Warning: Long read! But still quicker to read than the 47 hours it took the fastest finisher.
In 2015 online pen palls Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans dreamed up the first 250 km race in the Benelux. Every year since, the Legends Trail is our version of carnival complete with parades, dressed up elves, a little intoxication and hallucinations (for the runners that is, not for us). Last year we filmed the When Heroes Become Legends documentary and this year we are back as "regular" volunteers. Although, there is nothing regular about any of these volunteers..... always going the extra mile so the runners can continue their race.
It is a privilege to be part of this wonderful event and community. This is our experience of the 2019 edition.
In the weeks before Legends, Joost and I started our preparation. Lists are made for shopping (some extra’s for runners and volunteers) and packing so our Check Point 3 (CP3) is well equipped. From Tony Chocolonely and M&M’s to bright yellow paper for signs and extension cords for charging devices and powering blow dryers.
And as is custom when we run a CP at Legends Trail I started creating a Spotify Playlist with one song for each runner that we will play when they are at the checkpoint.
46 people requested a song. The list shows the different tastes of our runners.
On Wednesday evening we had to say goodbye to our trail kitten Leia who went on a mini vacation to stay with our dear friend Emiel, so we can focus on supporting the runners. We love to take her, but with the lovely new Legends additions Oskar and Zed she’s less comfortable and it’s better to give her a nice place to stay.
On Thursday morning we start loading the car and start our three-hour drive to the Belgium Ardennes. With a small detour to check out CP3 we arrive at Head Quarters (HQ) to join the Race Directors (Stef and Tim), their wives and several other Legendary Friends that already unloaded the first truck with blankets, kitchen gear and of-course some Kerel beers. We join Vicky in her annual sanity therapy before the start of the race cutting all race numbers. Joost helps out with unloading the second truck with all food. I spent a lot of time playing hide and seek with the lovely girls from Stef and Tim. Paying hide and seek with me is a real challenge for them as I’m pretty good at hiding and try and teach them something about it as well like: don’t talk when they are searching you, open doors and look behind curtains…
Thursday evening starts with cutting a whole bunch of onions and the rest of the evening is spent with more volunteers and the first runners arriving while eating Belgium fries and some reminiscing about previous editions.
On Friday morning Joost starts his day early running the first part of the Legends route together with Marek Vis (a previous finisher) in 26 kilometers around 1000 meters ascent with an average speed of 6,1 kilometers per hour already shows it is going to be a challenge for all participants. I start my Kitchen duty with searing 20 kilos of beef for the stew and some more onion cutting.
Friday afternoon the Check-In starts and Joost and Marek are doing kit checks. The check-in process has become a mini reunion after getting to know so many runners during the previous years. When Olivier Kronal is having his medical check Joost takes a break and starts filming Olivier for our new mini documentary and I take over the kit-check. Always nice to be able to practice my German skills but my French is really lacking so we ask help from Frederique (Tim’s wife). Some runners don’t have a real rescue bag with them and some fail to see the risk they run but we explain there is no starting this race without the mandatory gear. The Race Director and Joost share their rescue bags with the runners so everyone is cleared to start.
I took some pictures during check-in to share in the Official Legends facebook page and continued to do so till the start at 18:00.
Back at HQ we got the briefing from Safety Team Lead Stu Westfield, Medical Team Lead Geert Meese and Race Director Tim De Vriendt. Afterwards we enjoyed the first Legends meal that left the Legendary kitchen. That kitchen is run almost non-stop by Karin, Luc and Hilde. It’s these meals that fuel the runners and volunteers throughout the weekend.
After some nice drinks and talks we enjoy the comfort of our bunk beds and turn off the light at a decent hour to be well rested for the day ahead.
This year we participated in an experiment to prepare for the Legends 500 (yes yes, 250km is not enough for the 5-year anniversary edition in 2020). Last years all meals were prepared at HQ and transported to the CP but this year we cooked live at some of the CP’s. Our meal for CP3 was to be Parmentier: cauliflower, potato mash, ground beef or vegetarian “meat”, béchamel sauce and cheese. We started Saturday morning with peeling 25 kg of potatoes and cleaning and cutting a crate of cauliflower.
As we saw that the speed of the runners was a bit slower than planned for, we stayed at HQ a bit longer before heading off to buy 72 liters of coke and some bread for our CP. Arriving in Malmedy we encountered some partial roadblocks but where able to reach CP3 and started setting up the checkpoint. I notice the baking trays in the kitchen won’t fit the oven, so I asked HQ to add additional smaller trays to the supply being sent to us.
Dave Peppelaar arrived at the CP and took some well deserved rest before returning to active duty.
The CP has a fantastic amount of space but only four electrical sockets in the main room and all four located at the same point. Frank Lintermans (physio) arrived just as we finished setting up the tables and benches and we re-examined the room set-up when Frank mentioned he needs electricity for blow drying the feet of runners and since our extension cords were not long enough, we located all things electrical (charging station, blow dryer, Sonos music installation and laptop) in the same badly lit small corner. Treating runners’ feet by the light of a mobile phone became the new standard later that evening.
Since I “lost” my digital grocery list I forgot to buy the vegetarian “meat” and Joost returned to the supermarket. Hours after we left HQ we started informing where our awesome kitchen crew Ania Kisiel and Vicky Dils where at, as they still had not arrived. It turned out that the partial roadblocks had turned into permanent ones due to the Carnival parade in Malmedy and lots of crews trying to reach us where unable to. Finally, Ania arrived with Aileen as they found a way through Malmedy. Joost called and said he was stuck so Aileen started her first rescue mission and returned to Malmedy to guide Joost back to the CP.
All of a sudden, all kinds of crews started to arrive and take stuff into the CP and I quickly became overwhelmed with questions I didn’t have an immediate answer to, and I started losing the overview of the place, something that needed to be changed quickly.
Frank Lintermans was joined by the nurses Joyce De Zutter, Sarina Vanroy and Yannick Swinnen who got to see and treat their fair share of blisters. All three colleagues of Geert De Wit who was enjoying Legends as runner this year. Mathias Verreyt also joined as Physio so we had a really well equipped medical team. Later also Steven Hobert, Geert Meese and Patricia Schellekens visited our CP.
Thankfully Vicky and the support truck also made it to the CP and Vicky and Ania could start the cooking….. if only they could get the oven to work. Again, Aileen came to the rescue and started what turned out to be a gas oven with a special trick.
We got new instructions from HQ that the on-course kit-check that was planned for CP2.2 was re-scheduled to our CP. With several of our scheduled volunteers not showing up we felt a bit short staffed to handle this extra task, and thankfully they sent us Bart Cauwenbergh wo was a great help. Not just with the professional kit-check but also with keeping the CP workable, always noticing some way he could help and then do it without asking.
After getting some basics in place we were surprised by the arrival of Dirk Van Spitaels who stepped out of the race after running out of water and drinking from a stagnant pool. We were able to give a bit of soup to Dirk but he wasn’t really in the mood for food. He got a blanket, laid on the bench and was eventually picked up by his wife.
Keeping an eye on the tracking website we saw that the lead runner Ivo Steyaert was closing in on our CP but we still didn’t have any drop bags. Carnival had struck again as the car was stuck in Malmedy. Luckily for Ivo his bag arrived in time with logistics team Adrie Jansen and Suzanne van den Berg so he could pass our CP with ease after arriving at 22:41 and passing the kit-check. The course was so tough that it took even Ivo about 3,5 hours longer than the RD’s expected.
Adrie and Suzanne helped Vicky and Ania with pealing the next batch of potatoes, which was almost as relaxing as the cutting of the start numbers. Arnold Berkenvelder also joined our merry bunch and immediately took an active role in the CP by making sure coffee and tea were abundant and the table filled with snacks.
Joost noticed one drop bag missing from the group right behind Ivo. Werner Geerinck’s bag was missing, which also happened to him during one of the other races, so we didn’t want to repeat that. Thankfully Robin Kinsbergen and Robbie Kater arrived with the big load of drop bags, so we felt a bit more at ease.
The first hours were “easy”, only one or a few runners arriving at the same time and only one runner not passing the kit-check. We had Berry Snoeren as extra CP guest for four hours for not having a real rescue bag until he was released at 6:24 after receiving a rescue bag donated by Arjan Breugem who unfortunately dropped out and is no longer a Legends Slam contender. This was the first time Legends Trail on-course kit-checks were ever done so a new experience for us all. Penalty for not having a rescue bag is 4 hours applied after taking care of your CP routine and handing in your drop bag. You’re not allowed to use anything from the CP anymore, no food, no drinks, a toilet stop is ok to prevent accidents in the CP. You can stay inside or use the four hours to sleep, but anything you use for sleeping can’t go back to the drop bag, so you need to carry it to the next CP. Berry decided to stay inside.
During Berry’s “detention” Frederic and Frederick arrived who were the first at our CP to decide to take a nap outside. Previous years a lot of runners took a longer nap at CP3 when you were still allowed to sleep inside, but this year no such luxury. Not even Allan who tried to sell it as "praying". CP’s where specifically selected with an outside area suited to camp. At CP3 only 5 or 6 runners decided to sleep which is way less than previous years. Maarten Schön was one of them.
During the night we got a call from HQ to ask Arnold to go pick up runners at CP2.1. Thankfully Arnold was one of the volunteers that had mentioned he was going to bed and I noted down where he was sleeping so he was easy to find. Since he had just turned in, he was quite sleepy and Gabrielle ten Velde jumped at the chance to get out of bed as she couldn’t sleep anyway. But then the hunt started for a car key and we were eventually able to find Suzanne who knew the location of Adrie who was holding the key. Imran joined Gabrielle (there is always safety in numbers) we advised them to take some food before they left and moments later, they were of into the night.
All through the night runners were picked up from the course and transported to the safety of our CP so we provided food and beds for all of them to recover. Several Legends Slam contenders met their unfortunate fate and were brought to our CP. Arjan Breugem, Paulus Couperus, Robert Gehlaar, Yann L’Hostis and Mark Wagenaars. It was great to see Peter Van Eylen in a safety team role because as previous Legends Trail finisher he knows what it is like to be in a race like this. He was joined by Eric Blom who was a great help at CP3 and later at HQ.
When night turned into day around 08:00 in the morning it started raining men with about 10 runners coming in one after the other and our CP was filled to capacity. From then on, we had our work cut out for us. Food, drinks, drop bags, medical referrals, DJ fun, clean-up, garbage sorting, social media updates, drinking a beer and coordinating some logistic volunteers. Most runners loved hearing their songs which gave them an extra boost, but the most brilliant response was from Allan Rumbles who chose the most interesting song of MMMBop by Hanson and swinging to it and getting others to join in.
At 08:34 Alexandre Oristil arrived at our CP and was the second runner to be confronted with the reality of the kit-check as he also did not have a rescue bag and was served with the four-hour penalty. Heart breaking because Berry at least had a decent time buffer when it happened to him, but when Alex was about to serve his penalty, he would only have a margin of 27 minutes to the cut-off time. This was Alexandre’s third try at Legends Trail, not being able to finish two times before. After consulting with the Race Directors, he chose to sleep outside and carry that kit afterwards as the Race Director were convinced he would start refreshed after his sleep. His wife Karmen is always volunteering and it was difficult to see her struggle not being able to help him during his penalty time at the CP.
In the morning it became clear that once again our lovely Frederique’s arm was victim to a casualty as she was helping at CP4 and broke her arm. That story is for her to tell but did mean our kitchen support was called to help at CP4 a little earlier than expected. Since they had prepared the second batch of food already, we felt sure we could manage without them.
At 10:46 the first female runner and only female Legends Slam contender Ann Baert arrived at our CP and at 12:00 Esther Sweeris arrived.
I also remember volunteers Erik Lambrechts, Maarten Laroy and Bien Matthias visiting our CP and helping.
Sunday afternoon Joost is helping the last runners Dennis Stoutjesdijk and Sauw-Yuh Tang to leave CP3 and we were ready to start the big clean-up. Arnold Berkenvelder, who decided to volunteer after seeing the documentary When Heroes Become Legends stayed on to help us and Dave Peppelaar joined as well. The four of us sorted all the left-overs and cleaned the CP. At 16:00 we said our goodbyes and returned to HQ to be lucky enough to see Ivo finish in first place at 17:07.
Officially our next volunteer shift was scheduled at 12:00 on Monday but we decided to add some extra’s. Joost started taking pictures so the resident finish photographer Harry de Vries could take a well-deserved rest and Astrid did some general cleaning.
Ann Baert finished at 09:22 making her the first woman to have a chance of completing the Legends Slam. Another One Bites the Dust is the last race she needs to finish.
Every Legends Trail finish is special as it is such a difficult race to finish but this years finish of Alexandre Orisitil was extra special. He was able to make up some of his lost time of the time penalty and finally finished on his third attempt 1,5 hours before the cut-off.
Esther Sweeris also managed to make up time between CP4.1 and HQ and came in 12 minutes before the cut-off making her the third Dutch female finisher of the Legends Trail after Paula Ijzerman 2016 and Willemijn Jongens 2017.
Due to the fact that the race cut-off was a bit later than previous years we also started “closing” HQ later. Vicky and I started the general sorting of the materials while Joost took a well-deserved nap. Joost joined again for loading the truck and sweeping all bedrooms. Around 20:00 in the evening we all took a break for a chat and late night burgers cooked by Tim De Vriendt and some Kerel Kaishaku's raided from the price packages of runners that did not finish.
On Tuesday morning we drove back home joined by Ingo van de Bergh (the Legendary creator of Chez Ingo) and were rewarded with a real Limburgse vlaai (pie?) that we took with us to pick up Leia. A great finish to our Legends Trail 2019.
Thanks to everyone that made our life easier at CP3!
I tried to recollect what happened during the weekend, anything incorrect or incomplete is due to the fog in my head. My apologies for not mentioning everyone by name as there were so many of you and my brain worked at limited capacity so I didn’t remember all of your names.
Most important lessons learned this year:
Run and gun photocredits: Aileen Marzanna, Imran Khan, Frederique Van Cauwelaert, Bart Cauwenbergh, Joost Mulders and myself.