Contributed by Kevin Matthews, AURA member (WA)
6 INCH TRAIL MARATHON, SOUTH WEST WA, 18 Dec 2022
Running is all about traditions. Runners love doing the same thing over and over. That may be training routines, entering the same races, or just spending time with friends going to the same location. After a while all these routines turn into traditions, and then they have to be adhered to – it’s tradition.
The 6 inch ultra trail marathon is one of many traditions that the lads and I love to adhere to, albeit it use to be a family tradition (yes, you can involve the family) but the kids all grew up and no longer wanted to spend time with old runners. We took that on the chin and just stopped inviting them, it had now morphed into a lad’s weekend away (I say ‘lads’ in the broadest sense of the word, our average age is well over 50 these days. It’s lucky Michael Kowal is still scarred by the Escalator on his one and only 6 Inch attempt a few years back or the average age would be in the 60s!)
To get a feel for the event I recommend trawling through my blog to get some old posts, I’ve attached a few links here. This will help with the post I’m about to recount.
6 Inch Race Report: Warning, Contains Images of Trail Runners
It’s That Time of the Year: 6 Inches of Fun Fun Fun
Middle of December: 6 Inch Time
Sometimes 6 Inches Is Enough
Look Busy: The 6 Inch Is Coming
Right, now that you’ve caught up with the history of this event, it’s time to way lyrical about the 2022 edition. Due to various reasons we have a small starting line-up this year. We lost Marky ‘Mark’ Lommers to a twisted ankle, Adam to gastro, Barts to a family holiday he had to take in Noosa and Scotty to long term injury. This left Jeffrey, Jon and I to toe the line at the start with Rob (poorly achilleas) again driving us to the start Sunday morning at some ungodly hour (6 Inch is a point-to-point and we stay at the finish). After I persuaded Jeffrey to drive (remember we lost Adam to gastro? Apparently if he can’t go to the event, his 7-seater Prado can’t go either…a tad selfish me thinks!) we were off, high noon on Saturday, the day before the event. Jon would be joining us down there as he loves to hoon in his BMW and would prefer to do it alone apparently, less eye witnesses is probably safer for all concerned.
Right back to tradition, for this lads trip there are a few. First we always stay at the Jarrah Forest Lodge, Jon always books the family room and pays, thereby ensuring he gets the double bed (being the smallest) while the other room is shared with the lads (there’s two bunk beds). This room has the benefit of air conditioning in both rooms. I always stay in Room 16, a single room with a bunk, the farthest from the toilet block. This has no air conditioning, actually just a bunk bed, you get that prisoner cell block H feeling about the place. It’s clean and that’s all we need for one night. We used to go the pub the night before but the meal portions are so large that it affected running performances the following day. Barts was still eating his chicken parmi post-race Sunday afternoon. I was above this of course and always took my own meal for the Saturday night.
My favourite tradition is watching Run Fatboy Run after bib collection on Saturday evening, we must have seen this movie at least five times but it still gets the same laughs in the same places, so good. Due to the set up at the lodge it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to nearly an hour to get the video working. There is an amp, a switcher box, a projector, at least two DVD players and cables everywhere. Things were looking good this year when Jon got the DVD talking to the TV with the right input in a matter of minutes but, as is tradition, things didn’t go that smoothly and the DVD had been played to death, literally. It was finished so after a brief interlude we selected another DVD, Will Ferrell in Semi Prowhich was a good alternative.
Post DVD alarms were set for 3am. This year I was lucky enough to have a very keen runner next door to me (?) who had set their alarm for 2am as they were catching the bus. Great, I get to get up an hour or so earlier than planned. It gets better…I was also next door to a snorer and the walls are paper thin, it felt like we were in the same bed! When you hear someone snoring you cannot unhear it. I was sleep deprived while I ate my Weet-bix and drank my cup of sweet tea in the communal kitchen at 2:15am. Once the boys rose, we all got into the car as planned at 3.45am for the 20 minute drive to the start and check-in. The drive to the start is always a tad worrying as kangaroos aren’t car friendly and if we were to hit a roo it wouldn’t end well for any of us. Luckily, we didn’t see any.
As the image below shows we were last to arrive at the pre-race check in but we have a car so the drive to the start was only a few minutes away and we arrived with minutes to spare, more than enough. Unfortunately we were carrying a goody-pack for my mate Tristan who was running the 12 inch. This is another tradition, of runners running from the finish to the start the night before (47km) and then leaving with the race at 4:30am and returning for the medal, another 47km; hence the name 12 Inch.
We managed to get Tristan his drop bag albeit a few minutes from the start, sorry buddy, it obviously wasn’t a problem as he ran the 12 Inch in around 13 hours.
The plan for this race was to finish under five hours, not walk (bar the monster hill), enjoy the event and keep Jeffrey behind me to keep my 20-year or so winning streak. Jeffrey is now over 60 and running very well, he came close to pipping me to the post in Melbourne in October and had been training well since with Barts preparing him for battle. My running had been down the toilet since September due to over training (or over racing?) and niggles including tight hamstrings and a probable tear under my right knee. Weekly I was getting dropped at the Yelo Thursday morning gathering and my training runs in the hills had all been 30 minutes or so longer than last year. The smart money was on Jeffrey for this one. Jon was expecting another sub four hour finish but a nasty cough had me questioning his optimism.
The 6 Inch starts with Goldmine Hill, a beast of a hill that has destroyed many a runner’s dreams. If you’re not prepared it can derail you very early in the piece. Trust me if you are goosed after two kilometres the next 46 or so are challenging. This year me and Jeffrey decided to walk most of the hill with the masses, saving our running legs for the beating that was ahead. It was quite nice to enjoy the hill for a change, although I say ‘enjoy’ in the broadest sense of the word. We summited full of beans and changed up through the gears cruising along in a group of about 10 of us. The event itself is held on the Mundi Biddi Trail, around about 1000km of off-road bike trail from Perth to Albany, so pretty good running. Race director David Kennedy reckons you can add about an hour to your marathon time to get an estimated finish time, he’s probably right.
The 6 Inch has an aid station at 23 kilometres and then again at the top of The Escalator hill, around 35 kilometres. There is also one with four kilometres to go but when you’re that close why would you stop? I ran with Jeffrey until the first aid station where he complained of a sore knee and walked into the aid station. This was my chance and, as all good friends do, when I sensed weakness I pounced – or in this case left him. That was the last I would see of Jeffrey…or so I thought. My confidence was knocked by Mick Francis, the aid station captain, who mentioned I was limping and he’d pull me out if he was RD. A tad harsh I thought as I thought I was going okay…
After aid station one there is another large climb to the highest part of the course, the 3 Inch version of the Goldmine Hill I suppose. I half walked and ran this and took a few more positions as I started to warm up, after 20 years in WA I’m now half lizard and love the heat. Once I get to the highest part I tend to flick over into finish mode and chase down the back end of the half runners and fellow full runners. As I mentioned at the start of this report this race was about finishing and having fun, as much as that is possible. I was feeling good enough to up the pace and started to move through the field albeit nothing to previous years but nice to be moving up the field none the less.
I climbed The Escalator hill to the second aid station, filled my bottles and then started the last 10km to the finish. It was here Jeffrey reappeared and all of a sudden my relaxed cruise to the finish changed to a very stressful run being chased by a motivated Jeffrey Wang. I managed to maintain the pace for the final 10km and with the experience of 12 previous finishes I knew when to push and when to hang on. It wasn’t easy or pretty but I managed to finish in 4hrs 48mins and some loose change. My new personal worst by 30 minutes but mission accomplished. Sometimes it’s the journey that’s important not the time taken to complete it. As you can see from the smile below I was stoked.
All that was left to do was the traditional esky photo – if you know, you know, don’t judge me. Thanks Nathan Fawkes for supplying the ice shower, may add this to the tradition for the esky photo, always keen to add more traditions?
One final tradition is all the boys (and driver) who completed the course to put on their finishers shirts and get a photo. I have so many of these and enjoy looking back at all the lads aging gracefully and back in the day we’d even have a few kinds with us, they are all far too cool to have their photos taken with us these days of course. A small gathering this year but I’m confident there will be a bigger group in 2023.
So that’s it for 2022, what a great year. Ten ultra marathons and one marathon. I’ve been busy with over 2,000km racing with a bib on my chest and another 3,000km training. 6 Inch number 13 completed and I can’t wait until I’m back at the bottom of Goldmine Hill facing another 47km of the Munda Biddi Trail…sleep depraved but excited about what lays ahead. Wy wouldn’t you? After all, it’s tradition.
Photos – Supplied.