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:

trend_HT_Fred_end

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

Postscript

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.

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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.)

03

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.

WOR2017_film

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:

06

08

10

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.

 

12

Analysis

kaarten_collage_qr

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.

WOR2017_grafiek

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.

P5060074

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.

P5060061

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.

P5050020

Photographs

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography

Description of the trail.

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

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

Flying patatoes

The Woudlopers Orienteering Run, the only orienteering run where you need to take three potatoes with you. I hear you think: “what nonsense is he writing now?” It’s very simple: if the Woudlopers ask you to bring three potatoes for the WOR, you do that. No questions asked.

This is going to be our second time participating. Last time we were so enthusiastic that we wanted to register for the next one right away. The Woudlopers define their own event as: “an adventurous running contest […] but slightly different”. It’s exactly that slight difference that makes the difference. In theory it is a contest, but everyone registers because it is so much fun to do. Six hours of running through forests and moorland and at every checkpoint the questions pops into your mind: is this a real checkpoint or a fake one?

Just before ten o’clock the briefing starts. A usual briefing is used to update everyone on the latest information. At the WOR the briefing just adds more confusion.

01

This year the starting shot is launched by a real canon. The first shot dives into the Kanaal Bocholt-Herentals. The second try reaches the other side of the channel easily. This will be the last CP, but not for us.

03
Just like last year we take half an hour for the preparation. This year we receive a roadbook and around ten maps. At home we made a nice collage of the maps, if only we had this during the run itself.

WOR5_collage_met_route

It’ll be too much to describe the roadbook in detail, so I’ll stick to some highlights:

Let’s start with a story: to chase the WOR-hunter. Or rather a mouse which is eaten by a cat, which is eaten by a wolf, which is shot by a hunter (with a wooden leg, left leg? right leg?), who is eaten by a bear. (A bear? In Belgium? Really?) The bear is no-where to be seen, but we’ll find a district full of old Masters. They hide in the shrubs and under benches.

05

At checkpoint D we need to find a bird that chirps. We jot down the first thing we notice that chirps. Later it turns out that that was timber and not the bird that was asked. Most of the other contestants make the same mistake. Stay alert!

Checkpoint 8 is located at the watchtower at the Lommelse Sahara. The roadbook describes: “73.7 meters above sea level. Info on information panel. Photo C.” We don’t bother looking at the information panel. Maybe we would have seen that the platform is 20 cm higher than the CP. And that our CP is not located on the platform itself. At the debriefing we hear that it was located just next to the staircase if you would look down the railing on the outside. Everyone finds the decoy here…

For assignment Y we need to make a composite sketch. Everything works out fine, except for the moustache. Apparently a green bottle doesn’t belong in the green glass container in Belgium? Or did we do something else wrong? Time to dive into the recycle habits of our southern neighbours.

Finally we need our potatoes for test X. All morning they have been flying though Charissa’s backpack. Belgian fries are world-famous and now we’ll do a workshop in how to make them. It involves a canon (again), this time with pressurized air. The potatoes fly around our heads and we’ll make enough fries to receive two additional instructions. And a paper bag with French (?) fries.

08

Slowly the fatigue kicks in. We’ll record a few decoys after all. At the debriefing we learn that it doesn’t matter if you walk north normally or backwards, both ways get you north.

12
We’ll look back at a fine day running with puzzles and a good spaghetti afterwards. Maybe this story is a little confusing. The only cure for that is to participate in this event yourself. There’s a small chance that everything will become clear then.

Analysis

2015 2016
Total CPs 71 86
Total standard CPs 39 61
Total special CPs 32 25
Found CPs 45 (63%) 60 (70%)
Found standard CPs 25 (64%) 37 (61%)
Found special CPs 20 (63%) 23 (92%)
Correct standard CPs 24 (96%) 35 (95%)
Correct special CPs 15 (75%) 18 (78%)

We arrived 5 minutes sooner than last year. This year we had more focus on the special CPs, which worked well. A noticable difference to last year is also the increase in standard CPs. Just like last year we didn’t make it to all CPs in time. Point of improvement for next year?

This year the teams are faster than last year:
WOR2015-time-overzicht WOR2016-time-overzicht

The teams were also better, more CPs has been found in total:
(Lightblue: correct CPs, darkblue: incorrect CPs.)
WOR2015-posten-overzicht WOR2016-posten-overzicht

The same can be seen from the results per team:
(Red: special CPs, blue: standard CPs, light: correct, dark: incorrect)
WOR2015-team-overzicht WOR2016-team-overzicht

If ye like the nut, crack it.

… the need to get out, to test yourself, to flush out the system, and, above all, to have some fun.
– Al Alvarez, Feeding the Rat

We had no idea what to expect when we enrolled for the OMM, the Original Mountain Marathon a few months ago. Running through the Scottish hills, orienteering, two days with a bivouac after the first day, teams of two and no organised support. Let’s not select a distance we know we can handle, let’s push it a bit, feeding the rat.

Here we are, the end of October in Tweedsmuir. Last days it was good weather unlike Scotland. A lot of sunshine, no rain, a lot of wind. We were joking about forgetting the sunscreen. We go to sleep in a pasture near the Event Centre and wake up in mud-pool-paradise-for-waterbuffalos. When we enrolled we laughed about it: end of October, bad weather guaranteed. At this moment we would like to remain in bed, but hey, if ye like the nut, crack it.

103

This is our first OMM and we’ve no idea what to expect. The first thing we notice are the small backpacks worn by our competitors. It’s unbelievable that all the gear from the mandatory kit list fits in such a small backpack.
Until the moment we start, we don’t know which route we have to take. Each minute another team starts. When we’re finally in front row, we hear: “There are some last-minute changes. One of the landowners didn’t approve at the last moment. On your map there will be a hand-drawn change of route.” Then the horn blows, we punch our SI, get our map and move a few metres to discuss the route.

104

We come up with a good strategy for the first checkpoint, but once we’re past the forest, we enter a thick fog. Navigating is fine, but the terrain is ruthless. We slob through moorland, mud and low heath. The first day starts with rain, fog and heavy winds, but improves to a tiny bit of sunshine.

106

Until checkpoint 4 all checkpoints need to be visited in the correct order. Next we need to punch 3 checkpoints from a total of 5. Choice and order we may decide ourselves. To be honest, we’re already quiet tired. As real lowlanders we choose the checkpoints with the least amount of height difference, but a bit more distance. At the second optional checkpoint we meet another competitor. He’s still good to go, but his companion is whacked. They choose to go directly to the bivouac. We look at each other. What are we going to choose? We’re also very tired, but a no-punch means end of race. No, we’re not giving up, it’s going to be everything or nothing.

111

We arrive at the third optional checkpoint faster than expected. It’s already getting dark when we start our ascent. The next checkpoint is located in the adjacent valley. I can’t remember the last time I was so tired, three checkpoints to go. I eat a snack for energy. We see a another team walking up a different mountain ridge. No idea which course they do, but when we arrive at the ridge, we see that they are following our steps. We arrive at the next checkpoint in the dark. The moon just disappeared behind a thick layer of clouds, we’re lucky it doesn’t rain.

At this checkpoint we meet a number of other teams. Everyone puts on their headlamps and eats another snack. En route to the last two checkpoints, close to the bivouac. This time the plan is to walk straight west, climb two small fences and descend the valley of the bivouac. The terrain was difficult to walk in daylight, let alone by the light of only our headlamps. The teams support each other and with around eight people we walk the last stretch. It’s normal to support each other in the race, but it must have looked funny to the casual observer: Six hundred people choose voluntary to beat the clock and fight the elements. The last ones trying hard to find their route through the Scottish hills in darkness. The alternative, sitting in front of the telly with a beer sounds very pleasing.

107

We find the fences and the valley. The last two checkpoints, however, are unfindable in the darkness. The closing time of eight o’clock is near and two minutes past eight we enter the bivouac site. An exuberant group of volunteers welcomes us with hand clapping and cheering. Thanks guys! This is the end of our race, we’ve missed two checkpoints and we’re two minutes too late. Sadly.

We’re not disappointed about our results. We’re whacked, utterly empty. We’ve given all we got and enjoyed it. Now it’s the time to pitch our tent, cook, eat and sleep. We’re too tired to catch sleep easily.

110

At six o’clock a lonely bagpiper plays. Not long after starting he’s followed by the organisation waking everyone with a megaphone. In an hour the first teams start again. We’re lucky this weekend daylight savings changed to wintertime, giving us an extra hour of sleep.

As we’ve timed out in the race, we’re not going to participate in the second part of the race. The shortest way back to the Event Centre is 13 kilometres. Finally we can see where we’ve raced yesterday. The thick fog is gone and today we run a part of yesterday’s route in some sunshine and heavy winds.

114

The Original Mountain Marathon, what an experience. We were cold, wet, happy, tired, exhausted but also enthusiastic to carry on. We’ve given all we’ve got and look back satisfied. The atmosphere of this race is truly unique. We’re sure to enrol again, but for this year the rat has been fed.

Photographs

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Video

(English subtitles available via the CC button.)

Analysis

201

The first day we’ve ran 35 kilometres, the second day 13. In total we’ve gone 2670 metres up and down. 116 teams entered our course, 73 finished the first day. At the end of the second day only 42 finished, about one-third.

What could we’ve done better?

  • Run faster. Of course. But how to train for something you don’t know?
  • We saw a lot of people with much smaller backpacks than ours. A small comparison: our backpack weighted 9 kilos, the backpack of an Elite team member weighted only 6 kilos. We complied to the list of mandatory equipment and didn’t have much extra with us. We did notice some people combine the coat and sleeping bag or the running pants with rain trousers. It might save a few kilos but there’s still the question if you want to invest money in this very specific equipment.
  • We could have chosen a different set of optional checkpoints. We’ve chosen to go to AC, CD and AD, the least amount of elevation. Maybe it would have been better to go to AO, AC and CD. A bit more elevation, distance about the same, but more trails.

Woudlopers Orienteering Run

It feels like we’re back at school. Last week we’ve made our homework, today is the day we have to perform. At half past nine the briefing starts, at five to ten we can collect our envelope. At ten o’clock we can finally start, we may open the envelope, the race has started! A week ago we received our homework. This time a 9 minute during YouTube movie. A part of the route could be seen in this movie, but partly the movie raises more question than that it answers. The briefing is similar. Are clues still clues if they only raise more questions?

01

In the envelope we find six pages with maps, a double-sided roadbook, two cards for the answers, a balloon and a string of wire with cheerfully coloured plastic caps. Enroute it surely will work out. We take half an hour to put the maps in the correct order, mark the coordinates on the maps and read the full roadbook. Then we’re off. It’s 13 degrees centigrade so we can’t call it a proper winter, but rain and heavy winds make it a bit cold and stormy.

Tired, satisfied and enriched with a great experience we drive homewards.

The start we recognize from the movie. Two special checkpoints in the pocket. At the second checkpoint we also see our first “false checkpoint”. We’ve been warned: in the surroundings of a real checkpoint there might be false checkpoints. When you write down the control number of a false checkpoint, you’ll get a time penalty. We’ll build up enough experience with time penalties the next six hours. According to the roadbook special C is located on a trajectory from checkpoint 3: “Go for 35 meters in 45 degrees / 40 meters in 350 degrees / 35 meters in 270 degrees / 65 meters in 165 degrees.” I wish we had drawn this beforehand. Once we arrive at CP 3 we find out the trajectory goes straight through some woodland and swamp. We make a quick calculation and conclude that we should end up back around CP 3. Unfortunately there are four checkpoints near CP 3, we choose the wrong one.

03

After some time of running, reading the map, interpreting instructions and sometimes a swig of water and a biscuit Charissa asks how long we’ve been busy since the start. I look at my watch: “Two and a half hours” Really?!? That long? We thought we were only racing for an hour. Half way through the race we have to shoot at bottles to get extra instructions and we have to sniff at trees. Unfortunately we don’t recognize the decoy. The deadline slowly comes closer. It’s not possible anymore to reach all checkpoints, so we take a shorter route to the end point.

04

Regularly we meet other people with maps in their hands, crossing the forest running. Are they lost or do they have a better strategy? How high will we score as newcomers? The deadline is set at four o’clock, time penalty when you arrive later. We take our last sprint. Slowly we start to feel the tiredness of our bodies. Twenty-three minutes later our time is stopped. Even the last kilometers to the starting point we continue running not to cool down too much.

07

Back at the start we changed our wet clothes and eat spaghetti with the other participants. Advice is exchanged, errors recognized. This is the moment the rain and cold are already forgotten and the tall tales start to emerge. The verdict: 13th overall and 4th in the mixed class. Tired, satisfied and enriched with a great experience we drive homewards. Is it already possible to reserve for next time?

Photographs

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Film

Analysis

Of course we’ve reviewed our race and see what we can do better next time. We’ve ran twenty-seven kilometers in six hours and twenty-three minutes. That’s not much less than other teams. Some days after the race we received all results, which can be converted to a few nice graphs. One of the conclusions we can derive is that the teams that have a high score have few errors and are fast. No surprise, just build up the experience.

B

Another conclusion is that at the start almost everybody finds all checkpoints and makes few mistakes. In the second part a lot less checkpoints are found and more errors are made.

G
(More graphs can be found at the pictures.)

Bleau without bouldering

New year’s day 2015. The snow has just melted when we’re driving to Fontainebleau. The rain joins us however.
03

We’ve took our crash pad with us, but it stays in the car. We’re happy to make a nice stroll through Trois-Pignons: circuit des Belvévères. The next day it’s still raining and we go bouldering in the local boulder gym. The rain leaves and fog appears. The sandstone in this area becomes soft when damp. After the rain en fog of the last few days the rock is nowhere near dry. We can’t boulder, so we put up our slackline near l’Éléphant and run the T.G.L.

13 Slacklining near L’Éléphant

10 Slacklining

19 Parcours Larchant T.G.L.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Bibliography

IGN Carte de Randonnée, 1 : 25000, 2417OT: Forêts de Fontainebleau et des Trois Pignons