How to Train for and Run the Six Foot Track

A Weekend Hacker’s Guild to Pain and Enjoyment on the First Saturday in March

by Russell Hammond (2001)

This article hopes to demystify the Six Foot Track as a race and the training required to complete the arduous 46 kilometres. Lets start by saying that you are reading this to help you because if you don’t like pain, heat, perspiring, long distance training, hills (both up and down), waking up early, meeting strangers wearing very little, the use of vasoline (more later), drinking lots of water, wet running clothes, visits to physiotherapist / chiropractors or maybe an aversion to The Blue Mountains then you should be looking somewhere else. Me?? I tolerate most but love the setting for this race.

OK, before I start I warn you the following information works for the author of this article and no one else. There are some very good articles in www.coolrunning.com.au about training schedules, running up (and down) hills, stretching, mountain running in general, diet etc and you’re more than welcomed to look and read. What I propose works for one individual and I don’t want a class action brought against me if injure yourself or fail to reach Jenolen Caves outside the 7 hour cut off.

1) Is it too late to start now?

Why ask??? Yes it is! You should have a decent long distance training background of at least up to a marathon. This is not to say a complete novice can’t do this race comfortably but if you’ve just come off a half marathon or the City to Surf without too much training over the Festive Season then you will struggle in the time left and the race itself.

2) What should my training consist of?

Hills and lots of them!! There aren’t too many hills and trails in the Sydney basin that are good enough - my opinion only. Mona Vale Road and parts of the Razorback Range are good but NOT LONG ENOUGH. Nothing in your training (unless you use the actual hills of the race themselves) can prepare you for the two large inclines in the Six Foot Track so your training will have to be a compromise between distance (that you need) and the work required to tackle hills. If you are comfortable with training for a marathon with a weekly long run of, say, 2.5 to 4 hours then you should be OK. Before I get a flood of e-mails to say that I live in ?????? and there is a 5 km hill is that good enough? It would be if you run up and down it a few times. If you are a runner from Hobart you have Mt Wellington, the Blue Mountains are given a gift and those who live in Canberra can do a reverse run on the Brindabella Classic but mostly very few places on the east coast of Australia can properly prepare you for this event.

I find I don’t change my training that much except I make sure I stay on my legs for one session for at least 3.5 per week every week. This is normally a run from Fairfield in Sydney’s south west to the CBD before work at 8:30 AM - winters are for the total masochist in me while summers really test my sweat glands. There is no compromise in this regard.

Other training should be a combination of long and short distances and try to do fun runs and any of the longer races over the summer break. My training is around 60 to 100 kilometres per week and I’ve heard some horror stories of people doing over 160 kpw in training. Remember don’t wear your body out before the race!!!

Don’t get sucked into thinking you need training on tight twisting cross country turns because there is very little of this type of running in the actual race (personally stay off the Great North Walk as a training course). If you REALLY want to you can do a few runs on fire trails but you can get away with no off road training at all.

To survive you’re training and this race doesn’t forget to drink plenty of water. I don’t like carrying dead weight around with me so I know every service station, park tap and unattended hose in my neighbourhood. The race itself is well catered and drink stations are close enough that you won’t be on your hands and knees before the next one (even if you feel like it).

3) Where to look for races before the Six Foot Track?

www.coolrunning.com.au lists everything you need. I use the Sydney Marathon Club series (I am not a member and have no financial association with this club) but there is little in the way of hills in the Smithfield course.

4) What about running clubs?

There are plenty of running clubs that have weekend runs / training and not to mention races and I’m more than willing to discuss these in private at my e-mail address below but CoolRunning lists the majority of clubs in your suburb / state. I know the Sydney Striders (again I have no association with this or ANY club) have a regular various long distance training sessions on the weekend and see their web site for details.

5) Do I need cross training for the Six Foot Track?

It helps and don’t forget about stretching (especially after a long training session). Remember you’re here to run a bloody long way and too much time spent in the pool, riding around your suburb, hitting an ugly squash ball against a wall or shadow boxing in a gym is diverting your body away from the training required to take up to 7 hours of agony. You’re been warned.

6) Shoes - which is best for training and the race?

There have been PhDs written on this subject and I’m sure Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Brooks would all like a plug here but they can all go away. I’ll stay away from brands and let you know what to look for. Your shoes should cradle your heel, support your arch, be wide and long enough for your toes. Needless to say it should absorb enough shock to make running and training an enjoyable time. Don’t use new shoes for the race as this could be the last physical activity you ever do (this is based on personal experience and the stupidity of youth).

Make sure you’ve run far enough in a new (ish) pair of shoes in training to ensure you’re not in agony at the end on a long run.

Normal road running shoes are fine for the Six Foot Track even though the majority is on dirt. Some cross trainers could be helpful but be careful regarding the absorbency of shoes not specifically made for lots of running. From personal experience the only limit on your shoes is the size of your wallet!!

7) I need a whole new wardrobe because I have nothing to wear!!

Oh yes you do! One rule I’ve lived by is you race in what you train in. I like a biggish T-shirt, shorts with plenty of room and a baseball cap. I have no problems with people using bike shorts and singlets but it’s just a personal preference that I lean toward the ‘baggy’ side of running apparel. If you like to wear the latest floro coloured gear with branded logos a plenty and it works then who am I to say don’t use it.

You could be on the road for just on 7 hours and you have to be COMFORTABLE. There is no point wearing new shorts and finding the stitching is rubbing through the first few layers of skin after only 10 kilometres.

8) Is petroleum jelly / vasoline that good?

YES!! I live by this by product. Any body parts that rubs together and / or gets wet with perspiration should be protected with petroleum jelly and the main (obvious) places are your toes, inner thighs, between the cheeks of your bottom and under arms. I have literally run thousands of kilometres in training with a huge dab of vasoline between my toes and can happily take my shoes off afterwards with the confidence of knowing there won’t be blisters.

Some people can run without any need of this life saving substance and all I can say is - ‘Good on ya!’ Me - I suffer therefore I need.

9) Any other pointers before the race?

I tape my nipples with band aids to stop them wearing off. Since I don’t know any marathon running women I can’t comment on what the ‘fairer sex’ use - sorry.

A good quality long time sunscreen on body parts exposed to the sun especially the nose and back of the neck.

In the week before the race - take a break and cut down the kilometres, please, as this gives your body time to recover before the race. I would have undertaken a really long training run by at least the Sunday before the race (around 25 February 2001) and then just concentrate of smaller distances in the time left - and it’s not too late to pull out of the race itself!!

10) The morning of the race - what to expect?

Darkness - unless you stayed at one of the many hotels and motels in Katoomba. Make sure you get an early night and get up in plenty of time to either get to the carpark (and short bus ride to the start) or leave a car at the finish and drive back to the start. I’d have a light breakfast of toast with jam / honey / syrup and make sure to take some snacks because it could be a long time between your breakfast and actual start of the race.

The organisation of this event far exceeds what is required. Registration is at the start and it’s easy to find if you drive. The short bus ride to the start drops you off at the registration table - it really is that easy. Do yourself an even bigger favour and take a drink to the start and finish it. Don’t worry about over hydrating as there is plenty of bush for those too modest to use the lee side of a Bush Fire Brigade Land Cruiser troop carrier.

There are two starts and make sure you get to the ‘right one’ in plenty of time.

11) The race.

There are plenty of articles on this race on www.sixfoot.com so I’ll only cover the basics here. Drink more water than you think you need and don’t forget about your blood sugar and a tightly knotted stomach. The drink stations have fruit, sports drinks, water and sweets so make the most of them but ensure you’ve used them in training because a dry mouthful of jelly babies isn’t nice when you're 4 km from the next drink station.

Believe it or not there are people who can run this event in close to 3 and hour hours!! If they can do it why do you need to be the first at Nellies Glen?? Just take the first part very slowly. This down hill section (approx 600 mtrs) is not a sprint and neither is Nellies Glen for the majority of the runners so hang back and enjoy the view. Taking it easy along the Megalong Valley floor will ensure your survival for more arduous tasks.

I’d treat the run to the Coxs River as a warm up for the hills to follow. Don’t worry about the race sweeper at this stage. If you can get across the river without soaking your shoe you’re going well.

The climb to Mini-Mini Saddle (the first hill) should be taken at your own pace and if involves walking, then walk. The slope to Little River is only a small respite from the first climb and is a good place to stretch out your ‘running’ legs. The climb to the Pluviometer will make or break you in this race and it really is the toughest part of the race by slowly draining your energy, soul and sanity. Get here feeling anyway near human and you're doing well. The first series on inclines after the Pluviometer can be just as bad as the climb you’ve just covered as you can never find a rhythm but just keep going. Black Range and the ‘plantation’ stage to Caves Road can be enjoyed but if the sun is out will be a horror.

There are inclines on the Caves Road so don’t believe the topography map. OK, they are no where near as bad as you’ve been through but any step that is not flat or facing down hill is agony. The fall to Caves House at the end is just that - a fall! I have two words regarding this section - BE CAREFUL. Some parts are OK but the broken and loose sections will really test what muscles and energy you have left. I knew if I fell over at this stage it was all over for me as I’d never get up.

12) The End -Yippee!!!

Just cross over the line and find a seat ASAP!! Don’t worry as an official will treat you like royalty even if you feel like something the cat has just dragged in. There is an elevator to the showers on the 1st and 2nd floors of Caves House and use them in both directions. Stay off the booze if you have to drive home, don’t forget the masseurs and buy a T-shirt to show your grandkids.

13) I Didn’t Make It!

Don’t worry if you are injured, picked up by the sweeper or got a lift to the finish as you’ve done more in one day than most people do in their entire lifetime. There’s always next year!!

14) Good Luck

Take care in your training, try not to run through any injury and I hope to see you there.

Russell Hammond
Rhammond@westpac.com.au