So, this post is a little later than planned. Since the finish of TNF100 I have been spending plenty of time doing the things that had been set aside in the build up, meaning recapping the event has kept getting pushed back. That’s not to say I haven’t thought about the race at all. I have. A lot. But it’s just taken me a while to get fingers to the keyboard.
There have been plenty of run reports written by participants in both the 50km and 100km events, many going into great detail as to how they felt along each section of the course. Shit! I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone the details as to how I felt (and why) at each section of the run. People with that kind of recollection amaze me!
That said, I do remember a lot of the run, maybe not with precise detail, but plenty of stuff I’ll hold on to as amazing moments, and lessons for future adventures.
Leg 1 started with a brief (5-ish km) road section to spread the field prior to hitting the first big stair descent (Furber Steps) of the day. I was in the first starting wave, and I positioned myself towards the back half of this wave knowing full well there would be plenty of runners take off, most probably too quick. That’s exactly what happened, and I was more than comfortable to trot along at the back of the group and watch the others scamper away. It was reassuring running alongside a couple of runners who clearly had experience at this event (not just because of their silver hair), who commented about those running “too fast” at the front. Elites excluded. Anyway, this section was memorable mostly for the amazing sunrise coming up over the 3 Sisters in the distance as we ran up the road, just a prelude of the awesome scenery to come over the rest of the day.
Coming back we passed the start area where the crowds were gathered before continuing on to tackle Furber Steps. This part of the course was slow as runners cautiously made their way down, and it was like this through the Scenic World boardwalk and on through the vast landslide section. The comfortable, stop-start pace didn’t bother me in the least – we were in for a long day, and it was actually nice to not think about going out too hard. The ascent up the Golden Stairs was easy enough as, again, the compact field meant most were hiking the stairs and I was content to sit in place and follow those in front. I don’t remember much from the top of the stairs to CP1 at Narrow Neck, but it was brief anyway.
The leg from CP1 at Narrowneck to CP2 at Dunphy’s Camp was, for me, easily the most runnable leg of the day. It was for large parts open and undulating firetrail, similar to trails I run all the time on the Gold Coast, meaning I was well conditioned for this type of running. The views out over the Megalong and Jamison Valley’s were amazing - just breathtaking stuff. This leg included the fun interlude of Tarros Ladders around the 21km mark which included a descent down a series of extension ladders – a chance to break up the running a little. The trail immediately after this was also really good fun singletrack running.
CP2 to CP3 was the first, and deepest, low point I experienced for the day. Physically I wasn’t feeling too bad, but mentally I began to question what the heck I was doing! Prior to the out-and-back section on Ironpot Ridge we first needed to face a steep, scrambly, technical climb up Ironpot Mountain. It wasn’t a super long climb, but by the top I had begun to think to myself: “You’ve done pretty well to here. You’re legs are pretty tired. Stopping at CP3 would be OK, you’ve achieved enough”. Again, I was OK physically but my head just started to ask some questions. After the out-and-back section there was a steep, scrambly descent which led into open farmland firetrails heading in to CP3, and this was probably my least favourite section of the course. Coming in to CP3 my mood had only gotten worse, so the sight of my almost 3 year old son was an amazing boost (it sounds clichéd, but it was true). It also resulted in probably my favourite photo from the day:
CP3 was the first we saw of our crews, so it was the first chance to see my heavily pregnant wife and Mum & Dad (my crew team!). My wife tells the story that I hardly made eye contact at this aid station and I was in a pretty filthy mood. I don’t recall being that outwardly moody, but I do know it was the worst I felt at an aid station all day.
Whether it was seeing my family or something else, I don’t know (I suspect it was the former), it didn’t take long after leaving CP3 onto the Six Foot Track that my mood switched and I started feeling good again. It was pretty steady climbing on the firetrail along here, and I found a pretty steady hike-run combination; there was no real method to it, other than I ran the flatter sections and power-hiked the steeps. This was the first point for the day when I really noticed how strong I felt hiking – even on the really steep stuff I was hiking strongly and losing little (if any) distance on runners near me who were choosing to run. This climb was followed by the infamous Nellies Glen stair ascent (bush stairs, as opposed to the steep steel stairs elsewhere on the course) – I felt super strong climbing these stairs…sure it was hiking, not running, but I made up places here without any real effort (you know, other than the fact it’s a pretty brutal set of stairs!). I also took the opportunity to wet the head in some of the flowing water along here – something about freshwater is so much more refreshing than anything they can give you at an aid station.
Once up Nellies there was a fun section of singletrack trail through dry bushland eventually leading out onto the road section heading into CP4 at the Aquatic Centre. Something about the change in grade and terrain here, probably coupled with the fact I’d just tackled a pretty big ascent, upset my quads and they began to feel a little crampy without ever cramping. I decided to suck on a salt tablet – I don’t really like them and haven’t used them much, but it seemed to do the trick. Sure it made my mouth feel like it was burning from the extreme saltiness, but sucking on the tablet for a couple of minutes just took the edge off the crampy-but-not sensation. I spat the half finished tablet out as I was entering CP4. My mood here, as reported by my crew, was much improved.
The section immediately after CP4 was an uneventful traverse through reserves in the backstreets of Katoomba – not exciting running at all, but I knew the cliffs and the 3 Sisters weren’t far off. It was at this point, prior to crossing to the cliffs, that my body decided it was bathroom time so I made a quick detour to the public toilets at the sports ovals. Sitting down for the first time since starting was actually pretty pleasant.
The section of running along the cliffs around to the Giant Staircase and the 3 Sisters was awesome. The trails were fun, there were crowds of tourists and it is frickin’ spectacular scenery. It was the type of stuff that makes you want to come back and do it all again. Once down the Giant Staircase and on into Leura Forest it was a stretch of really pretty running - rainforest trails, waterfalls and cascades. I was struggling a little through here, but the combination of a fair few stairs meant that I wasn’t too unhappy with the effort, even though I was hiking a lot of it. The trail got hot and dry somewhere along here and this is point number two that sticks in my mind as somewhat of a low point.
My recollection from the 66km water point to the Fairmont Resort and on to CP5 is sketchy. There was a boring road stretch which I gritted the teeth and got through, but that’s about all I remember of it up to the golf course. The trail from there included some uphill and downhill stair climbs, on which I felt strong on the ups and sucky on the downs – I spent most of this section changing places with another runner who was blitzing the downs and then I would catch back up on the ups. Heading into Wentworth Falls I had to laugh as I was asked by a pair of tourists how much water was in the falls, and several subsequent follow up questions. There were literally heaps of other tourists around here, but for some reason they chose to ask the one person not interested – sweating, with a race bib, and a grimace – for tourist advice. I was probably a little more short with my answers than I’d normally be, but the situation was amusing more than anything else.
Once across the falls and heading on and out to the long-ish road section into CP5, I had what I would consider my third and last low point. My quads were sore, and it was the first time I just felt tired. Energy was fine, just tired. That may not make sense, but it’s the perfect definition for how I felt.
At CP5 I had my second bathroom stop for the run, re-collected my arm warmers and said my goodbyes to my crew, ready for the final assault to the finish. I left with the message to my crew that my quads were shot and that I thought I’d be happy with just getting in under 14 hours.
The next 10km or so down Kedumba was pretty brutal. My quads were sore, making the long downhill unpleasant, but I kept a pretty good pace considering the previous 80km in my legs. I did have a few hiking breaks along here when it flattened out a little, simply to give my quads a break. It was somewhere along here too that I turned my headlamp on.
I can’t remember when the uphill started – a little before the 91km aid station from memory – but I still felt pretty strong. There was lots of hiking on this section as it was steep and unrelenting for long stretches, but I didn’t mind. I literally hiked passed more than a few people who were trying to run along here which was a great boost and this, coupled with passing the tail of 50km runners, kept me moving up the long climb.
The firetrail eventually joined up with the Federal Pass track, back on to beautiful rainforest trails. It was dark and quiet along here and I managed to find the energy to run reasonably well along this section, even though the signs that were now counting down the kms to the finish (“3km to go…”) felt like they were much further apart than they should have been. In hindsight it was actually a pretty awesome part of the run.
The final ascent up Furber Steps was slow. That’s to be expected given the previous 99km, and I probably climbed these stairs more with my arms than my legs…I pulled myself up those handrails and let my legs follow. Not too far from the top I started to hear the noise from Scenic World, and I could see the lights leading home. It was soon after this that I reached the boardwalk, and the top of the climb, and the realisation hit that I was almost home.
I broke into a strong trot (that’s all it was), and skipped heavily up the last few steps to the start of the finish chute. Halfway down the chute I managed to spot my wife, son and Mum & Dad – my wife asked if I wanted to carry the little Dude across the line with me. I grabbed him, hoping like heck I had the wits about me not to drop him, and travelled the last few metres across the finish. Done.
Relief, exhaustion, happiness all in one moment. My wife found her way into the finish area and I got to say a proper hello for the first time since early that morning. I bet I smelt.
I won’t bore you with the aftermath, but I collected my silver belt buckle soon after, and went into the warmth of Scenic World to get changed. I got cold around this time, even though I was inside and in clean clothes again, and couldn’t get warm, so we opted to get ourselves back to the hotel for a shower and the possibility of food. After my shower I was warm again but feeling pretty flat, although we had some hot soup which, upon hitting my gut, made me feel a million times better. I hadn’t eaten ‘food’ all day (I used liquid calories), so my gut must have really needed it.
And I think that’s it.
- The North Face 100 is an amazing event. I will be doing it again, probably several more times.
I had a few low points, but these were primarily mental, not physical. For me, the 100kms was more about the mental.
It was awesome to put the mind and body through a challenge like that and to see where the journey takes you. As an example, there was a section of time heading into CP3 when I had almost convinced myself that stopping would be OK. I went from that low into feeling (relatively) strong on the long stair climb out of Nellies Glen not long after.
I felt strong on the uphill all day. Even at the end on the long climb out of the valley I felt strong. I didn't get passed on too many uphill sections during the day. That goes for both stairs and hills - my legs just felt strong.
I need to run more downhills in training for an event like this. I knew my quads would be tested by the descents, I did, but they were trashed by 70km. The 10km downhill down Kedumba was brutal.
Nutrition was well managed. I used Tailwind exclusively (with a few sips of fresh water along the way too), and didn't touch another nutrition source. My energy felt good too - I certainly didn't feel lacking in anything. I was ready for a change in flavour and some solid food by the end though!
Next time, I’ll eat ASAP after crossing the finish line. I felt so much better after getting some hot soup in my belly.
Altra Lone Peak 1.5 (awesome)
injinji trail midweight 2.0 mini-crew
Compressport trail underwear
Running Duds (The Betty)
injinji technical shirt
Zensah compression sleeves
Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest
Duds trucker hat (day-time)
Buff + Petzl Nao headlamp (night-time)
BodyGlide. Lots and lots of BodyGlide.
So…what’s next you may wonder? We are currently 3 weeks away from having our 2nd baby, so the immediate focus is on being a Dad. I have my eyes on a 100km race on the Sunshine Coast in November, however I have a few brownie points to make up between now and then!
Of course, I want to finish with a series of thankyous: my ever-supportive wife, the little Dude, my Mum and Dad for coming and crewing, all my training buddies at Chisel and Gold Coast Trail Runners, Kimba (Chiro), Jac (OT), Amy (Naturopath/Nutrition) and the crew at Injinji Performance Products who decked me out in awesome gear (the Altra Lone Peaks get a special mention for being amazing!).
And I’m spent.