Privas 6 day race – 6 jours de France

It’s just past 8pm on Thursday 27th October and I’ve found the meaning of life!

Privas 6 day race - at 100 hours
Privas 6 day race – at 100 hours

I’ve been walking around a track in the 6 jours de France (Privas 6 day race) in France for 100 hours but I don’t feel any pain or tiredness.  For the first time in the race I am not concerned with my placing in the race, how far I have walked, or whether I will meet my mileage target.  The world is so peaceful.

There is a steady stream of athletes in front of me, walking in single file down the back straight of the cinders track.  The majority of the people in front of me are entered in the race as runners, but at this moment everyone is walking, and the world feels like it is in perfect equilibrium.  After days of questioning my sanity, and the sanity of everyone around me, especially those people who have done this race before, I now understand.  I understand why we are doing this.  I understand why people keep coming back year after year, and why I will be back again next year.

6 jours de France:

But let’s go back to the beginning.  What is the 6 jours de France and why am I here?

I’ve been race-walking for a little over four years, and before that I dabbled in ultra-distance running for a few years after a return to running in 2006 following a ten year break during which time I had lost all my speed.

Ever since 2006 I have been pushing the boundaries further and further, trying to see how far I can go.  Unfortunately, as a runner I found my limits when my right ankle gave out on me, and whilst I persevered for a while, I eventually dropped running altogether in favour of race-walking which was low impact and didn’t cause my ankle any pain.

I continued to increase the distances and to find races that were longer and longer, and my sole focus for the whole of 2016 has been the 6 jours de France, a six day race in Privas, France – six days, or 144 hours, of walking around a 1,025 meter circuit with 29 other walkers and 125 runners.  My longest race prior to this was the 3 day version of the same event which I raced in August 2015, and in that race I gave up after 67 hours and watched the last 5 hours of the race from the grandstand.

My goal was to a) walk at least 700km, and b) win the race.  I had yet to win a walking race in Europe and I only managed 283km in last year’s 3 day race which was well short of the average pace I would need to walk 700km in six days, so why did I think I could do this?

The short answer is that I have belief in my ability to push myself harder than ever before.  In my training towards this race I had walked 36 hours without sitting down once during the 2016 edition of the Grand Union Canal Race, and I had walked 183km in 24 hours at the Continental Centurions Race in May.  Simple maths told me that this was over 50% further per day further than I would need to walk during each day of the 6 day race, so surely that meant 700km in 6 days (117km per day) would be easy, wouldn’t it?  I ignore the fact that only five people had walked 700km in six days before now, and that many walkers who are faster than me over the ‘shorter’ distances had tried and failed to achieve 700km.

I had the attitude of ‘shoot for the moon, and if I miss, I would at least land amongst the stars’.

The build up:

Privas is in the South East of France, 900km from Calais by road.  I know this because I decided that I wanted to take a mattress to sleep on during the short sleeping periods I had planned for the six days of the race, and to get a mattress to Privas I decided it would be easiest to drive from my home in London, down to Dover, catch the ferry to Calais, and then drive to Privas.  So I left home on the morning of Thursday 20th October and spent Thursday and Friday driving to Privas with a car full of everything that we (our team consisted of Kathy Crilley, Suzanne Beardsmore, and myself who were all walking in the six day race, and Louise, Jim and Noel, who would be supporting us) would need – my mattress, a couple tents, our sleeping bags, food, clothing, etc.

The rest of the team travelled by train on the Friday and we all arrived in Privas in time for dinner on Friday evening.  Saturday was preparation day.  After breakfast we went down to the track, which would be our home for the next six days, to pitch our tents and meet some of the other competitors.  We had lunch at the tennis club beside the track and were overwhelmed when we went to pay, only to find that one of the French competitors had decided to shout us, and had already paid for our lunch.  Our next surprise was when another competitor came up to Suzanne and I with some photos of us from other races which he wanted us to sign for him.  We felt like celebrities 🙂

It was a beautiful day on Saturday but on Sunday morning we woke up to light rain and when we arrived at the track we found that the athletics track was under water.  The course was supposed to consist of a 400 meter inner loop around the athletics track, and a 600 meter outer loop that goes behind the grandstand and around the outside parameter of the athletics track with a small U shaped portion past the medical and food tents and back around towards the grandstand.  Because of the rain though, the organisers made a decision to start with just the outer loop meaning that 170 athletes would be running and walking their way around a short 600 meter lap which was probably an extra meter or two longer due to the need to dodge puddles along the way.  It would have been impossible to walk on the athletics track though, so this was definitely the best decision.

Privas 6 day race circuit
The planned circuit

Privas 6 day race under water
The inner loop was under water

Day 1 – finding my feet:

Race start was scheduled for 4pm.  We arrived at the track late morning and unpacked clothes, first aid, supplies, food, etc, into our tents, and then I climbed in to my sleeping bag in an effort to keep warm and stay horizontal, keeping the weight off my legs until the last possible moment.

I had decided to document my race via a series of YouTube videos, recording one short video after each day of the race, and to fill in time I recorded this short video while waiting for the start:

Eventually it was time to put my race gear (my wet weather gear) on and walk the short distance from my tent over to the start area, have a quick chat with my support team and wish other competitors luck, and then we were off!

6 jours de France start 2016
The start – dressed for the conditions

I felt comfortable in the early stages. For the first few hours I averaged slightly faster than 5 minutes per lap (8 minutes per kilometre) and right from the start I settled in to my eating plan – something small to eat every 30 minutes, averaging around 100 to 150 calories each time.  With a 4pm start it wasn’t too long before dark, and the first 12 hours went by reasonably quickly.  It was good to catch up with some competitors whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s race including Australian runner, Sarah Barnett, who had a small surprise for me.  About 8 hours in to the race she came up beside me with a present – a packet of Anzac biscuits – which I slowly ate my way through during the next few days.

The plan was to walk 150 to 160km in the first 24 hours with a short break to put my feet up at 12 hours, but by 21 hours I was already struggling with tiredness and decided to bring me first sleep forward.  I covered 138km in the first 21 ½ hours and then with the help of Louise, I popped some small blisters which were the result of walking in wet socks since the start of the race (it had rained on and off for almost all of the first day) and then slept for 3 ½ hours.

Day 2 – torrential rain:

When I woke up again I coated my feet with a fresh layer of 2Toms Anti-Blister powder and put on some fresh shoes and socks.  Because of the rain I had decided to wear both my Injinji toe socks and a second paid of thin socks whereas normally I just wear the Injinji socks.  I felt better now that I had had a sleep and quickly got back in to a routine although we were now walking 6 minutes per lap rather than the 5 minute laps of 24 hours earlier.

Privas 6 day raceI passed 100 miles in almost exactly 30 hours and it was just before 37 ½ hours into the race when the 200km mark ticked by.  I rewarded myself with another short break but found that I couldn’t sleep due to the pain I was feeling, particularly in my hips, but it was good to have 30 minutes off my feet again.

This was when I first realised how sore my feet were.  Every time I stopped from now until the end of the race, it took me two laps of hobbling before the pain in my feet stopped and I could walk normally.  Further in to the race I also found that if I stopped, my upper leg muscles tightened up so much that it took two laps for them to loosen up after each rest stop, even if the rest was just for a few minutes.

I really struggled to get going again though and experienced my worst low of the race on Tuesday morning, just 40 hours in to the race.  I was in serious pain both physically and mentally.  Every part of me hurt, or so I thought.  I was close to tears, feeling absolutely miserable, and then Jim gave me some porridge for breakfast.  Incredibly, within a lap I was feeling great.  I had a second porridge and picked up the pace for a lap or two.  Unfortunately this was short-lived and 30 minutes later I was experiencing severe pain in my right glut and paid my first visit to the medical tent.  The physio found the source of the pain and had me in agony as he worked his magic.  But whatever he did, it worked, and I didn’t experience any more serious pain again during the race.  It is surprising how the body adapts.  Pains came and went through the remainder of the race.  At different times over the next 100 hours I experienced pain in almost every muscle and tendon in my legs.  Many times I thought the pain would require me to visit the physio again, and then before I knew it, the pain was a distant memory.

My goal for day 2 was to improve my New Zealand 48 hour record which I had set at 233km in last year’s three day race.  If I had had the race I planned I expected to get through to about 270km in the first 48 hours but for some reason I just wasn’t going as fast as I expected.

Shortly after 10:30 on Tuesday morning, 42 ½ hours into the race, it looked like any plans to improve my record were about to be washed away.  The heavens opened and within minutes we were all saturated and the majority of the course was underwater.  We were still walking on the outer loop only, but even that was ankle deep in water in places.  Louise advised that the forecast was for heavy rain for the next four hours, and I decided that trying to continue in these conditions would most likely result in irreversible blister damage to my feet which would jeopardise my 6 day race plans.  It would be better to rest now while it rained and potentially miss out on improving my 48 hour record, than to risk the whole race.  So I headed to my tent with the idea of getting some sleep, only to find that my tent was suffering in the rain.  It was threatening to collapse and was leaking in places.  I ended up spending much of the next hour keeping the tent standing whilst also eating and tending to my feet.

An hour after the rain started, it suddenly stopped, and just as quickly, the majority of the surface water on the outer loop of the course disappeared and we all started our race again.  At this stage I had completed 217km and was just 16km short of my minimum target for the day.

After covering just 138km on day one I was only able to add another 100km to this on day two, which extended my NZ record by 5km to 238km (exact distance still to be confirmed).

Day 3 – my worst day:

My second sleep of the race was just 2 ½ hours long but I was off the track for almost 4 hours in total.  I popped a couple more small blisters before sleeping and then after waking I coated my feet with 2Toms Anti-Blister powder and put on a fresh pair of Injinji toe socks for what turned out to be the last time – as the race progressed we made the decision not to touch my feet again unless absolutely necessary, and in the end I walked almost 400 more kilometers in the same shoes and socks.

It was 8:30pm now, going in to our third night, and I was still focused on the leaderboard and still hoped to win the race.  When I stopped for my sleep I was in 2nd place, not far behind Christophe Biet who was leading, but by the time I started walking again four hours later I had slipped to 5th.  It seemed that the race would be won by the person who had the least amount of sleep over the remaining four days, and I was aiming that that would be me!

6 jours de France - the third night
Looking a little worn out after 57 hours

I walked for almost 9 hours before my next short break and by 57 hours I had worked my way back up to 2nd place.  It was now 5am and once again I was struggling with tiredness.  Jim was on duty in our support area and he suggested that if I had a 15 minute sleep he would stand outside my tent and would wake me when my 15 minutes was up.  By now I had moved in to Suzanne’s tent as she had had to withdraw from the race and my tent had flooded during the downpour the previous day.  The tent was set up so that I could sleep on my mattress with my feet slightly elevated and as soon as I lay down I noticed the pounding in my feet.  I could feel every heartbeat pulsating through my sore and swollen feet, but it was also like a comforting feeling and within seconds I was asleep.

Seconds later, or so it seemed, my 15 minutes was up and Jim was telling me that it was time to get moving again.  As I had found earlier, trying to walk after a break was a painful process.  My feet were sore and my leg muscles were tight.  It took a few laps to get moving again, and I was really struggling.

This race was a series of highs and lows.  I felt like a drug addict (not that I have any first hand experience of this) in that I was drifting through time going from one high to another.  The highs were great.  They were often way too short, and you never knew just when they would come – or go.  But worse, much worse, were the lows.  You could be walking along feeling great and then all of a sudden you would be in the depths of despair.  It got to the stage on day 3 when I didn’t want another high because I knew that the low after the high would be so painful.  I was in seriously bad shape, although looking back now as I write this, I know that it was almost all mental.  I was tired, but it wasn’t the tiredness that was causing the problems.  It was my inability to push myself mentally, and this is something I will be working on in the future.

Day 3 was the hardest day of the race for me but as the crowds started to build in preparation for the start of the 72 hour race, I finally started to come right again and at 71 hours I decided to push myself for the last hour before ‘half time’.  We were still on the 600 meter outer loop and I managed ten laps in the last 60 minutes to bring up 334km for the first 72 hours – although this was only 96km for day 3.

Privas 6 day race - half time
Half time!

Privas 6 day race spectators
The crowds aren’t as big as my memory thinks they were

Privas 6 day race - Richard McChesney
A quick half time selfie

Privas 6 day race leaderboard
The leaderboard at half time

Day 4 – playing leap frog:

My high from the end of day 3 continued for another 4 hours before the inevitable low.  By 76 hours I was back in 2nd place just 4km behind the leader, but I was struggling again.  My quads felt really heavy and I decided to have another sleep.  The problem was that I was so cold that I couldn’t sleep and after wasting about 30 minutes trying to sleep I decided I would be better off lying on the massage table than in my tent.  So I walked the half lap from my tent around to the medical tent and found that they were just about to close for the night.  Fortunately they took pity on me and the physio I had seen earlier gave my legs a massage – if you ever want to visit a physio or a masseuse without an appointment, just enter a six day race and use the resources in the medical tent 🙂 .  The massage worked wonders and I was back ‘racing’ again, but by this stage I was 14km behind the leader.

We were also now walking the full 1,025 meter course which perked me up a bit.  Firstly, the nature of the course meant that as you walked down the back straight of the inner loop, you got to see the other athletes who were walking towards you on the other side of the fence that separated the inner and outer loops.  For the first time since the race had started  we got to see the faces of the other competitors.  Secondly, the fact that the organisers had decided to open up the inner loop must mean that there was no more rain forecast for the remaining 55 hours of the race!

I struggled through the night and eventually decided that I needed another sleep at 4am, 84 hours into the race.  I asked Jim, who was now permanently rostered on to the graveyard shift within our support team, to wake me at 8am and went straight to sleep.  Before Jim came to wake me I found myself awake and needing to pee urgently.  The loos weren’t too far from the tent but the call of nature wasn’t going to wait for me to walk the 100 odd meters required so I climbed out behind the tent and watered the grass.  On checking my watch I realised that I had only been asleep 30 minutes so I decided to go back to sleep rather than re-join the race.  Another urgent call of nature awoke me an hour or so later, and again I decided to go back to sleep, eventually getting 3 ½ hours sleep to give me about ten hours sleep since the race began 88 hours earlier.

It was now daylight, 8am on Thursday morning, and when I resumed walking Jim offered me my morning porridge.  We had got in to a routine by now.  Around 8 or 9pm each evening Noel made my dinner which was pasta with a different sauce each night – not that my taste buds were working any longer – and then before she went back to the hotel each night, she would make me an omelette sometime between midnight and 1am. Jim would make porridge for breakfast at around 8’ish each morning, and during every other waking moment, Louise (day shift), Noel (evening shift), and Jim (graveyard shift) would feed me every 30 minutes.  As I completed the lap before I was due to be fed I would be asked what I wanted to eat.  Sometimes I couldn’t decide and would tell the team to “surprise me”.  Sometimes I would be specific and tell them I want half a bag of pork scratchings, or two biscuits and water, or half an apple, etc.  Other times, they would just hold out two sandwich bags containing food and I would grab one as I walked past.  Most times they would follow me so that I could have a quick drink and hand back the water bottle.  I remember at one stage sending Louise off to buy me a White Chocolate Magnum.  She came back with two!

Some of the food I took to the race - this is what 40,000 calories looks like
Some of the food I took to the race – this is what 40,000 calories looks like

I have no idea how many calories I ate during the six days, but food was one way that I could occasionally get out of a low.  It didn’t always work though and on the afternoon of day 4 I was going through another bad patch when I remembered that I had brought a small rubber frog with me which I was planning on using on day 5 (which I had expected to be the hardest day of the race) to entertain me.  Noel was walking a lap with me at the time and I asked her to find the rubber frog in my tent and when she gave it to me I placed it on the ground in the middle of the track.

Playing leap frog
Playing leap frog

The moment I put the frog down I had a fleeting thought that I hope the French don’t take this the wrong way and think I am insulting them with a frog (given that the English are known for referring to the French as ‘frogs’).  Fortunately they didn’t, and for the next 2 ½ days we played a game of ‘leap frog’ whereby myself and several other competitors would pick the frog up when they saw it and move it around the course.  After initially placing the frog on the track I didn’t see it again for about 3 ½ laps, but when I came upon the frog again I picked it up, carried it another 50 or 60 meters, and then placed it on the track for someone else to move.  Over the next two days the frog moved from place to place.  I remember seeing it sitting on top of a road cone for a while on Friday and on the Saturday morning I remember seeing someone accidentally kick it, stop and pick it up off its back, and put it back where it was.  They say that small things amuse small minds.  Next year I think I might take a gnome 🙂

By the end of day 4 I had completed 421km meaning that my day 4 total was only 87km and that if I was to achieve my goal of 622km (the NZ and Commonwealth 6 day record) I was going to have to walk 201km within the next 48 hours!

Day 5 – Now I understand:

The majority of the competitors in this year’s six day race were hardened veterans of multi-day races.  Of the top five in the walk I was the only novice (and only non-Frenchman), and in the run there were competitors such as Sarah Barnett from Australia who had already competed in, and won, the New York 10 day race earlier this year and was using the Privas 6 day race as a buildup to an 8 day race starting just 2 weeks after the finish of this race!  William Sichel from the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) was competing in his 101st ultra-marathon which includes numerous multi-day races, and American, Bill Heldenbrand was chasing yet another US age group record for the six day event, his second six day race of 2016.  During the first few days of the race I asked all three of them what it was that brought them back to races like this year after year (Sarah and Bill had both raced at Privas last year) and all three gave me answers that didn’t convince me that I would ever do a multi-day race again.

BUT…

At almost exactly 100 hours in to the race I understood.

I was walking down the back straight of the inner loop. There were about 20 people walking single file in front of me.  Most of them would have been runners, but no one was running.  Everyone was walking.  I wasn’t tired or fatigued from 100 hours of walking around this godforsaken track. I didn’t feel any pain.  It was the most beautiful night you could imagine walking under the floodlights without a breath of wind in the air. For the first time since the race began I didn’t care how what distance I had completed so far, or what my total distance would be at the finish, and I didn’t care what place I was in either.  It was at that moment that I understood why people do these races, and why I will be back next year!

It started a few hours earlier when one of the French competitors started chatting to me.  To be honest, I had avoided trying to communicate with anyone who didn’t speak English as I was having enough trouble concentrating on the race without trying to concentrate on a conversation that I couldn’t fully understand (any my French language skills are non-existent!), but this Frenchman, whose name I cannot remember, wanted to talk to me because I was an ‘All Black’.  He was a huge rugby fan and wanted to talk about New Zealand, the All Blacks, and much more.  I remember him telling me that he eats New Zealand lamb, and he was able to name the majority of the All Blacks.  He also told me that many years ago he set the French 100km record as a roller skater.

And it was having this long conversation, which probably lasted 2 or 3 laps, that got me out of my low and back to a ‘medium’ that I was able to hold for the majority of day 5.

New Zealand 500km record:

When Gerald Manderson set the New Zealand and Commonwealth 6 day record in the famous Colac 6 day race in Australia in 1999, he passed 500km in 4 days and 19 hours so I set this as a goal for day 5.  My original goal before the start of the race was to smash that time, and the 6 day record, and continue on to complete at least 700km, but it was now looking like the 622km six day record would barely be possible, and in order to reach that goal I needed the mental boost of breaking the 500km record.

Around 6am (108 hours in to the race) I decided that I needed another quick 15 minute sleep and as with my last 15 minute sleep two days earlier I asked Jim to stand outside my tent and wake me as soon as the 15 minutes was up.  I, again, lay on my mattress fully dressed and fell asleep within seconds using the throbbing of my feet as a distraction to help my mind settle.  Right on queue Jim woke me and I started the two lap shuffle that I needed to get my feet and legs working again.  Jim gave me a can of coke and a chocolate bar to boost my blood sugar levels, and before I knew it was feeling good again.  The fact that I only had 20km to go to get the 500km record helped.  It was going to be a beautiful day too, and then helped me mentally.

The problem with timed events like this is that interim records are only recorded at the completion of the lap in which they fall.  This meant that I actually had to walk an additional 500 meters to complete my 500km, but this didn’t matter as a couple hundred meters into the lap, Laurant, one of the race volunteers’ ran up to me with the New Zealand flag for me to carry for the remainder of my 500km lap, and the officials made some announcements over the loud speaker system in French which I assume were acknowledgments of my record achievement.

Officially I beat the previous record by about an hour with a time of 4 days, 18 hours, 3 minutes, and 5 seconds (still to be confirmed – read on further as it may be faster than that).

NZ 500km race-walking record holder - Richard McChesney NZ 500km race-walking record holder - Richard McChesney
About to shake hands with race organiser, Gerard Cain, after breaking the NZ 500km record
About to shake hands with race director, Gerard Cain, after breaking the New Zealand 500km record

Having completed the lap I sat down at our support area for a few minutes and had a celebratory coke and chocolate bar.  Those few minutes became a few more minutes, and it was probably 20 minutes before I got started again.  Louise kept telling me that I still had a long way to go and to ‘stop wasting time’ but to be honest, I was spent.

I eventually got moving again but after two or three very slow laps I decided that I should have another sleep and headed for my tent again.  This time I had a much needed 2 ½ hour sleep bringing up a total of about 12 ½ hours sleep since the race began.  On waking up again at around 2pm (118 hours in to the race) I hoped that that would be my last sleep of the race.  I had 26 hours left and needed to walk another 117km to get the six day record.  I had also slipped to 4th place and whilst I had long since given up on any idea of winning the race, I at least wanted to make the top 3.

Two hours later, at the end of day 5, I had completed 517km.  My day 5 total was 96km and I needed to walk another 105, preferably 106km, to secure the six day record.  I didn’t have time for any more sleep!

Day 6 – The final day:

Walking 106km in a day isn’t hard – unless you have already been walking for 5 days, that is.

The maths wasn’t so hard to calculate now – just take the distance to go and divide by the number of hours to go.  No need to take into account any more sleep breaks (hopefully).  Things weren’t looking good though.  I needed to average around 14 minutes per 1,025 meter lap for 24 hours.  Easy!

The problem was that I was struggling to walk 18 minute laps so I decided to pay a visit to the medical tent for another massage, justifying that if I spent 30 to 40 minutes getting a massage, not only would that get me back to sub 14 minute pace, but it might get me back to 10 or 12 minute pace, and if I could do that, then 622km would definitely be possible.  Maybe even 400 miles (644km) might be an option.

So I visited my favourite French physio, come masseur, but whilst the problem was partially physical, the bigger problem was in my head.  I just didn’t have the mental strength to keep pushing myself at the required pace.

I pushed through the night with Jim again feeding me every 30 minutes.  It was the coldest night of the race, and that didn’t help either.

I wanted to stop.  I was so tired.  But Jim did his best to keep me going.  At once stage I remember him telling me that whilst we still had a mathematical chance of beating the record, we had to keep going.  But at around 6am with just ten hours and 50km to go, I couldn’t do it anymore.  I needed some sleep and I headed off to my tent half a lap further around the track.

After less than 90 minutes sleep (giving me about 14 hours for the whole race) I was awake and walking again.  To be honest, by this stage I have a few memory blanks, but I remember seeing Suzanne and someone else (probably Louise) in the supporters area as I resumed walking.  I told them that my goal now was just to get past 600km.  I didn’t come all this way to not get what I considered to be an ‘acceptable’ distance.

Stripping my way up the world rankings:

I can’t remember how it happened, but by mid-morning it was starting to get hot and I was still wearing 2 pairs of long pants and at least 4 tops.  I was also now in to the top 25 on the world 6 day rankings and somehow someone suggested that I could take one item of clothing off each time I moved up a place on the world rankings.  Louise reassured me that it was only going to be a few more laps and I would move up three places on one lap, and sent me on my way.

I doubt that this new game made me walk any faster, but it helped pass the time, and within an hours or so I was back down to shorts and T Shirt – at which stage we stopped the game!

The finish!

Richard McChesney at 600km in Privas 6 day race
600km completed!

Eventually I passed 600km and stopped briefly for a photo.

There was less than one hour to go so I kept plodding on.  Before the race I had thought that the last day would be the easiest day of the race as there would be an end in sight, but I hadn’t yet seen anything to confirm my expectations.  Today definitely wasn’t my worst day, but it wasn’t easy either.

With 36 minutes to go I finished the lap that took me past 602km and I thought to myself that if I speed up a little, I could probably complete 4 more laps and finish with a total distance of 606km.

I picked up the pace and walked exactly 9 minutes for the next lap – 3 laps to go I thought to myself.

Then another lap of slightly under 9 minutes.  I was feeling good and picked up the pace even further.

Six minutes for the next lap!  I was suddenly on fire!  I don’t know what happened but I was flying, passing runners and walkers alike.

Another six minute lap, and six minutes to go.

I flew around the last lap like it was a 5km race.  In fact my last 3km was at a pace only marginally slower than my 5km PB pace – and that was after six days of racing.

With one minute to go a horn sounded and I picked up the pace for the final sprint.  Most athletes were taking it easy and congratulating each other on their efforts.  I was passing them on the left, passing them on the right, going right through the middle.  I was passing people that I had passed just a lap or two earlier!

6 jours de France - Richard McChesney
Flying! Not long to go now.

And then it was over.  The horn sounded.  We all stopped and put down the wooden stick we had been handed a few laps earlier containing our race number.  The officials would then measure how far we had walked during our last lap – which in my case was about 950 meters (I didn’t quite complete the last lap) – and add that to our total distance, but for the athletes it was time to relax.

I walked through the start/finish area and over to the area where our support team had based themselves for the last six days.  It was time for a coke and some chocolate.

We had about an hour until the awards ceremony and as I hadn’t had a shower for six days my support team seemed pretty keen that I should go back to the hotel for a shower before the presentation.  And that was when I had the strangest feeling; I have done hundreds of races over the years and for the huge majority of them you drive to the race in the morning, park the car, do the race, then drive home.  When I got in the car to drive back to the hotel for a shower it felt just like that.  For a few moments it felt to me like we had driven down to the race in the morning, I had done the race, and now, in the afternoon, we were driving home.  It was as if it had only been a few hours since I had got out of the car, not six days!

Final results:

Upon finishing I thought I had completed 607km. The results board showed 606.125km and I had walked about 950 meters of the finial 1,025 meter lap.  When we arrived back at the track for the awards ceremony the results were showing 612.003km.  From what I could understand, when we had the heavy rain on the first night of the race, the lap count for all athletes had been affected and these had now been corrected.

I started thinking back through the last 24 hours, and the mental stress I had gone through chasing the 622km New Zealand record, and eventually giving up on that chase when I had what I thought was 50km to go in 10 hours.  Would things have been different if I had known that it was only 45km that I needed to complete in the last 10 hours?  Too late to worry about that now though.  I had done the best I could based on the information I had and my physical and mental state during the race.  I had already decided during my ‘moment of peace’ on Thursday night that I would be back next year, so it didn’t matter what my final distance was, I would get the record next year!

In the end I finished in 3rd place amongst the walkers and 24th overall out of 155 competitors.  Depending on which world rankings list you look at (French or Spanish) I am either the 14th or 17th best six day race walker in history, and the second best in New Zealand and the Commonwealth.  I’m happy with that result.

6 day racewalking world rankings as per the Spanish Wikipedia site
6 day racewalking world rankings as per the Spanish Wikipedia site – https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/6_d%C3%ADas_marcha

NOTE, at the time of writing this my final result has been adjusted further to 614.192km because the short outer loop that we walked for the first 3 and a bit days has been remeasured.

6 jours de France Marche results 2016
The final results – 3rd place with 614.192km (http://bases.athle.com/asp.net/liste.aspx?frmbase=resultats&frmmode=1&frmespace=0&frmcompetition=180934)

Both adjustments will affect my 48 hour and 500km NZ records and I have requested a copy of my lap splits from the race organisers.  These should be available within the next week and I will update this race report with a note as to what the final results were, but in the meantime I am now almost two weeks in to a well-earned rest.

Incredibly my legs recovered within a day, two at the most.  I am a big fan of compression clothing and whilst I only remembered to put compression tights on for two of my sleeps during the race, I wore compression tights from the time I finished the race though until I woke up on Sunday morning.  And by Sunday afternoon I was walking almost normally, and without any pain or discomfort.

Suzanne, a nurse in a former life, attended to my feet on Saturday night after the race finished and after all my complaining during the race she was disappointed to find that I only had one big blister and two small blisters.  Not bad considering I had worn the same shoes and socks for the last 370km of the race!  Again, I am a big fan of 2Toms Anti-Blister powder combined with wearing Injini toe socks.  I recommend this combination to anyone who competes in any long distance running or walking events.

Suzannes facebook post about my blisters

Some thank you’s:

I am extremely grateful to everyone that helped me in any way either during the race or in the lead-up.  I’m sure I won’t remember everyone but in particular:

  • My wife, Ruth. I know that you have made many sacrifices over the last year to help me chase my dream.  Whether it be putting up with me waking up at 3am to go out training (I try to be as quiet as I can), collecting me from the end of a point to point race (Paddington on a Sunday night after the Grand Union Canal Race for example), putting up with me spending the last few pounds I have (until next payday) on race expenses or equipment, missing out on a family holiday this year because I needed to use three weeks annual leave for this race, having dinner ready for me when I get home from training, cheering me on via the phone during the race, the list goes on.  I appreciate everything you have done to help me achieve my goal.
  • The rest of my family. At various stages during the race I spoke to both of my parents in NZ and all four of our children (Jacinda, Jarrad, Mathew and Zac) who are scattered around the world. It was great to talk to them, especially during my low periods.
  • My incredible support team. Thanks Louise, Jim and Noel. Without everything you did for me during the race I am certain that I wouldn’t have reached 600km.
    Thanks so much.  And if you aren’t doing anything next year and want another trip to Privas …
  • Suzanne and Kathy. Congratulations on your UK age group record Kathy (Kathy’s race report is here), and I’m sorry your race didn’t go to plan Suzanne.  Thanks both of you for your support before and during the race.
  • All the other competitors who gave me encouraging comments during the race, particularly on day 4 when I was in so much destress. And also Alan, William Sichel’s support person, thanks for your encouraging comments.
  • To all the people that posted and commented on facebook during the race. Thanks for your comments and support.  Reading those really helped when I was going through the many low periods of the race.  Modern technology is great!
  • Beate Guenther (Osteopath). If it wasn’t for Beate I might not have made it to the start line. I was struggling with an injury in August but after just two visits to see Beate I was back training and by the time I started the race I was completely recovered.
  • Shaun Lightman. Shaun, a former Olympic race-walker, coaches a small group in Bromley which I have been training with occasionally during the last six months.  He has given me plenty of pointers about my technique which hopefully are making me walk more efficiently – although that isn’t easy over six days!
  • Fitbit UK & Ireland. I love my fitbit, and the support you have given me this year has really helped.
  • Strictly Banners (UK and NZ).  Thanks for your support.
  • And I am sure that there are many others, so please don’t be offended I haven’t mentioned you.

What’s next:

It’s now almost two weeks since the race finished.  I have recovered really well physically, but mentally I think I need a bit more time.  I’m not planning on racing again this year but I’m already looking for an excuse to resume light training.

Obviously I have to go back and do the race again.  I learnt a lot this year and still think that 700km is possible.  I want to have a few sessions with a sports phycologist as I need to work on the mental side of things.  I lost way too much distance by both mucking around and not walking fast enough during the low periods, and I think a sports phycologist could help me in this area.

So 2017 will be solely focused on this race again.  The race date will be announced before Christmas but is likely to be in July.  Once I know the date I will build a race plan for 2017 which is likely to include two or three races of 100 miles or further, possibly starting with the Bourges 24 hour race at the beginning of March, and if the race is in July then I will probably finish the summer with the Roubaix 28 hour race in September.  I would also like to have another attempt at a non-stop circumnavigation of the M25 during the summer, which will probably be my charity fundraising walk next year.

You probably won’t hear from me again until next year, so thanks for reading my blog and my race reports this year.

 

Richard

Some more photos:

 

Privas stadium from top of hill
The track viewed from the hills above

Richard McChesney catching up on facebook at Privas 6 day race
Catching up on facebook
Fitbit step count at 6 jours de France 2016
My fitbit step count – 761,000 steps from 4pm Sunday to 4pm Saturday
Raining in Privas
The torrential downpour
Richard McChesney at Privas 6 day race Richard McChesney at Privas 6 day race
Facebook post after day 4 of the 6 jours de France
My facebook post at the end of day 4 – A reminder to myself not to do this race again
Facebook post after day 5 of the 6 jours de France
And 24 hours later. A reminder why I need to do this race again!
Richard McChesney at 6 jours de France richard-mcchesney-6-jours-de-france-day-4

Richard McChesney at 6 jours de France

Richard McChesney at the 2016 Privas 6 day race
I don’t remember sitting down to eat during the race, but photos don’t lie.

Richard McChesney at Privas 6 day race
A preview of what I will look like when I’m a homeless 70 year old!
Early morning on day 3 at Privas 6 day race
Early morning on day 3
6 jours de France awards ceremony
The awards ceremony

6 jours de France 3rd place cup
3rd place cup

6 jours de France finishers medal
Finishes medal – 10cm in diameter and weighs over 500 grams!

There are also some great photos here: http://www.cybermarcheur.com/t8909-6-jours-de-france-categorie-marche-en-photos

Update:

Having received the detailed lap splits, my important split times/distances from the race are:

  • 48 hours – 240.459km (149.45 miles) NZ Record
  • 500km – 4 days, 16 hours, 55 minutes, 8 seconds – NZ Record
  • 6 days – 614.192km (381.7 miles)

Also, in the lead-up to the 6 jours de France, during the race, and afterwards, Chris Desmond from the Uncomfortable Is OK Podcast interviewed me and then compiled this podcast: http://uncomfortableisok.libsyn.com/uiok-31-not-taking-your-socks-off-for-4-dayssuffering-is-ok-with-richard-mcchesney

 

7 thoughts on “Privas 6 day race – 6 jours de France

  1. Richard,
    Brilliant race report on your experience with the 6j de Privas. It didn’t happen this year, but it’s a matter of time before you exceed the NZ record for a 6j… everything I’ve read from French participants and your accounts show that the weather was not at all cooperative this year.
    Looking forward to meeting you perhaps in Privas in 2017 (a long term goal of mine), but in the meantime, I’ll look forward to following your progress on your blog.
    Chris

    1. Thanks Chris
      Are you a runner or a walker? If you are thinking about doing a 6 day race, I absolutely recommend it. It is a life-changing experience.
      Richard

  2. Well done Richard, you nearly took out my Colac record of 622.570 kms, but it was recorded as 622.4 kms in the Colac Race Records Handbook, and 622.000 kms in the NZ and Australia Centurion records.

    During the Colac race temperatures reached 34 C, and I did not use a support crew. They gave me a caravan to sleep in. I put my gear on a chair by the track. I Took 2.5 hours sleep for each of the first two nights, then walked for 3 days without sleep and hit the wall. After a 5 hour recovery break, I walked 122 kms on the last day, and could of handled a 7th day.

    In 7 days, I got 11 hours sleep, drank 2 litres of milk a day and had one small meal a day. I never felt hungry or tired. Once I had passed the NZ record of 494 kms and the Australian record of 540 kms, I was on an an adrenaline high to see what I could achieve.

    With 5 hours to go in the race I was ahead of all 6 Australian runners, but one of them woke up from a big sleep and managed to catch me up and pass at 143 hours.

    Many of the NZ Centurion Records have not been upgraded for a number of walkers, but I did send in the details I gleaned from the Sri Chinmoy Reports. The record keeper has promised they will eventually be upgraded when he is back in NZ after a long absence.

    One year, I went to Auckland and walked 32 kms in 3:58:30, then lined up 90 seconds later at the start of the 24 hour Centurion race and won that by 4kms to give me 202 kms in 28 hours.

    It rained for 14 hours and lane one was flooded for 5 hours with two inches of water. I have the time sheets for passing 175 kms in 24 hours and 200 kms in 27 hours 43 mins.

    I was the first New Zealander to walk 4 marathons under 24 hours. Nine times I walked 100 miles in under 24 hours and it rained heavily in 5 of them. I broke the NZ 24 hour record 7 times in a row without a support crew.

    Gerald

    1. Hi Gerald
      It’s so good to hear from you. I have used your NZ records as motivation/inspiration since I started race-walking in 2012. Long distance race-walking is definitely more of a mental game than it is physical, and when I did the 6 day race last year I didn’t have the mental strength I needed.
      But I will be having another attempt at your record when I return to Privas for the 2017 edition which is in August.
      Thanks for making contact,
      Richard

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