Six Foot Track - Race Report

by Gordon Tuthill (2000)

The fact that you're reading this means you know I'm still alive. I know I'm alive because my legs hurt so much that I almost can't walk! However I am now the proud owner of a Six Foot Track Marathon medallion which I will treasure as I doubt I'll attempt this again, (at least I won't contemplate that until the pain subsides).

Before giving you a brief race report, a little history. The Six Foot Track, in one of Australia's great natural heritage areas of the Blue Mountains, is a bridle track established in 1884 when the then Governor of New South Wales ordered that a horse track be established from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves.

Both of these places are major Australian tourist attractions now, Katoomba being the vantage point for inumerable Blue Mountain vistas, access to many tracks and trails into the Megalong valley and home of the Three Sisters, three rock Pinacles recognised world wide. Jenolan is the site of some of the world's best lime stone caves with incredibly beautiful and diverse stalagmite and stalagtite decorations.

So a track, originally six feet wide, enough for two horses to pass, was established between these two places through some of the most rugged terrain in the area. The marathon web site, has elevation maps that give an idea of just how tough this run is.

The distance is 46.6k and my conversion gives me 29.12 miles, and is simply the distance between the two points rather than a contrived race distance.

The race

Because of the large number of entries and the nature of the trail right at the start, the organisers split the runners into two start groups with one leaving 15 minutes ahead of the other. The first group of race veterans and faster marathon runners left at 8am. (because of its' strenuous nature qualification for entry into this run is to have run a sub 4hour marathon). I was in the second group and at 8.15am began the mad dash to cover the first 400 metres of rough sandstone track to the top of The Steps into Nellies Glen.

This section, about 1.5kms is almost straight down through the rain forest vegetation on a variety of man made log steps, natural rock steps, tree roots etc. It is single file, hence the need for caution by the organisers and despite there being little rain lately, the steps were wet and mud covered. A recipe for twisted ankles and nasty falls which I believe was the unfortuate fate of some competitors.

Once through the steps there is a relatively comfortable section of flat / undulating gravel road and fields of about 14k to the Coxs River. I have worked very hard at training for this run so was mortified when at about the 10k mark my calf muscles were already becoming painful. I can only imagine that the rapid descent on the steps into Nellies Glen was the cause and I wondered how I'd get through the next 36k.

Immediately after the river crossing the first of two tortuous hills, Mini Mini Saddle, confronts the runners. My race strategy was to walk up these hills and I stuck to that policy, already picking up back runners from the first group to start and those who had gone out too fast. Over the Saddle and a couple of k's of flat and through four creeks and then the next monster hill, Black Range, which I walked (of course).

At the top of Black Range, 26k gone and 20k to go, I was 19 minutes ahead of my estimates at 3hrs 1min. I was hoping to finish in 5.5hrs. I was tired and my legs hurt, but I began to foolishly think I had a chance at a 5hr finish. The next section is about 9k through the forest on a gravel track and is full of short hill sections that sap strength. Finally I saw Caves Road, 10k to go and I was amazed to see I was now 29mins ahead of a 5.5hr finish. I had no idea that I'd run sub 6min k's for that section and in retrospect I shouldn't have.

The last 10k was a nightmare. 5k of gradual uphill on a sealed road and then 5k of bush tracks with an unbelievably steep and difficult 2k downhill finish on loose rock and shale. Between leaving the forest and starting on the sealed road, maybe 10mins, I was shot to pieces, energy levels evapourated and legs nothing but pain ridden lumps of lead.

I basically lost the mental battle on the sealed road because instead of telling myself how well I was doing, I'd started to focus on the 5hr finish and knew I had to run very well to achieve it. I now knew I was barely running, let alone well, so became down on myself. I also knew what lay ahead to get to the finish line.

I tried to run down the steep shale descent to the finish but was too afraid that if I bent my legs, my quads simply wouldn't support my weight so I completed this section is some sort of strange straight legged stubble.

I finally crossed the line in 5.14.57, well ahead of my original goal time but unreasonably feeling I should have done better.

I believe the run was run by Paul Arthur and am not sure of the time yet, but was told it may have been a race record of about 3hr 22min (to be confirmed). Given the nature of this course, an amazing time.

Hope this has been of some interest. Incidentally from overhearing conversation and accents, there were several competitors from the USA and Canada in the run.

Here's hoping I can walk enough to get to the car to go to work tomorrow !