Six Days in Colac 2004
 
6th November 1982 was a very special day in Colac,Victoria. Little known potato farmer Cliff Young started running around the Memorial Square in an attempt to break 1000-mile record. In spite of his courages effort he had to abandon his attempt due to an injury.

Cliff was determined to continue with ultra running and the following year he entered ultra marathon from Sydney to Melbourne. To everyone’s surprise this 62-year-old runner was the first to cross the finishing line in Melbourne. Australia had a new hero. Ultra distance running gained enormous popularity and this inspired the City of Colac to stage a 1000-mile race from Melbourne to Colac in Cliff’s honour. In 1984 City of Colac announced to stage a 6-day race. Interest came from all over the world, the track was surveyed to 400 m and the ultra marathon was born. With the passing away of Cliff Young in November 2003, the race was renamed “The Cliff Young Australian 6-day race.” Being the ultimate endurance race held regularly in Australia, I had to have a go at it. With my wife Jo and my dog Asta we departed on “Spirit of Tasmania” to Melbourne. Asta was sedated for the trip, as she would have been very upset to be left in a cage all night by herself. The overnight trip was very uneventful with the sea relatively calm. Arriving inMelbourne at 7 am we were met by our friends Wanda and Jarek to spend the morning with them. Afternoon they showed us the way out of Melbourne and after a couple of hours drive we arrived at Colac. It was not difficult to find the park where the race was going to be held. There was an army tent beside the track for each runner with a table and a couple of chairs. Portable toilets were set up as well as a shower block and a canteen. $200 dollars entry fee for the race covered food for both of us for the six days as well as a T-shirt and some items. Considering the availability, quantity and choice of food available 24 hrs a day it was a bargain. We retired early that night and had a sleep in the next morning. We knew that it would take a whole week before we get a decent sleep again. On Sunday, 21stNovember 2004 at 12midday the race was started after each runner was introduced to the crowd.There were 21 runners from Denmark,South Africa Hungary and Australia. Most of the runners have had a lot of experience from many starts in the 6-day race. It was the first time for me. My training did not go very well either. I had suffered pain in my right foot caused by Plantar Fascitis so my training was restricted to 10 to 15 km per day. Normally I would have been doing about 30 km per day!  However I was 

hoping that after some hours of running the pain 2 will go as it did during my run on a treadmill on the “Spirit” to Melbourne and back to Tasmania. Fortunately I was right

Weather was perfect for running. Not too hot, not too cold. There were a lot of people around the track, market stalls set around the track and a country music being played over loudspeakers – it all added up to the joy of running. About three quarter of the track covered by a shade of the trees was another welcome aspect of the track. We started running on a grass but after about six hours into the race the grass disappeared replaced by a dirt track that was gradually getting deeper and very dusty.

I did not plan to sleep the first night at all but when the most runners gradually retired from the track for some rest I changed my mind and went to sleep for three hours. Both my wife and I needed it. We had still more than five days of running ahead. I did not want to burn out too soon.

We were still trying to find the right balance between running and resting to achieve the best result.

Asta was finding it very difficult to settle down. She was shivering with anxiety all day. She could not understand why I kept running away all the time leaving her behind. Fortunately she eventually realized that I kept coming back and settled down. We could even take her of the leash so she was comfortable and obviously satisfied with the set up.

It seemed to be a long time before the finish of day one. I was in the 4th place having covered 148 km. It was less than I hoped for but not too bad considering the lack of training leading to the race. Only one sixth of the race was behind us and I must admit that I was wondering how I would manage for another five days. Howard Neville a veteran of the race assured me that I would find it easier from now on. I did not believe it first but he was right. The next day seemed to pass more quickly. I have settled down to a routine – running three quarters of the track and walk one quarter. On a few occasions instead of eating while on the move I sat down for a short time to eat. At the end of day two I was in the third place having covered 653 laps or 261.2 km.

Taking part in ultra marathons like this one has some great benefits. The greatest one is to meet many great characters amongst fellow competitors organizers and other helpers. Most of them will do anything to assist us runners and to make our running as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. We can never thank them enough.

Every competitor is a very special person. Many of them very ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

One of the competitors and eventual winner is Jesper Olsen, fromDenmark. He is half way through his run around the world. Starting from London on the 1st of January 2004 he has run already through 11 countries covering some 13,000 km. A very nice man, 33 years old,

obviously very determined to achieve his goal. He told me that he was well prepared for the world run both mentally and physically. But he is missing his family badly – that is one thing he was not quite prepared for. He has still long way to go. He hopes to finish his run in London in November 2005. That is something you can call extraordinary!

 

Day three is going well. Weather started to warm up, the dust starting to irritate the throat. Otherwise everything is going very smoothly. I had again three hours sleep aftermidnight. Finished the day still in third place 32 laps ahead of fellow Tasmanian Peter Hoskinson. Half way through the race having covered 941 laps or 376.4 km. Last year’s winner Graeme Watts is still leading the race with Jesper Olsen in second place. He is moving very well. Running 50 km per day since the 1st of January seems to be a perfect preparation for this race. And he could not wish for a better handler than Phil Essam.

Another very interesting competitor is Debbie de Williams. Only a few weeks ago she was the first woman to complete a walk around Australia – 15,569 km in 363 days in temperatures up to 50 degrees. The last 13 days she walked 60 km a day on a sprained ankle! She saved money for 9 years to realize her dream. The walk cost her $100,000. She is a very nice lady, always very pleasant and with a smile on her face in spite of all the hardship.

Day four and it is getting still warmer. Weather forecast is for further warming up so we better get used to it. By 6 pm I have increased my lead to 34 laps and decided to get my 3-hour sleep now while it is still hot and then run all night while it is cool. By the time I restarted my run I was 8 laps behind Peter in a fourth place. I expected that. I am not worried; he will have to rest eventually too. By the end of day four I am back in the third place, 22 laps ahead of Peter with total of 1212 laps or 484.8 km. Jesper has taken the lead from Graeme who is struggling with shin splints.

Like many other runners I am starting to get blisters on my feet caused by the combination of heat and dust from the track. My shin starting to get sore too. I have no experience in dealing with these problems.  But another competitor Eric Wright fromSouth Africa comes to my rescue. He has a tent next to ours. He has only part-time supporter so he has to look after himself most of the time. That makes it really hard. Yet he did not hesitate to stop his race, offer a tube of anti - inflammatory gel for my shins and showed me how to treat blisters. I had never seen it before. Taking a needle with a short piece of cotton, piercing the blister and leave the cotton sticking out of the blister on both sides. It will help to drain the blister so it will not grow any bigger. I could not believe how well it worked. It was no surprise that at the end of the race Eric received the
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Brian Smith award, presented to the runner who best demonstrated “good will, fair play and sportsmanship”. He totally deserved it.

It was a real shock to me to experience later in the day the exact opposite. In spite of the heat everything was going well until midnight. I was ahead of Peter by 35 laps when Peter started talking about being very tired and needing at least four hour sleep.  I suggested to him that if he wanted I would go to sleep for four hours as well so we both could have a rest without any worries. At 4 am we would meet back on the track and restart our competition for the third place. He was very happy to make this gentleman’s agreement so Jo and I went to the caravan for good sleep.

About 45 minutes later there was a knock on the door. Graeme’s helper Mark came to let me know, that Peter betrayed me and was on the track running. I could not believe it. I always thought that we were friends and that he was an honest person. First I returned to the track very confused after being woken up just after falling asleep. I complained about his dishonesty to some people and the first comment I heard was: “it is tactics”. Tactics? How about dishonesty, betrayal, treachery? This was the last straw. If this was the spirit of the race I was going to quit. I lost all interest in continuing in it. In the state of mind I was at that moment I could not have come to a worse decision. After few hours of sleep Jo waked me up. Emma Wilson, one of the most helpful people around came to urge me to continue showing me my drawing with the “Never ever give up!” “Isn’t this what you are about? Do you want to serve Peter the third place on a silver plate?” A number of other competitors, helpers and organizers came to urge me to continue. The final ultimatum came from Jo. “If you don’t get up now I am calling our friends Jarek and Wanda from Melbourne to pick me up and you do what you want.” Finally I realized that they all were absolutely correct. I also realized how much they cared about what happened and wanted me to show on the track who is the better man. The support of so many people made the difference at the end. I am a bit ashamed of my behaviour for those few hours. But I believe that at the end I came out of it a bit stronger again. I know that nothing like this will ever get me off the balance again.

When I started running again at 5.30 am I was in the forth place, 34 laps behind Peter. The first hour became a battle of wills. For 25 laps during the hour the distance between us had not changed. Than at last I noticed that Peter dropped back by about a quarter of a lap. Another hour and I was only 25 laps behind.  By 11 am we were both on 1495 laps. By the end of day five at 12 midday I was back in third place leading Peter by 10 laps. Jesper has consolidated his lead in the race. Graeme had recovered a

 

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 bit and was ahead of me by 70 laps. At this stage of the race I was only interested in maintaining my third place. Temperature now reached 35

degrees. I could handle it reasonably well. By midnight I was ahead of Peter by 55 laps. I could afford another couple of hours of sleep.

The last few hours I took easy. At 10am I took a shower (only the second one during the race) expecting to start winding down. I thought that there was nothing to race for any more. But this was another lesson I had to learn. When Peter saw me leaving the track he threw at me another desperate challenge. He reduced the gap between us to the point where I had no choice but to start racing again. I knew that unless I stopped running he had no hope of catching up with me. But he made me to earn my third place to the last minute. I will remember this next time – it’s not over till the fat lady sings!

Jesper Olsen was the winner, Graeme Watts was second and I finished third. In the Australian Championship Graeme came first, I was second and Peter third. I was very happy with the outcome especially since it was my first start and my training was not the best. Finishing with 1732 laps or 692.85 km was not too bad  for start.

The race has finished and we are already looking forward to the next year. I have learnt a lot from this race and hope for better preparation next time. I also found out how important was Jo’s help. Without her I could not achieve the result I did. It was as hard for her as it was for me. She did not get any more sleep than I did and spent almost as much time on her feet as I did. She and all the other helpers were the unsung heroes of the race. They should be getting much more credit for their runners results  than they do. But they can be assured that we runners appreciate their help very much.

We have met so many nice people amongst the competitors, helpers and the volunteers and made a lot of friends. The organization of the event was fantastic. We were so well looked after by the committee members, the lap counters, the volunteers in the canteen and all others involved. We have really enjoyed all six days of racing. It was not easy to say goodbye. It was much easier to say; “See you next year!”    

 

Vlastik Skvaril