2018 6 Jours de France - Centurions1911

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2018 6 Jours de France

Race Walking > Results

19-25 August 2018
Privas, Ardeche

What is it about a race that draws you back year after year?
  • the weather? searing heat which can knock you for six and destroys your race plan.... or even hail, rain,and  a mini tornado...or just total rain for days on end...?
  • the course? a 400m cinder track, plus a further 625m course of stony and dusty paths.. so forever emptying your trainers....
  • the race infrastructure? having to camp out in a tent for a week or sleep in a stuffy mixed accommodation in a sports hall or hire an expensive camper van...
  • runners on the course? who walk very slowly or in a group and you can't get round them.....
  • the food? if you are a vegetarian - no chance.....
  • and more....

So why did Richard McChesney and myself (Kathy Crilley) return this year?  Not to mention Suzanne Beardsmore who came out this year to support, rather than race...
Every year we vow "never again"... and so we came backin 2018 and then once again half way through the race, we
vowed never again....  2019? we shall see. Oh, and we had also persuaded Centurions Karen Lawrie and Tony Macintosh from the Isle of Man to join us....

The weather
Well it was hot! But that is no surprise - it always is. This year, temperatures ranged from 30-37 degrees (and probably higher!) Dipping down to mid 20s on the last day.. which, in fact, felt quite cold!

The race venue in the Stade du Lac is in a" bowl" surrounded by hills and the town of Privas which just appears to "suck" in the heat. This year the heat and weather patterns seemed to be "different":  like most of Europe this summer, the weather patterns have been rather strange and Privas was no exception. For the first few days of the race it was a very
searing dry heat which actually really burnt the skin. Then on Wednesday, it turned extremely humid... luckily the promised rain and thunder storms never materialised. (Until Thursday!) ... however the mosquitoes did materialise ... in force...
So, Thursday dawned overcast and rather cool at 7am, but then the sun with a beautiful (and as it turned out, a rather deceptive) blue sky and all seemed OK... until just before 6pm when it became obvious looking to the hills in the west that something was amiss. One part of the sky was literally black - and another part was a complete white out. Richard's famous last word were "well rain isn't forecast" ...then a minute later we were pounded by very large hail stones, followed by torrential rain and then strong winds. Luckily (or not) Richard and myself were by our tents when the storm struck and we quickly ducked inside them.  It seemed like a mini tornado had hit the stadium. The speed and severity of the storm surprised everyone. I stayed in my "black out" tent hoping that I would add  a bit of "ballast" to stop it blowing away. It was very scary not knowing what what happening outside.
Not everyone was so lucky though. Many tents, tables, chairs along with camping equipment, etc, were destroyed incuding the organisation's marquees. Electricity was cut which meant the chip timing and live feed results were not functioning. Thank goodness for mobile phones as we quickly phoned around to make sure everyone was OK. Eventually, as the storm subsided, we were able to gather together and swap a few "derring do" stories!
To their credit, the organisers neutralised the race at 6pm and went round the course to communicate their decision to restart the race at 8:30pm. This, of course, raised questions about potential records, age best performances, etc.... and even walkers performances... ie did this enforced break actually favour walkers who up to then had been suffering and helped them to recover. Who knows.. maybe it did...
As the 400m cinder track was completely waterlogged, the course when restarted, diverted to the 625 path surrounding the track -  cutting out the track (shades of 2016..). By Friday afternoon, the cinder track was deemed dry enough to walk on. 1,025m was so much easier to count than 625m! That said, the track was still a bit lumpy!
Well that was weather..

The Race
This year the race start was at 2pm (2 hours earlier than previous years). This meant we had to cope with the intense heat for an extra 2 hours. Bad news!  

A 6 day race is a strange beast when working out a race schedule. Several options:
  • work out a schedule from the time of the race start,  eg Day 1 is 2pm Sunday to 2pm Monday (eg a 24 hour timescale) or,
  • work out a schedule from 2pm Sunday until "bedtime" Sunday night...midnight (or earlier/later) this being 'Day 1"
  • or plan to walk a set number of hours, then rest for a set number number of hours, etc, and repeat...
No easy answer to this! Which ever plan is adopted, shelter from the afternoon heat is a must.

The walking section of the 6 Jours de France ("Marche Athletique")  does attract many walkers. Not all are race walkers, to be sure, - or at least walkers who participate in the "known" 24 hours (or less) French/Belgium/Dutch ultra race walks. This year the numbers of entrants were down overall. Only 25 walkers particiapted - down from 32 in 2017 and 37 the year before.  Of these only 15 could be said to be actual race walkers. However, that doesn't lessen the achievement of many of the walkers. As long as the feet were in contact and knees reasonably straight (can be difficult but it is not a category A race). The ability to keep walking no matter how tired you are appears to be key! A bonus was the sight of many runners who couldn't keep their pace up - trying to race walk. May long that continue and it would be brilliant if they actually switched disciplines and joined us!
As in previous years we had four judges to keep us in line - Hugue and Josy Pannier, Claude and Romuel - who all offered encouragement throughout the race.

And so to race tactics....
Many a 6 day race is lost in the first 24 hours (and possibly even the first 3 days/ 72 hours). Especially when it is very hot. It is a very foolsh person who thinks to take the lead in the first 24 hours and then think they can win the race. Six days/144 hours is a very, very long race! Steady does it, is the name of the game. Many time winners Patrick Cailloux and Christophe Biet told me this last year. (Ha - not that I was guilty of this!!!)
This year many walkers (and runners) took heed of the earlier start time and the heat and ran/walked very steadily.
Tony Mackintosh took the lead on the walkers race for many of the early hours.  Interesting to note that both Tony and Richard are very tall - in fact the tallest (and youngest?) of all the walkers - hence their stride length is so much longer that the shorter walker - anabsolute gain on many of us. This was actually commented on by some of the shorter walkers during the race!  It really does make a difference.
But tactics is also about the "box and cox" on these long distance walks. Sooner or later someone has to hit the sack and take a rest.... As ever, it is what suits each person when they they do this.  After Tony went to bed... Richard McChesney took over! And when Richard went to bed....someone else took the lead ....and so on... and so on....
Seasoned race walkers Patrick Cailloux, Phillipe Clements and Christope Biet - all previous winners - eventually strode into the leading first three places.But then Christophe took the lead .... Oh it was just so difficult keeping up.. Thankfully we could stop and see the live results on screen at every lap to see how the race was progressing. The race does have chip timing which means every athlete can monitor their progress throughout - lap by lap in real time as well overall positions.  Obviously, this also means a constant check on ones opponents!!!  Dual timings displays also means separate dispay lists of the runners and walkers.
Patrick and Phillipe always walk together and generally cross the line (well almost!) together - who would get there first is what we were all asking ourselves thoughout the week!!  

The ladies 6 day world record holder, Claudie Bizard, was as ever, very strong and quietly tracked the men!!!  Wise woman... This is her tactic. Last year two ladies went out head to head for the first couple of days 0 and then crashed out. Claudie went on to breal the world record. Bravo Claudie. Jacques, Claudie's husband, is always trackside with his folder and notes making sure she keeps on course! Such support and devotion to the sport. But the nice thing about both of them is that they are so supportive to the rest of us.  At one point Claudie moved into 3rd position, but Richard McChesney was having none of this. Having walked a very sensible race for the first 36 hours or so... (ie not out and out racing), Richard kept on (and on)  but then sadly his feet took exception to the track and eventually had to visit the medics a couple of times. More importantly (or sensibly) he decided to have a good nights sleep at the local hotel and so he came back fighting next day - vowing to catch Claudie a good 70km ahead of him.... What!!! we said ... Never!! we said!.... But he did.... Unbelievable. Goes to show that if you are deternimed enough - you can do it!

Newcomers to 6 day racing, Karen Lawrie and Tony Mackintosh settled into the race and produced good performances and a brilliant result for their first 6 day race. Tony notched up 505km and Karen achieved 463km (not bad after just going through an appendix operation) possibly setting the W40-44 age category for the Isle of Man best performance (to be ratified). However, this in itself proved to be a huge disappointment, as, despite being told by the French organisers that the ladies 314km was the previous world best performance, it wasn't until we were back in the UK that we found out that the age category world best performance was actually 509km set in Privas in 2017. We were all totally gutted. I'm sure Karen will be back!
[Note: this 2017 age category best performance for the W40 category actually exceeded the distance set by Centurion Suzanne Beardsmore back in 2015. However, the French organisers failed to tell Suzanne of this at the time .... In fact, Suzanne's performance would have won her the 3 day/72 hours race held that year but she was sadly taken ill during the race and couldn't walk for a full 6 day race. Bravo Suzanne.

Kathy Crilley managed a world best age category performance (70-74 year) and UK age best with a 350km result.*  Not without frustration though. Having been told by one of the race walking judges on duty that the 6 day world best was 240km. Kathy duly completed 241km - with an enforced lap of honour with flag - only to be told,  'oh sorry, just found out that it is actually 290km so you have to do another 50kms...."   Hey ho... ah well I would have gone on another 50km in any event... but a bit of an anti climax. As the French say: fingers up the nose....

Claudie Bizard remains the ladies 6 day world record holder (624,339 set in 2017 ) and Dominque Bunel for the men 752,721 set in 2015 (breaking Centurion John (Paddy) Dowling's record).

All in all, a very good performance by our Centurions and special thanks to Suzanne Beardsmore for her brilliant support during the race (carrying suitcases, shopping and cooking for us throughout the week, etc....).

Most importantly  - we had FUN! Yes, it's hard and tiring... but we had so many laughs along the way. And I am sure there was a competition going on to invent the most innovative gaiters every day as more impromptu designs hit the track, (See photo below...)

See you next year Privas!!!

age category performances: 6 day:
Karen Lawrie: UK/Isle of Man 40-44 year:  463,806m
Kathy Crilley world best 70-74 year: 350,343m
Richard McChesney [New Zealand]
M50 - 500km (5 days, 16 hours 4 minutes)
48 hours - 241.1km

At 144 hours (before the race was neutralised)
Karen Lawrie: 450,543
Kathy Crilley: 337,083

* (all to be ratified)

Final results for walkers (new window pdf)

Kathy Crilley

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