I had planned to run along the Wilhelminakanaal, a canal in the Netherlands that starts in Beek en Donk, about 4 km from where I live, and ends north of Oosterhout, about 70 km to the west. The length of the canal is 68 km. To run from end to end requires going a few kilometer more than that, because you have to go around obstacles and cross the canal now and then. I estimate the total distance to run at 70.5 km.
I tried this on August 27, 2006 (a Sunday), at 5:58 hours. I started in Beek en Donk. I had expected to do it in less than 8 hours, but it did not go as well as planned and I stopped after 56.8 km (later remeasured as 58 km) and 7:13 hours because I felt I would have had to walk most of the remaining distance had I gone through to the end. Pain in the right knee was the main problem, and I was afraid to cause permanent damage there by running the full distance. The weather was good in the beginning, but later there were heavy rain showers, so heavy that I had to stand still under a tree for some minutes.
From the start on I apeared to be slower than expected based on recent training and experience, and I got knee problems after about 25 km and problems with leg muscles sooner then expected. I think a reason for this is that the goal — 8 hours — was set too high, and I therefore started too fast. A possible mistake was to assume that I would be faster in this run than in recent training; this assumption was based on experience in normal races. But this time, there were no other runners around me, and that may explain why I was slower than anticipated. Another reason why I seemed to go slower than expected was that the actual distance run was somewhat greater than I thought, as illustrated by a 2015 remeasurement of the course; over the first 25.1 km, it turns out I was about as fast as I was aiming for after all. But at the time, the split times after 14 and 25.1 km made me think I was too slow, and I tried to make up for that by pushing a bit harder, and that may have caused the early knee and leg problems which forced me to stop prematurely.
Edward Vanhove from Belgium assisted me by driving ahead in a car to meet me at a few points along the canal, handing food and water to me, and driving me back home afterwards.
These photos were taken by David Vanhove; the person next to me on some photos is Edward Vanhove, who handed the water bottles to me at a number of points along the course.
Here is a photo of the starting location, with on the far left the sign that says Wilhelminakanaal, and on the far right the sign that says Zuid-Willemsvaart (another canal). The photo was taken from the south bank of the east end of the Wilhelminakanaal. Here a closer shot of the sign that says Zuid-Willemsvaart.
Then a photo from the north bank, where the start was; this was taken from the point where the water side crosses a hypothetical line that extends the road. Ideally, this is as close to the beginning of the canal as one can get. I actually started on the road in the curve, because the grass was very wet and I didn't want to start with wet feet.
Here is the end of the canal; the photo is taken north of Oosterhout, facing south. The canal does not actually stop there, but is called differently from there on — Amertak — and runs into the river Amer, 3 km further north. This last stretch of about 3 km was dug much later than the first 68 km, and has a different name, so I did not include it in the run. To illustrate the change to Amertak, here is a photo that shows both signs.
Finally, a photo of the road where I had intended to finish, on the west bank (the canal curves to the north, so where it ends it has a west and east bank), facing south. You can see the same two signs (Amertak and Wilhelminakanaal) from behind here; the town behind the bridge is Oosterhout, and I would have been coming from there to finish next to the sign Wilhelminakanaal, which is the second from the left on this photo.
A few facts connect me to the canal; I live 1 km from it, one of my names is Wilhelmina, my grandfather has been a bridgeman or lockkeeper on the canal and the family lived by the canal then (before I was born), and I studied in the town of Tilburg from 1986 to 1993, at the conservatorium which then was close to the canal as well.
The exact course with measurements can be found online at http://runnermaps.nl/route/54343/ .
From Beek en Donk to Tilburg I stayed on the north bank. In Tilburg I crossed to the west (south) bank at the Kapitein Nemostraat to avoid running into a harbour. Beyond the harbour I went back to the east (north) bank on the first occasion. Then at the industrial area Kraaiven I crossed to the south bank again, where I stayed until Dongen (bridge Westerlaan). I had planned to cross to the north there and use the bicycle path on the north bank to get to Oosterhout.
Once in Oosterhout I had wanted to cross to the south bank at either the first or the second bridge beyond the highway A27, so that I could have followed the curve of the canal to the north on the outside of the curve. I would have crossed the Mark canal and followed the Weststadweg to pass the harbour and industrial area that are to the east of me. At some point I would have taken the Distributieweg (parallel to the Weststadweg), crossed the Technologieweg, passed the hamburger restaurant (which is on my left then), and followed the sharp right turn in the road just before the highway (A59). I would then have been on the Innovatiepark, parallel to the highway.
I then would have gone onto the strip of grass that runs parallel to the highway and followed that to the canal a bit more than a kilometer further (this is awkward but there is no other way to reach the canal coming from the south). At the canal I would have turned left to cross the highway (under the bridge) and run the last about 600 meter to the finish, to be recognized by the two signs opposite the river Donge that runs into the canal there.
I ran large sections of the course on the sand paths rather than the hard bicycle paths. Running on soft surface reduces the risk of many common running injuries; also, to my experience soft surface is faster than hard surface on very long distances.
Here are the cumulative distances run at a number of points along the course, in kilometres. These have been measured on maps and may not be perfectly accurate. In 2015, an online remeasurement of the actually run part was undertaken.
The specific preparation for this run began early May 2006, after I had run a half marathon late April in 1:38. I ran a long distance (21 to 50 km) almost every weekend, and shorter (under 20 km), sometimes faster, distances on some weekdays. Below is a listing of the long runs (over 20 km) by month, with some additional information. In this period (May-August 2006) my resting heart rate was 44, my body mass about 61 kg, and my waist circumference 72 cm.
In total 286 km in 29 sessions, of which 5 were speed-oriented (1500 m intervals at about 15 km/h).
In total 217 km in 15 sessions, of which 1 was speed-oriented (3.4 km at 12.6 km/h).
In total 203 km in 18 sessions, of which 1 was speed-oriented.
In total 172 km in 13 sessions.
Time run at a few points on the course:
Before the event I issued a press release, after which I was called by a journalist who asked for which "charity" I was running. When I answered I ran for the running experience and achievement itself, he hung up, with words betraying that only "charity" events were considered "news" in his line of work. With some degree of shock I realized that involving a "charity" - a "good cause" - in one's event is apparently a method, or rather requirement, to generate publicity. I understood why I had always intuitively disliked "charity" events, no doubting sensing the insincerity of it, and the unrealness of people needing an excuse to do what they do rather than doing it simply for the sake of doing it.