Once again, three Centurions made the journey down to the Rhone Valley to take part in what is billed as the toughest endurance race. Judging by the weather conditions, the course (surface) and facilities - it is indeed a correct description.
In 2015, the race was moved to early August when Suzanne Beardsmore, Kathy Crilley and Richard McChesney suffered in the 40 degree heat. In 2016, the race moved back to its traditional date of October. What a difference a few months make - in many ways!
The venue was the aptly named stade du Lac - which was under water when we arrived on Sunday morning to register (see photos below!) Thank goodness we had pitched our tents the day before!
Because of the rain, the length of each lap was reduced from 1065 metres to 625 metres. I, for one, lost count on about the 578th lap..... yes, I was actually counting...
However, the short lap was beset with its own problems as the dirt track and water filled pot holes gradually formed secondary lakes. Matting, old carpets, even planks of wood were hastily strewn around the course to make it more navigable. Magically, the rain stopped for a short while on day 2 (Monday) but, alas, on Tuesday, came the deluge... and the thunderstorms. The level of the water was slowly rising on the track and threatened to overflow onto the pitch ... and our tents.
Wednesday dawned to more rain. But then the sun appeared just in time for the start of the 72 hour race. The sun and heavy wind did the trick to evaporate the surface water, and we were restored to the original lap of 1065 metres later that evening. What a difference 400 metres make! For once, I was happy!
Whilst it was warm - even hot during the day for the remainder of the race - the evenings and nights were bitterly cold with the temperature dropping to 5 and 6 degrees. On a 6 day race, sleep has to be factured in and trying to sleep in a tent in such low temperatures was a nightmare! Next year its camper vans!
Our support crew: Jim Hanson, Noel Blatchford and Louise Ayling operated on a rota basis throughout the 6 days and without whom we would not have survived. Suzanne, after pulling out, also came back to the track to support. Thank you all.
Feeding: good if you eat meat! Not so good for vegetarians... The volunteers on the feeding stations, however, did provide an excellent service. Breakfast was between 7am and 8am, and the main meal anytime between 1pm and 8pm. The feeding station served crepes, frites, potato (all cold!!) biscuits, cake, fruit, etc. But luckily we had our own "kitchen" and chef! Richard had driven to Privas with a car load of tents, mattresses and... a camping stove. Noel cooked a real mean omelette for lunch every day and a great dish of pasta with tomato sauce each evening. Otherwise, I for one, certainly would have starved.
The medical team (Wil, Max, Edouard and Nanard) were kept busy throughout the week as the rain produced a lot of blisters and the varying surfaces and tight left hand turns, produced a lot of sore shins (mine included).
The (indoor) showers were OK but the toilet facilties were primitive and not enough for the number of athletes (plus their support crews and all the staff and volunteers).
Out of a total of 171 entrants, 30 were walkers and we had four judges to keep us in line - Hugue and Josy Pannier, Claude Monay and Romuel - who all offered encouragement throughout the race. Again, many thanks.
The runners, it has to be said, were a nuisance. Once they stopped running (after 12 hours or so), they just ambled round 3 or 4 abreast proving to be a bit of hazard to the racewalkers. This was especially so on the reduced circuit.
The chip timing was good as there was a monitor to record us when we went over the chip timing mats which proved to be an additional hazard, especially at night. At least we knew it was all working. Separate screens showed our positions, distances and number of laps completed (apart from when they were knocked out during the torrential rain and thunderstorms). There was also a live online feed which I know many people back in the UK were following.
Richard was up against two top seasoned ultra race walkers - Christophe Biet and Patick Cailleaux - so he had his work cut out in keeping up with them in the top three positions. But he did!!! Richard was certainly insperational - a true Centurion!
For myself, out of the 10 females competing, 6 beat me in last years race and along with Elisabeth Lescure Thanron who was a Paris Colmar finisher years ago made my race mentally tougher. [Note: Elisabeth's husband Bernard Thanron supported Jill Green years ago on her Paris Colmar race - a small world!].
It is easy to say, "don't bother about the competition... just do your own thing", but we were all studying the live results to see who was just ahead and who was just behind - especially if when we were going for a sleep!
Race strategy? well, yes and no. Like the heat wave of 2015, the rain and shortened course of 2016 meant plans did go adrift.
For myself, Plan A was to walk more kilometres than last year (344km) and Plan B was to get as near as to 400km as possible. I succeeded on Plan A but fell short on Plan B. For Richard, it was all a question of New Zealand records: 48 hours, 500km and 6 days. Well, Richard managed the first two which we celebrated with a cup of water (sparkling of course) but sadly missed out on the 6 day record - but he got very close. See results below.
This does mean a return trip next year (ouch). But then we will see all our friends again - old and new. And it is this sense of "family" that draws us back to race in France time and time again. For those who raced in France in the 1990s familiar people turned up to support - Francis and Renata Harbulot (their daughter was a volunteer!) and Isabelle Duchene - who now lives close to Privas and brought me lovely pastries and croissants each day. Thank you Isabelle! Not forgetting old running friends - Willie Sichel (competing in the 6 day run) with support Alan Young.
I think that in the end, we were happy with what we had achieved. Richard - his New Zealand records, and for me- setting a new GB W65 record. We do owe a huge "thank you" to our support crew who braved the weather just as much as we did. Cheers, guys!
23/10/16 - 6 JOURS DE FRANCE, PRIVAS - R-A - 007
Les 6 jours de France marche | Chr : M | 28/10/2016
1 649km079m BIET Christophe V2M/66
2 643km183m CAILLEAUX Patrick VEM/50
3 614km192m MC CHESNEY Richard (Nzl) Hutt Valley Harriers V1M/68
4 608km350m BIZARD Claudie V2F/59
5 586km971m BERT Dominique V2M/60
6 538km231m CLEMENT Philippe V2M/64
7 526km466m LINARD Benoit V2M/65
8 512km303m LESCURE Frederic V2M/61
9 510km299m ODOUARD Dominique VEM/57
10 506km193m MACCARI Patrick V3M/56
11 498km888m HAUSMANN Martina (Ger) VEF/60
12 457km484m PRUCKNER Jaroslav (Cze) VEM/54
13 416km901m EMONIERE Philippe V2M/61
14 416km010m LESCURE THANRON Elisabeth V2F/57
15 404km856m BOULITEAU Bernard VEM/66
16 397km898m PIERRE Patrick V3M/48
17 392km822m VARETTE Graziella VEF/64
18 379km909m THANRON Bernard V3M/51
19 378km116m CRILLEY Kathy (Gbr) Surrey Walking Club VEF/47
20 376km245m LE MANER Ser VEM/51
21 367km056m ECHE Dominique V3M/55
22 361km483m CORMIER Jean-michel V3M/56
23 341km322m ESTATOF Bernard V3M/48
24 318km418m SAUTAI Stephanie VEF/71
25 295km135m CHAMPMARTIN Maurice V5M/32
26 257km170m DUBOIS DENGHEIN Catherine V2F/65
27 237km513m MORVAN Nicole V4F/44
28 172km719m BURGER Alain VEM/55
29 140km068m BEARDMORE Suzanne (Gbr) Aldershot District VEF/71
30 114km568m VINCENT Verone VEF/65
>> Full results inlcuding 6 day (run) and 72 hours