The last week of August, the alarm clock set for 12.15 am, this could only mean one thing – another European marathon and this one we were really excited about. We planned to drive through the night, cross over to France on the ferry, through Belgium and on to Holland and the town of Vaals where the borders of Holland, Belgium and Germany meet. Next the simple task of running a marathon, criss-crossing the borders until the 26.2 miles were up.
We had planned to run in Amsterdam but this sounded far more fun – a real adventure! A few challenges – no map of the route so we had no idea where we were going or any idea what terrain we would encounter and I forgot the map of Europe so had to rely on a pdf on the phone!
The ferry trip went without a hitch – we were becoming regulars on the night ferry now and managed to spread the word to a few prospective runners. We hit the autoroute and aimed for Bruges before hanging a right towards Brussels and by some miracle, having negotiated the Brussels ring road in rush hour, arrived at our destination 5 hours later.
As soon as we arrived in the country park in Vaals we knew we were onto a winner – long leafy, tree lined tracks zig zagging across the borders with several routes to choose from. We sweet talked the manageress in the posh restaurant and she let us change in the loos much to the staff’s hilarity and so, at midday, having already been in 5 countries, we were ready for the off!
Marlena had the brainwave of taking a picture of the large map so we had a rough idea of where to aim for, synchronised our watches, and set off. I had only decided on this route the night before so hadn’t had much time to research the area but I did know that we had chosen the highest point in Holland to run in – only I could choose a steep hill in the flattest country in Europe! Sure enough the path took us down and down towards the base of the hill and then huge excitement – we crossed our first border and into Belgium! The conditions were perfect – not too hot, relatively dry underfoot and for the most part nice wide paths which seemed to be deserted except for us pounding out the miles. The views were stunning as we looked out over green valleys, fields full of chocolate box cows and church steeples in the distance. Which country were we in – who cares it was spectacular!
We had both done a half marathon the week before (review here) and I had done a really gruelling trail marathon in Cornwall (review coming soon) a week prior to that but we both felt really good and were moving easily. We took some pictures and video in the first hour which you can see below and celebrated the first 10 miles with a jelly baby or two. One thing that we learned early in was that the maps and route markings were hopeless, but in many ways this made it more fun as we just ran completely free choosing paths at will, hardly ever using the same path twice . We couldn’t believe how quiet it was – how could people have this on their doorstep and not be out enjoying it?
On and on we went eating up the miles before we decided to head a bit further out into the country (which country I’m not sure!) . Suddenly, as we burst through the trees, we reached a magical little enclave with half a dozen enormous houses – Germany we decided, before heading back into the forest and the route that would take us to the finish. Every marathon is hard work – after all it’s a long way and this one was no exception but we were both determined to make a strong finish and so a final check with a walker to make sure we were on the right track. “Along the straight and up a steep hill – no more than 3k she said”. Well there are hills and hills and this one was brutal but we got to the top and back to the car as the watches clicked onto the magic figure 26.2. We’d done it and what a journey nearly 3,000 ft of elevation through some of the most magical scenery you can imagine. Our fourth great European marathon adventure had been one of the best!
A few lessons learnt – we needed to do some work on nutrition and in particular hydration – the carbon sports drink had not been a success and we both bonked to varying degrees at the 18-19 mile mark and who knows next time we might even take a map or…. Maybe not!
Enjoy the video on our youtube channel!