The Six Foot Track is a race where road runners and ultra marathoners come together. It’s one of those must do’s on the Australian running calendar. Every year it attracts a stellar field of would be champions. Sometimes there’s a clear cut favourite, other times it’s wide open. On this occasion there’s talk of big things. Murmurs of a real record breaking contender in Marty Dent. But such achievements are hard to come by, particularly in an event that has seen many a top athlete have a go at the almost mythical sub 3:15 barrier. So to get an understanding of what it takes to be a 6FT Track immortal, we had a quick chat to course record holder Ben Artup about his experience on this most infamous of trails.
Before doing so, here’s some background info on him. Ben’s a born and bred Blue Mountains man and his course record stands at 3:15:25. He’s a former elite triathlete and Australian representative at tri and mountain running. Ben has also run three PB’s in one race! (Back to back half marathon PBs on his way to a marathon best of 2:23:35).
Leading into the 2009 6FT what was your training like? Did you have any idea you were going so well?
My build up went very well with a good mix of hills, LSD runs and intervals all on trails. I also threw in 3-4 swims and 1-2 bike rides per week as recovery. It was my first race since 2007 and I trained alone so I had no idea how I would go, especially after the 2007 race ended in a disaster. At deviation campground an RFS person at the aid station said I was a few mins ahead of the previous years leader. I did the maths at the road crossing for my estimated finish time and figured I had just made a mistake with my calculations.
How did you prepare for the race? Was there anything specific you think made a big difference?
I did a 9 week serious build up that started early January. Prior to that I did 2 months of building long runs up to 3 hrs. I ran the course on Australia Day 2009 with Angela Bateup. I also set a personal goal in January to run sub 3:20. I wrote “sub 3:20 6ft track” on my phone screensaver, which meant I looked at it 300 times per day (I use my phone a lot at work). So I think this convinced me that I would go sub 3:20. My attitude to training I think just adjusted to meet the goal. I only wish I had written “sub 3:10”!
What was an average week of training like leading into it?
I ran Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesdays and Thursdays were intervals on trails with gradient. No stairs as they take me too long to recover from. Then Saturday was Glenbrook to Woodford up the oaks FT, then down the highway to Springwood at an easy tempo pace. Each week this run improved from 3hrs to just under 2hrs30mins between January and March. Then I did my LSD on Sundays, the longest being 4hrs 10 mins, which I managed 4 weekends in a row in late January and February. I am not sure if running that long is the best way to do it, but that’s what I did in 2009. Recovery swims and rides were done on other days and around run days, with Monday being my day off. I don’t focus on kms run per week, but if you must know my maximum was 181k which I have only ever done once in my life – about 3 weeks out before tapering for the race.
During the race, did you have splits you were working towards or was the plan to see how it unfolded?
I knew the splits others had run like Matt Robbie’s regular 60mins to the river, and the KOM split, etc. And I did know where I was according to such splits. However I think the race requires a strategy to suit yourself, not running to splits. My only race strategy was to show some restraint until the start of Black Range – then let fluffy off the leash. I didn’t obsess or think about reaching certain points in scheduled times. Splits work for me in training but not in racing. I like the “moment” in racing where you use experience, instinct, daring and some strategy. That’s when magic can happen.
What section challenged you the most?
Probably the final downhill section. I was tiring and had to concentrate on the technical downhill to Caves House. Also that last hill just before the road crossing had a bit of sting in its tail I remember. I was glad when that last hill was over.
What nutrition strategy did you have?
It was simple. One gel every 30mims washed down with heaps of water. I carried a water bottle to ensure I could wash the gel down at the right time (eg, exactly 30 mins apart as reminded by a timer set on my watch). This way water and sugar levels remained as stable as I could possibly get them, avoiding any dark patches.
What are your thoughts on the course. Where is the race won or lost?
It’s hard to believe buts it’s actually a downhill course. It finishes lower than it starts. So downhill running is important which was my main weakness in the 2007 race. I went and worked on this element of training. I didn’t race in 2008 because I hadn’t worked downhill running out. The race, like all races, is won or lost in the months or two prior. If you get your preparation right, the race will look after it self.
What advice do you have for a first time entrant?
Train hard, drink heaps, eat well and go like hell. If you don’t have a running coach, supervisor or mentor – get one. Find a person you can learn off and attach yourself to them. You can always learn something new.
Do you think Martin Dent could break the record this year?
The guy came 28th at the recent Olympics, runs a 2h12min road marathon, has made more national teams than I’ve had blisters, ate the Kepler challenge for breakfast, and as I understand, trains on and is good at hills. Both up and down. Yes, I think someone with Martin Dent’s pedigree could smash the record. I reckon he could conservatively run 3h05min at his first attempt, then faster if he races again.
“I like the “moment” in racing where you use experience, instinct, daring and some strategy. That’s when magic can happen.”