The 6 Foot Track has been on my bucket list for some time. Over the years a series of circumstances have seen me enter the race but not compete. Whilst 2014 sees my focus on the World Orienteering Championships in Italy in July, I was determined to run and love this race. From all the accounts I had read, the course would suit my strengths – physically tough but still a running race. And in post-race reflection, I can see it did.
I believe there are three key things that will allow a runner to achieve their optimal race potential:
- Consistency in training, both day-to-day and week-to-week
- A strong nutrition & hydration strategy scientifically based on how your body responds to stress
- An intimate knowledge of the race course
Standing on the start line of the 6 Foot Track I was almost sure that I had covered the first two of these requirements. Training had consistently been strong with a focus geared more towards the development of hill strength, speed endurance and a lean, mean running physique. My mileage had been easily over 140km per week and I felt confident that I was balancing the hard training with enough recovery.
I was also feeling more confident about my nutrition and hydration. In 2013 I had a series of sub-par races. I knew training had gone well but once race day came around, I lacked the energy to perform. A series of sweat tests conducted by Darryl Griffiths of Shotz identified that I was loosing 1800mg of sodium per liter of sweat. We determined that I was becoming chronically sodium depleted and unable to utilize any glucose released from my body or the gels I was consuming. This knowledge along with a desire to avoid breaking my stride at aid stations meant that I used a new nutrition & hydration strategy in this race. This involved carrying five gels on my body and two soft 500ml hand-flasks containing a super concentrated mix of Shotz Electrolyte.
However, the hole in my preparations was that I lacked an intimate knowledge of the course. Of course, you hear the rumors and read the course reports:
“Make sure you stay upright in the first 400m”
“My quads are still shattered from last year!”
‘That Cox’s River can be so high you are swimming”
“The river’s gravel can rub your feet raw”
“The climb up Pluviometer is gradual and easy to run”
“The climb up Pluviometer is epic!”
“This course suits the road runners best”
“Road runners are in for a shock in those last 4km!”
“I hope you know how to run backwards!”
Rumors and reports aside, I still felt nervous for not having run on the course. The damp, heavy mist on the start line did nothing for confidence either. The leaves beneath our feet shone in a way that said, ‘I’m more slippery than you are giving me credit for!’. Further to this, the bare chested men around me enthused testosterone. I began my mantra… ‘stay upright, stay upright… stay upright!’
Down Nellies Glen I hung back a little. Feeling nervous and fidgety, I tried to gently ‘flop’ over the stairs, keeping my legs soft on impact so as not to burst my calves or quadriceps muscles. I focused on taking deep, strong breaths and not allowing the walking pace to deter me from my own relaxed running. After watching some near tumbles I hit the flatter stages. Surprised that I was already at the bottom of the ‘dreaded stairs’ and quads still in one piece, I attempted to quickly find my rhythm. I was aiming for a high cadence with a long, relaxed leg drift behind me. After a period of flat running my cadence felt about right (180 strides per minute is optimal) and my pace felt relaxed. I had found my stride.
Crossing Megalong Valley Road the mist was still thick so I was unaware of when hills were approaching. I focused on stretching out even more and making sure I kept fuelling myself with electrolytes and a gel. I used the downhill to Cox’s River to tap into the leg strength I had been working hard on in training. I tried to ‘flop’ off the stair edges and ensure that my quadriceps stayed relaxed. I hit the Cox’s River at 1hr07mins and oblivious to the challenges that lay ahead.
A small group of us embarked on the Pluviometer together. Alongside me was The North Face athlete, Andrew Tuckey, and winner of the Canberra 100km Ultra, Tom Brazier. Whilst they came and went, I tried to focus on hill climbing rhythm, glad that I didn’t have to break stride through the aid stations. Nearing the top the sun came out and was beating quite strongly so maintaining electrolytes was paramount. We crested Pluviometer at 2hrs10mins. I could now see the rise and fall of the hills before me and again, I just focused on tucking alongside the boys and maintaining the pace. Whilst Andrew’s long legs got away from me on the gentle ups, I was able to pull back alongside on the flats and downs. I was grateful for his support and companionship through these periods of the race.
The final steep pinch leading up to the road into Jenolan finally broke my stride. Reduced to a walk I realized I was feeling a little giddy so took the last of my five Shotz gels. I felt the kick almost immediately. Crossing the road I was informed that there was around 10km to go. I knew it must be mostly downhill although the small rolling ups & downs were challenging. I was still feeling strong but was longing for the sharp downhill to regain some time. With 4km to go I passed another of my The North Face compatriots, Andy Lee. His cheerfulness in the face of obvious pain was touching and we exchanged happy hellos.
Hitting the downhill into Jenolan was unreal. I felt like I was flying and my legs felt super full of juice after my earlier gel. Racing down the switchbacks I had one of those emotional moments when you find yourself swallowing that lump in your throat. I had aimed to run this race for years and in 2014, I had achieved it. My time and place was nowhere near the front of my mind. Rather, I was excited to share this moment with my Father, partner and all the believers & supporters of Find Your Feet.
Looking back on the race I know that my strength was my training consistency leading into the race. Despite the focus being on races later in the year, the hill efforts, speed work, strength training and long runs had prepared my body for this race really well. Secondly, my nutrition was spot-on. Five gels and 1000ml of concentrated electrolytes was just enough to prevent me having to break my stride for aid stations. Finally, my head was in the right place. I loved the lead up to the race, the atmosphere at the start, the friends I met along the way, and the fantastic vibe at the finish. Knowing what I now know, I am thinking that a crack at the record might have to be on the cards in the next few year! 😉