Ken Smith's 2004 12foot Report

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Good report Phil, I'd forgotten about the cattle, and congratulations on filling what had been the vacant 12 hour finish on the 'all-time' list. And thanks to everyone who participated or assisted in this event. I'm used to participating in club bushwalks which have a similar form as fatass events but of course are more a group activity of lesser intensity.

Earlier this year on my first 6ft Marathon I did a poorer time than I expected because I cramped; unexpected as I 'never' cramp. On the 12ft Track I did a much poorer time than I expected because of a different major unexpected factor - after I crossed the Cox on my return I was increasingly asleep on my feet. I accept I had an acute sleep deficit from immediately before the event when I managed less than 2 hours sleep but I did not consider I had accrued a chronic deficit in the previous days; certainly nothing to explain the effects I underwent.

I'd learnt of 'fatass' and the 12ft from a 6ft Marathon friend but although determined to do the 12ft I came to the day as a bushwalker/tortoise - capable of walking/jogging all day without breaks - but with little running training to back me up. I had made up a set of hoped-for splits from previous experience of the track, including a solo trouble-free 9ft track last August. I knew I could comfortably get to the Caves in 7:30 with plenty in reserve. My return splits I also made up to 7:30 although it seemed they would be optimistic especially for the climb up from the Caves, the only section for which I had no actual times.

The day went much as expected. Kevin had given me a lift to the start (thanks Kevin - your character seems to be to always act beyond the call of duty) where I stowed my ovenight pack in the bush. Rather than pay an entry fee for CTS I'd decided to try a club bushwalk the next day - no fees, the fatass way. Also although it was good to see Kevin along the way, the only aid I used was water from the Black Range tank.

As I was the tail, when I reached Megalong Rd, Kevin and Ross packed up and the three of us jogged off to the Cox. Saying goodbye to them as they passed me on their way back I was on my own again. Across the river and I was into trail-bike world. Apart from a brief talk to a Trailwalker team in training as they dropped down from the Pluvio, my next contact was with Kevin at the junction.

The mountain bikes came first. Then Keiron had just crossed Caves Rd when we passed and Paul was 13 minutes later. Phil was 34 minutes after Paul. My first stumble for the day, bloodying one knee but causing me no concern for the rest of the event, came just before Jan came into sight. I reached the Caves at 7:28, meeting intentions and turned round and started the climb, finding it just an average uphill bushwalk. I again met the couple who were finishing a 5-day walk; they were astounded we were retracing their steps in only one day.

I was coping well but started feeling sleepy (in daylight!) after crossing Caves Rd and approaching Black Range Camping area I hoped Kevin had been delayed and was still at the junction. I would have DNF'd on the spot rather than cope with sleepiness for the remaining 35k! However after a 20 minute break refilling my hydration system and eating a little I moved onto Black Range to discover my sleepiness was gone and I was moving as well as I had all day, walking up-hills and jogging the rest.

Darkness fell before I reached the Pluvio and I began to understand that although intended splits based on walking times can be relatively easily met in the dark, intended splits based on daylight running times are less easily met. However I made good time down to Alum Creek, lost some time from there to the Cox which I reached in 12:57, almost an hour over my intentions. But from there to the finish I had walked in 3:13 (my 9ft track) so had I remained awake I would have had a 16 hour finish in my grasp. My approach to the river crossing (or was it for Phil's finish) was celebrated by a rocket shot high into the air a couple of hundred metres downstream, the explosion reverberating through the valley.

My 9ft walking splits were: Cox to Meg Rd 1:30, Meg Rd to Finish 1:43. My 12 ft sleeping/walking splits were: Cox to Meg Rd 2:22, Meg Rd to Finish 3:26!!!

As I walked up from the Cox, I initially was carrying my LED in my hand but I soon put it back on my head. Had I continued to use it handheld, or had I used the hand torch I was also carrying, thus throwing more shadows, I might have avoided stubbing my 'bad' toe as I did several times on the rocky track. Although impacting somewhat on the fluency of my movement, the sore toe soon became a minor factor as sleepiness became more prominent.

Then I met the cattle. Probably not disturbed since Phil had passed through, most fled uphill away from the track. Some continued slowly along the track ahead of me and eventually only a young calf and I assume its mother were left and they stopped. The calf was in front and I imagine that it might have told its mother that it 'didn't like this game' and 'wouldn't play any more'. After all, I was the only one with a light. So, as they wouldn't move, I went off-track to pass around them.

After the cattle it was just a case of moving along the track knowing the lights on the horizon would eventually come closer. When sleepiness overwhelmed me I would sit down with my pack as a backrest. Many times I must have dozed off - I didn't take splits of those breaks. I would open my eyes with the LED illuminating the leaves above me, get to my feet and continue on, sometimes for many minutes, sometimes for only a couple. Apart from my toe, I was still moving well when I was most awake.

When I stopped my watch at the tree I was shocked to see it read over 19 hours. "It must be past 2am!!. Forget about the bushwalk tomorrow and just get into the sleeping bag." It took me five attempts to find where I'd stowed my pack and then I slept in my bivvy bag in the carpark until 7am.

Slowly, because of the toe, I walked into Katoomba RS with my overnight pack on my back and day pack in my arms. Two people stopped me to talk. The last was a spritely old lady, probably out for her morning walk and probably in her 80's. "Nice weather today. It's 5 this morning. It was zero yesterday! It snowed yesterday. There was snow in Blackheath and a lot all over Oberon way. That's where I used to live." Was it Jan who saw the flakes on Black Range?

I've now got some aims for next year: sub 16 for 12ft, my first PM Comrades, and sub 6 for 6ft.

What I used:

  • Liquid: 5 litres of standard strength Gatorade (returned home the same weight as I'd left)
  • Food: 5 muesli bars, 3 fun-size Mars bars
  • Clothes: no changes/day & night - tights, thermal singlet and Polartec 100 top
  • Shoes: Adidas Trail - a lightweight trailrunning shoe with 'ClimaCool' that lets air in and water out (for 76km they were kind to my 'bad' toe, I walked through the Little River crossings, crossed the Cox on the rocks).

Ken Smith Sydney, Australia