The North Face 100 is the undisputed pinnacle of trail running in Australia. It is now so big that next year it becomes part of a week long festival – Ultra Trail Australia.
For me the event was the culmination of a deliberate focus on trail running, probably starting with the Kedumba Half, running through the Buffalo Stampede/Mt Solitary double, before a final taper for the big day. I had taken this steady build up approach last year using 70.3’s to lead into my 2 Ironman races and it works well. I must say that in the lead up I had a LOT more anxiety about going double the distance running than I did transitioning from a half to full Ironman.
So how did I go? WAY better than I could imagine. I finished in a time of 13:23:59. I came 146 out of 840 finishers. This is easily my best result ever and quite unexpected. The website calculator estimated my time based on 6ft and Buffalo Stampede at 15hrs so 14 hrs was kind of a stretch target. Looking back I probably could have gone under 13 hours if I had pushed.
My full result is here: http://tnf100au.livetrail.net/coureur.php?rech=239
Coming in to race week I was still recovering from a cold. I worried how much this had drained me and whether I would be able to dig deep towards the end but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. I headed up to Katoomba around lunchtime on Friday and checked into what was possibly the cheapest hotel in town. Unfortunately this meant it was noisy and uncomfortable. I didn’t even have a blind on my window! After sorting through my gear, I grabbed a very early dinner of pizza and jumped onto the shuttle bus to Scenic World.
Check-in was a hive of activity but getting my gear checked pre-race was a masterstroke: I walked straight up to the appropriate desk and grabbed my timing chip. The longest line was for the t-shirt where I had 5 people in front of me. My tips – get your gear check done pre race and despite what the website says don’t bother taking your pack to have your timing chip attached. Just do it in the hotel later.
The only real annoyance was the race briefing. I loved the welcome to country, one of the best ever. From there it was 20mins of wasted time promoting Ultratrail World Tour until finally Lucas Trihey was allowed to take the stage with 3 mins left in the schedule to talk about the important stuff. This wasn’t ideal. Safety is the #1 priority (after the welcome to country) at the race briefing. Save the promos for their own timeslot. People will come because its interesting but dont dilute the safety message.
Start – CP1
After a crap sleep in the crap hotel I grabbed an early shower got dressed and headed to the start via the efficient shuttle bus service. I left my bag in the hotel for Kira to pick up later in the day when she would drive up to crew for me. It was a cold morning. With my race fleece back in the hotel for me to collect at CP5 I relied on every other bit of thermal gear at my disposal. It worked especially well!
After milling around for a while I heard a muffled announcement and then a cheer. Wave 1 had started although no-one around me seemed to be certain! I was in wave 2 starting 3 mins later so any hope of seeding myself forward was gone. Instead I just hung where I was and cruised off at the start.
Where TNF100 is much smarter than races like 6ft is they have 4k’s of running BEFORE the first stairs. This strung everyone out nicely and meant a reasonable, if somewhat slow, descent down the Furber stairs. Funnily things actually got slower approaching the Golden stairs. This was a bit frustrating but still it was early days. Before long I had topped out and was on Narrowneck heading to CP1 at 10.5k.
My split to CP1 was 1:17:56. My prediction in my Weekly Recap #23 was 1:20 so I was bang on plan.
CP1 – CP2
Out of CP1 one of the best things happened to me all day. I got chatting to someone who was on a similar time plan to me and also had raced last year. Instead of going mad blasting my legs I cruised along at a steady but quite comfortable pace. Pretty quickly Tarros Ladders arrived and I got a brief rest waiting for the queue to clear. At this point I decided to give my Perpetuum Solids a try. They had been in my pack for the last 2 races untouched. It was different but good.
Once through the ladders things rolled on and pretty soon I was into CP2 at Dunphys. This is a pretty long leg but I managed myself well and in the process I picked up 43 places. I was quite amazed at the carnage so early in the day at Dunphys. There were people down all over the place, stretching at best, withdrawing at worst. For those who picked themselves up, a long day would be in store.
CP2 – CP3
There are three important things with this leg: Ironpot Ridge and the Didgeridoos playing, running through Megalong Valley and most importantly, CP3 is the first point you get to see your supporters.
Before you get to the Didgeridoos you have to climb up to the ridge. This climb suddenly bought back memories of the climb up to Mt Solitary very steep but most certainly shorter. Once on top you have a short out and back and then descend into the Megalong Valley for the long haul into checkpoint 3. This leg turns out to be quite long and for me marked the point at which I would start running into the unknown. CP3 being almost bang on the distance of my longest run previously.
On arrival Kira was waiting front and centre with fresh bottles, gel flasks and a Nutella sandwich. I also made a quick bathroom stop and continued moving on. I was happy that I felt strong.
CP3 – CP4
This leg is relatively short but has a big sting in the form of Nellies Glen. Basically you run the first bit of the 6ft in reverse. But first an important milestone. The 50k mark came and went with everyone who passed either sighing relief or cheering yippee. I think I did both.
And then the course quickly turned skywards. By now I was in a fast moving conga and that was good. Pace was fine and the climb passed surprisingly quickly. Katoomba Aquatic Centre arrived pretty soon and another brief drinks service from Kira. By now I was struggling with the Sustained Energy drink by Hammer but decided to carry it through to CP5. Other than that it was another quick in and out and away I went.
CP4 – CP5
This leg is long and much tougher than you expect. Actually I guess I knew given my experience at Wentworth Falls but its easy to forget. One really important thing happened as I started this leg… I was now confident sub 14hrs was locked in. My goal became one of sensibly managing myself and my pace so that I didn’t blow it. My mind was then immersed in maths and physically I was happy just tapping it out and following my body.
The first part of this leg is dodging the many tourists enjoying a stunning day in the Mountains. Echo Point and the surrounding trails were busy. It was mostly good. There were very few people spectating and most were well aware there was a race on and would clear the path and yell support. A few were oblivious and some quite shocked when I said “excuse me” as I rapidly approached. As I exited Echo Point Kira passed me in the car and yelled “Go Matty”. I liked that, just wished it was later in the leg.
The trail then went into a series of ups and down stairs. At times it was relentless and even though short it meant pace was surging a lot. I really went through my electrolyte on this stage and the mid leg water station was very welcome. If only they had some Endura there but at least the water was better than nothing. The lollies were a bonus.
Once through the drinks station, it was more stairs, the Leura golf course and the familiar ground through Wentworth Falls. The very familiar terrain of the Kings Tableland was welcome and I cruised along the road down into Queen Vic Hospital for CP5.
By CP5 I was in 143rd and my race time was 9:59:32. My WR23 prediction was 10:30 so I was well ahead of my goal.
CP5 – Finish
At CP5 I sat down for the first time all day. I wanted to desperately take my shoes off but resisted the urge. Once again Kira did a great job refuelling me and I grabbed my headlamp switching out my lighter spare.
This point was only the second organisational hiccup of the race. No-one knew for certain what I was supposed to be carrying. One person said they recommended the fleece but didn’t need it and another said fleece and waterproof pant. I still don’t know the correct answer but rather than risk it I ran back to Kira who was now gone so I stood in the middle of the carpark and yelled at the top of my lungs.
The yelling was futile but fortunately she appeared in the car about to leave the checkpoint. Lucky.
I grabbed my waterproof pants and got back to the main job. 22k to home.
I enjoyed the descent down Kedumba and banked plenty of time. I still felt like the last 5 km would be really slow as I had only run it in reverse at Mt Solitary.
It turned out the last 5k were much easier than I thought but come Furber steps I was spent. I just plowed on up nice and slow and then suddenly there was Scenic World and the finish.
My final time was 13:23:59 which I am really pleased with. I got my silver buckle
I had used Buffalo Stampede and Mt Solitary to nail down my gear for TNF100. Both races I had had some issues and this had made me nervous and I had many times considered wholesale changes. In the end I stuck to my plan and it all worked perfectly. My Hokas kept the footbeds in place, my Compressport tights didn’t chafe and my UD SJ pack was for the most part comfy. The slow burn of the Hammer nutrition seemed to work well too, no real peaks but no low points either. Here is my full gear list:
- Nutrition: Hammer – Coffee, Chocolate and Raspberry Gels, Sustained Energy, Perpetuem Solids, Endurolyte Fizz, Nutella Sandwiches (no crust!)
- Shoes: Hoka One One Challenger ATR
- Tights: Compressport Trail
- Socks: Compressport Trail + Compressport Calf Guards
- Shirt: Salomon S-Lab – Red
- Pack: Ultimate Direction SJ mk2
- Inside the pack…
- Hydration: Salomon 1.5L bladder + 2 x UD 600mL bottles
- Thermals: NZ Nature Co Silk Thermals, Ultra 168 Buff, Gore Running Gloves
- Jumper: The North Face TKA 100 Glacier
- Rainwear: Salomon Bonatti Jacket, Inov-8 Windpant
- Lighting: Black Diamond Icon, Black Diamond Ion
- Safety Vest: Bunnings fluoro yellow!
- Compass/Whistle: Suunto Clipper, UD Whistle (came with pack)
TNF100 is good. Very good. I had possibly my best result ever and did it well. The organisation of the event was almost clinical too with a few slight exceptions. Race briefings should be just that and nothing else. Safety is clearly a #1 issue for the event under Lucas Trihey’s skilled hand but de-prioritising it to the latter half of briefing can cause a lassaize fair attitude to it amongst competitors. Save the promos for another time in the schedule, I would have loved if there was a 1hr slot on the UTWT. The only other issue was confusion at checkpoints. Both CP4 and 5 really need clear signs as you exit confirming what you must have at that point in time. In the scheme of such a massive event not much!
One aspect I really enjoyed about the race was the mini race within a race targets – the Bronze and Silver buckles. I think it is a smart touch and would love to see more of it in other events. It certainly gave me a solid target to work with.
Otherwise it was a perfectly fine professionally run event. From a racing and host location point of view, I personally, kind of prefer Buffalo Stampede. Scenic World just feels a bit disconnected from the rest of Katoomba and even with the 4km road section at the start solving the blockage that could occur on Furber Steps, traffic through the landslide and Golden Steps in the latter part of Leg 1 does detract a little from the racing. On the other hand it is interesting that TNF100 pretty much nailed the issues I flagged with the Buffalo Stampede. I kind of think a world class Australian trail event program would be even better and more relevant than the Skyrunning vs Ultra Trail World Tour debate. Two flawless world class Ultra events every year with the worlds best in attendance would be pretty awesome.
The morphing of the event into Ultra Trail Australia next year will be exciting.