Category Archives: Race Reports

Warwickshire Ring Canal Race 2022 

Is my mind so strong that injuries don’t hurt during races? Or is my mind so weak that the slightest injury prevents me from training/living without discomfort? That is the question.  

A week before the 6 jours de France in early May the top of both of my feet started hurting, and I put it down to being caused by having my shoelaces tied too tightly during a recent walk. The feet were sore but not painful and as soon as the race started, I forgot about the issue and didn’t feel any pain again until I achieved my goal of breaking the Commonwealth six-day racewalking record, which I did with 8 ½ hours left in the race. 

And within an hour of breaking that record my left foot was in so much pain that for a while I didn’t think I would be able to complete the last eight hours of the race. A couple paracetamol tablets and the addition of a sponge in between the top of my foot and the top of my shoe and I finished the race. 

Since then, I have been restricted to just two or three relatively short (under 10km) walks per week and have been having physio treatment (thanks AXA Health Insurance) twice a week. The discomfort is still there though and going into the Warwickshire Ring Canal Race I was concerned as to whether 111 miles (178km) might be pushing things just a little too far. 

And then last Tuesday night, four days before race day, I hurt my lower back. I wasn’t doing anything at the time. The back just started to hurt and by the following morning the pain was so bad that I considered taking the day off work. On the Thursday morning I went for a short walk to ‘test’ my sore back – just to see if the pain meant I should cancel my weekend plans. It did hurt.  

I really struggled through the 5km walk and later that day I checked whether I could get a refund on my accommodation and bus travel if I decided not to travel up to Coventry for the race – but they were both non-refundable, as was the race entry fee. 

Warwickshire Ring Canal Race mapThe Warwickshire Ring Canal Race (WRCR) was advertised as a one-off race, organised by the same team that organise the Grand Union Canal Race (GUCR), Kennet and Avon Canal Race (KACR) and Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race (LLCR) and with it being a ‘one-off’ I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I decided I would travel up to Coventry on Friday as planned and decide on Saturday morning whether or not to start. Walking 111 miles with my sore feet was one thing, but with back pain as well? 

Race Day: 

After an uncomfortable 3 ½ hour trip to Coventry on the bus (with my back aching the whole way) I went for a slow sightseeing walk around Coventry (just an easy 5km) on Friday afternoon and the back wasn’t too bad. And the good news was that because the back pain was worse than the discomfort in my feet, I didn’t think about my feet at all. 

With the two ‘injuries’ I decided that if I was going to start the race it would be an ‘adventure walk’ and not a ‘race’ and with this mindset I managed an excellent night’s sleep, waking when my alarm went off at 6am – 2 hours before race start. 

My usual pre-race preparations were hampered by my back pain, and I struggled to apply the tape to my feet as per my physio’s instructions and putting my shoes and socks on was just as uncomfortable. I better not get any blisters, I thought, because there is no way I am going to be able to do any foot maintenance mid-race if my back was sore. 

Richard McChesney feet
My feet – all taped and ready to go!

I had a quick trip around the corner to get some McDonalds for breakfast – my preferred pre-race high-calorie breakfast when available – and then walked over to the race start which was just a few hundred metres from my hotel, arriving with about 15 minutes to spare. While most of the other 67 competitors were standing around talking, I sat down to rest and took two paracetamol tablets to hopefully calm the back and enable me to at least walk as far as the first checkpoint (marathon distance). 

Warwickshire Ring Canal Race pre-start
Runners waiting for the start

Dick Kearn (one of the founders of the Canal Race series 30 years ago) did a short pre-race briefing which included a statement along the lines of “… unsupported runners cannot drop out as we have no way of taking you back to Coventry …”. I was an unsupported runner (walker). And then we were off. 

Warwickshire Ring Canal Race start
And we’re off – with me at the back out of the photo

It wasn’t long before all the runners were out of sight, and I settled in to last place (68th of 68) for the first three hours. The course was very walkable with a wide paved path for the first hour or more before we moved on to the grass canal path, and even that was very walkable with the grass being short and dry. I made good progress, averaging 8:00 to 8:15 kilometre pace (13 minute miles), which is my current training pace these days. 

In the other three canal races, the first checkpoint is about 10 to 15 miles (16-24km) after the start with checkpoints spaced every 10-15 miles throughout the race. Their total distances range from 130 to 145 miles (208-235km). The Warwickshire Ring Canal Race is only 111 miles (178km) and is a circular route starting and finishing at the Coventry Canal Basin and takes in sections of the Coventry, Birmingham & Fazeley, Grand Union and Oxford Canal towpaths, and there are only four checkpoints – at roughly every 25 miles (40km). 

I caught and passed the first runner at about 15 miles and passed another two runners between there and the first checkpoint – at 26.5 miles (roughly marathon distance). I was feeling good, and the weather was good too – mostly cloudy with occasional sunny periods followed by occasional drizzle, and a total of three short but heavy showers during the Saturday afternoon/evening. Each time it rained I waited a minute or two to see if the rain would stop, then put my jacket on because the rain didn’t stop, and then the rain stopped within 60 seconds of me putting my ‘magic’ jacket on. Overall, I would say that the weather conditions were perfect. 

Facebook update 1
Facebook update after leaving checkpoint 1

Between checkpoint 1 and 2 (49.5 miles/80km) I passed plenty, or so it felt, of runners and was feeling fantastic. My ‘adventure walk’ was turning into a race. By the time I reached checkpoint 2 I was in 47th place and it had only taken me 11 hours 22 minutes whereas I had expected to take around 12 hours for the first two legs. 

Whilst my back was feeling fine and my feet were also OK other than a dull discomfort in my left foot, I didn’t want to risk sitting down at the checkpoints and finding that my back seized upon standing again, so at both checkpoint 1 and 2 (and 3 later on) I put my dropbag on a chair so that I could access it without sitting down, and in each case I was in and out of the checkpoint in just a few minutes – after replenishing my food supplies, refilling my water bottles, and (at checkpoint 2) putting my warmer overnight clothes and head torch into my pack for when it got cold and dark later on. 

Facebook update 2
Facebook update after leaving checkpoint 2

Facebook live video shortly after half way

Other than one short section at around half way, the excellent walking terrain continued for a while longer, but as expected my pace dropped from 8 ½ minutes per kilometre to over 9 minutes pretty much as soon as it got dark. From memory I think maybe the terrain became technical single-track at around the same time it got dark. I can’t remember. 

I was still really enjoying my walk and passing runners regularly though, and at some stage around 11pm I passed a Shell service station behind a hedge beside the canal and found a gap in the hedge that I could go through. I took that as an invitation to stop and buy a bottle of Coke.  

It was one of those service stations which you can’t go inside at night and the attendant took forever to go and get a bottle from the fridge on the other side of the shop – no rush, I thought, it’s not like I’m in a race or anything! 

Richard McChesney - stopped for Coke
A quick stop for Coke

After the service station it felt like a long drag along the canal looking for the expected diversion – a part of the canal path was closed and we were told that we would have to walk (even the runners, or most of the, were walking by this stage) an extra mile from the canal up towards a small town and then back again in a V shaped diversion. I was worried I would miss the turnoff and end up walking extra distance so I checked the map regularly to make sure I was on track. I needn’t have worried because the exit from the canal path onto the road was well marked, and after the short trip into town and back, it wasn’t too far through to checkpoint 3.  

I arrived at CP3 at 1:51am (17 hours 51 minutes) in 32nd place and quickly changed my headtorch batteries, replenished my food and water, and also topped up my bottle of Coke for later on. And then I was off again. 

Facebook update 3
Facebook update after leaving checkpoint 3
Warwickshire Ring Canal Race single track
One of the single track sections. This was relatively tame compared with much of what we faced overnight. Often the trail was overgrown and we were having to use our arms to push our way through, and often the trail sloped into the water. Not easy walking by any means!

The next leg was by far the hardest. Most of the 22 miles (35km) to checkpoint 4 was rough single-track, often potholed and with a camber slopping into the canal making it very difficult to walk at a fast pace, or even at a steady pace. And it was dark through until around 4am which made it even more difficult. 

I walked most of this leg without passing any more runners, or so it seemed, and in the early hours once it was daylight, I would pass a runner or a group of three runners, and shortly afterwards they would pass me! 

Once daylight arrived I was unable to pick up the pace as I had expected to do. Even when the terrain evened out at times, I was still struggling along at 9:45 to 10:15 kilometre pace (16 minute miles) but it appears that most other runners were struggling too beacuse I was surprised to find myself in 23rd place when I arrived at the final checkpoint – at 97 miles (98 miles – 158km – with the diversion). 

This was the first time I sat down. I had taken two paracetamol tables before the race started and at 5 and 10 hours, but nothing since. My back was feeling OK. My left foot was uncomfortable but OK. And I was tired. I debated with myself for about an hour before arriving at the checkpoint – would I sit down or not? 

I decided ‘not’, but I don’t know what happened first. Did I smell bacon cooking and decide that was a good reason to sit down for some breakfast, or did I sit down and then smell the bacon? 

Regardless, I ended up sitting down, ordering a bacon sandwich from the awesome volunteers (all the volunteers were awesome, not just those at checkpoint 4) and then proceeded to remove my headtorch and empty my pack of everything that I wouldn’t need for the remaining 14 mile (23km) leg to the finish. The weather forecast was fine, so I got rid of my jacket and also my plastic poncho from Disneyland which I always carry as it is more waterproof than any jacket. I also got rid of all my un-eaten food and replaced that with anything containing high quantities of sugar that I could find in my drop bag, plus another half bottle of Coke. As soon as my sandwich was ready, I was on my way again. 

Facebook update 4
Facebook update after leaving checkpoint 4

I continued to struggle until just before reaching the turn-off onto the out-and-back section of the canal that we had walked at the start of the race the previous day. It was at this stage that I caught Russ Gardham whom I had passed earlier before he passed me. I think we were both struggling as much as each other but as we walked and talked our pace seemed to pick up again and we decided we would walk through to the finish together. 

Our pace continued to improve. We were now walking 9 minutes per kilometre (14:30/mile), and with about 2 kilometres to go we spotted two other competitors in front of us. They were really struggling so we took advantage of the situation and picked our pace up, flying past them both and walking the last 2 kilometres in just 16 minutes! 

We finished together in 27 hours 16 minutes for 18th place. Much faster than I expected to walk before the race started. Even faster than I planned to walk if I didn’t have the back injury. 

Warwickshire Ring Canal Race finish
The finish! It looks like I lost an arm somewhere along the way. And developed a lean to the left.
Warwickshire Ring Canal Race finish
Being congratulated by Dick Kearn, one of the race organisers

And speaking of the back injury, and the sore feet, well they were fine for the bus trip home on Sunday afternoon/evening. But when I went to get out of bed on Monday morning, what do you know, my back is in agony again, and the top of both feet are worse now than they were after the 6-day race in May! 

So, is my mind so strong that injuries don’t hurt during races? Or is my mind so weak that the slightest injury prevents me from training/living without discomfort? That is the question.  

Warwickshire Ring Canal Race results board
The results board in true canal race style – taped on to the back of a van

6 jours de france 2022

A win, a Commonwealth record, and three New Zealand records.  The perfect race?  No, but probably the best race I have ever walked.

6-jours-de-france-posterEver since I first heard about six-day races I had a goal of breaking the New Zealand record for the greatest distance walked within six days.  And if I could achieve that, I would also break the Commonwealth record because the NZ record holder, Gerald Manderson, was also the Commonwealth record holder.  Gerald had walked 622.57km (386.9 miles) at the famous Colac six-day race in Melbourne, Australia in 1999.

I had been aware of six-day (and longer) races for many years as a runner, but it wasn’t until I met English racewalkers Kathy Crilley and Suzanne Beardsmore in 2014 that I realised that walkers also competed in these events.  I met Kathy first, when I entered the Centurions 1911 qualification race (you must walk 100 miles in less than 24 hours to become a member) in August 2014, and whilst Suzanne was also at that race (as was Sarah, our support crew for this race), I didn’t meet Suzanne until the following month after Kathy told me about a 28 hour race in Roubaix and suggested that I might like to join her, Suzanne, and some other UK walkers at the race.

Well, one thing led to another and at the Roubaix race or sometime soon afterwards, Kathy and Suzanne told me that they were going to compete in a six-day race in France in August 2015 – the 6 jours de France.  I decided that I wasn’t experienced enough to walk for six days but I joined them for the final three days, finishing second in the 72-hour race.

It was sometime around then that I learned about Gerald’s achievement which at the time (1999) was the fourth best distance achieved by a walker in modern racewalking history.  And I decided that my goal was to break his record.

In October 2016 I entered the 6 jours de France and came close, walking 614.192km (381 miles) in terrible conditions – three days of torrential rain followed by three days of 39-degree afternoons – and on a course that I despised – a 1km circuit (reduced to 600 metres during the torrential rain due to flooding on the course) that comprised a mixture of a gritty track surface and tarmac with flooded potholes in various places.  The grit tore up my feet and I blistered badly, but as the 6 jours de France is currently the only six-day race with race-walking judges (and therefore eligible for certified records) I went back in 2017 and 2018 where I struggled to walk 500 kilometres and 565 kilometres respectively.

In 2019 I decided to take a year off six-day walking and then the pandemic meant the 2020 race was cancelled and the 2021 race was not possible for most foreign athletes who were restricted from travelling to France at the time.

6 jours de France 2022 edition:

2022 saw the race move to a new location – Vallon Pont d’Arc, which is about 100 miles north of Marseille in the south of France.  Not only was it in a new location, but the course was a 100% smooth tarmac (except for a couple road humps to reduce traffic speed) 1,131 metre circuit within a holiday park. The race organisers had reserved half of the holiday park meaning that the course was closed to other users and competitors had the luxury of sleeping in cabins close to the course (ours was just 15 metres off the course). Perfect conditions for a big performance.

I started training specifically for the race on 1st January setting out an 18-week training plan (which I called Project 700) that would include 3 x 4 weeks of 100km in the first week and 100 miles (160km) in the following three weeks. My training was all about building endurance but also included a weekly fast 5km at parkrun each Saturday morning. Overall, my training went well except for a couple of weeks when I caught Covid in early April. Fortunately, I recovered quickly, and I don’t think Covid impacted on my race.

I set my goal at 700km.  A distance that only six walkers had managed in modern racewalking history, but one I felt I could achieve with the 2,000km (1,250 miles) I covered in training during January through April.  I also thought that the new course, and the better sleeping conditions, would be worth at least 5km per day compared to the old course.

Kathy and Suzanne would be racing with me, although they were both planning on taking things a little easier than me, and we invited another racewalking friend, Sarah Lightman (ultra-distance walker and runner) to join us as our dedicated support crew.

The race was scheduled to start on Saturday 7th May but to give us plenty of rest before the race we decided to fly from Heathrow to Marseille on Wednesday 4th, and then travel up to Vallon Pont d’Arc on the Thursday.  We stayed in a local hotel on the Thursday night and then moved into the holiday park on Friday morning.

The holiday park has a five-star rating, and the cabins were absolute luxury compared to sleeping in tents beside the track at Privas (the previous race location). The cabins slept four people in two bedrooms and had a fully equipped kitchen.

As the tallest of the four of us, I was allowed to sleep in the double bed, Sarah was in the foldup bed and Suzanne and Kathy were in the bunks in the second bedroom.  We spent the Friday afternoon buying groceries and organising ourselves in our new accommodation, and I managed to sleep for somewhere about 7 to 8 hours on Friday night which is about four hours more than I normally manage before a race. This extra sleep would really help me over the next six days.

Our cabin
My bed and my food stash
The kitchen

Day 1 – Saturday/Sunday:

The race started at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon, so for me each ‘day’ would be from 2pm to 2pm.  My rough race plan was that I would walk for the first 24 hours without a break and then each new day would start with a sleep of between 1 ½ and 3 hours during the heat of the afternoon.  Additional sleeping breaks would be ‘as required’ but my goal was to try and limit my sleep to around 15 hours during the whole race and I wanted to avoid taking any excessive breaks – I was aiming to walk for at least 124 of the 144 hours.  This meant that lunch on Saturday would be the last meal I would eat sitting down until the following Friday afternoon and whilst I had the biggest bed in the cabin, it would be empty most of the time.

Being a French race with just a few English-speaking competitors (six-day race-walking world record holder, Ivo Majetic, and elite multi-day runner Bob Herne from the USA plus ourselves) the pre-race briefing was only in French, so I decided not to attend the briefing and rested in the cabin until about 1:30pm. And then whilst most competitors (38 runners and 25 walkers) stood around the start line, in the sun, for photos and formalities I found a seat in the shade behind the timing tent and continued to rest right up until a few minutes before the race start.

Team photo – Sarah, me, Suzanne and Kathy

For me, the first day went pretty much to plan.  I thought a good first day would be somewhere between 150 and 160km (93 to 100 miles) and I had no intention of being anywhere near the front of the field (of walkers) for at least the first 12 hours.

And that is pretty much how it went.  I settled in to 9-minute laps (1,131 metres per lap) from the start which saw me walking a little over 7.25km per hour. A nice easy pace, and I settled in to about 6th or 7th place amongst the walkers, not that I was concerned about placings this early in the race.

I had briefed Sarah beforehand about what I needed in the way of support.  Like all my races, my plan was to eat a small amount every 30 minutes throughout the race and during the first afternoon/evening Sarah handed me food every third or fourth lap.  We had purchased some sandwich bags and Sarah would put a handful of various foods into sandwich bags so that she could simply hand me a bag and I could eat while walking, put the empty bag in my pocket and either hand it back to her when I passed her next or drop it on the table that we had put beside the track.

The course comprised of two rectangles, one at the top of the course and one at the bottom which was the start/end of each lap, and in between there was an out-and-back stretch that went past the ‘side-street’ where our cabin was just a short walk off the course.  This meant that I passed our table twice each lap, and also on the out-and-back stretch we passed some well maintained and hygienic (unlike Privas) toilets which meant that athletes lost very little time when they needed to answer the call of nature.


Sarah has written her own report about her experience supporting us, so I won’t repeat what she has said.  Her report is a great read.

And if you have read her report, you will now know that she found that each of us, Kathy, Suzanne, and myself, had different eating requirements. For me, it was eat something small every 30 minutes and eat two dinners, two breakfasts and a lunch.

So, as we arrived at the first evening Sarah made dinner for me. I don’t remember what, but it was probably pasta, and then a while later she went to the onsite restaurant and purchased pizza. A process she would repeat every evening throughout the race.

About 11pm Sarah decided it was time for her to get some sleep and she laid out the table with enough food and drink to see me through the night.

Suzanne had stopped walking due to some problems she was experiencing, and Kathy was also turning in for the night as some parts of the course were dimly lit, and she struggled to see. The organisers improved the lighting on the second night and have promised to improve it more for future years, but we needed to wear headtorches each night throughout the race.

Our food table

The first night was uneventful. At some stage I moved up to second place behind Ivo, but that improvement was because everyone in front of me decided to sleep.

Morning came and Sarah gave me my first breakfast – scrambled eggs with ham – and a while later, my second breakfast – three croissants from the onsite bakery – and I continued walking.

I had slowed a little overnight.  I always walk slower in the dark, and the poor lighting didn’t help.  But overall, I was feeling OK other than a little discomfort in between my shoulder blades which was causing issues with the way I was carrying my arms. Normally I would have my elbows bent at 90 degrees and would be driving with the arms, but I was finding that I often needed to let my arms hang a bit straighter to reduce the discomfort.

At 9am I stopped for the first time since the race had started and asked Sarah to rub some ibuprofen gel into the sore area and that seemed to make a difference.  Reviewing the lap split times, it didn’t make any difference to my speed, but I felt a little better.

And by the time the first 24 hours was up I was in second place, just 1 lap behind Ivo who had also taken some time out during the night.  My total distance for the first 24 hours was 158.3km (98 miles) so I decided to continue through to 100 miles (160.9km) before stopping for my first sleep at 2:30pm.

Day 2 – Sunday/Monday:

Day 2 started with me trying to sleep.  I completed the 100-mile lap and then walked the part lap back to the cabin, took my shoes off and lay on the bed with the intention of sleeping for 1 ½ or 3 hours – I forget which, but it was probably 1 ½ hours that I planned for my first sleep.

Regardless or my plan, I just couldn’t get to sleep.  I wasn’t ready.  I may have dozed a little, but I didn’t sleep.  Sarah massaged some more ibuprofen gel into the area between my shoulder blades and according to my lap splits my 144th lap took 2 hours 55 minutes, meaning that I was off the track for a little over 2 hours and 40 minutes.  In my analysis (see the bottom of this race report) I have recorded that time as ‘Lost Time’ – time that I wasn’t moving forward.

My experience in my previous three six-day races, and all the other multi-day races that I have done, is that day 2 is always the worst – both physically and mentally. But this wasn’t the case this time. I had a good day two.

I never had any negative thoughts or bad patches although I did finally stop for a sleep at around 4:30am.  Having the cabin just a few metres off the track made life extremely comfortable compared to previous six-day races where I was sleeping in a tent and compared to other multi-day races where you either need to sleep rough or wait until a checkpoint, this was luxury.

Ivo started having problems on the Sunday night.  He had also taken a break at around 24 hours while I was trying to sleep, but he found that he needed another, longer break that night and at 33 hours I moved into the lead, which other than when I had my sleep at 48 hours, I held throughout the rest of the race.

Bob Herne was also off the track for most of the Sunday night and by Monday morning I was leading the walkers and in fourth (or maybe third) place overall. I have always found that the longer the race, the better I go compared to runners. I have placed in the top four in running races several times (as a walker) and even won a running race once (without running a step), and I was hoping to do the same here (place in the top four overall) – although it was too early to ‘race’, and I was solely focussed on my own progress and not that of either the other walkers or runners.

Sarah and I had got into a good pattern now.  When she was sleeping or otherwise unavailable, she ensured that there was plenty of food on the table for me – in my sandwich bags.  I also had a water bottle and a jug of water as well as a second bottle containing a protein drink – more for when I wanted a drink with some flavour than for any other reason.

And it was at some time during day two that I allowed myself to start switching from a diet of mainly fruit (dried and fresh), crisps, and other lower sugar foods to start eating and drinking more high sugar foods – chocolate, sweets, Coke, etc.  There was still a long way to go though, so I tried to keep a balance and not overdo the processed sugar.

Sarah also bought us the occasional ‘treat’ from the onsite shop. With it being so hot (compared to England) Magnum ice creams were much appreciated and I remember one day eating Gelato.

I finished day 2 with a new New Zealand 48-hour racewalking record of 262.410km (156.9 miles). This wasn’t my best 48-hour distance though. In 2018 I walked 278km (173 miles) when I won the walking division of a 48-hour race in Royan, France, but that race didn’t have racewalking judges and therefore wasn’t eligible for record purposes. However, it was my best distance for the first 48 hours of a six-day race, and I was feeling confident that at a minimum I would complete the 623 kilometres (386 miles) I needed to beat Gerald’s record.

Day 3 – Monday/Tuesday:

At the end of day 2 I started what would become my daily sleep and maintenance routine.

The routine I got into was as follows:

  • I recorded my daily video during the last lap or while soaking my feet in an ice bath outside the cabin.
  • On arriving back at the cabin, I removed my shoes and socks and soaked my feet in an ice bath that Sarah had prepared for me, for ten minutes to reduce swelling.
  • I then had a shower. The cabin had two bathrooms and my bathroom door was immediately next to my bed. While in the shower I would sit on the floor and remove the tape from my feet (the tape was used to prevent friction and therefore prevent blisters).
  • I would then lie on my bed with my feet elevated – to reduce swelling – and would set my alarm for either 1 ½ or 3 hours depending on how tired I thought I was.
  • I would always wake up before my alarm went off. Usually within 45 to 60 minutes. I think my longest sleep was around 90 minutes.
  • In the last three days I then soaked my feet in the ice bath again. In writing this race report I can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea to soak my feet again, but I guess they must have been sore.
  • Each day I got one or two small blisters. Nothing too serious but I would drain blisters and retape my feet after my afternoon sleep.
    On one day Suzanne was in the cabin when I needed to do this and as a former nurse, she loves to drain blisters and has proper equipment to do a proper job (whereas I just use a sewing needle – a brand new one each time for hygiene reasons), so I asked her to do the honours. From memory I had a biggish blister under the ball of my foot that day.
  • And then I would change my shoes. I alternated between two pair of shoes – both Brooks Adrenaline GTS extra wide fit.
  • And as I was leaving, I would say to Sarah “my clothes are over there” and leave her to clean up after me like I was a child, and she was my mother. If you read her report, you would have noticed that she referred to the three of us as her children 😊

And regardless of the length of my sleep I found that I could start walking again without any leg fatigue or pain in my feet unlike my experience in most multi-day races I have done in the past.  At Privas, for example, I always found that it took me about 30 minutes to get walking without pain after even a short rest, but I had no problems at all in this race.

The problem with my 48-hour sleep break was that after I had showered, I checked my phone before going to sleep and had a message from one of my colleagues at work asking some questions about a project that we were about to go live with for one of our largest customers. I decided to call her to answer her questions but with little sleep in the previous 48 hours I wasn’t 100% certain of the answers to my questions so I offered to join a call with her developers the following morning if required.

And then I promptly fell asleep and dreamed about the project, working out the answers to her questions in my sleep – so after I woke up I sent her some comments via WhatsApp which answered all her questions.

I also noticed that I had a very sore left eye. During multi-day races I wear monthly contact lenses so that I don’t need to change them during the race, but I must have either got some grit in between the lens and my eye or scratched my eye somehow. I decided to remove the left contact lens, which actually worked out well to the extent that I need contact lenses to see long distance but when wearing contacts, I need reading glasses to see my phone. So, with only one contact lens I found that I could see long distance through my right eye, and short distance through my left eye – probably not ideal, but that was the best I could do.

In total I was off the track for just under four hours, which would be my second longest break of the whole race.

And day 3 ended up being my worst day of the race with a total of 7 hours and 20 minutes of ‘Lost Time’ – including my 2pm break.  The main issue was that I ended up with an eye infection from whatever the issue was with my contact lens. My eye was sore overnight and after another sleep at 4:30am it was weeping. I walked through until mid-morning when I asked Sarah to have a quick look at it. She said it was red and suggested I visit the medical tent. I visited them just before 11am and they gave me some anti-biotic eyedrops (or at least that is what I think they did – my French is non-existent) – and asked me to come back in two hours. At 1pm I was given more eyedrops and asked to come back again in another two hours, and at 3pm I was probably given more eyedrops (I can’t remember) and was asked to come back before they closed for the night at 8pm. In total, it looks like I only lost an hour between all those visits to the medical tent, but that is another hour that I could have been walking.

I also experimented with powernaps.  Over the following days I played with ten-minute powernaps and 20-minute powernaps, and longer sleeps at the end of each day. For a ten-minute powernap I walked into the cabin, set my alarm for ten minutes, lay on the bed, and then three seconds later (or that is what it felt like) I would wake up and start walking again.

For a 20-minute powernap the only difference was that I would take my shoes off but leave my socks on. 20-minute powernaps also felt like they lasted three seconds. I also had my feet elevated during powernaps but didn’t do any foot maintenance during these breaks. On a couple occasions I had pain in one of my knees and on each occasion I would stop at the cabin to rub in some ibuprofen gel and would rest the sore knee for a brief period by having a powernap. This seemed to work well as the pain was always gone when I resumed walking.

I finished day 3 with a total distance of 355km (221 miles) and a 15km (9 mile) lead over the second walker.  My total mileage for the day was only 92.7km (57.6 miles).  At the time I was disappointed and had my one and only negative thought of the race – I wasn’t going to reach my goal of 700 kilometres. With only 355km in the first three days, I couldn’t see how I would manage 345 more kilometres in the next three days.

Day 4 – Tuesday/Wednesday:

Because I needed to visit the medical tent to get my eye checked at 3pm I didn’t stop for my 2pm sleep until after that visit.  Again, I woke up before the alarm went off and I was back on the track before 6pm.


I completed the 400km lap a little before 2am (official time for 400km 83 hours and 42 minutes) just as one of the runners was completing his 300km lap.  His support crew was taking a photo of him holding the 300km sign, so I stopped and asked her to take a photo of me with the 400km sign, not that 400km was significant for this race. But given that last year I entered two 250-mile (400km) races and didn’t officially finish either of them (the Thames Ring 250 in June was the one where I hallucinated that I was in a Covid concentration camp and asked German farmers – who were actually railway workers – to rescue me, and they called an ambulance. And the 250-mile Lon Las Ultra across Wales in which I finished in 90 hours which was two hours after the race cut-off time), I had a little celebration that this was my longest walk since my London tube station walk in 2020.

During the night I had three powernaps of 10 or 20 minutes each and I walked throughout the day to record 101.8km (63.3 miles) for the day.  Back over the 100km per day minimum that I was aiming for throughout the race, but after accounting for ‘Lost Time’ my average speed was my slowest of the race at just 5.26km/hour.  See analysis at the bottom of this race report.

By the end of day 4 I had walked 457km (284 miles) and had an 27km (17 mile) lead over the next walker.  I wasn’t assured of the win.  Anything could happen in the last two days.  But with several of the walkers behind me leaning to one side while walking, and Ivo really struggling, I thought I had a good chance.

Philippe and Patrick – leaning

Day 5 – Wednesday/Thursday:

My 96-hour break was my longest of the whole race, at 4 ¾ hours. I don’t remember why it was so long but from memory this was also my longest sleep of the race at somewhere between 2 and 2 ½ hours. This was also the day that Suzanne became Nurse for a few minutes to attend to my blisters and I think it was on this afternoon that I also had a three-course meal before resuming my walk. This was the first time I had eaten a meal while sitting down since the race began.  All other meals and most snacks had been eaten while walking.  And when I say, “three course meal”, it consisted of apple slices, scrambled eggs, and yoghurt for dessert.

Nurse Suzanne attending to my blisters

I didn’t really experience any hallucinations during this race.  Eating regularly and being able to powernap when I needed to made a significant difference compared with my experience in other recent multi-day races, but on a few occasions during the second half of the race, and mostly at night, I would briefly think “I haven’t been here before” and be slightly panicked that I was lost – on a 1.1km circuit that I had walked several hundred laps of already.

I was also learning to sleepwalk.  There were two parts of the course near the end of each lap which were dead straight and smooth tarmac with no possibility of tripping over.  On the right was a hedge and on the left was grass.  And over the last two days I often closed my eyes while walking along these two stretches, opening one eye every 5 to 10 seconds to check that I was walking in a straight line.  I wouldn’t say I was ‘sleeping’ but mentally I felt I was getting some micro-rests.

In 2016 I had walked 500km in a New Zealand record time of 4 days, 16 hours, 55 minutes (and 8 seconds) and my aim going into this race was to reduce that time to under 4 days – or as close to 4 days as possible – figuring that that would means on 100km per day over the last two days to complete 700km.


That wasn’t to be though, and I finally reached 500km at just after 2:22am on the Thursday morning.  The only problem was that in a race of this type, the official time for record purposes is only recorded at the end of the lap in which you pass the distance marker, and this meant I needed to walk another 1,110 metres of a 1,131-metre course because the previous lap had finished just 21 metres short of the 500km mark!

Therefore, my official new 500km NZ record time is 4 days, 12 hours, 34 minutes, and 23 seconds – a 4-hour improvement over my 2016 time.

As per 25 hours earlier when I reached 400km someone took a photo of me holding the 500km sign, and as I continued walking, I found myself feeling very confused.  I had walked 100km in between photos, but the two photos had been taken at about the same time of night and in the same place.  Where had I been? For some reason I couldn’t comprehend that I was simply walking laps of the track.  It was just tiredness messing with my brain.

I allowed myself to have the second of my three powernaps for the night shortly afterwards, and then a third powernap just before dawn – and then walked through to my 2pm afternoon break.

With total ‘Lost Time’ of almost seven hours, day 5 was my second worst day of the race, only 1km better than day 3.  I finished the day with a total distance of 552km (343 miles), and just 70km (43 miles) left to my minimum goal of breaking Gerald’s NZ and Commonwealth 6-day record.

Day 6 – Thursday/Friday:

One last decent sleep, some foot maintenance, and I was back on the track before 5pm and by 7pm I was flying – relatively speaking.

Reviewing the lap times, I see that I completed my 499th lap just after 7pm in 9 minutes and 57 seconds (8:48/km pace).  It was my fastest lap since 8:30 the previous night, and a couple laps later I walked 9:01, my 11th fastest lap of the race! And the 10km I walked between 563km and 573km was only a couple minutes slower than the 10km pace I maintained during the first few hours of the race.

I was feeling awesome, and even started thinking that perhaps, just maybe, 700km might be achievable after all.  It is amazing what your mind can do.  I knew I was in the final stages of the race, and I was feeling good.  But as with every night of the race, when darkness arrived at 9pm my pace dropped.  After averaging 9 ½ minutes per lap, I was now averaging 11 ½ minutes per lap.

I had a short powernap at 3am, and then at 5:27am I completed the lap that took me past Gerald’s 6-day record.  Sarah had woken up a few minutes earlier and as I walked past the food table near our cabin on that final lap she was there, so she grabbed her camera and ran over to the timing tent at the end of the lap where the race organiser presented me with the NZ flag (for my record victory lap).

NZ and Commonwealth six day racewalking record

Some of the people following my progress online had already messaged me a lap early congratulating me, because the previous lap ended at 622.157km. But the record was 622.570km. After breaking the record and having some photos taken, I walked a lap carrying the NZ flag, and then a second lap during which I posted on social media and sent a message to my family (who were mostly asleep), rang both my parents in New Zealand to tell them the news, and received a call from my son in NZ.

And then it was time for a well-earned short break.

It’s funny how the mind works.  Before the start of the race, the tops of both my feet were hurting.  They had been sore for a few days, and I put it down to possibly having my laces tied too tightly at some stage.  Anyway, for over 5 ½ days I had been walking around this track and my feet hadn’t hurt (or at least not the top of my feet) but as I came into the cabin for my break my left foot was so sore that I didn’t know how I would be able to continue in the race.

I rubbed some of the ‘magic’ ibuprofen gel on the tops of both feet and put a sponge in between my sock and the top of my left shoe so that the laces didn’t put too much pressure on the sore part of my foot – my left foot hurt much more than my right – and after a 15-minute break I resumed walking.

Every day during the race the temperature started to rise from about 9am through until 2pm (when I took my break), and for some reason I really dreaded the idea of walking the final five hours of the race.  In hindsight, I suspect that my brain was telling me that the job was done, I had achieved my goal of breaking the record, and I wasn’t going to reach 700km.

But in reality, I still had a lot of work to do.  My next target was 400 miles (642km), a distance only achieved my 14 men plus the women’s world record holder.  And then once I passed that distance, I needed to move myself up the list of the best distances walked in six days.

I had the list on my phone.  My next target was the 643km walked by Patrick Cailleaux in 2016 – someone I had raced and never beaten in all my previous three six-day races.  Patrick finished 5th this year.

Then the 649km achieved by Christophe Biet in winning the 2016 edition of this race.  I had never beaten Christophe either, and he wasn’t racing this year.  Then the 650km achieved by Philippe Clement when he won in 2017 – the year that my father and his partner, Diane, came to Privas as my support crew and I had a miserable race, only barely making 500km. Philippe finished second this year.

Once I had passed 651km I was the tenth best male, and eleventh best overall, in the history of modern racewalking.  It was only just past 11am.  Three hours to go.  But it was getting really hard now.  It was hot and I was tired, and I didn’t want to keep pushing any longer.

Ivo was giving me plenty of encouragement, but he was also really annoying me.  I had had enough and just wanted to stroll around the course, or maybe even take a bit of a rest.  But he kept telling me that I had to keep pushing and make it as hard as possible for the next person to beat my NZ/Commonwealth record.  I knew he was right, but I didn’t like it.

Once I passed 658km there was only two more previous results ahead of me that I could reach. A French walker whom I didn’t know who had walked 665.225km in 2011 and the Women’s world record holder, Yolanda Holder, who had achieved 665.182km in 2019.  If I could beat those two distances, I would have the eighth best distance in history and seventh best was 687km.

Ivo was continuing to annoy me.  Every time I saw him, he would give me encouragement.  I know he meant well, and I thank him for his encouragement, but at the time he was really pissing me off!

So, I played a game with him.  With about an hour to go I worked out that I would ‘easily’ pass 665km and maybe even get as far as 667km, so every time I saw him, I would pretend to be really suffering, and make comments like “It’s too hard” and “I can’t keep this pace going” as I walked slowly towards him on the out and back sections.  And then once he had passed me, I would laugh to myself, feel better, and continue on my way.  It was just a game to amuse myself, and I told Ivo about my game after the race so hopefully he isn’t upset with me when he reads this.

I passed through the timing tent for the last time with 8 minutes and 24 seconds left on the clock and I don’t know what happened (mind over matter again) but I took off.  The further the lap went, the faster I got.

I haven’t mentioned that the dead flat course that we started on six days earlier had actually become a course where you went uphill as you headed towards the far end of the course and then downhill towards the end of the course where the timing tent was.  It was only about a 2-metre elevation change between the lowest and highest point of the course, but by Friday afternoon the uphill part was really making my life hard.

But on the final lap I flew up the hill.  I had previously told Sarah and Suzanne that I would time my finish to be outside our cabin at exactly 144 hours, but I sped past them going up the hill and a few minutes later I flew passed them as I headed back downhill.

And in the last 8 minutes and 24 seconds I walked an additional 1,080 metres – which is 8 minute 48 second lap pace, 4 seconds faster than my fastest lap of the entire race!

Just shows what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

Last lap – flying!

The end:

My final result was 667.357 kilometres (414.75 miles).

NZ record tick
Commonwealth record tick
8th best distance in modern racewalking history tick
700km goal met cross
Unfinished business tick Absolutely!


On analysing my lap times I was surprised to discover that although I only slept for 10 ½ hours during the race, I had over 29 hours off the track. Some of this was for ‘admin’ – repairing feet, showering before sleeps, etc, but there was plenty of additional ‘Lost Time’.  If I could have kept this to the 20 hours I was aiming for, then that is potentially another 50+ kilometres (31 miles).  That would have put me well over my 700km target.





What I don’t know is whether I could have slept for longer each day and with more sleep, perhaps I could have walked faster.  Or should I have avoided the 2pm sleeps altogether, and just had 10 to 20 minute powernaps throughout the race.  If I had done that then I may have ended up walking a slower average speed, but potentially I could have walked even more hours as I wouldn’t have had so much time off the track each day for ‘admin’.

The problem is that I can’t do too many six-day races per year. Maybe two at the most, and even two six-day races per year may be too much. This makes experimentation difficult.

I will definitely be back next year. The race will be in April, so hopefully the weather will be a little cooler.

My goal next year? I’m not sure yet, but more than 700km, definitely!


Top ten men in six day racewalking after this years race
Top ten men in six day racewalking after this years race
Top five women in six day racewalking after this years race
Top five women in six day racewalking after this years race – Sylvie beat Claudie’s previous world record for a judged six day race, and Claudie improved her previous best
My feet
My feet. The top of both feet had been sore before the start of the race and were now extremely sore!
My feet
These feet have just walked 667 kilometres!
This is how messages sent to us via the race website were delivered to us

Some random photos of me:

Richard McChesney

Richard McChesney

Richard McChesney

Richard McChesney

Richard McChesney

Richard McChesney and Ivo Majetic
Walking with Ivo
Richard McChesney and Ivo Majetic
Commonwealth record holder (me) and World record holder (Ivo)
About 890,000 steps
About 890,000 steps!
The timing tent
The timing tent and the two men who ensured that everything was ‘under control’


And lastly, my two UK racewalking buddies – the two people who got me in to this really long stuff in the first place!



A big thank you:

Lastly, I want to thank some people.

Firstly, Sarah, without whom I would never have managed to achieve the distance I did.  Thanks so much.  You did a fantastic job.

Suzanne and Kathy whom I have done many races with over the last eight years. Two of my favourite people in the racewalking world.

My wife Ruth, who without her support I would never make it to the start line of any race. She allows me to spend a huge amount of time out training (272 hours of walking between January 1st and April 30th, plus time in the pool and gym) when she would probably prefer that I was at home spending that time with her, and then I use some of our holiday time to go to the South of France and walk around a holiday park for six days!

And to everyone else who sent messages via social media or the race website, the other competitors – this race is such a friendly event – and of course, the race organisers and volunteers without whom this race wouldn’t happen.

Lon Las Ultra 2021 – not all DNF’s are equal

Lon Las Ultra“I don’t remember there being a castle in Adelaide” I thought to myself as I realised I was walking beside a castle having found my way on to a road after being unable to exit Bute Park in Cardiff due to a locked gate just a few miles from the finish of the Lon Las Ultra.

Having spent the last almost 90 hours walking to Cardiff, for some strange reason I thought I was in Adelaide (Australia).  And on reviewing the course map while writing this race report, I also realise that I shouldn’t have been in Bute Park anyway but should have crossed over the River Taff a mile or so earlier.

The Lon Las Ultra is a 253 mile (407km) running race from Holyhead in Northwest Wales to Cardiff in Southeast Wales.  It follows an almost diagonal line across the country climbing in excess of 5,500 metres and dropping the same – starting and finishing at sea level.  It is supposedly a national cycle route but some of the hills are so steep, going both up and down, that I can’t imagine anyone cycling it – although apparently people do.

The 2021 edition was the third running of the Lon Las Ultra and to date only nine runners had finished the challenge.  I attempted it in 2019 – the year of the horizontal rain – and only managed about 140 miles before dropping out mainly due to being cold and wet, but also due to lacking the mental strength to complete the event.

2021 would be different!

Holyhead to Criccieth – 0 to 60 miles

Unlike 2019 we woke up to a mild day and 29 runners assembled beside the railway station in Holyhead just before 7am for race director Mark Cockbain’s inspirational pre-race briefing – something about “… most of you won’t finish …” – and a pre-race photo.

I set out at a comfortable pace at the back of the field.  As usual I was the only walker in a field of runners and whilst I expected to catch some of the runners during the next 3 ½ days, I had no intention of going too fast early on.

Lon Las Ultra 2021 start

I was surprised therefore to find myself playing cat and mouse with a few runners during the morning and early afternoon.  One of those runners was David Wright who I had spent a lot of time walking with during our 2019 attempt – David had dropped out at a similar place to me in 2019 after being found asleep in a ditch by a passing horse rider.

My pace through the morning was a very consistent 7km (4.35 miles) per hour and I arrived at the first checkpoint at Menai Bridge (31 miles) in 27th place just after 2pm.  The Lon Las Ultra is a ‘self-supported’ event – meaning that not only are odd-numbered checkpoints outdoors but all you get at any checkpoint is water.  Checkpoints 4, 6 and 8 (100, 150 and 200 miles) are indoors meaning that they are warm and you have the opportunity to sleep if you want/need to, but other than that the athletes are expected to fend for themselves.


I was in and out of the Menai Bridge checkpoint in about 4 minutes, just enough time to refill my water bottles and get some more food out of my race backpack and stuff it into my pockets, waistbelt, etc.

The first two legs were the longest of the race but also the easiest.  No serious hills, not too tired (yet) and mostly in daylight.  The only real highlight for me during the first day was the small town of Caernarfon which I arrived at around 4pm.  In 2019 I had taken a short detour off the course at Caernarfon to buy McDonalds for an early dinner, but this year I decided that I would prefer Fish n Chips and used Google to identify all the local Fish n Chip shops.  The one with the highest star rating was only a block off the race route so I decided that would be my dinner for today.  When I arrived the door was open but the owner advised that they were closed until 4:30pm.  I told him that I was in a race and couldn’t wait around, and I asked for his recommendation for another Fish n Chip.  Not wanting to recommend his competition he suggested that I continue through to Criccieth, but I knew I wouldn’t get there for another five hours and I wanted food now.  He said that there were plenty of Fish n Chip shops in the square, so I walked a short distance further and stopped at the first Fish n Chip I found – wrong choice!

The chips were great, but the fish wasn’t.  I ate about half of the fish before binning it and ate the remaining chips while walking.  I also bought a can of Coke but decided that I hadn’t yet walked far enough to drink Coke (usually preferring to stay off highly processed sugar until at least 12 hours into any race), so I put that in my backpack saving it for later.

‘Later’ was when I reached 50 miles, which I passed in a respectable 12 hours and 3 minutes.  I had started to struggle a little and decided to reward myself with a can of Coke just as David Wright caught me up again.  This was perfect.  Between the Coke and the faster pace that David was running/walking I regained my enthusiasm and my pace immediately picked back up.  David and I stayed together for most of the remaining ten miles through to checkpoint 2 which I arrived at at 9:19pm – 14 hours and 19 minutes after race start.

Criccieth to Dolgellau – 60 to 100 miles

The Criccieth checkpoint is at a bus stop beside the sea.  Unlikely 2019 when it was wet and cold, the weather was still reasonable but knowing that we were heading up into the hills for the night, and with rain forecast, I put on some warmer clothes and replenished my backpack with my food for the next 40 miles.  All up, I was at the checkpoint for about 15 minutes, leaving in 23rd position with three other runners just in front of me.

I love walking at night and really enjoyed the 20 miles through to checkpoint 3.  Almost immediately upon leaving Criccieth there is a long steady climb before a descent into a town called Porthmadog (I love the Welsh names 😊 ) and soon after Porthmadog we hit the first really big climb of the race – a 250 metre climb over about 4 kilometres followed by an even steeper descent to checkpoint 3.

I really enjoyed the climb. My only regret being that it was dark, and we were missing what I expected were fantastic views.  The rain stopped mid-way up the ascent, but rain was replaced by mist that made it difficult to see too far ahead.  Not to worry, I seemed to negotiate the route without any problems and arrived at checkpoint 3 at 3:39am to find two runners suffering more than they should be at this stage of the race.  Tom Garrod, especially.  Tom was planning on doing a double Lon Las Ultra as a fundraiser for a cancer charity and with only 80 miles of over 500 completed so far, he was not in a happy place.

Having refilled my water bottles, I wasn’t planning of hanging around at the checkpoint and convinced Tom to walk with me, figuring that if he got moving and had me to talk to he would start feeling better.  Unfortunately, we spent too much time focused on conversation and not where we were supposed to be going and we missed a turnoff soon afterwards.  In the totality of the race, this didn’t matter but it did mean that we accidentally took a shortcut of about 1 ½ miles (2 ½ km).  Something I felt guilty about for the rest of the race, once I became aware of it, even though I would more than make up the missed distance during the remaining days when I got lost on various occasions.

The miles flew by and soon we were walking through a small town at around 5 or 5:30am when we came across a shop with an open door.  I think the shop was a sandwich shop, but I didn’t stop to check it out.  Tom did however, and I kept walking catching up with Javed Bhatti a few minutes later.  Javed had also stopped at the shop and confirmed that it was selling sandwiches.  Javed is a hugely experienced ultra-distance runner, and I took the opportunity to pick his brain about my ongoing problems with sleep deprivation during long races.

Sometime after 6am I arrived at Barmouth from where we were diverted on to an A road heading inland towards Dolgellau.  The race should have headed across a pedestrian bridge over the river but unfortunately the bridge was closed for maintenance, and we had to walk (run) along a semi-busy road without footpaths for the next 5 or 6 miles rather than the pedestrian trail on the other side of the river.  I didn’t have any problems along this stretch, but Javed narrowly escaped being hit by a car and decided that that was enough for him – he withdrew from the race at the 60 mile checkpoint.

I started to struggle again during this stretch despite having drunk a bottle of Coke at Barmouth, and I decided that I would have my first sleep when I got to Dolgellau.  The Dolgellau rugby club being our first indoor checkpoint and therefore our first opportunity to have a sleep in warm conditions, and our last opportunity until 150 miles.  I arrived at Dolgellau at 8:53am (25 hours and 53 minutes after the start) but with only 157km on my watch – due to the shortcut I had taken and also the diversion meant that the 100 mile checkpoint was actually at 99 miles.  I was now in 16th place.  Not too bad, but a long way still to go.

Dolgellau to Rhayader – 100 to 150 miles

After sorting out my food, clothing, etc, I tried to sleep but I no longer felt tired, and both my hips were too sore for me to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.  I lay in my sleeping bag for about 20 minutes before giving up and left the checkpoint after about 90 minutes total break.

Immediately after leaving the checkpoint the route heads up hill again, rising from near sea level to 425 metres in just five miles, and then dropping back to 100 metres just as quickly.  I don’t particularly enjoy hills (major understatement) and for this reason I don’t spend anywhere enough time training on hills.  And because of this, my quads and shins were really struggling with the downhills.  I didn’t mind the ups, but the steep downhill sections were slower than the uphills.

Lon Las Ultra - about 105 miles

Lon Las Ultra - 31 hours
A nice place for a short sleep

Around 2:30pm I came across a nice grassy area just off the road where I decided to have another sleep.  It had turned in to a sunny afternoon and whilst the grass was still damp, I spread my foil space blanket over the grass and made a nice comfortable bed.  This was my first real sleep since the race began over 31 hours earlier but even so, I woke up just 20 minutes later feeling refreshed.

As I walked back down to the road Steve Willis caught me up.  I had walked behind him earlier in the morning when on the A road heading to Dolgellau.  It was Steve who informed me that I had accidentally taken a shortcut earlier that morning when I missed the turnoff just after checkpoint 3, and I joked to him that even if we finished together, he was really 30 minutes ahead of me thanks to my ‘cheating’.

We walked together for a while but Steve was struggling and considering dropping out of the race.  He decided to stop and have a rest and something to eat, leaving me to continue on alone.

Soon after, I think probably around 4pm’ish I stopped in a town called Machynlleth.  Firstly I went to the Co-op to buy some painkillers in the hope that they would reduce the pain I was feeling in both my hips, and then further down the road I purchased a sausage and chips at the local Fish n Chip shop – the same shop I stopped at after my visit to the launderette during the 2019 race.  As with 2019, they were the best sausage and chips I had eaten in years, and at only £2.90 I couldn’t believe the value for money!

I remembered Machynlleth from 2019 as being the start of the long climb up to the halfway point.  The big difference this year was that I would be making that climb (from close to sea level up to 570 metres) in daylight and I was looking forward to seeing the views that I had missed last time.

I wasn’t disappointed either.  Over the final mile or two to the top, every time I went around a corner I stopped to take a photo, and then around the next corner the view was even better, and I took another photo.  I felt fantastic and really enjoyed the climb followed by the half hour descent through to checkpoint 4 and halfway.

By now it was getting dark again and I had a short break at checkpoint 5 to put some warmer clothes on and sort out my head torch and flashing taillights.  It was 7:27pm.  36 ½ hours since the race started.  A maximum of 51 ½ hours to complete the second half (plus a bit extra – halfway was really only 125 miles out of 253).  That shouldn’t be a problem, especially with net downhill.

I continued to feel good after leaving checkpoint 5 as we (me and my legs) walked at a comfortable rate but a few hours later I started to struggle again, just as Steve caught me.  I was glad to see that Steve had persevered and not dropped out during his bad patch earlier in the afternoon and I keyed off him to try and keep my pace up.  I think Steve was struggling as much, or more, than me and I remember stopping to sit down for a short rest a couple times.  On one of those occasions I found a chair outside what appeared to be an abandoned workshop and called Steve over telling him that there was another chair that he could sit on.

I was struggling with the cold though, and could only rest a few minutes at a time.  At some stage soon after Steve decided to stop for a sleep and I continued on alone again.  A while later I arrived at a main road at the top of a long hill climb.  I checked the route map and discovered that I shouldn’t be there.  I had missed a turnoff about 1km earlier and now had to descend back to join the correct route.  When I got back to the turnoff Steve was just arriving.  While he was rested and feeling good, I had just wasted over half an hour walking up and down a hill that I didn’t need to!  But, I rationalised to myself, I had made up for my accidental shortcut from Friday morning.

I couldn’t stay with Steve.  He was going too fast, and I was feeling terrible.  At the halfway checkpoint I thought there would be a good chance of getting through to 150 miles around 2:30/3am – given the downhill nature of the 25 miles in between checkpoints, but I was walking slower and slower, resting more and more often, and the downhill was interspersed with frequent sharp uphill sections.

I started thinking about withdrawing from the race.  Every muscle and tendon in my legs was in pain.  I was not enjoying myself anymore.  Before leaving home my wife had told me that a DNF wasn’t an option.  “Either finish or don’t come home” she had told me before I left for Wales on Wednesday – half joking, half serious.

I started justifying my upcoming DNF.  I had been struggling with injuries most of the year and had been forced to visit my osteopath less than a week ago due to the pain I had in my right hip which I assumed was caused by over-compensating for my piriformis injury in recent weeks – although I hoped it was just one of those nervous pre-race injuries that seem to arrive in the week before a race (and disappear as soon as the race starts).

I decided that I was so close to checkpoint 6 at 150 miles that I should at least walk through to there before making any decisions, and when I arrived at checkpoint 6 at 6:11am (47 hours and 11 minutes) I realised that with 247km on my watch (242km plus 5km of getting lost mileage) I had actually walked my second best 48 hour distance ever!  And that was with over 3,500 meters of elevation change!

So I wasn’t going as badly as I thought I was.  I was in 12th place, although there were only 15 of us left in the race – of 29 starters.

Rhayader to Llanfynnch – 150 to 200 miles

I slept for 80 minutes at Rhayader, my longest sleep of the race and bringing my total amount of sleep since the race started to about 100 minutes.  I felt good when I woke up and after some mucking about sorting out clothing and food, I was on my way at almost exactly 9am.

I’m not too sure how much later, but it wasn’t too long before I became aware of the painful chaffing in an area just above the top of my legs.  The further I walked, and the more I thought about it, the more painful it became.  It wasn’t long before I was walking like John Wayne after ten hours on a horseback.  I applied some Vaseline which I carry for occasions such as this, which fortunately are not very common, but that really didn’t make much difference.  A Google search suggested that Sudocrem was what I needed and a couple very uncomfortable hours later I found myself in Builth Wells looking for relief.  Firstly, I visited the local Co-Op but couldn’t find any lubricant of any sought.  I purchased some Savlon antiseptic cream in case I didn’t have any success elsewhere, along with a couple banana’s and two small bottles of Coke.  Not sure what the person behind the till thought with this stinky ‘runner’ in front of them buying an eclectic ‘range’ of products.

Further down the road I found a Boots pharmacy and they had just what I wanted/needed.  Next, find a secluded spot to apply the relief – an alleyway just around the corner.  Then a walk across the road to the local park where I rested for a few minutes while eating a banana and washing it down with 500ml’s of Coke.

The relief wasn’t immediate and I needed to apply more Sodocrem during the next hour, but soon I was back walking as if nothing was ever wrong.

I arrived at the 175 mile checkpoint at 5:25pm (58 hours 25 minutes since race start) in 12th place, almost two hours behind Steve and over two hours ahead of Andrew Nesbet and three hours ahead of Gordon Hughes and Vic Owens.  I was feeling a little tired, but not sleepy and I was on my way again after a short stop to refill water bottles, etc.

That was at 5:25pm.  A little while later, probably around 6:30pm (I remember that it was still daylight) I called my wife for my evening check-in call and remember telling her something along the lines of “…remember when we went cycling in Wales …” and then I remembered that we had never been to Wales (other than Cardiff) together, and we definitely hadn’t been cycling in Wales.  I was going to tell her that I was in that place where people went to name their bikes.  I’m not sure what that meant, but in my mind it was a magical place that cyclists took their new bikes on some kind of pilgrimage resulting in them being given a name for their bike.

I had only said a few words when I realised that I must be imagining things, but the strange thing was that while I talked to Ruth I ‘knew’ that I had been here before.  In 2019 I had dropped out of this race at around 140 miles.  There is no way that I had been to this part of Wales before.

I was conscious enough to know that this was some sort of hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation, but I couldn’t explain how I ‘knew’ that shortly we would take a sharp left turn followed by a sharp right turn soon after.  In writing this race report, I suspect that I had reviewed the course route on my phone a few minutes earlier perhaps, which is how I ‘knew’ the course, but at the time I started thinking that perhaps some higher being was guiding me.

A while later I ‘knew’ that when I reach the end of this road there will be a large barn behind a brown fence on the left and a little later there will be a white bus stop on the right.  I also ‘knew’ that the white bus stop was temporary and had been put there especially for the cyclists to rest in after they had named their bikes during their pilgrimage.

Sure enough, I passed the big barn and then soon I arrived at the bus stop where I decided to have a short sleep.  I checked my watch (I can’t remember now what time it was) and woke up 14 minutes later.

And now it gets interesting.  When I woke up I thought that was a really strange dream.  I had dreamt that I was in a race in the middle of Wales, but I ‘knew’ I was in North London at a bus stop I had walked past many times before.  And I thought I recognised the person outside their house across the road too.  I thought to myself that I just need to walk to the end of the street, turn right and head down the hill back towards London.

On getting to the end of the road though, surprise, the street names were Welsh.  I was in Wales!  I looked at my watch.  The watch said I had been going for 60 something hours.  It wasn’t a dream after all.

I checked my phone.  I was on course but needed to turn left and not right.

Sometime later, probably around midnight based on what I can work out looking at Strava, I had some more hallucinations.  I thought I was in a strange game that I didn’t understand.  In the game we were supposed to collect ‘bases’, whatever they are, and my partner in the game wasn’t playing the game properly which was resulting in us visiting these same towns over and over again.  I got annoyed, threw a tantrum and lay facedown in a ditch.

Firstly, I was alone at the time.  Secondly, sleep deprivation is known to cause déjà vu which explains why I thought I was visiting the same towns over and over again.  Thirdly, my Strava map shows that I did wander around a town called Talgarth for about an hour before wandering down the road and lying in a ditch.

Lon Las Ultra - lost in Talgarth
Lost in Talgarth – click image to view Strava map

Later in the race I caught up with Andrew Nesbit who confirmed that when he passed me in the ditch I was sound asleep.  He said that in his sleep deprived state, the flashing lights on my back caused him to think he had come across a car in a ditch until he got closer to me.

At 1:54am (according to Strava) I turned my watch off.  It was at this stage that I decided I had finished the race.  I didn’t think I could go any further.  I restarted my watch at 2:51am.

I’m not sure what happened in between.  Did I stop my watch then lie face down in a ditch and go to sleep.  If so, the last kilometer before doing that had taken me 43 minutes.  Or did I stop my watch after I woke up when I decided to drop out of the race.  I don’t know.

My phone history shows that at 2:17am I rang Peter the meat wagon guy – the guy whose job it is to drive all over Wales collecting athletes when they can’t go on any further.  I told him I had had enough and could he come and collect me.  He told me to go back to Talgarth and wait for him, and my phone history shows that I rang him again at 2:33am to tell him I was now back in Talgarth.

While waiting for him I started to feel better and when he arrived to collect me I said that with only about 12 miles (20km) to go to the 200 mile checkpoint, I thought I should walk there and then reconsider my options at that stage.  I apologised for not wanting to DNF and for dragging him out in the middle of the night, and started walking back towards my ditch again.

In total, about 3 hours had elapsed since I first arrived in Talgarth – remember that.  Three hours.  It becomes important later on.

The walk to checkpoint 8 at Llanfynnch turned out to be a little under 20km and took me about 3 ¾ hours.  Not bad considering the mileage I had covered to date and the issues I had had in the previous few hours.  Along the way I caught up with Andrew, walked with him for a while, and then continued ahead of him when he slowed down, arriving at checkpoint 8 about 20 minutes ahead of him.  Other than an hour or so of rain, the walk was uneventful, and I was actually feeling pretty good.

Llanfynnch to Cardiff – 200 to 253 miles

I left the checkpoint at about 7am, 72 hours into the race, just as daylight was breaking.  I needed my head torch for the first 15 minutes or so, but after that I could see my way clearly.

The next section was a 10 mile uphill climb from 200 metres above sea level to 500 metres and then, according to the guys at the checkpoint, it was all downhill to Cardiff!

The 15 mile climb went well.  Andrew passed me early on and upon reaching the top Lindley Chambers and someone else were waiting with some food.  I had heaps of food with me so I only took a banana , and started the ‘downhill to Cardiff’ section.  I calculated that all I needed to do was walk 11 minutes and 40 seconds  per kilometre for the next 64km – about 3.3 miles per hour.  And with it all being downhill and a total elevation drop of 500 metres, that won’t be too difficult will it?

Five kilometres later and I was already five minutes behind schedule.  This was anything but downhill all the way!  Down for a bit then steep up again, then steep down.  Not conducive to fast walking.

I decided to ignore my watch until we were off the steep section and nearer checkpoint 9 at Merthyr Tydfil – another place I had never been to but ‘knew’ like the back of my hand.  Approaching Merthyr Tydfil we headed on to the Taff Trail which would take us all the way to Cardiff.  Over and over again I ‘recognised’ the area and even ‘knew’ when we would be crossing the river or under/over the roads running alongside the trail.

Lon Las Ultra - checkpoint 9
Checkpoint 9

Checkpoint 9 was ‘basic’ like all the odd numbered checkpoints.  In fact this one was probably the most basic – see photo – not even a chair to sit in for a short rest.

There was a McDonalds nearby but by now I had worked out that I needed to average exactly 11 minutes per kilometre for the remaining 46km (17 ½ minutes per mile for 28 ½ miles) and I was struggling to average 11:30, so no time to stop.

I asked one of the people at the checkpoint for Coke and they said they would arrange something and find me along the way somewhere – thanks to whoever that was even if you could only find Pepsi!

I tried as hard as I could but I really struggled to walk fast enough.  11 minutes per kilometre is about 17 ½ minutes per mile – about the speed that someone would casually walk to the shop.  And I couldn’t hold that pace.  It wasn’t physical.  I put in a couple faster kilometres – in the low 9 minute range – but I couldn’t hold the pace.

Soon I found myself having imaginary conversations (arguments) between my mind and my body.  My mind asked my body to go faster and my body responded by saying that we wouldn’t need to go faster if you (Mind) hadn’t gone ‘la la’ last night.

Another ‘conversation’ I remember was when my pace had managed to speed up a little and I imagined that my mind and body were now friends again and they were talking to me about how I had taken my feet for granted – “… You put your shoes and socks on 3 ½ days ago and haven’t looked at your feet since – you have taken them for granted …”

The conversations kept me entertained through to Pontypridd where I lost 28 minutes (according to Strava) walking 2km trying to find the correct route after finding the gate to the local park locked and not seeing the sign showing the after-hours diversion.

Lon Las Ultra - Lost in Pontypridd
Lost in Pontypridd – click image for Strava map

It was while I was wandering around trying to find the correct route that Gordon and Vic passed me.  They had been over an hour behind me at checkpoint 9 about 12 miles earlier but they were focused on getting to the finish before 11pm – the race cut-off.

It was getting dark when I found my way back on to the correct route and I stopped for a few moments to put my head torch on.  But where was my head torch?  I couldn’t find it even after empty all the remaining contents of my backpack on to the ground.  Fortunately, I had my spare head torch.  But it wouldn’t turn on!  The reason it is my spare head torch is that it isn’t 100% reliable but it has never not turned on.

I thought perhaps I had left my main head torch back at checkpoint 8.  The only option was going to be to use my phone as a torch – how long would that last?  And to walk as fast as I could and hopefully catch Gordon and Vic so that I could follow them with their head torches.  The online tracker showed that they were only 1.2km ahead.

I put in a 9 minute kilometre.  It was 8:30pm. There was about 20km to go.  I calculated that I needed to walk 7 ½ minutes per kilometre to get to the finish by 11pm.  Unlikely.  The next kilometre was closer to 12 minutes followed by two more at 9 minutes each.  There was no way I could go any faster than that and I wasn’t catching Gordon and Vic either.

And then I remembered that I had worn my head torch for the first few minutes after leaving checkpoint 8 earlier in the day.  I felt the pocket of my jacket and there it was.

Suddenly the urgency to walk fast was gone.  I had a head torch and I wasn’t going to get to Cardiff by 11pm, so why push it?

My pace immediately dropped and that was when the giants arrived.  My mind started playing tricks on me again.  Initially it was only occasionally that I would see a giant in front of me, and when I got nearer I would realise that the giant was actually just a tree.

Later on though, every tree was a giant – except for the trees that were actually huge bridges in the sky.

This went on for hours.  I was tired and whenever I found a park bench or anything else I could sit on, I would stop and rest for a few moments.  And when there weren’t giants and bridges, I felt like I had been here before.  This time I ‘remembered’ being here on a school trip with my youngest son – who like me has never been to Wales other than to Cardiff city itself.  More sleep deprived hallucinations and déjà vu.

I remember stopping and talking to two real people.  On both occasions I asked them if they were real.  I don’t know what they thought when asked that question – “Are you real?”.

Somewhere along the line I missed a turnoff over the river and followed what I thought was the proper route all the way through Bute Park and up to a big wooden locked gate.  Thinking I was on the correct route, and with the river on my right I headed left looking for an exit from the park.

It was at this point that Karen Webber rang me.  It was 12:30am and Karen and Peter (the meat wagon man) were waiting for me at the finish even although the race had officially finished 1 ½ hours ago.  I explained my situation and apologised for taking so long, thanking Karen for waiting for me.  I had assumed that I would finish the race alone, take a quick selfie finisher’s photo, and then walk to my hotel.  It was nice to think that there would be someone at the finish to welcome me.

Karen suggested that I finish at the hotel rather than the Celtic Ring – the official race finish line – but I explained that I wanted to finish the official race even if I was late.  I didn’t yet realise that I had gone off course.

As I was speaking to Karen I found an exit to the park and told Karen that “I will walk fast and see you soon”.

And then, just after hanging up on Karen I looked to my right and saw that I was walking beside a castle and thought to myself that “I don’t remember there being a castle in Adelaide”.   Fortunately that was only a fleeting thought and I quickly remembered that I was in Cardiff, although I wasn’t sure how to get to the finish from where I was.

I opened Google Maps on my phone and typed in ‘Celtic Ring, Cardiff’.  1 ½ miles.  2 ½ kilometers.

The end was in sight and my pace picked up accordingly.  13 minutes, 11 minutes and then 10 minutes for the last kilometre.

I walked into the Celtic Ring and received a big hug from Karen – one of the biggest ultra-marathon fans around.

Karen took a photo for me and we walked the short distance to the hotel where Peter was waiting, having gone back to get me some warm clothes.

Lon Las Ultra finish
Lon Las Ultra finish
With Karen at the finish

And that was my race.  Holyhead to Cardiff in 90 hours and 5 minutes.  2 hours and 5 minutes too late to be an official finisher but 13th to cross the finish line out of 29 starters.

What ifs:

Could I have finished within the 88 hour cut-off?  Absolutely.  I lost three hours when I went ‘la la’ on Saturday night in Talgarth.  If only I had simply stopped and had a 30 minute sleep.

I lost 30 minutes when I got lost in Pontypridd and 30 minutes on Friday night when I went the wrong way, although I gained about 30 minutes on Friday morning when I accidentally took a short-cut.  In total I walked 420km according to my watch – an additional 13km (8 miles).

Lon Las Ultra elevation profile

Will I try again?


My aim was to walk from Holyhead to Cardiff.  I didn’t manage that in 2019.  I did in 2021.  It doesn’t matter to me that I took two hours longer than the race cut-off.

I have added a line across Wales to my ever-growing map of where I’ve walked, and I have other lines to add elsewhere.

My map after Lon Las Ultra
Where I’ve walked since 2014

Congratulations to:

A couple people that I would like to congratulate:

  • James Bassett
    James finished first equal in 76 hours and 16 minutes together with Stephen Davies.
    I first met James when he was a race-walker at the UK Centurion qualifying race in Bury St Edmonds in 2017. James qualified as UK Centurion 1175 in an impressive 21 hours 24 minutes that day but has since switched to running and had his best race to date at the Lon Las Ultra.  James’ race report is here.
  • Tom Garrod
    Tom was not in a very good condition when I caught him at checkpoint 3 early on Friday morning. But he bounced back and finished the race in 3rd place in 79 hours 32 minutes.
    He then had a 20 hour rest before running back to the start, completing 506 miles in total in a little over nine days!
  • Steve Willis
    I spent a reasonable amount of time with Steve on the Saturday and a little bit on the Friday as well. At one stage on the Saturday he told me he was thinking about dropping out.  He didn’t, and went on to finish 9th in 85 hours 42 minutes.
  • Andrew Nesbit
    I didn’t spend much time with Andrew. Only an hour or two in the early hours of Sunday morning.  Andrew finished in 10th place in 87 hours and 11 minutes.
  • Gordon Hughes and Vic Owens
    I didn’t spend any time with these two. I caught them some time before checkpoint two and they passed me at Pontypridd.  Their finish time: 87 hours and 58 minutes!
    I can’t imagine the mental pressure you two put on yourself to get to the finish before the 88 hour cut-off.  Awesome!
  • Everyone else who started
    Whether you finished or not, this is one very tough race. Congratulations on just being brave enough to start the race.

A big thank you:

Firstly to Karen and Peter for staying up to welcome me to the finish.  It means a lot to me.  Thanks.

Thanks also to Mark Cockbain for organising a great race, and to all the volunteers that helped us get from Holyhead to Cardiff.

Someone messaged me a few days after the race saying that Not all DNF’s are equal.  I don’t know whether he was comparing his DNF to mine (Officially I am listed in the race results as a DNF because I didn’t finish within the 88 hours), or my 2019 DNF to my 2021 DNF.  But thanks.

And thanks also to all the people who watched our dots moving across Wales of the race tracking website, sent us messages of support, commented on the Cockbain Events facebook page, etc.  Knowing that we had your support helped when times were tough.

What’s Next?

For me it is the end of the year.  I have struggled with niggly injuries since January and I’m now taking two months of complete rest to try and recover.  I am seeing an Osteopath (thanks to medical insurance) and have joined a gym to work on my core strength and swim every second day.

At this stage my next race won’t be until May 2022 when I intend to smash my six day PB and hopefully become one of just six or seven race walkers to have walked 700km in an official six day walking race.