Six Foot Track Marathon

The second main event of our Australia trip was the Six Foot Track Marathon. When we committed to attend our conference in Sydney, we decided to search the continent for an athletic event to sweeten our trip and make the travel more justifiable. We didn’t have to look far and we didn’t have to travel far from Sydney. So, on Saturday, we ran the 25th edition of Australia’s 5th largest marathon and toughest marathon distance trail race. Truthfully, it is 45 kilometers, so it technically qualifies as an ultra-marathon, but who cares? Running 26.2 or 28+ miles for me is a long way. Not so for Deb, but she is the crazier one in the family when it comes to this sort of stuff.

 The Six Foot Track plaque.

A lot of logistics went into running this race. The most important part of the planning was the childcare since we both wanted to run. It was swell for us that a good friend from my HBS OPM days came through in the clutch. She is a dedicated runner herself, a Sydneysider, a Sydney Strider, and most importantly, a part time Blue Mountains resident. Oh yeah, she is a Mom too, so she has pedigree! The stars were aligned. Rhonda and her partner, Stu, came through and had a blast with our little boy while we romped on the track.

The start of the track.

The end of the track.

There is a lot of history to the track, much of which you can read about here or at the Six Foot Track Marathon site.

As a trail running race course, the track was formidable. It was more “runable” than the stuff we have in New England, but the climbs were longer–not steeper, just longer. The cooler temperatures (we were expecting HOT) and damp conditions were conducive to running PB’s (personal bests) and a lot of runners did. Our rookie status put us in the third wave to go off at 8:20 A.M. Our resumes could have qualified us to run up front, but seniority is key in this race. One man has run all 25! Many others have done a dozen or more. We were cool with that, though it was unnverving to hear the gun go off while we were still warming up. Of course, the race is scored on time, so an adjustment would be made. We were all wearing timing chips, so there could be no funny games and timing accuracy would be spot on. After all, we were out there for the experience anyway.

Both Deb and I roared off the start and we led our wave down the first obstacle, 1000 wooden/earthen steps that had been set into the hillside on the way down into the Megalong Valley. It was awesome. Once things “leveled out”, we got into a cadence and started catching folks from the first two waves. 820 runners started the race and there had to be 400 in front of us, so it was fun to chase them down. It was like a game as we tried to pick them off one at a time. The track was only too narrow to pass in a few spots. As the name says, in the beginnning, it was made six feet wide to allow horses and carriages to pass from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. Now, the track is overgrown in many places, and has been re-routed in others and it serves mostly as a hiking track. For bushwalkers, the typical trip is done on a three day schedule. Amazingly, the men’s winner, Barry Keem, did it in under three and a half hours and the women’s winner, Vanessa Haverd, nearly broke four hours.

The course went through beautiful meadows through streams and small rivers, and over some very big hills. The last 10km were mostly downhill and that was where I blew up. I’m good for 20 miles, but then it is survival after that. I had a pretty big lead on Deb after the climbs and hung on to finish in front of her, though not by much. My time was 4:26:37 and I was 64th. Deb finished in 4:41:05, was 6th woman and 108th overall. She had a great run! She was also 3rd in her age group and we were 2nd in the “Couples Competition” or “Partners Prize.” Our time was the 2nd fastest combined time. The race cutoff is 7 hours which comparably, seems short for a race like this. Still, many who fail at making the mark, return year after year to give it another go. Cheers to them!

The full results show that the competition was serious. The Australian trail running scene is of very high quality. The race was organized very well, as it should be for the 25th time. The bush fire rangers from the Australian Rural Fire Service, and their families, made up the core of the race volunteers. The race benefits the fire service and the Six Foot Track Heritage Trust. The aid stations were well stocked and numerous. The runners were gracious–“Good on you mate!”–and the speed of the runners was very high. It was the end of their summer racing season and only the beginning for us. I’m biased, so I think the USA’s best shorter distance ultra-marathon trail runners could take the top prizes if they made the trip and got in the training, but it wouldn’t be without a battle. The top men’s and women’s times were very good given the difficulty of the course.

The race is comparable to another legendary trail marathon celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2008. The Nipmuck Trail Marathon is 26.4 miles, a bit shorter, but has more rocky single-track and more steep ups and downs. Six Foot has more overall climbing and descending, but it also has more dirt roads and better overall footing. Of course, we drive up the road to get to Nipmuck and we had to go 12,000+ miles by air for Six Foot. Six Foot also has the unique format of being a point to point race and it has the spectacular Jenolan Caves finish. We crossed the line and were within 50 meters of our hotel room and a hot shower.

As I said, I was hurting really bad in the last 10km and a hot shower was very much on my mind. At one point, I slipped going down some stairs and my right calf seized up. I had to massage the swollen and knotted muscle back down into its correct position. If you have ever cramped like this, I don’t need to describe the pain. I got it loose enough to continue, but at a much slower pace. Also, my notoriously finicky right big toe took a hammering because of the wet conditions and a different pair of Montrail’s. I’m saving my last pair of vintage Leona Divide’s for later in the summer, so I was using a different model and I paid for it. I’ll be wearing sandals for the next couple of days.

Deb and Scott Livingston after the finish of the Six Foot Track Marathon.

My Garmin GPS did a good job at tracking the course.

There are some good comments and feedback on the Australian version of CoolRunning.

A lot of folks asked if we would do it again. The answer is, “of course,” however, New South Wales is a long ways from Connecticut and there are many other great running and cycling races around the world. We are always on the lookout for the next great adventure. The Six Foot Track Marathon was only the most recent great adventure.

Very cool hardware honors finishers as well as fast runners.

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