Six Foot Track - Race Report

by Kevin Tiller (1997)

Best Trail Race in Australia

A day of hot temperatures did not faze the runners who perserved and finished THE trail running event in Australia. With renewed sponsorship by Rockport shoes, this 45km event from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, attracted 411 starters. The organisation has improved such that this event can lay claim to be THE best organised off-road event in the Country, especially given the distance and terrain.

The race is run as a fundraiser for the Bush Fire Brigade and a cheque in the region of $8000-$10000 is handed over by the race organiser, "Big" Chris Stevenson to the head of the Blue Mountains Bush Fire Brigades, at the start of every race.

The race starts at the trail head which is approx 5 meters wide. A massed sprinting start goes down a rocky track for 500 metres before everyine comes to a sudden standstill whilst the runners negotiate a staircase drop of many hundreds of metres. At the valley floor, the track opens up to a full-sized fire trail (wide enough for a fire engine) and meanders for a few km, until the route narrows and becomes rockier and covered with slippery gravel. Every year many runners slip off the track onto rocks or into bushes. This year was no exception, as I saw 3 or 4 people badly grazed. It was here that the chasing pack lost sight, eventually, of gun runner Andrew Kromer. Kromer has set course records at the famed Bogong to Hotham trail 60km race, Cradle Mountain 80km in the Tasmanian Wilderness and on all 3 legs of the Tasmanian 3 Peaks race (65km, 38km and 35km). He was frustrated at missing the record at his first Six Foot last year and was keen to make amends.

The 16km marker is easy to spot - this is where the runners cross the Cox's river. Old hands say that the race really only starts on the river bank on the far side. The course climbs up by 1km vertically within the next 10km. The dirt road winds up and up through forrested hillsides of gum trees, offerring views of the surrounding cliffs and hills.

This section was very hot and exposed, runners estimating temps at more than 30C. Greg Love and holidaying-English-born / sometime Australian runner Carl Barker overtook each other numerous times on this section. Carl was using a frustrated "Run till I can't" pace whilst Greg Love displayed great wisdom learnt from more than 13 finishes but adopting a more leisurely walking action.

They fought neck and neck along the next 10km, gently uphill section, before Greg Love broke away on the 5km road section fro 2nd place and Carl Barker finishing in 3rd.

The female race was over just as soon as Dawn Tiller got into her stride after a poor start. She overtook early leader Louise O'Brien at approx 8km and then overtook everyone in sight to complete her 3rd win from three starts. Her time was 6 minutes slower than her own course record, but still more than 40 minutes ahead of the next finisher. No other female has run with 40 minutes of her times in the last 8 years.

Runners streamed to the finish line for the next few hours, right up until the 7 hour cut-off. A few had injuries from falls, especially the last 3 km which are steeply downhill along a narrow, heavily-rutted track with long drops off the track on either side. Many runners complained of cramps, probably due to insufficient fluid intake on this VERY hot day. Temperatures on the road section must have been in the mid 30Cs with bright blue skies, very sunny, no clouds and no wind. There were ample aid stations, well stocked with water, electrolite and fruit (water melon, oranges and bananas).

The finish line is at the popular weekend resort of Jenolan Caves, where all the finishers gather at the Cave House pub and cheer on their compatriots and recover from their exertions.