Tuesday, 7 March 2017

#028 Legends Trails 2017 - Ardennes Magic


Waiting for the late flight back to Manchester, after Joop De Wel had kindly given me a lift back from the Ardennes.

I strolled up and down Terminal B. Coughed at the ridiculous price of Talisker. 60 Euros a bottle! It's supposed to be duty free! So I bought some Belgian chocolate champagne truffles and a bottle of Amarula cream instead.

I had plenty of time to reflect upon the weekend's action on The Legends Trails race. There was never any doubt that this year's second edition would not live up to the racing adventures set by the 2016 event. Race Directors Tim De Vriendt and Stef Schuermans had invested significant efforts into The Legends. Several racers had returned, either to wipe clean the record of previous DNF, or with their sights on being the first legend of 2017.

Tim, Stef and racers gathering at the start.
In the HQ too, there was a great mix of experienced volunteers and new faces. The traditional spirit of camaraderie was felt by all as the race machine started up, first with registration, kit check and then medical check by Dr Geert Meese and his superb team. Wim Bastiaens and Patrick De Kunst, both safe hands from previous Legends events, joined me as Safety Team coordinators. Sadly no Deiter Van Holder this year, he is working in Iceland as a mountain guide and having good adventures there too.

Wim in Race HQ
A new feature for the logistics team this year were team managers, Joop Werson and Kurt Demets. The logistics and safety teams did a superb job. Often to holes crossed over, both teams helping each other where possible with the common goal of another successful race.

Joop De Wel and Mich Van Deun looked after the Legends racer tracking system, providing quality data and visual displays for the race organisation and spectators in the common room.

Joop, Mich and Patrick taking care of business.
This year, both in the weeks prior and during the race, the weather was much milder. The trails had not suffered from several weeks of rain and then days of snow melt. That said, the conditions were far from easy, with several squalls of gusting wind and freezing rain blowing through. In 1944 the Ardennes winter caused the 101st Airborne considerable problems. Today, the terrain remains largely unchanged. 2017 finisher, Allan Rumbles, said for the Legends course if a racer could change shoes to suit the ground underfoot, he would need a dozen types of trail shoe, further emphasising that attrition on the feet is a significant factor.

Safety Team Coordinators occasionally sleep too!
Forests cover the region. Mature densely planted pine forests effectively obscure sight lines and disguise contour features. Deep riverine valleys cut through undulating terrain and are overlaid by a cryptic matrix pathways, firebreaks and sketchy trails. Some of the Legends course follows way marked GR (Grande Randonnee) routes, some other sections follow Promenade Routes. However, these fall in and out of popularity and so may be overgrown. The frequent changes of direction and complex environment places a premium on navigation and route finding skills.

Navigation challenges.
This years winner, Tuen Geurts-Schoenmakers, used only map and compass...and he still took 13 hours off the course record. But most racers do use a GPS to some extent. The combination of fatigue, sleep deprivation and cold caused a few competitors to have difficulty route finding even with a GPS - once again proving that whilst GPS is an important item in many racers' navigation tool box, it is not always the whole solution.

Also, for UK racers, the Belgium mapping system is very different to the Ordnance Survey we are used to...

  • Belgium maps are highly pictorial rather than symbolic as the OS. 
  • Contours interval is 5m with index contours at 20m. Can make the map look quite busy in steep terrain. 
  • The map grid uses Mercator Projection therefore is not as intuitive as OS Grid. Hence Belgian navigators do not use the grid as much as we do in the UK.
  • The scale is 1:20,000 so at 1km = 5cm there is detail in the built up areas at least as good as 1:25,000 OS.
In 2017 saw the first British finisher of The Legends. Ryan Wood rocked up to a very creditable 15th place. Allan Rumbles with his own brand of solid, relentless, forward progress toughed it out to 26th place, finishing to loud applause and several La Chouffre beers in celebration.

At 250km the Legends is the longest and most arduous, ultra challenge in the Benelux countries. In 2017 a total of 29 Legends were made from 61 starters. Willemijn Jongens and Sarah Johnson finished in 22nd place, proving that 'this girl can'.

The 2018 Legends Trails promises even more adventures, even more Legends. The question is, will you be there? 

Stu Westfield
Legends Trails Safety Team Coordinator 

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