Six Foot Track - Race Reportby Sean Greenhill (2000)
Saturday March 4 saw the 17th running of THE event in NSW running, the Six Foot Track Ultra. From a humble start of eight blokes drinking from creeks and puddles, it has grown into an institution with over 400 runners a year and an extensive aid station network very well staffed by the Blue Mountains Bushfire Brigades.
My third running did not have an auspicious start, as the night before I had seen Live GO OFF at the Entertainment Centre with Kevin Tiller, and finally crashed at his place around 1am. My alarm roused me around 4.15, and I was on the road with Kevin and Dawn, plus their daughters Jazmin and Chelsea, plus fellow Strider Phil Hugill, by 5.30. I tried to snatch some extra sleep on the drive up, but I do remember Kevin saying at one point "I feel hung over" and I mumbled "glad I'm not the only one"- and we hadn't even drunk anything the night before!
Be that as it may, I was on the ball when we arrived. One of the great things about Six Foot Track is wandering around before the start, catching up with all the old faces. Lots of Striders, Steve Croft from work, Mountain Man, Col who I ran the Bilpin Bush Bash with, Paul Every, the list goes on. I heard someone hail "hey Big Fella" and it turned out to be Darryl Chrisp, looking fit, lean and mean as usual. After catching up, I asked about the weather forecast, hoping it wasn't a scorcher like 1999. The sky was clear, but predictions for the day had been rain and temperatures in the mid 20s.
The start was staggered- a group of top runners (based, I believe, on road marathon PBs) took off at 8.00, the rest went at 8.15. In total, there were around 420 runners. Being a long way from "top runner" I was a definite starter in the second wave, which saw the usual fast start as runners jockeyed for best position before the staircase down Nellies Glen, which is the descent off the escarpment.
Nellies Glen is 20 minutes of descent down rocky, slippery, mossy staircase, scrambling over logs, loose earth and trying to keep a good footing whilst not slowing up the people behind. I slipped a couple of times (but did not fall) and sliced my left shin open on a rock. As the trail starts to flatten out, it is still narrow enough to string the runners in Indian file, but eventually widens into fire trail and the fast runners caught behind slower ones start playing catch up. Darryl swept past me, and I tried to go with him for a few minutes, but couldn't keep up. I wasn't in the same shape as him, but I had been training hard, and projected a time of around 5.30 at the finish, figuring I was in better shape than my first attempt in 1998 when I ran 5.44.
The trail goes through some private farmland, so runners have to climb over some fences as they run through fields. I ran with Kevin O'Kane for a while (knowing that he was a good pacer), but he was expecting to run with someone else behind me, so I left him not long before the Megalong Valley Road crossing. This is another good part of the race- crowds of runners' friends and family wait here to cheer and clap the field on. The trail continues on as a fire road for a while here, before swinging off onto a single track which goes over some rolling fields and enters a prolonged technical section which leads all the way to the Coxs River crossing 16K in. I found myself running with a tall character with Merv Hughes moustache, and a shorter man from Woodstock Runners- seeing as they are based in Burwood, he's probably a near neighbour. My goal here was to reach the Crossing at the same time as I had in 1998, around 1.45 into the race (the plan was to not fall apart later on, like I had in 98). The river level was low enough that we could scramble over rocks without getting our feet wet. Then we were heading up the Saddle, a tough escarpment climb. I'm pretty confident on uphills (hey, I ran the Bogong !) so I was walking aggressively and running wherever I could. After a while the trail stops winding around the mountain, passes through more farms, then keeps heading up a steep, badly eroded section. I was still going strong- I had passed more than a dozen people, though my two companions were not far back.
After reaching the top of the Saddle, the trail heads back into the bush for a gradual descent to the second river crossing, Alum Creek. When we reached the creek level, we ran along its banks for a while before reaching an aid station (of which there are plenty in this race). My legs started to feel heavy and tired here, and when we started the second major climb- Pluviometer- the strength I had felt earlier on the Saddle wasn't there. I was overtaken by quite a few people, and after a while I looked at the watch and worked out that the sub 5.30 finish wasn't on anymore (no matter if I ran all the way from Pluviometer to the finish- around 20K- which I thought I could do). Maybe sub 6.00 still was.
Funny how quickly we forget things. From previous years, I recalled the 10K across the Black Range after Pluviometer as "undulating", a bit up and down, but not harsh. Not true- I must have supressed some memories. One of the guys I battled along this section with complained that "this race has no damn downhill", and the no walking policy was discarded within a few minutes. I found a couple of guys to talk with and break the negative thoughts that were building up, and one- Pat, from Raymond Terrace- remarked I looked fresh as a daisy, but in fact I was wheezing slowly to a halt.
After negotiating Black Range, the tral snakes though a series of pine plantations and follows a dirt road down to Caves Road, a line of bitumen that runs down the side of the escarment to Jenolan Caves. After descending a short downhill, I passed two bushfire brigade members and said "I'm going to complain. I was just starting to enjoy that downhill when it ran out on me!" "Sorry," replied one, "but there's a good downhill not far down the road". "I remember it," I chuckled, and swung into the Caves Road Checkpoint precisely five hours into the race. From here the finish line is a few hundred metres short of 10K away and I knew the sub 6.00 was no longer on either.
The Caves Road section commences with a long uphill that had everyone walking. A few people walked past me, as I descended into my lowest point of the race. Why was I going so poorly, I wondered, after seeming to train well? Was the training worse than I thought? Was it the effect of three hours sleep? Had I not drunk enough during the race? Had I drunk too much? Had I started too fast? What the hell as I doing here anyway? It wasn't the weather, as the sky had clouded over, a breeze was blowing and a few drops of rain spat down. After taking forever to crest the hill came a long downhill, and every step pounded fresh pain into my quads. Once I reached the bottom I was walking again. A runner passing by guaged my poor state and jabbed a finger at the roadside reflector posts. "Do as I do," he advised, "and run two, walk two. Otherwise, the distance is too much."
On that guy's heels came the Woodstock Runner who I had run much of the middle of the race with. Despite my situation, I laughed, "Can't get rid of you," I said, and he replied, "come on, still some running left in you," and ran on. Another uphill, and we were swinging off the road back onto bush trail. Four kilometres to go. The trail was a bit up and down, and then four Striders swept past me, including Brad Renshaw and Kevin O'Kane. Not long after, the trail swung around and down onto the infamous downhill which the bushfire brigade man had mentioned earlier. In 1998, this had been a treacerous two kilometre escalator of sliding gravel, but it seemed to have been improved and the footing was not too bad this time.
I heard someone call my name, and looked down to see Paul Every, wearing hiking gear, backpack and a broad smile, trekking up the slope towards me. "Paul," I said, coming to a stop, "you DID run today, didn't you?" "Yeah, " he said, "now I'm hiking back." "You did do the ultra triathlon in Canberra a fortnight ago?" (For the uninitiated, a three day epic of 15K swim, 400K cycle, 100K run.) "Yeah, I did," he said. "Did you win?" "No, had a bad day, came second. How're you doing?" "Not too good," I replied, "I came here to run 5.30 and now I'm going to do 6.30 something." "Well," he said, "you know what it's like, you've been there before, just put one foot forward and come back next time." We shook hands and went our separate ways.
That brief talk with Paul did quite a bit to lift my spirits out of the doldrums, and from there I ran strongly to the finish. I passed Kevin O'Kane, then turned onto the sealed footpath that winds the last four hundred metres to the finish. I passed hikers who clapped me on, looked down onto the finish area and heard the cheers for those a few seconds ahead of me, and knew then "why the hell" I was here. Pumping a fist, I sprinted to the finish with a time of 6.35.21.
I spent the next hour or more talking and swapping war stories with other runners, including a joke to Kevin Tiller that I'd blame him for my slow time as he'd kept me up the night before (Rest easy Kevin- I dont!!!). I also found the other member of "Team AC Nielsen", Steve Montgomery, who had finished strong in 5.20.
The results are at http://www.sixfoot.com, but Paul Arthur blew away the rest of the field to win by more than 20 minutes, with three time winner Greg Love second. For me, I have some time to spend figuring out how to improve for next year and come back stronger, just as Paul Every suggested. This is the race not to be missed.