me could only be: stay focused and don’t do mistakes. So I set the watch timer to one hour and took a salt pill every hour and made sure to drink enough. This saved me from heat damage and worked really well in the given conditions. The rest was the usual fight. There were dark moments with lowered motivation, there were critical situation especially in the third night (unstable running, deadly tiredness, loss of focus, being chased by hornets) – but I was awaiting and embracing them and therewith taking their force away. At a few checkpoints I closed my eyes for 10-15 min each: this helped to ease the moments of fatigue so that I did not need to sleep on trail.
Overall everything worked-out as well as I could possibly hope for. Crossing the finish line at 0214 in the third night after 50h and 14 min of travelling through the Vosges was a great relieve.
A nice finisher hoodie, a worn empty bottle of coke were the rewards of yet another great, rough and truly ultra experience.
Clear recommendation for everyone who wants to push beyond. Be warned – the elevation is really extraordinary outside of the real mountains.
The final preparations are in full flow. Amazing friends agreed to offer support. That means I will see a friendly face after around 100k which will give me the opportunity to refill the supplies and to lighten the backpack a bit for some parts of the following stretches. From that point onwards I will always have support which will have my back, push me and fasten up the re-supply. Thanks a lot already now.
The race starts Friday evening 1800 which means that there will be time until Sunday evening 1800 to get as far as possible from the given start point.
There will be several possibilities to follow that interesting race format. The hashtag of the race is #schinderprisonbreak – so keep an eye on that one. My IG profile will also hold a few updates Friday – Sunday:
The best update will be – as always – through the live tracking possibilities by the Legends Tracking folks. There is a live tracking from the race as well as my tracker which will be active mainly for the support crew to see the planned track as well.
Enough is enough. Temperatures reaching above 20°C levels, daylight is almost days long… Time for the usual summer hibernation to endure this period until, finally, the darkness, the mud and the cold return.
So what are those distance runner doing? Some have been spotted to try to adapt with sophisticated drinking strategies to prevent dehydration:
Some have been spotted trying to hide somewhere at random destructive places:
Some found new homes:
So time to say goodbye for now – until the distance season returns.
A new hiking track in our area with available GPX track; not officially announced/opened yet – of course our attention was drawn. So we packed our bags, submitted the track to the Fastest Known Time website (to be on the safe side) and took the bus from Aachen to Bütgenbach.
We started this little adventure close to 8 pm on Saturday evening (22.04.2023) in Bütgenbach. The first section from Bütgenbach to Malmedy (first 22 km) covered some new sections for some of us – nice paths along the river Warche. The part from Malmedy to Signal de Botrange uses tracks also covered by the Dark World Bonus Loop. Following the river Hill the downhill to Eupen comes up with a lot of new planked paths which have been build the last months specific for the Venntrilogie. With the sun now being up and the warmer conditions we decided to refill water at the cemetery in Raeren as this would keep us in the unsupported section with regards to FKT listing. Surprisingly the track from Raeren to the Drielandenpunt covered some new combinations of paths – good to update the memories and inner map of a rather well-known area.
Unfortunately running was not within the abilities of the Pfadsucher we had to hike a lot. In the restarting rain we finished the 108 km in 19h53m. All in all a nice connection of interesting and beautiful areas within the Euregio.
In Long Distance Running there is the tendency to form fellowships to push-through together. Although these may be unique and useful relationships it’s a thin line between success and failure of such fellowships. To not be mistaken: if it works out it may be the greatest experience you will ever have and create live-long memories.
Personally I would never commit to a long run together by default unless I know the partner(s) extremely well. And by extremely well I mean extraordinary well. It´s more the sort of: in literally every imaginable situation I know how the other will react and we have a plan for this. Obviously this needs to be true for the other fellows with regards to your reactions as well or this does not work.
The common issue with this is that every imaginable situation is a wide playing field when being out there for days.
And again – there are plenty of good reasons to form fellowships. First of all things are in general more enjoyable together. To go through rough situations and being able to laugh about or fight through together is really great and can help a lot. You can support another with motivation, gear, food – whatever may be needed. You can benefit from key abilities and share responsibilities: while one is navigating the other can take a mental “rest” and just follow, the other may have the spare food or clothing which could substantially help yourself, the other can remind yourself to keep up with food/water. A relationship which is beneficial for everyone which at the same time helps the time to pass a bit faster. Really helpful.
But what if that’s simply not enough? What if it all starts to be a burden rather than a supportive combination? Do you have these situation planned and covered as well?
What if that walking-running mixture the fellow is doing simply fucks you up? Will you be able to tell him/her? Do you know what the consequences are to stick together for you and your idea of the faith of your personal journey? Are you really sure that sticking together and enduring this situation is not only temporarily ok but will not backfire on you later in the run?
What if the hard time your mate is going through is totally fine for you and in principle you are ok to just walk/rest for a few minutes/hours until its get better but by having a realistic look on your watch you realize that you start failing on cutoff. Will you tell your buddy: listen: you seriously need to speed-up or I will need to leave you for good and speed-up alone? Can you cope with that? Did you discuss that upfront? Does your fellow know that this reaction may come and does he/she has a plan to not break immediately when facing this so that there is a chance that – once more energy is back – your fellow can continue his/her own fight with the potential to reach some dreams?
What if breaking the fellowship is needed – is everyone prepared for this so that it does not mean the end of running for one or the other? Although running together everyone should be always prepared for running alone by all means. Expect the worse to happen. At any time. Whatever your exit strategy may be – its advisable to have it at hand. It may be simple things like having you earphones ready when it comes to that point.
After all all members of such fellowships have different dreams and expectations and even more important: different level of determination to reach them. It’s impossible to be united on these and it’s even more impossible to have similar exit strategies when all goes down the drain. To at least have a rough understanding what the other may need in these end-of-world situations will be a huge advantage for the faith of your fellowship. Even if it means to split up.
There have been situations in which I told someone to speed-up because we were running short on cut-off although I knew the other was destroyed at that moment. There have been horrible nights with significant weather in which the running/walking/rest routines could not be synchronized anymore – in one of them we decided to split. Although this was a significant risk as the both the inside and outside conditions were calling for DNF we made the decision. On both ends there was hope it could work-out and after hours of horror for both of us it was a relieve to see the other headlamp again on the horizon: at the end it was the perfect decision and had the desired effect.
Having a dream and an overwhelming desire to reach this is key in Long Distance Running. Shared dreams is something you may hope for at the start line but is something you need to put a lot of effort in while running while on the same time you want to be ready to follow your personal dream with no excuses. Shared dreams are for sure worth to work for but sticking together for too long may become a disaster. If it works out though it’s purest gold.
When you are stripped down to your pure core the world is a different one. A world with a different intensity – with a different meaning of things – with a different heartbeat. It’s the world beyond the curtain. It’s the world of the happy few – a pure experience.
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.
This years Legends Trail had some few changes. The track was only uploaded to the various GPS devices at race registration and what became clear at that very moment: the start was not the finish – we had to take a little bus tour to the start location. Registration was without major problems. Always nice to meet the Legends Trail Family members, have a quick chat and discuss the upcoming. After getting through the check-in I went back to the car to eat something and have some minutes of sleep and relaxation before it all would finally start. I also had some glances on the map – lots of familiar parts but also bigger stretches I have never seen before (or could not remember). The hour before the start all runners group in one room and you can basically touch the excitement in the air. A quick briefing followed by the bus ride to the start – a fast countdown and off we were. Start time was Friday 17.02.2023 19:00.
Start – CP1 – Night #1:
Nice idea to go to Barrage de Nisramont for the start. With this little change the famous Ourthe parts could be in this years edition as well. For me this meant flashbacks to the Nightcrawler run back in November. The memories were still fresh so I was warned. I deliberately stayed in the first half of the pack (95 starters in total) to be able to define my tempo up and downhill and to not loose time to whatever happens to the other runners. I was already thinking of the bigger picture with regards to cut-off timing. Legends Trail for a slow runner like me means: there is zero room for mistakes. Efficiency and accuracy in running, navigation together with lack of stupid decisions is key to success. Ourthe was beautiful but brutal. The whole valley was flooded by our headlamps and the blinking red lights on our backs. Amazing reflections – amazing mood. A focused worm of light battling through the steep climbs, relentless paths on the edge of the water. It all worked out quite well for me. On our way from Ourthe to CP1 we also past the start/finish location from Legends Trail 2020 – happy memories. I think we have to thank dear Olav for inventing the hashtag #noourthenoparty – so happy to see this one is pretty famous by now. Good things are meant to stay. Reached CP1 in the early dark and cold morning hours of Saturday. The usual routine took place – repacking food, refilling water and coke, have to helpings of the amazing pasta, unpack the feet to let them rest and dry a bit – repacking everything and re-start on the next stretch.
CP1 – CP2 – Day #1:
The stretch to Malmedy. Malmedy is an area everyone would normally skip but hey – it’s Legends Trail. Malmedy is famous for ridiculous climbs so we were warned that the finish of that stretch was bound to be horrible. Even more important to get some running done at the beginning to make up some time. The weather was so matching to the tasks ahead. It was all grey and dizzy. The light drizzle which has accompanying us in the first night continued throughout the day. It was not really getting “light”. Nice for a race with 3 full nights in – more feelings of darkness. There was another tiny problem on our way to Malmedy: greater Coo area. It goes without saying that all the really tough climbs of that area made it through the final selection: we had to climb “The Bassin”, “The Iceberg” and some more in that area. Pleased with the selection. The final part to Malmedy was then as expected – we could see the city quite early but whenever we were almost there the track turned back for some more climbing. It requires some mental stability to cope with that. The food on CP2 was rice with chicken curry – delicious two helpings. Met Tim and Fre – they seemed to be happy how the race evolved. Francois was there as well and took care of my feet – thanks a million my friend. Next stretch would be Hautes Fagnes in the night. Actually a well-known area I really like. But with 120 km in and the second night it would not be exactly easy. I decided to gear up with regards to warm/waterproof clothing and expected the worst when leaving CP2.
CP2 – CP3 – Night #2:
It should live up to my expectations. The weather intensified to a stronger drizzle and the wind was a more stormy one. This mixtures made it extremely uncomfortable to be out. It reduced the view to barely nothing; although above 0°C it felt like minus temps. It even came to a point where covering the face seemed to be a good idea. Despite the clothing I felt immensely cold and was not the only one. And yes next to these things there was Hautes Fagnes. In top form. Completely wet and overwhelmingly muddy. Even with some fresh tree cutting which meant some 100 meters of stumbling through the mess. Not entirely sure what was more horrible – climbing up and down the Fagnes rivers/valley or the exposed stretches up there. All in all harder than expected. Getting really tired I lay down for 20 minutes on trail in my safety blanket and this at least helped to reduce the optical illusions of huts, beds, things you can lay down on to a certain extend. It was getting ultra. Slowly but surely. Pretty crashed I arrived at CP3 where there was mashed potatoes/stew/vegetables on the dining menu. More than welcome. It was one of the moments with tiny doubts. Haute Fagnes was survived but to a rather high price. The finish was still too far way to be a realistic thing to dream of. But well. It was light again, there are still a few hours spare to cut-off – so gear up and go.
CP3- CP4 – Day #2:
The stretch near Spa/Theux. The well-known Olne-Spa-Olne area. I was wondering which part made it in. The weather was getting more stable bits by bits. The rain seemed to ultimately stop. This was certainly a plus. The goal was clear – make as much as possible during daylight and then be in at around midnight at CP4 to have 2-3 hours spare to cut-off. The daylight part of the stretch was ok. I slowly allowed myself to think about the finish which was boosting the mood. The approaching darkness destroyed all hope again. I suddenly started to feel all the strain, all the exhaustion and all the effort which lay behind me. This together with some really funny climbs made this to another critical point. I managed to calm down again and stabilize myself and my movement (which is crucial when climbing muddy “paths” where every misstep could have horrible consequences). Really tough hours but luckily the plan to be at around midnight at CP4 worked out. The menu was Tortellini with bacon and pesto. Was my favorite already last year and was pure heaven in that third night. The clouds meanwhile were gone completely meaning that cold would be a problem to live with. A final time repacking everything, putting warmer layers on, thank everyone at CP4. A weird feeling. An overwhelming exhaustion mixed with the certainty that once CP4 was behind me the finish possibility would jump from a mere dream to exactly this: a realistic option.
CP4 – Finish – Night #3 / Day #3:
With no real clue of what was waiting the only option was to stay focused and work hard to not to slow down too much. Everyone at CP4 warned about the last stretch and indeed we were not disappointed. Especially the first half in the darkness was Legends Trails at its finest with 6 km Ninglinspo between km 240 – 246 as the ultimate highlight. I mean how could they. No one would allow half-concious people do these parts. No one. Another mean climb was waiting before reaching the last safe spot – CP4.1 – Chez Ingo. The boss itself was there and nothing is better than a few toasties in the very early morning. What a feeling – morning number 3 was creeping up, the toughest climbs of the last section were done and although the rest would not be exactly easy the job was finally getting easier. Keep an eye on the timing – enjoy some coke in the early morning sun – and approach the finish. Some parts where running was possible – really welcome. Every done km a gift. And nature was a blast in this early Monday morning. Having to climb up to quite a bit the views running down were stunning. Very emotional section. Almost certain timing would work out – out there in the wonderful Ardennes Bleue – what could be better. Funnily we came close to a village called Paradis… I really should stop crying when finally reaching that line. And then it was over. Shaking hand with Tim became a tradition the last years – don’t want to miss these moments.
3 starts at Legends Trail – 3 finishes: 2020, 2022 and 2023 – clean sheet/100% aka. triple. Pretty ok!
281.66 km – 66:56:23 total race time – 5:09:35 pause at CPs – 10181 m D+ – 40 min of sleep (2 x 20 minutes in night #2 Hautes Fagnes and night #3 before Ninglinspo area).
Navigation was carried out on my Fenix 6X Pro. So happy how well that works – what a brilliant watch. Didn’t need my backup handheld at all.
2022 vs. 2023
There were a lot of discussions about LT22 vs. LT23. Although not relevant below two graphs comparing LT22 to LT23. For me LT23 was 3 s/km slower compared to LT23 – in total 14 minutes difference (basically nothing). Comparing the two Climb Score graphics in Runalyze the difference between both editions gets bit clearer. Climb Score elevated from 9.6 to 9.8 – almost a 10.0. Talking to Tim before the start once the tracks were clear: its really difficult for such a long distance and the distant areas to find good connection parts. You don’t want to eliminate the highlights but need to connect them logically. From my own experience with creating tracks Tim and his team are close to perfection. A Climb Score of 10 is something you can achieve on a hill rep-style run like Iceberg but it will be almost impossible to get the Legends Trail to this level. LT23 was close enough, definitely brutal enough and great combination – honours to the creators. Now I only need to stop myself and not try to draw a combination myself.
In a lot of movies there are these key scenes where the heroes of the whatever stories live-through an important change. A change from bad to good, a change from deepest sorrow to sheer luck or the rediscovery of a supposedly forever-gone knowledge/ability/emotion. It starts with faintest memories of it which slowly but surely solidify and finally fully returns so that the whatever story hero can thrive again and complete the story to its destined end.
Distance running can as well feel long-gone during certain periods. Periods with (almost) no running; periods in which each step feels like a wasted effort. May it be periods of injury, periods full with this emotional/physical emptiness after a tough adventure or just periods in which life had different challenges along the way which did not leave enough time for running.
Some things never completely vanish.
Staring into the pouring rain outside –
– faint memories of literally climbing steep trails which turned into rivers due to heavy rain suddenly appear in front of the inner eye
– or that one glorious moment of stupidly crossing a well-filled and tearing river up there in Hautes Fagnes in mid-winter in ice-cold water
Walking back that few steps from the car into the warmth at a freezing day –
– remember these ice-cold km where we discussed for hours how best we would wrap ourselves with gold foil as an extra layer of clothing (one day that moment will come)
– or this day where we desperately wanted to rest for a few minutes but it was just too cold to stand/sit still
Lying down in the warm bed –
– we lost count of the nights without sleep full of running/walking/crawling/hoping/hallucinating somewhere out there
– all the countless 10-30 min sleep breaks plain on the ground protected with a thin crackling aluminum foil – uncomfortable, painful moments of awful power-naps just to endure horrible first km of restarting shivering with the whole body
– the sound of dripping rain on aluminum
– or that glorious break where we “broke-in” into that small barn and lay down on a almost unbelievably comfortable hay stacks
Arriving at the car on an average day –
– ok, no mistakes now: unpack, undress, get dry cloth on, empty trash from backpack, refill water bladder, refill coke bottle, repack food, replace batteries in whatever devices, sit in car, power-bank phone and watch, eat for 10 minutes, sleep for max. 30 min, GET OUT OF THAT CAR AND CONTINUE
All is well – those are memories from the past. No one would deliberately want to re-life all of this. No one.
Some of those batteries are probably charged. Oh look: the tracker – just charged it yesterday. And, how funny, the watch is fully charged and has some .gpx files loaded. After all: what is that little bit of rain, snow and darkness. I better pack the head lamp. And a spare battery. Some of those gels are close to expiry date. Oh wow – still 10 emergency blankets left (ALWAYS PACK AT LEAST TWO). Will I need the poles? Let me activate the guys