The North Face 100 2010 Race Report

Race: The North Face 100
Date: 15th May 2010
Location: Katoomba, Blue Mountains, NSW
Description: A 100km trail run through the Blue Mountains 

I have always considered trail running as a leveller in the world of running. For meTNF100_047 personally, it allows the opportunity to be relatively competitive amongst world class athletes. Given that I have a large frame and am fairly heavy in comparison to your average runner, my overall speed is slightly compromised. My strength is my strength. I have found that over the few years that I have been competing in ultra-events, I need extreme conditions to bring the rest of the field back to an even keel.

So with the knowledge that the course is brutal and that supposedly I am better in TNF100_046tougher conditions, I was looking forward to my second attempt at The North Face 100. I ran in the inaugural race in 2008, missed 2009 due to my Comrades Marathon debut, and toed the line for the second time on Saturday 15th May 2010.

In 2008, there were 130 finishers. For this year's race, the field was capped at around 600 starters.

With the impending backlog of runners due to the volume and confined single-track conditions, I was looking for a fast start to get ahead of the main field, with the aim of slowing down once we were fully entrenched within the network of trails below the plateau and Katoomba.
I managed a decent spot at the front of the field before the gun fired. Obviously a large percentage of athletes have the same idea of getting "ahead" early to avoid delays. With a steep hill out of the car park and a starting temperature of around 3 degrees Celsius, by the time I had run 400m up to the main road, my throat and lungs were burning and I felt as though this might have been to hard too soon. Nevertheless ITNF100_076followed this plan and managed to follow a few others onto the start of the initial single-track section before exiting again and running approximately 3km along bitumen through the winter landscaped suburb of Leura. At approximately 6km's from the start we finally began our descent into the valley for the remaining 94km of some of the steepest, most rugged, yet awesomely spectacular terrain one could ever hope to see – yet somehow unfortunately have to experience while covering 100km on foot in the fastest possible time.

I hung with a group of 2 or 3 runners that soon became 5 as we slowly reeled in a few ahead. The pace was fairly quick which I knew would be unsustainable for the rest of the race. However, I just wanted to get to CP1 in a reasonable time so that I could settle into remaining kilometres at my own pace. Our group reached CP1 in 1hr 50 mins. This was almost the exact same split I had run two years prior, although it was 2km longer. So effectively in that terrain, I was already roughly 12-13 minutes ahead of my previous time. The group I was with barely stopped to top up at the checkpoint, and although we had also just caught up with more runners, I was not going to get caught up in chasing my guys again for some company. Instead I pretty much ran the next 22km to CP2 on my own until the last few km's where I was joined by a Japanese runner.

At CP2 I caught and overtook another runner who had been out in front, and was now starting to feel the effects of the significant elevation change. I left CP2 quickly and tried to maintain a steady pace, although I knew we still had Iron Pot ridge (a gnarly out and back section) and some really tough descents before joining the road along low0025Megalong Valley. Between CP2 and CP3 I managed to whittle down my overall position by one, as I caught up to one of the guys I had run the first section to CP1 with. The descent into CP3 was long and at 54km my legs and body were starting to moan. I had now been running for 5 and ¾ hours, and was marginally over halfway. CP3 was the first opportunity runners had to access their crews. I believe that my crew could almost work as a pit crew. The teamlow0017consisted of my wife Kirsten, and good friends Tim Andersen and Lauren Johnson. Tim was photo guy and took care of my two water bottles; Lauren was in charge of hot drinks (an awesome cup of soup, not too hot and not too cold) PowerBars / Gels and banana; and Kirsten was medical (nurofen plus), Gatorade, and was my brain for the transition – "take this, eat that, drink this, body check, chafe check, blister update (thankfully not applicable)" and general all round good wife.

At CP3 I was in 10th position and 4 minutes down from 8th and 9th. It took about 2 low0021km's for the food and painkillers to start working. The change was incredible. I came good and was able to significantly increase my pace. I caught up to 9th place at the bottom of Nellies Glen, and then 8th mid-way up the staircase. By this stage it was a pure power hike. The stairs up are unrunnable – they are steep and no two risers and treads are the same. Over the top of the liff and on my way to CP4 at the Katoomba oval. I reached CP4 in 1hr 28 mins. A full 26 minutes quicker than my previous attempt in 2008. By now I was feeling great. Although there was only 33km left to go, 22km of that drops 900m into a valley past the three sisters and then climbs 700m up Kedumba Pass to CP5 at 89km.

Now in 8th place I decided that I was going to try and hang on for as long as possible. I left CP4 fast and headed toward Echo Point getting my mind right for the quad trashing descent. I have to say that knowing what you are in for, and being in daylight certainly helps overcome the anxiety. For starters I knew what to expect. I could also see where I would be climbing up Kedumba, so the unknown was not an issue; it was more a case of managing the descent so that I could run the majority of the climbing section. At around the 80km point I caught and passed a runner and had another runner in my sight ahead. After what felt like an eternity of trudging uphill I finally passed and managed to break to elastic band between El Mansouri and myself. It was now a case of hanging tough to CP5 and then to the finish. By now thelow0002temperature was dropping and a gentle breeze blowing. As I came into CP5 the crew helped with two beanies, arm warmers, gloves, reflective tape and head torch. I was just settling into a cup of noodles when the two guys I had passed up Kedumba Pass rolled into the checkpoint. I couldn't afford to enjoy the warm cup of savoury two-minute noodles, so instead opted for a bottle of coke and took off like I was running a 10km time trial – or at least I thought so anyway. Still, I had a 4minute 30-second gap, which I was keen to expand. It is easy running along the Tablelands Rd, which then turns off onto some more single track. It is fairly easy until the 95km point at which point the track then becomes diabolical. I crossed over the Wentworth Falls and ducked below some cliffs, ran through a heap of freezing mud and then had to walk up some vertical stairs. This kind of terrain absolutely kills your average speed, and blows any chance of running a fast last stage out of the water. Every few hundred meters I would switch off my head torch and scan across the valley for the following runners. At 98km was the first time I could see a headlight in the distance, and figured that I was safe.

The last kilometre felt awesome. I knew I had significantly beaten my previous time by a fraction over an hour, and had improved by three positions. In a larger field with more competitive runners I could not low0001have asked for a better race. It is one that will last with me for a long time. The race location and organisation is fantastic. Spectacular countryside also makes for a memorable day. Although truth be known, I was over great scenery by CP4.

A massive thank you to Tim and Lauren who took an annual day leave on Friday, gave up their weekend, and missed their respective NRL sides playing live in Sydney on Friday night, just to support one runner for a whole day.low0006

And finally, a huge thank you to Kirsten my wife, who has put up with my training, fatigue and lack of social inclination, taper mood swings, and salivery kisses at each check point. Racing would not be the same without you.

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