6 jours de France 2018

The other day I saw this McDonald’s advertisement – “When there’s 400 miles between you and the weekend.”

McDonalds advert

They could have been talking about my 6 day race last month – Except I only managed 351 miles (564km) in the 144 hours from Sunday afternoon, 19th August through to Saturday afternoon, 25th August.  My race started and ended with McDonalds and included ‘Chicken McNuggets and Pasta” for dinner on one night somewhere in the middle.

Six days.  144 hours.  It’s a long time to spend walking.  And it isn’t as if we go anywhere during the six days – the race is held on a 1,020 meter circuit in a stadium in Privas, France.  Do the maths – 564km divided by 1,020 meters is a lot of laps!

This year was my third 6 jours de France and my fourth visit to Privas – in 2015 I competed in a 72 hour race as I didn’t think I would be able to handle a full six days.  In 2016 I competed in the six day event, finishing 3rd walker, narrowly missing my goal of the New Zealand 6 day record (I completed 614km, 8km short of the record).  And last year I only managed 500km after suffering through a heatwave.  After the 2017 race I said I would never do the race again but within weeks I was already looking forward to the 2018 event.

I don’t know what it is, but something keeps bringing us back each year.  ‘Us’ being myself, Kathy Crilley and Suzanne Beardsmore – all race-walkers based in England.  And the majority of the other competitors in the race, both the runners and the walkers, return year after year as well.

It isn’t the course that brings us back – the track comprises a mixture of loose gravel, an ash athletic track, a little bit of tarmac, and some pot holes.  Most runners and walkers will have at least one visit to the medical tent during the race to have blisters dealt with.  In my case, I have never had such severe blister problems so early in a race other than my four visits to Privas.

 

It isn’t the weather that brings us back either.  In 2015 we had a heatwave.  In 2016 we had three days of rain and flooding that meant we couldn’t walk on the athletics track for the first half of the race and in one section we had to walk along a wooden plank to avoid walking in ankle deep water.  In 2017 we again had a heat wave.  And this year it was a combination of heat and humidity that resulted in almost all competitors performing well below their PB’s.

And it isn’t the toilet facilities that bring us back either – there are three separate toilet facilities at the stadium, but only one of them has one proper toilet.  All the rest are squat toilets.  In fairness, the race organisers do wash the toilets out with a fire hose every 24 hours 😊

So what is it that keeps us going back to a race that causes so much pain and discomfort?

It is the people.  The athletes, the organisers, the volunteers, and the support crews.  Unlike a point to point course, a track event means that you are constantly passing other runners/walkers, or being passed.  Regardless of your speed, there are always people to chat to.  Sometimes just for a few meters or minutes.  Sometimes for a couple laps. Whilst most of the competitors are French, and I don’t speak any French, there are still ways to communicate.  Many of the French competitors also speak some English (which is helpful).  This year there were five native English speakers – Karen and Tony from Isle of Man, Kathy and myself, and Sarah from Australia who brings a packet of Anzac biscuits for me each year.  We also had Suzanne, Karen’s husband Dave and their children, and John and Lisa from Isle of Man supporting us, so plenty of opportunities for conversations in English.

Sarah Barnett and Richard McChesney Privas 2018

Then there were the two Japanese competitors –  78 year old Toshio Ohmori from Tokyo who was running his 8th 6 jours de France.  He told me that he wants to come back two more times so that he can compete for the tenth time when he turns 80.  And Seigi Arita, originally from Japan but now living in France.

Other athletes included Phillipe and Patrick – 1st and 2nd last year who finished first equal this year.  They spoke enough English to have one and two word conversations.  Christophe who finished 3rd last year and won in 2016 would normally answer “good” or “yes” when I asked him how he was feeling or if he was tired.  He finished third again this year.

Sylvie spent as much time taking photos as she did running, but this year she remained in running clothing until the last couple hours when she dressed as a Jester and handed out confectionery to the competitors.  In previous years she has been known to wear different costumes throughout the race.

There are too many athletes to list individually but we all seem to know that we are suffering together and we all make the most of the situation.

And then there are the guys in the medical tent.  If it wasn’t for them, most of us would not be able to complete the race.  I’m not sure how much time I have spent in the medical tent during my four races in Privas – probably ten or more visits – and every year the same medical team are there to help us.

This year there was one volunteer who worked on the drinks table.  She didn’t speak English but loved my accent, and even when she wasn’t working and was out on the course offering support, whenever she saw me she would call out “what do you drink?” and wait for me to reply “Coca Cola”.

Privas 6 day race drinks table
This year was the first year that we didn’t have disposable cups.  I was number 7 which made it easy to find my cup in the middle of the front row.

My race:

As per last year I traveled to Privas by train on the Friday before the race.  Privas is in the South East of France and takes 12 hours or more to get there by public transport (bus from home to local station, tube to Kings Cross St Pancras station, Eurostar to Paris, Metro across Paris, High speed train to Lyon, smaller train to Valence and then bus up to Privas township).  And then there is the trek to the hotel.  The stadium where the race is held is on the outskirts of Privas, and the hotel we stay at isn’t too far from the stadium, but is a 40 minute walk from the bus stop.  This year, when I got off the bus Christophe was just arriving and pulled over to offer me a lift up to the hotel.  Christophe managed to explain, in his limited English, that he was feeling fit after doing a six day race in Hungary earlier this year and that he wasn’t going to stay at the hotel but instead would be sleeping in the back of his van tonight, tomorrow and during the race.

Christophe dropped me at the hotel where I met Suzanne and Kathy who had traveled to Privas the day before.  After a drink we walked down to the stadium to meet up with the Isle of Man contingent who had arrived earlier in the day.  Tony and Karen, both accomplished long-distance racewalkers, would be doing their first 6 day race and were staying in Tony’s motor-home along with Karen’s family.  Their friends Lisa and John were also with them and staying in Lisa’s van.

As is traditional, on Saturday all the competitors arrive at the stadium in the morning to set up their tents, park their motor-homes, or move in to their dormitory accommodation (camping stretchers in a dark, hot gymnasium next to the track).  In my case I pitched my tent in the same place as last year – next to the entrance/exit to the athletics track which meant I could access it either when walking on to the track or leaving the track during each lap.

6 jours de france 2018 - my tent

After pitching tents we went to the local supermarket to get supplies – in four years of going to Privas I have only seen the stadium, the supermarket, McDonalds, and the hotel – and then went back to the hotel to rest for the afternoon.

We had dinner at the hotel that night and after initially struggling to get to sleep I managed to sleep soundly from about midnight through until the alarm went off at 7:30.

Day 1 – 2pm Sunday to 2pm Monday:

Dave had a rental car for the week, so he came up to collect us after breakfast and we went down to the stadium to register and set about final preparations for the race.  Part of my final preparations include a visit to the local McDonalds where I consume as many calories as possible and use a hygienic toilet one last time.

6 jours de france 2018 - last meal before the race
My last meal before the race – and they even gave me a souvenir glass!

The race started at 2pm.  The temperature was already in the high 20’s, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

After suffering through the heatwave last year I had a strategy which involved keeping myself wet, and rather than wearing one of the modern day moisture wicking T shirts that I normally wear, I decided to wear an old style cotton T shirt.  I also had some white nylon sleeves that I could put on and take off as necessary, and a straw sunhat.  My plan was to drench myself with water whenever necessary and to keep as much skin out of the sun as possible.

I started the race slowly with the plan to just survive through the afternoon and then pick the pace up overnight.  I intended to walk for the first 23 hours through to 1pm, and then sleep for three or four hours during the heat of the day.  And then after that my plan was to walk to 1pm each day and sleep between 1pm and 5pm, and repeat.  1pm to 5pm being the hottest part of each day.

After the first two hours I was well back within the field of walkers– in 14th place having completed only 12.6km.  It wasn’t until 11pm that I worked my way up to the front of the field, and that was only because some of the walkers were already taking breaks.

I reached 100km just after 5am (15 hours and 4 minutes) and at that stage I was well in front of the rest of the field.  I was the only walker that hadn’t had a break during the night.  It would be interesting to see how my strategy worked out over the next 5 ½ days.

6 jours de france live results at 15 hours

I walked through until 1pm as planned, covering 146km in 23 hours.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have taken a break just a little earlier as I was struggling in the heat by the time I decided to stop.  I took my air mattress up to the top of the stadium to sleep in the shade with a gentle breeze blowing over me as I did last year, but unfortunately the breeze wasn’t blowing in the same direction and the heat and humidity made it very difficult to sleep.  I managed about 90 minutes of painful, restless sleep before deciding to resume the race.

I washed my feet before going to sleep and let them get some fresh air while sleeping.  Surprisingly, given the heat and the ground we were walking on, I was blister free.

6 jours de france live results at 23 hours

Day 2 – 2pm Monday to 2pm Tuesday:

Even though I only slept for 1 ½ hours I somehow managed to spend 4 hours off the track.  When I resumed I was 5km behind Christophe and just ahead of Philippe and Patrick who had stopped for their own rest.

I felt good.  My feet weren’t sore, and I was ready to put in some decent mileage through the night.  I enjoyed the second night but didn’t manage to walk as far or as fast as I had hoped.  I passed 200km in a shade over 37 hours and had a 30 minute break.  I wasn’t tired sleep-wise, but I needed to rest my tired legs so I sat in the food tent with my feet up.

6 jours de france - having a rest at 200km

Even although it had taken over 9 ½ hours to cover the last 54km I decided that I would walk through until 2pm as I thought I would get in as much mileage as possible and maybe add some kilometers to my NZ 48 hour record from 2016.  No New Zealander walker has ‘raced’ a 48 hour race meaning that the NZ 48 record is relatively easy – having only been set during longer races.  I first broke the record in 2015 and then again when I set the current record of 240.459km during the 2016 6 jours de France race.  With almost 9 hours to go I figured that I could probably reach 250 to 260km depending on how hot it got during the day.  My best 48 hour distance is currently the 254km I walked when I circumnavigated the M25 motorway last year but records can only be claimed in races and race-walking records can only be claimed in races that also have race-walking judges.

Around about 10am I received a call from one of my colleagues at work.  Andrew wanted to check how I was feeling and we chatted for about 15 to 20 minutes.  It made a huge difference mentally but physically I was already beginning to feel the heat again.  I changed back into my cotton T Shirt and started the process of saturating myself with water every 20 to 30 minutes.  The process worked along the following lines.  I would pick up my water bottle at either my tent or our food table (wherever I had left it last time) and drink the remaining water in the bottle.  Then shortly after walking on to the track, about half way through each lap, there was a water tap next to the entrance to the men’s toilets under the grandstand.  When I arrived at the tap I removed my straw hat and sunglasses, filled my water bottle and poured it over the back and front of my shirt and both arms.  I then soaked my head under the tap, put my sunglasses and hat back on, filled my bottle and started walking again.  The whole process taking about 30 to 60 seconds.  While walking I drank some of the water and then dropped my bottle at either my tent or the food table.

In between these laps where I was ‘wetting myself’ I would have something to eat.  Throughout the race I tried to eat a small amount every 30 minutes.  As well as that, Suzanne prepared three or four more substantial meals each day.  These were usually omelettes or pasta and for lunch we often had small pizzas which she purchased from the local bakery.  We also ate many croissants and for breakfast most days I had instant porridge which I had brought with me from England.  Snacks consisted of everything from crisps to biscuits, fruit (both dried and fresh – although my tongue became badly ulcerated on day two and I had to stop eating oranges because the citric acid was causing me pain), ham, cereal bars, and pork scratchings (I hate them but they are high in fat and calories and low in sugar).  The one thing I couldn’t eat during the race for some reason was chocolate.  I ate some chocolate on the first night and may have had one or two chocolate bars during the first few days, but for some reason I just didn’t want any chocolate this year.  To limit my sugar intake, I tried to avoid drinking too much coke during the first two days but my coke consumption increased exponentially as the race went on.

By the time 2pm rolled around I had reached 241.103km.  Not the distance I was hoping for, but a slight increase on my previous NZ record.  My distance for day 2 was only 95km.  Well below my day two target of 120km.

6 jours de france live results at 48 hours

My feet were extremely sore and when I stopped at my tent to wash my feet prior to my scheduled sleep I discovered that they were a blistered mess.  Rather than going to sleep I completed another lap to get around to the medical tent.  One of the lessons I had learnt from the last few years of doing this race is that you don’t waste steps.  The lap is 1,020 meters.  If you are at your tent and you need to get to the medical tent, you do not walk across the rugby field in a direct line.  Instead you walk the long way to complete a lap and ensure that every step counts towards your overall result.

So I hobbled around to the medical tent wearing a clean pair of socks and a clean pair of shoes.  When I arrived at the medical tent the guys that have treated my blisters each of the last three years were there and once again they were ‘impressed’ with what they saw.  Everyone came over to have a look and one of them took a few photos.  They asked how long my feet had been like that.  I replied that they had been painful for about 12 hours and one of them said I must have a very high pain threshold.

6 jours de france - blisters
Medical team treating my blisters 48 hours in to the race

Click on the images below to view the blisters:

6 jours de france - blisters01 6 jours de france - blisters02 6 jours de france - blisters03 6 jours de france - blisters04

Day 3 – 2pm Tuesday to 2pm Wednesday:

I was off the track for about 4 ½ hours in total but probably only got about 45 minutes sleep.  My body was extremely sore and it was too hot to sleep.  When I was ready to resume walking I headed back to the medical tent, as requested, to have my feet taped.  After my first visit they asked me to let my feet air while I slept, hence the second visit.

6 jours de france - blisters05 6 jours de france - blisters06

By the time I started walking again I was in fourth place, 9km behind Christophe and 8km behind Philippe and Patrick.

My feet felt much better having being taped and I had also changed to a pair of shoes with a slightly wider forefoot area.  These were a pair of cheap shoes which I wouldn’t normally walk long distances in.  They don’t have the same stability in the heel but I needed the extra room in the front of the shoe.

One of the highlights of the race came at dinner time when Suzanne offered me a choice of Chicken McNuggets or Pasta.  I said I would have both!  Possibly the best meal of the race.

Chicken McNugget Pasta
Chicken McNugget Pasta

During the night I slept for two hours.  It was just what I needed.  The temperature was much cooler and I slept well although woke up well before my alarm went off.  Maybe my idea of sleeping during the heat of the day was wrong.  Perhaps it is better to sleep in the cool of the night when it is easier to sleep.

2pm on day 3 signifies ‘half time’ and like previous years I stopped at the timing tent to wait for the clock to click over 72 hours – just to get a half time photo 🙂

6 jours de france 2018 - half time
Half Time!

Overall, I don’t remember much about day 3.  The fact that it was uneventful was probably good, but my mileage for the day was well down on my expected mileage (at only 78.5km).  Unlike previous years when I thought I was suffering alone I knew that everyone was suffering.  You could see it in the results.  At the end of day 3 I was only 4km behind the leaders.  We were all struggling to put in the miles and the lead changed every time someone took a break.

6 jours de france live results at 72 hours

Day 4 – 2pm Wednesday to 2pm Thursday:

While I slept everyone else kept walking and by the time I got started again I was in 5th place and 20km behind the leaders.  Claudie Bizard was in 4th place, 5km in front of me.  Claudie is the ‘official’ women’s world record holder for the 6 day event having walked 624km in the heat last year.  One female walker, Yolanda Holder from the USA, has gone further than Claudie but ‘official’ race-walking records can only be achieved in races that have walking judges, and Yolanda’s races have all being in the USA without race-walking judges.  That isn’t to say that Yolanda isn’t walking, but her results, and the results of other athletes from races that don’t have race-walking judges, are not recognised by the record keepers.

By 9:30pm I was dead on my feet.  I was taking close to 20 minutes per lap and decided I needed another sleep.  I was off the track for 3 hours in total, sleeping for about 2 hours and again waking up before my alarm went off.  I lost another place with Seigi passing me as well, but when I resumed walking at 1am I was still 20km behind the leaders so wasn’t too concerned.

6 jours de france live results at 81 hours

I tried my best to make progress through the night but found it easy to take short breaks on a regular basis.  One thing I did to keep myself going was put a message on facebook asking people to call me on facebook messenger.  It was the middle of the night in the UK but a few people called me from the USA and NZ, which enabled me to walk without really focusing on it.  Most nights I also spoke to my wife, Ruth, and my sister, Karen, called a few times during the race as well.  All these calls took my mind of the monotony of the race, even if just for a few minutes.

I got through to 391km by 12:30pm – although time was meaningless by this stage.  By this stage it could have been breakfast time, lunch time, or dinner time.  It really didn’t make a difference.  It was either sunny and hot, or it was dark and cooler.

My hip flexors had stopped flexing and I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  Time for another visit to the medical tent where I spent the rest of day 4 getting a massage.

At the end of day 4 I had completed 391km, covering only 71.5km for the day.

6 jours de france live results at 96 hours

Day 5 – 2pm Thursday to 2pm Friday:

Having slept during the night I decided to change my sleep strategy and resumed walking after my massage with the intention of sleeping again at some stage later in the night.  I couldn’t get going though, and a little after 5pm I decided to stop walking and try and get some rest.  I thought perhaps a shower might help and walked around to my tent to get my towel and some clean clothes.  Whilst in the tent the wind started to pick up and I decided to tighten the guy ropes on mine, Kathy’s and Suzanne’s tents before having a shower.  No sooner had I finished doing this and the storm hit!

Torrential rain and strong winds ripped through the stadium.  The race was abandoned as athletes and organisers tried to save equipment, tents, motor-home awnings, etc.

The storm probably only lasted 15 to 30 minutes but it flooded the athletics track and a number of the tents plus one of the race marquees were damaged.  There was also a power cut and the race organisers quickly advised the athletes that the race was now ‘on hold’.

6 jours de france 2018 storm damage 1 6 jours de france 2018 storm damage 2

6 jours de france 2018 storm damage 3

After two hours we were advised that we would resume shortly but on a shorter 620 meter circuit which would eliminate the flooded athletics track.  During the break I decided that I had had enough and took up the offer of staying at the hotel for the night to get some proper sleep, have a shower, etc.

We were told that we had to be on the start line when the race resumed so I walked one lap of the 620 meter circuit and then Dave took me up to the hotel where I spent about an hour slowly removing the tape from my battered and blistered feet, and having my first shower since Saturday morning (it was now Thursday night).

Thursday night blister night – click on the photos if you want to view the bigger image:

6 jours de france - more blisters 6 jours de france - more blisters 6 jours de france - more blisters 6 jours de france - more blisters

I slept for a solid 8 hours although my sleep was a little restless and I had serious night sweats, having to change sides of the bed at one stage.  I’ve experienced night sweats after some races in the past.  I think it is the body’s way of detoxing.  Usually it lasts for one or two nights but this was the first time I had had night sweats during a race.  Probably because it was the first time I had slept in a proper bed during a race 😊

I woke when my alarm went off at 7:30am and after another shower I limped down to the track – about 700-800 meters away.  Mileage that wouldn’t be counted in my overall result ☹.

I wasn’t in any rush to get started and after saying hello to Suzanne and some of the athletes I went to the medical tent to see what they could do with my feet.  They cleaned up the blisters again and re-taped my feet, and then they suggested that cutting the front mesh section off each shoe would ease the discomfort.  I was prepared to try anything to reduce the pain but wasn’t really intending to ‘race’ as such.  My plans for the next 30 hours were just to circle the track and try and get a reasonable overall distance.

My new look shoes
My new look shoes

After my visit to the medical tent I had brunch in the food tent and watched the athletes going past.  Many of them waved and acknowledged me.  I guess they had noticed that I had been missing for the last 12 or more hours.

It was 11am when I finally decided to start walking again.  In total I had been off the track for almost all of the previous 18 hours.  The online results were still down but I took a photo of the leaderboard TV screen:

The leaderboard at 11am on day 5

Philippe and Patrick were now on 480km, Claudie was in 3rd place on 467km, Christophe 458km, Seigi 445km and I was in 6th place with 404km – 76km behind the leaders!

Not far behind me was French walker, Serge Le Maner, followed by Tony and Karen.  My thinking on resuming the race was that I would try and walk fast enough to hold on to 6th place, and because I had had a good sleep I should be able to walk the remaining 30 hours without needing to stop for another sleep.

The race had been extended to finish at 4:30pm to give us back the 2 ½ hours from the storm delay, although for anyone wanting to claim any records their mileage as at 2pm on Saturday would be what counted.

Three hours later, at 2pm (the end of day 5) I got a big mental boost when I thought I had picked up 10km on the leaders already.  My maths wasn’t too good.  I thought there had been an 80km difference at 11am and thought the difference was now 70km when it was actually 73 ½ km.  In reality I had only picked up less than 3km on the leaders but in my mind I had picked up 10km!

I told Kathy and Suzanne that I thought I could still win this race!

If I could walk 100 miles in the last 24 hours (I had never managed more than 100km in the last day and wanted to walk 100 miles – I was dreaming), and they only walked 90km, then I could catch them.

6 jours de france live results at 120 hours

My day 5 mileage was only 27km!  But I had been off the track for 18 or more hours.

Day 6 – 2pm Friday through to the finish:

Going in to the last night I was still thinking that I could win, but it would depend on how fast I could walk and how much rest everyone ahead of me would need.  I was confident that I wouldn’t need any sleep and decided that I would try and boost my pace by putting in a fast 5km at 10pm.

10pm Friday night was 8am Saturday morning in New Zealand, which is the time that parkrun starts in NZ.  So I decided to pretend that I was walking the Lower Hutt parkrun, an out and back 5km along the path beside the Hutt river.  In my case each kilometre would be one lap of the 1,020 meter Privas track, and I hoped to walk the 5km in 45 minutes.  For the last few hours I had been averaging 11 to 12 minutes per lap, so this would require me to increase my pace significantly, but I hoped that it would then result in me continuing through the night at a sub 10 minute lap pace.

Lower Hutt parkrun facebook post
I posted on the Lower Hutt parkrun facebook page that I was going to do parkrun with them

My ‘parkrun’ started at 10:03pm when I completed my 460th kilometre.  My first lap took 9 minutes 40 seconds and took me from the Lower Hutt parkrun start line under the Ewan Bridge and up on to the stopbank and down to the 1km marker beside the retirement village.  When I checked my km split time, and realised that I was going slower than I needed to, I increased the pace and started passing some of the other ‘parkrunners’.  My next kilometre took 9 minutes and 5 seconds as we went down under the railway bridge and down towards the turnaround.  I didn’t get a split time at the half way turnaround but reached the 3km mark in 27:40 after an 8 minute 55 second kilometer.  The 4th kilometre at Lower Hutt parkrun is always the hardest for me.  Back under the railway line and up the little incline back on to the stopbank for the final push for the finish. But I continued to increase my pace with an 8 minute 47 fourth kilometre.  I was on fire now and kept increasing the pace before a final push to try and get under 45 minutes.  My last kilometre took 8 minutes 38 seconds.  I missed my sub 45 minute goal by 5 seconds.

Lower Hutt parkrun facebook comment
My facebook comment after completing the parkrun

My ‘parkrun’ proved that this race is a case of mind over matter.  Nothing changed physically but with some focus I managed to increase my pace substantially.

During the night all five of those in front of me had sleeps of various lengths but by 6am they had all returned to the track and I began to realise that I was unlikely to win the race.  In fact I was still in 6th place and whilst I thought I had a good chance of catching Seigi (7km ahead), I was unlikely to catch Claudie (21km ahead) or Philippe, Patrick and Christophe who were all 50 to 52km in front of me.

6 jours de france live results at 136 hours
500km in 5 days 16 hours and 4 minutes (the clock shows the adjusted time for the storm delay)

I reached 500km at 6:04am – 5 days, 16 hours and 4 minutes after we started the race.  Whilst this was 23 hours slower than my 2016 500km split time, it was a new NZ M50 age group record and I stopped for a photo.

6 jours de france 2018
500km completed. Check out my footwear!

Around 8am Marie Cain, one of the relay walkers started her next ‘leg’ of the relay just as I was finishing my lap and I decided to see if I could walk with her for a while.  We walked a lap in a shade under 9 minutes.

And the next lap was faster.  And the next lap was faster again.  And then I dropped Marie.  Before I knew it I was lapping at 7:15 pace!  I don’t know what happened.  It was like I was possessed.  The same thing had happened to me in the last half hour of the 2016 race when I averaged a shade over 6 minutes a lap for the last 5 laps.  I didn’t get to that speed but I did manage 6 minutes 59 seconds for my 503rd lap!  And, on checking the lap split times while writing this report, I see that the five laps from lap 502 to 506 took just 35 minutes and 41 seconds.  That is a 35 minute 5km after already walking 509km in the previous 5 ½ days.  It just shows what can be achieved with a focused mind.

Eventually I came back to earth and my pace slowed, but by then I had caught and passed Seigi.  Once I was back to a normal pace I stopped at the food tent and commented to Suzanne that I didn’t think I could catch Claudie (still over 10km ahead) but I was satisfied with how things were going and would just hold on to 5th place though to the finish.  And then I saw Claudie sitting in the corner of the food tent looking like she desperately needed 8 hours sleep.

That was enough.  I was on my way again.  Not at the same pace, but it was enough to start closing the gap on Claudie.

As the gap closed I worked out that because of the short laps during Thursday night, if I caught Claudie I would still be 400 metres behind her.  I had to catch her and lap her, and then I would be 600 meters ahead.  So that was my goal.

When 2pm arrived I was 5 minutes behind lapping Claudie.  If my maths is right, I was effectively 200 meters ahead of Claudie at exactly 2pm.  But as the race had been extended by 2 ½ hours due to the storm delay on Thursday, the race wasn’t yet over and we kept walking.

My official result at 6 days (144 hours) is 549.983km which is a new NZ M50 record.  More importantly, on the last day I had walked 131.5km!

6 jours de france live results at 144 hours
The results after 144 hours

It took about 1 ½ hours before I finally caught her, but once I did, I knew I was in 4th place, 600 meters ahead of 5th, and I just kept pace with Claudie through to the finish.

My final result was 564.602km – 4th walker and 16th overall.  In the almost 30 hours since resuming the race I had closed the gap on the leaders from 76km to just 43km.

6 jours de france live results final results

Looking ahead:

I think this was my last visit to Privas.  Or at least my last visit as a competitor.  Or at least my last visit as a competitor this decade.  I have had four weeks to think about the race, and whilst there are a few changes I would make if I could go back and do the race again, I think I need a break from the race.  The terrain ruins my feet.  But I love the event itself, and hopefully next year I can go back as support crew for someone – or possibly to do the 48 hour race that will be held during the last two days of the six day race.  The people are fantastic, and I think I would be miserable sitting at work for a week knowing that everyone else is there circling the track and suffering together.

We had some great times during the week.  One moment I remember was when I was walking with Karen who had already modified her shoes by cutting the front out of them and putting a pair of Tony’s socks over the top of them to keep the stones out.  She was telling me that she was thinking of writing to the sock manufacturer to tell them that their socks didn’t last very long.  We decided instead that she should put a review, along with a photo of her wearing the socks over the top of her shoes, on their facebook page.  It doesn’t sound so funny now, but we were in absolute hysterics like it was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.

As I say, we had some good times.

Photos and Analysis:

Having received the lap split times, I graphed them to understand what happened. The first 100 odd laps are mostly in the low 8 minute range.  Thereafter, the lap times are all over the place but there are brief periods where my lap times improved significantly on the average and then drifted back again.  And then there is the Saturday morning section between laps 502 and 512.

Privas 6 day race - lap split times

Looking at my progress hour on hour

Privas 6 day race graph - laps per hour

And comparing my mileage day by day with that of the other top 6 finishers

Privas 6 day race - top walkers daily mileage

Fitbit steps by day:

Fitbit steps by day

The following are some of the photos that either I took, or others took during the race (most of the photos were taken by Sylvie Couturon).

1st equal - Patrick Cailleaux
1st equal – Patrick Cailleaux

1st equal - Philippe Clement
1st equal – Philippe Clement

3rd place - Christophe Biet
3rd place – Christophe Biet

4th place - Richard McChesney (Me)
4th place – Richard McChesney (Me)

5th place - Claudie Bizard
5th place – Claudie Bizard

6th place - Seigi Arita
6th place – Seigi Arita

7th place - Tony Macintosh
7th place – Tony Macintosh

9th place - Karen Lawrie
9th place – Karen Lawrie
Team photo - me, Kathy, Karen, Tony
Team photo – me, Kathy, Karen, Tony

 

My first attempt to keep stones out of my modified shoes
My first attempt to keep stones out of my modified shoes

The socks started to get holes in them
It wasn’t long before my socks started to get holes in them

Next attempt - lots of tape to hold the socks in place made it impossible to take my shoes again until the race finished
Next attempt – lots of tape to hold the socks in place made it impossible to take my shoes again until the race finished

My shoes are still holding together but looking a little worse than earlier
The tape worked a lot better – shoes are still holding together but looking a little worse than earlier
Day 4 and I have found a use for the plastic spoons sitting on the food table
Day 4 and I have found a use for the plastic spoons sitting on the food table
Kathy celebrating W70 world 6 day record
Kathy celebrating W70 world 6 day record
Karen celebrates British 6 day record
Karen celebrating breaking the British 6 day record with the whole team – other than me. I was busy chasing Claudie!

6 jours de france - richard mcchesney - day 2
Dinner on day 2

6 jours de france - richard mcchesney - day 4 exhausted
Looking exhausted on day 4

6 jours de france - richard mcchesney - day 4
Not so exhausted on day 4

6 jours de france - richard mcchesney - day 5
Day 5

6 jours de france - richard mcchesney - day 6 exhausted
The only time it got cold was on the final night

6 jours de france - richard mcchesney - day 6
The end is in sight. Day 6

Suzanne:

I am hugely grateful to my good friend, Suzanne Beardsmore, who supported us throughout the race.  She got plenty of exercise during the week making trips to the supermarket, bakery, and the local sports shop (to buy socks to go over my shoes).  She kept us fed and gave us encouragement when we needed it.  Thanks for everything Suzanne.

Getting advice from Suzanne
Getting advice from Suzanne
You couldn't ask for better support crew than Suzanne
You couldn’t ask for better support crew than Suzanne

 

Last One Standing England

Last One Standing - start of 100 mile lap
The start of the 100 mile lap

There were nine of us standing on the start line for the 25th lap of England’s first Last One Standing race.  Karl asked me how many more laps I thought I could do.  We had already been going for 24 hours, and without thinking I replied “I’m going to win.  If that means I need to do one more lap than you, then that is what I will do.”

I didn’t know any of the other 8 athletes who were standing next to me, but I was confident in my ability to outlast them in this elimination race in which competitors had to complete a 4.1 mile (6.6km) lap of a slightly undulating trail course every hour.  If you didn’t complete the lap, or were not on the start line for the next lap at the start of each hour, you were eliminated.

27 runners had already been eliminated and it was now time to implement my plan to win this race.  I continued “In fact, I can knock off another twenty 55 minute laps if you want.  I tell you what, why don’t we turn this into a 48 hour race.”

I hadn’t actually intended to start the mind games (or Trash Talk as one of the race directors called it) so early in the race, but I was feeling great and I wanted the other competitors to know that I was here to win.

The first few laps:

I first heard about the Last One Standing races about 18 months ago, and had been looking forward to doing one ever since.  As a walker I can comfortably walk 4.1 miles in 50 minutes at a training pace, and having done 20 walks of 100 miles or further since 2013 I was confident that I could hold a 55 minute per lap pace for at least 40 hours – which I thought would be enough to win.

The race was held in the grounds of Knettishall Heath near Thetford, about 2 ½ hours drive from home.  My intention was to drive up after breakfast, arrive around 10’ish, pitch my tent and then relax until the 12 noon start.  But after waking at 4:30am and not being able to get back to sleep, I decided to head up there early, and after setting up my tent I had time to walk the local parkrun (my 115th different parkrun to date, and 365th in total), before going to McDonalds for a second breakfast/early lunch.

I got back to the race venue around 10:30’ish and set about making final preparations – laying all my food out on the camping stretcher I had set up in my tent, sorting out spare clothes, head torches, etc, and preparing my feet for the upcoming race.  I still had missing skin on the insides of both heels after blistering in both of my previous two 24 hour races (this would be my third race of 24 hours or longer in 7 weekends) so I taped over the damaged areas and coated my feet thoroughly with 2Toms Blister Shield.  As usual I then put on my Injinji toe liner socks and another thin pair of socks over the top.

I ate some more food, getting in as many calories as possible before the race started, and at 11:30 we were asked to assemble for the pre-race briefing.  The race was organised by Atlas Running (who put on the Dublin to Belfast race that I competed in last year) and Challenge Running (the people behind the Thames Ring 250 which I DNF’d last year).  Both Lindley (Challenge Running) and Sammy (Atlas Running) talked about the event and Sammy said that the magic number was 53.  He was speaking to the runners (I was the only walker competing) and was telling them to slow down, walk heaps, and aim to complete each lap in around 53 minutes.  The idea being that there was no point in using too much energy running too fast and resting for longer than 7 minutes between laps would result in muscles getting tight, especially overnight when it would be colder.

My plan was 55 minutes per lap.  Like most of the other competitors, I hadn’t competed in a race of this type but in almost all my long races I had avoided sitting down at any time between the start and the finish, and I figured that resting for more than 5 minutes between laps would be too long to rest without wanting to sit down.

Just before 12 noon we assembled on the start line and shortly afterwards we were on our way.  Out the gate, around to the left and left again, and down past the back of the ‘campsite’.  I settled at the back, walking just fast enough to ensure that I kept the last of the runners in front of me in sight.  I didn’t want to get lost of the first lap and miss the 1 hour cut-off!

The course followed a river for about 1km before heading into the trees and a reasonably steady incline up to the first landmark.  I figured that it was important to find landmarks and use them as timing checkpoints so that as the race went on I would know if I needed to speed up, or whether I had time up my sleeve.

The first landmark was a road we crossed and a car park across the road.  On my first lap I reach the carpark in around 16 ½ minutes.

After exiting the car park we had an exposed trail section that was slightly uphill before entering the forest again.  This was the only exposed section on the course.  Almost all of the rest of the course was sheltered under trees.

About 4 1/2km into the lap we reached the next landmark.  This was the top of the course immediately after the only hill that was slightly steep (a hill that got steeper and steeper with every lap).  We went through a gate, turned left and down the road for about 50 meters before crossing in to a trail through more trees.  I reached this landmark in around 37 minutes and calculated that I had plenty of time to ease up as I walked downhill along the trails to a third landmark which was another stretch of road of about 200 meters through to a cattle grate and a left hand turn back into the trees.

Six minutes later we crossed one last road back into the area where I had parked my car, and a few minutes later we reached the end of the lap.  In my case, in last equal place, in a shade over 54 minutes.

Six minutes later it all started again.

I used the first four or five laps to experiment with different paces, starting slow, starting fast, and getting an idea of the range of acceptable times at each of the landmarks – the first car park in 17 to 19 ½ minutes, the gate at the top of the hill in 39 to 41 minutes, the cattle grate in around 47 or 48 minutes, and I also worked out that I needed about 2 ½ minutes from when I crossed the last road to get through to the finish.

Whilst I don’t run at all, I decided that if I got to that last road crossing with less than 2 ½ minutes to go, I would run through to the finish if I had to, but in the early stages I had plenty of time available.

Saturday night:

I was really enjoying this race.  Most laps I would finish last but often I would talk to other runners at some stage during the lap, and then every hour we would all assemble for the start of another lap.

More importantly, unlike most races where regardless of the pace I am usually struggling a little after six to eight hours, ten hours in and I was feeling like I had just started.  These short rests were working well.  In addition, I was still mixing the pace a little.  Most laps I would walk easy for the first kilometre while having something to eat, and then once we turned away from the river I would pick up the pace and walk hard through to either the gate at around 41 minutes, or to the cattle grate.  Based on my time at these landmarks I would then walk slowly and relaxed through to the end of the lap, completing almost every lap in 55 minutes and change.

Twelve hours passed and a few runners has dropped out.  I was still feeling great but was having to walk a bit harder to maintain my 55 minute pace solely because I always walk slower at night, and the nature of the course meant we had to take a little extra case with out footing in the dark.

It started to rain lightly during the 12th or 13th lap, but nothing to worry about, and it only lasted a few laps.

When dawn arrived, I was still feeling very relaxed.  These five minute rests and the mixed pace were suiting me perfectly.  I was still listening to podcasts and still avoiding sugar.  I think I had a celebratory Coke at twelve hours, but I didn’t yet feel the need to turn on the high tempo music and switch to my Coke and Chocolate diet which usually both happen around 12 hours into a race.

I had a few hours of feeling a little tired just before dawn, but nothing to be concerned about.

Sunday:

Mid-way through lap 19 I went from feeling good to struggling.  I was feeling good still, but my pace had dropped.  I reach the gate at the top of the hill in a shade under 43 minutes.  My slowest time by well over a minute.  I immediately switched from listening to podcasts to high tempo music and it was like I had flicked a switch.  The result: My first 54 minute lap in 12 hours, and I passed three runners in the last 2km.

On completing the lap I had my second can of Coke and first chocolate bar, and from there it was high tempo music for the rest of the race, although I continued to eat and drink a range of foods rather than my usual diet of sugar only from the last half of a race.  I didn’t know how long this race would take, so didn’t want to switch to sugar too early.

By now there were only 15 competitors left in the race.  The start of each lap was much more relaxed.  The runners were tiring and not starting as fast.  I was still finishing last or near last on most laps but during the first kilometre there were usually runners to talk to.  The drop outs appeared to be more a case of runners refusing to start the next lap rather than being timed out.  Every time we lined up for the next lap I would count how many were left.  It was funny how time meant nothing.  I was focussed solely on the lap I was on.  Focussed on one hour at a time.

And that brings me back to the start of lap 25.  This was the 100 mile lap.  I knew that a few runners would drop out after this lap.  Some had told me that they were ‘only’ aiming to complete 100 miles, and for others I got the impression that the race was taking more out of them than they wanted, and with Sunday morning turning into a hot, sunny afternoon, they wouldn’t last much longer.

I didn’t intend to mess with their minds, but I was feeling great.  I was really enjoying the race, and I desperately wanted to win.  Only 7 of us lined up for the 26th lap, and 5 for the 27th lap.

At the end of lap 28 two of the runners told me that they weren’t going to continue.  I walked over to Richie Hinson to ask if he was going to continue.  I’m not sure what was on his mind, whether he was intending to continue or not, but a few minutes later Richie and I were the only two standing on the start line for lap 29.  We had been racing for 28 hours already.  It was 4pm on Sunday afternoon.

The last laps:

Richie took off at the start of the lap and I continued with my ‘routine’.  Walk easy for the first kilometre, pick the pace up through to the top of the hill, ease up a little through to the cattle grate, and then walk easy to the finish.  Another 55 minute lap completed.

On the next lap, lap 30, coming down the hill I saw Richie ahead of me and decided to ‘race’ him.  I went past him and opened up a gap, but then he came back past me again.  He wasn’t as tired as I thought he was.  I continued to walk reasonably hard but let him go, and ended up with my first and only sub 54 minute lap.  My fastest lap of the race after 30 hours.  I still had plenty of energy!

On completing the lap I walked up to Richie and told him he should give up now.  I said that for every lap he did, I would knock off another 55 minute lap, and when he was finally finished, I would do one more lap to win the race.

I apologised to Richie the following morning.  I was desperate to win, but the trash talk was probably unnecessary, and uncalled for.

Last One Standing - Start of lap 32
Start of lap 32 or 33

A couple more laps in which Richie finished a few minutes ahead of me, and then it was dark again.  Whilst it was daylight in the exposed areas of the course until about 10:30pm, it was dark enough when in the forest to need head torches from 9pm (lap 34).

The darkness was almost the end of me.  I completed lap 34 in 57:18, my slowest lap of the race to date.  More importantly, in my mind, it was after Sammy’s 3 minute call (Sammy counted down the minutes to the start of each lap and this was the first time I wasn’t there for the three minute call).  I wasn’t sure if Richie was taking notice, but if he realised that I had taken over 57 minutes to complete the lap, then he would realise that I was struggling.

I wasn’t actually struggling though.  I still felt good, but the darkness, and the fact that I was walking alone and didn’t have others to follow in the darkness meant I had to focus more on my footing on the trails, and as a result I was losing time.

When lap 35 started I walked hard from the start.  No taking it easy for the first kilometre or the last bit.  I completed the lap in 56:10.  Not a 55 minute lap, but not a 57 minute lap either.

I walked over to my tent and collected some more food, and then back to the start line.  Richie was sitting on the seat that he had sat on at the end of many of the last few laps, but this time he had a jacket over his shoulders.  I didn’t think anything of it and prepared for the start of the next lap.  I didn’t expect what happened next.

With a few seconds left before the start of lap 36 Richie walked up to me and shook my hand.  “Congratulations”, he said.  He said he wasn’t going to continue.  I had won the race!

Well I hadn’t actually won the race yet.  We had both completed 35 laps.  If I didn’t complete another lap in less than one hour, we would both be awarded DNF medals.

Eight hours earlier, when I thought the end of the race was near, and it was still daylight, I decided that if I got to the stage where I was the Last One Standing, I would walk as hard as I could for the last lap, and hopefully walk a sub-50 minute lap to finish the race.  It was dark now, but I still thought a fast’ish lap would be possible.  I started hard and passed through the first car park in 17 ½ minutes.  But by the time I reached the gate at the top of the hill I had lost a lot of time and a 55 minute lap would be the best I could hope for.  I decided to ease up a little as I didn’t want to risk something going wrong during the last 2km.

Instead of walking hard, I enjoyed the last 15 minutes, walking along trails I had already walked 35 times over the last 1 ½ days.  In a way, I didn’t want the race to finish.

I wanted to win this race from the day I first heard about it, and I had done it.  I finished the lap in 57:10, my second slowest of the race.  But it didn’t matter, I had won.  My first win on British soil, and it was a race in which a walker had beaten all the runners!

Last One Standing winner - Richard McChesney
Finished!!  Holding the winner’s trophy.

Post race:

After reaching the finish there were a few photos and a lot of ‘congratulations’.  Most of the competitors had gone home long ago and those that were still there were as tired as I was.  I walked over to a chair and sat down for a few minutes.  The first time I had sat down in 36 hours.

After a few minutes everyone headed off to their tents to get some sleep and I did the same.  I was wide awake.  I hadn’t felt tired since the early hours of Sunday morning.  Probably a combination of sugar and adrenaline (it is funny how when a race goes well you feel great) meant that I didn’t feel tired at all.

Once I got into my tent I changed my clothes and climbed in to my sleeping bag to keep warm, and the next thing I knew it was about 3am.

Every muscle in my body was now sore and I struggled to sleep for the next few hours before getting up at about 6am and starting the job of packing everything back into the car as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone.

Breakfast would have to be one of the highlights of the race.  Maxine, from Challenge Running, cooked enough bacon butties to feed an army.  It was the first decent meal I had had since my visit to McDonalds on Saturday morning, and was the start to my post race recovery.

I am writing this race report 12 days after the race finished.  I start my training again tomorrow having had a good break to recover.  The strange thing is, that almost every night since the race I have had strange dreams involving me walking through forests.  I’ve had dreams about races in the past, but not every night for 1 ½ weeks.

How I won Last One Standing:

This is a unique race.  It isn’t about speed.  It is 100% about endurance.  All you need to do is complete 4.1 miles within an hour and repeat.  In my past races I gone out much faster than 4.1 miles per hour, but would have had periods much slower than 4.1 miles per hour later in the race.  This was all about consistency.

The following are the seven things that I think helped me to win the race:

  1. First few laps as a recce
    I spent the first 5 or 6 laps learning about the course. I worked out the time range I needed to be within at each of the ‘landmarks’, how it felt walking at different speeds on different parts of the course, and how to make the most of my time during the 5 minutes I had at the end of each lap.
  2. Don’t sit down
    I strongly believe that the moment you sit down during a race, whilst it might feel good to rest, your muscles start to seize up and getting started again is much harder. Right from the start I walked a pace that kept the rest periods to around 5 minutes.  Early on I thought 6 minutes might be better, but I got into a routine that ensured that 5 minutes was all I needed, and even if I had wanted to, I didn’t really have time to sit down.
  3. Focus on one lap at a time
    There was never a time that I thought about how many more laps we had to go, or how many more miles we had to go. Partially because I had no idea, but also because I focussed 100% on the current lap only.
  4. My ‘Why’
    On the occasions when things were getting tough I would remind myself why I was doing this race, or why I wanted to win.
    One reason I wanted to win was that I had seen a photo of the winner’s trophy and I really, really wanted it.
    Another reason was that I had promised my wife that I would win. She is my biggest supporter but she also knows my weaknesses and didn’t think this was a race that I could win.  I wanted to prove her wrong.
    And having done parkrun on Saturday morning, I kept reminding myself that if I didn’t win, someone would tell me that I shouldn’t have been so cocky as to do parkrun before the race.
  5. Mental preparation
    I started the race fully expecting to take at least 40 hours. I have often wondered who a tennis play can go on court not knowing whether they are going to be playing a quick 3 set match, or a long drawn out 5 set match.  Mental preparation.  Prepare for a long 5 set match and if it is a quick match, then that is a bonus.
  6. Enjoy
    I thoroughly enjoyed the race. I didn’t have a negative thought or bad patch during the whole race.  I can’t say this about any other long-distance race I have ever done.
  7. Mind games
    I don’t know if this helped me win or not, but I was treating the later stages of the race as a game. I wanted to win the game, and playing mind games might put doubts into the minds of the other competitors.

What’s next:

My next race is the Privas 6 day race in France starting on 19th August.  It will be my third 6 day race and I am seriously considering implementing what I learned during Last One Standing with respect to taking regular five minute breaks.

After taking a two week rest break I will resume training with an easy week during the last week of June and then four or five weeks of high mileage before easing up over the last few weeks before Privas.

Photos:

Last One Standing - Finishing a lap on Sunday morning
Near the end of a lap on Sunday morning
Last One Standing - Finish of a Sunday afternoon lap
Finishing a lap on Sunday afternoon
Last One Standing winners trophy
Last One Standing winners trophy
Last One Standing lap times
Last One Standing lap times
Last One Standing Winner announcement
The announcement of my win on facebook

Continental Centurions Race 2018

My goal for the 2018 Continental Centurions Race in Schiedam, Holland, was to ‘officially’ break the NZ 24 hour record which I had unofficially beaten in the same race two years ago.

The Continental Centurion Race is a 100 mile race with a 24 hour option, but they don’t measure partially completed laps like most 24 hour races do, and in 2016 I had walked 182.598 kilometres (50 meters short of the official NZ record) when I completed my penultimate lap after 23 hours 57 minutes and 1 second.  My total distance was recorded as 183.587km in 24 hours 5 minutes and 18 seconds, giving me an estimated 24 hour split of 182.950km, but this didn’t count for record purposes, and it had bugged me ever since.

When I originally planned out my 2018 year the Continental Centurions Race wasn’t on my list as I had intended racing in a 6 day event in Hungary during the first week of May, but injury over the winter meant that I was unable to do enough training to feel confident of a good 6 day result and instead I replaced the 6 day race with two 24 hour events – the French 24 hour championships in Dijon in April (where I finished 5th with 171.7km in the heat) and the Continental Centurions Race.

And unlike most of my recent races where I have started slowly, sitting in the back third of the field early on, and then worked my way through the field as the race went on, I decided that I would start aggressively this time, and aim to either smash both the 100 mile and 24 hour records or die trying (metaphorically speaking of course).  My goal for the race if the conditions were good was to complete the 100 miles in under 20 hours (previous best was 20:58:27 from the same race in 2016) and to complete over 190km in the 24 hours.  This race was to be my 20th walk of 100 miles or more and I thought walking 100 miles in under 20 hours would be a great achievement to mark the milestone.

Pre-race:

Not wanting to use too much of my annual leave, I decided I would work on the Friday before travelling to Schiedam on the Friday evening.  That plan went reasonably well except for the fact that the restaurant at the hotel had closed by the time I arrived a little after 10pm.  I had eaten some of my ‘race food’ during the trip over (bus from work to airport, flight to Amsterdam, train to Schiedam) and had also bought some Burger King chips at Schiphol Airport while waiting for my train, so I was only intending to have a light meal anyway.  But I would have preferred to top up my calories before going to bed.

I slept reasonably well, about 8 hours, and after waking on the Saturday morning I walked in to town to buy more race food and some breakfast.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a McDonalds within walking distance so I settled for 6 ham filled croissants (1,500+ calories) which I ate over a period of a few hours while walking down to the race village and preparing for the 12 noon start.

Unlike my last race in Dijon where I was the only English speaking competitor, there was a large contingent of athletes from England and also the Isle of Man so plenty of people to talk to.  The international competitors were assigned a large tent where we would be able to prepare for the race, and leave our bags, etc, but it turned out that we couldn’t be fed from within that tent so Judith (the wife of one of the English competitors) found another tent to base herself in, and the Isle of Man supporters relocated to the far end of the race village.  Judith had kindly volunteered to feed and water me during the race.

It was a good catching up with old friends, most of which I hadn’t seen since the 2016 race or the 2017 UK Centurions Race in which I had done the 50 miler, and it wasn’t too long before we were asked to make our way down the path and around the corner to the start of the race.

The race:

After listening to a few speeches, the race started at exactly 12 noon.  There were 60 starters in the 100 mile/24 hour event and 10 in the 50km walk starting at the same time (but with a slightly different start point), and later in the day another 50 competitors would join us for either the 50 mile or 100km races.

As planned, I started faster than I had two years ago, and faster than I had in probably all of my previous 24 hour races.  In 2016 I had covered the first lap (3.494km) in 26:34 and was in 37th place at the end of the first lap.  This year I had intended to start with a  26 minute lap (8km/hour average speed) and then settle in with 29 minutes per 3.936km lap (2016 average lap in the early stages was a shade over 30 minutes) but I was surprised when I saw the lap clock at the end of my first lap showing 25:05!  I was in 8th place and feeling comfortable, the conditions were great – overcast and around 10 degrees – and I thought I may as well continue at this pace and see what happens.

The next few laps passed by in 28:15, 28:36, 29:02, 28:36, and 28:41.  I was feeling good and when Franz Leijtens and Adam Killip (Holland and Isle of Man) caught me we enjoyed some conversation while we walked.

I completed my 7th lap in 28:57 but was starting to suffer a little from the early speed and let Adam walk off into the distance. Franz had already dropped a little bit behind me and I started to struggle.  We were less than 3 ½ hours in to a 24 hour race and I was already struggling.  Maybe I shouldn’t have started so fast.  I was starting to get negative thoughts in my head already.  Negative thoughts can kill a good race and I tried to push them out by focusing on the podcasts I was listening to while I walked.

Richard McChesney - 2018 Continental Centurions Race
Looking strong early on.  Franz is the walker behind me in this photo.

I kept going but my laps kept getting slower.  Lap 8 took 30:20 followed by a 31:29!  I forced myself to focus on trying to pick up the speed and was able to average 30:32 for the next five laps.  I was walking significantly slower than my plan, and also slower than I had walked in 2016 (although when I did the analysis post race, I was only 15 seconds per lap slower than in 2016 – see analysis graph at the bottom of this report).

I needed to take drastic action and switched my nutrition from fruit and water to coke and chocolate.  My normal race strategy for a 24 hour event, or any long walk, is to avoid too much sugar in the first half/12 hours (depending on race distance) but if I didn’t do something soon, there was no chance that I would break the NZ records, and I definitely wouldn’t achieve my sub 20 hour 100 mile target – which was probably no longer realistic anyway.

The phycological effect of switching to coke boosted me and I completed the 16th lap in 29:33, my first sub 30 minute lap since lap 7.  On crossing the finish line at the end of each lap you get to see your total elapsed time plus your last lap time on the screen in front of you and seeing a ‘29’ was a boost but short lived unfortunately.  Mentally I was feeling better, but my lap times were not what I wanted/needed.  The next four laps were all in the mid 30 minute range followed by two high 31 minute laps.

I had passed the 50 mile mark in 10 hours and 10 minutes and started thinking that a 100km PB might be a possibility if I could pick the pace up a little.  My 100km PB was 12:42:44 (or so I thought), and in it isn’t very often that I get inside 13 hours during 100 mile/24 hour events – I think I have only done that once before, which was in the 2016 Continental Centurions Race.

After the two high 31 minute laps I calculated that I needed to complete 3 ½ more laps in the low 30 minute range but could only manage mid 30’s – the stats show that I walked 30:33, 30:25 and 30:13.  I reached the 100km mark in 12:43:20 – 36 seconds short of my target.  I told myself that I wasn’t here to walk a 100km PB, and I was about 10 minutes faster than any previous 100 mile/24 hour race at the same point, so kept pushing on – or at least I tried to.  Again my pace dropped and shortly after I ended up with my slowest lap so far, and first 32 minute lap.  As it turned out, I was wrong about my 100km PB.  It was actually 12:44:42 (I had the minutes and seconds around the wrong way), so I did get a bonus 100km PB although I didn’t find that out until the Monday after the race.

I got through to 110km and was still losing time with laps in the 31 minute range.  I was no longer thinking of a sub 20 hour or even sub 20:30 time for 100 miles, and instead found myself doing the calculations to see what I would need to do to just get a PB (20:58).  I was confident that even if I continued to gradually slow down I should get under 20:58, but what about the 24 hour result?  I wanted to ensure that I would cover at least 183km in full laps (to officially break the NZ record) and couldn’t afford to slow too much.

The course is designed so that the 100 mile mark is reached at the end of the 41st lap (40 big laps plus the first slightly smaller lap), and with five laps to go I had 3 hours and 47 minutes up my sleeve (for a sub 20:58).  I calculated that that was over 32 minutes per lap and I was still managing 30’s and 31’s.

It was at this stage that the leader of the 100km race caught me.  He had two laps to go and I had five.  We chatted for a about half a lap and then we came around a corner and saw Frank van der Gulik (Holland) less than 50 meters in front of me.  It was a complete surprise.  At this stage I thought I was in 6th place and I told the guy I was walking with that I needed to pick up the pace as Frank was in 5th and I wanted to pass him strongly.  It didn’t take me long to catch up the 50 meters.  I sat in behind him for 10 or 20 seconds and then picked up the pace again to ensure that Frank didn’t try to stay with me when I passed him.  By the next corner, when I looked behind me, he was 50 meters behind.  Job done!

I kept the pace up though and checked the online results on my phone to confirm my position.  It turned out that I was actually in 4th place, and only 3 minutes behind Adam who was in 3rd.  I increased the pace again, and within a lap I had Adam in my sight.  I did exactly the same as I had done a lap earlier with Frank – I walked up behind Adam and then rested for 10 or 20 seconds before putting in another surge to go past Adam as fast as I could.  Again, I looked behind at the next corner and saw that Adam was already over 50 meters behind.

I completed that lap, the 4th to last before the 100 mile mark, in 29:03 – my fastest lap since lap 7.  It just shows how much these events are a case of mind over matter.  Whilst I thought I was going as hard as I could and ‘only’ managing mid-30 minute laps, when I saw Frank and then Adam, I had managed to put in two sub-30 minute laps reasonably easily.

I kept the pace up to ensure that neither Frank nor Adam would catch me.  The guys in 1st and 2nd were 30 and 20 minutes ahead of me so no chance of catching them – at least not before the 100 mile mark which was my primary focus right now.

At the end of the 3rd to last lap I checked the online results again.  The gaps back to Adam and Frank were big enough for me to feel comfortable that I would hold 3rd place, and without really intending to, I let the pace drop again with two high 31 minute laps through to 100 miles which I completed in 20:44:11 – a new PB and NZ record by a little over 14 minutes.  I finished the 100 miler is 3rd place, less than 1 lap behind the winner.

Richard McChesney - 3rd place in 2018 Continental Centurions Race
Finish of 100 mile event

The 100 mile results were:

2018 Continental Centurions Race - 100 miles

The ‘CC’ number is the unique number assigned to a walker when they first complete a 100 mile race (in less than 24 hours) in Holland.  My number, C432, in from 2016.  The numbers in bold are those walkers who qualified for the first time in this year’s race.

Further details about Centurion race-walking can be found here.

This video shows the first five finishers of the 100 mile event:

 

The 24 hour race:

My goal had always been to cover more than 183km in 24 hours to ‘officially’ break the NZ 24 hour record, and it soon became obvious that everyone was ‘dropping out’ at 100 miles.  It was now mid-morning and after yesterday’s overcast conditions, today was going to be hot and sunny.

I wished I could drop out also, and I struggled for the next three laps, my three slowest of the race, but then gave it one last mental push with a 29:35 and 29:58 before cruising through to the finish.  I ended up with an ‘official’ NZ record and PB of 185.129km!  Job done.

24 hour results:

2018 Continental Centurions Race - 24 hours

A big thank you:

Whilst it might sound like the weekend was all about me and the effort I put in to the race, I could not have achieved the result without the amazing support provided by Judith Fisher, wife of fellow competitor Martin.  Judith offered to provide support by handing me my food at the end of each lap.  The Schiedam course is perfect in that respect in that it provides the opportunity to eat every 30 minutes without needing to remember whether you ate last lap or need to eat next lap, and without having to carry food with you.  You simply eat every lap.  So every lap I would tell Judith what I wanted and she would hand it to me at the end of the next lap.  Most laps I got food from Judith and a drink from the official aid station about 20 meters up the path from where she was stationed.  Occasionally, if I wanted more than half a cup of water or coke, she would give me a bottle of water or a can of coke.  I was never left in need, and owe a big ‘thank you’ to Judith.

Some analysis:

In 2016 my fastest lap (excluding the first lap) was 29:28 and I averaged 30:59.  This year my fastest lap was 28:15 and I walked 7 laps faster than my quickest 2016 lap.  My average lap time was 30:40 – only 19 seconds per lap, or 5 seconds per kilometre, faster than 2016.  But 5 seconds per kilometre over 24 hours adds up to almost 15 minutes.

The graph below shows my cumulative average speed (kilometres per hour) as at the end of each lap throughout the race:

Continental Centurions Race 2016 v 2018 analysis

The following graph shows my speed for each individual lap compared to my overall average speed as at the end of each lap.  You can see how erratic my pace was and how I was able to pick the pace up when I focussed mentally on walking technique and pushing the pace.  I’m sure that if I could focus mentally for the whole 24 hours, then a sub-20 hour time would be possible.

2018 lap speed versus overall speed

And this graph shows the cumulative average speed of the top five finishers plus the early leader who dropped out shortly after 100km.  The graph only shows the first 41 laps as all but myself stopped at 100 miles.  The graph shows how far behind I was mid-race.  At 100km I was 18 minutes behind Adam and 21 minutes behind Frank.  Those margins grew to 20 and 25 minutes respectively before I started to pick them up again.  At 110km, Birger (the 100 mile winner) was 51 minutes in front of me.  I was faster than him on 12 of the last 13 laps and reduced his lead by 24 minutes during that time.

Cumulative average speed of the top 5 finishes

Lastly, my rewards for the weekend, three cups: 3rd in the 100 mile race, completing the 100 miles, and winning the 24 hour race.

Continental Centurions Race trophies

My next race:

These last two races have taken a bit more out of me than I expected.  My main race for 2018 is the Privas 6 day race in August and I have decided that has got to be my primary focus between now and August.  My next race will be the UK Last One Standing in June.  The idea of this race is that competitors have to run (or in my case walk) a 4 mile loop every hour, starting on the hour.  If you don’t finish within the hour, you are out.  The winner is “the last one standing”.  I thought this might be a bit of fun and good training, and I’m looking forward to seeing how a walker can compete against runners in an event like this.

After that I had intended to walk from Paris to London in early July, but I have decided to focus on training for Privas instead, and will postpone this walk until next year.

 

 

Richard