Saturday, March 17, 2007

Six Hours Thirty-Four Minutes

I have a good reason for not posting for the past week, namely that after running for six hours and thirty four minutes last Saturday, I have been painting my parents house in Bathurst, a rural town three hours West of Sydney. Now for those who have run a marathon and a hard one knows that your legs are basically shot for the days and the pain of painting a house climbing up and down a ladder hurts enough without having run a marathon the day before.

The Six Foot Track marathon is truly the most amazing and beautiful marathon that I have ever run, and at the same stage the toughest race I have done to date. Even breaking it down into five-minute increments for Stuart and his battle, it was hard.

At major marathons around the world in cities like New York and Paris, there is an overwhelming sense of being at an event of magnitude. You can almost be in awe of the arrangements and logistics, not to mention the fact that you are running with world record holders.

At the start of the six-foot track marathon you milled around drinking tea and damper with golden syrup listening to the sounds of the bush waking up. There is no ramped up motivational music or stretching classes with aerobic instructors, instead you took the chance to stand around and just enjoy the moment rather than eyeing your watch every two minutes wondering whether to start fighting the crowd in get into a starting position.

Now a few words on the actual course, the one and only time you run on a sealed road is for the ten steps it takes to cross a road 39 km’s into the 45 km’s it runs. In the first km you drop off the Blue Mountain range and drop over 1000m vertical, in other words you are slipping and sliding in single file off muddy steps encased in a gully that reminds you of a scene from Jurassic Park or The Lost World. Sheers cliffs tower above and to see the sky you have to look vertically up, not recommended when running muddy steps as fast as you can down hill.

You enter the plains and find yourself on the most magical of tracks that go through low rolling hills, the smell of Eucalyptus from the Gum trees envelopes your sense of smell, At each fence on the Track is a sty over the barbed wire fence. At one point I found that I was running alone where I could see no one in front of me and no sound of footsteps behind me. All I could here were Whip O Will birds calling out there distinctive call and Kookaburras in the distance laughing, the river below raged through the bottom of the gorge and all I had to do was run in an environment like this, running was the most natural thing to do and I honestly felt the most relaxed I have ever done in a marathon or any other race at this point.

At 15 km’s the Cox River awaits and in most years this is barely a trickle, given that Australia is in its worst drought in 100 years you would expect that the river level would be so low that you could hop skip and jump without breaking stride. The week before the area had had rain for the first time in months and of course the river was now flowing,
“No worries, mate, she is only waist deep” said the Bush Fire Brigade Volunteer standing by the rope.

Then the sixty-four dollar question, do I take off my shoes and socks to wade across thus keeping them dry or do I just wade across and run with wet runners and socks.

I have trained and raced before with wet shoes and just jumped into the river, it was freezing cold and my leg muscles contracted rapidly as I stumbled through the water that upon reaching the height of my shorts caused an even greater intake of breath, I ask you when was the last time in a race that your poured ice cold water down the front of your shorts.

Coming out of the water I ran smugly past twenty or so runners who were putting there shoes and socks back on. I was feeling good but in my wet shoes all I could feel was small river pebbles and gravel cutting into my wet feet. So had to stop and try to clean my feet.

Had I made the right decision?

Well yes because in the next two km’s we had to go through three smaller rivers and thus everyone got wet shoes and socks. This year it could not be avoided.

Now I had studied the course profile and after this pleasant few km’s in the valley we would come to the first mountain climb, there are only two mountain climbs on the course, but what they do not tell “6ft virgins” is the sheer scale of these climbs, on rocky rutted tracks where every step is an effort to avoid twisting your ankle I started up the first climb.

One hour later, yes one hour later I reached the peak of Mini M Saddle, I was shot but then again everyone else was totally gutted.

To put some sense into the severity of these hills, in twenty four years history of the running of the six foot track marathon only one (that’s right “ONE”) person has ever run the complete marathon, everyone else walks some of us just walk more than others.

The track went down just as steeply as it had been on the rise for a couple of km’s then the next rise started. You could do nothing but hang your head and try to hang in as best you could, this where Stuart’s courage came to me and I would count in blocks of five. Five steps at a time I kept climbing and once again it takes nearly an hour to climb this Mountain.

When you reach the top I was shattered but then again everyone else was and time became a concern, because if you want a medal you have to finish in under seven hours, my calculations had been going ok till the two climbs and now I considered that perhaps I would not make the cut.

A pace maker caught up with me and he said stick with him and he would get me over the line at approx 6 hours 45 minutes, but man he seemed to be running fast, you know that it is mental but as you approach four hours of running in these conditions, you are not thinking straight.

Then the big mistake I took my eyes off the track, caught a rock with my toes and I did not have the leg strength to hold myself upright. Like a bad slo mo dream I was ploughing into the track. My left hand had skin ripped and was bleeding, my right arm and shoulder took the blunt of the fall and were grazed, and my right knee banged hard causing me to limp as I stood up.

The pace maker and another runner helped me up, I was sore and bloody. But I was not going to quit, I knew that if I kept running and my knee loosened up I would be ok. I thought about stopping at the next medical tent, but I figured out that it would cost me too much time and the cut off was still in my mind.

The bleeding slowed and stopped under the flapping skin, my grazes became a great source of interest and attraction for every fly in the bush. But most importantly my knee started to come good and I knew that I would make it.

By this stage everyone has the same strategy, you walk up an incline no matter how what, on the flats you tried to run if you could and downhill’s you ran.

People who have run with me know that I like to know what my splits are, whether the last km was 5 minutes 30 seconds or 6 minutes.

My watch beeped indicating that another km had been done and glancing down the readout was 5:26 , I felt this great boost of confidence that if I was putting out 5:26 mins/km then I was going very well.

Then about two minutes later looking down again to check my heart rate, the watch showed 5:28 and the seconds hand was ticking over.

I had not run a 5:26min/km. I had been running for 5 hours 26 minutes, the irony was that towards the end the same thing happened at 6:26, which says a lot for my mental status.

The last four km’s were probably the hardest, even tougher than the climbs, downhill on a very rocky and tree rooted single track barely wide enough for one person.

Your quad muscles and calves have by this stage given everything and moving them in the slightest twist causes you to cramp violently as you try to avoid falling off the side of the hill.

Down and down, cramp after cramp, moving faster felt better but it was the most technical and trickiest part of the Ultra.

The finishing line came and I did what I always do and that is dig down and try to sprint across the line, you feel the elation of finishing and at the same time the instant downer of its over.

Mum and Dad were there to great me, and then with my medal over my head I headed to the first aid tent and for the next thirty minutes had skin cut off and dirt flushed out from my cut hand, ice on my shoulder after being cleaned of fly excrement and vomit, and an ice pack on the knee.

It was my slowest time for 45 km’s but given everything that had happened in the days leading up and during the actual race, I rate this race as one of my best.

It is nice when time does not matter, as Stuart says hey another five minutes you should be happy.


dpeach said...

Great race report Mal. Thanks for sharing.

My brother is down there with you this week running an Orienteering event at the World Police and Fire games in Adelaide.

Anonymous said...

An exciting race and your description of the county is fantastic. You did well by your good friend and by your parents as well. We are proud of you as we know they must be. Loved the photos. That's quite a bruise on your shoulder! It has been a fun trip to Australia with you. Thank you so much.
Annie & Neatie

Cory said...

Nice job on the race Mal! Thanks for the excellent report. Stay safe.

TheTruckn'Runner said...

Hi Mal, DC Here. Great race report, sounded like quite a challenge and without a doubt you overcame and conquered, congrats! Be careful out there!