I’d been keen to run the Six Foot Track Marathon and had set out to qualify for it by running a marathon in under 4 hours 20 minutes the year before. With this qualifying time in hand I stood by my computer the morning the race entry opened and pounced, scoring myself an entry. The whole thing sold out in minutes!
I did some long trail runs in the weeks leading up to the event, bearing in mind I was also running the Tokyo Marathon two weeks before Six Foot. As indicated in the write-up for Tokyo, two weeks before Tokyo I tore my calf in training and had nursed it back to the point where I had been able to run most of Tokyo. I wasn’t sure how I would go in a serious trail like Six Foot, but all was booked and there was no way I was dropping out!
Six Foot Track Marathon is actually a trail ultra as it is 45km. It runs from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves on the historic Six Foot Track, first carved through the bush in 1884 to allow access by cart to Jenolan Caves. It was a bridle trail of six foot in width to allow two drays to pass one another.
Craig and I went to Katoomba the day before the event. Following bib collection we enjoyed a nice afternoon tea at our hotel. We’d booked to stay at Lilianfels, a boutique hotel near the 3 Sisters and where we’d stayed before. It is a beautiful place and we had a lovely dinner knowing we’d be up super early to get to the bus collection point for the start.
We parked at Katoomba High School and joined the long queues for the buses. This race is an iconic event and the organisation was seamless. We arrived at the Explorers’ Tree and stood with the rest of the runners waiting for the start, which was in five waves. I was in wave five. The plan was for Craig to go on one of the buses to the finish line at Jenolan Caves and wait there for me. He had some of his uni books and planned on studying once there.
I saw some of my running group friends at the start. They were all in waves in front of me and suggested I join in with them. Not wanting to be disqualified from something I’d worked hard to get into, I declined, and following a group hug they set off. I was pretty anxious about the run knowing it was a challenging event, but after Tokyo I’d resolved to NEVER cry in a marathon again!
Finally it was my turn. The gun fired and runners ran for about 200 metres and then came to a halt at the top of the first flight of stairs. From there it was 2km straight down, all rocky and uneven stairs, with some water crossings. We were all in single file. It wasn’t terribly safe but that was to be expected particularly when 800 runners had already bolted down the same stairs, spreading water and mud all around. Two ladies a bit in front of me paused to pose for the photographer and there was a chorus of complaints from behind about holding people up! At the time I thought it was ridiculous that people were trying to rush, especially when the groups were seeded and thus we were all roughly as capable as one another.
At the bottom of the stairs was a long section of fire trail and then some single trail, leading to the river crossing at 15km.
Cox’s River crossing is one of those things that defines this event. In 2012 the event had been cancelled because the river was so high, but on the day I ran it was about knee deep. On the other side of the river were chairs for us to sit down and take off shoes which volunteers then dunked in large garbages full of water to wash out the river gravel.
The next 15km were almost straight up! Nothing could have prepared me for this. I hadn’t done much research beyond knowing what time I needed to qualify. This lack of research was reflected again when it dawned on me that there was a cut-off for this event! Runners needed to stay ahead of the sweepers for their wave. I had no idea! No wonder the other runners had complained at people slowing down for photos. I worked out I was actually ahead – running with wave 4, having passed their sweepers at some stage. The sweepers for my wave were about 20 minutes behind.
I spoke to the wave 4 sweepers who told me if I stayed ahead of them I’d be fine. I must say I struggled a lot with that 15km climb and half heartedly asked whether there was a quick way out! At times I felt I was barely moving forward. I reminded myself I wasn’t going to cry and haven’t since!
At one point I was running along and a red bellied black snake came slithering out of the bush on my left. I swerved around it, yelling “snake” and kept going.
At the top of the mountain there was some respite and I stopped at an aid station where I finally got something to eat. The aid stations are supposed to be stocked so runners don’t need to carry nutrition but each one prior to 30km had been cleared out by fast runners. I’d done all that distance on absolutely nothing!
Once I’d thrown down a couple of gels my energy returned and I took off! The last 15km were sensational. I ran really well and overtook heaps of people who had overtaken me on the long climb. I fell over on a small creek crossing, taking a chunk out of my knee, but the blood running down my leg only made me look more hardcore!
By this time I was within 3km of the end and finally had some phone reception. I sent Craig a quick message to let him know I wasn’t far off and then ploughed on. The final couple of kilometres were downhill and unfortunately I had to slow to a walk because my toes and toenails were banging very painfully into the front of my shoes. The final few hundred metres were a dream – back on concrete and a handrail! I zoomed down and across the finishing chute – 6 hours 43 minutes – ahead of both the wave 4 and wave 5 pacers!
I sought out the wave 4 pacers and shook hands with them, thanking them for their support and company during the massive climb. Craig had a drink and food ready for me. Turns out he hadn’t done any study – he’d sat all day chatting with a lady whose husband wasn’t too far behind me. He was an ultra ironman and the things he does to complete his events defy common sense!
I got changed and we boarded the bus back to Katoomba. I was exhausted and Craig drove us back to Thornleigh in Sydney where we stopped for something for dinner. I couldn’t eat but was just so elated to have finished the race.
Would I do it again? No. It was one of those bucket-list events and I’ve done it. I’ve got the shirt and the medal to prove it!
Six Foot Track Marathon was number 5.