November 3, 2023
It was an early Saturday, and I was raring to go. We hopped in the car in Eindhoven, bound for the southern reaches of the Netherlands, where my quest for the Fastest Known Time would kick off. As we cruised, I prepped my gear – Naak bars, Tailwind powder, Salomon ultra glides on my feet, and Leki poles clipped to my belt.
Surprise, surprise, I kicked things off earlier than planned, a crisp 05:53 when I swung open the gate in Eygelshoven. The initial stretch was a muddy battle, leading to the first climb, Landgraaf, right by SnowWorld. I’d tackled this hill twice before, and it had me huffing and puffing. But this time, I practically soared up it. It was still pitch dark, so I had to be on my toes for the lightning-fast descent.
I recalled that the first 50k had a fair share of asphalt, which meant I could make up some time. After breezing past the zoo and leaving Kerkrade in my dust, I revved up for Germany. Admittedly, this was the dullest part of the route, so I had to push myself to gain some ground. Finally, after running through a dark field in Germany, I hit my first stop just before Vaals.
Around 21km in, I pulled off for a pitstop extravaganza. Fresh socks, new snacks, and boom! My nutrition game was strong, which was a huge relief. In past races beyond 50k, food had been my nemesis, slowing me down. But not this time! I stuck to the plan, and those Naak bars were delectable. As I powered up the hill at Vaals, I sensed a looming energy block. So, I kept munching and tried to kick it up a notch on the downhill. I still had a long way to go to Gulpen.
The next kilometers went fairly smoothly, allowing me to pick up the pace and build a solid +45 minute lead over the current record holder. Right before reaching Gulpen, though, I hit an energy wall. Feeling less than stellar, I clambered up the hill by Gulpen, losing some precious time. But no worries, I was approaching my second aid station.
The second pitstop was a bit rough, and I lingered too long. I sipped on some coke and restocked my supplies. From this point, the route was uncharted territory for me, with 50k left and plenty of climbing ahead. Starting with the hill in Gulpen, I ascended at a snail’s pace. I felt pretty crummy and, ultimately, gave in. I retched up some brown liquid, likely a combo of the coke and Naak bar. Oddly enough, I felt much better afterward and got a burst of energy.
I cranked up the pace again, even running sub-5-minute kilometers. What a breathtaking route, heading toward the Belgian border. I crossed paths with participants of the Bear 100, the Netherlands’ most grueling ultra race. Little did they know I was on the cusp of setting a record on the Netherlands’ most challenging hiking route.
Back in Belgium, it was time for my third pitstop. The sun was blazing, and I needed more fluids. I filled up my Salomon flasks with water and coke and decided to bid farewell to the Tailwind. For the final 25km, it was all about pushing through.
That mantra played on a loop in my head. The trails were incredibly muddy and slippery, so I took a few spills as time wore on. My focus was wavering, and I needed to regain my mental edge. I sprinted down hills to make up for my slower uphill pace. Finally, I reached the ferry, but there was a snag – the strong tide meant it wasn’t running. My team had to drop me off on the other side, and time kept ticking away.
Once I arrived on the other side, starting up again was a struggle. My legs ached, energy was waning, and I was teetering on the brink. Uncertain of what lay ahead, I embarked on the final 13 kilometers. But as I tackled the last two climbs, I realized they were no laughing matter. I battled slippery paths, a lack of energy, aching muscles, and the relentless ticking of the clock.
As I set my sights on the steps just before Maastricht, I knew victory was within grasp. Climbing those steps, surrounded by unsuspecting tourists, was pure magic.
I sprinted down to Maastricht, feeling euphoric. Amidst the bustling shoppers, I celebrated the last 3 kilometers, mud-spattered and triumphant. I made my way to the train station, taking over the main roads and reveling in the curious stares from onlookers. What a wild and unforgettable adventure!
Thanks for your time,