It’s not a good trail race unless you get lost ?

Loving life on the trail.. The 6 inch ultra really is just ace. (Photo thanks to Focused Ninja Photography)

This weekend I ran the 6 inch ultra marathon ( ) for the 9th time. A 47km race from North Dandelup to Dwellingup travelling through some of the best trails WA has to offer mainly on the Mundi Bundi trail ( ). The conditions looked perfect and did not disappoint with low temperatures and a cooling rain later in the race. The race starts at 4:30am to take into account the normal hot and hard Perth summer conditions but this morning you were more likely to get pneumonia rather than heat stroke ! Driving to that start at 3am in Jon’s SUV it was pouring with rain, dark and 14 degrees, about as inviting as feeding a steak sandwich to a hungry Great White,  with an attitude ! There was talk of of a DNS but we all knew this was never going to happen as,  with all things in life,  once the sun eventually breaks over the horizon life, and trail running,  looks so much better. This proved to be the case as once Dave Kennedy, the Race Director, gave us about 30 seconds notice we were, off right on time. Dave is not one to hang around and I’m sure the 15 or so people in the toilet queue would have been stuck between the rock and a hard place when all their running colleagues set off up Goldmine Hill and they were faced with the quandary of ‘do you go before you go or risking going after you have gone’. 

Once more into the breach… Photo reference . another Dennis Tan classic. Paparazzi on the run.

I only race trails once a year and this is mainly due to my incredibly bad sense of direction, I could get lost in a 100m race without the aid of marshals trust me. Two years ago , the last time I got lost, I even managed to persuade another runner to come with me on my own personal ‘trail race’, sorry Phil. Anyhow this year I managed to download the route onto my Garmin 235 and decided I was confident enough to only wear one watch compared to the previous years when I wore two, one with the course map and the other for interesting running stats to read when you get bored ? (Like you ever have time to switch between screens in a race on a watch. If you ever do find yourself switching between data screens you are running too slow and need to spend more time concentrating on racing !

The start of the 6 inch ultra is called Goldmine Hill and , in my view, should be renamed Goldmine Mountain, please note I am a concrete pounding prima-donna (and proud) so me and trail hills are not ideal partners. Goldmine Hill is long and steep and you embrace when you haven’t even had time to get your first wind, no matter a second one. The first time I ran the 6 inch I had no idea what to expect and remember thinking , about half way up the hill, what had I let myself in for and doing some mental arithmetic to work out if the hill continued at this rate for 46km would it be higher than Everest. ! In my defence that first year it was stinking hot and I think we had daylight saving so it was even dark (‘ish) . I’m not saying that day went badly but I came home and tried to cancel my flights to Comrades the following year as I was well and truly over ultra marathons. (Luckily South African Airlines refused to cancel my flights so out of spite I went and had a great run, but that’s another post for another day.)

I have written a post on this race from last year so not much has changed bar better conditions this year and I got lost again, the third time in nine attempts. In my defence I am getting lost later in the race each time and got to 44km this year sitting just outside the top 5. A small 2k detour cost me a few places but I still managed a top 10 finish. It wasn’t getting lost which hurt, as I’m use to that, but it was the opportunity which went begging to maybe chalk up one more sub 3:40 finish. Next year I may be in better shape (I’m only young you know ?) but the conditions play such a big part and if it’s a hot one the trail can become a brutal place to be with any chance of a good PB time evaporating with the heat. No worries, as I said I’m getting lost later and later in the race so I should be good to go next year for my 10th time, couldn’t get lost again surely ? 

What’s different about trial running/racing ? You know what, it’s more fun I reckon. Looking at the photos of the runners from Sunday  most of the runners are smiling, you look at a marathon and they are mostly focused on their goal and concentrating hard on stuff  marathon runners concentrate hard on. Trail running is different, time is not so important and by releasing yourself from this weight of expectation you can actually just enjoy running for the pure joy of running. I’ve always said trail runners are a funny bunch and that’s probably the main reason, they don’t burden themselves with things that they feel are not important. They buy their multi-coloured uniform of backpacks, gators, drink dispensers of all shapes and sizes and just get on the trail and run. It’s more about the comradery of the trail , the experience off being at one with nature and the ability to hug the odd tree or two when nobody is looking. At the finish there is an in-depth dissection of the event with the sharing of trail-stuff, which normally entails explaining how they are covered in claret. (Again a big difference with road marathons, on a good trail race most people ‘wipe out’ and their wounds are a badge of honour.) I must admit I’ve hit the deck the last two times I ran the 6 inch and even that was fun , in a masochistic type of way ? You feel if you finish without falling over at least once you were doing something wrong and not trying hard enough; or maybe that just me?

Even I smile on a trial run, a rare sight when racing ! (Note, this was before I got lost !) (Photo thanks to Paparazzi on the run. Dennis Tan)

One thing the trail does though is give your body a good old fashioned beating. There’s no getting into a rhythm and working the same muscles, on a trail run you are hopping from one step to the next and concentrating on your footwork constantly. This probably explains the falls later in the event, just good old fashioned fatigue and his best mate tiredness working together to conspire against you. This year when I fell I knew it was coming but the legs were just too slow to arrest my upper body moving ahead of them, result in a face plank. I must admit it did bring a smile to my face as I lay in the dirt (luckily wet from the previous shower) and I congratulated myself on my choice of dark garments for the race. Funny the things you think of when you laying on the ground 45km into a 47km trail race. This also makes the next day more challenging especially when faced with your mortal enemy the day after an trail-ultra,  ‘stairs’. On a side note you must go to South Africa one day and even if you don’t run the Comrades spend some time the next day in Durban and watch the Comrades runners ‘hobble’ (and that is a compliment) around the city, even one stair is too much for some and they are totally contained by any sort deviation from horizontal. ( ) On Sunday the boys did take a good beating with Gareth admitting to a good old-fashioned chunder towards the end of the race, Mark L. sprained his ankle 7km from the finish and had to stumble to cross the line and Bart’s was so goosed at the end he asked me to tie his shoelaces as he kept cramping when he tried, of course I ignored his pleas and just sat back and enjoyed the show.

One final ‘shout out’ to Kathryn Hookham who ran the 6 inch only weeks after completing the 50 mile Feral Pig Ultra ( ) in conditions that can only be described as barbaric ! It was incredibly hot on the day of the event which caused a 50% DNF rate  and as I said to Kathryn yesterday I found it hard to walk from the kitchen to the pool due to the heat. !  Kathryn optimises the ‘trail spirit’ where it’s about finishing the job no matter how hard it gets, this mental toughness goes hand-in-hand with the earlier comments about trail runners always smiling. Yes, they are having fun but when push comes to shove they can knuckle down and answer the tough questions every runner asks sometime during all distance events. I’ll catch up with Kathryn on my next adventure which begins tomorrow.

Right, day off today only because the weather was atrocious and then back on it tomorrow for the first day of Australia Day Ultra training. As I’ve always maintained with running you need a goal and my next one is in January next year/ ( ) . Last year I did swear I’d never run another 100km ultra but that was said only a few minutes after finishing, by the time me and Jon had finished our pancakes and bacon we were already discussing the 2018 event and here we are now, all entered and only a few weeks away. As the event is a 12.5km loop , eight times, the chances of getting lost are virtually zero but we do start at midnight so there is 5-6 hours of running in the dark and with my history of navigation maybe I better invest in some sort of tracking device, I suppose if I end up back in Perth I’ve probably gone too far….

Masters Award with the RD and WA running legend Dave Kennedy.