We woke up at 2:50am apparently. I’d woken up earlier in the night and had lain there expecting the alarm to go off at any second, then thought better of it and checked the time: 00:38. I sighed, got up and went to the toilet at the back of the chalet we were staying at in Dwellingup, had a wee and went back to bed, falling asleep again almost immediately. My hydration strategy was a little too effective it seemed.
When the alarm went off I got up and started dressing, ready to go. I went through to the kitchen where Jonathan, Julie, Cameron, Jennifer and Jeremy all were and made myself breakfast. We were all a bit sleepy still, but we’d all gone to bed relatively early the night before, so we could pretend we were sufficiently rested.
I wasn’t nervous at all. The only bout of nerves I felt in the final week leading up to the race was the ten minutes after we left the house to go down to Dwellingup, and I think that was because if I had forgot anything that I thought crucial to my preparation I would have to drive an hour back home to collect it. At 3:30am we left the house to pick up another runner at the Dwellingup Information Centre carpark and then on to the Caravan Park to collect Kat and Simon, then drove straight down to North Dandalup to the Memorial Hall and registration.
There are a few things that feel quite absurd at 4am but carefully applying sun cream before you can even see a hint of the sun is one of them. It wasn’t expected to be hot (indeed it only got to about 29.C) but having spoken to Dad the previous evening and had him tell me of another skin cancer removal it did bring careful application of sun cream to the front of my mind.
The hall was filled with runners and volunteers, and I quickly went and registered. I would later discover that I had made an epic fail and placed my Aid Station 1 drop bag with the finish area bags instead of the Aid 1 bags, but fear not! we were fine without it. I then nicked round to the toilets behind the hall as I had remembered from last year the horror that was the inside toilets and the remarkable number of runners who have very nervous bowels. Dave Kennedy (Race Director) was genius and put solar powered lights in each cubicle as the toilets had no artificial light source otherwise. (I recognised them as the course markers for the Lark Hill Dusk till Dawn Ultra).
Having had yet another wee, Jeremy and I set off for the start line at Goldmine Hill in Julie’s car. When we got there everyone was milling around, a bit buzzy with excitement. Paul van der Mey found some of us and took some photos. Unsurprisingly the race had to start about 10 minutes late – there were a number of people who had not read their instructions and hadn’t registered at the hall first before proceeding to the start line. The shuttle bus had become a two way bus and therefore there was a slight delay. I didn’t hear anyone who cared about the delay, I think we were all too busy chatting to notice. The relief about the weather was palpable, and seemed to be a popular topic – I remembered last year’s heat at 4:30am all too well, and I had only volunteered.
I had already started the course on my Garmin when we set off, so I just hit start on my watch. I stuck to my plan of refusing to be swept up by everyone else and running at the start, and I will admit to laughing at the mass of people that broke off the back of the pack of runners when they hit the actual beginning of the rise of Goldmine Hill. It was like watching the City to Surf 12km in miniature when everyone hits the climb at the top of St Georges Terrace; the front runners carry on up the hill with no decrease in speed, while the back of the great mass slowed almost as fast as rally car hitting a tree. The fifteen or so of us at the back gently made back the 50 metres that we had lost on the runners quite easily.
I’d been playing with Garmin Courses for a few weeks and had learnt their foibles and pitfalls. One was that the Garmin course on the Six Inch website was from a 4 hour 11 minute finisher, so if you follow that course file at the moment you hit the fourth hour and eleventh minute on course your Garmin will cheerfully advise you that your Virtual Partner has completed the course. Which I was advised by many to be quite demoralising. I’d worked out a way to adjust the course file for a 7 hour finish, so I’d saved that to my Garmin. During training I was almost always on map view, but on race day the course markings were so obvious and with all the reconnaissance runs we had done after about 6km I decided the map view was superfluous and left it on the Virtual Partner page instead.
The final goal that I’d set was to get a finish time that started ‘Six hours…” so the main aim with changing the Garmin file was to assist me getting that goal. I had thought about it beforehand; you see, the Virtual Partner keeps on running at 8m45s pace, up hill and down hill. He needs no refuelling, so he doesn’t stop at aid stations. This meant I had to build in a buffer for aid stations and the Escalator and when I went down hill I had to try and move faster than 8m45 pace. Ideally I would run up a number of the more gentle hills as well, all to build the buffer. Finishing in 6h10m was unlikely, but 6h50m was do-able. We soon built up a mile buffer time, so I had 15 minutes up my sleeve for a large portion of the race.
I wasn’t completely utterly glued to my nutrition strategy – my watch beeped for a 1 minute walk reminder then for a 14 minute run reminder, the idea was that I would eat every 15 minutes. If it beeped for the 1 minute walk (i.e. eat!) and we were thundering down a hillside I would wait until we had plateaued for a while or hit the next uphill before I grabbed food. It would wash out in the end I figured, and it did.
Jeremy and I had ran and talked and strategised and walked uphill, belting down hills with great joy for about 19 km when we were travelling along a roadside. I was distracted and didn’t really take any notice of the camber of the gravel road and stepped on a pile of gravel on the edge. I slipped sideways as the gravel pushed out from underneath my foot. I’d run through loose gravel before but there was always something hard and flat underneath it, this time it was sitting on a slope and was piled up looking flat on top.
I landed on my left hip, putting my left hand out and down as I landed. I inspected my hand and it looked a bit grubby with some minute grazes. Then as Jeremy tried to get me to stand up in an attempt to forestall the shock setting in, I rolled slightly to pick the weight off my left hip. At that point the shock train left the station and with Jeremy coaxing me to stand up I just gazed out over the bush and took some very deep breaths. I stood up and lifted my shorts leg to see a large square of gravel, dirt and bloody scratches. I requested Jeremy get the antibacterial wipes out of my backpack and please clean it. He gently wiped it clean while I winced and cried. There was no gravel embedded and I looked down to see my hip start to bleed afresh. A few runners came across us at this point, Alicia, Caroline and Rob, and as we started walking on we discussed that while on the outside you are an adult, when you are injured it feels like you have a stroppy three year old trapped inside.
They carried on and Jeremy and I kept walking. It hurt a lot to run and I couldn’t work out whether it was the fresh air on the wound, the movement of my flesh and skin on my hip when I ran, ripping at the grazing or if it was just the shock. There was no serious internal damage, no bones broken, just ripped skin. Earlier in the day I had made it halfway up Goldmine Hill when I thought of another goal. To “finish with all organs intact and functioning” had sounded like an excellent plan, considering skin is an organ. That goal was cactus now.
We ran and walked the next 5 km to Aid Station 1. I would run the downhills starting off with a big swear, and intake of breath all the while wincing regularly. I checked with Jeremy how much Fixomull he had packed in his First Aid kit and my plan was to have Jeremy apply it at the Aid Station, us to both run to Aid 2 and assuming I got there OK I would assess my chance of finishing the race. I cried with frustration at the annoyance of it all. I’d not crashed on any recon run, and it was a hazard I should have spotted but didn’t. Jeremy held my hand while I cried and we walked on.
We ran into the Aid Station and Jeremy told me to get ready to remove my pack for refilling. We got to the number caller and she couldn’t read Jeremy’s number so I told it to her and she yelled it up the hill. Jeremy went to the water table and I went to the other, where the drop bags were and realised I couldn’t see mine.
I think I was supposed to completely lose it at this point. I was dusty, bleeding, in a bit of pain and the refill of my massively overcatered ‘feed an army’ array of nutrition was evidently sitting at the finish line awaiting my arrival in about 3 hours. Tracy – a fellow parkrunner from the beginning of Claisebrook Cove parkrun – asked me what I needed from the station and told me that Simon and Kat had had the same drop bag problem as I. I said I needed to refill my pack with water, that I had some High 5 electrolyte tablets to drop in it and that I needed a hug. Someone filled my pack as Tracy gave me the hug, and then whipped out an array of gels from her pockets and asked me if I wanted some. There was a cool mint Endura gel in her collection so I requested that one, as they taste like toothpaste.
It’s amazing what a hug can do: I felt better immediately. Tracy told me she was proud of me, Jeremy handed me the first aid kit and I dug out the Fixomull and tiny scissors and cut the strips down while he stuck them on my bleeding hip. After we finished the race Jeremy said that he was sure I was going to pull out at Aid 1. To be honest it had not occurred to me. I knew that there was no proper damage; my hip hurt, I was in a bit of shock but otherwise fine. My spate of crying was frustration but it didn’t occur to me to give up there. I thought it was a better idea to use the next 11km to Aid 2 to see whether I needed to withdraw to allow Jeremy the ability to continue on and finish within the time cut off.
The time cut offs had weighed on my mind throughout training. I remember last year having to talk to runners as we were getting closer to 10:30am at Aid 2 that the time cutoff was nearing. I’d tried to deliver it in an upbeat way, sort of “You’re going well! You’ve still got 23 minutes before cut off!” Jeremy and I had calculated expected finish times and speeds using our training runs for a baseline and he was confident that barring catastrophe we would complete the 47km, and that finishing within the 7 hour 30 minute time limit was more than feasible. As it was my first ever ultramarathon – heck, my first ever marathon – I had remembered my first half marathon goal, which was to finish within the ‘time limit’ (there really wasn’t one, so I had chosen the time of the slowest runner from the previous year as my time limit) but noting that “you don’t want to have run 21.1 km and consider yourself to have failed”. My plan for Six Inch was quite similar: I really didn’t want to be pulled out at Aid 2. I had signed up to run the event in July, we started training properly in September, and the time taken for our first recon run gave me more certainty that I could reach Aid 1 well before 8:30am, therefore Aid 2 well before 10:30am and the finish line before noon.
We ran out of Aid 1 and off into Jeremy’s favourite part of the course. It was the most beautiful section – even a stretch of trail underneath powerlines was gorgeous. There was a slower runner ahead of us and as we got to the end of the powerlines stretch we could hear the sound of music coming from somewhere. It wasn’t until we turned right out of the powerlines that I realised that it wasn’t from a marshal point but was coming from the backpack of the runner ahead. I had been enjoying the birdsong earlier but suddenly it sounded like I was downwind of the Busselton Ironman finish chute. In retrospect I am grateful for it, because it annoyed me enough to realise that if I didn’t pass this lady then I was never going to get away from the sound. I picked up my pace with Jeremy behind me and we powered through the stretch away from the lady, towards a dirt road crossing and up to the marshals directing people to the Aid 2 out-and-back section.
I must loudly thank the marshals here. They had supersoakers, and they weren’t afraid to use them. It was absolutely glorious, and when coming back down the hill from Aid 2 I did think of their water guns waiting for me up ahead.
I call the start of the 5km out-and-back section the On Ramp, because you go slowly uphill for a reasonable grind until you hit some moonscape like rocks, then thunder down before you get to a sharp left downhill taking you to the base of the Escalator. I’ve written before about the Escalator. It’s also called Hell’s Gate, but I think Escalator suits it, as it seems to be about the same pitch and length as the escalators from Murray Street at Perth Underground station. It is badly rutted from water gushing down to the winter stream at the bottom of the hill. Needless to say on race day the stream had dried up, and as you go down the hill opposite the Escalator you are probably looking down at your feet to ensure you don’t fall over. Later on I had slightly gleeful reports of some people who had not done recon runs, but had heard about the hill, and thought that they were already going down the Escalator as they went down the hill from the On Ramp, then as the trail turned and they reached the bottom they looked up and realisation flooded their face. Quite often interesting terms were used, and certain names were taken in vain.
I like the Escalator. I’m not a chess player, but I have read that if you play chess you have to plan your moves in advance – move my Knight to this square, then when they move their Bishop to that square move this Rook… and on. I think the Escalator is like that. I pick my way up it, and plan where I am going next – “If I walk up this side of the ruts, then I can get to there, move over to the other side, and when I get up to that join …” I like climbing it, but I also think that I like climbing it because I don’t try and run up it. I accept that it is a stonking great hill, and there is nothing I can do about it because I have to pass through the checkpoint at Aid 2 and that is at the top. At this point Jeremy and I split up and ran separately. He is swifter up that hill than I am – better depth perception I suspect, and he is probably less risk averse. I knew the split was going to happen and did not mind at all – the Escalator you have to traverse at your own pace, not someone else’s.
Julie had driven to Aid 2 well before and had taken a drop bag there for us. When I got to Aid 2 Jeremy had been filling his bottles with the Staminade powder from the bag and had a refill of water. Rachel, the Carine Glades parkrun Event Director was volunteering on this Aid Station and offered me a Vegemite sandwich while her daughter Andie filled my hydration pack. I gratefully accepted the sandwich and scoffed it while I retrieved the few energy bars out of our drop bag. I also nicked Jeremy’s funnel to donate to the cause because the guys at the water table didn’t have one to use to dispense the Hammer Heed, and I wanted to fill my empty soft flask with that. We funnelled in the Heed, whacked the top on my soft flask and Jeremy and I both went back out.
Somewhere between Aid 1 and Aid 2 I’d lost the Fixomull on my hip, but I hadn’t felt it hurt. As I reached the top of the Escalator I remembered I had some tampons and Panadol in the pill pocket of my hydration pack. I use Implanon, and am one of the lucky people who generally no longer have periods, but in the two weeks before the race there were signs that I was likely to have my period soon. When I have had my period, the cramps have been horrifically debilitating for up to a couple of days. There was an excellent chance that it was all my mind playing pre-race tricks on me, but I’d woken up the day of the Albany Port to Point once with my period and the only thing that got me through that race was painkillers. I had also read far too many tales of collapse and organ semi-failure from ibuprofen use during races, so I decided that it was probably a good idea to pack paracetamol (acetaminophen) and not ibuprofen.
At the top of the Escalator I had noticed that my hip had started to sting and ache again. I don’t know if it was the slowing down, or trying to balance on the hill that caused it, but I popped two of the Panadol and thought that it probably wouldn’t actually help, but the placebo effect might instead. I had called out to Jeremy that I was going to meet him at the top of the hill at the turn right to the On Ramp (or off ramp, in this case) and made my way gently down the hill and back up the other side. We walked up the stretch that we had run down before and then ran down to the marshal point where the glorious supersoakers fired upon us again. We turned right and then along up to the left turn where we started to climb again.
When we had got to the supersoaker marshal point the first time we had 15 minutes on the Virtual Partner, or 1.7km buffer, but when we started to climb again we were down to 1 minute 30 seconds. I told Jeremy I didn’t mind missing the sub-7 hour goal and he said that we had a way to go, and we could make up time. I thought he was just trying to jolly me along, and I didn’t mind – positive thinking is useful in any race. He also reminded me that the current climb was ‘a dog of a climb’ and that we did have a good downhill coming. We were a fair way along and we were making back a few seconds here and there but nothing of great consequence, then I happily remembered the Marrinup powerlines stretch coming up.
Just before we came up to the turn right to the powerlines we came across Dutch, Ian and Paul. Dutch is the Claisebrook Cove parkrun Event Director, and it was the first marathon and ultramarathon for all three. They’d set out to run together with a plan of minority rules. “No hill has to be run up, and any one person can declare a stretch of trail a hill, and therefore not to be run.”
The Marrinup powerlines is a great downhill, and whilst it is very exposed to the elements, the weather was perfect and the breeze was cool. Jeremy and I belted down that hill, gaining back enough time for me to believe him that sub-7 was still plausible. We moved into the stretch of trail after the Marrinup Aid 3 station. It isn’t an ‘official’ Aid Station as such, but last year it was the remains of the water supplies for the Aid 1 station after it had closed down at 8:30am, so I assume it was the same this year. I did spot a very familiar bag of Allens racing car lollies that I suspected was left over from the 7.8 kilos Jeremy and I had taken to the North Dandalup aid station we volunteered on in September for the WTF 50 and 100 Mile ultramarathon.
We got to some singletrack trail and Dutch, Paul and Ian were still ahead of us at this point. I tried to keep up with them all but it just wasn’t happening. I slowed down with Jeremy, and he put me in front so that he would run at whatever pace I could manage. He had been doing calculations on pace, distance to cover, and time allowed and said that I just had to manage about a slightly faster than walking pace parkrun. I broke into a bit of a trot which from the inside felt swift, but from the outside probably looked like an ungainly shuffle.
My ungainly shuffle eventually took us past Dutch, Ian and Paul – as I came up behind them I told them that I hadn’t stuck my butt in the dirt to not try and crack sub-7 hours, and they ushered us past. Up and down and around trees I wheezed and shuffled and kept an eye on my watch as the finish line drew closer. I was very aware of how my left hip felt, so I decided to concentrate on how good the right one felt. My rationale was that if the right one felt fine, the left one as probably also completely fine underneath all the stinging. I needed to keep my mind off running so I analysed the sound of my noisy exhale and decided it was like a combination of the sound of a metal chair leg scraping on a concrete floor, and the sound of a fat, old, overheated rottweiler dog. This breathing method was a bit of an issue as we came across a farm shed that either held pigs or pig manure, so as we passed I breathed through the cloth I’d looped onto my pack.
At one point we had built up enough of a buffer that Jeremy said we could slow down to a power walk for a while and still make it within the seven hours. We discussed the pitfalls of trying to start running again – i.e. I was fairly sure I’d fall over because my legs didn’t want to pick my feet up any higher. We reached the final turn on the trail and Jeremy broke into a trot towards the finish line with me not far behind. He managed to cross the road but the marshal stopped me until he was sure that the traffic wasn’t about to take me out. I waved a thank you to the cars who kindly stopped and ran on the grass to the finish chute where Jeremy was waiting just outside for me. I grabbed his hand and we crossed the finish line together.
Six hours, 53 minutes, 50 seconds.
I haven’t decided if I want to do it again next year. Ask me again in July.