My goal for the 2018 Continental Centurions Race in Schiedam, Holland, was to ‘officially’ break the NZ 24 hour record which I had unofficially beaten in the same race two years ago.
The Continental Centurion Race is a 100 mile race with a 24 hour option, but they don’t measure partially completed laps like most 24 hour races do, and in 2016 I had walked 182.598 kilometres (50 meters short of the official NZ record) when I completed my penultimate lap after 23 hours 57 minutes and 1 second. My total distance was recorded as 183.587km in 24 hours 5 minutes and 18 seconds, giving me an estimated 24 hour split of 182.950km, but this didn’t count for record purposes, and it had bugged me ever since.
When I originally planned out my 2018 year the Continental Centurions Race wasn’t on my list as I had intended racing in a 6 day event in Hungary during the first week of May, but injury over the winter meant that I was unable to do enough training to feel confident of a good 6 day result and instead I replaced the 6 day race with two 24 hour events – the French 24 hour championships in Dijon in April (where I finished 5th with 171.7km in the heat) and the Continental Centurions Race.
And unlike most of my recent races where I have started slowly, sitting in the back third of the field early on, and then worked my way through the field as the race went on, I decided that I would start aggressively this time, and aim to either smash both the 100 mile and 24 hour records or die trying (metaphorically speaking of course). My goal for the race if the conditions were good was to complete the 100 miles in under 20 hours (previous best was 20:58:27 from the same race in 2016) and to complete over 190km in the 24 hours. This race was to be my 20th walk of 100 miles or more and I thought walking 100 miles in under 20 hours would be a great achievement to mark the milestone.
Not wanting to use too much of my annual leave, I decided I would work on the Friday before travelling to Schiedam on the Friday evening. That plan went reasonably well except for the fact that the restaurant at the hotel had closed by the time I arrived a little after 10pm. I had eaten some of my ‘race food’ during the trip over (bus from work to airport, flight to Amsterdam, train to Schiedam) and had also bought some Burger King chips at Schiphol Airport while waiting for my train, so I was only intending to have a light meal anyway. But I would have preferred to top up my calories before going to bed.
I slept reasonably well, about 8 hours, and after waking on the Saturday morning I walked in to town to buy more race food and some breakfast. Unfortunately there wasn’t a McDonalds within walking distance so I settled for 6 ham filled croissants (1,500+ calories) which I ate over a period of a few hours while walking down to the race village and preparing for the 12 noon start.
Unlike my last race in Dijon where I was the only English speaking competitor, there was a large contingent of athletes from England and also the Isle of Man so plenty of people to talk to. The international competitors were assigned a large tent where we would be able to prepare for the race, and leave our bags, etc, but it turned out that we couldn’t be fed from within that tent so Judith (the wife of one of the English competitors) found another tent to base herself in, and the Isle of Man supporters relocated to the far end of the race village. Judith had kindly volunteered to feed and water me during the race.
It was a good catching up with old friends, most of which I hadn’t seen since the 2016 race or the 2017 UK Centurions Race in which I had done the 50 miler, and it wasn’t too long before we were asked to make our way down the path and around the corner to the start of the race.
After listening to a few speeches, the race started at exactly 12 noon. There were 60 starters in the 100 mile/24 hour event and 10 in the 50km walk starting at the same time (but with a slightly different start point), and later in the day another 50 competitors would join us for either the 50 mile or 100km races.
As planned, I started faster than I had two years ago, and faster than I had in probably all of my previous 24 hour races. In 2016 I had covered the first lap (3.494km) in 26:34 and was in 37th place at the end of the first lap. This year I had intended to start with a 26 minute lap (8km/hour average speed) and then settle in with 29 minutes per 3.936km lap (2016 average lap in the early stages was a shade over 30 minutes) but I was surprised when I saw the lap clock at the end of my first lap showing 25:05! I was in 8th place and feeling comfortable, the conditions were great – overcast and around 10 degrees – and I thought I may as well continue at this pace and see what happens.
The next few laps passed by in 28:15, 28:36, 29:02, 28:36, and 28:41. I was feeling good and when Franz Leijtens and Adam Killip (Holland and Isle of Man) caught me we enjoyed some conversation while we walked.
I completed my 7th lap in 28:57 but was starting to suffer a little from the early speed and let Adam walk off into the distance. Franz had already dropped a little bit behind me and I started to struggle. We were less than 3 ½ hours in to a 24 hour race and I was already struggling. Maybe I shouldn’t have started so fast. I was starting to get negative thoughts in my head already. Negative thoughts can kill a good race and I tried to push them out by focusing on the podcasts I was listening to while I walked.
I kept going but my laps kept getting slower. Lap 8 took 30:20 followed by a 31:29! I forced myself to focus on trying to pick up the speed and was able to average 30:32 for the next five laps. I was walking significantly slower than my plan, and also slower than I had walked in 2016 (although when I did the analysis post race, I was only 15 seconds per lap slower than in 2016 – see analysis graph at the bottom of this report).
I needed to take drastic action and switched my nutrition from fruit and water to coke and chocolate. My normal race strategy for a 24 hour event, or any long walk, is to avoid too much sugar in the first half/12 hours (depending on race distance) but if I didn’t do something soon, there was no chance that I would break the NZ records, and I definitely wouldn’t achieve my sub 20 hour 100 mile target – which was probably no longer realistic anyway.
The phycological effect of switching to coke boosted me and I completed the 16th lap in 29:33, my first sub 30 minute lap since lap 7. On crossing the finish line at the end of each lap you get to see your total elapsed time plus your last lap time on the screen in front of you and seeing a ‘29’ was a boost but short lived unfortunately. Mentally I was feeling better, but my lap times were not what I wanted/needed. The next four laps were all in the mid 30 minute range followed by two high 31 minute laps.
I had passed the 50 mile mark in 10 hours and 10 minutes and started thinking that a 100km PB might be a possibility if I could pick the pace up a little. My 100km PB was 12:42:44 (or so I thought), and in it isn’t very often that I get inside 13 hours during 100 mile/24 hour events – I think I have only done that once before, which was in the 2016 Continental Centurions Race.
After the two high 31 minute laps I calculated that I needed to complete 3 ½ more laps in the low 30 minute range but could only manage mid 30’s – the stats show that I walked 30:33, 30:25 and 30:13. I reached the 100km mark in 12:43:20 – 36 seconds short of my target. I told myself that I wasn’t here to walk a 100km PB, and I was about 10 minutes faster than any previous 100 mile/24 hour race at the same point, so kept pushing on – or at least I tried to. Again my pace dropped and shortly after I ended up with my slowest lap so far, and first 32 minute lap. As it turned out, I was wrong about my 100km PB. It was actually 12:44:42 (I had the minutes and seconds around the wrong way), so I did get a bonus 100km PB although I didn’t find that out until the Monday after the race.
I got through to 110km and was still losing time with laps in the 31 minute range. I was no longer thinking of a sub 20 hour or even sub 20:30 time for 100 miles, and instead found myself doing the calculations to see what I would need to do to just get a PB (20:58). I was confident that even if I continued to gradually slow down I should get under 20:58, but what about the 24 hour result? I wanted to ensure that I would cover at least 183km in full laps (to officially break the NZ record) and couldn’t afford to slow too much.
The course is designed so that the 100 mile mark is reached at the end of the 41st lap (40 big laps plus the first slightly smaller lap), and with five laps to go I had 3 hours and 47 minutes up my sleeve (for a sub 20:58). I calculated that that was over 32 minutes per lap and I was still managing 30’s and 31’s.
It was at this stage that the leader of the 100km race caught me. He had two laps to go and I had five. We chatted for a about half a lap and then we came around a corner and saw Frank van der Gulik (Holland) less than 50 meters in front of me. It was a complete surprise. At this stage I thought I was in 6th place and I told the guy I was walking with that I needed to pick up the pace as Frank was in 5th and I wanted to pass him strongly. It didn’t take me long to catch up the 50 meters. I sat in behind him for 10 or 20 seconds and then picked up the pace again to ensure that Frank didn’t try to stay with me when I passed him. By the next corner, when I looked behind me, he was 50 meters behind. Job done!
I kept the pace up though and checked the online results on my phone to confirm my position. It turned out that I was actually in 4th place, and only 3 minutes behind Adam who was in 3rd. I increased the pace again, and within a lap I had Adam in my sight. I did exactly the same as I had done a lap earlier with Frank – I walked up behind Adam and then rested for 10 or 20 seconds before putting in another surge to go past Adam as fast as I could. Again, I looked behind at the next corner and saw that Adam was already over 50 meters behind.
I completed that lap, the 4th to last before the 100 mile mark, in 29:03 – my fastest lap since lap 7. It just shows how much these events are a case of mind over matter. Whilst I thought I was going as hard as I could and ‘only’ managing mid-30 minute laps, when I saw Frank and then Adam, I had managed to put in two sub-30 minute laps reasonably easily.
I kept the pace up to ensure that neither Frank nor Adam would catch me. The guys in 1st and 2nd were 30 and 20 minutes ahead of me so no chance of catching them – at least not before the 100 mile mark which was my primary focus right now.
At the end of the 3rd to last lap I checked the online results again. The gaps back to Adam and Frank were big enough for me to feel comfortable that I would hold 3rd place, and without really intending to, I let the pace drop again with two high 31 minute laps through to 100 miles which I completed in 20:44:11 – a new PB and NZ record by a little over 14 minutes. I finished the 100 miler is 3rd place, less than 1 lap behind the winner.
The 100 mile results were:
The ‘CC’ number is the unique number assigned to a walker when they first complete a 100 mile race (in less than 24 hours) in Holland. My number, C432, in from 2016. The numbers in bold are those walkers who qualified for the first time in this year’s race.
Further details about Centurion race-walking can be found here.
This video shows the first five finishers of the 100 mile event:
The 24 hour race:
My goal had always been to cover more than 183km in 24 hours to ‘officially’ break the NZ 24 hour record, and it soon became obvious that everyone was ‘dropping out’ at 100 miles. It was now mid-morning and after yesterday’s overcast conditions, today was going to be hot and sunny.
I wished I could drop out also, and I struggled for the next three laps, my three slowest of the race, but then gave it one last mental push with a 29:35 and 29:58 before cruising through to the finish. I ended up with an ‘official’ NZ record and PB of 185.129km! Job done.
24 hour results:
A big thank you:
Whilst it might sound like the weekend was all about me and the effort I put in to the race, I could not have achieved the result without the amazing support provided by Judith Fisher, wife of fellow competitor Martin. Judith offered to provide support by handing me my food at the end of each lap. The Schiedam course is perfect in that respect in that it provides the opportunity to eat every 30 minutes without needing to remember whether you ate last lap or need to eat next lap, and without having to carry food with you. You simply eat every lap. So every lap I would tell Judith what I wanted and she would hand it to me at the end of the next lap. Most laps I got food from Judith and a drink from the official aid station about 20 meters up the path from where she was stationed. Occasionally, if I wanted more than half a cup of water or coke, she would give me a bottle of water or a can of coke. I was never left in need, and owe a big ‘thank you’ to Judith.
In 2016 my fastest lap (excluding the first lap) was 29:28 and I averaged 30:59. This year my fastest lap was 28:15 and I walked 7 laps faster than my quickest 2016 lap. My average lap time was 30:40 – only 19 seconds per lap, or 5 seconds per kilometre, faster than 2016. But 5 seconds per kilometre over 24 hours adds up to almost 15 minutes.
The graph below shows my cumulative average speed (kilometres per hour) as at the end of each lap throughout the race:
The following graph shows my speed for each individual lap compared to my overall average speed as at the end of each lap. You can see how erratic my pace was and how I was able to pick the pace up when I focussed mentally on walking technique and pushing the pace. I’m sure that if I could focus mentally for the whole 24 hours, then a sub-20 hour time would be possible.
And this graph shows the cumulative average speed of the top five finishers plus the early leader who dropped out shortly after 100km. The graph only shows the first 41 laps as all but myself stopped at 100 miles. The graph shows how far behind I was mid-race. At 100km I was 18 minutes behind Adam and 21 minutes behind Frank. Those margins grew to 20 and 25 minutes respectively before I started to pick them up again. At 110km, Birger (the 100 mile winner) was 51 minutes in front of me. I was faster than him on 12 of the last 13 laps and reduced his lead by 24 minutes during that time.
Lastly, my rewards for the weekend, three cups: 3rd in the 100 mile race, completing the 100 miles, and winning the 24 hour race.
My next race:
These last two races have taken a bit more out of me than I expected. My main race for 2018 is the Privas 6 day race in August and I have decided that has got to be my primary focus between now and August. My next race will be the UK Last One Standing in June. The idea of this race is that competitors have to run (or in my case walk) a 4 mile loop every hour, starting on the hour. If you don’t finish within the hour, you are out. The winner is “the last one standing”. I thought this might be a bit of fun and good training, and I’m looking forward to seeing how a walker can compete against runners in an event like this.
After that I had intended to walk from Paris to London in early July, but I have decided to focus on training for Privas instead, and will postpone this walk until next year.