As a track runner I always looked at the 6FT Track Marathon and thought to myself it was for crazy people. The type of runners that pride themselves on how much they can suffer. To me, that never seemed like a nice way to spend a Saturday morning. But thanks to some motivational words from my trail running advisor Sean Greenhill, this year I decided to join the lunatics in Katoomba for the annual 45km grind to the Jenolan Caves.
Preparation hadn’t been ideal. My goals lie in events much later in the year and as such I’ve been training pretty hard for the past month. The decision to race came on Thursday, two days before the event, when Colin Jeftha, the now retired raced director, offered me a last minute entry after hearing I was in town and not away with work as was meant to be the case. So with a mini taper I toed the line on a foggy morning in Katoomba.
The start was frantic. Andy Lee stormed to the front and hit the stairs with Marty Dent in 2nd and me in 3rd. The scamper down Nellies Glenn is torturous! The rapid descent is like nothing I’ve done before and thanks to slippery stones and stairs it meant concentration was paramount. Reaching the bottom I commented to the others that I never realised there were hills this big in Australia. Turns out we still had 14km of descent to go!
Once the trail opened up, Marty Dent went to business and quickly disappeared up the track. My plan was to “Keep my shit together” until the top of the hills and hopefully hold off the chasers until 30km. From there I figured they wouldn’t put too much time on me and I would still get a respectable finish. Things changed at the river crossing. As I waded through the water I chatted with the volunteers manning the aid station. It was a strange conversation.
Me: “How good is Marty! He’s flying. He must be 1km ahead by now!”
Volunteer: “Who’s Marty? You’re the first person here.”
Me: “You must have missed him. Tallish guy, brown hair, New Balance outfit….running like a madman.”
Volunteer: “Haven’t seen him.”
Me: “Shit! The poor bugger has gone the wrong way!”
Put simply, Marty was going so fast he missed a turn and managed to add an extra kilometre to his race. This left me in an awkward position. I was there to smash out 20km and then go into survival mode. But finding myself in first place with a decent lead, I suddenly thought I should give this thing a crack. The problem was, thanks to my quick start I was buggered!
From the river it’s a grind up the mountain. Here Marty caught me, having run a cracker 7km to catch up again. After a short chat I told him to “Piss off” and he did so. Summiting the seemingly endless climb I felt like I wasn’t going to finish. Hills aren’t particularly big in Centennial Park, which is where I train, so this was a new world of hurt for me. That said, I kept the chicken legs ticking over and eventually saw Marty coming back to me. It was an awful sight. No one likes to win a race when their competition has an experience like Marty had. Passing him with 8km to go he gave me plenty of encouragement and that made me feel a little better.
The final section of the course is all downhill. 6km of it. That’s great if you feel good and can roll to the finish. In my case, the wheels were coming off. I’d not eaten during the run. Event though I would stop for a drink at each aid station, I didn’t eat as I wanted to use this race as a depletion run….it was a bad move. I started to seriously hit the wall. Not only were my big toes swollen and hurting like hell (I now have my first runner’s black toenails!) but I was struggling to keep my feet. A couple of cups of Coke and a quick g’day at the last aid station proved the sugar injection I needed and despite having to walk much of the final 4km (Thanks to the sore toes) I dragged my pathetically small frame to the finish.
In all it was a fantastic day and loads of fun. Hearing the cheering crowd with 500m to go and finishing in such a spectacular place is a remarkable experience. What’s more, a few beers with Rod and the NSWIB team made any soreness quickly disappear…at least until the following morning! I reckon I’ll be back again next year, only next time I think I might make it a bit more of a focus and try for a fast time.
1. David Byrne 3:25.18
2. Martin Dent 3:28:30
3. Alex Matthews 3:28:31
4. Mark Green 3:29.26
5. Robbie Neill 3:34.58
1. Hanny Allston 3:41:24
2. Jane Gordon 4:13:27
3. Julie Quinn 4:15:18
4. Gill Fowler 4:18:26
5. Reegan Ellis 4:21:18