Friday, May 22, 2009

The North Face 100K / Race Report.

I've now had a few day's to reflect on Saturday's race and still don't know where to start.  Since running my first Ultra Marathon back in 2003 it has been my ultimate goal to run an Ultra Marathon or at least Marathon on each of the 7 Continents and now it's done.  This event was part of a greater challenge and i had planned on doing an overall grand slam report but I suppose to do The TNF 100 justice it needs a report of it's own.  

The day before the race I hooked up with some other competitors (Andrew Jordan, Tony Golden, James Owens & Gretel Fortmann) thanks to Rob that kindly agreed to transport me from Sydney to Katoomba and put me up for the weekend in a cabin which they had rented.  After a brief introduction it was like we'd know each other forever.  Arriving in good time we made our way to registration to collect our race numbers and go through the compulsory kit check before returning home with the traditional pasta & pizza.  Late to bed and early to rise for a 7am start after a pre start race briefing.

The race started quite fast with a 2K loop around the golf course which was part of the estate hosting the event.  A fast start didn't suit me but I knew that if i was too slow joining the trail I'd lose a lot of time heading towards the first checkpoint.  As expected the going was slow enough apart from the start and there were quite a few choke points as we headed towards Golden Stairs and along Federal Pass towards Narrow Neck.  The scenery was stunning as we ran through rainforest and alongside waterfalls with some very steep climbs.

The Check Point was very busy but well stocked and because I was only needing water I was able to move through very quickly.  In my bag I was carrying 2* North Face Water Bottles filled with a dry carbohydrate powder mix which I filled before moving on.  My plan was to carry 1 bottle and consume it over an hour and then swap it with the full bottle in my pack and repeat the filling process at the next Check Point.

Just when I thought the views couldn't get any better or the course more interesting I began running along a ridge at the top of Narrow Neck leading towards a vertical drop down into the valley via the Taros ladders.  There was a slight delay as it was single file going down the ladders but the steep descent at the foot of the ladders made up for lost time and soon I was on the approach to Check Point 2.  The steep descent into CP2 put some strain on my ITB and just as i was leaving CP2 my left knee started to buckle and I was reduced to a walk.  It hadn't stopped me before so I did my best to maintain the forward motion even if it was slower than I wanted.  The track started to climb again and this gave me some relief and the confidence to know that finishing was still an option, thinking on my feet I started to work out my new pace and set myself the goal of just reaching the next Check Point.

The climb got steeper as I made my way upwards onto Iron Pot Mountain before completing an out and back run along the Iron Pot Ridge.  Again the pain was more severe on the flat and then the descent started again and the pain was almost unbearable.  My movement was very slow as I made my way very slowly through the Megalong Valley  and I longed for another climb.  The climb appeared and I managed to make up some lost time but the problem was still there.  James and Gretel caught up with me and told me that Andrew had taken a fall coming down from Iron Pot Ridge and was moving very slowly having lost almost 2hrs with his injury, more bad news.
  Rob was meeting me at the next CP so i took a chance on texting him to see if he could source anti-inflammatory and pain killers.  He ran out to meet me 2K from the CP and I loaded up, we walked and talked our way in and I tried to run on the approach but couldn't.

I rested a bit longer than planned and spent some time stretching before deciding to head off again.  I took a chance on running and the pain was gone but I knew it was the drugs so I thought it best not to push it but keep moving and gain as much ground as I could before the effect wore off.  It wasn't long before I caught Gretel and James and they seemed happy but surprised to see me and understood why i didn't slow down to chat.
I was now heading towards Nellie's Glen along the Six Foot Track and an unmerciful stair climb through a rainforest, as much as i wanted the climbs earlier i was now hating them even though I knew the pain would return soon enough on the descents.  Again the views were amazing and it was hard resisting the temptation to stop and just look around.  The track led onto a road and back towards Katoomba leading along an undulating road to CP 4 at Katoomba Ovals.  It was almost night time and a head torch would be necessary when moving out as it would soon be dark.  This might have been the reason that more than one runner decided to retire.
The pain was returning so yet again I was preparing myself for a long night.  I left the CP almost immediately not bothering with the contents of my drop bag because the pace I was moving at meant i didn't need the extra fuel.

We were now in the heart of Katoomba and a very scenic part of the Blue Mountains with tourist trails going off in every direction which did help take my mind off the pain.  The route followed the Cliff top Walk towards an area known as Echo Point and then dropped steeply down into the valley via a very narrow stairway which seemed to go down forever.  As easy as it was I was hating every minute of it because I knew that I was being set up for another climb.

The bottom of the stairs led towards Leura Forest heading through Darnadelles Pass and by now it was pitch dark.  I was moving slow but steady trying to watch my footing as well as the course markings at head height.  The track was still going down and crossed a few creeks with stepping stones before a final creek without stepping stones leading to wet feet before starting a 640M climb towards CP 5.  
Bent over double I made my way onwards and upwards with palms on thighs knowing that this was the last of the serious climbs.  Almost 2 hrs later and i was still going up, I couldn't believe there was so much up on the flattest continent in the world.  Eventually  I could feel myself starting to walk upright and the wind was getting stronger so i new the summit was close.  My pace picked up again ever so slightly and soon enough I reached CP5 and the last stop before the finish.

Again I bypassed my drop bag and kept moving knowing it was only 11K to the finish.  Leaving the CP started with 1K along a road before rejoining the trail and the toughest / slowest 10K of my life.  There were so many switchback and climbs / drops it was impossible to work out the pace but I was convinced I was faster and couldn't believe it when I saw the 95K marker thinking I was almost home.  As interesting as the trail was i was wishing it over, we passed the Wentworth Falls and travelled along an Under Cliff Walk before eventually surfacing back at the edge of the Golf Course.  A series of glow sticks marked a path across the course and towards the finish and then yet again it was all over!  15hr51 after starting I crossed the finish line.  

Race Stats:  100K with 4500M of Ascent / Descent.  According to my Polar HRM I consumed 11,599Kcal over the duration of the race with an average HR of 127bpm.

My original plan had me crossing the line in 12hrs which then became 20+hrs with my injury.  All the time thinking on my feet and recalculating I was then thinking I'd make it in 14hrs which again changed to sub 15 and finally sub 16.
Thanks to all who helped along the way and a special thanks to Derek and Robbie in the Great Outdoors for ensuring I had the lightest and best kit available.  My race bag weighed less than 2Kg and included a very comprehensive list of compulsory items.


  1. Hey John - Congrats on your huge effort and for charging on despite the ITB saga! I remember seeing you at the race (I pulled out at CP3 due to ankle injury drama, hadn't been allowed to run for 6 weeks so should just be glad to have gotten that far). Read that you carried those two bottles with you. Did you have a bladder in your backpack as well? Or were you just going checkpoint to checkpoint with those two water bottles?! I feel like the refilling of the bladder was time consuming as it was quite tedious trying to stuff it back in. Any hydration tips? Thanks, Nik

  2. Hi Nicole, I also carried a 1L bladder in my pack which was only half full and I used that as a back up supply sipping it occasionally. In my pack I carried the 2 North Face bottles which were empty apart from the dry carbo powder. I was well hydrated before the race started and knew based on last years splits that I should make it to CP1 in approx 2hrs which shouldn't cause me a problem fluid wise. Carrying the bottles empty also reduced my pack weight by at least 1kg.
    The wide neck on the bottles made it easy to fill up and CP1 and i was in and out very quickly. I carried the same measured amount of carbo powder in my bag contained in seperate zip lock bags for CP2 and then my Drop Bags also had the same.
    Because my pace was slower than planned i decided not to use the carb mix from CP3 and I filled up with endura instead. I finished the race with a small amount of water in my bladder and from CP5 to finish I only filled one bottle as I knew i wouldn't need the 2. Hop this helps in some way and maybe I should do a post on hydration. Sorry to hear about your own injury and hope you recover strong, do you plan on doing it again next year? Thanks for the nice comment and question.


  3. Hi John!

    I came across your blog in researching about the ITB syndrome and wanted to first congratulate you on your crazy runs. I never knew people do this sorta crazy stuff!

    While I'm not a very good runner, I recently self-diagnosed myself with ITB syndrome and am researching on how to prevent this. I have had a very painful experience (not knowing what it was) last year when hiking in the mountains for 9 hours, 5 of which my leg was straight and in heavy pain.

    Most of the ITB pain I experience is from hiking long durations and mountain biking.

    I wanted to ask if you still experience this problem, and if not, how did you prevent this injury from your other runs? Thank you for taking time to respond. I know the internet is full of answers, but I wanted to "type" to someone who personally had this problem.

    Thanks John.

  4. Hi Mike,
    I haven't suffered with my ITB since that race and I think thats because I started to add more strength and conditioning to my training. Exercises include lunges & squats without weights and I get a regular sports massage. Have also found that hill running has helped strengthen my legs quite considerably and especially the downhill running. I also use a foam roller but not as often as I should.
    Hope that helps.

  5. Hi John,

    Thank you for your reply. Also took me a month to get back to you. I will do some training, hopefully it will have great success such as yours!

    Glad you are fully healthy again. Good luck with your runs!