I last ran TNF100 back in 2009 and this year I decided that I was time to head over to the Blue Mountains and have another crack at the course. My main goal for this years race was to hopefully better my 2009 time of 19:01:28.
My training for this years race had gone quite well, and even seemed to be a bit more relaxed compared to previous years, but then again I think that my body has definitely adapted well to a few years of consistent ultra running.
With a maximum temperature of 8 degrees C for the day, there was no question that it was going to be cold. Luckily though the winds were quite low which made the conditions a lot more manageable. However, the skies were clear and this meant that we were definitely in for a cold night once the sun went down.
This year the race organisers decided to have wave starts to prevent the bottle necks which has occurred at the start of the single track sections close to the start over that last couple of years. My goal was to run sub 19 hours so I put myself in wave 3, which started at 7:01am. Wave 1 started at 6:56am and wave 2 started at 6:58am.
Start to CP1 (0km - 18km)
I've done enough ultras by now to know that a slow start is the key to getting to the end in good condition so I positioned myself about mid pack and ran at a steady pace. Compared to 2009 the road section was longer (to allow the field to spread out) so it was to take a few km until we actually felt like we were in a trail race. When I got to the first single track section it was evident that the wave starts had not completely eliminated the congestion. I only had to wait a few minutes but even after we made our way onto the trail the going was very slow. There were several section were all runners came to a complete stop. This didn't bother me at all because I knew that I had a long day ahead of me and the time that I was losing at the start was not going to be an issue at all.
When you get onto the first trail section of the race runners are greeted with some spectacular views. A runner whom I passed said to me "Are you wondering why you are doing this". My answer to this was "no I know exactly why I am doing this". After being greeted by the fantastic views, I was actually thinking to myself that to be able to experience the bush like this was the exact reason why I chose to do it. It didn't take too long for me to remember just how many steps there are in this race. There are lots! Come the end of the race and I knew that I'd be cursing just how many steps there are.
Probably the toughest section on this first leg is the climb up the Golden Stairs, it's a long tough clamber up a very steep section of trail. It is steep enough that not even the elite runners are able to run along this section. I took my time here but still managed to make up a few places on the climb and eventually made my way into the first checkpoint. I filled up my bladder and I was on my way to checkpoint 2.
CP1 to CP2 (18km - 38km)
The run to CP2 is probably one of the most runnable sections of the whole race so it was a good opportunity to get in good consistent running. I was only a couple k's out of CP1 when I met up with Nick, whom I have run with at quite of few of the ultras that I have participated in. As we were busy talking the next 12km up to the Tarros ladders seemed to pass quite quickly. Back in 2009 I had a 45 minute wait at the ladders so I was eager to see how the race organisers had improved this part of the race. When we finally got down to the start of the ladders we were told that there would only be a 3 minute wait; this was definitely a major improvement from 45 minutes!
The ladders didn't take long to negotiate and then we were into a reasonably technical descent for a couple of kilometres, taking us back down to the fire trail. Once onto the fire trail we had a nice easy run into CP2. Thanks to the fast descent down the Tarros ladders, compared to my 2009 race I was 44 minutes faster to CP2 with a race total time of 5:45:53. I filled up the bladder, presented my two head torches to the race officials as part of the mandatory gear check, grabbed a fruit bun and then I was on my way to CP3.
CP2 to CP3 (38km - 54km)
The next significant part of this section was a long and steady climb up a gravel road on the way to CP3. I wouldn't say that I was feeling energetic, but I actually found that my legs had recovered from the tricky descent down Iron Pot Ridge and I was climbing quite well. I made up about 7 or so positions on the climb.
Not too long after I reached the top of the climb, 50 kms is passed signalling the halfway point. The legs always seem to feel pretty ordinary with 50km in them and as nice as it is to pass the halfway point, it doesn't really feel like the challenge is 50% completed.
After a few more kilometres of gravel road we were directed over a stile, through a paddock, and we were then at CP3. As this was the first checkpoint where support crew were allowed there was quite a crowd of people and it was an awesome experience getting enthusiastic cheers from complete strangers. It makes even middle of the pack runners like me feel a bit special for short moment.
A quick check of the stopwatch showed that I arrived at CP3 in a time of 8:21:12 compared to my 2009 time of 9:16:12; thus I was 55 minutes faster.
I re-stocked my food and drink supplies, had a sausage and sauce on bread (magic!), and was the off to CP4. My splits showed that I only spent about 5 minutes at this checkpoint.
CP3 to CP4 (54km - 65km)
I arrived at CP4 in a total time of 10:17:21 compared to my 2009 time of 11:40:27. Taking into consideration that this leg of the race was 2km shorter than in 2009, I could still see that I was slowly shaving time away.
I had another sausage on bread (again magic!), replenished my supplies, put on my head lamp and safety vest and had a quick chat with my wife. All up I spent around 10 minutes at CP4 which wasn't too bad considering all of the things that had to be done.
CP4 to CP5 (65km - 89km)
It wasn't too long after I had left CP4 and it was time to switch on the headlamp. The first few kilometres out of Katoomba are pretty easy but I knew that one of the toughest descents of the course was about to come my way, and that was the Giant Stairway. This involves descending down more than 800 steps for a total elevation change of around 300m. By the time I got to the bottom my quads were burning to the point that I actually had a sit down for about 30 seconds just to let them recover a bit. After I started running again it probably took me around 15 minutes for the legs to feel ok again. I took it pretty easy because I knew that I still had the descent down to the bottom of the Kedumba Valley and I really struggled on that descent in 2009.
On the way up the Kedumba pass climb I actually started to feel a bit hot even though the temperature was around 0 degC, so I stopped briefly and took my jacket off. There is no denying that the climb up Kedumba pass is really a tough and slow grind, but I managed to keep a nice consistent pace going and even managed to make up a few places on my way up the climb.
As I got closer to the top of the climb and out of the protection of the valley I started to get quite cold so I stopped to put on my jacket. At the top of the climb you get a bit of a reprieve by having a nice flat run for a couple of k's into CP5.
CP5 to Finish (89km - 100km)
I didn't really spend much time at CP5. All I did was fill my bladder, grab a coke from my drop bag, have something to eat, a quick chat to my wife and then I headed off towards the finish. I knew that something major would have to go wrong from here to not get home in under 17 hours, and it was nice to know that there were "only" 11km to go.
After stopping at CP5 I was actually starting to get really cold again. I had plenty of gear that I could have stopped to put on but instead I decided that I should run at a good pace to get the body to warm up a bit. I knew that once I got through the bitumen section and back into the single track sections that it would be a touch warmer. I was really please with how I ran the first few km out of the final checkpoint but I knew that there was still some tough running ahead.
Even though the final section is quite short there are some tricky trails to negotiate, including the dreaded Lillians Glen. Having over 90km in the legs and the knowledge that I was going to break 17 hours, I felt that mind mind had somewhat shut down now. All I was interested in was doing just enough to make sure that I would meet that sub 17 hour time. To be honest, even if I was feeling fresh there were quite a few sections in the final leg that I wouldn't run anyway. There are lots of steep steps that really need to be taken with care. Eventually I made it to Lillians Glen and by that stage I really just wanted to be a the finish line. It was through Lillians Glen that I managed to clock up my slowest kilometre of the race; it took me 20min! All of a sudden I wasn't so confident of the sub 17 hour time, and it really made me kick into my next gear and get moving a bit faster.
Slowly but surely I could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, I could hear faint cheers from the finish line so this also spurred me on to keep moving at a good pace. When I eventually made it to the grassed section I entered that phase of a race where the pain seems to disappear and running becomes a lot more effortless. I was greeted with generous cheers from the crowd as I approached the finish, and finally crossed the finish line a total race time of 16:49:38, which was some 2hrs 11min faster than my race in 2009. I was absolutely ecstatic with my time.
All in all I was very happy with my race and thoroughly enjoyed running of the course again. TNF100 is a fantastically organised race, the trail marking is perfect and it's just a tough challenge. I have no doubt that I'll be lining up at the start line again at sometime in the future. It will be really interesting to how this race grows over the next few years. For anyone thinking about having a go at this race, I can highly recommend it.