The North Face 100 Race Report – 2013

My training in the lead up to this race had not been ideal to say the least. Other more important things had taken priority in the lead up (as they should) such as getting married, my family visiting, honeymoon so I only really started focussing on the race during the first week of April. I love stats so below are some numbers:

Feb Mileage (KM) – 320
March Mileage (KM) – 147
April Mileage (KM) – 348

Long runs 30 – 40km + in 3 month lead up = 3
Long runs 40-50km + in 3 month lead up = 1

Even though the above numbers are really low I was still confident that my 3 year base of running would see me improve on 2011’s time of 11.32.

My goal was to break 11 hours – I had been fixated on this arbitrary goal and I decided to use Jon O’Loughlin’s splits from 2012 as a guide where he ran 10.47 (this year he ran 9.58!!)

Now, word of warning, this isn’t another race report where you’ll read about the runner going on a spiritual journey and just enjoying being out in nature and finding myself blah blah blah. I didn’t float along the trail or experience any out of body moments. I ran 100 kilometres in the Blue Mountains. It a hurt a bit…

Leg 1 – Leura to Narrow Neck (18km) (1hr 48)

Nice easy start to the race, set off quite comfortably with the main pack about 50 meters in front on the first road section until we hit the small area of single track. Shona Stephenson came storming past shouting at us men to move out of her way. Found this quite amusing that I was already being passed on the single track at such an early stage but its not my strength.

On the next long stretch of road I started working my way through the field running mainly with Damian Smith, front runners still just in sight. My legs were feeling good, I was feeling good and I was looking forward to the day.

The pace was comfortable on Cliff Walk but I didnt want to push it any harder, it’s a long day out and I had a vague race plan that I wanted to stick to.

I was swigging my Hammer Perpteum every 15 minutes along with a gulp of water. No issues.

Just before the Landslide I passed Tim Cochrane who was off the track – I could smell him before I could see him… Shortly after doing his business he overtook me and I made sure not to run too closely behind.

I inhaled a gel then it was then up the Golden Stairs climbing 200 meters and then a 1km stroll to CP1.

Leg 2 – Narrow Neck to Dunphys Camp (20km) (1hr 48)

I left CP1 feeling really good. Dan Bleakman of Ultra168 was there providing race updates doing a good job. This is a good section of runnable dirt road that was just plain good fun. My climbing legs were strong and I was easily running the inclines thinking it was going to be an awesome day. I got to the Tarros Ladders with Tim Cochrane and he went down first and stayed in front on the descent. Once on the dirt road and I passed him on one of the small climbs and didnt see him for the rest of the race.

There is a good descent into Dunphys Camp and I made sure I didn’t run it too hard. I’ve paid the price for that in the past. Stick to your game plan Ian!

At CP2 there was a quick gear check, I filled up my water bottles and was on my way. I had to take a double look upon departing as I thought I saw Ryan Sandes. Unfortunately he had to pull out due to stomach issues.

Leg 3 – Dunphys Camp to Sixfoot Track (16km) (1hr 47)

The hill up to Iron Pot Ridge took a bit out of me but not really an issue. I had to walk a little as it flattened out at the top and then plodded on. Once at the out n back section I saw Mick Donges just finishing up that section, Grant Guise, Sam Walker and others I didn’t recognise.

The digeridoo guys were great and I laughed when they said I only had 60km’s to go. I remember giving a thumbs up to that and on the return section they said it again and this time I gave a rock an almighty boot. Ouch. The rock won. I firstly saw Hanny Allston then Beth Cardelli when I was on my return leg so they weren’t too far behind. I knew it wouldn’t be long before they caught me, absolutely no shame in that though. Brilliant runners.

After Iron Pot Ridge my world fell apart. Sounds dramatic and it probably is a little but that’s how I felt. My calves, without warning, suddenly started cramping. Visibly spasming. It was completely disabling and alarming. I didn’t have any salt tablets on me but deep down I knew the real cause was probably my lack of training and muscle fatigue. This was very frustrating as fitness/energy wise I was feeling dead good.

There were a few of us runners bunched along here and no-one had any salt tablets. Paul O’Connor had bi-carb of soda which I poured into my water bottle. Tasted horrible but I got it down. Not sure it made a huge difference but I was at least able to run now and again. Thanks Paul! I passed Sam Walker along here too. Brilliant runner, he was also struggling but seemed to be in good spirits. I think he was also suffering from cramps.

My goal now was just to get to CP3, have a good stretch, empty the dirt from my shoes and get going. There were a few stiles along the way which caused a few issues. Each time I went over one not only did my calves cramp up but also my hamstrings and quads. More time lost stopping and stretching. My toes even cramped occasionally. I’d never experienced anything like this before – why now!!

Finally I made it into CP3 and my wife, Phill, was there to greet me. I immediately dropped to the floor to take my shoes off. I was in a world of pain and couldn’t control the cramping. I think Phill was a bit concerned with the state I was in. I got some powerade in me and asked around for salt but no-one had any. I think I was clutching at straws!

Phill had to put my shoes back on as I couldn’t get into the correct position due to cramps. Phill said I was still on track to go sub 11 but I was seriously considering jacking it in as the cramps were doing me in. Still, only 11km’s to the next checkpoint, get going and re-asses   at the next stop. I spent just over 5 minutes in this CP which wasn’t ideal but on reflection it could have been a lot worse.

Leg  4 – Six Foot Track to Katoomba Aquatic Centre (11km) (1hr 20)

I’d run this section a few times in the last year so I knew the vast majority of it was runnable. My game plan was to hit this hard as in the past I had always come unstuck here. Lots of good running to be had as the inclines aren’t bad at all. I  had been looking forward to this section during my mental prep.

Once I got going I had a 2nd wind and started feeling ok. I was running, not fast, but I was running at least. The calves would twinge occasionally and I was only hit with severe cramps going over a couple of stiles. I could handle that.

I hit the base on Nellies Glen, found a suitable stick to use as a walking pole (great thing to do) and started the 480 meter climb. Its pretty brutal and never easy and my legs started cramping up on some of the steps. It was just more frustrating than anything as each time I had to stop to massage them, this took time as the spasms would last up to 30 seconds each. I was cursing myself at the time for my lack of training.

Half way up the stairs I passed a guy I had been running with in the previous legs. I’ve completely forgotten his name though. This time when I asked him for salt tabs he had some on him. I swallowed 3 and plodded on feeling sorry for myself. Thank you that man!

After Nellies Glen had chewed me up and spat me out I followed the single track round and actually passed the house we were renting for the weekend. Phill was there with her family cheering me on. She had a bottle of powerade there to give me which was tempting but I shouted out that i’d have it at the next CP. I wasn’t sure of the rules but I wanted to be careful that I didn’t breach any.

I ran into CP4 a battered man! Phill was waiting there for me and I did my best to force down half a protein shake and some powerade. My stomach had decided to act up a few hours earlier and I was struggling to take in any calories. I didn’t take much on board all day. As I was drinking my shake I saw Barefoot Inc athlete Matty Abel on a chair eating noodles. Sitting on a chair is never a good sign – I knew if I sat down I wouldnt be able to get up so I ducked out of there just as Beth Cardelli came in to a loud cheer. I later read that Matty rolled his ankle earlier in the race but didn’t give up. We like that!

Leg 5 – Katoomba Aquatic Centre to Queen Victoria Hospital (24km) (2hr 37)

Now on the home straight. Only 36 kilometres to go, doesn’t sound too demanding. I had been looking forward to this section in the lead up to the race. The downhills heading to the base of Kedumba are historically my worst sections. In 2010 and 2011 I had to go down slowly and backwards and lost a lot of time. This time around I had at least done a couple of downhill specific training sessions so I was looking forward to testing myself. Before getting to that section though you have to run through Echo Point to the Giant Stairway. Just before getting to the Giant Stairway I stopped to let Beth go past me. She had been on my tail for a little while and she is 1000% better on technical terrain than me. It was a good thing I let her past as before I knew it she was down those stairs and out of sight in no time. Unreal. I thought that if I can stick with her then I might still be a shoe in to go sub 11.

After descending the stairs I was able to run ok and wasn’t cramping which was good. I was starting to liven up. I wasn’t moving fast but I was definitely moving so I concentrated on just plodding forward. There were quite a few 50 kilometre runners on the course and I fed off their encouragement and I hope they fed off mine.

Before long the quad sapping descent started. Beth was still no-where in sight which wasn’t a surprise. After 10 or 15 minutes I rounded a corner and saw a speck in the distance descending and figured it was Beth. I had her in my sights so I increased my tempo in a bid to catch her. It wasn’t easy but I eventually caught up to her on one of the steep hills on that section. We had a quick chat, I think I moaned about how many cramps I had throughout the day (poor old me, no one likes to hear a moaner its not cool) then I looked up and saw a runner up ahead. I put my head down and started my power hike. No cramps. Great. Give it some Ian!!

It turns out that it was Grant Guise ahead and we had a quick chat as I passed him. He is a great runner and Salomon sponsored athlete from NZ. I had actually read his race reports on TNF100 a couple of days before so it was good to see him. Top bloke and I was surprised I passed him so guessed he couldn’t have been well. Turns out he had been throwing up for a while. Cant be nice but he encouraged me to power on as there were another couple of runners ahead that I might be able to catch if I kept my tempo up. Cheers Grant, that was all the encouragement I needed.

I rounded another bend or so and passed Mick Donges and I think Chris Truscott. Man I was now pumped to be in 10th place! I knew what I had to  do and I didn’t want to be passed. These are some quality runners i’ve just passed!

I was now running scared!

So I did my best to bomb down the remaining hills, it hurt but I just wanted to get to the base of Kedumba as quickly as possible. I knew once there I needed to powerhike as hard as I could to put as much of a buffer on the other runners as possible. The last leg is hard and gets quite technical, I knew I was going to be stalked on that leg so I needed to work as I hard as I could up Kedumba.

I got to the base and looked over my shoulder. No-one was behind me, great. Time to get as far out of sight as possible to give the impression i’m smashing it. Quick gear check and off I go. Probably too much detail but I had my first and only pee of the day going up Kedumba. By that point in the day I had drunk about 4.5 litres of water so I wasn’t too dehydrated. I wasn’t concerned that I hadn’t peed all day. Never really happens in training either.

The true hiking parts here were fine, the runnable sections were frustrating. I knew everyone behind me would be running these sections so I had too as well. Every time I tried to run these easy sections I would start cramping. Aaaarrrgh!! Regardless, I got to CP5 without anyone in sight. Now for the hard part.

Leg 6 – Queen Victoria Hospital to Finish (11km) (1hr 21)

I forced another protein shake down at this last section. I knew I desperately needed calories, I hadn’t had alot all day. I took a couple of powerades with me and was on my way. I knew I had to run this road, its easy kilometres and my bread and butter. Each time I tried to push the pace, bang, my calves would go. Only 10 kilometres to go, come on Ian hold it together – DO NOT GIVE IN!

It was good doing the vast majority of this section in daylight, definitely makes a difference. Still, it was pretty slow going. I had my worst cramp on the day on the board walk section where there were a few walkers. It was really embarrassing as they were encouraging me on. I tried not to make too much of a fuss and they were probably all wondering why I had suddenly stopped. After 40 seconds or so the spasms stopped and I was cautiously able to plod on.

Things get a bit hazy here but I think I had to put my head torch on at the 5km to go point. I knew I was being stalked, I was very conscious of it and it was mentally exhausting. I was also trying to work out if I still had a shot to break 11 hours. With 3 kilometres to go I saw a couple of bobbing head torches not too far behind me. The panic was starting to set in.

I was 10hrs 30 into the race and I had 30 minutes to break 11 hours. 10 minutes per kilometre – that would be easy surely. Well it wasn’t. Those last agonising 3 kilometres were 8.42/11.11/6.8

The finish was a welcome sight as was my time of 10.54 – A goal achieved.

Immediately post race I had a beer followed swiftly by 2 more. Phill was great and went above and beyond by helping to stretch my legs. Even I wouldn’t want to touch my feet, particularly after having run 100km’s!. That definitely made a difference. Thanks Phill.

My nutrition for the race was as follows:

  • Breakfast: 1 large bowl of museli and greek yoghurt + banana + 2 cups of tea + glass of water
  • Race Food: 5 hammer gels + 2 hammer bars + 1 banana + 3 salt tabs and bi-carb
  • Race Fluid: 5.5 litres of water + 2.5 litres powerade + 2 protein shakes

Post race I felt as good after a race as i’ve ever done. Not sure why or how but I had no trouble walking around, upstairs or downstairs. No hobbling, no issues at all. Only damage is 2 black big toes – I do love kicking the odd rock or two.

Highlight of the day has to be Brendan Davies killing it out there with winning in a time of 9hrs 16 and breaking Kilians record in the process – awesome! Also, Beth breaking her old record significantly and coming so close to breaking 11hrs – Beth if you are reading this I think you should start wearing a watch!

Even though i’ve felt good I haven’t run at all this week. I’ve loaded up on beer and enjoyed my recovery immensely. Keen to start getting back into training again though and I feel more motivated then ever to start taking this a bit more seriously.I’ll be back in the game on Monday.

All thoughts now are heading towards Coast to Kosciusko in December. I plan on getting to the start line of this race in the best possible condition. Its on the road, its long, i think its going to suit me. Definitely a good warm up for the Spartathlon 🙂

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