“But it was absurd, you say? And who knows what is absurd and what is not? And even if it were! Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible. There is only one way of hitting the nail on the head and that is by hammering on the shoe a hundred times. And there is only one way of achieving a real triumph and that is by facing ridicule with serenity.” [MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO, Essays and Soliloquies]
2020 was the year of cancelled and/of postponed races. In February I ran podium on the Petzl NightTrail, a 30km race close by and good fun as a start of my season, but then COVID kicked in. The SallandTrail (80km) on March 9th was the first to be postponed, as a few days in advance it was announced that all events of over 30 people were prohibited. Rotterdam Marathon in april: postponed to October and later to October 2021. RopaRun in May: cancelled. Main goal for the year was the Val d’Aran (https://www.aranbyutmb.com/en/vda-en/), start of July, but that was also postponed by a year. The only other race that I ran last year was the Great Escape in Belgium in September. It was a close call, as we passed the border just minutes before Belgium closed the border for Dutch visitors from the provinces North and South Holland. The only significant achievement was the FKT on the Scholtenpad in April with Maarten van Halderen. So I was quite looking forward to doing a nice race again. I also should get some Ultras nailed, to be ready for the Val d’Aran in July.
What happened before
I had been looking at running the Duinhopper. It’s an obscure low profile winterrace, organized by Maarten Schön and Marek Vis. It runs from Hoek van Holland to Den Helder in the beginning of January. The course is tough: It mostly avoids the beach and leads you via tiny paths, sand dunes and dune bushes to the most beautiful places of the Dutch coast. The number of participants is restricted to 15 (to avoid requiring permissions etc.) and the only things organized are basically the gpx-file and the trackers. There are no posts, no organization phone numbers and no medical team. You just need to organise your own support (any support by friends is allowed and promoted). This year, due to COVID, the concept was changed slightly: No joint start, but each participant could just start whenever they wanted, as long as the distance was completed within the 48h cutoff between January 1st 0:00 and February 28th 23:59.
I had set my mind on running this thing, but because of the health situation of my parents-in-law I couldn’t get something planned early January. And then the curfew was announced! I had been calculating a bit and I thought it could still be feasible if I took a hotelroom at about 120km/130km. I could start in Hoek van Holland at 5:00 and I would have 16 hours to make it to the hotel. I could do the remaining 90/100km the next day and still finish within the 48h cutoff. I had done the 122K Indian Summer Ultra / Dutch Ultra Trail Championship in about 12h. Of course I would need to take a slower pace, as I would have another 100K to run the next day, but the 3 to 4 hour spare would give room for that.
Irene Kinnegim obviously had done a similar calculation and started off January 25th. She still had time spare when she arrived at her hotel in Wijk aan Zee and she finished in Den Helder the next afternoon, well in time to travel back home. Now, Irene is definitely faster than me (she holds the Dutch womens records for both 100km and 24h), but the fact that she had spare made me more confident that I would be able to do it as well. Another worry was the support. Normally there would be plenty restaurants, cafés, etc. along the route, plus supermarkets in some of the villages. However, all restaurants and cafés are closed (COVID). One morning I came across Reinier during my round with Lola and I told him about my plan. He offered to come along for support.
Then the winter kicked in. Snow, ice, strong North-Eastern winds and temperatures well below zero. No conditions for a successful attempt.
A week later things looked quite different. Temperatures were going up again, with forecasts showing sunny and dry weather. Wind directions were mostly head/side to the route, but only a few m/s, so nothing to bother about. I called Reinier and we set the startdate on Friday 26th, just in time to finish it before February 28th 23:59.
The first day
Slightly after 4:30 I leave home to pick up Reinier and we head to Hoek van Holland. It’s around the corner, so at 5:02 I’m ready to go at the starting point: The old canon at the Berghaven in Hoek van Holland. The sky is clear with a beautiful full moon. The first stretch is familiar terrain, as it’s my usual running grounds. I head off to the dunes and from there, parallel to the coast. First stop will be at 15K at the Puinduin in Kijkduin. Halfway to Kijkduin I pass my home by a few 100m. Legs are feeling good and the paths are still mostly paved. The pace is too high: 4:50-5:00/km, but I never bother about pace at the start. I know the pace will naturally come down and my only focus is to get in a comfortable running flow. At the Zandmotor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_engine) I take a quick stop for a picture: the view of the full moon over the small lake is magical. A little later, at 6:40, I’m at the Puinduin, where I meet Reinier again. I quickly eat a waffle, take a drink and head off again.
In Kijkduin I run into a piece of the route being blocked by works. During my last runs to Westerduinpark, it was still possible to walk around the fence and pass anyway. But it seems they’ve done a more thorough job now. so I need to pass via the beach. I walk through the powdery sand, to prevent blowing up my legs already early in the trail. Next is Westerduinpark, beautiful as always, and kilometers pass fast. I arrive at Scheveningen and quickly stop for another picture of the marina in the dawn. A little further at the boulevard and I simply have to stop again for a stunning view: the large orange full moon setting above the sea. I run along the boulevard, passing early morning joggers (still at 5:00/km), through Oosterduinpark to the next stop at 32K, between the ICC (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Criminal_Court) and the Waalsdorpervlakte (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waalsdorpervlakte), where I arrive just after 8:00.
Reinier is well organized and we start a routine that we’ll use the two days:
1) watch and (if necessary) phone on the charger;
2) jacket on to prevent getting cold when sitting still;
3) eat and drink, while Reinier fills up my vest again;
4) check location of the next stop and discuss what food / drinks need to be ready there;
5) change clothes (if needed), take vest, watch and phone and head off again.
The next 15K goes through Meijendel, a beautiful dune area just north of The Hague. Navigation is still quite easy, as the route follows paths and I’ve ran it before. The surface is more challenging though. Lots of (loose) sand and hills. It’s already quite busy with people walking through the dunes: It’s a holiday week and beautiful weather for a walk. I keep a good pace and the kilometers are ticking away. at 10:20 I arrive are the Wassenaarse Slag (46K), where Reinier managed to get one of the last parking spots and has some cup noodles ready to eat (cup noodles always do very well in Ultras).
The next section is Berkenheide, which leads to fishing town Katwijk, followed by the Coepelduynen, leading to Noordwijk where the next stop will be at 61K. Reinier will run 5K along before heading to Noordwijk. The path is most of the time not a real clear path and the surface is mostly dune sand and dune grass. As a result, the pace goes further down as well. Just after Reinier turned to go back to the car, I arrive at the foot of Vlaggenduin: with 37m the highest point in South Holland. You could easily run past it, but the Duinhopper-route goes up to the top and down again, so that is what we do. The objective of the Duinhopper is not just to get from Hoek van Holland to Den Helder, but to enjoy the most beautiful spots of the Dutch dunes. I continue along the boulevard of Katwijk to the Coepelduynen. Again a clear path is mostly absent. Just before Noordwijk I pass the ESA-ESTEC campus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Space_Research_and_Technology_Centre) and just before 13:00 I see Reinier again. It’s lunch time, so I stop a little longer to eat two wraps with cream cheese, smoked salmon and grilled paprika: brilliant ultra-food as it’s easy to swallow and has good nutrition. Reinier also fixed me two coffee. We discuss the next stops. the average speed is too slow to get to Wijk aan Zee before 21:00 and I still have the Amsterdamse WaterleidingsDuinen (AWD) ahead (where the pace will be slow). We agree on doing a very short stop at Langevelderslag (72K) to fill up before the AWD. The stop after that will be after the AWD in Zandvoort (90K).
The section to Langevelderslag goes pretty fast. We change dunes for coastal forrest, a nice change of setting! The paths are more mellow with firm surface and the pace goes up again to 5:30/km. Navigation is easy and it doesn’t take long before I see Reinier again. We have a quick stop and at 14:00 I enter the AWD.
The AWD is a section that I ran once before. The Duinhopper-route doesn’t follow the paths (it’s allowed there) and navigation is challenging. You follow deer trails (lots of deer over there!) or even no trail at all. it’s 18K, but it can easily take you 3 hours or longer, especially if you end up here after dark (which I don’t). I switch from navigation on my watch to navigation on my phone with Wikiloc. With lots of short navigation stops, stops to get thorns and sand out of my shoes and difficult terrain, the pace goes down to about 10:00/km. But I enjoy the environment. I see lots of deer, have an occasional short chat with the people walking there (leaving them in shock when I tell my destination). Time flies by and three hours later, around 17:00, I arrive at Zandvoort.
In Zandvoort I take another good meal. We plan another stop at Bloemendaal (just 10K further at 100K), as there will be a longer stretch afterwards. The ferry at IJmuiden is at 122K. From Zandvoort to Bloemendaal is a beautiful section, though no easy terrain. pace remains low. In the East a full moon rises, while in the West the sun sets. The last km is on the beach and with low tide it’s easy to run fast. It’s still around 19:00 when I arrive at the stop. We discuss what to do next. We still have 30K to go to the hotel and we have less than 2 hours left before curfew. Reinier tells me that Irene Kinnegim wrote in a fb-reply that National Park Kennemerduinen is easy running and that the last 10K to the hotel are on path through a quiet area. We decide that Reinier will head to the hotel and arrange some pasta and I will continue alone the last stretch.
I head off and Irene was right: NP Kennemerduinen is easy running. well maintained firm paths, allowing for good speed. Not too much junctions, so easy navigating. That has a downside as well I discover: if you make a navigation mistake you need to run back longer as well! I run swiftly through the dark dunes, hoping not to run into anyone (the area is “closed” from sunset to sunrise). I come across a herd of wild horses, grazing around the path. Carefully not to disturb them, I walk around them through the bushes. The temperatures drop and in the lower areas a ground fog comes up. Running through the fog with a head torch has its challenges: the lamp lights the fog, so you run in a white world with only limited sight. I keep my eyes on the path 3-5 meter before me and keep my pace up. Suddenly I see a lange dark form in front of me and I run almost into a wild Highland cattle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_cattle). The animal looks at me as if saying: “I don’t know where YOU are going, but I’m not going anywhere!” I quietly take a few steps back and walk with a bow around the animal. Then another one comes walking from the bushes. Probably a bull as it tries to jump on the first one, which is not amused by that action. Lots of noise and stamping and I decide it’s time to quickly move on! I realize that there are also European bizons (Wisenten) in this area, which are twice as big. I decide to keep my eyes a bit further ahead and run a bit more careful.
At a certain point I notice that my torch is running low on battery. A stupid mistake: I should have taken a fresh battery. I switch it off and test if I can run with just the moonlight, but running with that little light is simply too risky. I would need to walk without the torch. My watch is also low on battery, but that worries me less. I can still navigate using my phone. The phone is low on battery as well, but it should be sufficient. Realizing it would take ages to walk all the way to the hotel, I call Reinier and ask him to pick me up at the ferry. I switch on the lamp and continue running. Not long after I arrive at the ferry in IJmuiden, which is just about to leave to the other side of the river IJ. I call Reinier and tell him that he doesn’t need to cross the water and meet me at the other side. at 22:30 at about 123km we call it a day. Reinier drives me to the hotel where I eat my pasta, take a bath and step in my bed.
The second day
The alarm goes off at 3:50. Reinier and I get up and get dressed while eating breakfast as well. Little after 4:30 we’re in the car to go to the place where we stopped yesterday. I tell Reinier that it’s unlikely that we’ll reach Den Helder in time. I need to go back home that evening as we’ll go to my father-in-law tomorrow. I’ve set myself a deadline of 19:00 and see how far I can get. 5:00 I run off. The first part runs along the Tata Steel site and is mostly paved. My legs feel still a bit stiff, but actually not too bad. After 8K I’m about to enter the dunes and we do a quick stop. The next stop will be at Castricum (143K). It’s still gray and cold, but it doesn’t take long before the sun is out again and temperatures go up, so at Castricum I change shirts. Reinier bought chocolate croissants and because it lands so well, I eat his croissant as well (he’ll pass the supermarket again to buy a new one 😉 ). Just past 8:00 I leave for Egmond, where we’ll have our next stop.
The route is beautiful, but challenging now and then, following tiny trails through the dunes. The terrain varies: sand dunes, high grass, wetlands and coastal forests. The pace is not very high, but where it’s possible I can still make good speed running. There’s already quite some people walking in the dunes (not surprising, as it’s Saturday and a beautiful sunny day). At about 9:50 I arrive at Egmond aan Zee (154km), where Reinier has arranged coffee. I eat a bit as well and 10 minutes later I’m off again, because the next stop will only be 11K further at Bergen. The sun is really out now and the dunes between Egmond and Bergen are simply fantastic. There are quite some people out in the dunes, but as the route takes some tiny paths I don’t see many people. At km 158 the path gets easier and my pace goes up again. I stop to take some pictures at a beautiful dune lake, reflecting the blue sky and white clouds and I feel great. It still goes well. Let’s see how far I’ll get!
Around 11:30 I arrive in Bergen (163K). again eating in drinking well, charging the watch topping up the vest and on again to Schoorl. I still feel strong and eating well at every stop makes a huge impact. I hardly use the gels I took with me and stick to the noodles, raisin buns, wraps, bananas and oranges we’ve with us. At around 11:30 I head off to Schoorl, where we have some nice climbs waiting for us. The scenery changes to forest and the paths get a bit easier again: still going up and down, but with more firm sand. I’m able to keep a good pace of around 7:00/km and it doesn’t take me long before I’m at Schoorl (175K).
Schoorl is known for it’s “klimduin” (https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klimduin). Two steep sand slopes of 50m high where kids love to play. When I arrive at around 12:45, it’s very crowded. Reinier managed to park the car relatively close to the route. As it’s lunch time, we take a bit more extensive break with some salmon wraps and two fresh coffee. As it’s getting warmer, I change shirts again. The nice thing of having the car: you just have everything at hand! We still keep the stops efficient. When the eating is done, it’s time to get ready and go again! Reinier will run a little stretch along and off we go! Those steep climbs late in the race are always a bit of a mental thing. Of course they hurt, but it’s just as big as you make it. We take the climbs nice and easy: up and down a few times. Just before the second “klimduin” we say goodbye again and Reinier goes back to the car to get to Camperduin. I continue and soon after I leave the forests behind me and I’m running/walking through powdery sand again. Pace is dropping to 9:00/km, but it will not be that far. I knew this part would be tougher. Lots of sand and dune lakes and lots of people walking in the dunes.
At Camperduin (185km) Reinier is waiting for me in the dunes. we run to the car and do a quick stop. The next stretch will be 5km beach to Petten, followed by 5km the the dunes and another 5km beach to Callantsoog. Reinier will run along to Petten. I hoped for a nice firm beach so I can make some speed, but instead we find ourselves exactly on high tide and we need to walk through the loose sand. a fog comes up from the sea, which makes it significantly colder. At Petten, we leave the beach along the “wall of shame”, a series of art works made from trash found at the shore. Of course we need to make a picture stop. Reinier heads back to the car, while I continue through the dunes along the nuclear research reactor, for which Petten is known (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petten_nuclear_reactor). The facility produces radioactive materials for medical diagnosis and treatments. The paths are fast again and I can increase my speed. When I reach the second stretch of beach, the water has gone down enough to let me continue running most of the 5K and at 17:30 I arrive at Callantsoog (200K). Just behind the dune there’s the village square. I see people eating french fries and I immediately get hungry for some as well.
At the car we start our routine again and Reinier goes off to get us some fries. When eating the fries I find out that they taste great, but are hard to swallow. After eating half my fries I hand the rest to Reinier and take a raisin bun and a banana instead. I check the last part of the route and it looks like it’s going to be easy, fast paths. My legs still quite feel strong. If I can run the whole stretch, It should not be much more than 2-2,5 hours. It’s 6 pm, so I would be at around 210km at my self-imposed deadline of 19:00. Of course I’m not going to break off my attempt with just 10K to go!
I ask Reinier to put two flasks in my vest, one with water, one with cola, plus two gels, plus a sausage, plus an electrolyte pill. Though the route more or less runs parallel to the road and there’s plenty of meeting options, my plan is to basically not stop before the finish. At 18:05 I pack my stuff, put on my headtorch (this time with a fresh battery!) and run off.
I was right: the path is easy. Large parts I can run at 5:30/km, with occasionally some uphill walking. At km 206 I see Reinier again. He thinks he’s at 209, but I my navigation tells me I still have 14K to go. He asks me if I need anything and I tell him to just have some cola ready at the next point. I continue full speed. In the distance I see the Lange Jaap lighthouse (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lange_Jaap). It still looks far away, but I know it just looks that way. Not very much later it’s right before me, when I get to Fort Kijkduin (215K). Reinier has parked at the Fort, hands me some cola and is thrilled with the speed I make. I drink the cola and continue straight away, but of course I first need to make a picture of the Lange Jaap with its beams lighting the slightly hazy sky.
The last kilometers run over the grass covered dike along the coastline. I keep my speed up, but at about 216km I make a wrong step and I feel a sting of pain in my knee. I shift to powerhiking, which goes fine. I continue hiking to the point where the route leaves the dike via a long stair and enters Den Helder (the last kilometer). I start slowly running again as soon as I’m on the pavement. One more corner, a few hundred meters and there it is: The Bolder (https://www.denhelder.online/kunst-op-straat/dubbele-bolder). At 20:31, 39 hours and 29 minutes after leaving Hoek van Holland, I pass under the Bolder. Reinier is waiting for me with a finish-beer (and an alcohol-free one for himself). A brilliant conclusion of our joint adventure: I would not have been able to do this without Reinier!
We quickly go to the car to drive home, hoping we will not be checked as curfew starts at 21:00. We chat a bit and I take a nap (couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore). Around 22:00 we arrive safely back home, with no problems.
In my thoughts I ran through the experiences again and again. Lots of lessons that can be learned, that can help me at the Val d’Aran later this year.
First and most important: food! I ate often and a lot. Much more than usually. And I used only few gels and nutrition supplements. Of course I had the advantage that I could just ask Reinier for anything and he would get it for me, which is a luxury you normally don’t have. Some things do well the whole race: wraps with cream cheese, salmon and grilled paprika (brilliant ultra-food!); noodles; raisin buns, bananas, oranges and bifi sausages. Here’s what I ate:
– Spaghetti Carbonara
– 6 salmon/paprika/creamcheese wraps
– 2 cups noodles
– 8 raisin buns
– 2 chocolate croissants
– 1 Luikse Wafel
– 2 nutella buns
– 1 saucijzenbroodje (turned out not so great)
– 1/2 portion fries with mayonaise (turned out not so great)
– 3 bifi sausages
– some Bolognese chips
– 5 bananas
– 2 oranges
– 8 gels
And here’s what I drank:
– 3L coca cola (regular)
– 1,5L Ice tea (regular, with sugars)
– 3x 0,5L Hammer Perpetuem
– 0,5L Innocent Smoothie (works very well as well, but needs to be kept cool)
– 0,5L fresh orange juice
– 4 cups of coffee
– 4 cups of tea
– 2 cups bouillon
– Affligem blond at the finish 😉
Second: electrolytes! I was already used to paying attention to it before, but this time I was more consistent in taking salt pills. I also used nutritape. Don’t know which one is to credit, but I’ve had no cramps at all!
Third: Sleep! Even with the 6,5 hour mandatory stop due to the curfew, I was not much slower than the people who ran non-stop before the curfew. It’s not needed to take 6,5 hour break, but some proper sleep will pay back and increase the chances to finish successfully by a lot. So I need to plan put sleep in my race strategy for the VDA.
Duinhopper 220km, the full story – Bart Wijnands