Six Day Race, Erkrath,
Saturday July 31st found me struggling with two full holdalls of running gear towards the bus stop. A passerby asked where I was going on holiday “Off to Heathrow and flying to Germany” was my reply. “I flew to Germany regularly” he replied, “I was an Airgunner.” We both agreed that times had changed since then!
As the bus went through my local town all the streets had been sealed off and there were Police everywhere; I thought that they must definitely want to make sure that I left the country but it turned out that the local army regiment was being given the Freedom of the Borough after 300 years of being there.
Arrived at Heathrow, checked in and went for a quiet drink, made happy by the sight of Brian Lara being out in the 2nd Test Match, probably would not know the result until I returned to U.K. a week later, that turned out to be correct.
Uneventful flight to Dusseldorf where I was met by Conny Bullig who was also collecting two Swedish runners, Andreas and Matthias who were taking part in the Six Day race. She was also going to run!
The reason for my being there transpired when I saw an item in the Road Runner’s Club newsletter six months earlier and had written to the organisers to send me results of their race as it was the first one to be held in Germany; they invited me to take part and I stupidly accepted; it was 20 years since I had last done a Six Day; there was a further challenge in that the track was a 400 meter cinder track. I had forgotten what those little bits of grit did to one’s feet when they got into the shoes.
30 kms to Erkrath from the airport and met Sigi, the organiser whom I had been in touch with regularly. Everything seemed to have been thought of, the amount of time spent in planning must have been enormous.
There was a football tournament going on at the time with a number of teams competing and the final would take place on Sunday morning before the start of the Six Day. Two football pitches, one of which appeared to be an all weather grass covered pitch.
The club had been in existence since 1920 and had hosted International football tournaments regularly.
I noticed that a couple of small boys who were watching were wearing a shirt that seemed familiar; I discovered that it was a red number 7 Beckham shirt (Man.United), before he moved to Real Madrid!
That evening was spent in a hotel close to the track and meeting other runners, I shared a room with Felix Kainz from Berlin; we got on very well but both apprehensive how we would do in the race.
Finally it was Sunday afternoon and there was a briefing meeting in German with translators in English and Italian; recording would be done by electronic chip in the number with all laps also recorded manually.
All the runners were introduced to the crowd who had gathered and the media when photographs were taken, then it was time to start.
The weather was very warm with cloudless skies and during the next six days stayed the same except that it got steadily warmer each day. One day there was a rumour of thunderstorms arriving but by the following morning they had come and gone farther South leaving Erkrath still bathed in glorious sunlight. The hotpoint of most days was about 90oF. But the track temperature was probably higher.
My original plan had been to have a go at Cliff Young’s 48 hour record and then hang on for the next four days. After several hours on the first day I knew that it was too hot for me and drastically altered my race plan…as the days went on it became more of a survival plan to use in the Sahara rather than Northern Germany!
There were 26 starters, 6 women and 20 men, from 10 different countries and it speaks volumes for the superb organisation that nobody dropped out or failed to cover the required distance each day.
There was an army of volunteers coming and going each day with a number of good folk who appeared to be there all the time. I got to know some of them very well and their English was much better than my poor German, I will not mention any by name as I do not want to miss anybody out but a very big “Thank You” for all your valuable help; without your aid we could not do the sport that we love!
Hot meals were served at regular times and there was a large refreshment tent with little nibbles, cold and warm drinks and any extra that a runner needed. After three days I had actually got English tea which was very acceptable.
Halfway through the race ice cream lollies were supplied which were very popular.
Evenings always saw a crowd of spectators at the trackside cheering on the runners.
Local and national media often appeared at the track , radio and television, and there was superb coverage in the papers.
The track was brilliantly sited so that one could see the town square and all the people, also the buses pulled in there and I got quite attached to them particularly the Dusseldorf bus as I tried to imagine one day being back at the Airport, 144 hours in very hot conditions is a very long time and I was feeling more like a hamster every day! There were other highlights too, one was watching the dawn arrive and counting how many more there were to go.
Also the first bus out at 5 A.M. which I never managed to catch, then waiting for noon and knowing that there were only three hours to go to the end of a day and wondering just how hot the next few hours would become.
Zoltan Kiss from Hungary was taking part and had brought his 7 month old son, Benedict, and his wife to the race and I got a lot of enjoyment getting a big smile out of Benedict each day.
Many of the runners had helpers with them who seemed to manage on very little sleep but always seemed on hand to encourage everybody taking part yet still looking after their respective charges!
Then the best part of the race came each night as it became cooler and I was able to move more freely until the next hot day.
Lastly, counting the days down, after three days halfway there, then only one full day of 24 hours left… there are supposed to be 60 minutes in each hour but I am convinced that these were extended on the last day. Finally into the last quarter of an hour when national flags were given to leading runners of each country and we formed up to go round the track as one very happy family.
Now what of the progress of the other runners? This was made very much easier for me as an hourly result sheet was given to all of us during the day and at night was posted on the leader board with the previous hour’s results also attached. Even though one tended to look at where one was personally and whether gains or losses on those closest to you had been achieved, it was easier to see the race unfold further up the field.
Paul Beckers of Belgium had obviously decided to go all out on the first day but was passed by Achim Heukemes of Germany who had a 5km advantage, Vincenzo Tarascio of Italy was 3rd, a further 45 km behind. I have always been of the opinion that a slow starter will progress over a six day event but was very surprised that it was a runner who was 80 km behind should make such enormous progress. More of him later!
By the end of the third day Achim had maintained his lead in front on 441 km Paul was still 2nd 27km back and Vincenzo 3rd on 365 km.
Day 4 saw Antonio Mazzio Italy replace Vincenzo for 3rd spot.
Remember I had mentioned a slow starter? Well Claude Hardel of France had put in some very hard work and was closing on Paul Beckers rapidly. Paul had been suffering from nosebleeds but gamely pressed on.
The final result was a very popular win for Achim who is over 50 years young with 822.730 km. 2nd Claude Hardel with 782.694 km and 3rd, Paul Beckers wth 763.077 km. The 4th place was taken by the Italian Lucio Bazzana with 741.457 km – a new Italian record.
In the Women’s race at the close of the 1st day Heike Pawzik, Germany, led from Conny Bullig by 9km. With Maria-Teresa Nardin a further 13 km back.
By the end of the 3rd day it was Conny with 343 km from Heike 333 km and 3rd, Else Bayer, a mere 65 years at 308 km.
The final result was as follows. Conny won with 666.991 km. 2nd another slow starter, Christine Bodet of France with 609,340 km and 3rd was Heike with 581.315 km.
With a World Age best was Else Bayer in 4th with 552.890 km. Some result!! I hope that the above has not bored the reader but one has to be at such an event in order to say in years to come “I was there” like St. Crispin’s Day?
Finally I have worked out that if I do another Six Day in 20 years time I should cover a quarter of my distance in 1984 using this year’s result. Must start to train towards that target!
Dan Coffey a young 73 year novice.
Erkrath 6 Day Results
Article originally published in Multiday Running magazine Vol.2 October 2004.