The Devil's Challenge no2: 1554km - Willem Mucher

Devil’s Challenge

Version 2 in 2020: 1554km running and walking in 44 days

Photos here


Will you be joining us to swim to the moon?

In a spontaneous but also impulsive reaction I would immediately participate in this crazy question: new adventure, you always learn by doing and the hurdles you encounter along the way and cannot foresee all of them you solve while doing with a good dose of perseverance. It also gradually becomes clearer how you can plan the impulsive part better next time. But then it is no longer spontaneous! Your adaptability to unforeseen circumstances is an important factor.


The gamerules

Because almost all running competitions have been canceled due to Corona, ultra runner Marek Vis organized the “Devil’s Challenge” for the 2nd time. This is an online series of distances ranging from 1 to 100km, which everyone runs for themselves.

You get 55 days to run or walk respectively 444, 666, 777 or 999 km and you record each distance walked online on an XL overview. Walking further than the noted distance is allowed, but then you still write down the same distance that is noted for the relevant box. Walking less is of course not allowed and you can only complete one distance per day.

Each run or walk must be completed in one activity between 0:00 and 23:59. For Belgium, this is more difficult to achieve with different curfews in Flanders and Wallonia.

Your distances can be checked on request via a photo on your GPS watch, Strava, Garmin Connect, Polar or something similar.

Everyone runs the “green series” of 444km as a basis, with 1 to 21km and then 25,30,42,50 and 66km respectively. You can determine the order.

The “yellow series” supplements this with distances of 34, 38, 70 and 80 km and has already been run by many runners including myself in the spring. The total is then 666 km.

In the “purple series” the distances are 34,39,75,85 and 100km, a total of 777km.

In the “red series” the distances are 32,35,38,46,55,75,84,90 and 100km, bringing the total to 999km.

Theoretically, it is also possible to walk all distances, a total of 1554 km.

Isabelle Belanger

Physical reactions to stress

Due to a serious crisis, I no longer felt like running in the months of August and the first half of September. I have experienced before that under severe stress I can have a physical pain response. That was also the case in 2017. A debilitating pain in the knee suddenly started on a dull hill down, while I was accompanying someone in the rear during a competition and I had not done any heavier training during or before the competition. After a lot of searching on the internet it felt like a torn meniscus, but an MRI, physiotherapy and a few specialists did not yield anything.

Not the best thing happening to an instructor who teaches others to walk without injury! But after 6 months the pain was suddenly over! In a very short time I was able to pick up ultra running again and since then I have completed all competitions. So I don’t have a definitive explanation, but this is the only connection I could find.

This time I got a serious lumbago, also by sitting and working behind the computer a lot. I may have trained a side plank too intensively once and tore a muscle in my ribs in the flank during a side stretch. That’s why I got lumbago. The lumbago hit the psoas, hip and left upper buttock, which sometimes made it impossible for me to go for a walk without paracetamol. I really hate it when I have to resort to these kinds of remedies.

Dry needling by my physiotherapist (which is incredibly painful by the way!) in the hip and buttocks helped somewhat, along with stretching exercises for the shortened psoas.


The double dip for runners

When as an ultra runner* you suddenly start to significantly reduce the number of kilometers covered, you can also have to deal with a double dip: your body is used to producing more happiness substances such as serotonin or dopamine due to the many kilometers. If you suddenly stop running, you will have a double mental breakdown.


Spontaneous response to a new Devil’s challenge

When I saw the new Devil’s Challenge come up, a number of intuitive ideas immediately surfaced:

1 I actually have to run more to get the pain out, because sitting still or “recovery” doesn’t make the pain any less!

2 I can exceed the maximum set distance of 999km by simply covering all distances, with a maximum of 1554km. I have a body that can handle this! In addition, I don’t want to take a rest day, so I do it in 44 days, just because I can, even with the time I have in this period. I am allowed to walk a distance as an alternative rest day, because otherwise there is a risk of overtraining.

3 I am someone with a lot of inner fire and enthusiasm, but sometimes my organization can do better. Something as simple as structurally checking a box every day, such as eating a chocolate from an Advent calendar during this period, can help me change certain habits and eliminate procrastination (swallow the proverbial “frog of the day”).

4 It fits nicely with a project to run 1,000 km in 20 days for a good cause in 2022

5 Taking up this challenge must then give added value to life and above all not be an escape!



But I decide to approach point 2 relatively conservatively by focusing as quickly as possible on walking the longer distances up to 66km on the 444 and then on the 666km. At least then I know that I’m going to finish that series and from there I look further.

On bad days I can walk a shorter distance as an alternative rest day. Symbolically I want to save the day of the 1km for the last day!

Despite the sometimes severe pain in the back and hip in the beginning, my theory appears to work on point 1 and little by little the pain gets less. But it is progressing very slowly!

In week 1 I far exceeded my most training miles ever run in a week, around 333km. I’m still hungry for more miles. Only during a few ultra races have I covered more kilometers in a week. In week 2 I start my first 80 and 70km, again a 300+km week. In week 3 I will do another 300+km and run the first 100km of the purple series. An average of a marathon per day without a rest day.

I just do it and am only later surprised and satisfied that I can do this!

Isabelle Belanger

From week 3 I get the question from fellow participant Dries Brouckaert if I plan to run all distances. we can see who ran what for all 481 participants. I see that Dries is still following me closest and that we are far ahead of the other runners in the number of kilometers run. We appear to be the only ones who have taken up the plan to walk all distances. We continue to encourage and support each other via Whatsapp. I have great respect for being able to keep up with this schedule with family and busy travel schedule for work! Later, Lucia van Lierde also appears to walk all distances without a rest day. That’s quite a mental blow, because it takes much longer to cover the same distance! She walks 100 and 85 km on the last 2 days!



Up to and including week 3 everything is going fine and the pains are disappearing very slowly! But by week 4 I start to feel an overtraining and heaviness. Annoyingly, there is often a delay mechanism in this: The previous day you had the feeling that you were flying, the next day you have the feeling that you have been hit by a cannonball with a quiet and short run. There is also one day with storm rains, the kind where the rainwater seeps into your underpants.

Fortunately, the resting heart rate is also an indicator, because it goes up with overtraining. In order not to cross the border, I included walking days.

A nice additional advantage is that after a while I can easily walk flat at 7.5 km/h. You just have to keep your head up, because you only have to sink into your thoughts and your speed drops directly below 6 km/h.

But a second serious factor to take into account is that due to general fatigue, the quality of your sleep will deteriorate significantly.



As an alternative, I also recorded some walking distances on the treadmill. Walking keeps my back problems in check, I can do my administration and cover the distance of the day. At around 4 km/h I can write and study everything including, at 5 km/h I can no longer write by hand but I can type and that is still possible up to 6 km/h. From 6 km/h, taking in knowledge becomes a bit difficult. From 7 km/h I can only watch series. I don’t sweat up to 5 km/h. Moreover, after a whole day of walking in front of the computer, I hardly suffer from “rectangular eyes” from the monitor. Walking on the treadmill also makes me less interested in snacks. So only win-win, except that a long distance walking on the treadmill is also boring (for me from about 50 kilometers)!


With or without a drink post?

I mostly ran in a figure-8 or double loop for the first few weeks, with my own house serving as a drink station. This allowed me to run faster because I had to carry less weight in water and food. In between I was able to make some phone calls. But if you divide a 100km into 3 parts, it becomes more difficult mentally to start again, even though the last lap is much shorter than the first 2 laps. Moreover, you always mainly walk in your own familiar environment and at some point it will get really boring, no matter how beautiful you live. That is why it is much more interesting for longer distances to draw one long lap on GPS. You are guaranteed to come across beautiful new surprises in your area: streets, paths, ruins, crazy buildings, pieces of beautiful nature, deer, wild boars, badgers and domestic cats deep in a forest etc that you did not know were in your own backyard. existed. But depending on your average speed, that means a (much) heavier backpack, which makes you even slower. Kerkhoven can then help as a water tap, see also “drinking water card point nl”. But the concept of the Devil’s Challenge is a wonderful way to thoroughly explore known and unknown areas in no time!

My “greatest fun” is filling in the miles traveled after a hard day’s work, no matter how silly it may seem! @Marek: add a “ping sound” next time when the distance is entered!! It’s a bit like an advent calendar, only without chocolates and you’re filling the box right now.

Isabelle Belanger

Strava and Facebook

I have a love-hate relationship with posting on Strava and Facebook: I love sharing and supporting each other as runners, but I hate the competitive element when it’s whipped up and blatantly displaying your own ego, even though I am sometimes guilty of that myself (like now?).


New physical dynamics

New for me is to deal with a different dynamic. Because of the many kilometers I lose 6 or 7 kg, depending on the moment of measurement and a possible greater water loss. This makes walking uphill, in particular, considerably easier! But the lack of longer rests is starting to play up and is actually bringing my average speed down again. Provided I can’t maintain the same weight, I don’t see the point in repeating this challenge in the future, as the average achievable speed drops significantly due to a general fatigue that resembles a burnout. Running starts to look less and less like running. So I intuitively looked for this limit, but just didn’t cross it!

But physically I also end up in a different area, some feelings I don’t really recognize! Is it pain, discomfort, old age, rheumatism, too many miles or simply not being used to it? I’ll keep an eye on it and injury=stop. A bit of discomfort is part of it and you have to continue to chastise your body somewhat in a society where a lot is about safety and comfort. At the same time, I notice that I can easily keep running for longer and longer before the legs start to protest.



Speaking of comfort, below are a few keywords that pass in review in my head, heart and body while walking. Many words are very contradictory and that is what makes them interesting in my opinion. More will pass at a later stage and comments about your own experiences are welcome:


Pride, curiosity and action, touch of vanity, a little bit of competition, a lot of perseverance “for nothing?”, dopamine and serotonin that give a heavenly feeling, empty from the fatigue of the long run, “What is this nonsense I lost so much time again?, “Is it still far?”, empty = absolute silence, so a kind of meditation, listening to and monitoring new impulses and experiences of heart and body and storing them in your own system.


Intuition, experience, friendship in sharing with other runners, enjoying the environment, feeling lucky that I can and can do this, usually a little shielding in rainy weather and opening in nice weather.


Self-preservation, economy mode, going all out, one with nature and environment, pain and discomfort, feeling as if you are flying.



I’m so glad I’ve completed this adventure, but also so glad I don’t have to for a while!

I especially thank my head, arms, torso and legs for holding out together and I also thank the runners who have covered shorter and longer stretches with me. I was also able to discover a nice area in Brabant Wallonia.

I finish the last long distance of 75 km in style in South Limburg in one loop without a drink station, with a backpack of about 7 kilos and 1750 altimeters. Because of the different position I have muscle soreness for 4 days. Even turning over in bed hurts.

Isabelle Belanger

Addition about ultra runners and about speed

*The average ultra runner is a true genius and that is what makes this sport so beautiful! Everyone is looking for their own solutions to research what works for him or her and that can be very diverse in the field of training, foot care, nutrition, etc. With marathon running, the training sessions are much more defined.

I am and remain adept of Stans van der Poel, from which sports rest originated. When it comes to speed, there are only 2 main factors: talent and weight. Talent cannot be bought or trained and explains why some runners end up on a podium the first time they participate in a competition. Weight can be influenced and beats all training schedules if you can lose weight. For every kilo of responsible weight loss, there are 6 minutes of time saved on a marathon. This is not to say that training is actually nonsense! But many runners forget to take into account that by exercising a lot, they get a different life hygiene and a different metabolism, which makes them lose weight. However, they attribute their progress to training and not to weight loss. However, for the last half percent that makes the difference between the first and the last Olympian, you have to do your best. But that’s an area that even a local champion doesn’t usually end up in.

For myself, I translate that into being able to keep running at the same relatively slow pace for a very long time without getting legs that protest, to keep my weight as low as possible and to build my workouts around it. At least a fast 10 km per month and regular interval training so as not to slow down. I also keep trying things out, for example as preparation for an ultra 2 times a month I ran 20 km every day at heart rate 128, that helped me a lot and at the end I almost lost the weight of my own backpack.

Within this framework I put records into perspective: if you come out of rehabilitation and after hard physical and mental work you can run or walk 5 km, then that is a much greater achievement than someone who breaks a record relatively easily for talent. Just look at the Olympic Games for the disabled, which are nothing compared to the Olympic Games in terms of interest

The phenomenon of time also has a relative function for me. While I’m running an ultra, I’m still working on it a lot, but during a break at a drink station I take the time again to chat with the volunteers and thank them as if time doesn’t exist. Also, sometimes I prefer to view and photograph nature instead of worrying about the average speed. Sometimes a sports watch is therefore also a bad idea, while the GPS function takes you to places that are much more difficult if you also have to run with a map in hand.


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