21 years, the rediscovery… my six foot adventure
(disclaimer – a long personal account, targeted at runners wanting to just make the cut-off)
I wanted to wait a few days to reflect on my race, the journey, lessons learnt (and yes you can still teach an old dog new tricks), the friendships made and rediscovered and the power and support of a small community called UPCOACHING. Those who know me, see me for me, a husband, a father and a friend, those that don’t would see me as the big bloke who tries to get it done and in some cases wonder why I am out there. I am not your typical runner, in fact, one of my arms probably weighs as much as most runners total body mass. I am a Clydesdale, fat me weighs in a 96kg and race fit me weighs in at 95kg. That’s a big and wide load to push up the Pluviometer!!! You get the picture.
Six Foot 2019
The Six Foot Track is a 45km trail stretching across the Blue Mountains from the Explorer’s Marked Tree, near Katoomba, to the Jenolan Caves.
The marathon started in 1984 and follows the length of the entire trail.
The race is a not for profit event and all funds raised are donated to the Blue Mountains Rural Fire Service who man the aid stations on race day.
Each year the event has over 850 entrants completing the course on race day.
Back in 1997 I first raced the six-foot track and in 1998 I raced what I thought would be my last ticket to the dance. I didn’t love it and I didn’t get it. Things were very different for me then. I raced in 1998 with no fear, no idea, full of bravado and an over-inflated value of my self-worth. 1998 was about one thing, peacocking to a young lady, showing just how “awesome” a person I thought I was by running fast and finishing a little event called six foot. Run fast I did, for a while anyway, top 30 ( field was only 450 in 1998) to Coxes creek, only to discover that I had 31km still to go and no fuel in the tank. I had made the classic/ stupid mistake with 31km to go (it was 46.5km then) I had not raced smart, I had no plan and as such was in for a long and an interesting afternoon. With no 7 hour cut-off, as is the case today, I was going to finish this thing to show the beautiful lady I was at least OK, awesome had gone out the window. So I got it done, a respectable 6:01:36 but well short of what I was bragging about at sub 5 (I did say I had no idea.) So I write my reflections as this year’s race I did everything in reverse.
Fast forward to 2019, I had done the training and like nearly everyone had picked up injuries and niggles, technically my knee was stuffed and I had a genuine fear of missing the cut-off and letting not only my family and friends but my coach down. At no point was I actually worried about letting myself down and I was ready to pull the pin, I was literally in tears and physically sick. I waited until 10 pm the Wednesday (midnight cut-off) before the race to make my decision to go for it. What swayed me? Great coaching from David Kennedy and Brendan Davies and the words of wisdom and unwavering show of love and support from my family. This is really what I am wanting to share, some simple advice given by David and Brendan and the wisdom and support shown by that same beautiful lady who has stuck by me for all those 21 years as my wife and soulmate. This is what got me to the finish; I have had an injury since New York that was expertly managed by my coach David. He trained me smart and he prepared me in the best shape (yes round is a shape that rolls) I have been in for years. Combine this with Brendan’s advice, simple but impactful “ You have got to be in the contest to contest in the first place. You will finish this, be wise and I know how bloody strong and determined you are. I know you can do it! DNF is not an option, that medal awaits!” And the clincher, My wife’s and sons equally powerful “ Babe, I have watched you race for 22 years mostly unprepared, this is the first race I am excited to see what you can do. You have done the work, you are in the best condition I have seen you in. You will finish and if it isn’t meant to be we are so proud of you, not for starting a race but for the person you are and the role model you are for our family”. And just like that, the Fear of failure vanished and the email of deferral deleted.
I knew what to do, still didn’t help me get any sleep the night before…. As I lined up at the start, wave 5, I noticed just how popular this great event had become but in saying that it had lost none of its mystique, history or charm. Some new faces, some new Friends but much older and familiar faces still around, in fact, the person that drove me up to the race 21 years ago who I hadn’t seen since my wedding was there, the difference being he was lining up for his 22nd six foot and I my 3rd. I was starting at the back which was part of the strategy. Nellies is steep, it is slow and my knee does not like the downhill
Lesson 1- listen to your coach, David had said: “ the race isn’t won running down Nellies, but it can be lost for you, nurse the knee”. And that’s exactly what I did. I got into a groove and didn’t worry about anyone else and made my way to Coxes.
Leads to Lesson 2 – Have a plan; unlike 1998, know what you are capable of and do it smart. David and I planned out a km by km plan and I intended not to break stride unless things went to custard. I was exactly where I needed to be and on the plan at Coxes. The next challenge was getting 95kg over those hills but I had a plan so went about my business. The plan was simple “walk with purpose”, run any flat or down section and don’t stop. In 1998 I was getting spat out the back door fast and people passed me in droves. This is demoralising. This year I was already at the back so it was unlikely I was going to experience that same feeling.
Here in lies lesson 3 – I found my rhythm and started passing people. For every person, you pass you feel like you are given some energy from them and it helps you push through the pain being dealt up by Mini and Pluv. I got to the top within the minute of my Plan and had passed a lot of people. I can’t tell you how amazingly beautiful and spectacular this track is when you can actually enjoy everything that is happening around you. Onwards with the plan through the Black Range, written on my plan was a statement from 1998.
This is lesson 4 – “on the range you ARE going to cramp. Deal with it!!!” Those that push through the cramp get the medal. I cramped in 1998 and I cramped regularly this year. Shocking horrendous abductor and quad and calf cramps but I didn’t stop. I had a plan.
I crossed caves road and it was like spiritual enlightenment from the gods, my confidence skyrocketed, apart from the last 3km which was going to take its toll on my knee, I knew my I could get it done even if I had to slide down shale hill on my bum.
So here is my lesson 5 – someone told me it was a downhill course, a sick and twisted individual, well it isn’t “ the last 3km down-hill is going to mess you up!!! Just get it done and enjoy what awaits”.
As I made my way down the concrete path the sheer gravity of what I had done and what this race means to me hit home. This wasn’t just a race this was a defining moment for me. Here I was at 52, 21 years later running a race under the cut off time but it wasn’t about finishing, it was about the realisation that I had become a better version of that 31 years old of 1998. A better father, a better husband and a better friend. All the people in UP that I had the privilege to train with and the advice, encouragement and compassion given, I thank you for your mateship and support. Coach David, Coach Brendan, you are magicians, you got a Clydesdale over the mountain… an injured one that, probably should have been taken to the knackery, thank you both. To the lady who has unwaveringly and unconditionally supported me, comforted me, corrected me, made me a better man and a better father, loved me no matter what, who believed in me when I did not, thank you xxx I had no idea before I crossed the start line just how much this start and finish meant to me personally, and my anxiety and fear was misinterpreted,
so my final lesson 6 is this – My fear was not fear of being judged by coach, family, people for a DNF, if they judge you for this they don’t know you and you probably don’t want to know them. I did this for me, to rediscover my love of running trails, to see if I could still push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. I wanted it and I should have owned that earlier. I am proud of what I did. The tears of joy visibly seen by all can attest to that. This was hard, this was special and I along with my friends did it.
The finish of this race really is something else to see those who I train with, friends and total strangers cheering wildly and excited to see you cross is something to behold. The UPers, you guys made a difference. We may not have won the team challenge but we definitely won the team spirit and community prize by a country mile. There are far too many to thank and I am bound to miss someone inadvertently so just want to say you are all rock stars that hold a very special place in my heart.
Coach David and I had a plan…. The plan was simple 6:40, that gives me a 20-minute buffer to get down the last hill if the knee goes…. My journey is not over and my 6:39:51 is the platform I needed to keep going whilst ever I can. 6ft you are special! The race may have gotten harder to get into and has more starters and a cut off time but there is no race like it anywhere and I hope others get the chance to experience that finish. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to renew my love for this pinnacle adventure.