Sunday, 25 May 2014

Another race, another lesson learned - TNF100 Australia Race Report 2014

"Hey Tom, have you been outside yet bro? It's real mild out there ay".

As the sun started to rise in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains I felt a really special day was ahead. The days leading up to the race had been much more relaxed and quieter than they usually are before races and I was in a really good head space.

We were lucky enough to be staying only a couple of kilometres from the start line at Scenic World in Katoomba. Liz, Tom and I decided the night before that we would jog down to the start line as our warm up and to also avoid trying to find a car park along with roughly 2000 other runners & supporters.

Running along Narrow Neck
Photo credit:
Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
Not too long after arriving at the start area we assembled below the TNF100 banner before race director Tom Landon-Smith sent us on our way. The first 4km or so was an out and back along Cliff Drive which was intended to break up the field a little before heading down Furbers Steps. The pace initially was a little hectic but soon settled down as the lead runners assumed their positions on the road. The first leg was only 10.5km from Scenic World through to Narrow Neck Aid Station. Through this section I got a little frustrated with the stop start running through the technical "Landslide" section so I decided to jump to the front and enjoy the trails from there. I didn't pick the pace up through here, the other lead guys were all within seconds at the top of the Golden Stairs climb and then onto the aid station.

Once at the aid I refilled some water and it was here that Stu Gibson (eventual winner) took off with real purpose and made a distinctive break on the rest of the field. The run along Narrow Neck through to Tarros Ladder was fantastic. I ended up running this section with mates Andrew Tuckey (2nd place), Brendan Davies (3rd place) and new mate Jono O'laughlin (4th place). I kept really composed along this dangerous section of the race. The reason I think of it as dangerous is because it is by far the flattest section of the course and would have been very easy to get carried away with running too fast. Tarros Ladder was awesome, descending down here was epic and one had to have their wits about them when heading down the ladder.

The next section from here was out along the out and back section along Iron Pot Ridge. Andrew was kind enough to explain the details of this section as I wasn't able to check this section out in training as it is on private land. He told me that the climb was quite similar to Mt Solitary which we did at the Mt Solitary Ultra a few weeks prior. I was instantly excited at the prospect of a climb like this. I love the steep stuff and hiking. Myself and top French runner Quentin Stephan (6th place) who lives in the Chamonix/ Mt Blanc region ran this section together. Quentin is a top bloke who I enjoyed running much of the first 50km with. I've recently found out we'll cross paths again at the Ice Trail Tarantaise in France which will be great.

Yes I love trail running!!
Photo credit: Roger Hanney

Approaching 6ft Track Checkpoint
Photo credit:
Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
The section from Dunphy's Camp Aid Station to the 6ft Aid Station was pretty uneventful. There seemed to be a heck of a lot of fire trail road that made time pass a little slower. It's my least favoured type of terrain but fortunately I had speed demons Brendan and Quentin to tag along with. Not too far from the 6ft aid Quentin and I slowly pulled away from Brendan along Megalong Valley Road as it started to climb a little. Soon after though we hit the flat/downhill into the aid and Brendan literally came flying past which was pretty darn impressive. Once I arrived at the checkpoint it was a quick bottle swap with Liz and a quick kiss before heading
down the trail.

Cruising along Megalong Valley Road with Brendan
Photo Credit: Moritz Auf Der Heidi
Because of such a quick aid station stop I passed Brendan and Quentin here. Soon after though I stopped to get a stone out of my shoe so Brendan caught up and we ran the next 40mins or so together which was great. Getting to spend time on the trails with good mates is what it's all about.

Once we were approaching the start of the well known 'Nellies Glen' climb I looked down at my watch and worked out I needed to take a gel pretty soon. I decided we were about 5mins away from the start of the Nellies climb so took a gel and didn't think anything of it. After 100m or so I passed Brendan who was just in front and continued my way up the climb. Not long after I caught up to Jorge Maravilla (8th place) who is also the USA 100km Trail Running Champion 2014. We briefly exchanged words before he kindly let me past. I continued up the climb feeling awesome and thinking how great it was that I was taking things easy, playing it smart and I was now in second place.

About 200m after hitting the top of the climb was where I went from feeling absolutely fantastic to then leaning with hands on knees dry-retching and then looking at all of my race day nutrition on the ground in front of me. I tried to compose myself and once I felt I had stopped I walked along the trail before breaking into a jog again. Soon later I hit the road and then disaster struck again. There I was, in 2nd place in The North Face 100 leaning up against a post uncontrollably dry-retching. My stomach hadn't hurt this much since the Tarawera Ultra in 2013 where I was really sick. My stomach hurt, I felt light headed and really wasn't enjoying myself. It was here that Andrew, Brendan, Quentin and Jorge passed me. All of them were kind enough to slow down to ask me if I was OK to which I kinda mumbled saying "I'll be right, just having a few stomach issues". This kind of camaraderie in a race just re-iterates to me that I'm in the right sport. Even in such a competitive race, fellow runners are so kind and thoughtful.

I then dawdled my way through the back streets of Katoomba to arrive at 57km and the Aquatic Centre Aid Station. I asked Liz for powerade and coke as I wanted to get the poison like flavour out of my throat from spewing for the last 20 minutes. This wasn't a smart move but had to be done, I regretted this about 2 minutes after leaving the aid station when it all came back up again. Soon after Jono passed me with some kind words of encouragement as he took off up some stairs near the Echo Point car park. Not long after here I saw my good friend Lyndon Marceau who was the photographer for this year's event. I passed him before only being caught up again as I had to sit down on the side of the trail on a big boulder. By now I was feeling really sorry for myself and wondering how I was going to get myself out of this situation.

Lyndon hiked ahead as I got up to follow him, it's not every day you find yourself walking behind the photographer on course. I think bumping into Lyndon gave me a bit of a boost as we shared a laugh or two before I stumbled my way along the trail towards the top of the Giant Staircase. As soon as I started descending I knew something was up. I started feeling really light headed and it felt as though my legs were going to buckle beneath me. I think I used my upper body and arms more than my legs to get down the stairs and it felt at times it was only my arms keeping me from falling flat on my face. I got to the bottom of the stairs where another helpful course marshall was directing me which way to go. As I turned left at the bottom I noticed some seats that looked far too good to go past so I took a seat and tried to work out what was going on. After a minute or two of sitting I still felt light headed so decided to lie down across the bench seat. The marshall asked several times if I was OK, I mumbled back saying 'I'll be right'.

Feeling that my rest on the seat had done something to help I decided to get up and shuffled my way towards the Leura Forest and then onto the stairs heading up towards Prince Henry Cliff Walk. As I dragged myself up what seemed like endless flights of stairs my Team Hoka mate Ben Duffus (5th place) caught up to me. Ben was simply flying along, he seemed to be effortlessly going up the stairs and I just had to watch and think that I was supposed to be doing the same. Ben offered some words of encouragement and before long he was completely out of sight. With the speed in which he passed me I knew he was in for a big day so it was no surprise to see him climb to 5th place overall.

At about the 66km mark there was a water station that I was pretty excited to get to. It basically gave me another reason to sit down while I filled up my water bottles. It was here that I was able to finally eat something, those gummy snake lollies were amazing. I think the fact that I was able to eat at least something gave me confidence that I was going to be able to get this done. It seemed that I got myself through to the conservation hut climb quite quickly and things really started to pick up from there. Every time I did the conservation hut stairs in training I really enjoyed this climb so I was sure to remind myself of this as I made my way up. I ran the whole way up which indicated that it was now game on. I knew I was never going to catch the lead guys because of having to sit down for far too long and the 2 hour patch leading up to and after the Aquatic Centre.

Enjoying some smoother faster trails
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Just before seeing Andy @75km
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
Seeing my coach Andy and the guys from Ultra168 at the 75km mark was another boost and added more fuel to the fire as Andy commented that I was starting to look good again. He told me that the other guys were quite far ahead and that I was going to have a big effort ahead to try and catch them. The road section for the final 3km to the Queen Victoria Hospital aid station was awesome. I really enjoyed the increase in pace and it was feeling seemingly easy again. The crazy leg fatigue that I had on the way down Giant Stairs was now a thing of the past and I started to think about the final 22km that I had ahead of me to the finish line.

Seeing Liz at the checkpoint was as always a shining light. She was full of smiles and positive words of encouragement and gave me everything I needed to get the race finished. I think I only needed to get one or two gels from her for this section as I already had a handful left from the previous section where there was no chance my stomach could handle eating. I took off down Kedumba Valley Road with a bit of a spring in my step knowing this race was only going to end one way, on a high note.

The run all the way down Kedumba to Sublime Point Road was great, I looked after my legs on the descent and then climbed with purpose when I needed to. As I started climbing towards Jamison Creek I decided to put some music on to give me a little boost. I haven't used music in a race in a long time but listening to some of my favourite tunes was awesome. Despite how the previous 9hrs or so had gone I was in a really happy place. I started catching up to 50km runners who were absolutely fantastic and full of smiles. It seemed that I got to the emergency aid station before long where I quickly filled water and was on my way, no sitting down this time!

I knew the first 2km or so from the aid station was going to be steep so I got into a good rhythm quickly and ticked off the km's. Not long after getting back onto the Federal Pass I caught up to Jorge. I was quite surprised to see him as I figured he would have already finished. We spoke briefly once again before I passed him and continued along the trail. Thinking I was moving quite well I decided to glance back to see how far behind he was, to my shock he was literally 30 metres behind and not going away. I thought to myself how much I didn't want it to end up being a slog up Furbers Steps to decide who was going to take 7th place so I decided to pick up the pace a little as we approached Furbers. I decided not to look back again as I felt I was moving well and didn't want any negative thoughts to creep in. The climb up Furbers was actually quite fun as 50km runners would move aside to let me past as we exchanged words of encouragement and trying to decide who's idea it was to end the race by going up here.

Pretty happy to see the finish line
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography
 Reaching the top felt like a weight off my shoulders. As I ran up the boardwalk towards Scenic World I knew that soon the day would be done. The crowd was electric as I ran up the finishing chute and crossed the line in 10:15:26 for 7th place.

She keeps me going even in the toughest times
Photo credit: Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Enjoying being at the finish line with
Marie Sammons from the UTWT and Paul Charteris the RD from the Tarawera Ultra
Photo Credit: Roger Hanney

Men's top 10 TNF100 2014 with RD Tom Landon Smith in red. Absent: Jorge Maravilla
Looking back on the race now I am once again left with a feeling of "if only". This race for me was unique in the sense that I was finally injury free standing on the start line and my training had gone very well in the build up. Over the last week I have been thinking of what caused my stomach to play up and race to fall apart and there are a few different reasons why this may have happened. Initially I was really frustrated and upset that once again I couldn't run to my ability, but with the help of speaking to Liz and Andy I have put it behind me and into the experience basket. I'm now already looking forward to building again for Europe.

Thanks to Tom and the crew from AROC for putting on a world class event that definitely did Australia proud and it was a great addition to the new Ultra Trail World Tour. Thanks as always to Hoka One One, Compressport, RaceReady & Ryders Eyewear for your continued support, it's fantastic having gear that is comfortable, functional and that I can rely on.

Thanks to Liz again for being the best support crew, you always know what to say and often know better than I do what I need during the tough times. I can't wait to share some more amazing experiences racing in Italy and France together.

Gear used: