25 October 2016

How to achieve goals: my lessons from the Dodentocht - by Alexander Nijs

One year ago I set a clear objective together with my daughter Lentle and sons Yannick and Siegfried, namely participating at the famous Dodentocht. A march of 100 km in 24 hours. Our objective was SMART.

We started our preparations very early, in my case starting to walk about 5 km everyday. My kids started to run every week; they even participated in the Paris Marathon, which they finished together. So we could say that we were prepared in our minds and body for this big march.

August 12th the big moment came, there were about 12605 participants, all very engaged and highly motivated people. You could feel the excitement several hours before the start. At 21.00h we started very fast, we were taken by the speed of the mainstream. We walked rather fast which was part of the plan, this would permit us to take it a bit slower at the end. 

The first hours were magical because we were motivated by huge group people encouraging us and having their annual big parties. I would like to thank all these people for their encouragement, they pushed me and my kids further on the road. In order to realise big objectives we needed some external motivation. I certainly do need it, to be very sincere.

Later on I suffered from some moderate pain, so I took medication but on an empty stomach that’s a bad idea, so I felt very dizzy. This lasted for quite some time. In mind I had 2 options: “Should I stop or should I continue”.  I walked further in the hope of getting rid of the pain and dizziness. Luckily, the pain did go away.

At kilometre 52, I met my biggest challenge, my biggest hurdle: I was in huge pain and I felt terrible. I laid on the ground with my back against some beer bricks - our stop was at a brewery. For several minutes I didn’t realise what was going on. My son took my blood pressure and apparently it was rather low. Lentle and Yannick told me that it would be more than ok to stop now. They esteemed that at my young age of 62, it was already a great performance. I was weighing my options once again : “Should I stop or should I continue”? In my mind, at that moment, I could hear the small voice of my late mom: “Where there is a will, you will find a way”. I told my son to pull me up and to continue our walk and to see what happens further. A few kilometres later I felt fine again.

A mistake I made was carrying a heavy bag with a lot of stuff that I didn’t need at all (this is another learning point for me). This bag caused some moderate low back pain. My kids had noticed this and they took over my heavy bag. It was a big relief for me. I took their smallest bag and we continued our walk.

Later on the walk my son started feeling not so well, but he didn’t stop, he just continued walking, looking down at the road. I knew he was suffering but what I admired was that he gained control over it. My daughter and I encouraged him to go the extra mile. Apparently it was mind over body.

My daughter suffered of many blisters already early in the race. She rarely expresses her pain. She is one of the toughest persons I know. She just continued without complaining and even on moments that we were suffering she pushed us further through expressions as “Let’s get the job done, that’s why we are here”.

At kilometre 75 my second son Siegfried was waiting for us, he was not able to participate this year. Just seeing your kid at that moment was great, it encouraged me again to walk further. During the whole night he, his mother and my SO Magda send us small messages such as “Great guys”, “Wow, already at 40 km”, “You can do it”, “You are nearly there”. The fact that people were following our path gave us a very good feeling: we were not alone. When you are trying to complete challenging objectives it is magical to have people that follow you all the way, and I really mean all the way.

At kilometre 88 Magda and Lanze, Lentle’s boyfriend, were waiting for us. Once again this gave us all an extra boost of motivation. Now I was started to get really tired, every kilometre appeared to be 5. I dragged myself towards the finish.

What helped me from that point onwards was the visualisation of finishing. What also helped me was the fabulous crowd from Bornem and all other people that gave us a warm applause and encouraged us to walk the last kilometre. It felt so good in my heart. These images will stay in my mind forever!

When the three of us reached the finish we gathered and said “One for all, all for one”. We also thought at that moment about Siegfried who was not able to participate, but who had travelled with us all the way. Thank you Siegfried, Ingrid, Magda, Lanze, Masha to help us realise this dream. It strengthened our family ties once again. Thanks to all the fine people along the way and not to forget the fabulous people who organised this great event, I owe you my greatest respect.


How do you prepare for such an event?


  • Start with a clear objective in mind, make it smart.
  • Be prepared.
  • Obtain advice from experienced people or role models.
  • Walk longer distances regularly, 5 km is not enough!
  • Exercise more.
  • Get excellent walking shoes & outfit.
  • Take only the things with you really need.
  • Check your internal motivation prior to start.
  • Track your progression all the way.
  • Visualise the end in mind 
  • If you can do it with your kids and friends: it’s magic.
  • Follow the guidelines of the organisation.
  • Above all make it a fun journey!

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