Larger Than Life – Volunteer's Eye On Legends Trails


Opublikowane w pon., 14/03/2016 - 09:21

Denn es geht nie vorüber
Dieses alte Fieber
Das immer dann hochkommt
Wenn wir zusammen sind

[Die Toten Hosen – Altes Fieber]

Ardennes, Friday, 4 March. Snow has been falling for some time, the motorway is covered with it. We take an exit for Houffalize, aiming at Achouffe with the Legends Trails starting point Already at the local road, we take one turn too far but can still make it via a little detour. A snow-covered tiny road veers across the forest up and down steep hills and valleys. Finally we reach Achouffe. The descent is icy. I drive carefully but the understeer car's front suddenly wants to leave the road on a turn. Gas blip, second gear, a few slightest touches of the brake... made it. The race organiser Tim will later say – we got winter, we got snow, but luckily we got Polish drivers...

I was supposed to run this 250k carnage but (un)fortunately a sprained ankle in December made me take part in it as a volunteer. As if my body subconsciously decided to get injured, choosing a minor evil. We came with Wiktor, the only remaining Polish racer, picking a New Zealander Chloe and Neal from England in Dresden. They will also work as volunteers. Clint and Monika with their Malinois sheepdog Dante also came all the way from Poland to help the race. We stayed overnight at Stef's in Leuven and Friday morning left for the Ardennes.

Both race directors – Stef Schuermans and Tim de Vriendt – are already at the race start office in a local cafe, together with Stu Westfield, the safety coordinator. Runners and volunteers keep arriving. Soon Chloe, Neal and me are deployed to put some signs on a tricky section on the course at the cliff banks of river l'Ourthe. The racers will get there soon after the start, already after dark. Its an exception to the rule – normally except the permanent trail waymarks there are no extra signs and the participants can only rely on their 1:25000 maps and the GPS track.

The paths are full of mud and snow with steep climbs and breakneck downhills. This part is beautiful in its own way. If the whole course looks like that, I sympathise with the runners and envy them a wee bit at the same time.

We are back just before the 47 racers set off for the course at 6pm. Together with Florian, a French-speaking Belgian, we become the Legendary Safety Team 1 (LST1). In his 4x4 we quickly take off for the first intermediate checkpoint deep in the woods (CP0.1) to tick off the runners a few kms after the start. The field is already a bit stretched. The leader runs right through the forest several metres from the path, probably with his nose down at his GPS device. We call him back to the course. The rest follows the path properly.

We try to talk about our shared mountain and climbing passions but my French and Florian's English are limited to several words. When we move to the race HQ at Houffalize, we are therefore given new partners, as the communication can't be compromised when safety of the runners is at stake.

With Arend, a Dutch bloke, we share a similar self-distance, so we can afford some mutual taunting for fun. We take both our cars to CP1, which is in a football club at a village of Hotton. Our brave racers will get there following the first night's 64 km yomp. We're on standby, supposed to help anyone on the course if necessary.

In the meantime we talk to the checkpoint crew, carry the dropbags upstairs (up to 20 kilo per runner) and indulge in dot-watching. The latter will become the favourite activity of all volunteers while off-duty. Two dots that seemed to stop at a campsite for a longer time provoke some comments, like being dubbed 'Brokeback mountaineers' and so on. About 2am we manage to get some kip on Arend's bunk bed and my mattress.

Two hours later we are awaken by the first racers, already covered in mud and a bit tired. They all help themselves to spaghetti so I help do the dishes. Wiktor texts me he has pulled his groin and is retiring at CP1. I make sure he can make it on his own. Arend and me are deployed to an intermediate CP1.1 further up the course to welcome the competitors there.

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