Kennedy March - 80 km
Usually Bart and I would cycle Diekirch-Valkenswaard after our cycling vacation. This year I hadn't trained much, mostly because I had been hiking in Iceland instead of going on another cycling trip. After 5 editions of Diekirch-Valkenswaard I was also looking forward to doing something else, which is why I decided to walk the Kennedy March (80 km) in Bergeyk.
My grandpa had walked it several times and my mom and dad once for the 25th edition. This year would be the 50th and likely last time the event would take place, so I couldn't stay behind. Besides, I was pretty well prepared after all the walking in Iceland. I didn't train much else, I once walked 10 km and once to school, which was 36 km.
The walk didn't start until 22:00, but I had to go to school during the day (which included cycling 36 km) so had been awake since 7 in the morning. I was doubting if I should walk on my running or hiking shoes, and choice the latter. There were less old people at the start than I had expected. In total 150 people would walk the 80 km version, in the morning some more would start for 40 km. While it was already dark we started walking towards an adjacent village called Waalre. It was clear there were a lot of people from Bergeyk participating by remarks as: “eeh die broer van hum zit bij ons op de vuilniswoagen” (this doesn't really translate).
After a few kilometers the group fell apart and everyone become quiet, so I could focus on walking. There were many people standing in front of their houses handing out bread and tea, which was nice. At the first checkpoint I was getting tired, as it was midnight, but walking went pretty smooth. At the next stop in Knegsel I had walked 25 km and was really tired, it was 2:30.
It started to get tough, it was still 10-15 km until the halfway point. I was exhausted from the walking, cycling and school, and of course wasn't used to walk in the middle of the night. The part from Eersel to Bergeyk was the worst, I walked as if I was drunkenly swinging over the road. My head also hurt and I felt nauseous. I decided to just keep on going to the 40 km mark and then decide if I would also do the second half. A bit later it was 5 o'clock and the sun was just rising, I had been walking the entire night and been awake for nearly 24 hours. I felt horrible and had already more or less decided to stop at the 40 km mark when a few housewives caught up with me. I recognized them as I had overtaken them 25 km before. They recognized me as well, and although it was clear I could hear them, they started saying things as 'he overtook us before, he is clearly walking way too fast', 'he is also not walking straight'. I had a hard time not yelling at them about how I had been awake the entire day including cycling to school.
I kept ignoring them but they became increasingly rude. They said 'he probably just didn't train enough', 'he likely can hear us but so what', and 'the only exercising he probably does is walking to the bus station'. I tought f*ck you I will beat you to the finish line. When we entered Bergeyk it became clear they didn't know the directions and were just following me. I considered leading them into the wrong direction, but that would mean I had to take a detour as well.
There was hot soup at the 40 km point and my mom and dad stopped by to see how I was doing (despite it being 6 o'clock). They had brought my runnings shoes as I had told them my calves and the tendons in my knee were hurting. It was clear that my hiking shoes were way to heavy for these type of distances. My parents also brought THE shirt, in which my grandpa had walked all his Kennedy Marches and my dad his as well. With those shoes and clothes I should be able to finish.
After a short break I started walking again. It was definitely easier in my running shoes, but I also had a lot of blisters, likely from walking on asphalt instead of the dirt roads in Iceland. I passed the supermarket where I work right when my colleagues were starting, but they didn't see me. It was 'only' 35 more kilometers. I got caught in a group that kept talking nonsense and lame stories. As I was tired I really didn't want to hear them but in contrast to cycling you can't just race ahead when you are walking. After even more tough kilometers I arrived at the checkpoint in Hapert. The annoying group took a break so I quickly continued.
That was a lot nicer and it also started to get light out. I was completely destroyed, as I had already walked 50 km. To make it even harder a lot of people kept passing me, those were the still fresh people that would only walk 40 kilometers. There was no way I could keep up.
After 60 km I arrived at what was marked as the 'banana checkpoint', but they were out of bananas. An older man started talking to me, this was his 136th Kennedy March. During Diekirch-Valkenswaard there would always be people riding it for their 30th time, but that was insane. He said there was another guy doing it for the 172th time. I kept talking with him for about an hour about all his walks.
He advised me to take an ice cold shower as soon as I got home. That was still one of the more normal pieces of advice I received. Some male walkers put grass or chestnuts in their underwear so they wouldn't get a sore *******. Others walked while holding broom sticks because otherwise their hands would swell.
By now I was just covered in blisters and exhausted. I still had at least 3-4 hours to go, but was also still ahead of the housewives. At one point I needed to go to the bathroom, but there was a man walking just behind me and I figured it would be odd to just walk off into the forest. Directly after the man did just that. A while later I also took a break in between the trees. Some people walked by and shouted 'we can still see you!".
The next part was truly awful, I wasn't nauseous as during the night but it simply took an tremendous physical and mental effort to keep going. I forced myself not to stop because I knew I would then keep taking breaks every 100 meters. To my own surprise I made it until the last checkpoint, 6 km before the finish.
The first thing I heard there was a man telling the distance was 0.5 km further than indicated on the route description. I sat down for a few minutes to figure out how I would drag myself to the finish line. There was no point in resting now and stopping was certainly out of the question. An event called the 'truckrun' was also taking place today. For 45 minutes there was a continuous line of trucks driving by while blasting their horns.
When I finally reached Bergeyk the route made a 2 km detour. About 1,5 km before the finish I saw my dad walking towards me. He was walking in a normal pace but I could hardly keep up. Finally the finish became in sight.
After walking 80 km and being awake for 31 hours I stumbled over the finish line, where the rest of my family was waiting. I was still one of the earlier finishers. The entire day I had been thinking about receiving another medal to add to my collection. It turned out that because it was the 50th edition we would instead get a glass trophy.
Outside we sat down on a terrace, I really couldn't walk anymore. The organization had been smart, they had hired a DJ playing horrible Dutch music so that everybody would go home and the terrace wouldn't get overcrowded. After an hour of resting I stumbled to the car. Back home I noticed I had over 10 blisters. I think most were from my hiking shoes. I even had 10 cm long blisters on my lower legs, where the edge of my hiking shoes had touched them. I carefully lay down on my bed and finally went to sleep. It had been really tough, probably even worse than cycling Diekirch Valkenswaard, but I did managed to finish before the mean housewives.