A 24 hour relay race around the Bugatti track in Le Mans, France on skates. In the spirit of the motorcycle version of the race the starting participants start on one side of the track, running to the opposite side to put on their skates. From then the team who complete the most laps within 24 hours wins. There are different categories for a 10 man, 5 man, duo and solo teams, separated into both male and female, as well as age categories. Racers can change over at designated baton areas.
My initial thoughts.
‘This is crazy.’ I first heard about this race from a fellow street skater I’d met a couple of times. She was trying to persuade me to join a team she recently signed on to. I like my sleep and the thought of racing for twenty four hours was just stupid. Although it seemed like one of those crazy things you’d do just once just to say you’ve done it. Or perhaps something to experience with a close group of friends.
Never say never.
The idea slowly came around (not that time), as I learnt a bit more about it from the other skaters. You don’t have to be up the whole time. In a team you take it in shifts. During your session it was up to you how many laps you’d do and if you really weren’t feeling up for it no one was going to make you do anything. Unless you’re in the elite, everybody else is there for an experience and perhaps to challenge their own personal lap time on the Bugatti track.
Easy Saturday Skate did their first Le Mans race in 2012. I didn’t go that year, although a little tempted. Having seen and heard the reaction of their experience and their urge to go again I decide it is indeed something you need to try at least once as a skater.
The organisation was done primarily by Alex. His effort was really appreciated by everyone in the group and noticed by everyone else. Other teams were impressed by how well planned everything was, from registration, camping, food, transport to the skate itself. Skaters in our people gave their assistance where needed but for a lot of us all we had to do is pay up, done. Alex, we salute you sir.
Easy Saturday Skate had two teams in 2012. London ESS and London ESS Escargots. The prefix of London meant that all the London teams were together in the pitlanes. ‘Escargot,’ was a friendly poke at the London Skaters Speed Team who had several teams including their London LSST ‘Fast,’ team.
Alex asked if anyone had a preference on teams and positions, I requested to be one the starters for the race. Nobody else stepped forward so it was Alex for London ESS and myself for London ESS Escargots.
We joked between us that on rainy days where we couldn’t skate we should practice putting our skates on. However that’s exactly what I did! (The sad man I am!). I was using my Powerslide Doop Skates, 84mm wheels. These skates allows me use my own trainers as part of the skate which I thought would be an advantage. (It only stopped me getting soggy socks at the start of the race where the mats were still wet on the starting position). I timed myself and it took about forty seconds, with some practice I knocked off another eight. The top velcro strap was replaced with a clip strap from my old skate as it was a faster mechanism to lock. (Another five seconds saved!). I eventually got it down to twenty five seconds.
All this is just a bit of fun. In the grand scheme of things saving fifteen seconds at the start of the event wasn’t really going to make the world of difference! Nevertheless I still practiced, just a little bit..!
As we had our entire luggage, skates and camping kit it was best to travel by car with a ferry crossing. Lucy was our fantastic driver. She and Amy in our car was one of the Pit Crew for ESS. Jennifer travelled with us too but was racing for London Dreggs. In true road trip fashion we had an abundance of snacks.
At Portsmouth we met up with Alex, Elisabeth and Ania. They were transporting the bulk of the camping and food, which left poor Ania at the back with just about enough room to breathe.
The ferry was over night as it seemed to be one of those freight ships with just a handful of passengers. On board wasn’t much entertainment, so we were using those portable radios to annoy each other, as we had started doing an hour before and for the rest of the journey. “hello hello,. Bonjour,… ça va?.!!!”
As an amateur camper this was the one part of the trip I was the most apprehensive about. When putting up everybody else’s tent I hovered about a bit before I figured out where to stick the poles. My two man popup tent was probably too small even for a small child. Unexpectedly I experienced rain inside this tiny bin bag as a result of me accidently bashing the sides, agitating the condensation.
They had shower facilities on the campsite. Most of the toilets were missing seats. Camping, it is what it is but I like my home comforts.
There was a parade lap on the morning of the race. It’s a chance to experience the track in a non-competitive nature. People who weren’t participating were also allowed to take part, like our pit crew team. It was nice to actually skate altogether and to see the other London teams there too.
The skater that impressed me the most was the one who was also on a unicycle at the same time!
The Sprint Qualifications.
In order to assign all the teams into starting positions one member of each team was required to do a 300 metres time trial. Neil and Nick were the sprinters for ESS.
It was amazing being on the track side just before everything began. The crowd was roaring and there was such excitement. My teammates were in the viewing area right behind. I shook hands with my neighbouring competitors.
There was a really important message being broadcasted on the speakers. I think even if it was in English it would have been difficult to understand. They probably explained exactly what was going to sound at the start. I expected a ‘trois, deux, un,’ followed by a gun shot. Instead it was a kind of Blitz war siren going off. We only realised this when everybody else started running forward. So much for practicing my boot strapping!
I had barely got one skate on and people were already off! That said, my own skates were put on in good time. As I started my sprint up I passed quite a few people slowing down to adjust their skates. (If you’re going to do something you might as well do it properly the first time).
The speed quickly dropped for me as we began the hill. It’s a steep 600m incline, very steep. This is what makes the course particularly challenging but this is what makes this event all the more unique.
I picked up speed as I reached the peak of the Dunlop hill. As I went down the hill everyone tucked in tight around the bend. I saw someone at the corner of my eye try to overtake but he ended up tripping up.
The road levelled off and there were lots of pacelines in action. I watched in dismay as skater after skater nipped passed me. Everyone seemed to be wearing speed skates. ‘I need bigger wheels,’ I said to myself.
The starting skater has to do two laps so that the participants are more dispersed on the track to avoid a big clash for the first relay changeover. Previous years skaters were allowed to change over after ten minutes. So I reserved my energy just in case I needed to do a second lap. Thankfully I did, as the gates hadn’t opened for my teammates to go on. So off I went again.. My second consecutive lap was a killer.
It was such a challenge to work out the best way of attacking the circuit as the hill is the most energy sapping section of the course.
My subgroup consisted of Gianni, Nick and our pitcrew member was Karl, who kept a note of our times and making sure the person next on track was ready. As the time went on we became more aware of how long we got to rest before we’re next on. We all get on really well socially and skate wise. Our baton changeovers were spot on, giving each other an extra boost push in the process. We were all averaging ten minute laps, so we got about a twenty minute rest between our laps. At the beginning I was really pumped to get back on, but after clocking more miles we began to appreciate our mini breaks.
During our breaks we could rest up a little or enjoy a wonder to see how our fellow London friends were doing. It was a great festival vibe going on. Everyone was happy to exchange any piece of advice they can give to make it that bit easier for yourself.
Back on the track, once I saw Jennifer climbing the hill. I followed behind with her pace. When we got to the top she was more exhausted from leading so I decided to take over. I said to her to follow, signally with my hands too. (However it wasn’t until a couple of months later she said that at the moment she thought I was gloating and waving ‘byebye,’ to her!).
Well this Italian guy followed my lead. Jennifer then took position behind him. As I was nearing the end of the lap I began to slow down, but every time I did the Italian gave me a gentle nudge. So with Jennifer leading the initial pace for the hill, me blocking the headwind and the Italian giving me the extra boost it was a good team effort. Similar scenarios like this would happen throughout the day, but each lap the exact tactics may have to be played differently depending on who was around.
By the time our four hours was up I was ready to hand the baton to the next subgroup.
End of shift breaktime.
On my last couple of laps I started to get cramp in one of my calves. Thankfully ESS had two training sports massage therapists with us, Cecile and Sid. Once I had finished my shift Sid tended my aching legs which I was extremely grateful for. I didn’t have any more cramp complaints for the rest of the weekend.
When I got back to the camp site an hour had passed already. I showered up and ate some pasta some of the others had left out for us. Before I knew it I only had four hours to get some sleep before my final shift. It was quite strange as some people were then getting ready to go on course. Because of the lively activity throughout the whole weekend it meant another night of broken sleep.
As my alarm went off at 3:45am I bashed around the tent trying to turn it off. I could then hear someone just outside my tent so I popped my head out, it was Gianni. He was already dressed and ready to go. Better get a move on. The temperature outside was close to freezing. It meant that my sweaty jersey was still damp, if not wetter from the night dew. Putting the jersey back on in that weather was one of the most unpleasant morning experiences I can remember. Note to self, get a second jersey and bigger tent.
Back on track and it was really foggy. As we waited for the changeover we could hardly see who was coming up. The temperature was low so while others were huddling under blankets I dropped down to bust out a set of press-ups to get that blood pumping, while not tiring out the muscles I actually needed to use on the course.
On one of my laps I saw my friend Chris. For some reason he (and Richard) had decided to compete solo this year. We had a brief exchange of words but he was taking a much slower and consistent pace for his twenty-four hour endurance. It was mad to think that he started the same time as me but I had an eight hour break with food, sleep and a forty minute massage. Chris and Richard are built of something else!
I noticed my GoPro was low on power so during my break between runs I was concerned more with charging my camera up. Whilst elsewhere in the pitlanes people were sleeping, bunched up together for warmth. It wasn’t like a library but there was a noticeable difference in atmosphere in the pits during the early hours of the day. As fatigue set in some people were in tears for various reasons. People’s mental state as well as physical state is tested in this experience.
On a more uplifting note, seeing the sunrise at the top of the mega hill above the mist was incredible. You could see everyone taking a moment to appreciate it before dipping back into the foggy downhill.
My fastest time was 9 minutes 37 seconds. I wanted to get near it again but most of my laps were closer to 10 minutes. The frustrating thing was that this time was my first lap, the one that included me putting on my skates! I guess exhaustion prevented me from getting close to that again, yet I continued to try.
On my penultimate lap I saw my fellow ‘ESSer,’ Elisabeth on track. I offered to pull her up the hill. Elisabeth held on which made the hill even harder! That said I think I needed an extra motive on the later laps as I was really losing steam. It was quite nice having some familiar company on the way around. Although it took Elisabeth’s partner Alex by surprise at the changeover as we were slightly earlier than expected with the lap timing.
On my final lap I was very tired so I thought I’d have a more relaxed fun lap. I did majority of the hill backwards. Because the muscles for skating backwards are slightly different it felt easier as they hadn’t been used much. This was the case until the backwards skate muscles got tired too, as they’re not as developed as the normal skating muscles. I got a few smiles from other skaters going by though!
The racing had finished for myself but there was still another eight hours to go for the other team members. I showered up and ate like crazy. Once freshened up we re-joined everyone on the track side to cheers them on.
We found a nice spot just by the final stretch to skater spot and scream our words of support. In the hour we were there we got more people joining us doing the same.
It’s become a tradition for a lot of teams, including all of the London groups to skate together on the last lap. This becomes the unofficial closing parade. Everyone who had already finished racing went up to the higher spectator stands to get a better view of everything. It was great to see that unison even in this competitive environment.
For me this was my first Le Man experience so that was my achievement. Skating with little sleep and completing 15 laps covering over 39 miles. Individual teams and people went for different reasons. Some more competitively than others.
For the two London Solo skaters. Out of 67 other solo entrants Richard came 12th. Chris came 11th. Both of them got a heroes applaud as they walked or were carried back from their pitlanes. It’s an incredible achievement to have been skating for twenty four hours, with minimal breaks and to have ranked so high. Chris’ aim was to come in the top 10 and skate 100 laps, he was one score away each so he said he’d be back again.
The five woman team London Galactics managed to podium with 1st place. London made the loudest noise in the crowd and especially when they went up to claim their trophy. It was a massive achievement for the girls with an impressive 133 laps. (To put it into perspective, our ESS team did 122 laps with a ten person team).
So while everyone wanted to celebrate the weekend. Most people were equally as exhausted. Including me. Our celebrations were quite mellow on the camp site. Pizza and booze was good.
The whole event was on a much grander scale than I had imagined. So many people enjoyed the concept of a crazy 24 hours skate. This time I was there just for the experience, but if I can get my stamina up I’d like to try another year a little more competitively in perhaps a five man team.
However like I said before
‘I need bigger wheels.’
"Any tips, reviews and advice are my own opinions and are not to be taken as professional view points. The information on this site is what has worked for me and is here for guidance only, but I hope you gain insight into the various activities I partake in." Jonathan Chen