All posts by Richard

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

French 24 hour race-walking championships 2018

After spending a large proportion of the last seven months fighting off a foot injury I was looking forward to the opportunity to spend 24 hours on my feet in the French 24 hour race-walking championships during the weekend of the 21st/22nd April.  I wasn’t too concerned about distance or placing – after all it was the French national championships so the field would be strong – but given that my longest walk in the last seven months since the 2017 Roubaix 28 hour race was only seven hours (which I had done both two and three weeks earlier) I was keen to see if my foot, my endurance, and my mental strength would hold up for 24 hours.

The adventure part 1:

The race was being held in the grounds of Dijon Université, Dijon, 200 miles south east of Paris.  I travelled there by train the day before the race and this proved to be a bit of an adventure itself.  I caught the Eurostar train from London to Paris and about half way to Paris the train stopped for 30 minutes due to a computer malfunction.  My travel itinerary gave me 66 minutes to travel across Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to change from the Eurostar to the French SNCF highspeed train from Paris to Dijon and there wasn’t time to spend 30 minutes sitting in the middle of the French countryside waiting for the trains computer problems to be resolved.

As it was, I made it to Gare de Lyon with a couple minutes to spare, but by the time I located the platform that the train was leaving from I was too late.  The train had gone.

The good news was that the train company were able to put me on to the next train which was only 30 minutes later and I arrived in Dijon around 5pm.

The next part of the adventure involved a 30 minute tram ride to the university and then locating someone within the race organisation crew that spoke English.  Maybe I should learn some basic French 🙂 .  In all my previous French races (This was my eighth race in France in four years) other walkers from the UK had also been competing, and I had left any conversations to them.  This time I was the only non-French competitor in the race, which actually proved beneficial because the race director knew I had booked accommodation at the university so whilst she couldn’t speak English she was able to show me (on a map) where to find my accommodation – which was about a 1km walk away in the other corner of the university grounds.  All a part of the adventure, but next time I think I will be tempted to stay in a hotel near the Dijon railway station and catch the tram to the university on the morning of the race.

After checking in to my room I caught the tram back down to Dijon as I wanted to see a little bit of the town and also get something for dinner as well as some food supplies for the race.

Dijon

Working on the basis that if it is good enough for Usain Bolt to eat, then it is good enough for me, I ‘purchased’ 20 chicken McNuggets and a large fries (about 1,700 calories) for dinner.  I say ‘purchased’ because I didn’t actually pay for my dinner.  McDonald’s have large touch screens that enable customers to place their orders without actually speaking to anyone.  All you do is touch the pictures of what you want to eat.  You can select a language when you start your order, which I did, but when it came to the payment stage the language changed back to French and whilst I thought I had selected the option to pay by credit card, the machine didn’t ask me to pay and gave me the docket showing my order.  I assumed that that meant I would pay at the counter when I collected my meal but when my number came up on the screen at the counter I was given my meal and not asked for any payment.  In my defense, I decided that it would be too difficult to explain the situation without being able to speak France so I accepted the generosity extended to me and took my meal.

After dinner I caught the tram back to the university and was asleep before 10pm.  There was no pre-race excitement or nerves and I didn’t have any problems sleeping like I have before some races.  This was probably because I intended to use this race as a 24 hour training walk rather than a race – although I did want to cover at least 100 miles.  And I ended up sleeping for 11 hours!  My best ever sleep the night before a race.

Breakfast consisted of another visit to McDonalds and another order via the touch screen, but this time I had to pay.  On the way back to my room from the tram the previous night I had discovered a McDonalds near the university grounds so decided that would be my best option for breakfast – another 1,000 odd calories.

The race:

I was beginning to learn my way around the local area and worked out that it would be easier to catch the tram from the stop near McDonalds to the stop near the race village (only about 700 meters) than to carry my bag that distance.  After all, I didn’t want to walk any further than I had to before the race started at 1pm.

My food table. I had the front half.

I arrived at the race village at 11am and organised my food supplies on my allotted table within the sports hall that we would walk through at the end of each lap.  The course started with a 1,496 meter lap and then multiple 2,525 meter laps until 23 hours into the race when we would change to a smaller 770 meter lap for the last hour of the race.  At the end of each lap we walked through a sports hall that contained all the timing equipment, the race food table, and the individual athlete’s food tables.  My intention was to eat food provided by the race organisers most of the time, but I had a range of mixed calories for when I wanted something a little different or more than the 1 or two biscuits or couple pieces of fruit that were offered at the main food table.  As it was, this turned out to be a good idea as there wasn’t much food variety on the race table – just oranges cut in to eight pieces, crackers, and bananas cut up into very small pieces.  And also coke, water and orange juice.

After setting up there was one last opportunity for something to eat – six croissants stuffed with ham – another 1,500 calories, give or take.

A few minutes before race start I went to the toilet and found that my urine was a dark colour meaning that I was already dehydrated before the race had even started.  The temperature was already in the mid 20’s and I couldn’t afford to be dehydrated but it was too late now.

We walked the short distance to the start and stood in the shade of a nearby building until the last possible moment.  There were 30 walkers in the 24 hour race and another 15 or so in the 2 x 6 hour race that took place during the first and last six hours of the main event.

At precisely 1pm we were off.  I started off slowly as planned, walking at a speed of 7.5km/hour.  If it wasn’t so hot I would have started a little faster but I decided that I would just take it easy and focus on keeping myself wet and cool by pouring water over my head and drinking small quantities of water at every opportunity.  Many walkers didn’t start conservatively though, and I was lapped by the leader after just three complete laps – I had walked 7.5km in an hour and the leader (who dropped out after less than six hours) had already done 10km.

After an hour I was in 18th place but feeling comfortable, and over the next six hours I slowly moved up the field while continuing to walk a steady 7.5km an hour – 20 minutes per lap give or take.  In the first seven hours my fastest lap took 19 minutes and 44 seconds and my slowest lap was just 53 seconds slower at 20 minutes and 37 seconds.  A consistent pace.  The results screen showed that I was in 8th place at 7 ¼ hours meaning that 10 of the walkers who had started faster than me had either dropped out or were already suffering the effects of the heat.

My initial plan, regardless of the heat, had been to walk easy for the first 7 hours and then pick the pace up going into the night section, but I decided to maintain the pace for a few more hours rather than increasing my effort.

By half-time (the 12 hour mark) I had moved up to 6th place.  My pace had just started to drop in the last three laps (see my pace graph at the bottom of this race report) so I had my first can of coke and chocolate bar, switched from listening to podcasts to high tempo music, and picked up the pace.

I passed through 100km in exactly 13 hours 24 minutes with my 100km lap and the next one being my fastest of the race at 18 minutes 55 seconds each, and I felt great through until 17 hours.  For a long time I appeared to be walking faster than everyone else on the course.  I had moved in to 5th place and thought I had a realistic change of getting into the top three.

And then the wheels fell off!

Looking at the results my lap times started to drift a little after passing 110km in 14 hours 41 minutes.  With an average lap time for the first 110km of 20 minutes 14 seconds, I averaged 21:34 for the next eight laps through to 130km in 17 hours 34 minutes, and then suddenly, 24:14, 25:59, 24:21, 26:36, etc.  For the next five hours I averaged 25:11 per lap, passing 100 miles in 22 hours 39 minutes (my 5th fastest 100 miler and 10th time under 24 hours).

It was at that stage that I noticed (or thought I noticed) that the walker in 6th place was only 14 minutes behind me – at the end of each lap we passed a large screen that showed our current place, distance, and how far we were behind the athlete in front of us.  I thought I was just over a lap ahead of 6th place and therefore had 24+ minutes up my sleeve, but it appeared that this wasn’t the case and I instantly picked up the pace – proving that my bad patch was more mental than physical.  The next two laps took 21:12 and 20:36 respectively – over 4 minutes faster than my average lap speed of the previous few hours!

On completing my 66th lap I was 23 hours and 18 minutes into the race and I was diverted on to the smaller 770 meter lap for the last 42 minutes of the race.  I managed to maintain my new-found speed and completed the 24 hour event with an overall distance of 170.714km for 5th place.

Some thoughts about the race:

  • I was probably slightly dehydrated starting the race and drank a small amount of water once or twice per lap throughout the first 7 or 8 hours and also dipped my cap in cold water once per lap. Too keep cool I also kept by arms wet by pouring cold water down each arm once per lap.  I didn’t lose any time doing this.  There were two water stations on each lap and three places where there were containers of water available for keeping wet.  The organisers did a great job in enabling the athletes to keep cool.
  • I was careful not to drink too much water though.  Drinking too much water can dilute the electrolytes in your body and can cause more problems that dehydration.
  • I had six toilet stops which indicates I was drinking enough, but my urine remained a dark colour throughout the race and for a few days afterwards.
  • I need to learn how to say ‘sorry’ in French. I tripped over the feet of one of the volunteers and at least twice I accidentally bumped into another competitor.  Hopefully they all know what ‘sorry’ means in English.
  • Travelling to and from races in another country can be a bit of an adventure. As well as the adventure getting to Dijon, I found myself having to run through Gare du Nord to get from the Metro to the Eurostar on my way home after having to spend 22 minutes waiting for the Metro at Gare de Lyon on a quiet Sunday night on the way home.  Fortunately I made it to the Eurostar departures with a few minutes to spare.
  • I recovered from the race reasonably quickly – both physically and mentally – but my sleep pattern was completely screwed up this time. This could be because I travelled for nine hours to get home immediately after the race when I would usually get a nights sleep before travelling after a race in France.
  • I’m glad I did the race. Seven months is a long time between races, especially when struggling with injury.
  • 170.7km in 24 hours in slightly over 12km slower than my best, but given the heat and my lack of fitness, I’m happy with the result and think I can improve on that next time.

Some photos:

The results screen at the end of each lap.

I took the above photo at 18 hours.  It shows that I was in 5th place and had completed 132.8km and was 13 minutes and 3 seconds behind 4th place.  It is only now, when I look at the photo, that I see that the six hour walkers are also listed on the screen.  I suspect that what I saw at the 100 mile mark was that the 6th place six hour walker, and not the 6th place 24 hour walker, was 14 minutes behind the 5th place 6 hour walker (not me), but seeing this was enough to jolt me back to life and I picked the pace up again, walking the next two laps in 21:12 and 20:36.  The fact that I was able to pick up the pace so easily also shows that my 4 hour bad patch was all mental and not physical.

My average speed per lap and cumulatively

It’s not hard to guess which photo was taken during my bad patch (17 to 21 hours), and which photo was taken with less than one hour to go in the race.
If I learnt anything from this race, it is that attitude is everything!