Ice Ice Baby | Legends Trail

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Legends

Reports should be written when emotions are still raw, legs still aching and feet still swollen. So while I'm not in the sharpest state mentally, here goes...

"The Legends Trail is a non-stop, unmarked race over 250km in the Southern part of  Belgium during winter time. Competitors need to have a minimal average speed of 4km/h to finish the grueling course, with only 4 checkpoints, and around 7000D+." (www.legendstrail.com) 

What an adventure it's been! As the experience and emotions from the past few days are still sinking in, so does the gratitude towards everyone involved for making this happen.  

There's only so much you can do in preparing for an event like this. Obviously, you have to train physically. But more important could be the mental part. Reports of past editions are enormously helpful for this. Even those who I consider to be pioneers at ultra-running, seem to have been standing here, feeling equally impressed by the task at hand. During this preparation, I felt very much like standing on the shoulders of giants.

After Great Escape and Bello Gallico last year, this will be my longest distance, adding 90k to the previous. The conditions are tougher as well, with fresh snow (which was a big help in navigating) and lots of icy parts (which had the advantage of low risk of trench-feet), so I felt really small when finding my way to Mormont. Looking around at the starting line, I recognise many people, all of which great runners or hikers, so now is my time to wonder what I'm doing here and whether I have a right to be standing here.

The race

I'm relieved when the group finally gets underway at 6pm and we begin the first section to Hotton. The first 25k or so follow rather technical tracks along the Ourthe, which are very slippery at places. After only 9k, we see a group of people standing around Arnoud, who is tucked away in his survival bag after taking a nasty fall and breaking his leg. I stop briefly to ask if I can be of any assistance, leave my thermos with tea so he has something hot to drink, and continue, trying to lean forward a bit more and keeping my knees bent to sit low and more stable when running. Not the most relaxed running pose but obviously better than the alternative.

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Once out of the valley, the going gets a bit easier. The clouds lift later in the night and once again I feel welcomed by the moon, which always gives me strength. It's hard not to think of it as a sign that tonight is a full moon. At 4AM I reach CP1, dry my feet with a blow-dryer, put on Sealskinz over my Injinji's and have a nice meal. I planned on taking 1h breaks at every CP (except for CP3 where I would like to get some sleep), which seems to be working for me. I am still feeling out of place, not sure if I belong here, but from CP1 to CP2, I am joined by Martino, who is always good company and brightened my mood.

When arriving at CP2 I have some difficulties with the crowdedness of the place. Although I was really looking forward to arriving there, I feel I have to leave as soon as possible again, which feels pretty hard on me. I take care of the essentials and am out the door again in a pretty bad state, lacking the will to continue. So I do the most sensible thing I can come up with, which is calling my girlfriend who is not into running and keeps a healthy distance from "all that running stuff you do". I don't recall the exact conversation, but after hanging up again, I start to feel better. And what would be most important in the end, I feel I was exactly where I need to be and I have the right to be here. Was I just lacking confidence until now? And did I need to admit I was halfway into Legends and things were actually going great? I start to feel I have a real chance of finishing this thing!

I have some encounters with other people along the way and team up for a section with Olivier, Paige, Johan and Pierre. Seeing the icy conditions at Ninglinspo, I'm happy I don't have to pass this section all alone in the middle of the night. Upon leaving the valley, I start feeling the pace of the group is somewhat different to mine, so I am off on my own again. 

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Near Nonceveux (133k) there is an unexpected and unofficial CP. Manned by legendary Sarah and Buzz and loving people like Dave, Imran and Chloe, this really pulls me through and gives me enough energy to get to CP3. More and more convinced I only need to get there in time to get some sleep in order to finish, I am getting properly motivated to finish this.

The descent along Ninglinspo takes longer than anticipated (who would have thought it was going to be slippery?) and I arrive at CP3 (163k) very sleepy and somewhat later than expected. But as my goal was to get some sleep during night-time I am just in time. I sleep for 1,5 - 2 hours instead of the 3 hours I hoped for, and wake up again just before 7am. Not quite what I expected, but I immediately feel ready to get going again. Things aren't so simple however. My sleep-deprived mind isn't cooperating in handling the basic logistics of sorting the drop bag, batteries, socks etc. I keep looking for my dry socks in my drop bag, but I already put them next to my shoes. My sleeping bag somehow doesn't fit into the drop bag any more. I can't find my food for the next section because I already put it in my running pack... Anyway, I'm getting really frustrated with myself and just want to get out in the fresh air again, so I'm afraid I'm not too friendly towards the people helping me out (sorry about that!). Once I'm out, the fresh air wakes me up and I have a nice little cry-session which seems to be part of my better ultra-experiences. Everything falls into place and I start feeling better and better the further I get into this race, which is obviously the complete opposite of what I was expecting. Instead of a fresh start and a grim ending, the first 100k were pretty rough and the next 150 were, well, good going. 

I planned on going slower from CP3 onwards, but as I could keep up my pace from the previous sections I get more or less back on my initial schedule (even after a short nap out in the sunshine on a trail in the middle of nowhere), arriving at CP4 at 4pm. I don't want to lose too much time and take advantage of the remaining daylight, so after having hot food and a 5 minute nap (just to take the sharpness of), I get out again. 

After sunset the wind picks up for a few hours, accompanied by some rain. Conditions get worse very quickly for a brief moment, and it's all too easy to imagine getting into trouble with core temperature at this stage of the race if this weather would keep on. I did put on an additional layer at CP4 before going into the night, and after putting on my hat and hood, I'm thining this rain-jacket is actually really cozy and there's no place I would rather be. When start planning my next checkpoint, thiking I could switch to my second pair of shoes, I realize I am in the final section and the next stop will be the finish line. I am doing this. I am finishing Legends. And I'm enjoying it! Passing over Baraque Fraiture in snowy conditions is somehow easier than during recce, and the people at Ingo's partytent fill me up with a tosti and soup to keep me going. 

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The finish

After almost 58 hours I get back at Mormont on Monday at 3:45, where I pass the finish line coming from the wrong direction. Leave it to me to create a socially awkward situation, even after 250k!

As the Great Escape and Bello Gallico already proved to me, the community surrounding these events is simply amazing. At each CP you are showered with love and attention, everyone wants you to succeed and you are in safe hands. The only thing you need to do is put one foot before the other. Several times that is.

It feels really strange, being welcomed by a group of people after spending the last 150k or 30 hours more or less alone. It feels like I just get back from a different planet, and need to find a way of communicating again. Looking back at this adventure, it is both my strength and weakness of my personality. On the one hand, I can go for miles and miles all by myself, enjoying the solitude on my own pace and drawing energy from within. I can be looking forward to the next CP with enormous anticipation, but re-connecting with people is sometimes very difficult. This can result in disappointments for myself, which almost proved too much at CP2. Contradictory enough, it was also people who got me out of that state of mind. 

For me, Legends has little to do with running. It has everything to do with digging really deep and being curious what you can find at the bottom. Thank you for handing me a shovel and keeping the line secured.