Roubaix 28 hour race 2017

It was the morning of Thursday 31st August, only 5 days after we had finished the Privas 6 day race.  I was at work and read a facebook message that Suzanne Beardsmore had posted in our Privas facebook group –

“How’s everyone feeling this week?
Kathy – are you still planning on going to Roubaix?”

That was all I needed.  It was settled.  I would be joining Suzanne and Kathy Crilley in Roubaix for the 64th edition of the Roubaix 28 hour race in less than 2 ½ week’s time!

I hadn’t actually been for a walk since finishing Privas but my recovery was already going well, and after a disappointing summer in which I had struggled at Privas and DNF’d in both the Grand Union Canal Race in May and the Thames Ring 250 in June, I needed a good race to prove to myself that I wasn’t ‘past it’.

So that weekend I went for two walks of over two hours each to confirm that I felt OK, and started making plans for Roubaix.

Race Day:

At 11am on Saturday 16th September 47 walkers assembled at the start line at the bottom of Parc de Barbieux in Roubaix.  Five of us were backing up from Privas, and a sixth, Kathy, was completing in the 24 hour relay which would be starting in a few hours time.

This was my third time competing in the 28 hour race.  In 2014 I walked 186km on a course that started in Roubaix town centre and wound its way through Roubaix for about 15km before entering the Parc which then became our home for the next 26 hours.  In 2015 the course was moved to the old Roubaix Velodrome and I covered 205km including breaking the New Zealand 200km record.  This year, having had a ‘difficult’ summer, my goal was to walk strongly and with a positive attitude throughout the race, and hopefully complete a distance somewhere between that of 2014 and 2015.

Roubaix 28 hour race course map
Start/finish of each lap was in the bottom left. The food tent was where the blue dot is, and our tents were in between number 3 and the blue dot.
Roubaix 28 hour race 2017
Suzanne and I leaving the food tent early in the race

This year the race was 100% within the confines of the parc, on a 2,804 metre out and back course.  I decided to sit near the back of the field to begin with and just see how I felt during the first few hours.  The out and back course enabled me to watch the other walkers while walking my own pace, and I walked in 35th place for the first hour or so before slowly picking up a few places to catch Suzanne and walk with her for the next few laps.

I can’t remember what happened next but at some stage Suzanne drifted back behind me and I passed a few more walkers.  I remember at 3 ¼ hours I completed my 9th lap just as one of the faster walkers lapped me.  I noticed on the electronic scoreboard that I was in 30th place and he was in 8th place.  I had already lost 2.8km (and more) on the first 8 walkers.  Just as well I wasn’t racing 🙂

My next memory is that when I completed my 18th lap (50.5km).  I was in 26th place and I remember thinking that if I continue passing walkers at this rate I could do OK.

Roubaix 28 hour race food supplies
Suzanne’s and my food supplies – enough sugar to keep us going

Because each lap was going to take around 23 minutes (21 minutes in the early stages and drifting out to 25 minutes later on) my plan was to eat something every lap.  My usual plan is to eat every 30 minutes but instead I would eat a little less but more often.  Most laps I grabbed some fruit (apple, orange or banana) at the race food tent, but every few laps I would pick something from my own food stash.  As I had been doing in most of my races recently, my intention was to eat fruit (dried and fresh), biscuits and crisps for the first 12 hours and stay off highly processed high sugar foods before switching to a 100% sugar diet for the last half of the race.  This strategy worked really well, possibly the best it has in any race, and apart from treating myself to a can of coke at 50km, I managed to go past 100km (in about 13:41, and 17th position) before switching to sugar.  The only problem I had was that I had forgotten to bring any died fruit 🙁

Once I switched to sugar I don’t think I ate any fruit again, and spent the second half of the race eating chocolate, biscuits, sweets, and crisps, washed down regularly with coke.  Most of the time I drink just a small amount of coke (probably 100 mls) from the food tent, but occasionally I would have a whole can of coke from my own supplies.

Overnight I felt really good.  No tiredness at all.  The fact that I continued to pass people kept me going, both mentally and physically, and I was really enjoying the race.  At around 12 hours I lapped Suzanne (she had taken a short rest and was waiting for me to catch her) and we walked another hour or so together before she dropped back again and eventually withdrew from the race.

For the first 14 hours when I wasn’t walking with Suzanne or someone else – whilst Suzanne and I were the only native English speakers in the 28 hour race, some of the other competitors spoke limited English and I walked short amounts with some of them at various stages – I listened to podcasts to pass the time and keep my mind active.

I was feeling really good and passed half way (14 hours) with a little over 102km covered.  I was completing laps in 24 and 25 minutes and an hour or so later I remember commenting to the GB relay team (Kathy, Joyce and Norma) that I thought I could complete 204km if I kept the pace up.

Next thing I know, I complete a 30 minute lap!  We were almost 16 hours into the race and I had walked 115km but I suddenly I felt extremely tired.  I swallowed two caffeine tablets and washed them down with coke (additional caffeine).  I turned my podcast off and my high tempo music playlist on.  I turned the volume right up and focused on picking up the pace – sped up my arm swing (which in turn increased my leg turnover), tried to relax my upper body, tried to lengthen my stride a little and pull my toes up as my foot hit the ground (to lengthen the stride that little bit more).  My next lap was back to 24 minutes, then a few 23 minute laps, and then a few laps in 22 minutes!

Every time a new song started I would think to myself, relax the upper body, swing the arms faster, pull the toes up.

I passed 100 miles in 22 hours and 20 minutes in 11th place.  It was my fastest 100 miles of the year (my 5th 100 miles of the year), and I was feeling fantastic.  10th place was over a lap ahead of me though, but I thought to myself that with over 5 ½ hours still to go, there was a really good chance of getting well inside the top 10.

According to the official results, I completed 24 hours with 173.4km.  Tenth place was almost exactly 1 lap ahead of me with 176.2km.  We had 4 hours to go.  I needed to make up 700 meters per hour for 4 hours.  I felt like it was possible.  I was still walking laps of around 22 minutes, which was less than a minute per lap slower than I had been walking 24 hours earlier.

It was 16 hours into the race when I had finally registered the fact that on the electronic scoreboard, as well as showing our position and total distance, it also showed the minutes and seconds between each walker and the walker in front of them.  24 hours into the race and the scoreboard was showing 22 minutes (between 10th place and myself) and slowly coming down each lap.  An hour later is was 16 minutes and then a lap later it showed 13 minutes!  I was just over half a lap behind 10th place.  I was trying to push the pace, but I was actually starting to slow, walking 23 ½ minutes per lap.  The scoreboard showed 13 minutes for each of the next three laps and then I lost it mentally.

We were 26 hours into the race.  I desperately wanted to complete at least 200km, and finish in the top 10.  Thanks to finishing 7th in 2015, my photo was in the race programme and I told myself that if I didn’t make the top 10 this year, I wouldn’t have my photo in the programme next year.  Unfortunately the ‘pep talk’ didn’t help me and I decided to stop chasing a top 10 place and just focus on making 200km.  My next two laps both took 26 minutes.  Other than the 30 minute lap from 10 hours earlier, these were my two slowest laps of the race.

I completed my second ‘slow’ lap with 68 minutes left on the clock (until the finish) and noticed that even although my pace had dropped by 3 minutes per lap, I had only lost 3 minutes on 10th place.  The gap was now 16 minutes, and 9th place wasn’t far ahead of 10th.  I did the maths.  10th place was walking 24 ½ minutes a lap and slowing (hopefully).  If I could get back to 21 minutes a lap, perhaps I could catch him.

I put my loud music back on and tried to pick the pace up again.  25 minutes then 24 minutes.  It wasn’t fast enough. The gap decreased slightly but not enough.

I completed the lap with 20 minutes left on the clock.  I had done 199.1km so all I needed to do was walk 900 meters to reach my 200km goal.

I kept the pace up right through to the end, completing almost a whole lap, when at 3pm on Sunday afternoon the signal was sounded (I can’t actually remember what the sound was – a gun, a whistle, I can’t remember) and we stopped and put the plastic marker we had been given a lap or two earlier on the ground to mark the place we were when the race finished.

The race was over.  Once the partial laps were measured I learnt that I had walked 201.388km.  I had finished in 11th place, 1.1km behind 10th and 1.5km behind 9th.

I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed, but if someone had told me on Friday that I would walk solidly for all but three laps of the race, and would cover 200km, I wouldn’t have believed them.  This was definitely my best race of the season and a great way to finish the year.

Or was it?

When I joined Suzanne, Kathy, Norma and Joyce for breakfast the following morning I agreed that I was finished for the year.  It was time to give my body (and mind) a well earned rest.

But during breakfast someone mentioned a 24 hour race in three weeks time …

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), it turns out that I have other commitments that weekend and won’t be able to race, but for a day or so I was already planning my next adventure.


Post Race Analysis:

One of the great things about chip timing is that the results software can produce a full list of lap times.  I have analysed these and can tell you the following:

  • My fastest 5 laps was actually my 8th, 7th, 6th, 9th and 5th laps, in that order. These five laps ranged from 21:13 to 21:24 – and averaged 21:19 (for 2.804km).
  • My slowest lap was the 30:02 that my 41st lap took from 112 to 115km just before 16 hours.  This was the lap that I struggled with tiredness.
  • My next two slowest laps were the two that I eased up on between 26 and 27 hours – laps 68 and 69 (188 to 193.6km). These two laps took 26:13 and 26:23 respectively.
  • I completed 71 full laps of 2.804km. Of these,
    • 13 were 21 minute laps (21:00 to 21:59). This included all of the first 10 laps plus laps 13, 49 and 62.
    • 20 laps were in the 22 minute range
    • 18 laps were in the 23 minute range
    • 8 laps were in the 24 minute range
    • 9 laps were in the 25 minute range
    • 2 laps were in the 26 minute range
    • And then there was lap 41 which took 30 minutes.
  • My average lap was 23:23.
Roubaix 28 hour race lap speed graph
My speed for each lap (in meters per hour)
  • My 50km splits (calculated by pro-rating the lap that brought up 50, 100, 150 and 200km) were 6:31:16, 7:09:45 (13:41:01), 7:09:34 (20:50:35), 6:57:29 (27:48:04).
    Shows how hard I was working over the last 7 hours.
  • My 100km splits were 13:41:01 and 14:07:03.
  • In the first 14 hours I walked 102.1km. In the second 14 hours I walked 99.3km (in round figures).
  • My fitbit step count analysis is interesting:
    • I started off with a cadence of around 700 steps every five minutes (140 steps per minute), and while it dropped occasionally, I held that cadence for the first 9 hours or so.
    • Looking at my lap times, it was after 9 ½ hours that my lap times dropped from 22 and 23 minute laps to 24 and 25 minute laps, and my cadence also dropped to 630-650 steps every five minutes (125 to 130 steps per minute) for the 5 hour period through to 14 hours when I switched to high tempo music and started to work on my pace.
    • After that my cadence stayed in the 670 to 700 steps per five minute range (135 to 140 per minute) though to 26 hours other than a few dips along the way. And during that time my pace remained in the 22 and 23 minutes per lap range.
    • When I eased the pace at 26 hours my cadence dropped again and then picked up again over the last hour as did my pace.
    • So, as expected, my cadence was very much in alignment with my pace throughout the race.
    • In total I took approximately 225,000 steps during the race. These appear to be split roughly 112,000 steps in the first 14 hours and 113,000 steps in the second 14 hours – yet I walked 2.8km less in the second 14 hours to the first.
    • My stride length was therefore an average of 91cm in the first 14 hours and reduced to an average of 88cm during the second 14 hours.
    • If I compare this to Roubaix 2015, on a different course, in 2015 I took 224,500 steps (500 less than this year) to walk 205.1km (3.7km further than this year).
      My split was 112,500 in the first 14 hours and 112,000 in the second 14, and the mileage split was 105km in the first half and 100km in the second. My average stride length in 2015 was 93cm in the first half of the race, and 89cm in the second half.
    • In 2015 my average stride length for the whole race was 91cm. This year 89cm.
    • So in summary, the difference between the 205.1km I walked in 2015 and the 201.4km this year was entirely due to me having a shorter stride length this year.  And my guess is that the shorter stride length will have something to do with tired legs from Privas.


A couple more photos.

Roubaix 28 hour race
Early in the race, walking with Jeremy Dandoy (France). I’ve raced Jeremy a few times previously and whilst neither of us speak each others language, we always manage to have a short conversation.
Roubaix 28 hour race - Sunday morning
Possibly my favourite photo from the race. Taken on Sunday morning, it shows how hard I was working.

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