Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ting-a-Ling, Here Comes the Walking Express

Last week, we joined about 4000 walkers for the 55th annual Vierdaagse in Apeldoorn, Holland. Apeldoorn is located on “De Veluwe,” one of the most beautiful forests in Holland. Although it exists, ultrarunning is not nearly as popular in Holland as it is in the US. Instead, there are many non-competitive events and many of those are multi-day events. These untimed events require a slightly different endurance; getting up day-after-day to repeat a specific distance on increasingly tired legs. In other words, a perfect training opportunity for the upcoming TRT thru-run and the Super Triple in September.

I signed up for the (longest) 4x50K distance and Vicky and the kids picked the (shortest) 4x20K distance. They would try it out for a few days and were not dead set on finishing it. The weather in Holland is always unpredictable, but it looked like it was going to be a particularly wet week. We had rented a bungalow about 7 km from the start and it was raining when we arrived. Since the 50K started at 6:30, two hours before the 20K start, I rented a bike so the others would not have to get up early and wait for two hours. As it turned out, bicycling 7K to and from the start really helped keep the legs loose.

My aim was to use this four-day walk as a test in recovery and power-walking. Since I foresee quite a bit of walking at the later stages of TRT165, I wanted to practice power-walking and spend lots of time on my feet. Although this part of Holland is considered hilly, the trail was really pretty flat. Most of the routes were on single or double-track paths in the forests, but there were also a lot of sandy horse trails and some paved sections to get out of the city. Lots of the trails were muddy due to the rain.
For extra training weight, I took a fully-loaded CamelBak Rim Runnner and I put on my Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX (the Goretex version of the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra I reviewed earlier this year) shoes , which are pretty heavy but supply good water resistance. The hydration pack ended up saving me a lot of money, because unlike in the US, you pay for all your refreshments at the aid stations in Holland, and not just a few quarters either! Having my own water saved me time and about 2 euros per bottle of water.

The 50K started promptly at 6:30 each day. You receive a card that you have to get punched at five different checkpoints. On the first day, I did not have any idea what I could expect, so I followed the leaders. They were walking pretty fast, following the yellow arrows that were placed at each intersection. After a few miles, I took the lead, only to be called back by one of the walkers behind me, after having missed an obscure left turn. I quickly recovered and after a few more miles, I pulled away again, this time for good.

The first 30K was great; beautiful nature and wonderful walking temperatures. I had aimed to keep a solid 8K/hr (12-minute miles) pace, but was actually moving faster than that on many sections, clocking 10:30, 11:00, and 11:30 miles on the Garmin. After about 30K, however, it became increasingly hard to keep a solid pace, because the 50K merged with the other distances: first the 40K, then the 30K, and finally the most-popular distance, the 20K, which had over half of the participants (There were only 150 participants in the 50K). On the double track paths it was easy to pass, but it was a lot harder on the narrow single-track forest trails.

I hit the marathon mark in 5 hours and finished the first day (51K) in 6 hours, just before it started raining really heavily. I ‘beat’ the second-place walker by about an hour, but of course, this is not a competitive event. Vicky and the kids had a good, though tiring and wet, first day and decided to do something else on day 2.

The start and finish were located at a huge soccer stadium and a live band welcomed the finishers with lots of classic Dutch walking songs, like “Ting-a-Ling, Here Comes the Walking Express.” Most of the walkers are really here to just finish the walk on the four consecutive days and have a good time. Lots of beer and fried food was served at the finish line.

Meeting the Man with the Hammer -- literally (This is a Dutch way of saying you've completely blown up)

On the second day, I took the lead again after a few miles—My increased early tempo in large part thanks to the “Walking Express” song being stuck in my head. Each day would take us to another part of the beautiful forests surrounding the city of Apeldoorn. I spent some times walking the last few miles of day 2 with Ari, a speedwalker, who was part of the centurion association, a club of mostly English and Dutch speedwalkers that have completed 100 miles of speedwalking in less than 24 hours. Ari shared lots of details about the Dutch speedwalking scene with me, including a story about his wife’s 360K speedwalk in France—whoa! I finished day 2 (52K) in 6:24.Day three was going to be fast, because it was only 48K, but after only 12 Km, I ran into two guys on bicycles who were still putting up the yellow course-marking arrows. Apparently they had gotten lost in the forest while putting up the markers. I had just built up a 15-minute lead, but now I had to wait at each turn for these guys to put up signs. Oh well, time to look around a bit more and pick some delicious blueberries. Soon there was a group of six of us, walking slowly behind the sign guys. Many of the walkers up front were doing this Vierdaagse for the 5th, 10th, or even 25th time. A lot of them would also walk the Vierdaagse Nijmegen the following week, which is the largest four-day event in Holland, with about 40,000 walkers. After we merged with the 40K, the signs were up again and I pulled away again to finish in 6:24 again.

An added incentive for finishing quickly was that we could do fun things in the area. We visited the great Kroller-Muller museum, which has a huge Van Gogh collection, and on the second day we visited the monkey zoo Apenheul, which was a blast, because it had free-roaming monkeys. We also had many nice dinners and lunches in the area, including pancakes at one of Holland’s best pancake houses “’Het Vergulden Hert” (The Golden Deer).

The final day was the most beautiful and also the fastest; I finished the 49K walk in 5:30 and was the first 50K finisher to pick up the nice medal. Hundreds of spectators lined the course with flowers for the folks who had completed the event, which, of course, was a huge achievement for many. Many bands lined the course as well, playing songs to cheer the walkers on.

Overall It was a fun event, but I don’t think I’ll do this one again, mainly because of the huge numbers of people you have to pass in the last 20 kilometers. The entry fee of 30 Euros was not too high for this event, but you don’t get anything else for free (no shirts, goodie bags, and no free water and snacks at aid stations).My legs were definitely a little tight and sore afterwards, but overall, I felt great on all days and was quite surprised about how it almost started feeling easier as the days went by. Overall a real confidence-booster for the upcoming TRT thru-run-- I could not have imagined a better training session.

Next up: TRT 50M – provided it is not too smoky!


Turi said...

Cool; I'm glad you blogged about this. I tried to check out their website that you linked to earlier, but couldn't figure much out through the language. Sounds like a great trip, though...

Matt said...


Sorry to highjack, but I'm a old high school friend of Jason Ostrom and I if you have his contact information I would really appreiciate it. I also live in Colorado.

Thanks, Matt (aka: He would also know me as CHUM)

Chihping Fu 傅治平 (超馬阿爸) said...

Pete, great report (and the win) on this 4 days 200K walk. Did you really walk? ;-)


Peter Lubbers said...

Hi Matt (CHUM):
Sorry I don't have Jason's e-mail.
I'd also like to get in touch with him about his TRT record attempt on August 13-15th.
I suggest you also post this comment on the previous post:
Sometime people subscribe to posts that they commented on.

Matt said...

Thank you Peter, I'll give it a shot.

anil said...

Hey good one, Peter. Very interesting to see this format. goodluck on TRT.


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