2014 North Face 100 Blue Mountains Race Report- Sub 14 hour

Last year when I ran North Face 100 it was the first time I had run 100km. Not knowing what to expect other than a whole lot of pain, I started in wave 6 right at the back. I spent the first half of the race taking pictures and slowly weaving through long conga lines. I distinctly remember getting to check point 3 at 46km absolutely ruined and just putting the head down and running the next 54 km at a steady jog of haze. Turned out I had a pretty good second half which did leave me wondering what if the first half had been a bit faster?

So to TNF 2014 before the race my online login wasn’t working so I had to ring the race director who kindly spent some time with the tech guys ironing out the bugs. Whilst on the phone he asked if he could fix up my starting wave, seemed like an opportunity to sheepishly ask for wave 2. Again he kindly obliged. Wave 2 put me in the group that aimed for the silver sub 14hr time, a little intimating to say the least. 

After picking up some injuries during longer training runs I had spent some down time practicing running stairs instead, seemed like a good skill to have. As this has improved greatly over the last 6 months I knew that if I could get some free runs through the stairs to the first check point I would be able to make up some time with minimal effort so Wave 2 was a good bet. At least I’d be Ok for the first 10km.

So race day 2014. Had a great sleep the night before. Woke up and felt calm, just going for a little jog through the bush today. Double checked my gear. My Support crew Paul Ekman dropped me at race start.    

Ran into Mark Brown and Michael Percival around the start line. Really good to see some of the locals.

Start to CP1. 10.5km. Wave 1 started so I made my way to the start line. Standing in Wave 2 I looked around at all the super fit people around me and wondered whether Wave 2 was such a good idea.  Off went the start. And first thing to break was the head camera. It refused to work so I ignored it.  Felt great running up the road to a little turn around and back towards the start line. Camera started working. Saw Mark Brown, Mick Maher, Michael Sheridan on the way back all looking happy. Got to a little trail and I felt at home. Legs starting tapping over nicely. Got to some down hill stairs and repetition kicked and I started to pick up positions. I let the legs roll through the single trail until I reached golden stair case, with minimal hold ups climbed the stairs and jogged though to check point 1. Picked up some water and sugar water and watched a heap of people run past. Mental check. I feel superb and that’s alot better than last year. Checked my time and was 10 min over my 14 hour pace.  Nice.

20.5km to CP2. Lots more trail, settled into a steady pace and kept letting the legs do their thing. Moved through this section feeling quite at home, felt great to remember the scenic sections from last year only that this year was strangely feeling a lot easier. Had some people pass me, and passed some people.  Put my competitive ego in check and just paced everything by the legs. Down hills I overtook and up hills I took easy. Came into CP2 and felt fine. Refilled fluids and checked my pace against target was over by 24 min for that stetch. Happy because that was putting me at 15hr pace and I was still feeling a lot better than last year at CP2. 

Whilst leaving for the 15km to CP3 I remembered how hard I had found this section the year before. I really enjoy single trails and dirt roads not so much and their is a long stretch of dirt road that had ruined me in 2013. Running along had a very long strange debate with myself which went something like: How you feeling? I don’t know? .... Um what do you mean you don’t know? How can you not know? How do the legs feel? I don’t know? How does the fatigue feel? I don’t know? OK then how about I just back it off a little and stay at this pace. Ok. That was pretty much all the way to CP3. Ran into CP3. How do you feel now? Alot better than last year, I actually feel good. Refilled the water and sugar water, had some food, watched people run past. Checked my time and pace sheet had fallen out so wasn’t sure how I was travelling for target times but I felt good. Left the aid station with memories of me in 2013 near passed out on the grass.

Run to CP 4 -11km. Ran a few little hills, walked some steep trails, jogged some single track. Listened to some didgeridoo. Coming off Iron Pot hit road again and plodded along again with memories of the fatigue in 2013. Felt far better though wasn’t enjoying the road running as much as the single trails. Right calf started to cramp. Ok so that’s new. I don’t usually cramp. Right ITB started to play up only 2km short of where it had started last year. Checked my technique and kept cruising.  I Ran into CP 4 again feeling good with 57km down. This is the first supported check point and my support crew of Jenna (wife) Poppy (18mth old daughter) and good friends Paul and Liz Ekman. Had some rice cream, refilled fluids. Paul let me know I was right on 14 hr target time.  I was somewhat surprised and was only later than I realised that I had actually run CP1 –CP2 nearly an hour quicker than I had planned rather than 24 min slower. I’d also dropped 30 min in between CP2-Cp3. So now I was right on target. Toilet stop and ran out of CP4 feeling good.  

Run to CP5 -11km     
In 2013 I had ran a good 100 metres out of CP5 and my ITB went. All running after that hurt. I looked forward to hills as that was the only time it was pain free. 2014 was different ran for a bit ITB was good, calf was good, kept checking in on technique. Ran to the stairs at Nelly Glen. Starting charging up the stair and ran into Mick Maher who as it turned out had passed me whilst I was at CP4. Mick was 5 minutes ahead in time as he had started in wave 3. It was great to see a friendly face and we conquered the climb together. Got to the top and now my legs were getting tired. Chugged along with Mick dragging me all the way to CP 5. And it was still daylight. Last year it was dark! Refueled, more rice cream, more fluids, toilet stop and ran out the doors of the centre only to realise I hadn’t filled my 1.5 litre water pack. With 21km to CP6 that would have been a critical error, turned around and a friendly volunteer filled my pack for me as I didn’t want to run back over the timing belts.    

Run to CP6 -21km.
Feeling good again at a much slower pace and started to settle. Ran into Mick who had stopped to do some personal first aid. We ran again together through what seemed like a million stairs. I felt good going down and kept running the stairs well apart from the foot pain from landing on the wooden edges that weren’t back filled. Mick was having pretty much the same problem. Kept running the downs stairs run the flat and walking the ups. Getting fatigued and kept pushing. Came out of the bush and hit a little bit of tar hill, tried to run. Legs worked. Surprised. Pulled back as a long way still to go. Got to a tar road that was flatter and started to jog. Jogging felt good. Jogged all the way to CP 6 feeling confidence grow.  Ran  into CP6. Mick went off for some first aid and I stopped and had a great chat with family. Poppy picked up my stick and started running off on the course. Classic. Put a shirt back on as starting to get cold and pulled out the torch.

Found Mick before leaving CP5 and we chatted for a while with my support crew. Left for the run home.

Run to Home 22km.

Now when I did my ambitious 14hr planning I had 10 hrs total time to CP 6 and a solid 4 hrs for the last gruelling 22km. We were now 30minutes behind that time leaving 3 ½ hours to finish the last stretch.  I looked at Mick and shared that I had left plenty of room in that 4 hrs and we could make it still under 14 if we went at it really hard. We decided to have a crack. Their is a long 5-6km down hill section and we were flying down when Mick rolled his ankle very badly. Mick shook it off and kept running/hobbling. We were cruising. Hit the bottom and started the up hills. I had barely anything and just put my head down and pushed. Truth is I’m a slow walker at the best of times and the up hills were tough, a few down hills and then water stop where we were told their was a another 3km of up hill. Damn that was going to hurt. Head down. Pushed. Got to the top of the 3km and started hitting trails. Yeh trails! Started to feel good again and tried to crack out a little pace. Ran. Kept running against the clock with no idea if we were going to make it. Finally made it to the stairs. By this stage of delirium I couldn’t remember how many high these stairs were but It was in was in the 100’s of metres. 250 metres apparently. Tried to push. Legs finally obliged. Kept going. Until we saw the lights at the top. We were within 14hrs time still, I looked at Mick and said are we really going to do this and he smiled and said yes. Mick and I ran over the line together me in 13hrs 40min and Mick in 13 hrs 35min. It was an amazing finish having a friend to run through the pain with and cross the line. We had run the last 22km in 3hrs and 8minutes. Silver Buckle done!    

Simon Turnbull
Managing Director