death march

De dodentocht (Deathmarch) is a 100km walk in the Antwerp province. For a couple years, I've wanted to participate but never actually did it. Untill yesterday.

As usual in Belgium, it was raining yesterday (friday 12 august 2006). I packed a lot of stuff in my backpack, most of it wasn't needed:

Most of this, except for the bottle of water and the cans of energydrink, were packed in a garbage bag (a trick I picked up in highschool when we went hiking) to keep it from getting soaked in heavy rain.

I left around 3PM, under heavy rain and halfway to spie's place I noticed I was wearing the wrong shoes.
So I went back and decided I'd try my sportsshoes. In retrospect this was a very bad idea. I should have worn my hiking shoes.

Anyway, arriving at spie's place, I played with the idea of not going through with it because of the rain. But this thing happens only once every year, and I'd be damned to miss it again.
So we left (on foot) for the trainstation. Underway I bought an umbrella which was a very very good purchase.
I believe we arrived in Bornem around 5PM, with plenty of time left to register. There was noone in the waiting queue so we got out very quick. The march didn't start untill 9PM, so we hung around a while, eating sandwiches and hamburgers, and having a coffee in a pub.
Around 8, we left for the starting-line and we waited. At that time, I thought the wait was the worst part, but I know better now. The sky had cleared up and the organisation said we were looking at clear sky. That was nice to hear :)

The first 10 kilometers sucked pretty badly, because we were walking so close together. It got even worse when the weather changed and it started to rain. After about 16 kilometers, we were back in Bornem (The first 16km is a loop) and the group started to expand a bit giving everyone extra space.

After 30 kilometers, we were at the Ruisbroek checkpoint and we decided to change socks. We both had blisters at this point (not unexpected because of the rain) and taped them up. I had about 5 blisters.

It's strange to be able to talk about 30 kilometers of the march in just 2 paragraphs. The walk between checkpoints seemed endless. 2 checkpoints back we got something to eat and an energydrink (which btw was very good ! Extran Energy). From then on, we got drinks and food along the way at more or less regular intervals. Water, coffee, apples, ...

It was now 2.43AM and we had been walking for almost 6 hours straight. The small break we took to take care of blisters did more bad than good. We had dry feet, but our muscles hurt more than ever.

At this point we had planned to get atleast to the Palm checkpoint, located at a nice 53.34km from the startline. According to the map, the next checkpoint would be about 3 or 4 kilometers ahead. The odd thing about this checkpoint is that it was mentioned on the map they handed out to us, but it didn't have a name.
I can see now that the map on the site doesn't mention this checkpoint and that the next checkpoint we would encounter, was the Duvel checkpoint in Breendonk, at 39.53km. It may be only 9 kilometers, be when your feet hurt, 9 kilometers is a walk through hell. At normal walking speed (6km/h), it would take 1.30 hours. It took us a little more than that.

We were not tired, thirsty or hungry. Our muscles didn't hurt. Not even the blisters could bother us. But out feet were killing us. It's like walking around with nails up your feet. Every step made it worse. When we were about 1km from the checkpoint, I remembered thinking that was 2000 steps (well, when your feet hurt, a step is not 1 meter :). I tried to picture myself on a running track, which is 400 meters, and then tried to see how far we had to go to have walked 100 meters. When we got there, I was looking at where the next 100m would take us. It was terrible.

When the Duvel checkpoint was in sight, I practically dragged myself to it. Being the sadists the organisators apparently were, they had rerouted the track about 50 meters before the checkpoint, and guided us on some courtyard where we could get cake and drinks. All we were interested in now was to have our badge scanned. The food was no temptation. Neither were the drinks. Even more sadistically, the checkpoint was still about 500 or 600 meters away. When we got there and had our badge scanned, we stopped.

We still had to walk about 2km to get to the pickup point (Spie's father came to pick us up and I was invited to sleep at his place, something I was very grateful to accept)

We had now walked for 7:30 hours and I was happy to sit in a car. I dragged myself upstairs (at this point, my knee-joints aswell as my muscles were very unflexible) and got into bed. It took hours before my feet stopped hurting. But I finally fell asleep. When I got up, the pain was mostly gone.

I'm still having trouble to stand up and walk around (or walk up the stairs), but I can relativate: it's nothing compared to 40km on blisters.

Although my feet hurt terribly bad and I only made it to the first 40km, I can say this: I made it through the first 40 km.

Before the march, I couldn't imagine the pain I would get myself into. There was no cheering crowd at the checkpoint, no medals or certificates. There was just us. And that was more than enough.

These are our track records:
Peter Spiessens (8528), Steven Van Acker (9943)

I will see you again next year Bornem. I will train and get decent shoes. And after the rain falls with the night, and the sun wipes the sky clean and warms the dawn with its glow, I will gladly drop dead at 53.36km.

Unless of course, my training can take me further :)