The Dodentocht as a source of inspiration for OpEx

31 Aug 2019
People are capable of amazing things. Our colleague Kris Van Nieuwenhove, a senior OpEx expert, is a great example in this respect. This year walked the 100K Dodentocht in Bornem for the 3rd time to collect money for Rode Neuzendag!

Kris, can you briefly introduce yourself?

Sure, I’m Kris van Nieuwenhove, 48 years old and I’ve been working at Pauwels Consulting as a senior OpEx lead since March 2015. Currently, I’m working at Elaut NV and Metaco NV on a stock reduction project. Both companies would like to work with the so-called KANBAN-system.

What challenges you in these types of projects?

The challenge for me lies in delivering a tangible result that satisfies the customer in the foreseen time frame. Furthermore, it’s always nice to experience different companies and their unique company cultures. These experiences help me to integrate myself very quickly into a new team.

Which project has left you with fond memories so far?

Hm, that’s a tough one. There are several but if I HAVE to pick one, I would have to say my 2nd project for GSK. I was responsible for introducing reusable glasses that were sterilized by an external partner. During this project, I had to cover all the aspects that you can encounter in a project and find solutions for not only technical & logistic but also staff-related issues.

Very interesting! But what also seems interesting is the fact that you have walked the famous Dodenocht for the 3rd time! How was that?

Kris Dodentocht diploma

The Dodentocht is always a mix of emotions, but mostly positive of course 🙂 The journey is physically and mentally demanding.  Maybe, I should briefly explain the goal to people who don’t know the Dodentocht: You start your journey on Friday evening at 9 PM and you have to finish it before Saturday evening 9 PM.  Which means you have 24 hours to run and/or walk the 100K tour. The rules clearly state: “the usage of wheels, in whatever shape or form, is forbidden”. So, the time limit and closing hours of the checkpoints gave us a bit of stress at the end but luckily we managed to arrive everywhere in time! 🙂

How do you mean?

During these 24 hours, you can decide to take breaks for food, drinks, and self-care but the checkpoints close on fixed times. In 2016, I was having a very hard time by the end due to blisters. This meant I needed extra care along the way, so passing the last 5 checkpoints was truly a race against time. I think at one point we only had 20 minutes to spare, which seems a lot, but really isn’t! But when you are 75 km in, you just bite the bullet, quickly do a first-aid fix-up and carry on. Quitting is not an option anymore at that point!

I’m very proud to say we finished the Dodentocht in time for the 3rd time now!

Do you walk in team?

Kris finishes Dodentocht

In 2016 I started with a group of 4 people, including me and my wife. Together with her, I crossed the finish line on Saturday evening at 8 PM. Just an hour to spare, a beautiful moment that still gives me goosebumps when I think about it. Unfortunately, a team member had to quit at 60 km. In 2018 we started with three people and finished with two (incl. me) by 4 PM, so progress! This year, I took a different approach and I learned how to avoid blisters (hallelujah!). Together with my walking buddy, I walked across the finish line at 3.45 PM with a big smile on my face as you can see in this picture!


Why are you so motivated to finish the Dodentocht? 

I live by the phrase “A healthy mind in a healthy body”, which happens to be the motto of my employer as well. A knee injury (and operation) from 2017 is preventing me from running long distances, which I love to do, so I decided to switch to walking. Why long-distance? It’s a mental agreement and test with yourself.

Often, I think to myself when I run into an issue at work: “come on Kris, you’ve finished 3 Dodentochten, you will fix this too :)”. Furthermore, we raise money for ‘Rode Neuzendag’, children with mental and physical health problems, with the Dodentocht. Of course, this motivates a great deal as well when you feel like quitting!

Seems like the physical aspect is not to be underestimated! Do you rigorously train for this?

In 2016, I followed the 3-month training schedule provided by the organization itself. In 2018, I exercised with the 6-month plan hoping I wouldn’t have any more blisters (to no avail :)). This year, I used the 3-month training again.  I put my experience and knowledge of the previous editions to good use and taped my foot in such a way that blisters were impossible :)!

What were your best moments?

Kris van Nieuwenhove Dodentocht

Undoubtedly, walking across the finish line together with my wife in 2016! This year was also special because I had never finished the Dodentocht with my walking companion. For him, it was his 4th edition, after finishing the Dodentocht 2 times already. Last year, he had to quit due to mental exhaustion and heavy sunstroke. This year, he didn’t have a lot of time to train in advance, so I made it my goal to finish with him. Especially since this was, (for now), the last time we would walk together, but we did it! The Pauwels saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”, definitely helped us!

What was your toughest moment? 

My toughest moments came after walking about 70 to 80 km’s and stopping to take care of my blisters. You sit down for just a couple of moments but getting yourself back into the same rhythm or flow is challenging! Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. Luckily, this wasn’t an issue anymore this year!

Did you ever think of quitting?

As I often say, ‘quitting is not in my vocabulary’! When I set a goal, I go hard an I give it 100%! It would also be a terrible waste of all the time you trained and the money we collected for Rode Neuzendag!

Kris & Floriane dodentocht Pauwels Consulting

Do you connect with fellow Dodentocht-walkers along the way?

Yes, it happens very naturally! Sometimes, you have friends or acquaintances that walk with you for a bit and sometimes you walk next to a fellow walker and exchange words of encouragement! You start talking to one another spontaneously. Everyone is there with the same goal and everyone experiences the same pain, that automatically creates a bond :).

The OpEx guy that you are, did you respect your ‘lessons learned’ from previous editions?

As a true OpEx lead, I, of course, drafted up some ‘lessons learned’ after my first edition :). So, in 2018, time limits weren’t really an issue anymore, the blisters on the other hand… So this year, I geared up with lots of tape and I think the evolution in my arrival times proves my progress!

Do you take these lessons learned from the Dodentocht with you on the job?

Yes, most importantly: never give up! However hard it seems at times and when quitting feels like the easy way out: don’t ever give up! Secondly, good preparation increases your chances of success!
And although the journey entails suffering for some hours, it also gives you ‘eternal Dodentocht fame’ and admiration amongst fellow walkers & others! That is also how I look at a project, hold on and bite the bullet so you can end up with a satisfying result that pleases everyone.

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