2017 report card and plans for 2018

When I look back at what I wrote on this blog a year ago about my plans for 2017, I had three goals:

  • NZ 24 hour record
    I was hoping to do this in Bourges in March but after becoming sick in mid-January due to too much training in extremely cold early morning air, I decided not to race Bourges, and in the end I didn’t do a 24 hour race at all in 2017.
  • M25 circumnavigation
    I had attempted this in 2016 and failed to complete the approximately 160 mile loop around greater London non-stop. So this was one of my three goals for 2017 and on the first weekend in May I exceeded my expectations by completing the circuit in a shade under 44 hours.  Not only that, but I didn’t sit down from the time I started until the time I finished!  44 hours on my feet.  And I raised £1,902 for Limbless Association, a very worthwhile charity.  This was definitely my biggest achievement of 2017 and something I am extremely proud of.
  • Walk 700km in 6 days
    In my second 6 day race I wanted to improve on the 614km I walked in 2016 and believed that I could possibly even walk as far as 700km.
    Well I made 71% of that distance. I had a terrible race.  I was mentally weak and in a race of that distance it is more about mental strength than physical.  I still believe I can exceed 700km and will be attempting the distance again in 2018.

So based on that, 2017 wasn’t a great year.  I only met one of my three goals.

But on the positive side, my M25 walk raised £1,902 for Limbless Association, and I also organised a fundraising walkathon for the local scout group in which 56 scouts walked laps of the local common for three hours and raised £2,250 between them.  This event was so successful that they have invited me back to organise a second walkathon in 2018.

Regarding the 24 hour record attempt, I made the decision not to walk a 24 hour race, so I can’t be disappointed that I didn’t reach that goal.  And whilst I only managed 500km in the 6 day race in August, I used that experience to bounce back and have a great race at Roubaix over 28 hours just three weeks later.  If I had ‘raced’ the event rather than starting slow, I could have gone further and probably beaten my NZ 200km record in the process.

I also placed 4th overall (and only walker) in the Dublin to Belfast Ultra in April, walking my way through the field after being in last place at 15 miles.

Two races that didn’t go so well though, were the Grand Union Canal Race in May in which I DNF’d at 100 miles in May, and then I dropped out of my first (and probably only) Thames Ring 250 at 132 miles the following month.

And now, at the end of 2017, I am unable to walk without pain due to a foot injury that is getting worse because I tried to ignore it for the last few months.

At some stage around the time of the Roubaix race in September I noticed that I had a little lump under the ball of my left foot.  It wasn’t too bad and didn’t hurt when I was walking, but it was uncomfortable and over time I noticed that I had minor pain/discomfort in the top of my left foot which I thought might be related.  To cut a long story short, it appears that the lump might be a bursa (a small balloon of fluid) and whilst it still doesn’t hurt to walk on, I have sub-consciously changed my foot placement to avoid putting too much weight on the ball of my foot, and now have a painful/inflamed arch.  This means that 2018 will begin with a month of complete rest and a visit to a foot surgeon in mid-January.

Summary of 2017:

Total mileage: 2,373 miles (3,818km)

Total mileage during races: 983 miles (1,581km) – 41% of total mileage.

Total raised for charity: £4,152

Goals for 2018:

I am not entering any races until I know how long my foot will take to come right, but all going well, I have six events of 100 miles or more planned for 2018 including a big walk to race more money for Limbless Association at the end of the summer.  And I will also be organising the scouts walkathon again in May.

All going well, my plans are as follows:

  • 31 March 2018 – Belfast to Dublin Ultra
    The reverse of the Dublin to Belfast Ultra in which I finished fourth overall in 2017.
  • 3-9 May 2018 – EMU 6 day race in Hungary
    Whilst this is a 6 day race and the course is much better than Privas, and therefore should result in a greater distance, there are no race-walking judges meaning that results are ‘unofficial’ for record purposes. That said, there will be several very competitive race-walkers at the race and I would love to be there.  I also want to use this race to test out a new sleeping strategy that I have in mind for the Privas 6 day race in August.
  • 9-10 June 2018 – Last Man Standing (UK)
    I love the concept of this race. The idea 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 man standing”.  I thought this might be a bit of fun and good training, and I think that I can perform well against the runners in this event.
  • 19-25 August 2018 – 6 jours de France (again)
    My third attempt to break the NZ 6 day record after going close in 2016 and failing miserably in 2017. My goal will be to exceed 700km during the six days.
  • Mid-September – Roubaix 28 hour race (again)
    I’ve done this three times with two 200+ kilometer results (2015 and 2017).
  • October – my annual charity walk
    In 2015 I did my first charity fundraising walk when I did the 72 hour race in Privas. In 2016 I used my first attempt at circumnavigating the M25 as my second charity fundraiser, and in 2017 I again used my M25 circumnavigation to raise money for charity.  In 2017 the charity I selected was Limbless Association as I wanted to use my arms and legs to raise money for a charity that supports people who are missing one or more arms or legs.  Limbless Association supported me during the walk as well with Joel, their fundraising manager, acting as my support crew for the first and last 8 hours of the walk.
    In 2018 I intend to support Limbless Association again and attempt my biggest adventure to date – walking from Paris to London, or to be more specific, from Arc de Triomphe in Paris to Marble Arch in London.
    Depending on the route I take, it will be somewhere between 385 and 430km of walking plus a ferry ride.  265 and 290km (165 to 180 miles) from Paris to Calais and another 120 to 140km (75 to 87 miles) from Dover to Marble Arch.  I would like to try and complete this in under 72 hours with one short sleep half way between Paris and Calais and another while waiting for the ferry and during the sailing to Dover, but suspect that it is more likely to take somewhere between 80 and 90 hours, or maybe longer.

Thank you for your support this year:

I have had plenty of support from many people during 2017.  So a big thank you to everyone and especially from the companies who have helped me financially and with product – Fitbit, Beta Running (Injinji and Ultimate Direction) and Strictly Banners.

 

Richard

Roubaix 28 hour race 2017

It was the morning of Thursday 31st August, only 5 days after we had finished the Privas 6 day race.  I was at work and read a facebook message that Suzanne Beardsmore had posted in our Privas facebook group –

“How’s everyone feeling this week?
Kathy – are you still planning on going to Roubaix?”

That was all I needed.  It was settled.  I would be joining Suzanne and Kathy Crilley in Roubaix for the 64th edition of the Roubaix 28 hour race in less than 2 ½ week’s time!

I hadn’t actually been for a walk since finishing Privas but my recovery was already going well, and after a disappointing summer in which I had struggled at Privas and DNF’d in both the Grand Union Canal Race in May and the Thames Ring 250 in June, I needed a good race to prove to myself that I wasn’t ‘past it’.

So that weekend I went for two walks of over two hours each to confirm that I felt OK, and started making plans for Roubaix.

Race Day:

At 11am on Saturday 16th September 47 walkers assembled at the start line at the bottom of Parc de Barbieux in Roubaix.  Five of us were backing up from Privas, and a sixth, Kathy, was completing in the 24 hour relay which would be starting in a few hours time.

This was my third time competing in the 28 hour race.  In 2014 I walked 186km on a course that started in Roubaix town centre and wound its way through Roubaix for about 15km before entering the Parc which then became our home for the next 26 hours.  In 2015 the course was moved to the old Roubaix Velodrome and I covered 205km including breaking the New Zealand 200km record.  This year, having had a ‘difficult’ summer, my goal was to walk strongly and with a positive attitude throughout the race, and hopefully complete a distance somewhere between that of 2014 and 2015.

Roubaix 28 hour race course map
Start/finish of each lap was in the bottom left. The food tent was where the blue dot is, and our tents were in between number 3 and the blue dot.
Roubaix 28 hour race 2017
Suzanne and I leaving the food tent early in the race

This year the race was 100% within the confines of the parc, on a 2,804 metre out and back course.  I decided to sit near the back of the field to begin with and just see how I felt during the first few hours.  The out and back course enabled me to watch the other walkers while walking my own pace, and I walked in 35th place for the first hour or so before slowly picking up a few places to catch Suzanne and walk with her for the next few laps.

I can’t remember what happened next but at some stage Suzanne drifted back behind me and I passed a few more walkers.  I remember at 3 ¼ hours I completed my 9th lap just as one of the faster walkers lapped me.  I noticed on the electronic scoreboard that I was in 30th place and he was in 8th place.  I had already lost 2.8km (and more) on the first 8 walkers.  Just as well I wasn’t racing 🙂

My next memory is that when I completed my 18th lap (50.5km).  I was in 26th place and I remember thinking that if I continue passing walkers at this rate I could do OK.

Roubaix 28 hour race food supplies
Suzanne’s and my food supplies – enough sugar to keep us going

Because each lap was going to take around 23 minutes (21 minutes in the early stages and drifting out to 25 minutes later on) my plan was to eat something every lap.  My usual plan is to eat every 30 minutes but instead I would eat a little less but more often.  Most laps I grabbed some fruit (apple, orange or banana) at the race food tent, but every few laps I would pick something from my own food stash.  As I had been doing in most of my races recently, my intention was to eat fruit (dried and fresh), biscuits and crisps for the first 12 hours and stay off highly processed high sugar foods before switching to a 100% sugar diet for the last half of the race.  This strategy worked really well, possibly the best it has in any race, and apart from treating myself to a can of coke at 50km, I managed to go past 100km (in about 13:41, and 17th position) before switching to sugar.  The only problem I had was that I had forgotten to bring any died fruit 🙁

Once I switched to sugar I don’t think I ate any fruit again, and spent the second half of the race eating chocolate, biscuits, sweets, and crisps, washed down regularly with coke.  Most of the time I drink just a small amount of coke (probably 100 mls) from the food tent, but occasionally I would have a whole can of coke from my own supplies.

Overnight I felt really good.  No tiredness at all.  The fact that I continued to pass people kept me going, both mentally and physically, and I was really enjoying the race.  At around 12 hours I lapped Suzanne (she had taken a short rest and was waiting for me to catch her) and we walked another hour or so together before she dropped back again and eventually withdrew from the race.

For the first 14 hours when I wasn’t walking with Suzanne or someone else – whilst Suzanne and I were the only native English speakers in the 28 hour race, some of the other competitors spoke limited English and I walked short amounts with some of them at various stages – I listened to podcasts to pass the time and keep my mind active.

I was feeling really good and passed half way (14 hours) with a little over 102km covered.  I was completing laps in 24 and 25 minutes and an hour or so later I remember commenting to the GB relay team (Kathy, Joyce and Norma) that I thought I could complete 204km if I kept the pace up.

Next thing I know, I complete a 30 minute lap!  We were almost 16 hours into the race and I had walked 115km but I suddenly I felt extremely tired.  I swallowed two caffeine tablets and washed them down with coke (additional caffeine).  I turned my podcast off and my high tempo music playlist on.  I turned the volume right up and focused on picking up the pace – sped up my arm swing (which in turn increased my leg turnover), tried to relax my upper body, tried to lengthen my stride a little and pull my toes up as my foot hit the ground (to lengthen the stride that little bit more).  My next lap was back to 24 minutes, then a few 23 minute laps, and then a few laps in 22 minutes!

Every time a new song started I would think to myself, relax the upper body, swing the arms faster, pull the toes up.

I passed 100 miles in 22 hours and 20 minutes in 11th place.  It was my fastest 100 miles of the year (my 5th 100 miles of the year), and I was feeling fantastic.  10th place was over a lap ahead of me though, but I thought to myself that with over 5 ½ hours still to go, there was a really good chance of getting well inside the top 10.

According to the official results, I completed 24 hours with 173.4km.  Tenth place was almost exactly 1 lap ahead of me with 176.2km.  We had 4 hours to go.  I needed to make up 700 meters per hour for 4 hours.  I felt like it was possible.  I was still walking laps of around 22 minutes, which was less than a minute per lap slower than I had been walking 24 hours earlier.

It was 16 hours into the race when I had finally registered the fact that on the electronic scoreboard, as well as showing our position and total distance, it also showed the minutes and seconds between each walker and the walker in front of them.  24 hours into the race and the scoreboard was showing 22 minutes (between 10th place and myself) and slowly coming down each lap.  An hour later is was 16 minutes and then a lap later it showed 13 minutes!  I was just over half a lap behind 10th place.  I was trying to push the pace, but I was actually starting to slow, walking 23 ½ minutes per lap.  The scoreboard showed 13 minutes for each of the next three laps and then I lost it mentally.

We were 26 hours into the race.  I desperately wanted to complete at least 200km, and finish in the top 10.  Thanks to finishing 7th in 2015, my photo was in the race programme and I told myself that if I didn’t make the top 10 this year, I wouldn’t have my photo in the programme next year.  Unfortunately the ‘pep talk’ didn’t help me and I decided to stop chasing a top 10 place and just focus on making 200km.  My next two laps both took 26 minutes.  Other than the 30 minute lap from 10 hours earlier, these were my two slowest laps of the race.

I completed my second ‘slow’ lap with 68 minutes left on the clock (until the finish) and noticed that even although my pace had dropped by 3 minutes per lap, I had only lost 3 minutes on 10th place.  The gap was now 16 minutes, and 9th place wasn’t far ahead of 10th.  I did the maths.  10th place was walking 24 ½ minutes a lap and slowing (hopefully).  If I could get back to 21 minutes a lap, perhaps I could catch him.

I put my loud music back on and tried to pick the pace up again.  25 minutes then 24 minutes.  It wasn’t fast enough. The gap decreased slightly but not enough.

I completed the lap with 20 minutes left on the clock.  I had done 199.1km so all I needed to do was walk 900 meters to reach my 200km goal.

I kept the pace up right through to the end, completing almost a whole lap, when at 3pm on Sunday afternoon the signal was sounded (I can’t actually remember what the sound was – a gun, a whistle, I can’t remember) and we stopped and put the plastic marker we had been given a lap or two earlier on the ground to mark the place we were when the race finished.

The race was over.  Once the partial laps were measured I learnt that I had walked 201.388km.  I had finished in 11th place, 1.1km behind 10th and 1.5km behind 9th.

I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed, but if someone had told me on Friday that I would walk solidly for all but three laps of the race, and would cover 200km, I wouldn’t have believed them.  This was definitely my best race of the season and a great way to finish the year.

Or was it?

When I joined Suzanne, Kathy, Norma and Joyce for breakfast the following morning I agreed that I was finished for the year.  It was time to give my body (and mind) a well earned rest.

But during breakfast someone mentioned a 24 hour race in three weeks time …

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), it turns out that I have other commitments that weekend and won’t be able to race, but for a day or so I was already planning my next adventure.

 

Post Race Analysis:

One of the great things about chip timing is that the results software can produce a full list of lap times.  I have analysed these and can tell you the following:

  • My fastest 5 laps was actually my 8th, 7th, 6th, 9th and 5th laps, in that order. These five laps ranged from 21:13 to 21:24 – and averaged 21:19 (for 2.804km).
  • My slowest lap was the 30:02 that my 41st lap took from 112 to 115km just before 16 hours.  This was the lap that I struggled with tiredness.
  • My next two slowest laps were the two that I eased up on between 26 and 27 hours – laps 68 and 69 (188 to 193.6km). These two laps took 26:13 and 26:23 respectively.
  • I completed 71 full laps of 2.804km. Of these,
    • 13 were 21 minute laps (21:00 to 21:59). This included all of the first 10 laps plus laps 13, 49 and 62.
    • 20 laps were in the 22 minute range
    • 18 laps were in the 23 minute range
    • 8 laps were in the 24 minute range
    • 9 laps were in the 25 minute range
    • 2 laps were in the 26 minute range
    • And then there was lap 41 which took 30 minutes.
  • My average lap was 23:23.
Roubaix 28 hour race lap speed graph
My speed for each lap (in meters per hour)
  • My 50km splits (calculated by pro-rating the lap that brought up 50, 100, 150 and 200km) were 6:31:16, 7:09:45 (13:41:01), 7:09:34 (20:50:35), 6:57:29 (27:48:04).
    Shows how hard I was working over the last 7 hours.
  • My 100km splits were 13:41:01 and 14:07:03.
  • In the first 14 hours I walked 102.1km. In the second 14 hours I walked 99.3km (in round figures).
  • My fitbit step count analysis is interesting:
    • I started off with a cadence of around 700 steps every five minutes (140 steps per minute), and while it dropped occasionally, I held that cadence for the first 9 hours or so.
    • Looking at my lap times, it was after 9 ½ hours that my lap times dropped from 22 and 23 minute laps to 24 and 25 minute laps, and my cadence also dropped to 630-650 steps every five minutes (125 to 130 steps per minute) for the 5 hour period through to 14 hours when I switched to high tempo music and started to work on my pace.
    • After that my cadence stayed in the 670 to 700 steps per five minute range (135 to 140 per minute) though to 26 hours other than a few dips along the way. And during that time my pace remained in the 22 and 23 minutes per lap range.
    • When I eased the pace at 26 hours my cadence dropped again and then picked up again over the last hour as did my pace.
    • So, as expected, my cadence was very much in alignment with my pace throughout the race.
    • In total I took approximately 225,000 steps during the race. These appear to be split roughly 112,000 steps in the first 14 hours and 113,000 steps in the second 14 hours – yet I walked 2.8km less in the second 14 hours to the first.
    • My stride length was therefore an average of 91cm in the first 14 hours and reduced to an average of 88cm during the second 14 hours.
    • If I compare this to Roubaix 2015, on a different course, in 2015 I took 224,500 steps (500 less than this year) to walk 205.1km (3.7km further than this year).
      My split was 112,500 in the first 14 hours and 112,000 in the second 14, and the mileage split was 105km in the first half and 100km in the second. My average stride length in 2015 was 93cm in the first half of the race, and 89cm in the second half.
    • In 2015 my average stride length for the whole race was 91cm. This year 89cm.
    • So in summary, the difference between the 205.1km I walked in 2015 and the 201.4km this year was entirely due to me having a shorter stride length this year.  And my guess is that the shorter stride length will have something to do with tired legs from Privas.

Photos:

A couple more photos.

Roubaix 28 hour race
Early in the race, walking with Jeremy Dandoy (France). I’ve raced Jeremy a few times previously and whilst neither of us speak each others language, we always manage to have a short conversation.
Roubaix 28 hour race - Sunday morning
Possibly my favourite photo from the race. Taken on Sunday morning, it shows how hard I was working.

Privas 6 day race 2017 – 6 jours de France

Two weeks ago tonight I was in my hotel room in Privas, France looking forward to the start of my second 6 day race – the 2017 edition of 6 jours de France, the longest race-walking event in the world that has official race-walking judges.

Last year I walked 614km and finished third.  I learnt a lot about myself and how much the body can cope with if your mind is strong enough.  I also learned a lot about how to race multi-day events, and I was confident that this year I would walk at least 8km further than in 2016 – which would be enough to beat Gerald Manderson’s 18 year old New Zealand record.

In fact I was so confident that I fully expected to win the race and perhaps walk as far as 700km.

But it wasn’t to be.

I knew the race would be hard.  I struggled with many highs and even more lows during last year’s race, but as soon as I finished the race last year I started planning and looking forward to my second attempt at a six day race.

It has taken me two weeks to write this report.  Two weeks to write about what happened during the 144 hours between when the race started at 4pm on Sunday 20th August and when it finished at 4pm the following Saturday.

I keep finding excuses not to write this report.  Excuses to avoid thinking about everything that went wrong.  I’ve done many races or long walks where I have commented afterwards that “that race was the hardest race I have ever done”, but those races have normally been relatively shorter events, and whilst I might have suffered mentally during those events, they had nothing on what I experienced during this year’s edition of the 6 jours de France.

The 48 hours before the race:

Privas is in South East France, down towards Lyon.  This year I traveled there by train along with the other two walkers from England, Kathy Crilley and Suzanne Beardsmore, as well as Suzanne’s son, Jamie.  We met at Kings Cross St Pancras railway station on Friday morning and eight hours later we arrived at Valence TGV railway station where we were met by my father, Peter, and his partner Diane, who were taking a break from their European holiday to act as my support crew for the week.  Little did they know what they were letting themselves in for 🙂

On Saturday we all headed down to the stadium, which would be our home for the next week, pitched our tents and positioned the motorhome (that Dad had rented for the week) amongst the other motorhomes at the opposite end of the course.

As with last year I spent the Saturday night back at the hotel, but unlike last year I had a terrible nights sleep.  It was around 3am when I finally drifted off and I woke up around 5 hours later.  After Breakfast I headed down to the track, Kathy and Suzanne were already down there, to register for the race and make last minute preparations.

I then walked up to McDonalds, about 1km away, for lunch with Dad and Diane.  I figure that if Chicken McNuggets are OK for Usain Bolt as a pre-race meal, then they are OK for me too.

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting and waiting for the 4pm race start.

Day 1 – 4pm Sunday to 4pm Monday:

6 jours de France start
32 walkers and 106 runners just before race start.
6 jours de France first lap
Lap 1

The first 18 hours of the race actually went OK.  I started slowly but steadily walking almost exactly 8 minutes and 20 seconds per 1,020 meter lap for the first 4 hours, then walked a few slower laps while I ate dinner.

The interesting thing was that in the week leading up to the race my right hamstring had been extremely tight, and I remember commenting to Diane during lunch that if today was a training day I would have had a rest because the hamstring was so sore.  But 4 hours into the race, and my hamstring hadn’t bothered me at all, and neither the hamstring or the other minor niggly injuries that had been bothering me caused any problems at any stage in the race.

After 8 hours I took the lead when the four walkers ahead of me all decided to take breaks, and I walked steadily though until 12 hours when my pace dropped below 10 minutes per lap for the first time.  At that stage I sat down for the first time, and emptied some small stones and grit from my shoes, and also switched my nutrition from low sugar foods to processed sugar (coke and chocolate).

The sun came up around 7am and within minutes we knew we were going to be in for a hot day.  I don’t seem to cope well in the heat and by mid-morning I was really struggling.

When 4pm arrived (24 hours) I had covered 147km – 82km in the first 12 hours but only 65km in the second 12.  I hadn’t yet taken a break, other than to sit down for a few minutes two or three times, and whilst I knew I was slowing down, my intention was to keep going until I had a decent lead that would allow me to have a sleep and maintain the lead.  At this stage I was still ‘racing’ and last year’s winner, Christophe Biet hadn’t slept yet either.

Day 2 – 4pm Monday to 4pm Tuesday:

I finally decided to sit down for a decent rest at around 8pm, 28 hours, when I had dinner.  The heat had really taken its toll on me and I remember commenting that if today was a work day, I would be ringing in sick and going back to bed.

Dad got an ice pack from the freezer and we tried taping that to my body to cool me down, but without success.  I was feeling the effects of the hot day.

After an hour or so I decided I needed to lie down for my first sleep of the race, but as I was still ‘racing’ and still leading the race (but only just – Christophe was only 1 lap behind me), I decided 90 minutes was all I could afford.

When I woke up Christophe was ten laps ahead of me and I was in second place.  When Christophe finally decided to sleep I recovered the lead and opened up a gap of 8 or 9 laps myself before he woke up.

I was struggling though, and was extremely tired.  90 minutes sleep hadn’t been enough and at 6am (38 hours) I was ready to through my toys out of the cot.  I was taking about 16 minutes to walk each lap and was in a very unhappy place.

I slept for two hours and then visited the medical tent for the first time.  My feet were a mess, or at least they were in my mind.  Looking at the photos I took while waiting in the medical tent, I had two big blisters and a couple smaller ones, but given the surface we were walking on, they weren’t actually too bad.

I realise now that it was at this stage, maybe earlier, that my mind gave up on me.  Long distance race-walking is more mental than physical, and I didn’t have the required mindset to get through this race.  Not this year.  But I didn’t know that yet and after leaving the medical tent I tried to get back into it.  I was in 5th place now, and managed to get back to walking at a pace of around 11 minutes per lap.

On Monday night I had posted on facebook that the heat was killing me and several people made suggestions about coping with the heat.  I decided to wear a buff around my neck and another one on my head, and keep them wet in an attempt to keep my temperature down.  This process worked well.  At the end of each lap I would grab a cup of water at the food tent, take a mouthful and then hold the plastic cup upside down on my head to allow the water to slowly filter into the buff, which meant it then stayed wet for most of the next lap.  Sometimes I would stop at the motorhome where Dad and Diane had a bucket of cold water, and I would dip both buffs in the bucket and then put them back on.  Soaking wet, the water would then run down my back, and this meant that for the majority of the day my head, neck and back were wet and cool.

Mentally, I had a much better day in the heat than I had the previous day, but looking at the detailed stats that Dad maintained, I only walked 82km on day 2.  (229km at 48 hours).  Not particularly great (although only 11km down on last year).

Day 3 – 4pm Tuesday to 4pm Wednesday:

Once I reached 250km (at 11:30pm) I decided to have another 90 minute sleep.  I was still thinking reasonably clearly and decided that I needed to avoid the hottest part of the day, so the plan was to have a sleep now and then walk until lunchtime when I would take a much longer break, to avoid the afternoon heat.

So that’s what I did.  After waking up, I walked another 33km (in 10 ½ hours) before stopping for lunch.  I then had a four hour sleep in the shade at the top of the grandstand, although the sleep was broken by the need to visit the toilet twice.  I had drunk too much water to sleep without emptying my bladder.

My day 3 mileage was only 54km!  Total mileage in the first 72 hours – 283km.

Day 4 – 4pm Wednesday to 4pm Thursday:

After waking I had a shower and then hobbled around to visit my friends in the medical tent – I thought I could possibly walk faster if I had my feet re-taped – and then hobbled another few hundred meters around to the motorhome for dinner.  It was like I was on holiday.  A nice and relaxed afternoon.  Lunch, a sleep, dinner.

I was actually in a race though, so after dinner I decided to try and put in a bit of an effort.  I walked a few laps at an easy pace just to get my legs moving again, and then slowly increased the pace before putting on some high-tempo music and turning it up as loud as my phone would allow.

Before long I was walking 10 minute laps and feeling on top of the world.  10 minutes per kilometre isn’t fast, but compared with where I had been, I was ecstatic!

I started thinking that I could turn this race around and start working my way back up the field.  I had slipped down to 8th place by this stage.

But the good patch only lasted an hour or so, and before long I was back to walking 17 and 18 minute laps.

I walked through to 6am when I decided I needed another short sleep so that I could repeat yesterday and walk through until early afternoon before my longer sleep.

I only slept an hour and when I woke up it was trying to rain.  It didn’t, but the cloud cover remained throughout the morning which was a nice change from the last few days.  I wasn’t looking forward to having to keep my head wet all day again.

At 10am I recorded this video and in the video I say I have ‘accepted’ my situation.  I wasn’t mentally strong enough to walk fast, but I wasn’t going to give up either.

I walked through to 2pm when I had another 3 hour sleep at the top of the grand.

My day 4 mileage was 67km.  Total mileage in the first 96 hours of the race: 350km.

Day 5 – 4pm Thursday to 4pm Friday:

After my sleep I walked half a lap of the course around to the motorhome and sat down for dinner, and then walked another almost full lap of the course around to the massage tent where I had a full leg massage to get me ready to attack the night session.  The word ‘attack’ might be a bit of an over-statement.  It was more a case of getting ready to go through the motions for another 8 or more hours.

By the time I got going again it was around 7pm.  I walked for six hours but not very fast and decided to have another short sleep (90 minutes) at 1am.

I then walked another 3 ½ hours but every lap was getting slower and slower to the extent that I was now taking over 30 minutes per lap – less than 2 kilometres per hour!

At 6am I told Dad that I was going to sleep again, and “don’t wake me”.  My intention was to sleep for up to five hours, maybe even longer, but at 9am I woke up and believe it or not, it was like the previous four days hadn’t happened.  Mentally I felt great!

It no longer mattered how fast I was able to walk.  I was now down to 15th place (of 32) but I wasn’t interested in the race any more.  It was about getting through to the finish in 30 hours time, and I felt like I could do that.

I felt so good that for the first time in days I ate breakfast (porridge) while walking.  No sitting down feeling sorry for myself.

Looking at Dad’s stats, it looks like I spent the majority of the next 7 hours walking laps of between 10 and 12 minutes each.  The fastest I had walked for days.

I walked through lunch, my second meal in a row where I walked and ate, and decided to keep walking until I got to 400km – which happened just before 4pm.

Day 5 mileage: 50km, with 25km in the last 5 hours! Total mileage so far: 400km

The last day – Friday 4pm to Saturday 4pm:

I felt so good that I decided a 90 minute sleep at the top of the grandstand was all I needed, and as soon as I woke up I was on my way again.  I set myself a goal of walking another 100km in the 22 hours I had left.  I figured that 500km would be a lot more respectable than 4xx kilometres.

Last year when I reached 500km I got to walk a lap of the track carrying the New Zealand flag after breaking the NZ record.  This year, all I wanted to do was get to 500km and get a photo of myself holding the 500km sign.

The previous few days, after my afternoon sleep I had delayed starting walking again by sitting down for dinner, visiting the medical tent, etc, but tonight I was on a mission.  I ate tea while walking, and got down to the job of walking 5km per hour through the night, figuring that if I could maintain that pace I would have time for a sleep if I needed it in the morning, or have a small buffer if the heat got to me during the final day of the race.

I walked 30km during the next six hours during which time the weather started to change.  We were ‘entertained’ by an amazing thunder and lightning storm.  I have never heard such loud thunder, and I was really enjoying the night.

And then just after midnight the heavens opened.  We had a huge downpour.  It reminded me of the downpour we had on the Tuesday morning last year, but the difference this year was that I wanted to make the most of it and keep walking.  I changed into my wet weather gear but was already drenched, and started walking again.  I hadn’t even completed a full lap before the rain stopped.  I was disappointed.  I was looking forward to walking in the rain.

I kept walking, holding a steady pace of between 10 and 11 minutes per lap and by around 4am I was walking between 8 and 8 ½ minutes a lap!  As fast, or even faster than I had walked during the first four hours back on Sunday afternoon.

With 12 hours to go I had 52km to go to reach 500km.  I had walked 48km in the last 10 hours.  500km was definitely a possibility.  Maybe even 515km – less than 100km short of last year.

This was one of the few ‘highs’ I had during the race and like the other highs, it didn’t last too long.  At some stage, I can’t remember exactly when, I decided I needed a 15 minute sleep.  I was feeling tired and thought a short break would help.  Last year, every time I had a break my feet were so sore that it took me 45 minutes to get back into my rhythm, but this year my feet were feeling much less painful so I figured a 15 minute sleep would be OK and wouldn’t significantly impact on my progress.

At 10am I had 29km to go (to get to 500km) and 6 hours left.  It was getting hot again, and I needed fast energy.  I decided to switch to 100% Coke to get me through to the finish.  100 to 150 mls every second lap (every 25 minutes).  It took me a while to convince Dad and Diane that Coke was the best fuel to get me to the finish, but I figured that liquid calories would be best.  I’m not sure if I was right or not, but my thinking was that if I ate solid food, my metabolism would have to break the food down before I could utilise the energy, whereas if I just consumed Coke, it would turn into energy immediately.  Anyway, we agreed on the Coke diet and I kept walking as fast as I could.

I was wearing my buffs and trying to keep my head, neck and back as cool as I could, but it was hot!  At the bottom of the grandstand there were some water taps and on at least two occasions during the afternoon I sat under them for about 30 seconds at a time, drenching myself completely.  I was struggling and was regularly doing the math to work out whether I would get to 500km.

With four hours to go I had 19km remaining.  With three hours to go I had 14km to go.  With two hours left, 9 ½ km.  It was going to be close.

I picked the pace up the best I could, and managed to do a few 10 minute laps – 6km and hour.

Last year I managed to ‘sprint’ the last 30 minutes, completing 3 laps in the last 18 or 19 minutes, but I didn’t want to have to do that this year.  I really wanted to get through to 500km with time to spare so I could get the photo I wanted with the 500km sign before the race finished.

With 57 minutes to go I only needed to complete four more laps.  I double checked the scoreboard and worked out that on completing 4 laps my total mileage would be 180 meters past the 500km mark.  I only needed to walk 14 minutes per lap.  I was averaging 11 minutes.  I was becoming confident that I would make it.

I checked again at the end of each of the next two laps.  I now had 31 minutes to walk two more laps.  I decided to ease the pace a little, although when I passed the motorhome Dad told me I was going too slow and to pick the pace up.  I guess it looked like I had slowed too much.  I told him to get Diane and meet me at the timing mats.

When I completed the next lap I stopped at the scoreboard again to make absolutely certain that I was on 499km.  Fortunately I was.  I had 18 minutes left.  Plenty of time.

And 143 hours and 54 minutes after starting the race I completed the next lap and passed the 500km mark.  I stopped for some photos with the 500km sign, and with Dad and Diane, and then convinced them to walk with me until the horn blew to signal the end of the race.

We managed to walk as far as the motorhome, 200 meters.  My distance for the 144 hours was 500.403km.

500km!!!

With Diane and Dad

Saturday afternoon:

Last year I finished on a high, went to the awards presentations, had dinner, and a great nights sleep.

This year I felt terrible.  After the race I had a shower and then went to the awards presentations but found it almost impossible to sit still.  I was feeling very hot and very sick.  Dad got the ice pack again but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.  After the awards ceremony I was planning on attending the post race dinner but it was all I could do to get back to the motorhome where I lay down and put my feet in cold water (both to reduce swelling and try and cool down).

Diane cooked something for me to eat and I then went down to my tent where I slept soundly for the next 10 hours.

When I woke up the following morning I felt great, and was walking with almost no pain!

After breakfast we packed up and Dad and Diane dropped Kathy, Suzanne, Jamie and I back to Valence TGV for the trip home.  Kathy and Suzanne had both had good races, and had both exceeded their expectations for the race.  It was only me that wasn’t happy with my result, but believe it or not, within an hour of getting on the train we were already talking about our plans for next year’s race!

Post race analysis:

I think I slept a total of about 18 hours during the race, but I had many more hours off the track eating and resting.  Last year I had 14 hours sleep and a lot less time off the track.

My Fitbit shows that I walked 640,000 steps.  Last year I walked 765,000 steps.

My average 5km took 1.44 hours (86.4 minutes) including sleep.  Last year my average 5km to 1.17 hours (70.5 minutes).  So my average speed was 22.5% slower than last year.  Looking at it another way, it’s like aiming to walk a parkrun (5km) in 30 minutes and taking 36 ½ minutes to complete the walk.  If that happened, I would just put it down to a bad day and forget about it.  Unfortunately my ‘bad day’ lasted for almost a whole week.

Thanks:

Firstly, I want to thank my father and Diane.  Whilst I had a bad race, I am certain that it would have been much, much worse without their support during the race.

My wife, Ruth, is my biggest supporter.  If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to walk these ridiculous distances.  And whilst the rest of my family think I’m mad, they are also great support.  Thanks.

I was posting regularly on facebook and twitter and received plenty of support from many people via these social media channels.  I haven’t looked back to see who it was that suggested the wet buffs as a way of keeping cool, but to whomever it was, thanks.

Privas 6 day race - top 3 walkers
Christophe (3rd), Philippe (1st), and Patrick (2nd)

And the other athletes on the track.  Many of them offered their support when they saw me suffering.  I remember two occasions in particular.  One was when I stopped to take a photo of the three leaders (in the walking section) who were walking together at the time – I think it was Thursday morning – and one of them, Christophe I think, said “we feel sad for you”.  None of them spoke English so it was difficult to communicate, but I told them not to feel sad.  I was just having a bad race.  And the second occasion was on the last day (I think) when Sylvie (one of the runners) stopped me to say that her feet were sore.  I looked at her feet and burst out laughing.  Then she asked “how do you feel now?”.  I felt much better than I had a few minutes earlier.

Sylvie's feet
Sylvie’s feet

Lastly, I have been fortunate to be supported by some great companies.  Thanks to Fitbit, Beta Running (Injinji and Ultimate Direction), and also Strictly Banners.

In the end I finished in 13th place.  Not what I wanted, but I’m sure that the memories of what happened this year will drive me on to a much better result next year.

Privas 6 day race
I wasn’t happy for most of the race, but I can’t wait to go back.
Privas 6 day race
Walking through the night was my favourite part of the race – so peaceful.