The first time I heard about the Six Foot Track Marathon via a friend’s Instagram feed, I thought she was CRAZY! The first time I ran it myself, I knew I was too!
If I thought I was crazy then, what does that make me now? Last week I took part in my SECOND Six Foot Track Marathon; running 45km along steep trails from The Explorers’ Tree in Katoomba to Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia. This event is tough and I truly feel sorry for anyone who thinks they can tackle it as a road marathon runner. Well, you can if you’re a really good, experienced road runner, but if you’re an average weekend warrior who can bang out an okay time for a road marathon and think that Six Foot Track will be easy, think again!
The race starts by going down the very steep steps into Nellies Glen. If you are in the last few start waves you will be walking down here – which is good because starting too fast has seen many go down with a dreaded ankle roll! Once you hit the bottom, the track opens up into wider fire trail for a while and then continues onto a single trail; in total around 15.5km going down to the Cox’s River. Once you hit the river, you wade across, which is actually welcome relief for the legs after the continual downhill of the first part of the race. The 2 times I’ve run in this race, the water has been up over my waist level, but one lady told me last week (who’s run it 15 times) that at its’ deepest, it was up to her neck!
On the other side of the river is an aid station and seats if you wish to sit down and change socks or get the tiny river pebbles out of your shoes. I never choose to do this as I would rather keep moving in an attempt to get to the end as fast as possible. From here starts the approximate 10.5km climb back out of the valley, and when I say climb, think of the biggest, steepest hill you’ve ever walked/run and times it by 100 – these things are huge! Although the 10.5km doesn’t get you to the very top of the elevation chart below, it does get you to the top of the worst part – The Pluviometer at 26km.
Once up the top of ‘Pluvi’ the climbing continues (though not as steep) and the track becomes more ‘runable’. However, by this time the legs have taken a beating from the 15.5km downhill and the massive climb up, so if you’re not conditioned for this type of running the cramps will certainly find you here. I had trained adequately in hill running and marching up, plus my nutrition plan had been tested prior and worked well with the addition of 2 salt tablets every hour, meaning I was cramp free – Woohoo!
The next part of the run takes you through what’s called the Black Range and eventually you cross over Caves Road. I knew from last year that once reaching this crossing there’s only about 8km to the finish line and most of the hard work has been done. This section (although you’re tired and sore) is quite enjoyable as you know the end is near and once you’re about 2 km from home, you start to hear cowbells ringing from the finish area – the best part of the race! The tricky part here however, is the last 2km are along a very narrow single, steep trail going downhill, so with fatigue setting into the legs, staying upright is a skill in itself. Last year I rolled my ankle during this section and this time one of my tired legs kicked a rock and I took a superwoman dive to the ground! A kind passing runner, reefed me back to my feet and checked if I was okay. He then said, “No guts, no glory – let’s go” and we ran the rest of the race along the fast steep downhill pretty much together to finish to the cheers of the crowd and ringing cowbells. I was bloodied and bruised, but ultimately happy. I had succeeded in finishing my second Six Foot Track Marathon!
The first time I ran Six Foot last year, I rolled my ankle quite badly at the 22km mark (as well as near the end) and hobbled for the remainder of the race. I also suffered cramps towards the finish, so my goal this time was to NOT roll an ankle, do all I could to avoid cramping, and run with positive thoughts the whole way, and 2018 saw SUCCESS in all of these things. I also hoped to scrape in under my finish time of 6 hours 6 minutes (although finishing AT ALL is a massive achievement when it comes to this event) and I was also successful in this with a finish time of 6 hours 1 minute. Very happy! Had I have not fallen, I may have gone sub 6 hours, but I could not wipe the smile off my face for having finished and achieving all my goals.
Overall, the Six Foot experience is a great one! The organisation and assistance by all the volunteers is supreme. The atmosphere along the course and encouragement from the Rural Fire Brigade members volunteering is amazing. The goodie bags for finishers are fantastic and the feeling of accomplishment once finished is second to none! If you’ve got a qualifying time and are thinking of trying your luck in the lottery for this one in 2019 I would say – go for it! However, make sure you train on the hills – the biggest ones you can find, and then some!!