Another one bites the dust

A dusty road to a sure DNF

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Loop 21 in Another one Bites the Dust has just started. Eight of us started this race with the goal of finishing 28 loops and completing the Legends Slam. Arno unfortunately already dropped out, and he's not one to give up without a fight. I try to keep up with the other runners, but they all disappear out of sight much too quickly. I try to speed up as the 6,4k loop is too long to finish by only walking it. But after only 50 meters jogging my heart rate goes through the roof again and my breathing can't catch up. I need to run, or I will be timed out in 50 minutes. 10 minutes ago, I was laying on my back in the grass, trying to lower my body temperature by showering myself with the cool water from the garden hose. I dunked my head in Oskars water bowl just before leaving (the things this dog needs to put up with), it all didn't work. I'm so thirsty I could drink the small pond we pass by, but the thought of drinking water makes me want to throw up. It feels like it's been ages since I last ate or drank, and I feel empty and nauseous. Is this how it feels? Being unable to continue and needing to drop out of a race?

If I could just make it through this and the next loop, the afternoon heat will have passed and I have a chance on finishing. Ann is catching up with me. I don't make an effort to speed up anymore. After 21 loops and ±130k, I'm dropping out of this race. I wonder whether I will regret this afterwards. But you can only regret things you have decided on, no? And this doesn't feel like a decision, but a recognition of facts. This is not my race. There's no standing on a summit in the middle of the night. There's no cold wind, no hills, no rain. I'm sorry for Chloe, Ingo, Arnoud, the Legends RD's and the volunteers who did everything they could to get me to the finish line in this and previous events. I'm sorry for Charlotte, she will never hear the end of this. Maybe Legends is all about exploring limits. I reached mine. Anyway... time to bite the dust. Time to take my name of the blackboard and recognize my defeat.


The Legends Slam

Ok ok, enough with the drama! I hope writing this report will give closure and a possibility to start preparing for the next challenge (snowy mountains, yay!). After Fré handed me an unofficial Kerel finisher beer and I had a short chat with her, I already knew not finishing these last loops wasn't going to be the decisive factor when looking back on this journey. Heck, I completed 96% of the total mileage, including three races I absolutely loved. It got me to other races as well. And it opened up a world to me, full of adventures and challenges. This is not what defeat feels like. This is what gratitude feels like. I've been able to take some huge leaps in this crazy ride by getting all the support from the Legends community.

 

September - The Great Escape | 100 miles - 6000m D+

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The first race in the Slam is the Great Escape, following the Lee and Eisleck trails from Ettelbruck in Luxemburg to Maboge in the Belgian Ardennes. The final part of the official (and permanently way-marked) trail is the least interesting part of the route, so the event follows a more adventurous alternative. I was very lucky to have enough time in my first 100 miler to enjoy the last 60k with Ingo, creating a bond that will never be broken. I suspect this will also be what remains, looking back on these adventures. I've met some people who I will never forget, no matter what the future might bring. People who don't always follow the blueprint of our society, but are strong and wise and pave their own way according to their own values. People who have hit the ground hard, pull themselves up again and continue their journey through life. People to look up to. No, it's not about running.

 

December - Bello Gallico | 100 miles - 2000m D+

Bello Gallico

What better way to celebrate this community than by having a fun run the week before Christmas? Twice the same 80k loop in Flanders, once clockwise, once counter-clockwise. Some cobblestones, some mud and a few forest roads. The nice thing about Bello Gallico is that you meet the faster runners in their second lap, coming from the other direction at the end of your first lap. Seeing those guys speeding along after 100k is an impressive sight. For a middle of the pack runner like myself, the finish is on Sunday morning, just in time for beer and a Christmas dinner after receiving a medal and a hug on the central stage. And to have been able to run a big part of the race with Chloe, one of the most inspiring, modest and wise people I have met, is quite a gift.

 

March - Legends Trail | 250k - 8500m D+

Legends Trail

After finishing Bello Gallico, I started wondering whether I might have a chance on finishing Legends Trail as well, something I would not even have considered a few months earlier. As there's only one way to find out, I started preparing by joining some recce's together with other participants. Knowing the route would come in handy during this 250k unmarked course for sure, especially during the last 50k which are done in the third night. And when the recces feel like an adventure, you know this is going to be good. The race itself is held in the beginning of March, already with some more daylight than during Bello Gallico in December, but in proper winter conditions and in a tougher environment. I've been to the Ardennes plenty of times, but I hadn't seen the Ourthe frozen yet. There where only four checkpoints, which were more like life-bases, giving me all the space and time in between to continue on my own pace. The race itself went unexpectedly well for myself. The first 100k I had some difficulty finding my place and pace, but from the second checkpoint I got into it. It's quite strange, looking back on Legends and thinking how easy this went, but I absolutely loved it.

Things were going the other direction in the final race.

 

June - Another one Bites the Dust | 100 miles

One of the prettiest sounding words I know in Dutch is "ringeloren". "Je laten ringeloren" means as much as getting yourself into a position you didn't want or foresee because of the cunning of someone else (the origins are to be found in putting a ring through the ear of a cow or bull). This pretty describes how I felt at the starting line of Another One Bites the Dust (AOBTD), the fourth and final race to complete the Legends Slam. After finishing the other three races, obviously I wanted to try and be one of the first group of finishers including some truly exceptional athletes. During the first three races I had my share of difficulties, but this was nothing compared to this one. During AOBTD, you have to complete 100 miles by completing the 5,9k (or was it 6,4?) loop 28 times, starting the next loop on the hour. This might sound easy, but it is hard not being able to take a break longer than 5-10 minutes unless you go quite fast for one loop. And there's no margin for troubleshooting. On the other hand, you have to take a break before starting the next loop, so I found it impossible to get into a flow. Add to this the warmest day of the year so far (it probably was a bit above 30 degrees but it felt like 50) and you know you're in trouble. I did manage to take two very short naps during the night, so I could start the morning in a decent state. And listening to an audio book (World War Z!) made some nightly loops pass quickly. Having a support crew so I could ask for whatever I wanted (except a piggy back ride) ready for the next break gave a lot of extra time to relax and catch my breath. But once the sun came up, in the tenth loop or so, I didn't feel entirely alright. Breakfast was provided, but although I was hungry I wasn't eating enough. This continued during the next laps, and although it was getting warmer and I was getting more thirsty each round, I didn't dare drinking because I felt I would be throwing up. In other races, this isn't a problem as I just slow down a bit until I got some nutrition in and my stomach settles, but this was no option here. Around 2pm I knew I was getting in trouble. I hadn't been drinking enough, and my body didn't cool down anymore during the breaks, which seemed to get shorter every hour. The 21st loop I didn't complete in time, and at 5pm I was out of the race.

I would have loved finishing the Slam, to be part of that final group of finishers (together with Arno). But on the other hand, I can't look back on this and see failure. The people I met, the friends I made, the adventures I experienced, the boundaries overcome again and again these last few months mean so much more. Not reaching a goal in a race that has nothing to do with the reasons why I love the outdoors shouldn't take away any of this. Obviously I would have been honoured to have seen this materialised in a finisher medal, but this is not what this has been about. Maybe I didn't push myself hard enough? After all, I wasn't throwing up or crawling to the finish line. Maybe I didn't want this badly enough, and extrinsic motivation wasn't enough? So maybe, this is just how it is supposed to be? I'm sure there are a few life-lessons to be found for myself here. We'll see.

If you have read this report so far, and you have supported me in one way or the other by running with me, standing on a crossroad during a race in winter or preparing food, know this has been such a rich experience I will never be able to fully grasp it. I hope to see you next time. Thank you.

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Mervyn Van Gompel