All posts by Richard

NZ Centurions Race 2022

The New Zealand Centurions Race is held in conjunction with the annual Sri Chinmoy 24 hour running championships.  This year saw 18 men and 6 women line up for the 24 hour race plus many others in shorter 6 and 12 hour races.  Included in the 24 hour race were 6 walkers, all male, representing three different countries – two from NZ (myself and Richard Young), three from Isle of Man (Robbie Callister, Chris Burn, and Andrew Titley) plus Martin Vos from the Netherlands.  All the walkers were experienced over the 100 mile/24 hour distance and I was looking forward to a tough race on the 400 metre track at Millennium Stadium in Auckland.

To add to the toughness of my race, I only arrived in Auckland 23 hours before race start after a 32 hour flight from the UK, although it turned out that Robbie and Andrew only arrived a few hours before me after missing their connecting flight in Singapore.

I was travelling to New Zealand for an extended holiday and it just happened to be coincidental that my flight arrived in Auckland in time for the race (or at least that is what I told my wife) and therefore I wasn’t sure whether I was going to walk hard and attempt to break the NZ M50 age group records (or even the national track records) for 100 miles and 24 hours, or whether I would just aim to complete another 100 mile walk inside 24 hours. My training had gone reasonably well and I felt that if I didn’t suffer too much from the 32 hour flight then the M50 records (21 hours 37 minutes for 100 miles and 177.6km for 24 hours set by Gerald Manderson way back in 1998) were a possibility, and when my father volunteered to be my support crew I decided that I’d like to try and break those records.

The race:

The race started in warm sunny conditions at 9am on Saturday 12th November and immediately the three IOM walkers took the lead (amongst the walkers) and after two laps walking just behind Richard Young and just ahead of Martin Vos I made the decision that I would try to walk with the IOM walkers. They were already 12 seconds ahead of me but I moved past Richard and picked up the pace – having walked 3:17 and 3:11 for the first two laps I walked the third lap in 3:05 and after a few more laps in the 3:02 to 3:05 range I moved up another gear walking the next 59 laps at between 2:50 and 3:00 pace until I needed my first toilet stop.

NZ Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race walkers
The three IOM walkers followed by me (32) and Richard Young (14)

During that 3 hours I caught and passed both Chris and Andrew as they stopped for short toilet breaks themselves but Robbie stayed ahead of me and eventually lapped me.

When I entered the race I looked at the calibre of both the runners and walkers who had already entered and thought that finishing in the top three walkers and top ten runners should be achievable but I expected at least one of the IOM walkers to beat me and with the race being the NZ 24 hour running championship I expected that many runners would also be well ahead of me, and whilst things were going well I found myself in 17th place overall and second walker (exactly three minutes behind Robbie) as I completed the first 105 laps (Marathon distance) in 5 hours and 17 minutes.

I had given my father instructions to feed me a bowl of pasta every six hours and I would ask for other food as and when I needed it but would also eat regularly from the food table manned by the race volunteers. And almost exactly on time Dad appeared on the track with my first bowl of pasta at 6 hours. I don’t normally eat hot food, or even meals, in 24 hour races. Instead I prefer to eat small amounts regularly and along with the pasta I was mainly eating fruit and crisps (or chippies as they are called in New Zealand).

The afternoon had definitely warmed up by now and I knew that people were going to start suffering soon. I wondered if I had started too fast for the conditions but now that I had started at that fast pace I decided to keep going hard for as long as I could. I was still averaging a shade over 3 minutes per lap whilst Robbie’s pace seemed to be all over the show.

Unlike the previous two Sri Chinmoy 24 hour track races I have done (NZ in 2013 and UK last year) they didn’t have the big scoreboard to enable competitors to easily keep track of their place so I was focusing solely on my own lap times, checking the clock at the end of each lap to ensure that I was maintaining a steady pace.  I figured that Robbie was likely to beat me but I was walking well and didn’t think any of the other walkers would catch me.  I also knew that my strength was my ability to walk strongly through the night and I had told myself that everyone else would be struggling at 3 in the morning but for me that would be 2 in the afternoon and therefore I would have the advantage.

And that is exactly what happened. I averaged 3:07 per lap for the first 92km (12 hours and 1 minute) including 4 toilet stops (three more than I would have liked but I had just come off a 32 hour flight) and then I had my second bowl of pasta and my pace dropped a little for the next two hours. I don’t know why my pace dropped but I decided it was time to switch to processed sugar – coke and chocolate – and also start listening to some music, and very soon I was back walking 3 minutes per lap, and once I found my pace again I managed to walk between 2:50 and 3:00 for another almost two hours.

By twelve hours all the walkers, other than myself and Andrew, had dropped out and many of the runners were struggling or had also dropped out. With Robbie gone, I was also leading the walkers race.  The high dropout rate amongst the walkers confirmed in my mind that we had gone too hard early on for the conditions, but I was still going well and feeling good.  I started to think about the possibility of breaking Peter Ballie’s 100 mile and 24 hour NZ track records set back in 2005, but I always say that you should never think about how far you have to go in a race. You should only concentrate on the here and now. And whilst I was feeling good, from 16 hours (3am) my pace started to drift a little and I never managed to get under the 3 minutes per lap again which I needed to get through to 100 miles in under 21 hours and 4 minutes (Peter’s NZ track 100 mile record).

Eventually I decided to refocus on Gerald Manderson’s M50 100 mile and 24 hour records. They were still both well within sight although I would still have to maintain a good pace of around 3:20 to 3:25 per lap for the remainder of the race.

Dad had a sleep in his campervan which he had moved to beside the track and he woke at 3am as instructed to give me by next bowl of pasta. I told him that I would stick to coke and chocolate until I got through to 100 miles as I was worried that if I slowed to eat a bowl of pasta – my previous two meals had both taken two full laps at a slightly slower pace to consume – I wouldn’t be able to pick up the pace again.  So I sent him back to sleep for another two or three hours.

Around day break the organisers told me that I was in third place overall. I was walking with Dawn Tuffery at the time and I asked if Dawn was ahead of me.  I can’t remember their exact reply but it was along the lines of ‘Dawn doesn’t count’.  What they meant was that with the race being the NZ 24 hour championship I was third male and in line for the bronze medal.  Unfortunately I wasn’t registered with Athletics NZ so a bronze medal wouldn’t be available to me but I was surprised and pleased to learn that I was in third place, and fourth overall.

At a little after 6:30am I passed the 100 mile mark in a new NZ M50 record of 21:32:44, just under five minutes inside the previous record, and my third best 100 mile time behind the two sub-21 hour times I had walked at the 2016 and 2018 Continental Centurions Race in Holland when I was in the M45 age group.

I was pleased with this and rewarded myself with a can of coke and a Moro bar (my favourite NZ chocolate bar) while Dad went off to make some more pasta.

I was now taking over 3:20 per lap but I only had 16 ½ km to go to get the 24 hour M50 record and just under 2 ½ hours to do that, and I figured that if I had an almost five minute lead over Gerald’s 1998 race at 100 miles, then surely I should be able to break his 24 hour distance too.

I ate my breakfast and then focussed on trying to pick up the pace a little. I knew I would need one more toilet stop and I wanted to build a buffer to allow for that.  I knew that I had to complete a little over 444 laps (in total) and once I got to 170km (425 laps) I started counting down, and also doing the math to check that I would complete the required distance.

At 174km I couldn’t put it off any longer and I had to take one last toilet stop, and then I calculated again – 33 minutes, 8 and a bit laps. That is four minutes per lap. No problem.

I passed my goal distance of 177.665km with about five minutes to spare and completed my 445th lap with 2 ½ minutes left until the race would finish. Often in races I find that once the end is in sight I can pick the pace up for a sprint finish, but today I really had nothing left.  I had achieved my goals and I continued to walk fast, completing another 315 metres, but there wasn’t any sprint finish.

My 81 year old father might say otherwise though. He tried to keep up with me during the last 200 metres and I kept telling him to stop and walk, worried that I would finish to find him keeled over behind me. Fortunately he was OK and fortunately I did maintain the pace right through to the bell as Paul Hewitson had a flying finish to finish just 122 metres behind me in fourth place (male) to my third place.  Paul collected the national championship bronze medal though due to me not being registered with Athletics NZ.

Some analysis:

I love track races and short loop races as there is so much analysis that can be done afterwards (providing that lap times and splits are provided).

This graph shows my lap times (blue dots) and also my time for the last 2km.  I had two periods where I was walking really well – from lap 3 through to about lap 100, and then from lap 270 to 305.  My fastest 2km 14:21 (7:11 pace) finishing at lap 48 (19km) but I also got back down to a 14:31 (7:15 pace) 2km between 115 and 117km. If I was mentally strong enough, this tells me that a sub 20 hour 100 mile is still possible. My best is currently 20:44 from Holland in 2018.

Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race lap times
Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race lap times

Some photos:

I always like to add photos to my race reports.

Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race NZ
Soon after the start. Chasing the IOM walkers
Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race NZ
Finally caught Robbie (31) and Andrew (12)
Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race NZ
Into the night and still going strong
Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race NZ
Three hours to go. Every lap I checked the clock to see how long my last lap had taken. The TV screen was too small to read as I ‘flew’ past it
Sri Chinmoy 24 hour race NZ
Prizegiving. I didn’t get the bronze medal but I did get a trophy for finishing 3rd male

40 walks of 100 miles or more:

In 2013 I completed my first 100 mile walk at the NZ Sri Chinmoy race and at the time I said “never again”.  But as we know, most athletes say “never again” during or immediately after a hard race but they never mean it, and in August 2014 I completed my second 100 mile race.

As you will most probably know if you have read any of my other race reports, one thing led to another, and the distances and frequency of my races and adventure walks increased, and this race was my 40th walk of 100 miles or farther.  Not a bad effort.

Richard McChesney 100 milers 2013 to 2022

And I have plans to continue. I seem to recover well from these long walks. Physically it only takes a couple weeks. Mentally, it takes a bit longer, especially if it has been a hard race requiring lots of focus to maintain a good pace.

My focus now is on the 6 jours de France in April.  It is now four weeks since the NZ 24 hour race and I have resumed training (and walked a PB over the marathon distance this past weekend) and will build my weekly mileage up so that when I return to the UK after Christmas I can launch back into a high mileage phase of about 2 ½ months through to mid/late March, and then the goal is to walk a minimum of 700km in six days.

After that, well let’s see what comes next.

Thanks Dad

Last, but definitely not least, a big thank you to my father for his support in this race.  Ever since I was a teenager running much shorter events I’ve never had a ‘good’ race when he has come to watch or support me, so I was very happy to finally have some success in front of him.

UK Centurions race – Middlesbrough 2022

My first ‘walkers only’ race since June 2019 was the ‘annual’ (except for the last two years due to the pandemic) UK Centurions race which is held at a different venue in the UK each year.  This year it was on a 974 metre cycling track in Middlesbrough with 39 walkers entered.

About a half of those entered, myself included, had previously qualified for UK Centurion status by completing 100 miles in under 24 hours at a previous UK Centurions race and the other half of the field were either walkers looking to add a UK Centurion badge to the badge/s achieved in other countries or were looking to completed a sub 24 hour 100 mile walk for the first time.

Centurions race-walking has a long history with the first person recorded as walking 100 miles in under 24 hours being James Edwin E. Flower-Dixon in London in 1877.  Since then (and before this year’s race) 1,211 walkers have achieved this feat in the UK (I was number 1,131 in 2014) and another 700+ have achieved this in one of the other six countries where Centurion walking is recognised. Many have qualified as a Centurion in multiple countries with the legendary Sandra Brown being the only person to qualify in all seven countries (but that is because Malaysia have discontinued their race) and eight walkers having qualified in six different countries including three of this year’s competitors at Middlesbrough – Sharon and Justin Scholz from Australia and Kim Janssens from Belgium.

In my case, I have qualified in New Zealand (2013), UK (2014) and Netherlands (2016) and this year my aim was simply to walk under 21 ½ hours to break the NZ M50 100 mile record of 21:37.

My training hadn’t been going well though as I have been struggling with foot pain/discomfort since late April but having completed the first 100 miles of the 6 jours de France in May in 24:29 and the first 100 miles of the Warwickshire Ring Canal Race in June in 24:24, I was confident that I should at least be able to walk a sub 22 ½ hour race and if things went well, then sub 21 ½ hours.

I also had two other goals for the weekend:

  1. Join Middlesbrough to my continuous line of everywhere I have walked since 2014, and
  2. Complete my 141st different parkrun (and 489th overall)

Eventually I’m aiming to have walked contiguous lines to all corners of Great Britain but that is a lot of miles and I take every opportunity I can to build on my ever-growing map.  In 2016 I was training for my first six-day race when the UK Centurions race was in Redcar. The cost of getting from London to Leeds was relatively cheap but for some reason it was much more expensive to travel all the way to Redcar (just 10 miles to the East of Middlesbrough) so I decided to walk the 70 miles from Leeds to Redcar the day before the race. This walk passed Middlesbrough to the South East, so on Friday afternoon after arriving in Middlesbrough I went for a two hour walk to join Middlesbrough to the line I had walked in 2016.  I haven’t yet joined Leeds to the main part of my map yet, but hope to do that next year or the following year during another ‘adventure walk’.

UK Map
My multi-year project – walking one contiguous line to all corners of Great Britain

And on the Saturday morning before the race I took the opportunity to walk an easy 5km at Albert Park parkrun, walking would I hoped would be my overall race pace of around 8 minutes per kilometre.

Goals 1 and 2 achieved.

The race:

I didn’t arrive at the Middlesbrough cycle circuit until about 11am, one hour before the race, due to a lack of organisation on my part and a long delay waiting for a bus from my hotel down to the race. When I arrived I met Diana Obermeyer who was supporting American walker, Ray Sharp, and had offered to support me as well. We found a space about 20 metres past the timing mat and set up our table. My intention was to eat the food I had brought with me and take drinks from the aid station which was positioned immediately after the timing mat, so I laid my food out and then made final preparations for the race start at 12 noon.

It was a windy day and looked like it would also be a hot, sunny afternoon so I placed my white towel over my food to both stop the food blowing away and also stop it from being cooked in the sun, taping my towel to the windward end of the table.

It was good to meet many old friends, some whom I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, and I probably spent a little too much time talking and not enough time preparing which resulted in me still needing to go to the toilet at the time we were being called to the start line. So I put nature’s call on hold and lined up with 35 other walkers to listen to a few words from the race referee and also the local mayor, and then we were on our way.

As always, I started slow compared to many, but at a pace that I felt I would be able to hold for the first 8 to 10 hours, or at least until darkness anyway. My goal of 21 ½ hours would require lap times of about 7 minutes and 50 seconds, although a 7:52 average would actually get me to the finish about a minute ahead of the NZ M50 record of 21:37. I thought if I walked 7:40’s for the first 8 to 10 hours, then with a little bit of slowing down when it got dark I would still be in the high 80km range, maybe even 90km, at 12 hours and if I could do that then 21 ½ hours would be a strong possibility.

And for the first six hours things went well. The walk was proving to be a bit harder than expected due to the wind and a short dip and incline at the top end of the circuit. In reality, what was happening is that from the top end of the circuit there was a short incline of about 150 metres and then we turned into a strong head wind for the next 300 meters. After that we had a tail wind as we walked down over the timing mat and past the feeding tables followed by a short descent into the top end of the circuit.  The combination of the incline and head wind was making us work harder that we should for the pace we were walking and after six hours averaging slightly under 7:40 per lap my pace started to drift out towards eight minutes.

Middlesbrough cycle circuit

Rain Saturday night

After about eight hours the wind finally died away only for the heavens to open and heavy (torrential at times) rain arrived. Whilst most walkers put on waterproof clothing the combination of rain and the lighter wind was freezing and eventually I decided that, with no end to the rain in sight and my first change of wet-weather clothing already soaked, I would take a short break and change into dry clothes plus my Disneyland plastic poncho and also waterproof socks.

In taking about 13 minutes out of the race to do this my attitude towards the race changed and I felt that I was no longer ‘racing’ and was now just walking to complete the 100 miles in a respectable time. I had only completed 70km (43 miles) at this stage, and losing 13 minutes wasn’t the end of the world – although it wasn’t good either – but my mind had found an excuse to stop pushing the pace and when I resumed walking my pace immediately dropped into the mid to high eight minute range.

Interestingly, as often happens, it stopped raining soon after I donned my poncho but I walked for a few hours wearing the poncho fearing that if I took it off again it would start raining, and perhaps sub-consciously using it as an excuse to not walk so hard.

The floodlighting on the course was good and couldn’t be blamed for me slowing down. I just didn’t have the right attitude.

I had decided to walk this race without listening to any podcasts or music but by dawn I was now struggling to walk under nine minutes per lap so I decided to see if some music would get me going again.  And it did, for a while.

A little after 8:40am I remember crossing the timing mat and seeing the time on the clock – 20 hours 42 minutes.  My 100 mile PB.  But on this occasion, I still had 19 laps to go – another 18.5km (11.5 miles).

For the first time (of another 18), I calculated 24 hour less 20 hours 42 minutes equals 3 hours and 18 minutes equals 198 minutes. 198 divided by 19 is about 10 ½ minutes per lap. That last minute was just over nine minutes. Even with a further slow down I should at least complete the 100 miles within the 24 hour time limit.

It was also about this time that my bladder decided it had had enough and every couple laps it decided it needed to empty itself immediately. About half of the time this meant a quick stop in the bushes at the top end of the course and on the other occasions it meant a quick visit to the toilet in the shed at the other end. To say I was struggling is an understatement, but strangely I was still enjoying the challenge.  If it was easy, everyone would do it!

During the night a large number of walkers had stopped and by now the first three walkers had also finished. The rain had long gone, the wind was back but nowhere near as strong as yesterday, and it was just a case of going through the motions to complete the race.

Knowing that I would definitely finish the race in under 24 hours was both good and bad. The good part was the knowledge that I would finish, but the bad part was that with that knowledge I knew that I could walk even slower, and my lap times drifted out to the high nine minute range. Even when faster walkers passed me at 8 ½ or 9 minute pace I had no incentive to increase my pace to walk with them and so I just continued dawdling around lap after lap.

On a regular basis I would hear the bell for a walker and a lap later see them complete their race. Eventually it was my turn but even when I got the bell for my last lap I couldn’t be bothered picking up the pace and I just wandered around one more lap to the finish. My final time: 23 hours, 45 minutes and 21 seconds.  My 39th walk of 100 miles or more, and my 17th sub-24 hour 100 miler.

UK Centurions race Middlesbrough 2022 UK Centurions race Middlesbrough 2022
Saturday afternoon – walking with attitude. Reasonable stride length, good arm swing, head up. Sunday morning – no attitude, short stride, arms held low, looking down.
UK Centurions race lap times
My lap times. Reasonably consistent until I changed my clothes on lap 74 and then they began to get consistently slower
UK Centurions race lap times versus target
I was on track until I changed my clothes, and then steadily dropped my pace

One final thought; I can’t blame my foot problems for my race failure. It was definitely a mind thing. In fact my feet didn’t hurt (much) during the race and didn’t start hurting again until Monday morning.

What’s next?

At the time of writing this I’m unsure what my next race will be. I have until July next year to break the NZ M50 100 mile (and ideally 24 hour) records but my focus for 2023 will be the 6 jours de France again where I want to attempt to break 700km.

This leaves the German Centurions race (if it goes ahead) in early October this year and the NZ 24 hour race in November – I will arrive in NZ 24 hours before that race starts. Alternatively, my only other option will be the Dutch Centurions race in June. That will require a speedy recovery from the six day race which is in mid-April.

So at the moment I’m undecided.

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