Well, we just couldn't stay away! Once again, three Centurions made the journey down to the Rhone Valley to take part in the 6 Jours de France.
In 2015, the race was moved to early August and Suzanne Beardsmore, Kathy Crilley and Richard McChesney all 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 as the venue (aptly named stade du Lac) was under water.
So, in 2017 it was back to the August date ... but it was just as hot as two years ago...
Our support crew: Jamie (Suzanne's son) Peter McChesney (Richard's dad) along with Diane (Peter's partner) did a magnificant job in feeding and watering us throughout the week. Yes, there was a feeding station and the organisation provided breakfast and a main meal each day which we used occasionally used but it was not for vegetarians....
The medical team (Wil, Max, Edouard and Nanar) - all kept busy throughout the week as the surface of the course provided walkers and runners alike with lot of blisters.
Out of a total of 138 entrants, 31 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. However, out of the 31 entrants in the race walk, not many displayed what we would call a true race walking style. And some (nay, many) would have been DQ'd in the UK in the first few miles with bent knees.... So, in the end, it was rather disquieting (if not annoying) to be beaten by non race walkers. I now see that it is the ability to walk with very little rest that makes a winner.
Like last year, the runners 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. Even worse - constantly on their mobiles.
The chip timing was good and as standard in race walks in France, there was a monitor to record us when we went over the chip timing mats (which at night proved to be an additional hazard). Separate screens showed our positions, distances and number of laps completed (slight blip during the thunderstorm on Thursday night, but a good back up worked well). There was also a live online feed which I know many people back in the UK were following. I also kept "blogging" of our progress on the Centurions Facebook page. Thank you everyone who sent us messages of encouragement. We really did appreciate these.
In a 6 day race, probably not the best idea to go out "hell for leather" from the gun which was exactly what Jaques Arnault did. He competed in the 72 hour race last year and his pace was the same - fast .... needless to say that he didn't maintain his lead.
Last year's winner, Christophe Biet, set off at a more managed pace having come into the race with an injury. Phillipe Clement and Patrick Cailleaux walked together for most of the race and played the race well.
British (and NZ) Centurion Richard wanted his native New Zealand 6 day record - so narrowly missed last year by just 7 kilometres. Richard took the lead as Arnault dropped back but he and Christophe were playing a cat and mouse game... who would take a rest break first????
In the ladies race, Benedicte Salomez and Francoise Arnault went out head to head from the start. Both walkers had taken part in the 2017 Paris Alsace race - both had dropped out. Benedicte stopped on the 3rd?? day (easy to lose rack of time!) with bad blisters, but as long as you don't hand back your chip timing - you are still in the race.... Benedicte did come back on the track on Saturday morning .... but the results speak for themselves.
As ever, Claudie Bizard, walked a brilliant race. Supported by husband Jaques, she kept out of the way of the early battles and maintained her schedule throughout. Jaques was there at the end of each lap with notebook in hand, keeping track of lap times. If you want to keep out of trouble... just follow Claudie.
It wasn't until 4 days into the race that Suzanne and I realised what was happening. Claudie was going for the World Record! This was set in Privas, October 2015 by Claudine Anxionnat with 620, 276km. Claudie beat this by 7km (627,3km)
Both Suzanne and myself had no illusions - survival was the name of our game. Neither of us had really trained or raced this year through ill heath and injury. We had a plan of 50km every 24 hours... not a lot, I know, but this is the course where I got my injury last year which put me out of action for months. So easy does it....
However, it is easy to say, "don't bother about the competition... just do your own thing", but in reality, we were studying the live results to see who was just ahead and who was just behind - especially if when we were going for a sleep!
But we both did survive and had plenty of laughs along the way.
A bit of controversey over age records for me. Two years ago it appeared to be year of birth (not age on race day) which counted (much to my surprise) so the record F65-69 went to a French walker. This year, what might have been a new age group for me (F70), the criteria had changed to age on race day, not year of birth... so missed the record by 2 weeks. C'est la vie. So its back to Privas again next year!
I think that in the end, all three of us were happy with what we had achieved. Richard - obviously disappointed that he did not get that elusive New Zealand record but I am sure proud that he stuck it out for the remainder of the race. Suzanne easily surpassed her initial target of 300km - same for me although not as good as last year....and so disappointed about that F70 record!!!