ON THE TRAIL TO 6FOOT MARATHON – by Erin Black

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Ever since I ran my first marathon in Canberra in 2006 I have wanted to run the Six Foot Track Marathon, a race that has been described as the toughest marathon in Australia. The course itself runs from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, a distance of 45 kilometres following the Six Foot Track, a bridle trail originally cut in 1884.

It can be a tricky event to gain an entry for as the field is limited to between 850 – 1000 runners due to the nature of the course. A qualifier is also required, currently a sub 4:20 marathon will give you a look in for an entry however in years past you needed to run a sub 4 hour marathon time.

The attraction for me to run 6Foot has always been about the challenge of the unknown and the prestige the event and its finishers hold. In a nutshell without boring you with figures and elevation charts, the course is revered for its hills, some serious climbs lie ahead and some brutal quad smashing downhill sections and spectacular river crossings.

In terms of Trail running I am still relatively new to it. I debuted on trails in 2009 running the Half Marathon in Marysville after the horror of the earlier bushfires. I didn’t hit the trails again after this until last year running both the Big Forest 18 kilometres in April and later in the year a half marathon at Brimbank Park. Actual trail training for 6Foot however didn’t start for me until December last year after being successful for an entry at the end of November. Prior to this I had used the Aqueduct Trail in the Yarra Ranges from Millgrove and Brimbank Park for a few non-technical and relatively flat terrain trail runs.

So how do you even train for an event like 6Foot was the question I had to ask and then work out a training plan around the answer. I have been running quite a few years and have a reasonable idea of how my body can adapt to a training load, when to push and when to back off, in this knowledge I was able to schedule my training on a weekly basis. I struggle with the pressure of commitment with a specific 10 week training plan laid out ahead of time in front of me.

Having ran New York Marathon on the first weekend in November last year I already had a solid training base but one that hadn’t involved hills. This was to be my key area of focus, to become a confident downhill runner and a strong uphill walker. In the knowledge that I am not a sub 3:30 marathoner it is recommended that the best plan of attack is to walk steep climbs in order to preserve ones legs for the downhill sections. The first 15 kilometres is all downhill!! The next 7 is a steep uphill climb.

The main build of my training block was  from the end of December through to the beginning of March, eight weeks of running 80 + kilometres each week, an average of six runs a week with two of those runs being on trails with significant elevation gains.  Mid-week I would do a 15 – 22 kilometre hill run and on weekends I would gradually build my distance. My long run built to 35 kilometres which saw me out on the trails for just under five hours, I did this two weekends in a row. I also ran the Marathon at Wangaratta as part of my training. My focus was on building endurance and mastering my technique for downhill running whilst increasing my uphill walking pace.

In January I ran the Two Bays 28km trail race, I had trained on this trail quite a bit and it is a definite favourite. It runs from Dromana to Cape Schank and can really only be described by saying that you need to run or walk it to experience it. The change in vegetation and landscape is dramatic as are the sweeping views that await you when you arrive at Cape Schank.

I am fortunate that my Mum lives at the base of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, an easy starting point for me to head on foot up into the hills. I have done a significant amount of my training  in both the upper and lower parts of the ranges here, Sherbrooke Forest although not as steep is a particular favourite with lush ferns in abundance.  The Roller Coaster Run course which leaves from Sky High in the Dandenongs is not a favourite, I only managed this once in my training.

My training has also taken me out to the You Yangs Regional Park, apart from training here I also ran an event on New Year’s Eve that saw me start at 9pm and finish just before midnight, an awesome experience I will never forget. Running trails under the cover of darkness is an absolute adrenaline rush, all the rustling of various forms of wildlife in the scrub, beady eyes glowing reflecting from the beams of the light from my head torch, the unknown descent of the trail ahead, rocky underfoot.

Learning to become a strong uphill walker was a challenge, I find walking at any pace particularly hard, let me run any day over walking.  My mum is only 5 foot tall but even when I walk with her she seems to quickly get ahead of me!! Over time I managed to become a stronger hill walker and a very confident downhill trail runner.  The lead up to 6Foot for me could not have gone any better.

Erin is one of our RMA Admins, an avid runner, trail runner and mum, and resides in Victoria with her partner and their young daughter. 

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