Having run at the event a couple times, I know what it’s like for a competitor. But for spectators and coaches it’s a whole new world of stress!
My original plan was to be racing this year, however a torn Achilles put me on the sidelines. It’s always disappointing not being able to compete in your goal events, but in this instance it wasn’t so bad as I had loads of work to keep me busy and several athletes I coach or friends running, so spectating was a good alternative. The downside of trying to watch is that, well, it’s a shit course for onlookers. You essentially have the start, which is chaotic and happens in moments, and then the finish, that involves an hours drive to get to. So here’s how my day unfolded.
A 4am wakeup saw me in the car with my mate Gus by 4:40am. A quick stop at McDonalds for a coffee and a little bit of banter later and we were in Katoomba by 6:05am to pick up one of the runners I coach, Vic Beck. We then parked in a side street not far from the start and walked over. Along the way we bumped into good mate Ben St (Fellow Run Crew coach) and his girlfriend Katie. Both were in great shape and genuine contenders for the win, so naturally there were some nerves. Gus then headed off on his long run. He did the course for training so left me as the designated bag carrier for our crew.
15 minutes before the first wave began the place was rammed with people. The buses had been ferrying runners in all morning and the noise of the crowd and commentators made for an exciting vibe. With bags in hand I scurried off to the car, just as the starters gun fired. If you’ve ever seen the beginning of 6ft you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s madness! Everyone bolts off, as though the race is won in the first 100m. The field quickly merges into single file before plunging down the slippery Nellies Glenn. It’s quite funny to see the intensity a lot of people get sucked into running at. Realistically, the vast majority of folks should just casually shuffle the first kilometre.
Leaving Katoomba it was a foggy drive to Jenolan Caves. The scenery is lovely but there’s no time to enjoy it because if you want to avoid having to take the Oberon detour then you need to get to the turnoff by 8am. I managed to get there just in time so saved half an hour. Upon arrival at Caves House the officials were putting the final touches on the finish area. As always, poor Colin who does the timing was under stress. The internet connection was playing up, timing mats were doing funny things, and people like me were harassing him for updates. For me, the stress came from knowing Run Crew had loads of runners out there and I didn’t have any idea how they were going. Once updates did start coming through, mostly via texts from friends who chose to drive out to Megalong Road or the Black Range, my nerves began to settle. We had runners at the pointy end in both the men’s and women’s, plus all our other runners were safely progressing at PB paces. So with a sigh of relief I could finally grab a coffee.
From there it’s a waiting game. I watched a computer screen, trying to make assumptions as to what runners were feeling or what would transpire, based purely on the splits that were coming up. I saw Ben slide down the leader board, which gave me great concern, and cheered internally as Vic and Katie charged in second and third in the women’s. Seeing friends and Run Crew athletes throughout the field crossing the timing mats and popping up in the live feed made for many happy moments. Particularly the likes of Alia Karaman, Dom Perry and Hamish Macdonald who are such positive and good folks.
As the leader arrived the crowd cheered and bells rang. Vlad had defended his title in a front running manner, which has to be applauded. He’d had a couple of lack lustre results in the lead up and to bounce back was awesome to see. From there came Dave Crinitti and Mark Green, a couple of war horses who are as tough as nails. Then I was told Ben was sitting in the medical tent. I scurried over to see if he was alright and give him his bag. Turns out a chronic hip injury flared up and brought his day to an end in a painful manner. It was disappointing to see but nevertheless, he’ll be back again to give it a crack.
Leading the women home was Steph Auston. She powered through the field after Cox’s River and ran home strongly for the win. Now the nerves were really going! Behind was a genuine war of attrition, with Katie and Vic battling for the minor placings. The computer said Vic had a narrow lead, but Katie is a stronger descender, so who knew what would transpire. Then in the distance I spotted the diminutive figure of Vic coming down the final slope. About 100m behind was Katie. It was an exciting finish and no doubt both suffered a lot to try to keep their positions. In the end it turns out Katie had actually passed Vic briefly on the descent, only to take a fall. Vic did the right thing in checking she was ok but clearly the tumble took its toll.
With the top runners through the next couple hours are spent cheering loudly for the rest of the field. This is the fun part. It’s an awesome atmosphere at the finish and has to be seen to be understood. You watch runners streaming in, all in varying states. Some exhausted, others barely able to run, while the majority are ecstatic as they throw their hands up in celebration at having conquered Six Foot. It’s a fun way to spend the day and I highly recommend checking it out. By the way, Gus made it to the end in around 4 hours. Bloody good running for training! And most importantly, I got to have my beloved McDonalds on the way home.