In 2016 I entered my first 6 day race with the aim of walking 700km (435 miles) in the 144 hours between when the race started on the Sunday afternoon and when it finished on the following Saturday afternoon. At the time that goal was perhaps a little ambitious. I had only been walking seriously for a few years and going into that race I had only walked in excess of 100 miles on eleven occasions with a longest walk of 283km in 72 hours the previous year.
Still, I believe in aiming high, and I finished that first 6 day race with a total distance of 614km (381 miles). If we had had better weather conditions I think something in the range of 650km may have been achievable, but instead we had torrential rain for the first three days and then excessive heat for the last three days. My race report from the 2016 Privas 6 day race is here.
I returned to Privas in 2017 and 2018 but had disappointing races both years, and in 2019 I decided to take a year away from the really long races before fourth attempt at walking 700km in six days – a distance that only six walkers have achieved in modern-day racewalking – in 2020. But thanks to Covid I’m still waiting for that opportunity two years later – something I’m calling Project 700.
The 6 jours de France is the only six day race in the world that has racewalking judges and therefore the only race from which six day racewalking results are recognised for record purposes (although some countries recognise performances from un-judged events) and in 2022 the 6 jours de France will move from Privas to Vallon Pont d’Arc, 50km to the south. More importantly, the race will be held on a 100% tarmac surface as opposed to the cinder track used in Privas, and the race has been moved forward to early May to avoid the extreme summer heat of August.
At 53 years old, I don’t know how many more opportunities I will get to attempt 700km in six days – although of the six people to have achieved the feat, one was 60 and another was 54 at the time. And of the other four, three were in their early 50’s. Long-distance racewalking is definitely a sport for the older athlete.
My training plan:
The race starts on Saturday 7th May – 18 weeks away. I’ve done very little walking since finishing the Lon Las Ultra in October as I have been trying to get over some niggly injury problems. This means that I am starting from a low base so my training plan will look something like this:
- January (weeks 1 to 4)
Four walks per week with mileage growing throughout January. I like to do my long walks on a Saturday and often walk to a parkrun, walk the parkrun (5km) at a faster pace, and then walk home. My aim for January will be to build up to a six hour Saturday walk by the end of January.
I usually aim for the Saturday walk to be about 50% of my weekly mileage so I think the first four weeks of January will range from around 65-70km in week one through to around 100km in week four.
- February to mid/late April (weeks 5 to 16)
Week 5 will be an easier week of around 80km before I start my high mileage training which will take me through to mid/late April. In May/June 2019 I completed eight weeks of 100 miles (160km) per week for the first time and am hoping to replicate this to a certain extent. My plan, from week 6 to 16, is to do three high mileage weeks (100 miles per week) followed by an easy week – so nine 100 mile weeks in total.
During the 100 mile weeks I will need to increase my walks to at least five per week, maybe six. I prefer to have three rest days per week if possible to reduce the chances of injury and also to accommodate my work. My usual training/working week involves walking Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday with the Tuesday and Thursday being shorter working days (less than 8 hours) and the Monday, Wednesday and Friday being upwards of ten hours at work. So it will be necessary to find the right balance and also ensure that I have plenty of time for family life and other activities including the swimming and stretching that I want to continue with. Also, when I start my high mileage training in February it will still be cold outside and the days will still be shorter, so there is likely to be a lot of walking in the dark before or after work – as opposed to when I did the high-mileage block back in 2019 during the summer.
During this time I will do a couple back-to-back 50+ km each day weekends and at least one 100km walk – probably an overnighter.
One of the things I would like to do is join Cardiff to Bristol on my map. Having walked from Holyhead to Cardiff and from London to Bristol, I want to close that gap. And I’m thinking that I could catch a bus to Cardiff on a Friday after work, walk up to Severn Bridge overnight, do the parkrun there on Saturday morning, and then walk down to Bristol before catching the bus back home. This could be a mini adventure in late March or early April perhaps.
- April/May (weeks 17 and 18)
A two week taper before the race.
My sole focus during the 18 week build-up is to build endurance. I am much stronger mentally than I was when I last walked a six day race, and I’m not so concerned about sleep deprivation for a six day race compared to the likes of the Thames Ring and Lon Las Ultra where I suffered badly. This is mainly because the nature of a six day race means that you can stop at any time to sleep – each lap is only about 1km – whereas in a point to point race sleep opportunities are usually dictated by the location of checkpoints or finding an appropriate place to sleep beside the trail/road.
The only speedwork I intend doing is my weekly parkrun, and even then, I won’t be going too fast if my niggly injuries don’t fully recover.
I started swimming in late October as a part of my recovery from my niggly injuries. I am also cycling to and from the gym where I swim and after each swim I spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching in the sauna at the gym. Ideally, I would like to continue this throughout the training period but this could be dependent on how much time I have available. I have never done much stretching in the past and am about as flexible as a brick but I’m hoping that if I continue the stretching my flexibility will improve and that will help with both the final stages of injury recovery and improving my overall speed when walking.
Even although I have made a deliberate attempt to reduce my Coca Cola consumption in recent years, I still consume at least two large bottles (about 3 litres in total) of Coke every weekend. So I am committing to not drinking any Coke at any time between January 1st and at least mid-March (my wife’s birthday).
In 2015 I stopped drinking Coke for three months (maybe longer, I can’t remember) and I lost seven kilograms with no other changes to my diet. But at the time I was drinking in excess of 2 litres of Coke every day, so that one dietary change made a big difference. This time I am hoping that it will make some difference to my weight but probably only a couple kilograms.
So that is my training plan. The big unknown is, will covid restrictions prevent travel to France for the race in May. If so, I have a back-up plan.
Firstly, if I can’t do the six day race starting on the 7th May I will do a seven day adventure walk in England – assuming we don’t have restrictions about domestic travel. I have an adventure walk planned (something that I don’t think anyone else has done previously) but I’m not even thinking about that at the moment as my focus is on going to France in May and walking 700km in six days!
And if the race goes ahead but we are not able to travel from England to France, then I will hopefully have the opportunity to do another six day race later in the year – probably the EMU six day race in Hungary in September, but other possibilities include six day races in a number of other European countries during the summer.
The thing is, at present the only six day race with racewalking judges is the 6 jours de France in May, so that is my focus.