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Daan Coenen is searching for his limits

He ran his first marathon in October 2022, followed only a month later by his first 50 kilometres ultra, and his first Fastest Known Time on the 100 kilometres long Dutch Mountain Trail a year after that. Daan Coenen (11-8-2002) has started running recently, but is already searching for his limits.

It was somewhere in 2022 that Daan Coenen decided to fulfil a dream he had for a long time; running the marathon of Eindhoven, the big city in the south of the Netherlands, close to his hometown Aalst. There was just one problem. He wasn’t a runner. ‘I always played football, just like every Dutch kid. In every team I was the guy doing most of the running on the pitch. But off the pitch, I never ran. When I moved on from the youth league to the seniors I lost interest in football. I started doing callisthenics and spent a lot of time in the gym. The only running I did was on the treadmill.’


His preparation for the Eindhoven marathon wasn’t anything serious. ‘I downloaded a training schedule from the internet, but it didn’t fit with my work and my studies. So everytime I went for a run, I just tried to run a bit further than the previous time. Only a month before the marathon I ran my first half marathon, in Antwerpen, Belgium. Looking back, I admit that I had no clue what I was doing.’

Yet, without a structured preparation, he made his debut in 3 hours and 33 minutes. A time a lot of runners will be happy with. ‘I didn’t realise back then that 3,5 hours is decent for a debut marathon. Especially with the approach I had. Only now I start to understand that I might possibly be a fast runner.’’

First 50k ultra

However, getting faster is not what the student Digital Business Concepts is after. ‘I want to get to know my limits. When is the moment I have to stop? What is too far for me? And what will I do at that moment? So far I haven’t found my limits yet.’

He tried. A month after the Eindhoven Marathon he ran the 50 kilometres Leenderbos ultra trail. He entered that with the same open-mindedness:. ‘I thought a race in nature would be fun. I had no clue what a trail race was. A couple of days before the race I still had to buy my first pair of trail running shoes. I felt a little uncomfortable when Mark, the owner of the trail run shop, was telling me how hard trail running is. So I didn’t really dare to tell him my first trail run was directly a 50 kilometres ultra.’

Lake District Challenge 100k

A few more 50k ultras followed, including the Brabantse Ultra Trail, March last year, where he finished 5th. October 6th, only eight months after he ran his first marathon, Coenen did his first 100 kilometres ultra; the Lake District Challenge (2.380m+). He finished second, but had to dig deep: ‘I was struggling with the heath. It was 32 degrees Celsius. In England! After 65 kilometres I was done for, and had to crawl to the finish. But I made it.’

Three months later, he competed in another 100 kilometres ultra; the Leopard Ultra-Trail du Mullerthal Luxembourg (111k – 3.380m+). Again he finished in the top 10 men. Eleventh overall, as Shefi Xhaferaj, who wins almost every race she starts, came in sixth and pushed him out of the top 10 overall. ‘I decided at the last minute to join. We had a family weekend in Luxembourg, so I was there anyway.’

Fastest Known Time

Coenen ended 2023 with a big bang, by setting a new Fastest Known Time on the Dutch Mountain Trail (101k – 2.000m+). ‘I read somewhere that it is the hardest hiking route in the Netherlands. That sounded like a challenge. When I looked on the FKT website I saw that Wouter de Vries had the fastest time with 10 hours and 54 minutes. I had never run 100 kilometres that fast, but I thought I could at least give it a try. A month after the Leopard Ultra-Trail I felt fit and went for it. My timing couldn’t have been worse. It rained continuously, and the trail was just mud.’

On top of that Coenen started out too fast: ‘I always do that. It’s something I still have to unlearn. The first 40 kilometres I felt good, but after that – around Gulpen – I started to struggle. Luckily my parents were waiting for me around the 50 kilometres point. They gave me a bit of Coca Cola, which made me puke. Somehow that felt as a relief, and for the next 20 kilometres I could speed up again.’

Breaking the record

The last 30 kilometres were one big struggle. ‘I tried to run, without thinking and tried to block all the pain I was feeling. Even with the finish in Maastricht in sight I doubted if I would make it. I was close, but I was so tired I couldn’t run anymore. I had to drag myself over the last hills. Only in the last 5 kilometres did I started to believe I could break the record.’

He did, by almost half an hour. Now, a couple of months later, Coenen thinks he can even do better. ‘I want to go back. I want to see if I can break the 10 hour barrier, but if I do it, the weather and the trail has to be better.’

I had never run 100 kilometres that fast, but I thought I could at least give it a try

Daan Coenen on his FKT

Training with Karel Sabbe

From not running at all, to running 100 kilometres ultras, within a year. It sounds all a bit quick. ‘I admit, it isn’t the wisest thing to do. I just dove in head first. I’ve been taking it more seriously for a few months now. I’ve started to train with a schedule of Karel Sabbe (the Belgium ultra runner and 17th person ever to finish the legendary Barkley Marathons; jk). I’m looking at my nutricion as well. Eating during a race is my weak point. I don’t eat enough. What I eat, I throw up again. Slowly but certainly it’s going better. For example, I know now that I can’t handle gels. If I eat, it has to be solid.’


Being only 21 years old, and not having trained seriously for long, a place just under the top looks reachable for Coenen. However, it’s not an ambition he has. ‘Don’t get me wrong, It will be fun to win smaller races and be the best Dutch runner in a big race, but I don’t want to focus too much on speed. I don’t see myself winning the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc. Nor do I want to be a full-time athlete. I like the part-time work I do; helping companies with their SEO. I enjoy being still a student. I like doing different things. I like living where I live. Racing competitively means moving to the mountains, as we don’t have those in the Netherlands.’

On top of that, Coenen isn’t looking for faster, he’s looking for longer. ‘May this year I’m running my first hundred miles at the Trail Alsace Grand Est. If I look at the kilometres I’m running these days, I’m on schedule. Although, I know no matter how hard I train, the first time hundred miles is going to be horrible. If I make it, I hope, next year, to run the Legends Trail (250 kilometres through the Belgian Ardennes; jk). And if that isn’t my limit, I just have to find something else, until I know what is.’

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