A Very Hot Six Foot Track
Six Foot Track was shaping up to be a big race this year, and there was a lot of added pressure to do well after the result at Tarawera and the Ultra168 pre-race article. I’m pretty sure I was recovered and was also trained up, but for some reason I always find Six Foot Track a challenge, it's just that bit too short and fast for me. Although I had every intention of giving this race my all and seeing what happened.
The race weekend started off with a leisurely trip up to the mountains with mum (support crew), Katy & Kirsten (two fellow Trotters & friends who I was hoping would do really well). A nice stop for lunch at Leura, picking up race packs & supplies, my afternoon jog around Katoomba and pre-race Pasta. All went to plan. The day of the race arrived and lacking a toaster, I had half a hot cross bun with peanut butter & banana and then it was off to pick up Kirsten before mum dropped us at the not so secret drop off spot, while she continued on to Blackheath to get Matthew (my brother) who was in a later wave.
I did the usual pre-race nervous things like retying my shoes, joining the toilet line multiple times, drinking all the water, and of course pre-race photos. The main difference this year was that I wasn't completely and utterly freezing, it was actually pleasant standing at the start line in a singlet and shorts. I huddled in amongst the rest of wave 1 and listened to the countdown, then we were off. The first 500m or so was as always a mad downhill sprint, I immediately lost a gel as it slipped out of my race belt, but there was no going back for it. Then we hit the stairs, the group I was in moved alright down them, I possibly could have been a little further up the line, but it didn't matter too much and I was also doing better then last year as no wave 2 guys overtook until I hit the flat section. I'd already seen one girl slip on the stairs and get back up, but now another girl went down, she was only just in front of me and I'm not sure exactly what happened but she was clutching her ankle and hobbling to the side of the track.
The flat section widens out into dirt road/fire trail through Megalong Valley and I picked up the pace. I know the rules about going easy to the river, but this was a "Do or Die!" race and I would go easy when I blew up. Charlie & Chris, Terrigal Trotters who were in Wave 2 came flying past me at the 5k mark and I told Charlie I'd see him on the hills, hoping that I really didn't see him on the hills, but he is known for going out very hard.
I was feeling fine at this pace and the course was flying past as it switched from dirt road to paths through the fortunately cowless paddocks. I came across another girl on the side of the track in one of these paddocks, also clutching her ankle. It was clearly going to be a hard day out. The temperature was warm, but ok. However the humidity was crazy high and there was a lot of mist which I knew would clear and turn into very open and hot tracks. Normally I'd skip water stations, but today I was hitting every single one of them to get water into me.
Somewhere in Megalong valley I lost another gel. This was bad. I was carrying 1 spare, but not 2 spares. I recalculated my gel plan and factored in the Tailwind which was at each of the drink stations and pushed on. The track turns more technical as it winds alongside the river, gradually descending with lots of little rocks to watch out for and I almost went down a couple of times, but I was moving fine. At this end of the field there's not much in the way of conga lines, you might hit 2 or 3 people but then they pass and it sorts itself out. Everyone here is racing. It’s a totally different race to the first year I did it where I was in a long conga line and chatting to other runners.
Cox’s River (15.5km) was the lowest I’d ever seen it in my four years of racing and was very easy to cross, it barely even reached my waist! Then it was into the climbing. I’d already decided before the race that I was going to run this first climb. There were a few other girls around me at this stage and I put some distance between myself and most of the other girls on the way up the hill. There was just one girl in front of me that I couldn’t quite catch. This turned out to be Julie Quinn, a much, much more experienced runner than I am.
I hit the drink station at the top of the first climb, drank one full cup and tipped another over my head. It was warming up now and we still had a long way to climb. I continued my chase. Last year I walked a lot of the climb whereas this year I knew I could run it if I stayed calm. So I ended up with about an 80/20 split of running/walking. I could still see Julie and her very steady jogging up the climb to Mini-Mini Saddle (20km). Unfortunately this is also when I found Charlie walking on the edge of the track with a badly cramped hip. He’d hit the race hard, but this was not going to be his year. (I am glad to say that he did however manage to finish the race a few hours later).
Over the saddle and a fast 2km’s downhill to Alum River where I drank the Tailwind, water and poured water over my head before hitting the much harder climb to Pluvi. This year my GPS was working which did make the climb much easier as I split it up into the number of hill repeats of Palmdale hill that it was equivalent to. Steady climbing up to Pluvi as the day was getting very hot, I would have hated to have been out on this hill later in the day. The heat was already getting to a few of the other runners as I saw a couple of guys do a staggering walk then bend double and start puking. I could still see Julie in front of me and she’d put a bit of distance between us but I was making her my target, something to aim for on the course so I kept on chasing.
Hitting Pluvi (26km) always feels like a false victory to me, I know there’s still more climbing to come. But I did at least get to have some Coke (and I switched to drinking a combination of Coke and water at every second aid station). It was hot on Black Range Rd but once I was over a couple of the steeper hills just past Pluvi I picked up the pace. My legs were still feeling fine, they were sore at the top of the climb but they’d recovered well and even more importantly the gap between Julie and I was quickly closing. I managed to overtake her not long after this moving into 6th place and still feeling fineish….
This section of the course is kind of boring, the trail isn’t very exciting (nothing to dodge), no giant climbs and the scenery is well, scrub and not much else. But I was still ticking along. I hit Deviation (34.7km) and then the stupid stupid hills right before the road crossing. There’s these 2 hills and they are shit! They’re steep and my legs are on the verge of cramping and I just don’t like these hills. The only good thing about them is that they aren’t very long..
Then it was across the road (37.9kms) and onto the single trail on the other side. I’d somehow managed to end up with no one around me and had to actually pay attention to where I was running so I didn’t miss any of the little Six Foot Track signs. By this stage of the race I was feeling pretty lousy, I’d gotten hot and tired, most likely dehydrated and I missed my dropped gel. My splits were way off, in truth I was just getting slower and slower. If another girl had come past me then I wouldn’t have been able to give chase.
I hit the final couple of steep downhill kilometres and my left calf cramped up completely. I had to stop to stretch it out, then I had to be very very careful with all of my steps to make sure I didn’t cramp again. It makes for some slow and painful downhill running. No flow at all, just gritting my teeth, ignoring the pain and watching my steps. I cramped again when the track briefly levelled out and I had to step around some rocks. Unfortunately this was in front of two other Trotters… The final zig zagging path down to the cow bells and cheering crowd in front of Caves House (45km) was very painful. More teeth gritting and trying not to trip over or cramp. Then it was across the finish line where I staggered around until mum sat me down. I promptly drank two full bottles of water a couple of cups of Coke and attacked a watermelon.
That was by far the hardest Six Foot Track Marathon that I’ve done. the heat and humidity played a pretty big part in making it hard for me, also losing that 2nd gel was pretty terrible. What would I change for next time? Use a different race belt and take more gels. That’s pretty much it. My legs were fine after the climb and it wasn’t until the heat itself hit me near Deviation that I began to falter. I crossed the line in 6th place in a time of 4:31:32 (Last Year: 6th 4:19:54). One day I’d really really like to crack the Top 5…. So this just means I’ll have to come back next year!
I’m also happy to report that both Katy & Kirsten finished with sub 5hr races and with only 2 seconds between them (they were in different waves), and Matthew finished in 5:15 which means that we have now all beaten dad’s Six Foot PB!