When people ask me how I can push on during my extremely long Fastest Known Time attempts (Pacific Crest Trail 2016, Appalachian Trail 2018), my reply is always: nature. The eternal joy of spending time running on a singletrack, for hours on end, with curiosity to see what’s around the next bend. Seeing sunrises, sunsets, encounters with wildlife.
While my first reason for running such long trails was, and will always be, to immerse myself in nature and to reconnect with those ancient genes of being born to run as a human, I did learn a thing or two of what can happen when you face, and overcome, your mental and physical limits.
Jared Campbell, three time Barkley Marathons finisher, explains it perfectly, by saying: “There are lessons in life that can only be learned through fairly massive deviations from our normal, comfortable routines. These lessons alter our perspective on life and better equip us to deal with life’s unforeseen challenges. They can sharpen our optimism and generate a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life.”
I realised, by running those long FKT’s, that just this side of ultrarunning, when nature is not there as a main drive to push on, is also very interesting, and perhaps also worth running and suffering for. Hence my consideration of participating in a running event where you just have to run the same 6.7 kilometer loop over and over again, with no end in sight.
I approached Big’s Backyard Ultra with my usual mantra: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Taking out the possibility and option to give up out of the equation, makes the whole event so much easier mentally. Instead of having to argue over and over again with your weak self, that is telling you so many reasons to quit, you can just focus on the present.
At one point, as often during an ultramarathon, everything hurts, and all you want to do is sleep. Once you are in that state, things get worse, but at a very slow rate. You’re still tired, and you still hurt, but there’s not going to be one moment where you can clearly say that it’s too much. It’s only just a little worse every loop. So you just carry on.
I carried on for as long it was necessary. I carried on for 75 hours, for 75 6.7 kilometer loops, for 502.5 kilometers, until I was the Last Man Standing. It made me the 2020 World Champion Backyard Ultra. And it made my optimism sharpen yet again, and it made me appreciate the simple things in life just a little more again.
Joe and I set out once more to set an FKT on an epic trail, the 3500km long Appalachian Trail. Yet again, we had to beat Joe “Stringbean” ’s time. We learned so much from our mistakes on the Pacific Crest Trail that we could maintain a great flow from start to finish. This way, we ended up with a record that was over 4 days faster than Joe’s record, almost 5 days faster than Karl Meltzer and almost 6 days faster than Scott Jurek. It was an awesome adventure and the connection with the local community will be in our memories for a very long time.
Joe and I set out to do the impossible: as ultrarunning rookies we would go for the Pacific Crest Trail speed record. I would run the 4300km long trail from Mexico to Canada at over 81km per day and Joe would be my one-man-crew. We had huge struggles on the way, with heatstrokes, very bad blisters, extreme sleep deprivation and many missed meet-ups. We pushed on, however, and managed to stay on schedule nonetheless. We ended up breaking Joe “Stringbean” ’s record by 22 hours. With this record we also have our place in the Guinness Book of World Records as we had saved all our evidence and sent it to them. It took many months for both of us to recover from this adventure.
Coast to Coast New Zealand
The Coast to Coast was my introduction to trailrunning. I knew I preferred running on trails but I didn’t even know it had a name back then. During this preparation I was doing great at trail races but this was strange to me as I “lost” a lot of time training for the cycling and kayaking. After a splendid Mountain Run during race day I decided afterwards to leave the cycling and kayaking for now and to focus on running. Because I felt I was great at recovering fast and running long, my attention immediately went in the direction of the exciting world of Fastest Known Times.
I was surely the only runner during the Marathon des Sables for whom it was a training run. I desperately needed desert experience to be prepared for the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail that I was going to run that summer. I learned a lot during this beautiful week and managed to end with the elite 50 runners, at a nice 37th place out of 1250 participants. This was a great preparation for the upcoming P.C.T., but it was scary too, as every day I was going to need to do the distance of the long stage of the Marathon des Sables. I pushed up my training volume and went to the US later that summer for the Pacific Crest Trail run.