Joint Forces

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:

Behind the Curtain

Winter is coming. Soon the running season is over and the ultra running season starts. Finally all the hustle and bustle ends. The trails are slowly but surely emptying again. It gets colder and darker. Rare sunlight spreads over half-frozen muddy, dirty and lonely trails. One is the only human striving through the nothingness. The breath freezes to clouds of mist in front of the headlamp and the crunch of the trail shoes on frozen ground is the only noise to be heard. Miles are coming and miles are going out there in the fresh, ice-cold and crisp shapes.

Blurry figures on the move.

As it will be Corona-winter too and with rising numbers nothing is certain and granted. We are not sure which of our plans will become reality but we want to be prepared.

So my friends and me sat together to review ultra running. Not that ultra running in general was in question but I think there is one thing that unites and drives all of us: the longing of this one feeling. In our post-LT 250/500 race reviews we have been discussing quite a lot about our personal experiences out there and the moments we talked about most were not the ones full of joy or success. But the moments in which one finally understands and accepts the vastness of the surroundings and what a small piece oneself is in this big puzzle. The moments of exceeding the obvious borders the race puts upon you and the awareness that there is more beyond. VPsucher came back from his 360k DH win with similar experiences of sheer existence in the middle of the dunes with no human around for hours. It is a lonely but great feeling. Remote. Tackled. Beaten. And yet: moving and full of determination to finish.

One of the special moments in 2020. And I was only the one taking the picture.

We started to create something to share these moments together with a small group of similar-minded runners and friends. Running and racing on the grounds and in the areas we love with a certain level of difficulty. Rare-support to self-support events of pure running. Enjoying the art of creating the GPX-files and looking forward to fill them with some running. The set of runs we came up with will be challenging enough to have plenty options to fail. We combined them to a set for the real collectors among us.

We may spread the rumours when it seems applicable. Or we may not. Behind the curtain we will do some running of the type we think running should be: low-cost, free of limits, simple and pure. The paths ahead are laid out. Who will be able to follow them until the very end? In a good, old tradition it is meant to start around Halloween 2020.

On? On!

UTDS 2020 – Legends Edition

Olav: „Hey Tim, that does not look elegant anymore“!

And he was right. Damn right. We were around 30 hours into our small ultra running restart session last weekend and I was feeling the usual side effects of being that long on my feet. But let’s start the story from the beginning.

Cow pic.

We (7 funny persons from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany) started at 0758 on Saturday 4th of July in Sart-lez-Spa to conquer the Ultra Tour des Sources track. The UTDS is not only a 157k race but also a way-marked path to challenge interested people. As it covers some nice and for most of us well-known areas of the Ardennes we thought it may be fun to try this with a self-support social run. Maarten was so kind to carefully check and revise the official GPS-track. We discussed some parts of the track and somehow concluded on a few „improvements“ around the nice city Coo. Somehow the original track avoids a few interesting passages. For whatever reason. No one knows. Really. Believe us.

Rest for the wicked.

The first 67k of our little adventure were quite enjoyable yet not too difficult. Unfortunately we lost our first colleague quite early in the game. The remaining six of us run/walked through Spa, visited the nice stream Le Ninglinspo and crossed the river L´ Amblève for the first time. In between we stopped from time to time to refill water and empty some bottles of sweet drinks and were then confronted with the fact that this group would not work until the end. Different reasons made 50% of us to use the track-back option on their watches to head straight back to the car. This still summed up to almost 100k for them.

Break@30k

Ultra running starts when the comfort zone is gone. And to lose half of our friends while running should be a clear sign for this. Maarten, Olav and me as the remaining three directly ran into our first problem. Water. It was a warm and sweaty Saturday and our supply was depleted. The next planned water pickup (cemetery) was still 13k away and we were already out of water. We got away by knocking on friendly peoples door to fill-up and made use of an outside water tap in the next village (we asked before). Refilled we entered the interesting part of the adventure. With the dark the slight rain came and the wind was suddenly present on the heights. Perfect. This is the setting you want to enter the self-improved most difficult part of the whole journey in the middle of the Ardennes. Finally the feeling of the Legends Trail adventure back in February was creeping back into our heads. I realized that I was accompanied by two LT500 finishers who survived a whole week in far worse conditions by watching Maarten and Olav speeding into this as if it was nothing. Impressive. We had a beautiful night. It was wet, cold and warm at the same time, we paused on a cold but dry planked backyard on a hill and we were surprised with a fixed rope route climb we didn’t knew before. Easy. Not.

All is well.

As it is with all good things – this night ended. So did the rain. We were still in and somehow moving. I have to apologize guys from preventing you to do some proper running. We decided to have our first proper stop in a bakery in Malmedy at km 121 Sunday morning. Interesting strategy of us to wait 24h with this. Coffee, Fanta, Ham and Eggs. Nice breakfast. Although strange to sit dirty and smelling within the midst of all the Sunday morning people.

Breakfast@121k

The setting of the last quarter of the track were the Hautes Fagnes. This meant an endless long climb up to Signal de Botrange. Always amazing to reach this highest point. We directly started with our second and last longer indoor break. Soup and Fanta.

Running downhill from that spot means always some beautiful but technical trails. Hard to manage with a stiff and painful body. But these are the moments of ultra running you have to be thankful for. Because beyond these moments the finish tastes even sweeter. We arrived after 33h38m and 162k with 4500 D+ m at the cars. Done. Thanks for this amazing weekend all of you.

At the end we may have not been the most elegant people out there but elegance may also not be the prime reason why we do kind of things.

runalyze.com162.17 km Laufen: UTDS special04.07.2020
1d 09:38:5312:27/km4,516 m
https://runalyze.com/shared/b6ya3

Face to face with LEO

The whole life is determined by the decisions one is making every day.

For example I could have decided long ago to go for a skateboard carreer. The upcoming event LEO180 could then just be one of those fancy moves everyone likes to watch in slow motion on youtube. I can perfeclty envision the setting: the sinking sun flooding the half-pipe with a golden brilliance, a 180 degree turn of the board, captured as a 4k video to share with the community… Seconds of pure perfection.

But I didn´t make that decision. If you would like to capture the real LEO180 you would need a lot of gigabyte storage on your camera, more then 30 hours of time, dozens of powerbanks and the outcome would be horrifying. Hours of pure nothingness, lonelines and meaningles suffering. And even slow motion would not help. Played with reduced speed, the rare movements would seem to stop. Together with the time. Hours of insanity.

Nevertheless it is time to get ready; to prepare for all the worst cases. There are a lot of unusual things to prepare and to take care of this time. First there is something strange with name of the race: LEO180. In all races I´ve been doing so far – a number in the race title was related to a either a distance or a time: STUNT100 (100 miles), TTdR100 (100 miles), 24h of ……… (fill in any location) and so on. But now: LEO180. We were told that the distance will be 191,31 km. I alway though the Netherelands agreed on the SI units but, well, at least we know it early enough. This really asks for the introduction of the new unit „Dutch Kilometer“ aka DuKi. 1 DuKi equals 1,06283333 SI kilometer. How handy. Reprogramming the Garmin right now :).

There are some more seriouy steps in LEO180 race preparation: checking opening times of gas stations, supermarkets etc. along the way; staring hours on the GPS-track to get a feeling for the different sections of the route; planning and preparing food, equipment and drop-back stuff – in short: race time again. A race with only two finishers in last years first edition.

One of the race director posted the documentary about Yiannis Kouros „Forever Running“ on FB. Probably to race our moral :). It is normally a nice thing to watch running videos to get into race mood. But videos about Yiannis? He is unique in history, his achievements and successes will most probably never be beaten by any runner. He is the one telling us that real ultra running starts beyond 24 hours of constant running (which meant for him 240 km on bad days and 300 km on the good ones), he is the one who beat a field of world class ultra runners although race directors let him start one hour behind everyone of them, he is the one winning the Spartathlon in 4 consecutive years with none of thoses times being beaten since then, he is the one with more than 150 world records in ultra running. He is so unhuman in his performance and in his way he interpreted running that it is impossible to take any of his advices or to make use of any of his techniques during your own runs. At the very end of this documentary he finally says something I can fully understand and agree with. Because whatever your capabilities are – at the end of a very long race in which you invested everything of your physical and mental power it is true that:

„The tragedy in our sport is that we can not celebrate our victory when the race is up. In all other sports, when the race is finished, they go to celebrate and rejoice – in our case we can not do anything. The day after the race, you feel like death itself …“

Maybe he is human in that moments.

Thanks Maarten for reminding us of what is impossible 🙂 – haven´t watched that documentary in the last month. Personally I´m really looking forward for the LEO180 challenge. Taking the last weeks into account, I don´t believe that a finish is really possible and likely for me. But you never know. However – I am really looking forward to get to know a bunch of new people, and hopefully a lot of joyful hours with the VPsucher out there!

While thinking about running long distances the picture book „Frederick“ by the Italian writer Leo Lionni comes to my mind. It is about the mouse Frederick and his friends preparing for the long and cold winter. While his friends are busy trying to collect enough food for the long winter, Frederick seems to be of no help at all – telling them he is collecting sunbeams, colors and words. The first time of the winter the mice are happy with all the food and laughing the hard times away. At the middle of the winter however, the food is empty and everyone is getting hungry, angry and sad. It is Fredericks time now. He stands up telling them stories about the warmth of the sun, the colors of the spring and happy stories about the beauty of life and the seasons. All of his friends are happy again, forgetting about all of their troubles.

Although we normally plan our food supply better then these mice – during this long hours in a race the time comes when different things are of higher importance then food and water in terms of not giving up. Do not be afraid when you see us laughing about stupid jokes, singing in the middle of the night, dancing in the middle of the nowhere – we are doing really well in these moments. Collecting stories, jokes and songs for these long hours is definitely an important part of race preparation of the VPsucher/Pfadsucher team.

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