2018 Paris Alsace - Centurions1911

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Races & results
Paris Alsace 2018
30 May - 2 June 2018

For the fourth consecutive year, a British Centurion was invited to compete in the Paris Alsace. This year it was the turn of C933 Kathy Crilley. Centurion C1099, Guido Vermeir (BEL) was also taking part for the first time.

Race logistics
The women's race is broken down to stages:
  • Stage 1 Neuilly sur Marne 9.2km [8 x 1150 metre laps]..... transfer in camper van from Neuilly s/Marne to Chateau Thierry
  • Stage 2 Chateau Thierry 1 loop of 34.8km [total from start - 44kms] .... transfer from Chateau Thierry to Vitry le Francois
  • Stage 3 Vitry le Francois to Epinal 200km [total from start - 244kms] .... transfer from Epinal to Palinfang
  • Stage 4 Plainfang to Ribeauville 58.km [total from start 300kms]

Whilst the womens race stopped in Chateau Thierry, the men continued on from the Chateau Thierry loop to walk direct to Epinal (367km) with a 2 hour compulsory stop in Bar le Duc (a total of 223.4km to Bar le Duc from the start at Neuilly).
This year there was a third race in the mix: the Noceenne. This was for "newcomers" - although most of the entrants were experienced distance racers but had never attempted the full on mens' distance. This race followed the same race as the men as far as Vitry le Francois (170.9kms) where it stopped and then the "Noceenne" re started at Plainfang for the final stage 4.

Total distances:
  • Women - 300kms
  • Men  - 422kms
  • Noceenne -226.8kms

It is compulsory for a vehicle to follow the walker along the route - usually a camper van (although Tatiana Maslova only had a small car and a bike - amazing dedication from her small support crew). This year quite a few walkers also had very large teams with two camper vans or one camper van and a car each. Good if you can get the sponsorhip and easier and cheaper if you are French!!!
Vehicles (plus bikes) are checked and certified by the officials before the start.

For the last last few years, the finish times from stage 1 and stage 2 are accumulated times from the finish time of the first women to fininsh in each stage this dictates the start times for each indiviidual walker from stage 2 at Chateau Thierry, and then for stage 3 at Vitry.
So, if you finish 23 minutes behind the leader in Neuilly, your start time in Chatraau Thieery, will be 23 minutes after the leader sets off....
see below how it affected Kathy.... this can be brutal for the "slower" athlete and over the years, many walkers have not completed the various sections in time because of this. Of course if you are a fast walker and want to make an impression and win stages 1 and 2 then it wouldn't be a problem.

This is "compounded" by the indivudual time control points (PCS) along the route which the walker must reach within the set time or be DQ'd.

Kathy's report.....

Stage 1  Neuilly was a "mass start" at 1600.
  • Total distance 9.km - 8 laps of 1150 metres.
  • Time limit 1hour 30 minutes.
The weather was hot - high 20s and whist I knew my 10km time was well within the cut off time, but due to an accident 6 weeks earlier (cyclist rode into me, knocked me out...resulting in a bleed on the brain... plus 2 broken ribs and untold soft tissue damage.... 2 days in hospital... Worst still - no training for at least 6 weeks - which took me right up to to the Paris Alsace start line :( - so no time to see how the body could cope with actual race walking....in a race....) and that's all the excuses I have!!!

Well it certainly hurt!  Right from the off!

I had a brilliant and experienced support team: Team Captain: Centurion Tony Mackintosh from the Isle of Man; Lee Corkill and partner Kerry Martin from Leicester WC, Lisa - amazing osteopath from Bristol along with Centurion and 2015 Paris Alsace finisher Karen Lawrie and husband Dave, who joined the team later in the week. I couldn't be in better hands.

On the prologue, Tony, Lee and Lisa were there to check my lap times and Kerry was there on the road side to offer me much needed water. My, was it hot ...
Well,  I did manage to clock up 73 minutes 13 seconds for the 9.2km.  A miracle! Tony was there to make sure I was on schedule (slowest time I needed was 9km per lap) but my splits were 07.05 to 8.12 minutes per lap / 8.4km per hour to 7.3km per hour.  But it did hurt... and this did really worry me.
After the finish, a quick stagger back to the parking place and camper van (Matilda) and everyone headed off at 17:30 (all vehicles in convoy) to Chateau Thierry following the prescribed route (penalties if you didnt!!!).

Stage 2 - Chateau Thierry loop 2000-2030 start time
Total distance 34.8km.
Again, this was a new innovation for Stage 2. So no records here (thank goodness).
This stage was a 34.85 km loop from Chateau Thierry going south of the Marne to Charly sur Marne (a previous start of stage 2 which Karen Lawrie did in 2015) and then back, north of the Marne, to Ch Thierry.
Check point 2 closures/ time limits from Chateau Thierry to:
  • Charly sur Marne 19.9km:  time limit- 3hr 45 mins
  • Charly to Chateau Thierry 14.9km: time limit- 2hours 15 minutes
All sounds pretty reasonable. Unless your start time is compromised by the "reverse handicap" timing... My start time was 20:23.  ie 23 minutes after the lead women set off.  It was an agonising and lonely wait on the start line - which in itself was a good 13 minutes after the walker in front of me (Claudie Bizzard).

Again. I knew that in better circumstances I could meet the cut off times with loads to spare. But once again right from the start I could feel some muscles complaining rather loudly. How on earth was I going to complete 34km no matter what the time limit was?

Luckily, we had reccied the route the day before, so no surprises here and it was a really nice route out of Chateau Thierry down to Charly sur Marne and back north of the Marne. No hills to to be frightened of!!
Before the race start, the organisers had dropped off programme leaflets and the wonderful support we had was amazing. This really works in France. Bystanders (all waiting patiently outside their houses)  applaud not just the walkers by name, but the whole support team. This is what I love about this race. Not even any hassles with car drivers ... they all toot and holler and stop to applaud us all. Sheer magic!

Due to my" handicapped" start time, my "new" time limit for the first 19.9km was now reduced to 3hours 22 minutes. But still very do-able.....
Well, I got to the check point in Charly sur Marne in time,. My goodness,  what a welcome! Well, OK, so the control point was just outside a bar.... :) I was even offered a glass of beer (should have taken it?....)

So, now it was just 14.9km back to Chateau Thierry with a time limit of 2hours 38 minutes. All I could think of was the bed awaiting me at the finish!! Which I had to pass a couple of kilometres before the finish line in Ch Thierry!! How cruel is that??? But the good news for me, was that I was not all that far behind Claudie (about 25 minutes). Phew.
Lisa was there on the bike just behind me all the way making sure I took food and drink (and painkillers) on board.
So, thankfully I finished at 01: 38 on Thursday morning - back to the hotel and a good massage from Lisa. Thank you! (The crew camped out in the camper in the Ibis car park.)

Having survived the first two "fast" stages - now time to "relax" maybe.... on the long stage....

It is a very long race and usually walkers on the Paris Alsace will err on the side of caution on the first two stages to minimise any damage for the later stages by not going out too fast with an aim to win the stages. (You won't catch Osipvov or Tatiana doing this...) But not this year, though and despite best preparations beforehand in caculating times/distances regarding the time limits, there is no way one can guess what other walkers will do on the first two stages. And this was part of my problem this year. I was hoping for more time on stages 2 and 3 (which I desparately needed as I now knew I couldn't really go all that fast) but I just did not count on my start times being so much later than .. (lesson learned!!!)

On the weather front....
Despite the "yellow storm warnings" from the meteo. we were very lucky. We could see the lightening all around the Marne valley but luckily no thunder and importantly no rain! In fact the whole race was probably the best weather for many years. In 2015 (supporting Centurion Karen Lawrie) - the road was literally melting under our feet it was so hot. The year after,  Centurion Suzanne Beardsmore experienced an awful lot of rain.. And again, last year in 2017, it was very hot for Tony Mackintosh....  yes, the prologue in Neuilly was hot and it was still hot at my very late start in Chateau Thierry - but overall, no complaints with the weather. And luckily it was relatively flat.

Stage 3 Vitry Le Francois to Epinal
Distance 200.6km
Start time 1700 (but my start time was at 18: 48)
4 x 1km loops around Vitry then on to Epinal

Once again, stymied by the fast finish of the lead woman, my start time was an incredible 1hour 48 minutes after her 1700 start time.
The sponsors, Decathlon, were very keen to have other events going on at the same time and it really proved difficult to negotiate the square in Vitry on my initial 4 laps as "bystanders" just were not aware of the race .... well, ok, me, at such a late time! Not good having t dodge in out of the crowds.
At least I didn't have to "report" to the race starter until 18:30 - so a bit of rest in the shade. However, it was a very lonely wait on the start time for 20 minutes.  I really wouldn't wish that any anyone.
Once out of centre ville it was a question of one foot in front of the other and just going from one check point to the next. In retrospect, I'm not sure that this was the best approach. Maybe working in time segments of 4 or 6 hours might have been better. Just a thought, as this is what I do in a 24 hour race...

Before the start, loads of people had posted comments on Face Book - "just enjoy it". Oh, if only!  After 35 years of racing I have never experienced such pain and discomfort on such short races and it was a complete shock. I had to stop every couple of hours for Lisa to massage the sore bits. And she was very strict with the pain killers too!  I have to say that without Lisa's magic hands, I would have had to stop much earlier than I did. Thank you Lisa! Whilst the broken ribs had more or less knitted back together, the intercostal muscles had not healed. It just hurt to breathe. The bits of me that the bike hit, plus the bits of me that hit the road had just not not repaired in time.
And sadly, the time deficit between the PCS was narrowing. I left Gondrecourt with a fighting chance of making the next PCS at Coussey and indeed then getting on to the next PCS in time. But sadly not to be... [Karen and I had a bit of a conflab at Gondrecourt to check my likelihood of getting to Coussey before 7pm and we thought I could...] So I pressed on....

The "big" hill  (the only real hill so far) just a couple of kilometres before the check point at Coussey slowed me down a bit. Honest, it was a real very long up hill...with the beautiful memorial church to Jeanne d'Arc at the top.
One of the judges (Michel) drove by and said - "time out!"   We replied in unison ..."not until Coussey". Thankfully, Michel was up for it and drove back to the check point to make sure everyone was there when I arrived 20 minutes out of time. And what a welcome we all received!  Ok it as utside anotjer bar....! Michel was adamant that I just would not have to stop "just somewhere" on the road at 7pm and be dq'd. Bravo et merci beaucoup, Michel.  

Again this is what makes it such a special race. Throughout, the race organisers, judges, officials and everyone concerned with the race were exceptional. Their encouragement and concern for everyone's welfare was second to none. It didn't matter whether you were in the lead or right at the back... everyone was special!

So, all in all, my total distance was just over 168km. Not what I had expected to do! Initially, pre accident, I thought that I would finish and this is what I had planned on. So it was such a huge disappointement not to do so.  In retrospect, the race was just two or three weeks too soon for me.

I cannot thank my team enough for their support and encouragement throughout. They were ACE. As were the whole Paris Alsace organisation, supporters and competitors.

It has been an experience I would not have missed. I have supported many walkers on this race over the last 30 years but nothing can be compared to actually doing it!

So please Centurions - give it a thought. It is possibly an experience worse than your worst 24 hours nightmare. But it is the challenge of mind vs body - just what we British Centurions enjoy! (but just avoid cyclists beforehand!!)
Do get in touch if you are interested. You  do need to quallify at one of the French races first..... (see the fixture list)

Above all - you need a good team (happy to give advice on this)  and its not a cheap race. See below for my costs.... (don't be too alarmed as I am sure costs can be reduced a little - but it is a useful guide...)

I have put a couple of web pages together, which I hope will be good advice to anyone contemplating the race. From prepping your camper van (Tony Mackintosh takes the gold medal in this) to shopping, where to stay, signing on and the medical.... plus loads more. So do take a look at the Paris Alsace pages -includes a survival guide to the Paris Alsace !

I have shamelessly culled photos from FaceBook and elsewhere, so many thanks to Guy, Emmanuel, Cedric, Matthieu, Dave Lawrie, Lee Craddock and others, in the genuine hope that Centurions (and others) will be inspired to have a go.

Paris Alsace costs  - total  approx £3,200.00
initial outlay
this covered....
  • train & air fares of everyone
  • ferry Isle of Man - England
  • Channel Tunnel
  • hire car in France to collect crew from Paris CDG airport (twice)
  • servicing camper van plus food/water/cups/cutlery/plates/etc...
Food & meals
food for 7 for 10 days & includes a couple of meals out
camp site in Dormans x 3 nights
camp site in Ribeauville x 1 night
Ibis hotel for me at the end of stage 2, Ch Thierry
for hungry Matilda (Isle of Man - England - Ribeauville + return)
Autoroute tolls
Calais - Ribeauville return
race entry
100 euros

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