A lot of us do it. Pour over the running calendars and see events that take our fancy! I don’t know what it is that catches the eye. A name, a location, a challenge, a distance? Our minds start writing cheques our bodies then have to cash. The excitement of looking forward to an event carries us through our training, through work and family lives, through low points, busy times, through injury, through rehab, through hills, heat, cold, humidity and pain. This process makes us stronger, although at times we wonder at our sanity. Still, the satisfaction of completing that event (even if it ends up being nothing like what you imagined when you first started drooling over the website) makes it all worth it.
6 Inch Trail Marathon was one of those events for me. I’d already completed the 6 Foot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountains of NSW (which was the inspiration for the development of the 46km 6 Inch Trail Marathon), so really I needed the matching pair! My family all live in Perth so it seemed logical to go visit them and do the run at the same time.
My 67 year old Dad loves running. He does a half marathon every fortnight or so and has one marathon under his belt, but a problem in his hip had caused him reduce to mileage and give up on training for another marathon. I must have inherited my event-induced-craziness from him because when I said I was coming over, he wanted to do the run with me. I suggested Dad use walking and cross-training a lot in his preparation, and to train on trails where he could to reduce the pounding on his hip. This event was going to mean either a hip replacement, or an appetite for trail ultras in Dad!
I had a good base of 8 ultras/marathons and plenty of 20km trail events for the year, but came down with bronchitis early September which had put to rest my goal of completing 12 ultras in 12 months. I do events for the experience and for the completion, no time goals for me, other than cut offs. I’m a personal trainer so whilst I give my clients the best my experience and knowledge can give, I usually like to keep my own running ‘for fun’. I had started to do some speed work and ‘proper’ training for this event (because even though my Dad is 67, his marathon time puts mine to shame) but then we got fires. I’m a volunteer fire fighter in the NSW Rural Fire Service and that is my passion. Long runs got replaced by long days in the truck and ‘standing by’ at air bases, taper was replaced by climbing mountains in full gear on 38 degree days, not ideal. I did manage some training between fires, work and family life, but my training and taper did suffer. That’s OK, running is what I do when there are no fires, and I knew I could do the run on my base, it just wouldn’t be fast or easy.
Fires were still burning and I felt incredible guilt leaving my brigade and Remote Area Firefighting Team in the middle of a long campaign fire. However, flights had been booked and I was looking forward to seeing my family. I hit the ground in Perth exhausted, my brother and his wife took the kids and Dad and I set ourselves the task of getting as much sleep as we could before leaving Joondalup at 2am for the 4.30am start at North Dandalup.
It was cold and windy while we checked in and waited for our bus to the start line, but we were so lucky it wasn’t going to be a super-hot day. I managed to introduce myself to a few lovely RMA girls in the dark, but I know I didn’t see them all. The event was DOMINATED by RMA shirts with even more in the half marathon! Our plan was a nice steady run with a long warm up. We power-walked the 3km hill from the start line (as did many), then trotted off along the trails.
I think Dad was surprised by how slow and relaxed our pace was. We walked a bit and fuelled early and often, such that our slowest splits were at the beginning of the run. No need to stress about making the cut off times (Aid Station 1 (23km / 4hrs), Aid Station 2 (34k / 6hrs), Finish Line (46km / 8hrs)) as I knew that even this conservative pace would get us there. Earlier in the year I had done an ultra with similar cut off times but tougher terrain and weather conditions. That was mentally one of the hardest ultras I have done, but I learned so much about myself. I learned that as long as I kept moving forward I would make the cut off times, and that stressing about them would only make the run unpleasant. As such our pace for 6 Inch Trail was relaxed and our run was pleasant. I didn’t even wear a watch!
The trails were constantly undulating with pretty bushland, alternating between mountain bike single track and fire trails with plenty of pea gravel to keep your mind on the job and muscles activated. The run follows the Munda Biddi mountain bike trail from North Dandalup to Dwellingup. It is well sign posted and the organisers had extra ribbon and markers to ensure that we couldn’t go wrong. The start goes up Goldmine hill, a steady climb of around 3km. Other than that the only real pinch is a short section named ‘The Elevator’ which is about 12km from the finish (depending on who you ask and whether you believe the race website (46km) or Dad’s Garmin (47.5km)). The Elevator was a washed out fire trail with deep rivulets which took some balance and coordination, particularly on the way down. The race organisers kindly placed an aid station at the top of the climb to cheer people up! My hill-adapted body loved the climb, but alas the pea-gravel was taking a toll on different muscles. I was tiring from the unfamiliar footing and started to cramp.
The last 12km were pretty unpleasant (due to the cramping), but at the same time pleasant (due to the pretty scenery and company of my Dad). I’ll admit my Dad was doing it easy and I feel bad that I couldn’t bring it home strong for him. However, we finished in exactly the time I had predicted and paced for. Crossing the finish line we were greeted with a very pretty medal, a shirt and a family-friendly picnic. The organisers had done well to create a very nice finish line atmosphere. There were RMA everywhere!
Overall, the event was very well organised. The course was not too taxing, a nice event for someone new to trails and/or hills. As an out-of-towner it is hard to get to event registration in the week leading up to the event, but Dad had time to go into the city and have our gear checked. Aid stations at 24km, 34km and ~40km were manned by friendly volunteers and had plenty of fluids and nibbles. A slower runner had every chance of completing the event within the time allowed, yet there is still enough challenge in the loose surface and constant ups and downs for experienced runners to push themselves and get a real challenge. Weather conditions on the day were near perfect- a cool breeze and plenty of shade, although at this time of year you could easily get a scorcher and that would make the run a ‘hell’ of a lot harder. A ‘prepare for the worst, hope for the best’ scenario with the weather would be my recommendation, you don’t want to run out of fluids or get heat stress out there.
Would I recommend 6 Inch Trail? Absolutely! Will I do another ultra? Yes, two this month. Is Dad off for a new hip yet? No, he’s been drooling over the running calendar picking out trail marathons that take his fancy!