Beautiful, cold, hard. I think that summarizes my Brabantse Kluis Trail in Aarle-Rixtel in three words. Okay, four more words: apple pie and hot chocolate.
Almost half an hour done. Finally, I feel a little bit warm. This is the coldest race I’ve done in my second running life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be here, in the Mortelse Bossen (forest). It’s beautiful. So far we’ve run alongside ditches, over single tracks, through forest and over fields with frozen puddles.
I do think I’m wearing enough clothes. A thick Craft thermal shirt, a Rukka mid layer, a Rab top layer and on top of that my Salomon running vest. It’s just that, it’s freezing. Not like crazy, but it’s freezing.
Hiding inside the inn
Normally before a race everybody is either warming-up or enthusiastically chatting close to the start line. Now, with 10 minutes to go, nobody was at the start. We were all hiding inside the corridor of the inn the Brabantse Kluis. Just 3 minutes before the start we headed out.
We, is more or less 25 of us. One of the reasons I like the races of Trail Events so much, is that the start is always in small groups. We’re the first ones to go this morning. There is just one little problem. I’m by far the slowest, and before I know it, I’m running on my own.
It’s stupid, I know, I love running on my own. But for some strange reason, during a trail race being last, is still something my ego is struggling with. Luckily two guys in front of me, one from Schoonhoven, one from Rotterdam, make a pit stop after a couple of kilometers. When they’re done, they join me. I step to the side, to let them pass, but they confess they like my pace. Seemingly I’m not the only one who wants to start slow.
This is the first time I run 30 kilometers during my second running life. I’ve run 27,5 kilometers, but not in the cold, so I’ve no clue what to expect. Besides that, that run was before I had COVID. Now I’m just recovered.
The three of us stay together until the first refreshment post. From here on, for the next ten kilometers, there’s no marking anymore. We have to run on our GPS. My 2 companions go upfront. I follow, sticking to my own pace. I want to keep my heart rate low, for at least 20 kilometers. My pace is not their pace and slowly I lose sight of them.
Fields of frozen grass
My watch guides me over hiking tracks, tiny, single tracks, and mountain bike trails. Through forest, scrub and over hard fields of frozen grass. Whenever I’m in doubt, I check my AllTrails app, on which I’ve downloaded the map of today’s trail. A smart choice, I notice when I see the two guys from before running in between the trees towards me. Somehow they’ve missed a turnoff.
I almost miss one as well, when I do a short Instagram Story update of my race. I’m running on the walking path when my watch tells me to go right. However, I don’t see a right, so I run on for a couple of meters, finish the update and check AllTrails. It tells me there is a mountain bike path on the other side of the bushes, which has a right. I turn, pick up another runner in search of the invisible right and together we make our way through the bushes onto the mountain bike path.
All the little ups and downs are taking a toll on my legs. I’ve run 16 kilometers so far. Only half way. I didn’t expect to feel them already. Also, my heart rate has gone up above 150 beats per minute (bpm). It’s fluctuating around 160. That wasn’t what I had planned. Is it the cold? Or haven’t I drank enough? I try to take a sip every now and then. It’s just that the water in my camelbak feels like ice water and I don’t want to upset my stomach.
The good news is, I’ve passed four runners in front of me. With my two former companions that makes six. I’m not number last anymore. That will keep my ego happy for a while. Luckily the trail is still beautiful, and I make a mental note to come back here. Maybe in Spring.
Coca Cola magic
When I’m approaching the last refreshment post at 24 kilometers, I have to admit I’ve had better days. I’ve been eating 3 gels so far. Normally that’s enough. But maybe the cold is taking a toll. I mean, my upper body feels warm enough at this moment, yet, I can feel the cold on my legs. A minute ago I passed a guy shaking and stretching his legs, because the cold got to him.
It’s still 8 more kilometers to the finish, but I saved one trick until the end; Coca Cola. Trail Events always pours the real stuff. That’s the only one that works for me. Every refreshment post has it. So far I ignored it. But not at this last stop. I take half a cup, that should do it.
Hot chocolate and apple pie
Maybe it’s the Coca Cola, maybe it’s my mind that starts to fantasize about hot chocolate with whipped cream and apple pie, but somehow I’m able to speed up a bit. That is, up to 3 kilometers before the finish line. There the forest ends, and we’re suddenly running over countryside roads. Boring countryside roads. Tarmac roads.
My left knee hurts, my right ankle hurts, my legs are cold and suddenly the run has become very uninteresting. Everything in me wants to stop running. I’m done with it. I’ve been running for 3 hours in the cold. It’s enough. But it can’t be enough. The finish is still 2 kilometers away.
Running in between cows
I stop and walk for a moment, to look at my phone, at Sara’s last messages. That brings a smile to my face. I force my legs to start running again. In the distance I can see the inn. Just one more loop around it, to the back entrance. There I’m greeted by one of the volunteers, clapping her hands warm. She guides me into the barn of the inn, where the cows are watching me running my last meters in between them, and out of the other door over the finish line.
Back in the car I warm up again. I pour myself some hot tea from the thermos flask I brought, and sigh. My longest run done. Now, there is only one thing left to do; drive to a bakery and buy apple pie so I can celebrate tonight with Sara and with hot chocolate.