The Beautiful Blue Mountains
Anyone who knows me or runs with me is used to my ramblings about The North Face 100k by now so when Charlie asked me to write a blog post about my race I was more than happy to oblige. This year, 2012, was my third, and possibly final year, running TNF 100 – although the first thing I said to my wife when I crossed the line was that I have to come back to Oz for this. TNF 100 is, without doubt, my favourite race over any distance. It offers everything – killer hills, technical trail, fast firetrail and stunning scenery in one of the best locations in Australia. I’ve also had a great race each time with year on year improvements from 14:54 in 2010 to 13:06 in 2011 and now 12:34 in 2012.
My training started back in December. After a couple of months away in Ireland getting married and then living it up in South Africa, I came back a bit slower, heavier and struggling to keep up at some of the HURTs ‘easy’ runs. What better way to fix that then a trip to the stunning South Island of New Zealand with Terence and Charlie for a second race of the Kepler Challenge. 60kms of hills and a half decent time of 6:47 set me up nicely for the run up to Six Foot track, my hope for a 4:15 and retribution for a major blow out in 2010. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be with one of the many trail race cancellations of 2012. Luckily, I had already run the Shotover trail marathon in early Feb, a gnarly trail race in the beautiful mountains around Queenstown. I thought it would be a nice easy training race until the organiser informed me that it was far tougher than Kepler and I should double my marathon time for a predicted finish. I ran it in 6:02.
With Mount Solitary also cancelled, my run up to TNF on the trails involved mainly training runs. A gang of us, including Jonathon and Tucks, made it out for runs in the build up. I got to cover the majority of the course over these runs. That made it my fifth time covering the course over the last few years. I credit this for helping me go at least 30 minutes faster than the rest of the field. Know when to push hard on the hills of this course and understanding the final tough 8km counts for so much. I’m also targeting a sub 3 hour Gold Coast marathon in July so I focussed more on shorter faster runs with a few races at 10k and half marathon distance.
My plan for TNF was to knock 30 minutes off my time from last year. So that gave me a target of 12:36. I set out a pacing plan with a target of 12:25, always aim higher. The plan was based on last year’s splits to each checkpoint (CP) with significantly less time at the checkpoints by using better kit (the amazing Salomon XT Advanced pack with bottles to refill) and taking on more nutrition as I ran. I’ve put in my pacing plan below compared to my actual times.
A not so conservative start
I set out pretty fast at 4:55 per km for the first k. It probably doesn’t sound like much to you guys but up some steep hills at the start of 100kms, it’s a bit over the top. I settled into it after that and found myself running with Beth Cardelli (the eventual female winner). I lost her at the technical landslide section as she nimbly bound over the rock while I clamber awkwardly along. We reached the top of the Golden Stairs at 18k and onto Narrow Neck where I could open up and push the pace for the next 10k. Then back down to Dunphy’s camp and a hard left up to Iron Pot Ridge – the section where you see people dotted in the distance as they climb up the mountain. And if the climb wasn’t enough, the downhill is just as steep, not for the faint hearted. My mate Andy, who stormed onto an 11:52 finish, stormed passed me here as he did in 2010 with Julie Quinn close by.
Endura? Not so much
As I made my way to the Megalong Road and passed the marathon distance, the heat picked up. I stupidly depended on the race organisers nutrition for CP1 and CP2 but the Endura they supplied was heavily diluted and combining that with some early fast running brought the onset of cramp. I knocked back a few salt tablets and got some encouragement from my mate, John Howes, so plugged away to CP3 where my crew lay in wait with the proper nutrition. I took on a pack of crisps, coke and some more gels at CP3 thanks and refilled my bottles in extra quick time thanks to my brother, Niall, and Elaine, my wife and long suffering pro supporter crewer.
The dreaded Nellies
Next up was the daunting climb up Nellies Glen. By that stage I had fought off most of the effects of cramp but had a few tingles with the uneven hikes up the steps. That 1km climb took me 20 minutes, my slowest of the race but one of my quickest up this section. CP4 is known as the CP with the highest dropout rate after people get so smashed climbing up Nellies and with 35kms still to go. I got in confident that I was on track and going to finish well as the final two sections have been my strongest. Taking on a bit more food, a quick change into some fresh shoes and a warm shirt and I was off again. John Howes had caught me at this stage after a super quick CP strategy. I ducked in for a quick toilet break after Echo Point so he went on.
The wonderful Kedumba
If anyone is unfamiliar with this section, it’s where you run downhill on wide firetrail from 800m plus of elevation over 8kms. I loved this section in 2011, opening up and passing so many people on the way down. This time I was a bit further up the field but still managed to reel in seven people, including John. The downhill is followed by 8km back up again, a tough slog as it starts to get dark. I was met on the way up by John Bowe, a fellow Irishman and friend running the pairs, who had some nice words of encouragement as he pushed on.
The final stretch
I got into CP5 knowing that I was on track for sub 12:30 so I wanted to limit my time at the CP. A quick mouthful of soup, some coke and a refill of the water bottles and I was off on the road and into the darkness. The 3km of road here lull you into a false sense of security if you haven’t run this race before as what follows is 8km of technical trail, steps, cliff overhangs, water crossings and plenty of mud. I ran with my usual Petzel torch but still managed to stack myself, cramping up my legs in the process. It took me a couple of minutes to get going again and regain my composure so in hindsight, this was probably where I missed the sub 12:30. I continued on, pushing hard and passing some more runners. I crossed the line in 12 hours 34 minutes, 32 minutes quicker than 2011. Not quite sub 12:30 but I guess that means I’ll be back for more!
Congrats to Tucks and Jonathon for some fantastic times at the weekend, representing the squad well and mixing it with the pros. Also, congrats to my friends and trail running buddies for some fantastic times – Andy, John, Kermit, James, John and Chris, Sally and Tony. Nick and Gretel, next year will be your time.
Thanks to Elaine and our bump for some fantastic crewing on the day. Thanks to my brother, Niall for all the hard work and support. Cheers to Howsie, Luca and other familiar faces supporting on course. Thanks to the Hurts crew for all of the fantastic training over the last few years. Without so many good runners and great company to run with I wouldn’t be anywhere close to putting in these kind of times.
I’m hobbling around a bit today but no injuries or niggles to report so next up, Gold Coast 2012. See you all on the road soon…
Kms run since December – 1700
Race day nutrition – 10 x Leppin gels, 5 litres of Powerbar Iso Active, 2 litres of Endura, 2 litres of water, 500ml coke, 6 salt tablets, chicken sandwich, 1 pack of crisps, cup of soup
Weight lost during race – 4.2kg