It was that time of year again, the race that really gets me nervous, just the first 800m is enough to scare you, let alone the 21km of climbing that has to be done over the next 45km, yes it is the time for the “6 Foot Track”.
This year the women’s competition was the toughest it has ever been with women crossing the globe to start in the race. There was a New Zealander (professional) , an English Girl, and all the states of Australia represented at the start of the race, plus a few harden mountain women for me to try and keep up with. But I forgot about all the competition and just thought about my own race plan and my own goals. Can you see me front and centre?
Where you stand at the start line is so important to how you will begin the race. Initially I was on the front right hand side, as that part of the track is not so dangerous. I moved when I saw all the top females stand directly in front of me. I did not want to be any where near them, I just wanted to concentrate on my own race, and run at my own speed. I wanted to just be on my own, amongst the men, as some of you have learnt that I don’t count the men in my race, so I moved to the centre of the field, where I am pictured above.
The gun went off and the runners flew down the hill, I got a bad start I was boxed in straight away, unable to move. Mental note, next time just stand in the front next time. The field was going to slow for me. I jostled from side to side trying to get some clear space. The track is only 6 Feet wide, hence the name the “6 Foot Track”, and 100 (There are over 900 entrants in the race 877 starters,842 finishers, but we are all sent off the cliff of the Blue Mountains in Waves of 100 or more) of the top runners in the country and from around the world were all trying to feed themselves through this narrow 6 foot wide dirt roller coaster of a track, and I was stuck like a little fish in a school, trying to get through.
I cut out across the runners next to me across to the right hand side, saw the 2 lead females and ran 30cm into the bushes on their outside to avoid them safely, taking out some of the foliage from the side came me some clear space to move and tried to get pass them. I passed one of them and I had my legs moving again at the right speed, the next one was just a few meters away, and with a leaped and a dodge I was out in front of them all, with only the men to try and run down.
At the bottom of 400m or steep rolling fire trail is 800 stairs. The track narrows to less and 1m wide, I tried to pass as many males as I could in the last few 10m before the stairs. When I got to the stairs I knew when I hit those stairs there would be no more passing. The guys are slower on the down hills than me, it is just the way they are built. I hop down like a little rabbit. So for me to get a great time on this track, I had to pass 10 or so more males in the last 100m of this track. So I ran as fast as I could to get to those stairs in front of as many males as possible. Done, job done, terrible start fixed by taking out some bushes on the side of the track. As I say when I am descending, “Who Dares Wins”. Check out the picture below, with no one behind but a big male in front of me.
I lead the race of females for the first 7km before I was passed by the winner from New Zealand, she was a really nice girl, we shared a few nice words, and she had the oddest running action, she really drove all her power through her big toe. Every step she took was with maximum extension of her legs. She was amazing to watch and from watching her action I have learnt that there are heaps of different ways to run.
I had a clean run for the next 15kms all the way down to the river.
When I hear a runner coming up behind me, I always say “ When you are ready”, I know I go out hard, and the blokes usually catch me on a climb, so I am always conscious of the runners coming up behind me. I think that good karma comes back to you later on in the race. The river had dropped a bit, so it was only at my chest height, but it was still high enough to weight you down and give you the worst chaffing of your life.
Last year the winners passed me at the 8km mark, this year those same ladies passed me at the 16km mark. So I was happy with my improvement. I was expecting them to pass me earlier.
I then had 4.5km of climbing before I had a break, I was in 5th place at this point, I was 10 minutes ahead of schedule in my splits. I just tried to run up all the climbs, hit my rhythm and keep going.
I had another lovely descend then the climb of my life that just seems to go on forever. But my training had paid off, and I felt comfortable, but body was tight, my glutes and my hamstrings were killing me, but I felt comfortable in my mental space. Cardiovascular I was not challenged too much.
I hit the 26km mark and lost another place, and I knew I still had 8km more climbing before I had another rest. Last year I really felt it at this stage, this year I was feeling really good still, until the 30km mark, which is still 2km from at the top of the climb, I really had to tell myself to stay with it and to concentrate. I kept checking my splits that I had hastily written on my hand in the morning before the race, and I seemed to be on target for a great time.
This is when I got disorientated with my time and my speed. I needed a few more splits written on my hand so my brain had something to strive towards. I had a 15.5km, a 26km, a 30km and a 34km and a 45km. I needed a 32km, 36km, 38km, 40km splits written on my hand. Trying to concentrate on for feet and trying to run as fast as you can at less than 6minutes/km pace for 4.5 hours is really hard. Your brain wonders, and you slow down. I need goals, small, constant goals to keep me focussed otherwise I really lose it, both physically and mentally. I never wear heart rate monitors in a race......I just run to how I feel and to my goals. I just did not set enough goals for myself.
I lost another 3 positions when I was going though these troubles, I was not feeling good. The fire fighters were out cheering us on, a few were dressed up in weird costumes, one in particular had a black wing in his pubic region placed over a leotard. I was feeling sick and looking at him made me feel even worst. I picked up a non-caffeine energy gel to give but body a bit of a rest, said a few words to myself. “Come on, kick it on” “Otherwise you won’t beat your time from last year!” So I kicked it. I kicked it on and caught a bloke, who said to me “Have you got a second wind?” “Yeah just waiting for those down hills” “ I know they are not too far away”.
The course gradient started to ease off and then the rolling hills started. I saw a female up ahead, she had passed me about 5km back, and the last 3 big hills ( Before some more hills) are murder. She was walking them. I knew she had slowed, so I walked and stretched my legs, then ran on the downs. I saw another female behind me, I again said a few words to her of encouragement, she was from England, and I let her pass me when it was safe. I was just eyeing off the other female ahead of me.
In the last 5km I caught the 10th female, and moved up a position, I knew there was only 2km of rolling hills and stairs for me to cover before my favourite 3km of down hills. You just never know what you will find on the descends. I just knew there was less than 30 minutes of running left I just had to try and stay with it and keep the pace going.
At last, the trail narrowed to the with of 30cm, and steepened. I descended ignoring warnings from the Rural Fire Fighters about the dangers of the “Baby Sculls”. The medium sized rocks were scattered of the track for about 200m that are the size of “Baby Sculls” they are ankle killers, but I had tapped my ankles, so I just had to lean back, breathe and try and control my extremely fast decent for the last 3kms.
I was yelling ahead of me to the men, to “Watch out, On the Right”, I was breathing so hard my back was hurting, I was swearing and groaning every now and again as I tried to keep my feet and ignore the pain that I was experiencing. I approached the other contenders in the race, descending so fast I could not take my eyes of the track to make eye contact to say thank you, they saw me coming , saw how fast I was going and they cleared the path. I guess all that good karma on the ups was coming back to help me. I was passing a bloke every 20m or so, improving my position all the time. I could hear the 1km bell, and I was flying, there was a group of blokes at this point, they heard my coming and made some space, I was having a dream down hill run.
The finish is just awesome,imagine 400m of winding down hill footpath with even a railing to hold on to, so that your friends and family can watch you descend down the mountain from the street below in front of the Janolan caves Hotel. It is great, I love this finish, it makes all the climbs worth while, I really love running down hills really really fast. It is such a rush.
People were cramping all over the place, the men were trying to descend on legs that were no longer behaving normally, another entrant described it as trying to run on poko sticks, they were in pain. I was still feeling fresh and I was just trying to get as close to the 4:30 minute mark as possible. I was flying down passing so many people, I was catching a female, cool. She passed me back at the 26km mark. She was hurting, she spotted me and she knew she had nothing else to give, she was cramping really badly. I felt kind of bad passing her so late in the race, but it was a race and she gave it her all back on the mountain, I left a bit for a sprint finish, so I gave her a nod, and a “Come on” as I raced passed her, trying to give her some kind of encouragement. The finish line was only 100m away, and I was feeling great. No pain, just happy to have it over. I crossed the sensor pads, and they said my name “Shona Stephenson mother of 2” over the loud speaker and I swung around the final corner using the railings, spotted Mikey and my 2 girls, Keisha and Milla gave them the biggest wave and smile and sped across the line.
I looked up and saw the time was 4:32 something,I took 7 minutes off my time from the year before, which I am happy with. One of the race legends came up to me after the finish and asked me how I went, I told him I wanted to do better. He looked at me and said, “Did you beat last years time?” I said “Yes” , he then replied “Then be happy”, cool I thought. Simple yet true. Sometimes enough is good enough. So with all the stress fractures in my feet, being a mum of 2, working part time and doing 50km the week before, I should be damn happy really.
Mikey came up to me after the event and said, “I think you came 12th” this gutted me.
Surely I could have done better than last year, but the field was tougher, The Brisbane Marathon Runner was amongst the field and she did not even win.
I hung around for over an hour after the race, got some hot chips,some water,then spoke to a few of the regulars that I have seen around, in particular this guy who was sucked through a drain pile under a causeway of a bridge, when he was taking a swim after the “Megalong Mega” last year, but that is another story, spotted Michael the Personal Trainer, cheered him in and then waited for a friend who I had missed, but we were stuck at the Caves as it was teeming with rain, I was advised to buy a beer by the “Guy who was sucked through the drain under the causeway” and chilled out a bit.
The time came to go home, we trudged up the hill Keisha was pushing me all the way back up to the car, went for a wee, wee stop then hopped into the car and drove slowly out of the Janolan caves Road by Mikey. We were following a line of cars when we heard a strange sound coming from one of the tires, we had a flat.
Mikey pulled over on the narrow road, and we took the tire off the car after having taken all me PT gear out of the boot, and proceeded to change the tire.
We almost had one tire off the car when Mikey noticed that there were leeches coming towards us. The buggers were every where. They were all stretching their heads, if you can call it that, out and above the leaf litter, using their heat sensors to come and find us! I picked up a stick and swept the leaf litter away from around us, trying to make a buffer between us and the leeches.
Mikey had the 80km spare tire on the car and it was time for me to put my PT kit back in the car. But my gear was covered in leeches, I ran back to the car and got one of my energy gels out and squirted the leeches one by one with the gels, in the hope that the salt in the gels would repel them from my stretching mats. I hit them one by one with a stick, and they went flying across the road.
Cool the leeches were off my gear, time to go, then whilst Mikey was putting my weights into my car I watched in slow motion my medicine balls roll across the road in front of on coming traffic and off the cliff. The thought of chasing it through the leaf litter full of leeches never crossed my mind, I happily said good bye to the ball. I then looked down at my legs to check for leeches before I got in the car, we all know I am use to these little parasites having been covered in them about a year ago. I noticed one on my shoe just about to attach itself to my legs. I flicked off my shoes and again used my gel to try to get it off. The bugger would not budge, it knew it was close to the source of some fresh hot blood, and it just was not letting go for anything. I car slowed down and asked if we needed some assistance.
I asked them “ Do you have any salt?” They are runners, they should have some on them. Jack pot, they had salt tablets. The passenger got out of the car to take a look. He was English and he thought it was the most bazaar thing he had seen. He had never come across leeches before. The salt tablets worked the treat and the leech was repelled form my shoes. Mental note, always have salt in the car, just in case.
Mikey and I both thanked the guys and checked our legs carefully and jumped into the car. We drove slowly only able to go 80km/hour out of the valley, it was 3pm before we came into telephone service range when I received a text from “Cheesy” on of my Clients, saying that I had came 9th not 12th. This just made my day, a few tears welled up in my eyes and a few punches went into the air, and I was just so happy and proud of myself. I did it. A 2 year goal of mine was to be top 10 in the hardest Marathon in the World, and I just achieved my goal.
I can’t wait to do it next year.
For those of you who don’t believe me when I say I was 15 kilos heavier when I had Keisha, I put on 18 Kilos, and she weighed 3.019 kilos check out the picture below.