Six Foot Track compared to an obstacle race
Six Foot Track is a grueling 45km trail marathon from the Explorer’s Tree, Katoomba to Caves House, Jenolan Caves. Runners have just 7 hours to complete what is normally a 3 day hike. This was my second year doing the race and this year I was up at the front of the pack in wave 1. For the past year, since I’d last run Six Foot Track, I’d been primarily focusing on Obstacle Races, racing 9 different obstacle races over the course of the year, including almost all of the Spartan Races. So how did the two compare?
Six Foot Track starts in the dark, down steep, slippery stairs. I had no intention of falling over and hurting myself in the first couple of km’s, so I stuck to the back of the wave chatting with some of the older runners as we trudged down the stairs. A few of the wave 2 runners caught up towards the bottom and they were powering, no thought to personal safety at all! One of those guys I came across a few km’s later had 2 twisted ankles, so I’m going to say I had the right approach with slow and steady. At the base of the stairs the track opens to a wide fire trail and that’s where the race really begins - I quickly start overtaking people and settling into a steady stride.
In the first 15km’s, on the way to the river, there’s a lot of running, but not too many obstacles, the terrain was also a little easier than an obstacle race, but not much. Rather then having to follow a course across an unmarked paddock or through dense scrub, you at least get a trail to follow. The obstacles themselves are limited to the stiles to get over fences which I did OCR style as much as possible, step up the two steps, grab the rail on either side and swing the rest of my body out and over the steps on the other side of the fence so I could land and immediately start running. The cattle grids you either jump, or carefully step across… One misstep and you could end up with a broken leg if you fall through going too fast.
Then there’s Cox’s River, which is much more of an obstacle. The race was cancelled in 2012 because the river was too dangerous to cross and in 2013 it was flowing fast and deep enough that you had to hold onto a rope and pull yourself across. This year however it was deep, but not flowing overly fast so it was an easy crossing. I feel it could be greatly improved by installing a traverse rope option above the river with the obligatory 30 burpee penalty if you fall off the rope. It would certainly make for some great photo opportunities and horrified runners.
Once across the river the real hill work begins with a 10km hill climb up to the Pluviometer. There’d been a storm pass through the mountains the afternoon before the race, so the tracks leading up the hill were muddier than normal which made them slippery, but as I’m not exactly moving too fast going uphill and also wearing my Inov8 OCR shoes which I’m used to running around in the mud in, it wasn’t a problem. Reaching the Pluviometer the track continues uphill but with less gradient and more undulating so the running gets a bit easier and I can pick up speed on a few of the downhills.
Reaching the highest point of the race it’s almost all downhill from there, with the last 5km’s being a treacherous steep downhill sprint over loose rocks and with a cliff drop on the edge of the track. I would have enjoyed the scenery more if my calf muscles weren’t cramping in distress from the sudden downhill after all the uphill slogging.
I saw one girl splatter in front of me after she lost her footing on a wet step, she was lucky she didn’t injure herself, there was no soft mud to fall on here, just more hard rocks.
The closest obstacle race I would compare it to is the Spartan Ultra Beast, just for the length of the race and continuous time on course. But besides that the two aren’t particularly similar, there’s no downtime in a trail race, whereas in an obstacle race you get to stop and catch your breath at the obstacles. Also, the hills in an obstacle race can never match what you’d get in a trail race. They are restricted to working within the confines of the Obstacle Race Course and can send you up some short and sharp hills, but it’s not going to be the 16km’s of constant uphill that you get in these races. In the trail races I also really appreciate not having to wade through foul smelling creeks while banging my shins on rocks.
As for training, learning to run trails is incredibly useful for Obstacle Racing and means that you can compete in any distance Obstacle Race.