This Saturday at 8.00 in the morning I`ll be standing on the imaginative starting line of Legend Trail 500. It’s impossible to predict how a footrace of 500 kilometres in the dark and muddy Ardennes will unfold. Though imagining the course of a race is something I usually do try. This time however I am surprisingly content with going into the great unknown… unknowingly. There are some guiding points along the way though, that may provide a weary runner with a beacon in the great and dark unknown. For some these beacons of light are represented by cafes, restaurants and shops. The more pious adventurers however might find more alleviation from the spiritual landmarks.
Perhaps the most prominent in this last category is the Grotte Notre-Dame de Lourdes, only a short detour away from the course. It is located early in the race, at 42 kilometres, a mere marathon. It is too early in the race perhaps to pray for salvation. But it might at least provide a chance to ask Notre-Dame for some guidance along the way and a happy ending to this ordeal.
The first real symbolic assessment of the participants will take place on the Calvaire d’Arbrefontaine at 229 kilometres in. The passage of this ‘Way of the Cross’ is a symbolic test of steadfastness and perseverance after 229 kilometres of running. The runner, feeling deserving of a reward after this test perhaps, might become a little reckless. Weary and careless, a little further down the road at 300 kilometres, he might easily confuse the small village Paridis for Paradise. But beware! This is not the real paradise! It is but a devilish device to trick him into the pitfall of complacency and misguided contentment. And when the runner is drawn into the trap, eternal disgrace and embarrassment await him.
When this obstacle is overcome however eternal bliss might be his part. After overcoming many miles of muddy forest tracks, the great emptiness of the Haute Fagnes, sleep deprivation, hallucinations and other hardships, one last test lies at the bottom of the Calvaire, way of the cross, of Malmedy at 438 kilometres. Countless new seductions will await him. Hotels with soft and warm beds, shops, cafes and restaurants. The last desperate devilish attempt to distract the faltering runner from his divine objective. Will he be able to resist? Here the true legend will distinguish himself. Once he has overcome these last temptations, nothing can keep him from Paradise and eternal bliss.
Okay okay, perhaps I got carried away a bit. But still, I look at these landmarks as a way to help me through an event too big to fathom its true magnitude. How will I feel when crossing the Haute Fagnes? Will it be dark? Will it be cold? Will I feel lonely, happy, sad or just numb. I don’t know. How tired will I be from sleep deprivation? From all those countless steps? I don’t know. Lonelier, happier, sadder and number than I’ve ever felt before probably. But I guess that’s why I’m in it for. To discover uncharted pieces of me. The unknown.