Category Archives: Race Reports

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!

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.