Trail des Vallées du Chevalier

While joints and muscles seem to have recovered well from yesterday’s trail run, my shoes never will I’m afraid. Oh well, a good excuse to spoil myself with a pair of new ones (as if I need an excuses for that).

It was a trail filled with surprises, both positive and negative. The weather surely had its hand in that – it had been raining pretty much non-stop during the entire week – but the organisation doesn’t walk away with clean hands either. But anyway, enough rambling, to the order of the day: my report!

Waking up at 5.30 has never been one of my favorite things, but with all the excitement I woke up exactly one minute before my alarm clock rang, grabbed a bite and checked my gear list for the day. When both stomach as mind were comforted, I made way to pick up Thierry (who goes by the nickname Nonkel from here onwards) and then up to Marche-les-Dames, where we arrived around 8’o’clock, as planned. Suit up, gear up, ready to go. We attended the briefing where we were told that the trail would be 52k rather than the planned 54: the weather conditions had made it irresponsible to send us through one of the valleys. We would have to go through a narrow tunnel and walk through a small river, the latter about 1k from the finish.

A few minutes after 9, a loud shot rang and we took off. A steep climb, immediately followed by what I’d call a sweadow: something in between a swamp and a meadow. We threaded lightly, avoiding the bigger puddles, still naive, thinking we could finish with dry feet. Boy, were we wrong. After the sweadow, we were offered one muddy track after another. Sometimes clay-like, sticky, mud which stuck to your shoes and made them 3 times as heavy and neutralized their grip entirely. At other times, the mud was just so slippery that you had to balance yourself the entire time to stay upright. Needless to say this kind of running is twice as energy-consuming as regular running.

And as if that alone was not enough, there were climbs. Most of them not all that steep (although half of those were still not runnable due to the slippery mud) but the ones that were… oh boy. The fact that they provided ropes should give you an idea. The pictures below should give you, well, the entire picture (although they still don’t do them justice if you ask me).

Meanwhile, I was running alone. I’d let Nonkel behind after some good 20k, and after the second supply post, I was running solo with nobody to be seen. As if that wasn’t hard enough already, I came to a discouraging conclusion at about 52k, just after I’d realized I’d missed a sign and had to turn around. While i was retracing my steps, I checked my Garmin watch and checked the map (you’ve just got to love Garmin’s forerunner 305). Our starting point should have been, taking my small detour into account, within 2k’s max. Alas… nowhere to be seen. I zoomed out. I zoomed out some more. more yet… And at last, there it was. I estimated it at about 6 to 7k from my current position. And that’s if you can fly…

Discouraged and tired, I carried on, now again amongst some other runners (the ones that had caught up with me due to my small detour). At about 54k I ran out of water (my estimation at the second supply post had been perfect… for a 52k run that is. At about 57k, I ran into someone from the organisation whom I asked some water (thanks again for that) and an estimate of what lay ahead. 3 to 4k… At least I had an idea of where I was at now. Or I thought I did. some more climbing and then finally, after about 60k, the river. No way to avoid wet feet, but since they were wet since, well, since the first minute of the run, there was no need to stall. With the finish now within sight (at least on my garmin), I waded through and continued the trip. 1k left!

It turned out to be quite the last kilometer. A bit uphill, a bit downhill and then… a seemingly endless flight of stairs. At the top of those – which took me forever to complete – a pair of kind ladies tried to comfort me: “almost there, 400m left!”. Entirely in the tradition of the day, they were minimalising of course.

Finally, I finished. 7h47 minutes on the clock, 62.37k in the legs. Tired, empty even, but proud and happy. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but then I’d like to know the RIGHT distance up front. But beautiful, you ask? Why, yes!

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