The 6 Foot Track Marathon was run on the 9th March this year. The race runs from the explorers tree, near Katoomba, to Jenolan Caves. It is 45km, and is the largest 100% off-road event in Australia. Before this race, I had only really done 3 or 4 trail runs, the longest being a 28km run up Mt Sugarloaf, near Newcastle. While my longest road run leading up to the event topped out at 47km, come race week, I was definetly feeling unprepared and not sure what I was in for.
To add to my stress, race day did not really begin as planned either.My race buddy, Darlene and I were staying at Katoomba YHA. Our Alarm went off at 4.30 am. Went down stairs, only to find the kitchen locked! That was not part of the plan. I had anticipated 3 slices of toast with peanut butter, but if I could not toast it, I was not going to eat stale bread, which would feel like a brick in my stomach, if i managed to get it down. I settled for one of Darls’ leftover untoasted hot cross buns with peanut butter, while she made her mandatory pre-race coffee with water from the bathroom tap. Yum.
Still munching on a Banana Powerbar to add another 220 Calories to the tank, we jumped on the shuttle bus to the start line. Here, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere and happy to run into a number of other runners I knew. This race is as old as I am! Born in 1984… I was a 6 foot first timer, and had no idea what to expect. I thought I might take 6-7 hours, as the race website says if you take 4 hours to complete a road marathon, expect to take 6 hours for 6 foot. I had planned to run very conservatively, and i am definitely not great on hills, so was expecting a 6-7 hour time. Consequently, I had placed myself in wave 4.
At 7.20 I downed my V Pocket Rocket Shot for some extra sugar and caffeine, and at 7.25am the gun went off for wave 4. Darlene and I raced off into the wilderness…. Almost! We started walking 20 seconds later, as 200-odd runners all made it to the top of the stairs and proceeded down in single file.
We got stuck behind a particularly cautious lady going down the stairs, and it seemed to take about 20 minutes to get to the bottom of Nellies Glen. By the time we reached the bottom, the runners in front were out of sight. Darlene and I ran swiftly, and soon caught up to the next group of runners moving single-file down the narrow path.
We cruised to the first aid station at Devils Hole, where the width of the track had opened up. Shortly after, Darlene left me to go into the bushes and have her first bush wee.
At 5km I had my first salt tablet. I had never used these in a race before, so I had decided to have one every 5km.
There were lots of mud puddles, but managed to keep my feet dry by jumping around many of them. This came to the humour of many runners around me, about why I would bother to do that. I guess I didn’t know what I was in for by the end of the race.
Nearly rolled my ankle at the cattle grid at Megalong Valley road.
Started walking earlier than anticipated going through Megalong valley, as all the runners in front of me were walking and I couldn’t get past, this was frustrating. To overtake the runner in front of me would only put me one person closer in a line of runners that was still moving the same speed. And would probably make me look pretty rude too.
2 more salt tablets later, I made it to Cox’s river. 1 hour 49 minutes had elapsed, and with the hard hilly bits to come, I thought I was on track for maybe a 6.5 hour finish.
The creek is what scared me going into the race. I like running in the rain but hate having wet feet, so swimming through a river in my running shoes did not sound fun. I was hoping that when I got to the river, I would find that there was a way around it. Or a log over it. Or It was narrow enough that I could jump it. Or maybe even that there would be someone willing to carry me above their shoulders through it, so my feet could stay dry. I even thought about taking my shoes off and putting them back on once on the other side. But when I arrived at the river, I didn’t have much time to think about any of those things at all. I was in a line of people, and there were runners behind me who were not going to stop and wait for me to be a wuss, so in I went. The river was at it’s highest level in 20 years. (With the exception of the 2012 race, which was cancelled partly because the river was impassable)The river was flowing fast and was chest deep, lucky there was a rope for me to hold onto, otherwise I would have been swept away. I could feel the current pulling me downstream. The bottom was really rocky too. My left shin connected with a rock underwater. For a moment, the pain was crippling. But there were still other runners behind me, all trying to clamber out of the river, pushing me forward. A volunteer grabbed my hand and helped pull me out of the river. I looked down, no blood. Luckily I was wearing my calf sleeves, or my shin probably would have split open.
A quick stop at the aid station, for a swig of sports drink (I did that at nearly every station) and… Allens snakes, my favourite! I grabbed all the green ones.
And then the hills came.
At the lemon tree yards aid station, I stopped to fill my water bottles. I was pleased to see a sign that said ’26.4 km to go’. I was feeling good.
The pebbles and grit in my wet shoes were starting to irritate me, but there were still several more knee-deep river crossings. I had dry socks in my pocket. I would stop and change them if I felt blisters coming on.
I don’t even know where ‘The Pluvimeter’ started and finished. I just felt like I was going uphill for the next 20km. The track was nice and wide, and I felt like I was passing a lot of people, even when walking up the hills. Lots of people also commented on my outfit as I ran past them too (note to self: wear neon pink head to toe again next time).
At the 29.7km mark I found myself sprinting up a hill, trying to complete 30km before my watch clicked over to 3hr 50min. I missed it by 10 seconds, but made it up that hill quickly.
With 1/3 of the race to go and no idea how many hills still may lay ahead, I thought I was on track for a 6 hour time.
A few km later, on a steep downhill section, I found myself on the dirt. I don’t think my shoes slipped on the gravelly surface, I think my quads just gave out – It must happened quickly, I didn’t feel myself falling. And it must have been spectacular, as the 2 guys behind me gasped and rushed to help me up… My muscles started instantly cramping so I could not get up myself. Thank you for the help, random strangers! I think I landed on my right knee, then right palm, then right shoulder, tumbled over the shoulder, and scraped all the way down to my elbow, landing on my arse. My hand was stinging, I didn’t even know my knee was cut up. I washed out my hand with a cup if water at the next aid station, and also had some coke, which really hit the spot.
Soon after, I ran past 2 guys and overheard one say he would get some salt at the next aid station because he was starting to cramp badly. I offered him some salt capsules, and he gratefully accepted.
And just when I thought all the hills were over, I rounded a corner to find the most daunting hill I have seen all day! This one is steep. The man running near me at this point is doing his 6th 6 foot track, and assures me it is the last hill. I walk up it and he walks faster, but I passed him again on the downhill.
With 39.5 km elapsed on my GPS and 5.5km to go, I come to the last aid station, and see a sign saying 4.4km to go. This is incredibly uplifting! I knew my GPS would be slightly off due to the terrain, but to realize at this point that you are 1km closer to the finish line than you thought you were is a wonderful thing.
The next km or 2, I just love! Single track, ups and downs, and I feel like I’m moving fast. I remember someone saying save yourself something for the last few km as it is a hard finish.
I’m overtaking a few people, and flying down the hill. The volunteers yell out to be careful as the path is exceptionally rocky, and it sure is! I wish the sole of my shoes were a few cm thicker, as I think I can feel every single rock underfoot. My ankles and knees will be sore tomorrow, as I’m bouncing everywhere.
With about 2km to go I find myself behind a runner named Andrew, who also started in wave 4, and is doing his 11th 6 foot track! He tells me we are on track to go under 5hr 30 min, so I enthusiastically jump onto the back of his run-train and ride it all the way to the end, overtaking people when he does. Running fast and worried my quads could give out at any minute (again), the track is windy and drops away on one side. Once again I’m glad to be wearing neon pink, in case I topple over the edge – I’ll be easy to find.
I can hear somebody ringing a cowbell, and when we get to the top, Andrew says, ‘this is where you enjoy it now’ and I can see caves house at the bottom, and it still seems a long way down to the bottom, zig-zagging back and forth, as I get nearer I hear the announcer call my name, and I follow Andrew all the way to the finish line. 5 hours 26 minutes.
Time to invest in some trail shoes before my next trail run
See you all next year. I’m going to aim for Wave 2.