|13th May||Rest Day|
|15th May||Rest Day|
|16th May||Rest Day|
|17th May||Rest Day|
|18th May||Rest Day|
|19th May||Rest Day|
|TOTAL||598.26||962.76||4 days 17:01:23||12,770||12,700||65,135|
Just 1 session this week, but it was my first ever win in a non handicap race!
Over the weekend of 14/15 May I joined 13 other walkers from the Isle of Man in Schiedam, South Holland, to take part in the 'Wandelweekend' organised by RWV.
I have already provided a high level report of the weekend which can be found on the Parish Walk facebook page so this blog entry just covers how my own race went in a bit more detail.
The main event of the weekend was of course the 100 mile/ 24 hour walk, however there were also 50k, 100k and 50 mile races taking place at the same time, and I had already pre-registered for the 50 mile.
I mentioned in my last post that the most difficult decision I would make on the day wasn't my race pace but whether or not I should switch to the 100 mile race instead.
Luckily the decision was easy. For those who pre-registered online the race numbers included your name. This was the first time I have ever had my name on a race number (except for emergency contact details on the reverse!) so there was no way I was switching events now !
My next decision was race pace.
Plan A was to average 11:30 per mile pace which would give me a finish time of 9 hours 35 minutes. I had already calculated that 11:23 would give me a time of 9:30 so that was my secret plan A+ but only if things were going well.
Plan B was to average 11:59 per mile pace to finish in under 10 hours, and finally plan C was just to finish regardless of time.
I was the only British entrant in the race and was seriously outnumbered 40 to 1 by the Dutch, although there was 1 Belgian in the race so I wasn't the only outsider.
The most important piece of equipment I needed to bring with me for the day was my Garmin, so you can probably guess what's coming.
When I packed my watch I was paranoid I would accidentally switch it on while it was in the bag and the battery would be flat so I had the genius idea of putting my watch inside my empty water bottle, along with my lights for the night, as this should stop them getting switched on by mistake.
About 10 minutes before the start of my race I turned on the watch and the first message I got wasn't the usual 'locating satellites' but 'Low Bat', which pretty much means it's about to turn itself off.
Luckily Matthew Haddock has exactly the same watch and, even luckier, it was still in our support tent following the 50k so I ran back from the start line to get it. Unfortunately it hadn't been switched off since the 50k so had been running for nearly 8 hours now, but I just hoped there would be enough battery for a good few hours to stop me setting off too fast.
Even luckier was the fact when Matt came around on his first lap of the 50k the watch had frozen on start up so he had no idea of pace either. He gave me the watch and I couldn't get it to start either so I text my wife asking her to Google how to do a hard reset on a Garmin 310.
I wasn't firing up the internet on my phone having just had a text from Manx Telecom advising me that I had just used £50 in roaming data by uploading a tiny 1 minute video of the 100mile start to facebook!
My wife replied in a matter of minutes and when Matt came around on his next lap the watch was up and running. Even when she is a few hundred miles away she still provides great support ;-)
I was wearing my heart rate monitor but it hadn't been synched to Matt's watch, and I didn't have time to do that now, so I took it off and ran back up to the start line with a few minutes to spare.
The 50 mile race consisted of 20 long laps, each 2.45 miles, around the scenic Princes Beatrix Park, plus a shorter lap at the start of about 1 mile to give the required distance.
After the first 100 metres or so I was in second place and the chap in front was slowly pulling away. Since I had no idea who he was or what he was capable of I stuck to the plan and tried to go no quicker than 11:30, but as it happens it ended up being close to 11:00.
As the one mile lap ended to join the main loop I emerged just a few metres behind Vinny Lynch who by now had lapped all 100 mile walkers at least once. Since I had no idea exactly where the big loop was going to go I stuck with Vin so he could show me the way around. By now the 50 mile leader was long gone.
About half way around the first big lap I got passed by another 50 mile walker. We walked together for a few minutes and he told me he was from Holland and this was the first long walk he had done, but he hadn’t done a lot of training due to work. I kept glancing at my pace and, conscious that I was going too quick and there was still a long way to go, I wished him good luck and dropped back a little.
I was in third now, but that was okay, we were only 30 minutes in.
As the miles ticked by I could see second place pulling further and further away and then as it turned to dusk I lost sight of him completely.
As I came to the end of lap 3 (about 8.5 miles) I found myself walking with Vinny again as he had just stopped at the support station. We walked lap 4 together and he mentioned that he had seen the 2nd place walker up ahead and I should have no problem catching him, but he doubted I would catch 1st place as he was flying.
Vinny stopped again at the end of lap 4 to get some warm clothes (it was just after 10pm now) and I didn’t see him again all night. By now it was fully dark so I just settled into a relaxed pace in the hope I would eventually catch second place.
There were no large timing screens like the 100 mile walk in Castletown so I had absolutely no idea how far ahead he was (or 1st place for that matter), and likewise I had no idea how far behind 4th was.
Around 11pm / 15-16 miles I started to slow down. My legs just started to feel sluggish and heavy and I was finding it hard work to get close to 11:30 pace. I was convinced I hadn’t gone off too quick so just blamed it on a natural slow down due to the dark. With over 30 miles still to go I knew Plan A was unlikely so I just eased off slightly to around 11:45 pace and my legs started to loosen up a bit.
I managed to maintain more or less 11:45 pace until mile 28 when the Garmin battery eventually gave up and died. It goes off so quickly after flashing the low battery warning that I didn’t have chance to check what my overall average pace was, but I knew it was definitely under 12:00.
There was a large timing clock on the start/finish line so I knew if I could complete each 2.45 mile lap in under 30 minutes I would be still under 12:00 pace.
Once I got over the initial panic of not having a watch something interesting happened. I started to get quicker, or at least that’s how it felt. Everything felt relaxed, nothing ached and I felt good.
I’m confident that, sometimes, racing by watch pace does hold you back and is not always the best thing to do. If you take away that visual confirmation of pace then it just removes a whole load of stress which can be redirected to the legs instead.
It’s definitely something I’m going to try more often on the long events. Maybe start with the watch for a few hours to make sure you aren’t going too quick and then switch it off or, if you really want the stats, leave it running but put it somewhere out of sight.
A few miles later I passed a couple of Dutch walkers in the 100 mile race (they both took part in the Castletown 100 in 2015) and one of them mentioned that if I kept going at this pace I would catch their friend so that spurred me on too. I had no idea if their friend was in 1st or 2nd at this point.
I have just checked my official lap times and the last 4 laps before the watch died were between 29.13 to 29:51, and then suddenly they are 28:40, 27:58, 28:24, so I definitely went quicker without the watch.
When I saw Vinny some 20 miles earlier he commented that I should have no problem catching 2nd place but there had been no sign of him so I assumed I was still in 3rd. I was therefore very surprised when, on lap 16 (around 38 miles), I turned a corner and only a few metres in front of me was 1st place!
To be honest I think he was more surprised to see me when he looked down and saw I had a 50 mile race number. We exchanged a quick hello and he immediately tucked right in behind me.
4.5 laps to go.....
I was still a little surprised I had caught him quite so quickly so I increased the pace a little hoping to pull out a bit of a gap, but after about half a mile I realised it wasn’t working so eased back down again as I didn’t want to burn myself out.
The last mile(ish) of each lap basically consists of 2 very long straights. The first is a long cycle path, maybe half a mile or more, that runs parallel to the motorway (it meanders left and right a little but you can see the entire length of the ‘straight’ and can take advantage of ‘the racing line’).
At the end of the cycle path there is a 90degree left turn onto a pavement which is around 300 metres straight to the finish line, passing all of the support tents.
At the end of lap 16, about 50 metres before the left turn onto the final straight, I could hear his pace increase and he came past me, pulling out a lead of about 20 metres just before turning the corner and glancing over to his left to see how far behind I was.
My first thought was that he had recovered a little by being in my slip stream and was ready to extend his lead again, and that was fair enough. There were still 4 laps/10 miles to go so I didn’t want to risk my own Plan B target (sub 10 hours) and just remained at my constant pace.
Just after crossing the line and starting lap 17 he slowed down so I quickly caught him, and once again he just tucked in behind me. I really didn’t think much about this either, I just thought maybe he regretted increasing the pace and just wanted to stick with me.
As we walked around lap 17 I was just hoping I could maintain this pace to the end, hoping I wouldn’t get a cramp and hoping I wouldn’t need the loo! I thought I would happily go for a joint finish if we stuck together all the way around.
At the end of lap 17 exactly the same thing happened. Now it was getting interesting. What was his game plan?
It was at this point that I concluded I must have passed 3rd and not realised. He must have known we were in positions 1/2 otherwise surely he would have been trying to chase P1 down?
After getting the final result sheet it confirmed I had moved into 2nd place on lap 7, and in fact 3rd place eventually finished over half an hour after me so I had also lapped him without realising.
As we walked around lap 18 I was trying to work out why he kept speeding up and then slowing down. Maybe he was just trying to test me, seeing what I had in the legs for the final lap. Maybe he just wanted to be seen as clear leader going past the support teams and P1 across the lap line, maybe both?
End of lap 18, exactly the same. This time I made a mental note of a mark on the ground where he made his move.
I did think about slowing the pace down a bit to conserve some energy for a possible sprint finish but I had no watch and didn’t want to slow down too much and risk not going under 10 hours.
As we started lap 19 I could tell from the clock that I had well over an hour to complete the last 2 laps, but I still didn’t want to take any chances.
End of lap 19, right on queue, he made the move at exactly the same mark on the ground.
This was it now, the last 2.5 miles. I kept thinking ‘What would Mike (Bonney) do?’
We must have only been 100 metres into the final lap when he tucked in behind me for the last time. As we passed Peter Miller, who was on his way to becoming a Continental Centurion, he shouted “he’s right on your heels Stew”. “Yeah, tell me about it!” I shouted back.
About half way around the lap I tried to subtly increase the pace just to see if I could put any distance between us. Nope.
As we started on that second to last long straight (where he would make his move at the end) we passed Andrew Titley who asked if I was leading. “Yes, by about 1 second!” I replied.
We were closing in fast on the mark on the ground where I knew he would make his move, and sure enough I heard his footsteps quicken and he pulled past me. I didn’t want to let him pull 20 metres this time as I really didn’t know how long I would be able to hold a sprint finish, so as he moved past I slightly increased my pace without trying to make it obvious.
When he was about 10 metres in front, just before he made the final left turn, my right hamstring cramped up! I very quickly gave it a 2 second stretch and was going again when he turned the corner and glanced to his left, so I was still roughly the same 20 metres behind as previous laps.
I didn’t want him to see me in full race walk mode from the corner of his eye so I waited until I had also made the 90 degree turn before I switched to full technique to chase him down, praying that my hamstring would hold up.
Luckily my hamstring was absolutely fine, and in fact it felt really good to push hard in race walk technique rather than the ‘power walk’ technique I had been using for the past 9 hours. I can only assume it was the sudden change to fast twitch muscles that had barely been used up until now, which does make we wonder if I could have made a move much earlier...
Due to the noise of the support teams and generators down this final straight he didn’t hear me coming until I was about 5 metres behind when he looked over his shoulder and suddenly saw me closing in at a rate of knots. He was pretty surprised.
He immediately started walking quicker but it wasn’t enough. As I pulled alongside his technique completely changed to what I can only describe as long, low strides. Even though this was a category B race where straight knees are not required this technique meant his knees were not even close to straight, but it also meant there was clear loss of contact too.
A few people started shouting and pointing, I’m not sure who started it, possibly me as I could tell he was losing contact even while I was alongside him, and we quickly drew the attention of one of the judges who was already sat on his bike so quickly pulled alongside and started shouting.
I’m not sure what he was saying but because it was in Dutch I was pretty sure it wasn’t aimed at me!
Sure enough he did slow down slightly, but as I inched ahead he went back into the strides and we both crossed the line together.
Luckily for me Matthew was down at the finish line to take a photo of me finishing (which unfortunately in all the excitement he didn’t get), as was Maureen Cox who was checking with the time keepers how her husband, Simon, was doing in the 100 miles.
With all the noise Maureen had turned around to see the 2 of us charging towards the finish line and was immediately onto the time keepers and the judges while I caught my breath.
I have to say the judges were very good and immediately acknowledged what had happened before going away for a minute to discuss with their colleagues. They decided that he clearly broke the rules and was therefore disqualified.
Apparently I was ‘on the limit’, but legal.
I regularly take part in the winter walking league and I used to think sometimes the judges were a little harsh on new walkers (and old ones like me!) but then I remember Steve Taylor saying they have to be otherwise they develop a technique that they think is legal when it isn’t, and if they ever compete in any events off island they suddenly find themselves being shouted at and possibly disqualified.
I totally get that now so I just want to say thanks to all of the Isle of Man race walking judges for helping me keep my technique honest, even if I do still get the occasional telling off......
After nearly 10 hours walking I really didn’t want him to get a DQ so I asked the judges to reconsider and maybe apply a time penalty instead. I started to feel guilty for pushing the race so hard at the end and felt like it was my fault he had been DQ’d.
They went away to discuss and decided to apply a 1 minute penalty so I felt much better after that. It wouldn't affect 3rd place who came in some 30+ minutes later.
What they actually said was they had decided to ‘Neutralise the last kilometre’. I’m not quite sure what that meant, but it didn’t matter anyway. I thought it probably meant whoever was in the lead 1km ago would be the winner, and that was me.
After they had reversed the DQ decision we did shake hands and congratulate each other on a good race and he was clearly upset that he had broken the rules.
The thing is I’m quite sure he could have won the race outright. When he did make the same move on each lap he looked strong and I’m sure he could have pulled out a few hundred metres and just managed the gap from there. I certainly would have thought twice about trying to pull back that kind of distance in a sprint finish!
For completing the 50 mile walk in under 12 hours you are awarded a 'Kennedy Vrienden' (friend) badge and number, so I am now KV.434 which sits alongside my UK C.1123 badge.
Oh, and a trophy for winning ;-)
It was a fantastic and well organised event and I certainly hope to be back there in 2018 but this time I will attempt to qualify for my Continental Centurion badge.
A massive congratulations to everyone who took part, especially to the 9 new Centurions.
And don't forget, the second part of my challenge is to try and raise £2,016 for Finley's Tracks and all donations are welcome here. A big thank you to everyone who has already sponsored me online or offline, and to those who have pledged to donate later.