Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Six Foot Ramblings


This is less a race report, than a rambling series of recollections and musings about my participation in the 2013 Six Foot Track Marathon.

It sort of starts with a reborn love of bushwalking after moving to the local area in about 2001.  When we moved to Mt Colah I went for a 6 km bike ride from home to Hornsby Heights and it nearly killed me. I resolved to exercise more - but of course didn't.  I walked to work and back most days (about km each way), but several years later I couldn't believe I was surrounded by all this incredible bushland, but had never been for a bushwalk the whole time.  I lucked upon a couple of walking books in some second hand shops, and finally began doing walks in Kuringai NP and Berowra.  I was soon doing incredible distances - sometimes as much as 10km !! OMG !!

On one of these walks with a friend, from Bobbin Head along the Sphinx Track, a gentleman came huffing and puffing past us up the hill, wearing some silly Six Foot Track 45km Marathon shirt.  As he disappeared, all red and sweaty into the distance, I wondered what kind of an idiot would want to do that ?  I was familiar with the name "Six Foot Track", but had no idea of where or what it was.  Diving into my bushwalking books, I read about it - and it sounded like way too much hard work to walk, let alone run.  The book said it was a three day walk - surely only a fool would run that far in a day. 

Then 12 March 2005, I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about walking the track.  I read it several times, and for some reason had to cut it out and keep it.  I still have it, I still read it.  A wonderful piece, and it got me very interested.  Six Foot somehow moved onto my "walks to do" list.

Fast forward to a day when I linked up several of my shorter walks, and walked 30+ km from Mt Colah to Brooklyn.  I was absolutely knackered, but it gave me "that feeling", and I wanted to do more longer walks.  Suddenly after that, several things "clicked" . Firstly, I had reached a point like so many 40 year olds, where my diet and weight were slowly heading in the wrong direction. Secondly, like so many, I read "Born to Run" and was totally inspired by the concept of covering long distances on trails.  I was knocked out by the idea these incredible athletes did so much walking.  WALKING ?!? I can do that!!  I'm an ace at walking. It was the running that was a challenge.  I have bad knees, doncha know !!  However, all the recent years of walking paid off as I starting running slowly.  I discovered the knees were actually holding up (sort of).  Finally, like so many, I became keen to complete a marathon.  I ran that first marathon (Gold Coast) in July 2012.  It nearly killed me, and I couldn't walk properly for months, so of course I had to run another !!  When a longer event in November 2012 didn't quite go to plan, I was all trained up, but nowhere to go - and Six Foot was suddenly on the radar. 

I had a deal of mental confusion before entering.  It is one thing to do a marathon once just to see if you can.  I discovered a certain reticence about doing another. I considered myself "a walker" in some crazy purist way.  Did this mean I was now becoming one of those idiots who run all the time.Why the hell, after nearly killing myself doing it once, would I even consider doing another ?  I have put a lot of time and thought into this and still have no great answer.  Something to do with a fascination with, and love of, effort and endurance.

I am by nature somewhat carefree, but in certain areas of my life I am exceedingly particular.  Before heading out on a walk, I obsessively need to know everything detail I can find about it, and Six Foot was no exception.  I searched websites, online forums, books, looked at maps - anything to do with Six Foot.  I hadn't even fully committed to entering, but felt I couldn't until I had an idea about the course.  Some comments online made it sound terrifyingly hard and extremely difficult to follow.  Which as it turns out, it isn't. 
Eventually I decided to actually go and have a look.  Well more than a look.  I had read online about doing a "Twelve Foot Track" run from the start to the finish and back.  45km there, then 45km back. 90km.  Way too much for me in one go -  but starting at The Explorers Tree, walking to Jenolan, staying the night at Caves House, and returning next day was an option I thought I could do. And I did.  Of course the first day to Jenolan had to be a 30 degree plus scorcher of a day.  My main error was assuming water was at the top of the never ending series of hills up from the Cox's River - oops.  Only wrong by a very hot and thirsty 10km. The return next day was a chore in places, but after 90km in two days, I was pretty familiar with the course by now - and let me say, that after all the online waffle I had read, it was one of the easiest, well marked tracks I had ever walked upon. 
I had also arranged to walk it with friends.  This time just once, over two days.  Much easier.  Except of course the first day was THAT DAY in January 2013 which was the hottest day in Sydney's history - 45+ degrees !!  When we reached the Cox's River we stripped off and dove in - and discovered it was full of big thick 8cm leeches with a fascination for human flesh. Awesome.  After plucking off leeches, we headed for the 6 Ft Track Lodge where we drank red wine that was so hot it fizzed when we opened it, and all the alcohol had probably evaporated.   My feet had swelled so much in the heat that my toes were crushed in my trusty Dunlop Volleys, and the final 30km next day was agonising.  I did, however, consider myself ready for the Marathon - if I got in.  Anyone who has entered Six Foot knows the kerfuffle about getting an entry.  But I breezed in first try.  Beginners luck I guess.
Before the race I stayed at The Flying Fox Hostel in Katoomba.  A magical place. The best hostel that $28 can buy !!  I had never stayed in a hostel before, and it was all part of the learning curve and the fun.  I sat around playing a guitar, reading, and chatting to a crazy old bloke who was also running next day (and will probably be me in another 20 years).  Then off to bed to climb over bodies and packs in the dark and hope no one was in my bunk already.
The next morning, as I quietly got out of bed in the dark, I thought I was the only one awake. I silently crept to the kitchen, where I discovered about 50 mad runners engaging in the arcane runners rites of mixing powders, filling bottles, sculling coffee, sucking gels, chomping energy bars - all kinds of weird pre dawn runners stuff. 
The run itself was fabulous.  An online Six Foot race time predictor suggested that my time would be 5 1/2 hours which I knew was rubbish - but under 6 hours would suit me fine.  5:48 later I was done and dusted.  There was SO much aid out on the course it was ridiculous.  I gained about 2 kg eating bananas and watermelon, with water and tables of assorted goodies every few km.  It is a fund raiser for the Rural Fire Service, who also man the aid stations - and they were brilliant.  One memorable aid station was playing "dress ups" - you haven't lived until you have been chased down a fire trail by a big hairy Goldilocks screaming "drink my water".
Speaking of water, I hated the idea of getting my shoes wet.  On previous trips, it had been no trouble to raise my skirts and rock hop like a fairy princess across the Cox and various streams along the way.  However, big rains prior to race day changed all this.  Upon arrival at the Cox I was greeted with chest high water and a huge rope to cling to - and every previously small stream from my last walks were now knee deep.  My shoes got wet. 
The walks had also introduced me to last few rocky and unstable km down to Caves House.  After running over 40km I still felt OK, but this stretch was agonisingly quadbusting.  Finally, the only hurdle to clear was making sure I ran the right direction to the finish line.  Of course I went the wrong way and started off on my own little trip to Oberon, but Michael Sims was on hand to yell from the crowd "other way Rob" , and pointed me down the hill to where the enormous and totally unmissable finish line and huge clock was in full view.  Thanks Mike.
Finishing Six Foot was the end of a certain chapter in my life.  A tying up of loose ends.  I am probably one of those fools who runs everywhere now.  Which dovetails neatly into also being one of those idiots who walks everywhere.  Oh well.  Life is too short.  Bring on the next adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Hey i really enjoyed reading through this and it was interesting as well. Thanks for putting in the effort and time to share your thoughts with us.