Privas. It’s the capital of the Ardèche department and in the Rhône-Alpes region. It sits in the midst of a rugged landscape which make it a centre for outdoor sports and exploration. It has not one, not two but three rivers going around it: the Mezayon; the Ouvèze; and the Charalon. Beyond and between them are gorges and craggy hills which feature some beautiful views and lake district style terrain. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week there at someone else’s expense?
There was a catch, of course.
Instead of spending my time exploring the hills, I would be spending it at the local stadium supporting three race walkers taking part in a six day race. A six day race around a 1 025m circuit made up of the path around an athletics track and the track itself. On the plus side, it was the south of France, so sunshine was guaranteed.
Guaranteed, I tell you. Guaranteed. Barring the first three days, when it rained pretty much solidly, flooding the athletics track and restricting the circuit to the outer loop.
Richard, the friend who invited me to crew, was superb. It was his first six day race and there were highs and lows by the tonne, but throughout it all his attitude was exemplary. The conditions may have been sub-optimal and his body may not have reacted to the experience the way he expected, but he never gave up and he never stopped thinking of ways to improve.
As for me, I’ve made copious notes on do’s and don’ts for six day racing.
- Have Noel on your crew – her omelettes are superb and a more fascinating woman you will struggle to meet
- Pick a race that William Sichel has entered – he is delightful and his crew, Alan, has two very broad shoulders and a wealth of experience to share with debutante crewers
- Pack everything in dry bags and have a plan that can cope with six solid days of rain
- Hire a motor home because the zips on tents will drive you insane
- Take marmite
- Ever, ever, blooming ever under any circumstances whatsoever at all enter a six day race.