2013 Six Inch Trail Marathon
Sunday, 14 December 2013
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
It was still the middle of the night when the alarm went off. I made a bit of porridge for breakfast and a coffee each for Tracy and I. The car was mostly packed the night before, so we only had to grab a few last bits and pieces before getting in and driving to North Dandalup. At that time of the morning (night!) there no traffic so the drive only took an hour. We arrived at the hall where I had to register; there were a few other runners already there. I felt nervous as they all looked like the knew what they were doing there, I had no idea what lay ahead of me.
We completed registration formalities in the hall, then I said goodbye to Tracy because she was volunteering at Aid Station #1. I climbed aboard the bus driven by the Race Director, Dave Kennedy, and when it was full we were taken to the start line located just out of town. There were a number of runners already there. Some people were casually chatting, others doing their final equipment checks and then checking again. Some, like me, wandered around, nervously, aimlessly. I stood with the group of parkrunners, most of whom were attempting this race for the first time too; there was a lot of nervous energy.
The weather forecast for the day had everyone a bit worried. The elite athletes weren’t overly-concerned as they would be finished before it got really hot, but that wouldn’t be the case for the rest of us. The sun was only just rising and already it was well over 20C, heading for 40+C.
Dave Kennedy arrived with the final bus-load of runners. He gave them a couple minutes to get themselves sorted out, then surveyed the gathered runners. To him, everyone looked ready to go and it was 04:30AM so with almost no fanfare at all he said, “Go!”
The Six Inch Trail Marathon runs mostly along the Munda Biddi mountain bike track between North Dandalup and Dwellingup. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how long the course is, but the consensus is that it’s at least 46km and less than 49km, with somewhere between 900m and 1000m of elevation. A 250m chunk of the elevation is in the first 3km, from the start and up Goldmine Hill.
It’s light enough so that you don’t need a head torch. The early morning silhouettes the hill, making it look even more fierce than it really is. The elite ultra-runners scoff at this behemoth and from the start they run hard and disappear into the dull grey. After Goldmine Hill there is another marathon distance in which to destroy yourself, I vowed to myself that I wasn’t going to ruin my day in the first mile and walked over the start line and up this famous hill. I wasn’t the only one walking, in fact I’d say that most people walked this part of the course, leaving the elites to battle for the King of the Mountain prize. I looked around and was surprised to find myself a lot closer to the front than I wanted to be; even walking too hard could destroy the day so I slowed down. Eventually everyone had settled into their stride, I found myself alongside Dan Baldwin, who was his usual enthusiastic self. We chatted and joked on the climb and when we got to the top, we started running.
Dan hadn’t done this event before, nor had he run a marathon. Together, we were newbies at this trail marathoning, although I had run two marathons on the road, so we decided that we’d pace each other and stop ourselves from doing silly things such as going too hard too soon. This was a great in principle, but it was a lot harder in practice. At times, we were running at unsustainable pace, but we were having a great time. The sun was up, we were running through beautiful bush on excellent trails, why wouldn’t we be running fast? Because neither of us were fit enough to keep up that pace all day and if we tried, we’d explode before the finish.
Aid Station #1
Dan and I were still running together as we approached the aid station. The temperature was getting up, but we kept up with our respective hydration strategies. I was getting the first twinges of cramp in my calves, but nothing to be overly concerned about, I drank a little more water and electrolyte. I was behind on my nutrition, but wasn’t to know much about it for a while yet.
We came around a bend and crested a small hill. You could see the aid station below, with the volunteers already servicing a couple of runners. Tracy was at the entrance to the area, to call out the runner’s bib number so the other volunteers could grab that runner’s drop bag and have it ready for them as they approached the table. It was simple and efficient. I sneaked a kiss from Tracy as I ran by, Dan stole a sweaty hug from her, much to her chagrin!
In my pack I had a veritable smorgasbord of food which I planned to replenish at the aid station, but as I’d hardly eaten anything, I only had to top up with water and electrolytes and I was ready to push on. I had a change of clothes in the drop-bag just in case I wanted them, I was drenched in sweat but I decided not to get changed as I’d just sweat into those clothes too. Dan did change his shirt, so his stop was a little longer than mine, so I waited. I wasn’t peeved that he was taking so long at the station as much as I didn’t want to stand still for too long as my calves were twitching with minor cramps and I needed to keep moving. Finally, Dan was re-fuelled and we were off again.
We left Aid Station #1, having covered 22.5km in about 2:34, an average pace of about 6:50/km including walking up Goldmine Hill and the stationary time at the aid station. We were pretty much on track with where we thought we’d be.
Aid Station #2
The course undulates, up and down, up and down as you weave through the bush. There are only two “major” hills, Goldmine Hill (which we’d already conquered by walking from the start) and “The Elevator”. I hadn’t done any reconnaissance runs after a point near where Aid Station #1 was situated, so all the trails which lay ahead were new to me, including The Elevator at about 36km from the start.
The highest point on the course is not far after Aid Station #1 at about 26km from the start; it’s alongside the Alcoa conveyor belt. Just after this high-point we crossed the bridge over the conveyor. It’s a little noisy compared to the near-silence of the nearby bush but the view from here deserves a moment or two stopped to look around.
There are some sections of track which are simply stunning to run along. The track is not too technical and you could afford, from time to time, to let your mind wander a little. Peering through the trees, trying to spot the native wildlife provided a good distraction from the cramps in my calves which had now intensified; my quads decided they wanted to play that game too.
Before you get on The Elevator there is a run uphill from a Y-junction, then a sharp left-hand turn followed by a short but steep descent. At the bottom would be a stream in winter, but it’s just a dry crossing at this time of year. From the bottom of this gully, you look up into the hill. The Elevator is a gnarly, steep climb of about 60m or so, up a deeply rutted track. Ahead, you could see people on all fours, clambering up the hill. You heard the occasional scraping as someone’s footing gave way under them. You could hear a few choice four letter words as runners ahead tackled the thing, going up, and after you’ve been to Aid Station #2, coming back down. It was challenging, but I actually enjoyed the opportunity to work a different set of muscles than those cramping and giving me grief.
The rules of the Six Inch race stated that you could have a drop-bag at Aid Station #1, but no crew; you could have crew at Aid Station #2, but no drop-bag. As my crew, Tracy, was volunteering at Aid Station #1 I had no-one to meet me here, but there were volunteers at the station to assist runners without their own crew. Kelly Underwood was volunteering and also crewing for her husband, Jeremy Savage. As Dan and I arrived, the other runners were being serviced by their respective crews, so Kelly could devote her entire time to us, providing cool water, snacks and lollies. We didn’t loiter too long, waved goodbye and headed back along the same track to traverse down The Elevator.
We left Aid Station #2 after 37km in 4:21, averaging just over 7:00/km since the start; we were starting to fall behind where we thought we should be.
Aid Stations #3 and #4
Just after leaving Aid Station #2, Dan comments to me that he was now in new running territory as he’d never run this far before. I think we were at about 38km into the race. I was cramping badly now and taking lots of salt tablets and electrolytes wasn’t having any effect. I stuck it out with Dan, hoping to be with him when we passed the 42.2km mark so I could congratulate him on making the marathon distance, but at 41km both of my legs seized solid and I dropped behind.
There wasn’t supposed to be a third (or fourth) aid station, but as it was so hot, Dave Kennedy inserted a third station and a volunteer threw a few slabs of water bottles in the back of his car and set up an unofficial aid station himself between aid station #3 and the finish.
I got to Aid Station #3 at 43km in 5:15, average pace falling to 7:18/km. I was running when I could, but there was more walking than anything else. I was walking along the trail, trying as best as I could to manage the cramping and keep moving forwards towards the finish. At a small junction there was the car which was the unofficial aid station. A man offered me a drink which I declined as I had plenty in my pack; his young daughter pointed a super-soaker water pistol at me and pulled the trigger. At this point, I would have loved to be showered with water, but she was out of ammo and her Dad said she couldn’t reload with the drinking water as that was required for the runners. She pouted. I pouted.
The last few kilometres were a nightmare. I could barely walk a few metres without one muscle group cramping. If I tried to stretch out my calf, my quads would cramp. If I tried to stretch my quads, my glutes would complain. I didn’t have any doubts about finishing, my doubts were about how long it was going to take to get there.
Finally, I exited the bush on the outskirts of Dwellingup and could now see where the finish line was. There was another runner between me and the finish, but I wasn’t racing, I just wanted to get to a chair and a beer. I did overtake the runner as I was in marginally better shape and crossed the line. One step further and both of my legs seized solid. Tracy had finished her volunteer duties, so was present to help me to a chair. As I sat down, I looked at my poor, poor legs and feet. They were white, crusted with salt from my sweat. Even my shorts had salt stains and were “crunchy”.
It wasn’t pretty, but I had done it, I finished my first trail marathon. Later I was to find out, about the time I was crossing the finish line, the temperature was 43C.
My Garmin said the distance was 47.87km and I finished in 6:01:09, averaging 7:30/km. Later I was to discover that if I was interested in qualifying for the Comrades Marathon in South Africa that I’d missed out by 1 minute 9 seconds! (Luckily, I wasn’t entertaining any ideas about Comrades, at the time!)
Dan didn’t have a great finish either. Just after I dropped off, he started having issues and walked a lot of the final miles, finishing just a few minutes ahead of me. We sat in the shade, drank some beers and ate, waiting for the last runners to come across the line. After everyone had finished, safe or safe enough, Dave made the presentations to the winners, we packed up and drove home, with the air-conditioning running flat out!