Why 6 days? Why so far from home?
I think I fell in love with 6 days racing in 2010 in Antibes . Since then, I've done it 4 times. This is going to be my 5th try on the distance. My best one being the last one, last year at Across The Years , with a mark at 541 miles (871 km).
The 6 days concept is just so simple: you show up on a track and have 144 hours to do your best and score as many laps / kilometers / miles as you can. There are no special rules, you can run, walk, crawl, sleep, eat and drink, to pretty much whatever you want. As long as you don't take any shortcuts or ride a bike, usually, it's OK. Records are 644 miles (1036 km, Yiannis Kouros, 2005) for the world record and 642 miles (1034 km, Jean-Gilles Boussiquet, 1992) for the French national record. Jean-Gilles kept the world record several years by the way, waiting for Kouros to top it by less than 3 km. At age 71, he's still running. And what's more, he's very kind. I had the honor to share a few track loops with him, and admire him greatly. Each time I race a six day I can measure at what point what he's achieved is awesome.
There are not so many races like this in the world. Let's say it's about a small dozen of them. Nearby, I can find the 6 days of France, where I will go in October this year. But meanwhile, it was convenient to have a significant race in winter, and switching to the southern hemisphere was a nice tactical move to avoid racing in rain and cold. Anyway, there's no such race in bad weather, I suspect nobody would register.
On the paper, I simply try and beat my personnal record (that is, at least 542 miles or 872 km) and, if possible, reach the symbolic 900k limit. I sort of feel I should be able to get those 900. Some day. They should fall. I hope so, and work into that direction.
I came with my father Jean-Paul, who is gonna crew me, taking care that everything goes smoothly.
Welcome to Africa
First impressions, when getting there:
- we are treated like VIPs. The race director sent someone to get us at the airport, they have set up the tents for us on the side of the track, I'm even
granted a real bed, with a wood frame. This is plain luxury.
- South Africansare very (very) nice. With a barbecue, I mean, "Brail" culture, something they seem to have elevated to the rank of national sport. One could not make a better usage of this warm and sunny weather.
- the sun beats you down at 1 pm. The sun is everything but your friend out there. Still, the good news is that there are no mosquitoes, the weather is globally dry so it's not *that* bad, and quite nice.
The day before the start, we visit a nearby elephant sanctuary (special thanks to Magda & Fanie for taking us there!), we just think about other things, enjoying the trip, before the real stuff begins.
This year, as usual, I have planned to alternate walk and run. My current mix of choice is 40 minutes walking, then 1h20 jogging. This is a one third / two thirds basic blend, slightly easier than what I've done for the 48h in Royan , so it should leave me with some little energy left at the end of day 2. Knowing that, additionally, I plan to sleep. I think I would sleep half an hour the first night, then 2:15 the 4 following nights, small 5 minutes naps during the day if needed, and nothing at all the last day. This, is on the paper. On the paper, it always look so easy.
So we start at midday, precisely. Under a bright too bright sun, needless to say.
Among the starters list, there's a talented South African, much better than I am on all distances but... on 6 days, my personnal best being slightly above his (which is 815km, that is 506 miles, not bad, hey). But this is only his second try. His name is Johan, he's very friendly, I brought a pair of Hokas (the funny shoes with the cheese-cake like soles) from Europe, and, obviously, I observe him during the first laps. I got all my time. And anyway, I walk the first laps, keep cool, no stress, we have 143 hours left, no need to panic, really.
He runs well, for sure. Light stride, but I can spot there's something wrong about it. He told me he got injured a few months ago, I imagine there's a relation between those two facts. All this does not prevent him from putting 10k in the bank during the first 12 hours, so he's clearly ahead, with about and hour and a half lead. I know he's about to slow down (else he would beat the world record by 20%...). But still, he's in lead, I'm second, let us run our own paces.
Then he stopped. Twice I think. Meanwhile I had my night's sleep, only half an hour which is enough to make a break and avoid overdoing it during the first 24 hours, and at the same time should allow me not to sleep until the next night. All in all, in the morning, I have a small lead. I wasn't expecting this, I would have thought it took me several long days to come back, but well, so be it. It does not change anything to my plan. The big mistake would be to try and "secure" this 1st place by speeding up. Patience is a required quality for that sport.
Then... well I won't detail all the dace days because, to be honest, it was more or less the same. What can I say then? I could mention that to simplify things, I always wake up at the same time. 3 am. It saves me the hassle of setting up the alarm clock. An easy 3 minutes gain. Then if I'm dead tired I go to bed early, and if I feel good, I run a little later.
Sleeping strategy is a tricky subject. I suspect I could do even better and have a wide range of progress in that domain, as for now, it takes me about 20 minutes just to wake up and get ready. Between the time the alarm clock rings and the time I'm on the track a lot of precious minutes are lost... But it's like that, I try hard, but I get problems to "boot" faster. I often make strange dreams on races. This time I remember waking up in panic mode, seized by an insane claustrophobia, trying to get out of that closed box. The box was just my tent, it only took a simple zip to open it... To some extent this is good news, it means I wake up naturally before the official time and that I have completed a full "cycle". This is, I think, very important, it's one of the requisites to be able to perform well at the very end of the race.
Then, the trick is to stay awake until the next night. That is, half past midnight for me. I find the hardest part is between 8 pm and midnight, because the darkness of the night makes it easier to fall asleep and one pays for a hard day working on the track. My "40 minutes walk / 1 hour 20 run" split works quite well and helps me a great deal. I know I only have to complete a 2 hours round. And for the next 2 hours? This is just another question, which can be dealt with later... It's a very basic tactic but it does work well. I think I would gain something by taking a little nap somewhere around 2 pm or 4 pm, depending on the weather. Each time, I hesitate to do this, then often regret it during the beginning of the night because at that time I'm exhausted and slow. This is something I should improve. There's always something to improve. This is what's cool in this sport.
The sun is not your friend over there. At 5 am it provides a gentle light. this is cool. It's gentle until 9 am. Then, trouble starts. It just spreads light and heat and beats you until you're just raving for shade. On some days we get clouds and this is much better. When clouds are here, everything gets almost simple. But when Mister Sun is alone in the sky, you'd better watch out and keep humble.
I noticed that when I race, with by 100% cotton large hat, my head feels cooler than when I walk. Strange hey? This is not due to the relative wind, between 5 and 7.5 km/h (3 or 5 mph) there's not such a big difference. So what is it? I finally got it! It's the fact of jumping between two steps (which you do when running, but not when walking) that makes the sides of my hat "flip flap" at each stride. The elephants have the same techniques, when they flap their ears. It's slightly different for the elephants as they cool the blood in the ears sector as well, but globally the process is quite similar. So I keep my hat wet at all times this way the border is heavy with dampness and flaps and brings coolness all around.
I think in the absolute, the heat what way less impressive than at the 6 days in Privas, France, last August. We had 31 degrees (88F) I think when at Privas they were served 38 degrees (100F) days. But hell, that almost vertical sun was just hellish. Not mentionning Johanesburg is 1700 meters high (5500ft) so you get closer to it, and it magnifies its effects. By the way, I had this information wrong when coming, for some odd reason I had figured out it was only 1000 meters high (3000ft). I do not know wether it has a significant impact on performance, but I clearly remember, on day 2 or 3, thinkins "hey, I can't breath easily, is there dust in the air or what?".
So the sun is the great master until 4 pm. Then one can move normally without fearing to overheat at each corner. I think that only once in the afternoon I did refuse to run between midday and 4 pm, acknowledging that it was obviously not worth it, else I always manged to jog around somehow. That's the trick. No matter what the weather is, you need to find a way to move on. If one stops running when it's sunny, one can forget about personal bests...
Magda, Fanie's companion, really tries hard to help me by all means. And it works. At some point, she offers me cup of soup. I do not refuse. And then, my friends, here's the ultimate soup. I mean, *THE* final soup. The only stuff any ultra runner ever needs on a race. I feel I could have relied on that from day 1 to 6, period. This is plain crazy. It's just so creamy, with little bits of meat in in, with a nice taste of "hand-made" about it. I drink, drink and re-drink loads of it.
It's a very valuable help. Indeed Jean-Paul does not have a fridge and kitchen and all that stuff and obviously can't compete with Magda who came with a trailer and all the modern camping comfort you'd ever dream of.
I listened to lots of music. I use jumbo earphones, those wide gear that deliver powerfull bass. Generally speaking, I only use this for hard times, during the night, typically when sleepiness is banging at my door. I have a playlist which can look totally random at first time, mixing songs for little kids, heavy rock'n'roll, disco, brass-bands and of course some Bide & Musique songs, which I had cautiously selected at the time I was listening for this web radio a lot. To explain you what this is about, it's a radio that digs in our unexplainable past for songs that sound sometimes akward and ugly, ususally both.
One often wonders wether, you know, just by accident "wouldn't it be dead boring to go round a track like this? for 6 days?". In fact it could be really hard if there was not this magical thing: we're not alone! And paradoxically, the shorter the track, the easier the race, because you always meet other runners.
For instance, on these 6 days, one can meet:
Lizette Botha. Lizette is just like me. She chats and talks and chats and talks. At first I thought "howdy, this is totally super cool!". But well, there's a trick... she sleeps, and lives an "almost normal life" on this 6 days. So she never wears out, she's always pumped to her maximum, running at 10 km/h (6 mph), she smiles, she is full of energy (sorry Lizette, please do not take it as an offense...) at some point, she's just tiring me ;) But well, globally, should you be alone on a 6 days with her, just don't worry, she can handle it alone, she's gonna power the whole thing by herself.
Hester Fortune. A stamina mineas well, I leave her a shirt from the OMPCA (the running club of the Peaugeot SA at La Garenne Colombes, France) as a souvenir. An impressive bit of a woman, with a strong local accent which did not ease up communications, but a very nice lady.
Hester and Gerard Fourie. Now those ones, how to put it. The walking lovers, I'd call them. I saw the for a whole week, walking hand in hand, and honestly, I've seen a bunch of couples on track races, but the Fouries are just so cute I'd even claim that the French Chevillons barely match them. Those who know who I'm talking about get a small grasp of the situation. You had to see them, really. Only that was worth the trip. I'd be very glad they could visit us in Privas. Nice as they are, I can't imagine they would not make many friends over here.
Johan van der Merwe, who. this is sad, could not manage to make the race he deserved, interrupted on the fly by injury. He should try again this 6 days stuff, he's going to come out with some interesting result, for sure.
Amanda Economon, strong walker, her personnal bests written on the back of her jacket. She's not here to make fun around, but she keeps smiling. She reaches the 500k mark. On grass ground, with the local conditions, this is clearly good, few people can match.
Fanie Naude, the green team captain. Kindness made human, this is his first 6 days. With Magda, they helped me a great deal. Fanie discovered, at his expenses, that running 6 days, well, is a hard thing. I gave him my Nok (French anti-chaffing cream, does miracles), a very light compensation for all he did, hopefully this can help him fighting blisters next time.
Mireille Cormier, the Made In France female runner. She has to fight the sun, but I think that globablly, she enjoyed this trip in the South.
Anthony Bold, second overall, with an unbelievable finish. He basically gave it all. He passed me an unbelievable number of times during the race. Only he stopped too often ;)
Martie Boesenberg, yet another dynamite stick mounted on legs. Full of energy, motivated, funny, she breaks her arm during the race... and came back on track. You don't stop Martie with as little as a broken wrist. No way.
Christian Coertze, yeah, there's another Christian. This allow us to cheer up each other with a simple "hey Christian!". Easy.
Frik du Preez. Impossible not to mention him. I must admit I often crossed him while he was sitted somewhere drinking some nice refreshing-and-full-of-bubbles drink along with Fanie and Stefan. So long.
Pieter Pretorius, pumped to his maximum for the 48h, Pieter gives the impression to be oh-so-strong. He runs fast and strong. He should try and stop less often IMHO and could better his personnal record that way. But at a little more than 240k (almost 150 miles) he did a good job, obviously.
Dave Richards, the UK guy, as me, he came from the North all the way down here. I asked him why he chose such a remote destination for a 48h, and his answer was mostly "I thought it would be fun". Now, that's the state of mind I love.
Samuel Skeva, I talked for a while with him, and maybe without realizing it, he helped me a lot, because he arrived at the right moment. Samuel, I would have loved to talk even more with you but you should not have limited yourself to a mere 48h. Next time, take it up to 6 days my friend!
Keanne Raats, only slightly older than my oldest daughter Adèle, she's trying out what this 24h thingy is about. Paulo talked quite some time with here. It's cool that youngsters can try thess long distances. Obviously, she slept at night because yes, her parents are reasonnable people, and with her, the goal is not to destroy one's health. I give her a little glimpse of what suitable running music is. Ha ;)
Neels Vermeulen, with his trailer and assorted car, all painted with the right colors and messages. He runs but also makes the show with music & microphone and big woofers and when needed. Hence the vehicles. He has an impressive number of "comrades" done in very respectable times, running tales to fill up the long winter nights. I'm very happy I met him.
Magda Vermaak, Fanie's companion. Always taking care of me, for a complete 144 hours streak, and even before. Even as she was running her 12 hours, she would keep on crewing me and preparing her oh-so-famous legendary soup.
Susan Jansen van Vurren, whom I crossed several times on the track, steady, serious, scoring laps, and I encouraged her for this, because she obviously deserved it. I hope and I have good reasons to think she enjoyed it on the track.
Stefan Roodt, I kept the best for the end you know. I play with him the "One simply does not ..." game during the whole race (ask him what this is about it you wonder). He's a local living encyclopedia of ultra running, he knows PBs, records and all. But most remarkable, he features an unmistakable laugh and humour, it is not possible to get bored with him. I repeat *IT IS NOT POSSIBLE*. With Anthony, they manage to reach their "800k together" target.
And there were many others, I hope they won't take is as an offense if I did not mention them explicitly, I think I got a chance to exchange with pretty much everyone. If not, that would be a good enough reason to come back!
The major race of this running festival is obviously the 6 days. But there are other races. Some do a 12 hours, other a 24 or a 48, or even a 100 miles, well, all the possible distances and formulas are present. But still, the 24h that starts on December 31st midday and ends on January 1st midday has more participants than any other race.
Among the starters, my father, that good old Paulo, who will be able to officially score a few laps. While doing this, he keeps crewing me. Let's say that I (what a spoiled child...) remain the top priority, and if there's something to get for me: he makes the extra effort to go and get it. That's the deal.
Globally, I do need that much I think, knowing that at this stage, the race and my habits are quite set up, so I know what to do. Johan let it go after two days, looks like injury was involved, so I'm alone leading the race, the second moves quite well but I see him nowhere near as getting back on me, at least not if I keep going the way I started. Unless I seriously mess up, the race is won. Yet there's still the question of "how far I can push it" but there's no panic on board.
Paulo is doing a good job. At night, he decides to keep running (and walking, of course, we're not crazy...) while I sleep.
And when I wake up, he asks me that simple question "guess what's my position?". As I had a chance to see what was going on the track, I do not hesitate much. 1st? Right! The girls who where ahead of him just took it easy and went to sleep, as a direct consequence, he took the lead, moving around like a steady hamster. He has a twenty laps lead, which seems and will prove to be impossible to get back within only 6 hours.
This is how, at age 65, he manages to win his first ultra race. Endurance running is about patience, you know! OK, the final score:
1 2426 Mauduit, Jean-Paul 256 23:57:51.440" 128,102 km
is not that impressive, less that 130k (80 miles) is not an exceptionnal mark, by no means, but hell, anyone was allowed to register and compete, that's the rule.
Just after this 24h is over I experience... how should I put it... a serious down. I don't think it's related to the 24h itself, but well, after some time, the distance, the sun, and generally speaking, the race, take its toll...
I try hard but I do not move fast anymore. I had an awfull morning. Looking at the figures afterwards, the reality is impressive, between midnight and midday I only did... 33km (21 miles)! OK I slept a bit, as I do every night, but anyway, only 33k in 12 hours, one is very far from "doing great" here. Seeing that disaster, I decide to stop for 45 minutes and enjoy a hudge nap during the afternoon. My bet: by doing this I maximize the chances to get back on track and make a "good evening session", and maintain a good pace until midnight.
And it globally works. Well, almost. I decide, to close this session, to sleep a little earlier than usual, say 11:30 pm, and wake up earlier at 2:00 am (an hour earlier than initially planned) and what's more, take a shower. Since the beginning of the week, I never did, and let's face it, my legs are unbelievably dirty, just disgusting.
So just before midnight, I take a shower with Paulo's help, I enjoy this unbelievable luxury and then fly to me tent for a good night's sleep. The day after, I wake up and I'm pleased to see that I handle the morning quite well, with a reasonably good pace.
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Arizona...
...there's another 6 days. From December 28th to January 3rd, just the very same. Across The Years, organized by Aravaiparunning, where I was last year.
They started a few hours after us because they are in a different time zone but 4 days into the race, it makes sense to make comparisons. And, globally, Ed "The Jester" is slightly ahead, a few kilometers (or miles, whatever) ahead of me. I try and gather my brain to think about what I could do. I'm already well of the 900k line. Even for my personal record at 541 miles, things are definitely compromised. I could maybe hit my mark in Antibes (812k, 504 miles) or just a plain 800k or a 500 miles (slightly above 800k). And Ed who's 3 miles ahead or so... I set up on a rather simple concept: beat those Americans at ATY, and get the 800k on the fly. In any case, they should logically aim at the 500 miles so I can reasonably not aim at anything less.
And here we go!
The best tactic looks plain simple: reduce walking to its maximum, run whenever possible. And, what's more, do not sleep. With a finish at midday, it should do it, once the night is over, the rest should be a piece of cake.
Jean-Paul draws accurate charts for me, showing my mileage and global progress. And anyway, I can simply be carefull at the time I validate the "multiple of 100k" marks. I passed 600 in the early evening, so if I do 700 by the middle of the afternoon, the chances I can pass 800 before midday are not void.
I feel lonely now. The 48 hours guys are done. There's globally only the 6 days people on the track. And not everyone is moving now. Behind me, the second runner is just so far, he would need to double his speed and me to stop at all, should he want to win the race. So well, it's a simple fight between me and the clock. All this looks quite pointless, a little vain. If I keep going like this, I might end up at 480 or 490 miles. To get the 500, I need to fight and get that "extra mile" everyone is talking about. Should there be someone tackling me from behind, or pulling me in front, it would be "almost easy". But this is harder. There's no choice anyway.
A 24 hours sprint
So starting at midday, I switch the power on. My 40 minutes / 1h20 blend of walk and run transforms into 15 minutes / 1h45. In short, I try and run all the time, or at least as much as I can. I still need to drink, eat, pee. All those little details that defeat your average speed. But this is the game. So I push it as hard as I can, and at midnight, I look backwards.
Shit. Not even 45 miles. Slightly over 70k. In short, I can reach my target, but to do this, I need to maintain the pace. This implies doing yet another 12 hours full speed ahead. Except it's pitch dark, I'm tired, I'd just like to sleep... But I can't afford it, there's no time. Is that a joke? The positive side: should I succeed, the day I need to compete with another runner during the last 12 hours, I will have a nice experience to refer to. Let's kick it!
So I run. I use my headphones and music a lot. It's good but not enough. I can see shapes threatening me from the track border, giant trees, almost like big dark clouds, coming from my left. I could choose to ignore those imaginary monsters, but cutting off external signals can be dangerous, I might just miss the real track itself, hurt myself into one of these metal poles marking it. Not an easy gamble. So I decide to sleep... 2 minutes. One must realize that it takes only 15 seconds for me to fall asleep, I think. Paulo wakes me up, I feel like I had such a huge nap, the break is just impressive. I guess the machine is getting tired, this should soon be over.
I'm on the road again. I do not run fast, this proves impossible. I remain very cautious, trying to maintain a "marathon within 6 hours and a half" global pace. That's about 4 mph, or 6.5km/h. It's not very fast but 4*12=48 so that's 48 miles in 12 hours so please don't laugh! I think when I run I never get above 5 mph.
I can spot the French flag planted in the middle of the roof that protect the race quarters with all the computers and stuff. I can see it at each lap. I just think I did come from very far, trained for months, for years, this is clearly not the right time and the right place to give up. Whenever it feels hard I think about Valérie and Wilfrid, whom I'm going to crew during the 24h in Rennes. Then I will repeat them that they should keep going and believe they can do it. Now it's my turn to do it. I'm probably one of the only 6 days fellow moving now, along with some 12 hours people. My opinion is that this is what 6 days is about. It's pointless to be strong at the beginning when everyone is just so fresh, and it's not at daytime, when spectators - even if there are not plenty, there are always some - are cheering you up, that you make the difference. No, the real race is held at night, alone, when piling up steady miles and no one watches nor sees it.
I'm just so happy. I'm on pace. It's hard, but I'm doing it. I know the sun is going to make everything easier in the early morning. No more sleepiness. And only 7 hours to go. 7 hours! This is just nothing...
The "800k deal" gets easier and easier. At first I needed to maintain that 4 mph pace. But at last I see the point when it's "enough" to do 3.something to reach the goal. Then the 6km/h barrier is crossed. I can't remember the very exact figures, but, for instance, I only needed to do 30k within 5 hours to reach my 800k goal. But it takes ages to "become easy". The truth is: 800k is hard. I finally find out I'm going to hit that point somewhere between 10:30 am and 11:00 am. Without slowing down. The sad reality is htat it's rather 11:00 that 10:00 because... surprise! The sun is back. That good old damn sun, crushing us with its power. I am just careful, I know overheating is a very possible outcome. The advantage of that last day is that I need no pile up energy stocks for later. Proteins and fat are not mandatory, fast sugar intake is very likely to be enough now, and this simplifies things a great deal.
Some 12 hours runners came with a joyfull staff, and they are equiped with some unbelievable powerful and loud speakers. It looks like they are permanently setting up the stuff, trying out the volume. Each tune only lasts for 15 seconds, and is cut right in the middle of it. Strange. But it's nice to have them. With that heat I can't wear my earphones, and they wouldn't appreciate being dipped into the swimming pool at each lap either.
About 11:00 am. I'm finally above 800k. I did it again. Only an hour left. I do not know what they are doing at ATY but I'm deeply convinced they are way behind me. I kept it strong, and I know how it is over there in Glenndale, Arizona. Cold nights, longer nights (maybe 4 hours longer than here in summer). It's very unlikely they could go significantly faster than I. And what's more, for they Americans, the symbolic mark is 500 miles, not 800k, so it's slightly above and might appear unreachable. In any case, I did my best, and now it's done.
Only an hour left. I gather all my forces and try and speed up a bit. The difference is going to be very small, only a kilometer or a mile, just 2 or 3 laps. But it's a good way to secure the 500 miles mark, and additionally, I wouldn't accept to do a soft, small, slow finish. Not after that day.
As during the 48h on a threadmill I feel disquieting pain in my left calf. Strange hey, no problems for 143 hours and then it looks like it's going to fall apart, as soon as one tries to reach 6 mph or 10 km/h. Well, I won't play the hero. I keep going the way I've started. Serious, steady, safe and sound mileage. I even take the time to enjoy one or two ices with those local exotic fruit flavors, while walking gently around the track. I wouldn't want to end up in the doctor's tent. Not now, this would be so stupid.
So, the result is:
616 Mauduit, Christian 1615 143:58:33.417" 808,146
1615 laps. for a total of 502 miles, 808km. Note that the extra distance after the last lap is not counted, so this is only a round number of lap.
Oh, and as far as the "color team" challenge is concerned, the final rankings are:
- Red 2990k
- Blue 2808k
- Green 2605k
- Orange 1837k
...so we're third, wooohooo!
And should I do this again, would I change something? Well, I'd probably target 900k again, even it this would mean a predictable failure ;) I probably underestimated the head, and what's more the sun and alitude (1700m, 5500ft). But well, on any race some aspects prove difficult, but to compensate, here, the nights where rather easy, the logistics where really good, and globally, it's a nice race. And what's even more important, I now have lots of new friends, and this is just so great. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see some of them over here in Europe.
And while many people people start the year by making new resolutions and setting up imaginary gaols, I did start by having a 500 miles just... done. And this is just super cool.
The only regret I have is to have spent the new Year's Eve far from my little family. The girls have used that time to discover Hungary and visit Budapest. But now we're together again, and things are better that way. Obviously.