Hitting the wall

Pheidippides drew the best straw, he’ll be the one bringing the good news. He’s nervous because of the honour and he’s still tired from the battle. “The Persians outnumbered us, but we were smarter”, he thinks when running to Athens. Without stopping he arrives, shouts: “We’ve won!” and pegs out. It’s the year 490 before Christ.

Two-and-a-half thousand years after this hero we think it’s a good idea to run a marathon. Never before we’ve trained for a goal. To prepare for such a distance we’re using a training schedule from the internet. Charissa has bad luck and gets hurt just before the marathon. Then she catches a bad cold. Not to risk to aggravate the injury and lacking the last part of the training she chooses not to start. She changes to a half marathon.

While training I don’t observe progress. I don’t like running the same trail over and over again, so it’s hard to compare trainings. There are more factors that are unique per training: weather, soil, health, etc. It all influences how a training is perceived. Measuring heart rate and speed clearly shows I’m progressing:


It’s my first marathon and thus hard to come up with a strategy. I know how my body reacts to long distances, but 42 kilometers in competition I’ve never done. I intent to run at a constant heart rate slightly higher than the one during my endurance runs. Fitness wise it will be all right, as long as my muscles will cooperate. What’s more interesting is that it’s the first warm day of the year. My body is better fit for coldness than for heat.

I take my place at the start between the 3:15 and 3:30 pacers. The starting shot is fired and I start following the 3:15 pacers. After a few kilometers I look at my watch: they are running too fast. Thoughts of doubt start to pop up. Keep following the pacers as I’m running effortless? Maybe I’ll overrun myself at this pace, I’m not planning on walking in the end! Choices…

Photo: Corné Hannink

I’m going to run my own race. That’s the decision. I slow down a bit. I’m not fully convinced, as things were going easy. I think of sprinting the last kilometer.

From kilometer 20 on my speed slowly decreases. My feet ache a bit. I’ve used this combination of socks and shoes a lot, but today I get blisters wearing them. Moment of reflection.

I pass the 30 kilometer mark. Things are still fine. It is becoming more and more warm, but the trail is varied with a lot of shade and enough cups/sponges with fresh water. I carry my own drinks, but I’m happy with the water. I mostly use it for cooling down.

At kilometer 36 I hit the wall. Energy drained, muscles protesting. 6 kilometers to go. A distance I normally wouldn’t consider as a training. Time to switch strategy. Running a good time becomes don’t walk. Didn’t I think about sprinting the last kilometer a few hours ago?

In 3 kilometers my parents will be waiting along the trail. A quarter of an hour, maybe a few seconds longer. I slow down to 5’15” per kilometer and I’m happy with it. In the meantime I overtake runners of the half marathon. They are in a much worse condition, there’s still hope left.

I can still smile when I see my parents. Half of the 6 kilometers is gone. Tight muscles, hot weather, blisters, keep running for another 15 minutes and it will be over. I can even run a bit faster now. What happens between the ears plays a much bigger role than I thought.

Photo: Tilburgse Amateur Fotografen Vereniging

Charissa just finished the half marathon. In the last turn before the finish she spots me and runs along the last stretch. The encouragement that I need. The finish is right after this turn. I made it!

Photo: Corné Hannink


At the internet you’ll find schemes that guide you to run a marathon in 5 or 6 months. They will help getting you ready for running a marathon, but you won’t run a record time. Comfortable and easy it will never be.

Running is simple, just put one foot in front of the other. During training more and more sides of running submerge. How will my body react to a lot of running? What forms of training should you do and how to organize those? What can I eat and drink during running without problems? How much shall I eat to get enough calories? Personal choices, researching my own body.

One hundred twenty years ago the marathon was added as Olympic distance. The first winner runs under three hours. I was not that fast, but I’m still very content. Probably I won’t be able to match my results in the future: 39th overall and 15th in my category. The advantage of participating in an unknown marathon. Contrary to Pheidippides I’m only left with aching muscles after my adventure.


Are you finished?

It has been dark for a few hours when we hear some noises outside. Ten to nine, a skier. “Are you finished?”, he asks. Are you finished? The words hit me like waking up roughly from a deep sleep. Why, are you finished? “Ehm, excuse me?” is the only thing I can utter. “Are you finished?”, he asks again. The words don’t make sense. “Ehm, yes?”. What a strange question. I ask him his nationality. “Finland.” It makes sense now: “Are you FINNISH?”

His pulk is broken. A fellow skier repaired it provisionally. He doesn’t trust the repair and wants to head back to civilization as soon as possible. He arrived late because he travelled two day-routes in one day. He doesn’t think it’s too late to arrive, for he met someone who arrived at half pas eleven at a cabin.


We’re in Finland in the Urho Kekkonen national park. Our Finnish roommate wants to go to Lankojärvi, just like we do. Today it’s snowing and the route we’re taking has not been preceded by a snowmobile. We move slowly through this thick, white blanket of snow. At 1/3 of the route we stop for lunch. Too slow, we’re going to arrive in the dark. Via another mountain pass we head to Tuiskukuru, a cabin closer by. We run into our Finnish roommate once more, he will continue to Lankojärvi.

The detour to Tuiskukuru is well worth it. An empty landscape until the pass, from there snowy, statue-like shrubs guide the way into the other valley. The shrubs transform into trees that, covered in snow, taken on peculiar forms. It is a surrealistic world and we’re the only people here.



A state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
– Kundera





Earlier in the week we’re heading to Sarvioja in a howling wind. Only summer routes are shown on the map and that path goes to the left here somewhere. No idea where exactly. It is snowing and the wind is blowing forcefully. I should put on an extra coat and my mittens. My thumbs ache from the cold. Still continuing, a bit further we’ll be out of this wind.

Last night we admired the northern lights near Porttikoski: a cabin in the forest next to the river. Idyllic. Much unlike this place, cold and stormy. Where’s that stupid path? The location on the map is way too steep for skis and a pulk.

During this winter hike in Finland we meet one Finn and a lot of Czechs. Czech… They have a word for this plowing. Litost, untranslatable. Kundera describes it as “a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.” Such a dramatic word, I don’t know any equivalent in Dutch.


“How are you doing?”, I ask. – “Fine, it’s just arduous.” We stop. Thicker coat, mittens and discussion. What options do we have? Option one is going back. That is not an option. Option two, betting to reach the planned hut. Not the best choice: there is quite a chance to not make it to the hut or even to be unable to climb this steep terrain. The third option is to continue into the next valley. There we can reach three places to sleep: an open wilderness hut, a turf hut and Luirojärvi. Luirojärvi is the furthest away and only reachable in the dark. We head for the turf hut and might reach it during dusk.

The coat and mittens are wonderfully warm. Soon my thumbs don’t ache anymore and feeling slowly returns to them. The end of the mountain pass is near. Litost, a dramatic word. It means something like feeling miserable and then becoming aware of it. According to Kundera it will be followed by revenge. Revenge on the thing that caused the misery, that is not caused by yourself of course.


We continue skiing. At the end of the mountain pass we’re out of the wind and exactly there the sun appears again. We start our decent, the skiing is less tiring. The world looks a lot happier. Kundera can keep his revenge. We take the moment and have a break behind some trees. Hot tea, a biscuit and the sun in Finnish Lapland. Enjoying, a word the Czech will know as well?


Turf hut Raappana is located in the forest on a peninsula. We arrive during sundown, where we could barely distinguish the stove pipe from the bare trees. The chimney is the only point of recognition of this tiny burrow under the thick layer of snow. We’re happy that someone already dug out the door.

The area inside is two meters by two meters. We’re out of the wind and dinner is simmering on our gas stove. Dinner, tea, then we slip into a comatose sleep. “Are you finished?” – “Yes we are.”


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Karttakeskus ulkoilukartta
Saariselkä Sokosti
1 : 50 000


We finish our tour in Kiilopää. Buses drive from Kiilopää to the airport irregularly! The website of the airport states that buses drive only when an aircraft departs or arrives. This is not 100% correct. Buses drive only when an aircraft from a Scandinavian airline depart or arrive. We flew with a Dutch airline, no bus came and we’ve managed to get a taxi at the latest moment. Quite an experience: flying in a cab over frozen roads with 130 km/h.

Our home built pulk uses ropes instead of rods. Rods may break, ropes are durable and easy to repair. The disadvantage of ropes is that the pulk tries to overtake you while descending. To counter that we used the idea of an automatic brake from Ivo. The brake worked remarkably well. Even on the most steep parts where we couldn’t ski, the pulk braked long before hitting me.


Mooching about* at the sixth WOR

*) Mooching about is lummelen in Dutch

“Do you have the card of running events where participants receive a t-shirt?”
– “Yes I do, the WOR t-shirt with checkpoints shown in the form of a W.”

“Maybe you also have the running event which includes shooting?”
– “Yep, I have the WOR catapult.”

“And by any chance also the event that give heavy people an advantage?”
– “That one as well, the WOR where the weight of participants count as bonus points.”

“And also the event where a ladies team is the overall winner?”
– “For sure, WOR 2017, Omega Ladies.”

“Happy family!”
(The Dutch card game is called Kwartet and is similar to Happy families, though the cards not only resemble family members but also objects.)


The sixth edition of the WOR starts at the Sint Ferdinand buildings in Lummen, but actually it started a week earlier when the email with homework arrived. This time two puzzles and the traditional movie. Like earlier editions it contained the footer: “… besides adding to the confusion it might contain useful information.” At the end of the WOR Ferdy tells us: “Third time you’re participating? Then you’ll start to understand our pranks.” That is exactly the problem: what can be used and what is a spoof?

The WOR, each year more surprising.

I investigate the movie frame-by-frame to rule out that the Woudlopers used subliminal stimuli (like in the movie Fight Club). I find nothing. The Woudlopers specifically mention in their email that the movie contains sound. They used “Wat heb je vandaag op school geleerd” (What did you learn at school today) from the Elegasten which I scrutinize word-by-word. Also no clue found.


The movie is enacted at a school. Among other things it shows a list of senses: to feel, to hear, to taste, to see, to smell and to blow. To blow? It really says so: to blow. Is this also a hidden clue?

Now let’s go to the day itself. The opening act is spectacular as ever. When the cow bell rings balloons fall from the air. At the toot of the recorder the envelopes may be taken. This year like always it contains the roadbook and the first set of maps. Next to that we find a t-shirt, a bag of pebbles and a set of skewers. Charissa picked a red balloon which gives us the answer to CP Z for free. Unfortunately we forget that until we reach CP Z.

En route it looks like this:




A selection of the mistakes we made this year:

  • We forgot to go to CP B. We didn’t even come close.
  • The assignment at the watchtower looked like a spoof, but we fell for it anyway.
  • During health check “feeling” we thought to recognise a prank, but it was none. How suspicious did we become? 🙂
  • I urgently need lessons in shooting a catapult. According to the organisation the teams were a lot better shooting the potato gun last year.
  • I mark special CP T with a red pen on a black part of the map. While running I don’t see that anymore (red-on-black) and we pass the CP without noticing it.
  • At the end we forget to look at an inset map and lose the chance for 3 CPs among which a special!

Coming back to the advantage heavy people have: while registering in the morning all team members are weighted. We don’t know why, is it worthwhile to remember our weight? We forget to ask. At the end of the day when the results are presented it is explained: 10% of the weight of the team in kilos is being subtracted from the penalty points, “to counter the advantage of thin, fast and sporty people a bit.” The WOR, each year more surprising.





Last year we found out that, though you improve yourself, you can go back in the rankings: a lot of good teams participated that year. This year we wanted to be better than last year, but more importantly we wanted to have a day full of fun. We were rewarded a third place of the mixed teams.

2015 2016 2017
Total CPs 71 86 91
Total standard CPs 39 61 66 *
Total special CPs 32 25 25
Found CPs 45 (63%) 60 (70%) 76 (84%)
Found standard CPs 25 (64%) 37 (61%) 54 (82%) *
Found special CPs 20 (63%) 23 (92%) 22 (88%)
Standard CPs correct 24 (96%) 35 (95%) 51 (94%) *
Special CPs correct 15 (75%) 18 (78%) 17 (77%)

*) G & P checkpoints count as standard CP with a penalty of 30 minutes.


Spotting seals at the Westerschelde

Autumn, start of the packrafting season. Little rain has fallen this autumn causing low water levels in the Ardennes rivers. Plan B is flat water in the Netherlands: the Westerschelde.


Saturday we’ve explored a part of the Verdronken Land van Saeftinge (“the Lost Land of Saeftinge”), on Sunday the Plaat van Ossenisse. Small packrafts floating among big ocean-going vessels.


Eastern winds cause low temperatures. People we meet on the beach ask if it’s not too cold for sailing and if we’re taking the currents into account. They seem to think packrafting in these conditions is extreme?


Back on the beach we find a more extreme activity. A man undresses and goes into the water in his swimming shorts. On the beach he leaves behind a pile of clothes and his shoes. After a minute of adjusting to the cold he dives into the water. No dry-suit, no wet-suit, no beer-belly with insulating fat. Fifteen minutes later he’s back on the beach, still healthy. Amazing.

And the seals… they choose swimming over sunning on a breezy sandbank. We’ve counted around ten seal heads appearing out of the water. Are we curious to see seals or are the seals curious to see these inflatable intruders?


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Packraft course of The Low Countries*

The packrafting scene in Europe is growing! The Swedish Packrafting Roundup (Jacob) (Konstantin) was organized in May, now is the time for the packraft course of The Low Countries* followed by a tour on the Allier.

Surviving white water

We meet Servaes Timmerman at the camp site in Réotier. He’ll teach us about white water. It will be his first impression of packrafts, for a number of us it will be a first encounter with white water.

The course is best described in pictures and a small anecdote:
On the third day of the course we’re on the Ubaye. Servaes goes to an eddy and tells us to disembark and scout the next stretch of the river: we need to determine our own line in a river filled with a number of big boulders. Servaes will take pictures at the end of the boulders. I leave the boat and climb onto a big boulder. Jan-Ivo just finished scouting and passes by in his yellow packraft.


The rest looks easy, I don’t look any further and walk back to re-enter the water. The part I’ve just scouted is not that difficult. At the end of the stretch the noise of the river rises. A rapid…
I round the last boulder and see the rapid. I see Servaes sitting on top of big a boulder. At that moment thoughts come to mind: “Of course Servaes is waiting at the most exciting part of the river.” The most exciting part, the part I didn’t scout…




Two things I’ve learned this course that I won’t forget:
1. Kayakers are lazy.
2. How to eat French bread without hurting your palate.
… and maybe a thing or two about paddling technique. 😉

Cowboycamping along the Allier

Splendid days, hot, 30C. It’s a pleasure to be engulfed by cold water once in a while. The Allier is a varied river, quiet stretches alternated by wilder water, sometimes wide, sometimes so small that one packraft barely fits. We’re rafting all day and bivvy along the river. Cooking on the bonfire and sleeping under the stars, what more does a man want.

P8250032 P8250041

15 16

P8250047 P8260060

P8270130 P8270144


Maybe it’s not only the kayakkers that are lazy…

*) The Low Countries is the name of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and a small part of France during the Middle Ages. The people that participated consisted of Belgians and Dutchmen.

Packraft upgrade


Kayak backrest

The reasons for this change:
1. Better steering response because of higher pressure at the bow. The higher pressure is created by sitting more to the front which is not possible with the inflatable backrest from Alpacka.
2. Higher comfort because you don’t touch the hard edge on the back of the cockpit anymore.

The new backrest weights 260 grams, the original inflatable backrest from Alpacka weights 54 grams.

We bought the base of this kayak backrest at Decathlon. We removed the bottom seat and used a soldering iron on the backrest. The result:


The included attachments don’t fit the packraft. We’ve sawed off the buckles and replaced them with short straps. The straps will be connected to the thigh-straps in the packraft:


The backrest tends to slip down during rafting. To counter this, we’ve added a ring to the bottom of the backrest. A short rope pulls this up in the packraft. Two photographs say more than explaining by words:



Abruzzo, terra dell’orso marsicano

Flying. It’s not the first time, but we’re still not getting used to it. “Ready for take-off”, the sound of the engines swell from a high pitched tone to a blasting avalanche of noises. When we’re pulled into our seats by the acceleration I look to my left. Next to the window sits an old Italian man. He hasn’t spoken a word since we got into the plane and he looked depressed since. Just before the wheels lift off he quickly says his prayers. We’re not the only ones disliking flying. One and a half hours later when we land in Italy he finally relaxes.


Italy, the Apennines. We don’t have a day to day agenda but we’ve chosen two areas that we’ll be trying to connect over the mountain ridges. We don’t know exactly how the terrain looks like, whether or not there will be a trail and how fast we’ll go. We’ll monitor progress one day at a time and live in the moment.



The first day in Majella we climb up from the valley over a trail that disappears again the next day while hiking the ridge. Sometimes we see a fainted red dot or red-white marks, but it’s clear that hardly anyone walks this trail. The weather is great, not too hot. Because of bushwacking, progress is not as fast as hoped. There are no water sources en route, but we hope to end the day near a shepherd’s hut with a source. When we get near to the hut, we find a small creek. Dry, not a good sign. Next to the shepherd’s hut we find a water source, but that one is dry as well. Water will be rationed now.
We’ve read a number of -rather old- trip reports, so we didn’t expect the water to be so scarce. How to continue? Will we go on over the ridge and hope to find water on the way, risking not to find it? Next morning we choose to descend. We use our GPS as a 21st century’s dowsing rod. A few kilometres from the hut there should be a water source: Fonte Orsana.


The first kilometre is steep but on-trail. Rather soon it becomes steep and off-trail. Very steep and really off-trail. Straight through the forest we arrive at the water source. Dry. We find a lot of animal tracks and we see that water used to flow here, but not at this moment. The next source is located a few kilometres from here. Again we use the GPS to walk straight through the forest. Wrong choice, we waste a few hours and wander off more and more. We have only half a litre of water left and decide to save as much as possible.
When we spot a tree with a puddle of rainwater in it we cannot refrain from trying it. We drink it through our water filter. Not exactly Bear Grylls who would cut off a hollow branch from the tree and use that as a straw. Or he would filter the water through his old sock. We use our high-tech water filter and the water tastes good.


Eventually we arrive near the other source. The sandy trail slowly becomes soggy. A bit further a foot-wide creek flows. Then the creek becomes wider and we find a concrete trough. Water! While filling our water bottles we’re interrupted twice by wild horses which apparently are thirsty as well.
That night wolves walk around our tent. No lack of animals here.


A number of times we meet people in Majella that are picking hops. One morning we find people and two big white dogs. When we pass the dogs start to walk along with us. Nice. The longer the dogs run along with us, the less amusing it becomes. Why don’t the people call back their dogs? It starts to become more and more annoying until we’re half an hour away from the hops-picking people. The dogs are still not preparing to walk back.
We’re not really looking forward to walk back half an hour (and then again half an hour back to here!) to return someone else’s dogs. But we do, who knows how long they will be walking along with us?
Back to the hops pickers we need to explain the situation using two Italian words and a lot of sign language. Communication is arduous but finally we understand each other. They tell us that the dogs are stray dogs. They have been walking with them from the valley.



Gran Sasso

The next few days the silhouette of Corno Grande will accompany us. It’s still too early in the season to climb to the top, you’ll need pickle and crampons. We’re going to walk around it, which is certainly not less beautiful.P6210527

Though the whole area is no more than one day walking from civilized world we hardly meet anyone. One morning before we leave we hear soft thudding in the valley. The thudding gets louder while we’re packing our tent. A car… No, it’s a farmer on his tractor with a cow in a trailer. As soon as he sees us, he opens the door of his tractor and shouts something in Italian. “Sono Hollandese, non parlo Italiano.” He stops his tractor, gets down and walks towards us. We understand that he’s looking for his herd of cows. Which we’ve seen yesterday evening through the valley towards a source. We point him where we’ve seen them, nod and say “Eight, otto, six, sei big ones and eh due eh” – “Si, due bambini!“, two small ones indeed. We want to ask if that’s a cow or a bull in his trailer and say that we saw his herd yesterday evening, not this morning. Our translation guide is short of words so after browsing through it and staring at each other he shakes our hands and leaves. In the right direction. The only person we would see that day.


P6210550 We stay at Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi twice, a big contrast to spending a night in our tent. While we don’t meet anyone while hiking, the hut is overrun with people. At night people that go to the summit the next day stay in the hut. We were lucky to meet some people from Rome who spokes English. It’s a nice way to get to know a bit more about your fellow travellers and about eating and drinking habits of Italians. It was very sociable. An old, small and cosy hut, with very kind wardens who like to explain about the area.


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Carta Escursionistica, Edizioni il Lupo
Gran Sasso d’Italia
1 : 25 000

With additions from OpenStreetMap.


Water. It’s hardly possible to hike autonomously in these areas in summer. In the beginning of July a number of water sources were already depleted. Some villages near Gran Sasso have a water quota midsummer, water is that scarce here.
Ticks. Especially in Majella there was an abundance of ticks. Pack a tick remover and check yourself each evening!
Cabins. A great amount of cabins is located in both parks. In Gran Sasso almost all of them are locked. Don’t trust what’s indicated on the map. An extreme example is rifugio San Nicola that is indicated as guarded, but in reality it is a ruin.
Trails. Some trails are not signed, some are overgrown. Know how to use a map and compass. Off-trail your speed will be lower, take that into account while planning.
Dogs. There are a lot of stray dogs. Three times we’ve had dogs walk along with us for up to an hour.

Eating like a caveman

The grass is wet with dew. We’re walking in the Flevopolder, where numerous snails cross our path. Slugs, snails, that’s a far as our knowledge of biology reaches. Later we find a snail on some kind of plant. A familiar plant, but we’re not able to name it.


We’re going to meet Bill Jonker for a workshop edible, wild plants. We’re five students each with his own reasons to join. We’re welcomed with tea made from yarrow and a snack, a piece of young growth of a den. Locally sourced of course, at less then ten steps from the camp fire on which the tea is being brewed. The tea is surprisingly tasteful, as well as the snack.


The fire pit is our class room. The theory consists of example plants and a card with explanation of those plants. How to recognise them, what to use them for, what to watch out for.
Soon we’re moving as it time for practice. Bill shows what edible plants can be found in the nearby area. And maybe even more important: we can taste the plants. The forest we’ve just entered  slowly morphs into a well stocked super market. Various flavours, shapes and textures are widely available.


Time flies and before we know it it’s time to prepare lunch. Bill explains how to recognise burdock and what to pay attention to not to confuse it with the poisonous foxglove. Then we’re on our way to dig up a few as the roots will be our lunch. While we are busy digging, Bill finds a parsnip. It’s well rooted in the solid clay, but we’re not able to resist taking this tasteful root with us.


Lunch consists of a stew of burdock, parsnip, cep, nettles and lichen. It tastes very well and the small meal fills our stomachs surprisingly well.


As extra we practice twining rope made of nettles and we build a seat made of reed. Slowly the thunderclouds roll in. When the first drops of rain fall, we say our goodbyes. In retrospect we’ve learnt a lot today. It is a pity that it took only about a century for this kind of knowledge to disappear.

We walk back the same way we came here this morning. This time we recognise a lot of trees and bushes and we can tell their names. If only our biology lessons in high school had been like today …



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Via Gulia

The Geul springs from numerous small sources in the German speaking part of Belgium. A few sunny days are forecast, a good opportunity to go and run through the valley of the Geul.


The zinc violet occurs naturally in the valley of the Geul. Humans helped the violet by mining the zinc that occurs here and returning the waste into the Geul. We’re too early in the year to see the zinc violet, we settle for pastures full of dandelions.


Practical information: The complete trail measures 53 km. We’ve run 18 kilometers on the first afternoon and 32 the next one. We slept at campsite Kontiki near Sippenaeken next to the Dutch border. Despite this trail is said to be well marked, we’ve often neede to search for the right way, sometimes even quite long. On a few occasions the arrows are pointing to the opposite direction or they disappear for a few kilometers. They are not positioned at logical places. The searching notwithstanding the trail itself is beautiful, certainly worthwhile hiking/running.



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Description of the trail.

IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 35-43: Eupen

ANWB/Falk, 1:50 000, 41: Zuid-Limburg