2016 Six Inch Trail Marathon
Sunday, 18 December 2016
I don’t know exactly what it was about this year’s event but there seemed to be less intensity or excitement in the build up to the day. In previous years, runners have been training hard for this event, it’s the culmination of a running-year. This year, it seemed to me that a lot of runners were tired or had enough of big events, and were just looking forward to having a nice run with friends through the Australian bush. I was feeling a bit the same, however, I had a goal to beat last year’s 5h08m time and to finish in under five hours.
I had done some nice trail training and my body was still remembering WTF50 from just a few months ago. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the Bibbulmun Track, running with Grant Langford when I tripped and took some “bark” off my elbows and knees, so maybe I wasn’t as in-tune with trail running as I thought? I went into the race with some wounds still healing, and a promise to a friend to try to stay upright this time!
In this, the 12th edition of the race, the nearly 48km course remains the same as for the last few editions; I’ve described it before [ here ].
My alarm went off and woke me up after a restless start to the night, but ended up being 4 or so hours of comfortable sleep. I started my usual pre-race routine with tape and vaseline. I was giving Adrian Kenny a lift to the start at North Dandalup; I heard AK’s car pull up outside, right on time. After a coffee and some porridge, we headed off in the dark of night for the 50minute drive. As we reached North Dandalup, there was a lot more traffic as we and the other 300 or so runners converged on the hall to register our intention to start the event.
The mood in the hall was fun. Although there were people here who were taking this race very seriously (Scotty Hawker, a former winner and course record holder was back, et al.) there were a lot of friends shaking hands and sharing hugs; it felt more like a big family reunion than a race. I am sure the “newbies” were quietly panicking, but they were surrounded by friends, no-one was on their own. After dropping off our bags and final wee stops, it was onto the busses for transportation to the start. I remember my first event in 2013 (the “hot” year) when Race Director Dave Kennedy drove shuttles in a small school bus, but now there two large coaches were used; how quickly this event has grown in such a short time.
There may have been some speeches of other formalities at the head of the starting throng, but I was too far back to hear, so at some time people around me started moving in the route direction, so I went with them. I crossed the timing mat and started up Goldmine Hill. I was allowing myself 30minutes for the first 3km, then 6:00/km for the remaining 45km to see a 5hour finish. I made it to the summit in just under 23minutes, reset the virtual pacer in my watch and started running. I picked my way through some runners who went up the Hill too fast, and was passed by a few runners who might have been thinking the same thing about me. Eventually, nearly everyone was sorted into the “correct” running order. The sun was up, it was still cool, the morning was almost perfect.
I was running in a space by myself; I could see Ben Oxwell up ahead and had a small group not too far behind me. I turned a bend in the course and increased my pace on a nice little downhill section about 17km from the start. I went to step over a rut in the trail, and either missed the ground, or clipped something… and over I went! I landed on my left hand and pushed off to start a “commando roll” and just as I started rolling to the right, my shoulder slammed into the berm down the edge of the trail. I bounced hard off this and ended sliding down the gravel trail on my hands, forearms and knees.
When the dust had settled, I was on my back. I grabbed my knees to my chest and looked at my bloodied legs; my arms were covered in blood too. I rolled over and tried to stand up. Gravel rash hurts when it happens, but this pain was substantially worse. I couldn’t stand properly and when I tried to push myself taller, it hurt more. By now, the group of runners which was behind had gathered and offered their help. I felt a little embarrassed and told them I was ok and they should continue their run. The next few runners also stopped to offer assistance; I was still thinking I had only scraped my knees and help wasn’t required for a superficial injury. I tried standing up again, but the pain was unreal. I looked at my left leg and saw my kneecap “halfway up my thigh” (it was displaced a few inches above where it should have been). I didn’t even think about what about to happen and pushed the kneecap down with the heel of my palm. Lucky for me, the kneecap popped back into the right place (or right enough place); lucky because the pain was excruciating and if it didn’t go into place on the first attempt, I am pretty sure I would not have had a second go at it. (My apologies to everyone with a few miles who might have heard some choice four letter words in rapid, prolonged succession!) As soon as the kneecap was popped back in, the pain lessened but it still hurt, a lot. At the same time, I also noticed my left index finger was starting to swell, it too was really painful and I immediately suspected I had broken it when I tumbled.
A few more runners came through, offering support and assistance. I wiped away tears and waved them through as I hobbled a few steps. Blood was streaming down my arms from my elbows; blood was streaming down my legs from my knees. My finger was swelling and hurting. My left knee was in hell. I could barely move and started entertaining ideas of simply making it to Del Park Road which was “just” a few kilometres down the trail, where I could get into a car. On top of the pain, I was gutted thinking about my second ever DNF.
After a little while, I could walk. OK. I tried shuffling. OK. I was in a world of hurt, but I was still moving. I had lost about 5minutes picking myself off the ground. I was still 30km from the finish. I started running for a bit and although everything was hurting, I was moving in the right direction. A few walk breaks, and a few more choice words later, I arrived at Del Park Road where a small aid station had been established. I saw some friendly faces (a real boost for my morale) and sneaked a hug from Amber. I was just about to cross the road when someone in the small crowd of spectators drew my attention to the ambulance and the two paramedics. I looked at my arms and legs, I looked at the paramedics, I looked again at my arms and legs, and the paramedics again. I decided to seek their assistance.
The paramedics were awesome (all emergency service members are). They cleaned up all the blood and it turned out, with the exception of my knees, all that blood was coming from just a few small wounds in my elbows and palms. As I was sitting there, I was secretly wishing the paramedics would tell me that I couldn’t keep going; but also there was a part of me that had designs on finishing what I’d started. I’m sure that if I’d told the paramedics that I’d reset my displaced patella they’d stop me from continuing, so I bit my lip a bit harder and kept mum about it. Sub-consciously, I must have wanted to keep going. Only quitters quit.
Whilst stopped, I saw lots of runners coming through. Jeff Hansen, Rob Aitken-Fox, Michelle Brown and more. My brain was in meltdown; I wanted to be ahead of these runners, I had to get going again!
After about 15minutes of wiping away blood and doing their tests, the paramedics were finished. I rose from the chair, trying not to wince too much and trying to put on a brave face for the spectators, waved a cheerio to everyone and headed into the bush on the other side of the road. Although I was significantly cleaner, I was still in a significant amount of pain. I reached into my pack and took two painkillers (a misnomer, paindullers is more appropriate). A little while later, I was still running and was telling myself I could still finish, but I’d lost too much time to make the sub-5 hour goal. I was on an emotional roller-coaster; I wanted to finish but I was hurting bad, occasional spurts of bullshit, bravado or adrenaline coursed through me and I sped up a bit until it subsided as pain took over again. I caught up to Jeff and had a quick chat which helped me regain my focus. I used his steady cadence and sensible running as a measure for myself. I felt better and better. I ran ahead a little more and caught up to Michelle which made me feel even “betterer”. My biggest concern was falling over again; it was still a long way to go.
We got into the Aid #1 (22km) and saw Ben & Shirley Treasure, Abdul and others all dressed up as crazy doctors; their aid station was a mocked-up “asylum” for all the crazy runners who’d be passing through. It was good fun and helped me reset my focus, even if only momentarily. Although the volunteers are awesome, I still didn’t want anyone else in my own private hell, so grabbed my drop bag and moved a little way from the action and re-filled my supplies. Trying to stand up again after squatting/kneeling to work with my pack was excruciating. Michelle and I headed out together.
There were portaloos at North Spur Road (25km) so Michelle told me to go ahead as she needed to stop here. I started up Conveyor Belt Hill and caught up with Rob Aitken-Fox. We had a little chat as we forged up the hill and over the summit which is the highest point of the course, and thinking “It’s all downhill from here!” helped me perk up a bit. Although Rob was faster up the hills than me, I was still faster downhill so left him behind after a too-brief run with his company. I caught up to and passed Harmony Waite, which was fortuitous as I was just about to run passed a turn when she called out to me; I managed to turn around and regain the proper course before my watch even sounded an “off course” alert.
The trail leading into Aid #2 (36km) is up the infamous “Escalator”. The hill is steep and rutted, but it’s only about 70m of elevation over 200metres or so. I made it to the top without too much hassle, although the effort required made my leg hurt even more; so you favour the other leg and it begins to hurt… I was glad to make it to the Aid station where Cassie Hughes, Amy Drummond and the parkrun crew helped look after my needs. I was feeling pretty chirpy here, or a lot happier than I was before. Unfortunately, this state of mind didn’t last long on the descent of the Escalator, where I slid off my left foot a little bit on a steep section. Although I didn’t fall, it did undo the resilience I had built up to this point and I started to feel very frail and weak again. Any subsidence in the pain returned, but there was only about 10km to go to the finish. I saw Rob still on his way to the Escalator; he said he’d done a “me”, falling over on the trail. He dislocated his shoulder in the fall, but he’d still finish in 5h21m!
After the climb of “Nameless Hill” or “Tim’s Hill” or whatever it’s called (40km), I started to get the first twinges of cramp in my left quad. “Great,” I thought to myself. A cramp was the last thing I needed at this point. I was carrying a secret weapon against cramp but I’d never actually tried it; there has been anecdotal evidence that some athletes have positive response to consuming “pickle juice” when they feel muscles starting to cramp. For all the pseudo-science, home remedies etc spouted on the internet to deal with cramp, this is the one method I hadn’t tried before because I was in complete disbelief that this stuff could possibly work. I reached into my vest and pulled out a small flask of dill cucumber pickling liquid. It’s essentially vinegar, salt and sugar. I took a small swig. Yes, it tastes awful, but if it works, it’s going to be worth it. Within a minute, all signs of the cramp were gone! Just before reaching the finish, I started to get a twinge in my right calf, and within 60seconds of having another small swig of the foul-tasting medicine that cramp was gone.
After the climb of the final hill, my left knee was really starting to get stiff and I could barely lift my foot off the ground. Every step was another step during which I’d nearly kick a rock, twig or trip over the uneven trail itself. Although still running, I was skating on thin ice and I had resolved that at any time I was going to trip again. The waiting before I went crashing down again became almost unbearable. Just as I was at my darkest point, I was running along the powerline section when I see Tony Smith heading up the hill towards me. Tony always has a smile and a positive message, and I felt much better for seeing him. I even managed to pick up my feet a little more.
The last five kilometre section starts at the bottom of the powerline section, so with renewed vigour and a better state of mind, I headed into the Marrinup maze. Normally, I love running through this section of trail as the close bush and narrow path makes you feel like you’re running really fast when you can actually be travelling quite slow. It didn’t feel like that today; it took an eternity to make it through. There was a minor change from the previous year’s course at the very end of the course due to some construction work, so as soon as I hit this detour the “walls” I had built to keep the pain in started to crumble. I was about to cross Del Park Road, about 30metres from the finish, I saw Kate Dermody acting as a marshal there and got a hug from her, enough positive energy to get me those final metres to the finish line.
At the finish area, I looked for the ambulance, but couldn’t find it because it was evacuating another runner from Aid #2. I wandered around aimlessly for a bit, in pain, but not quite sure what to do. Ben Treasure had arrived from the Aid #1 asylum and helped clean my knees. I applied some bandaging and then sat for a while, formulating plans to get home whilst welcoming some of the other runners home. I secured a lift with Claire Wardle back to North Dandalup where my car was parked; AK and Chris Lark were aboard also. AK and I made it home.
I dumped my stuff in the house and drove myself to Fiona Stanley Hospital ED. I sent a message to Tracy and she left her drinking session to join me waiting in the ED. It wasn’t too long before I was seen, x-rayed, poked, cleaned, bandaged and splinted; confirmation of the broken finger, and confirmation the kneecap was (almost) in the right location. A few other doctors and nurses poked their heads into the room to see this person they’d read about in the hospital triage notes; that bloke who’d run 30km after re-positioning their own displaced patella. Some made jokes about whether I needed medical assistance or psychological assessment!
I’ve got at least a week with my leg up and maybe a bit longer for my finger to heal. I’m up-beat the knee problem will sort itself out soon; the next worse scenario means a LOT longer in recuperation, or worse again involves surgery and months off running. Fingers crossed.
If I subtract the 5minutes stopped to pick myself up off the track after falling and the 13minutes in the care of the paramedics, then I’d be very close to the target 5hour finish time; running without injury in those final 30km means there was a reasonable probability that I would have achieved my goal this year The official result will never show this, so I guess I’ll have to try next year.