Phil Murphy's 2004 12foot Report

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Of all the ultras on the race calendar this was the one I’d hoped to do most.

Having already run the 6-foot track marathon on 4 occasions I knew I had to turn around and try the full monty. My training in the last few months had been good with a decent run at the Fatass Poor Mans Comrades (96km) in June and a couple of 10km pbs thereafter. This and my trailwalker training had me feeling pretty confident.

At last years 12 foot I pulled out at half way in order to back up for the City to Surf the next day. This year I was determined to do the lot. In the days leading up to the race I read a few of the previous 12 foot track runner reports on the Fatass website, looking for tips and guidance. One of which turned out to be my inspiration and that was Tom Silk’s from last year, an awesome read. (Thanks Tom)

I drove up to Katoomba early, arriving at 6:30am for what’s become a tradition, Ross and Jill’s breakfast. It was cold, cold enough to warrant a thermal, jacket and gloves as I stood there shivering. I chatted with Ross and Jill over a warm coffee (thanks guys) and waited for the rest to arrive. Shortly afterwards Kieron arrived donning a dressing gown! Jan, Kevin, Paul and Ken arrived thereafter along with 3 mountain bikers for the day. So all up we were 5 runners (Kevin was gonna crew for us) and 3 mountain bikers.

After the usual starters photo at the Explorers Tree we set off into the early rays of what turned out to be a beautiful day. The descent down Nellies Glen was its usual wet and slippery affair with what seemed like a lot more water than I’d seen before. Kieron took off while Paul, Jan and myself stayed together chatting all the while. Ken was aiming for 15hrs mixing up running and walking so he was taken up the tail. We arrived at Megalong Road in 51mins and promptly grabbed our packs and some drinks from Kevin’s car, waved goodbye to Ross and Jill and set off through the Megalong farmlands. This early morning running was just wonderful with the long shadows from the rising sun lighting up the valley for us. The early morning mist was lifting and our spirits were high as we made our way up Pinnacle Hill and then down to the Cox River, arriving at the crossing in 1:51.

The river wasn’t too high allowing us to scramble across the rocks staying dry. I took off my thermal here, as it was “slog� time up Mini Saddle. Refilled at the water tank, took some mental notes for the reverse crossing later on that day and off we went.

The climb up Mini Saddle was as brutal as ever and doesn’t get any easier. We were taking it quite easy though knowing we had a long day ahead of us. Jan, who started the day with a dodgy knee, was falling back a little here as the descent to the Cox River paid its toll on his knee. Paul and I stayed together, walking the up and jogging the flats. I was grateful for the company and listening to Paul’s past, and I’m sure future conquests, was quite inspirational. Running with someone makes it a whole lot easier than slogging it out by yourself. The crossings at little river were easy and we managed to stay dry, nimbly hopping over the slippery rocks.

Pluvi beckoned and we set about getting up there without taxing our legs too much. At one point I looked back and saw that Jan was making ground on us. The uphills were obviously easier on his knee than the down. Pluvi was a bastard as usual and we finally reached the top in 3:20, not too tardy at all. At this point a few clouds were beginning to roll in making it a little cooler. We reached the Black Ranges and not long into it I had my usual low point. Paul pulled away from me and as much as I tried I couldn’t keep up. So I decided to back off and do the run walk thing. Paul was pulling me along faster than I had intended anyhow.

My intentions were to get to the half way point in 6hrs and then aim for a 14hr finish. This was based on advice from both Kieron and Kevin regarding a half way split of about an hour slower than one’s 6FT pb, and the results from previous 12 foot track races. So as it turned out I was probably running bit faster than intended at this point.

I reached the Black Range road turn off where Kevin would meet us in 4:20. It was good to see him and chat for a while as I took on some supplies. I took my shoes off and cleaned the gravel out and then set off for the Caves House. After a pretty crappy slow descent down the St George fire trail, where I met Kieron on his return leg, I arrived at Jenolan Caves in 5:40. I bumped into Paul at the Caves restaurant whilst queuing for some hot food. He promptly set off with bucket of hot chips in hand, walking up the hill. I hadn’t intended on staying too long here, as it was quite cool and I wanted to get going again, but I had to get some hot food into me. The lunchtime rush was on and I had to wait 25mins to get served! So 35 minutes after arriving, a veggie burger, chips and beer later I set about walking up the hill. I donned my thermal again as I was feeling rather cool after the long stop. The climb was not as bad as I imagined it would be. I stopped every now and again to take in the scenery and grab a breath of cool clean mountain air. Thoughts running through my head here were, “ok how long will this section back to Black Range road take? Will I resist the temptation to pike out? “ I resolved to waiting until I got back to Kevin and would assess the situation then.

Although 12 foot was my priority this weekend I still had an eye on the City to Surf the next day. Our company sponsors us every year and it’s a great day out with the guys from work.

I reached Kevin at 56kms around 4pm. Kevin’s car was like an oasis out there. I was glad to see him, replenish my supplies and grab my drop bag with night gear. There was a group of motorcyclists packing up for the day there too. They had been hooning up and down Pluviometer all day. After hearing Kevin and I chatting, one of them asked if there was a river down there (referring to the Cox). “Is it a big river, can you fish there?â€? I was amused they didn’t know about it already. Anyhow they asked what we were doing and if the runners were getting paid for doing this, to which Kevin replied “no but if you’re willing to pay, we’d be happy to take it from youâ€? ;-)

They were quite amused that I was running back to Katoomba that night and one of them even offered to give me lift back on his bike. Little did they know what they were missing, I thought to myself. I felt good here and was well and truly determined to go the whole way. I said farewell to Kevin and thanked him for giving up his day for us. He promised to leave a coke and some water at the tree hollow at Megalong Road (8km from the finish).

Running back along the Black Ranges after the initial undulations was fantastic and I felt superb. I was now running faster than at any other part of the day, albeit gravity was doing its fair share of the work. I recalled Tom’s words from last year of feeling almost trance like at this point and this was exactly how I felt. I was in a zone, totally motivated and resolved to going the whole way, there’s nothing quite like a “no pike out� option to motivate you, its all the way or freeze somewhere out there. Pluviometer was upon me in quick time and the descent was glorious. I had taken a couple of Ibuprofen at the Caves house to ease a niggling pain in my right knee and as a result felt no pain there any more. I felt like I was hurtling down this hill, as slow running was more jarring than just leaning into it and letting gravity do the rest. I reached Little River and crossed easily, staying dry (bonus). My focus now was getting to the Cox River crossing before dark.

The run down Mini Saddle was also superb and I was stoked to be able to run it hard. I was totally lapping up the moment, the setting sun closing its curtains on the glorious valley below. This was blissful stuff. I thought about the usual things whilst running an ultra, family, friends, how inconsequential the stupid things in life are. Philosophical thoughts running amok in my head, but making me realise how good it is to be alive and how lucky I am to be out here doing this.

I reached the Cox river crossing at 5:25pm and still had plenty of daylight to cross with out getting wet. Before I did however, Kieron’s girlfriend Meagan and son, who were camping there overnight, met me. Meagan produced a peanut butter and jam sandwich, which I duly devoured. Thanks Meagan. I refilled my camelbak and put on my headlamp at the water tank and crossed the river easily keeping my feet dry.

The climb out of the Coxs was not so bad and I mixed up running with power walking. I turned my headlamp on as the sun’s last rays disappeared. It got dark real quick and at last I was alone with the night sky. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of cloud cover so not too many stars to be seen. Running up to Pinnacle Hill was fun, there was so much happening all round. Kangaroos jostling off either side of the trail, a ringtail possum glaring back into my headlight from a tree above the track. Then all of a sudden two massive eyes right there in front of me. I nearly ran straight into a cow just before one of the locked gates leading out into the Megalong Valley farmland. It freaked out a little and moved hastily off the track to the side. Thereafter I saw heaps of cattle staring at me as I ran by. It was weird as they stared back at me with huge dark eyes like I was an alien with a headlamp on.

Megalong road snuck up on me before I realised, I crossed the cattle grid and headed straight for the hollow in the tree next to the road. There waiting for me was a coke, water sports drink and a packet of chips. How good was Kevin leaving it there for me. I sculled the coke and chips whilst making my way through the valley. I reckoned I would need maybe an hour from the bottom of Nellies Glen to get back to the Explorers tree, so a quick time check, I could possibly go sub 13hrs. The thought of this had me running hard again and I was feeling quite pleased with myself.

I passed the various stiles and gates along the way, all the while looking for the little red track markers. Then all of a sudden I couldn’t see them any more. There was a fork in the road; maybe I had taken a wrong turn? I continued a little further to find one of Steve Jackson’s little white pegs with 6FT 6km written on it. Phew I wasn’t lost, thanks Steve. This happened a couple of times but each time, to my relief, I would spot one of those little white pegs.

About 5km from the end I came across a locked gate right across the track. It had a sign Warri Warri “Private Property� written on it but no trail marker or indicator I was still on the track?? Bugger, I back tracked some 500 meters and finally found a red track marker, which told me I was indeed on the right track! So I ran back to the gate past a few more private properties to the left and right and arrived back at the Warri Warri gate. I climbed over and right enough on the other side was the red 6-foot track marker. How different everything seems at night, although I believe this gate was open earlier on the way through.

So now I only had a few km to go. I reached the bottom of Nellies Glen and thought ok here goes, can’t be that bad. Boy was I wrong. It was one hell of a climb out, stopping every few steps to catch a breath and then continuing. I was shagged at this stage and just wanted to get to the end already. The rocks were very slippery from the creek and I managed to trip for the first time all day. No damage just a sore shin.

At last I reached the top and checked my watch, sub 13hrs was still on. I ran the flat section to The Explorers tree, feeling ecstatic. 12hours and 54 minutes, I was stuffed. I sat there for a while at the tree, texted Kevin, rang my wife to let her know I had made it and just tried to take the moment in. I was so proud to have achieved this goal and wanted to suck it in. I thought about the start line photos taken right here some 13hrs ago and reflected on the day.

I made my way back to my car; picked up my drop bag that Kevin had left there and drove home. I got home at 10pm that night and ended chatting to my wife about the days adventure till almost 11:30 before hitting the sack.

I did manage to run the City to Surf the following day in a cruisy 73mins and reckon it did me the world of good, as I recover this week.

Will I be back next year? You bet!

Philip Murphy Sydney, Australia