Six Foot Track - Race Report

by Chris Smith (1997)

Short Version: Had a good run despite the heat. Improved on my 1996 time by nearly thirty minutes.

Longer Version:

This race just has to be one of the best trail runs around. Not only is the organisation first rate, but the aid stations are plentiful and well stocked. And to top it off it's run on the Six Foot Track, one of the classic walks in the beautiful Blue Mountains National Park just a couple of hours west of Australia's largest city, Sydney.

This was my second Six Foot. My first was a bit of a humbling experience. It was only my second attempt running anything longer than a half-marathon and I wasn't adequately prepared physically or mentally for it. Consequently the second half turned into a survival slog that was slightly less than satisfying. This time my physical preparation was even more doubtful. Due to the interruptions of my Crusty Butt ski vacation I managed to average only 17 miles per week for the first four weeks of the year. February training went much better, my training group at the Sydney Striders pulling me though several good hard long workouts that included a 23 miler on the course itself. A course as tough as the Six Foot demands you be better prepared than I was. So with the muscles looking a bit dicey I was going to have to rely on my inside knowledge from the previous race to shave off a few minutes and to lodge a respectable time.

And so the best laid plans… Part A of my Cunning Six Foot Veteran race plan was to start right up the front so I didn't lose precious minutes queuing up to get down the steep narrow first miles - like I did the first year. So ten minutes before the gun I lined up right under the start banner thinking logically that this is where the front row will form. Wrong. This year, with over 400 runners in the narrow start area, things were a little less than perfectly organised and I found myself, with only minutes to the gun, standing in the middle of the pack with no way of elbowing my way to the front. It meant that I had a nice leisurely trip down the very pleasant rainforest filled Neates Glen and it ensured I didn't go out too fast, but I must have lost at least five if not ten minutes by my blunder. By the time the narrow track through the Glen opened up and I could start passing people, I was probably back in about two hundredth place.

For the next five miles I am constantly passing people, many of them runners I know will go closer to six hours than four. However there is plenty of running to go and so I engage part B of my plan. This is to drink as much fluid as I can easily get down at each of the aid stations. The forecast temperature for the day was a humid 28 degrees C. Pretty warm weather to be racing 48k, so I made sure I had at least two or three cups of water right from the first aid station even though I had to stop running to do it.

At the five mile point the path emerges from the eucalypt forest to cross a road. Spectators gather here to cheer friends and relatives as it the only place they can do so until the 35k point of the race. Today the crowd is large and enthusiastic and call out places as the runners file pass. I'm now in fifty-first place.

Another few miles and the track narrows again and becomes much rockier as it descends the Cox's River valley, the floor of which marks the lowest point of the race. Despite the narrow and rock strewn path I am still passing people. Part C of my plan, which was to wear contact lenses this year, is helping. Last year I kept stubbing my feet and all but fell over on numerous occasions. This year my vision is focused and I can pick my way though the obstacles. I finally catch up to the leading lady and current Six Foot record holder, Dawn Tiller. She is a tenacious and accomplished competitor who comes into her own in the latter stages of long hard races. For her to be leading this early in the race means that the female race is now for second.

Just before we get to the river crossing I come up behind an old university friend who I haven't seen for over eight years. We're both surprised and spend the next mile catching up on jobs, births and marriages and then split up as I use plan part D - don't worry about getting wet going across the river - to get across more quickly. The Cox's River is where the race really starts. Although it's at about the ten mile mark , it's all down-hill up to this point, in comparison to the next ten miles which are nearly all uphill. The first real test comes straight after the river. You come out of the water and start climbing, more than 1400 feet in two miles. Some parts of the climb are so steep that I wonder whether it isn't faster to walk than run. However part E of the plan stipulates running every step of the first hill, which in so doing I pass at least ten runners. Toward the upper part of the climb I go past DeadRoo and husband of Dawn, Kevin Tiller. I must be going well as he is renowned for going out hard. The previous year I didn't pass him until much later in the race. The last few hundred yards of the climb are out in the open with no shade and the day is starting to get hot. It's humid too, my sweat just soaking me as if I had just been swimming, I worry whether I'm drinking enough that I can keep sweating like this for another three hours.

At the top of the first climb you are rewarded with a pleasant shaded descent of about 500 feet and then a mile or so alongside a small stream. The track actually crosses the stream three times so that even if you kept your feet dry at Cox's, there wasn't much point. After the third stream crossing its time for the second hill. This time it's closer to 1500 ft, and steeper, and when you get to the top there's no downhill just a long gradual rise of nearly a thousand feet over six miles. Despite walking the steeper parts of this climb I am still passing rather than being passed, apart from one runner I can hear working hard to come up on my shoulder. I turn around and see one of my Sunday group run companions, looks like he had a worse start than I did. Richard and I start running together, playing pacman, gradually reeling in those ahead.

From where the steep part of the second climb levels out to the top is a hard part of the race. Not only does it climb but it's also the most scenically challenging part of the course. Basically the view is just trees and the trail. It's not a good section to be running along by yourself so I am grateful of Richard's company.

A few more miles and despite the gradual climb I'm feeling very good, my legs punching out a steady rhythm almost effortlessly, so I push on a bit leaving Richard and keying on two runners I can see slowing ahead. I have passed them both by the time the trail comes out into the open again. I'm now in tenth place and still feeling good as I make the most of a downhill stretch that leads to the bitumen section. Out onto the road and only 10k to go. Still a couple of reasonable inclines remaining though and it's not getting any cooler. I get to the top of the first road climb without walking but have to take a couple of breaks on the second but still manage to pass one more runner. At the crest of the second road incline it's back into the bush for the final 5k to the finish.

The course still doesn't give up, throwing several short steep ascents in before finally levelling off and then dipping sharply to start the final descent into the steep valley of Jenolan Caves. I'm feeling pretty happy at this stage. The valley is so steep you can look down at the finishing point. All you have to do is avoid falling on the loose and steep rocky trail you're home. That and not get lost which I nearly do by mis-reading a very clear sign. I don't lose too much time though and am soon back on track heading downhill. Just before getting onto the concrete walkway leading down to the finish a fast moving runner comes up behind. I try to pick up the pace to drop him but my right calf muscle starts cramping. I let him go with the knowledge that I'll still finish top ten.

It's always good to finish tough races especially when you've had a good hit-out. This one was definitely that.

Weather: Too hot, too humid

No of starters: 411