This year sees a special running of the Six Foot track marathon, celebrating its 30th anniversary. For our overseas readers, Six Foot Track holds a special place in the hearts of many a trail runner in Australia, particularly New South Wales where it’s hosted on the old supply route from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves. Not only is it one of Australia’s largest participated marathons, but it’s also seen as the bridge that crosses the divide between road runners and trail runners.
Not overly technical, the race is where many road runners come to test their wares in a trail race for the first time, and we hope to fall in love with the sport. For trail and ultra athletes, it’s a chance to abandon the walking legs (for the most part) and stride out on the open fire trails that dominate the course and post some quick times. The race is rather unique in that it has three very distinct sections to it. 15kms of rolling downhill at the start, 10kms of uphill slog (climbing nearly 1,000m) and then an undulating final 19kms where it’s mind over matter and the lure of a cold beer awaits you at the finish.
The race is also special this year for a few reasons. One runner in particular has participated in all 30 Six Foot Track marathons, Max Bogenhuber – but age holds not boundaries for this ‘living legend’ of Six Foot Track. Max is still a bloody decent runner and at the ripe old age of 71 still finishes in the top half of the draw every year. Indeed he broke the over 70s race record last year with a superb 5hrs 29mins – no mean feat when you realise that there’s a 7hr cut-off and a fair few fail to make it.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have two athletes running their first Six Foot Track. The one on every one’s lips is Marty Dent. A high-profile Aussie marathon runner with a PB of 2:12 to his name. He’s already been ‘across the ditch’ to New Zealand to swipe their long-standing Kepler record, beating the quality Vajin Armstrong by nearly 20 minutes in that race.
Then in the ladies corner, Hanny Allston takes her spot in the line-up. A world orienteering champion and a 2:40 marathon to her name as well. While all the talk is on Marty busting Ben Artup’s magnificent 3hrs 15mins mens race record, could we see Hanny have a stab at the spectacular women’s record held by Emma Murray at 3hrs 37mins? Both records are amazing in their own right mainly because no one in the last six years or so has got within a shot of them.
Here’s what Marty has to say about it all:
“As I secured automatic nomination for the Commonwealth Games (from my time and position at the world championships last year), I did not need to chase a qualifying time in the first few months of the year as I have often had to in the past. This freed up a few months where I needed a goal and, as I didn’t want to do a road marathon, it seemed an ideal opportunity to run Six Foot Track Marathon. I have heard lots about the race from the Canberra running crew and it was something I wanted to do before I started to slow down too much!
“I am fully aware of Ben’s record and I am impressed by it. It’s a quicker pace than I ran in the Kepler Challenge and even though that was longer, the climbing proportion is similar. I will have some of Ben’s splits in my head to see how I am tracking but in the end I will run to how I feel and if that means I am outside the record then so be it. That said I will be in the race to win and do my best.”
The big question that’s seen many hours of trail discussion is whether Marty will break the record. Personally I think he will, but not by the margins that some think. The Ultra168 computer has been cranked up, the data has been fed and we’re going to plump for 3hrs 9mins.
But while it’s easy to focus on two of the big names in the line-up, there are a whole host of other quality athletes taking their positions at the start line too. One of them is Tony Fattorini, last year’s winner going for a hat-trick (not consecutive) of wins this time round, but facing stiff competition from the likes of the constantly improving Sam Walker, Mark Green as well as trail mountain goat, Mick Donges. Here’s Tony’s thoughts for the race next week:
“I feel I could do with another month or two of training to be ready. I’ve had some quite good hill sessions and tempo runs, but what’s been lacking are the long hilly runs which are pretty essential for Six Foot! However, I’m still looking forward to the race and I hope I’ll still be battling it out in the top 5 or 10.
“It’s great for the race to have a talented runner such as Marty compete and I hope it will encourage more elite runners to enter in the future. He’s obviously in a different league to your usual Six Foot runner. I don’t know what his stair running is like, but I think the last we’ll see of Marty is his back rapidly disappearing down Nellie’s Glen! I was very impressed with the way he ran the Kepler Challenge in December, breaking Phil Costley’s record on debut. I’ve run that race a few times and based on his Kepler time I reckon he’ll run about 3:06 at Six Foot.”
Then there’s the likes of Alex Matthews, who last week ran a ‘lazy’ 2hrs 26mins marathon to take the spoils at the Orange marathon. North Face athlete, Andrew Tuckey looks sharp with a ‘solid’ 62min dash to the river as part of the annual ‘Run to the River’ fat ass that happened last Saturday on the course. With him was Jim Perrett, whom a little birdy relayed to me has been smashing the training runs around the Blue Mountains of late. Expect both to feature strongly.
Then there’s another legend of Aussie ultra running, Don Wallace, who last year aged 51, ran a mind-blowing 3hrs 37mins to smash the over 50s race record and finish 6th overall – no fluke mind you. Don is a quality ultra athlete and has a 6hr 39mins 100km to his name, as well as a 5hr 44min Comrades back in the day before ultra running became cool. He’s sure to be in the mix, as will Blue Mountains runner, Andy Lee. Having done a bit of ‘Strava stalking’ of late, Andy is a regular up at the Glenbrook National Park Sporting Excellence Arena (AKA The Oaks Fire Trail) and has put in some stellar runs of late.
Victorian Campbell Maffett will also likely be right up there too as are a few runners that appear right down the list on the names of Wave one starters. Alistair Stevenson is a name that might not be known to many, but with a 68min Gold Coast half marathon to his name, he’s got speed to burn. As has Tom Brazier, the young gun from Canberra who’s lighting up the ultra circuit of late with a number of very good wins and podium places.
Those round out the main contenders we think from the testosterone charged males… how about the ladies?
Well as we said above, one name sticks out like a sore thumb and that’s Hanny Allston. With no Beth Cardelli lining up this year, and a number of other ladies heading off to run Tarawera, it’s hard to see Hanny not taking this one out. With the Orienteering World Champs not far away in mid this year, Hanny has more than likely got one eye and a pair of legs on that, but you can’t take the competitive spirit out of someone as they line up to race. It will be very interesting to see how she goes.
But she won’t have it all her own way that’s for sure. Lining up against her is Gill Fowler, whom many believe ran the performance of the year for an Aussie overseas, capturing a magnificent 6th place finish at UTMB. This year she’s already finished second at Bogong to Hotham, only 10 minutes behind Beth Cardelli (4 minutes behind the old course record), and appears to be in red-hot form. Behind her is Jess Baker, recent Coast2Kosci (240kms) winner and new womens record holder too. Jess has a penchant for the longer stuff and hasn’t had too many shorter race results of late. Her last running of Six Foot Track was back in 2010, recording a time of 4hrs 40mins – she’s likely to smash this out the park in a few weeks.
Colleen Middleton is another name that crops up time and time again on the results list and is also very likely to feature in the top five. Meanwhile, newcomer to the longer trail ‘stuff’ is Reegan Ellis. She’s been smashing the regular Manly Dam races and recorded a 3:06 marathon up at Gold Coast last year- she coasted along the ‘Run to the River’ fat ass dash with myself last weekend, in a cool 1hr 11mins – a good indicator of where she’s at. If she can hold the pace and stamina, another top five contender for sure.
That’s our pick of the bunch – we’re sure there are one of two more hidden there in the closet for sure. Who’s your favourite?