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Jeroen Stoof, preparing for The Great Escape

The Great Escape, a hundred mile race in the midst of the central Ardennes in Belgium, through wafer thin mists, thick forest and over small trails with panoramic views. That’s the race the Dutch ultra runner Jeroen Stoof is preparing for. Four and a half months to go and he will be on the starting line.

“The legs didn’t want to run”, sighs Jeroen Stoof. It’s 2 days after the Brabantse Ultra Trail; a 50 and 100 kilometers race in Leende, The Netherlands. Stoof wanted to run the 100, he ran 50. “My quads were blown up. The first 43 kilometers went okay, then my quads played up, followed by my calf muscles. I could have walked on, but decided to leave the race after the first loop. I have more important races coming up. I didn’t want to damage anything. This race was just training.”

 

A DNF by surprise

Having to drop out took the 49 year old ultra runner by surprise. 50 kilometers isn’t new for him. In fact, he is used to running much longer distances. “I ate well, I drank well, and my mind was clear. The only thing I can think of, is that my preparation wasn’t the way it is supposed to be. Last week I was in Salzburg for a car audio contest, my other hobby, where I was head of the jury. The week before I was in Italy for work. I missed two weeks of running and strength training. My body needs to move.”

On top of that Stoof made a classic mistake; starting out too fast: “I planned to start easy, but I was standing at the front of the pack at the start. Lots of runners started really fast. I just followed. After a couple of kilometers I looked at my watch and discovered I was running every kilometer within 6 minutes. I’ve learned my lesson and won’t make that mistake next time.”

 

Ehrwald Trail

That next time will be June 16, when he’s running the 87 kilomter long Ehrwald Trail, which is part of the Zugspitz Ultra Trail, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. “I am running that one for the altitude (4.040 meters; jk). The Great Escape has 6.000 meters of altitude, so I have to get used to running uphill. Around here it’s all flat, that’s why I’m running in Germany. This summer we’re going on holiday to Wales. I think I will do some nice runs there in the mountains as well.”

The Great Escape will be his second 100 miles (160 kilometers) race. Beat the Trail, October last year, was his first. “I see an ultra run as an adventure; doing things I’ve never done before. Going places I’ve never gone before. And I see them as a mental challenge. I noticed that if you run for 25 hours, your mind starts to do strange things; like seeing a man crossing the road in the very early morning hours, just to discover it wasn’t a man and he wasn’t crossing the road at all, it was just a traffic sign.”

 

Beat the Trail

His body did precisely what he asked of it. “Of course my legs didn’t feel great at the end, but I didn’t have any pain. I think I owe that to the strength training I’m doing. The second part of the trail was easier than the first, as I was counting down the kilometers. Beat the Trail is a hiking and trail running event. The hikers started a couple of hours earlier. After a hundred kilometers I started to overtake them. That gave me a boost.”

After the race he went to his Bed & Breakfast to have a rest, but couldn’t fall asleep. “Somehow I wasn’t tired after those 21 hours or running, so I went back to the event village to cheer for all the other finishers.”

 

Mental barrier

Stoofs started his ultra running adventure, because he was frustrated he couldn’t run more than 31,7 kilometers. “That distance was an obsession for me. I ran my first race in 2016. A friend wanted to do an obstacle run, the Tough Ten Miles Farmer’s Fun and asked me to join him. I never ran, I didn’t like it, but said yes. Afterwards I couldn’t walk anymore. At home I had to go seated up and down the stairs.”

After another untrained 15 kilometer run he decided it was time to take things seriously: “I started running more often, but it took me 4 months to be able to run 10 kilometers in a row.”

With his newly found fitness he joined a last man standing race. “I ran 31,7 kilometers during that race. Whatever I tried in the months after that race, I wasn’t able to run any further. Probably because I was training totally wrong. Every time I went for a run, I ran as fast as I could. Often with a heart rate of 175 beats per minute. I had never heard of easy runs.”

 

Start 2 Ultra

While Stoof was searching online for some trail runs to do, he discovered the Start 2 Ultra program of TrailrunnenNL. If anyone could help him to run further than 31,7 kilometers, it had to be an ultra run specialist. “I joined their beginners program to run 50 kilometers. While I was doing that, I discovered they had a program to run 65k as well, so I decided to switch.”

In six months time he broke that 31,7 barrier 3 times. First during a 40 kilometer run, next during a 50 kilometer run and finally by running the Krijtlandpad trail; a 68 kilometer long ultra. “I started that race with a romantic idea; meeting people, having a chat here and there. However we were running during the COVID pandemic and couldn’t run with others.”

Luckily the race was on the birthday of his oldest daughter. “When I passed by the Drielandenpunt (where the borders of The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet; jk) my family was waiting for me with cake. The good thing was; I discovered I like to run on my own.”

 

Petranpad

With that race the program was over. “It felt all of a sudden. I had met nice people. I wanted more, so I decided to sign up for the 100 kilometers program; which was another 4 months of training.”

That one ended with Stoof running the Petranpad on October 2 2021; a 113 kilometer long trail run. “After 60 kilometers I had enough of it, and took a long walking break. Another runner joined me and we started talking. That cheered me up. As I was walking faster, I continued on my own, put some music on and started to feel better and better. I think it’s the only dip I’ve had during a race.”

 

The Great Escape

The logical next step, for him, was a 100 miles race. As TrailrunnenNL doesn’t offer a program for that distance he switched to running coach Alex Gijsbers, who designed a training schedule for him. On Tuesdays he combines running (10 to 15k) with strength training; squads, lunges, planks. Thursday he does intervals. Saturday he runs another 10 to 15k and Sunday is the day of the long run.

It’s the same schedule he’s using now to prepare for the Great Escape. “Last year I already wanted to run that race. The pictures I’ve seen of it are amazing. But together with Alex we decided it would be wiser to run Beat the Trail first, because The Great Escape has 6.000 meters of altitude; that’s more than double the amount of altitude Beat the Trail (2.589; jk) has. However, this year it’s going to happen. I can’t wait.”

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