3rd time lucky?

So, would 2014 be the year I achieved my goal of running a sub 14 hour TNF100 ?

Its worth mentioning before I talk about the race itself that when I entered back in December 2013 I was unaware the course for 2014 had been given a re-vamp including a new start/finish at Scenic World plus the final 2 legs of 21km & 22km respectively would be an almost reversal of the old course with a few extra & painful bits thrown into the mix. Last years winner Brendan Davies who lives in The Blue Mountains told me the course was much harder and that I should maybe add around an hour to my 2013 time of 14:27. This was not a good thing to hear because despite the harder course the organisers were sticking to their buckle prize times of bronze for sub 20hr and silver for sub 14hr, gold is reserved for the male & female race winners only.

I knew that ramping up the training during the UK winter months was essential for me to have any chance of going ‘sub 14′ so I made a plan. My preferred choice of getting to work is by bicycle however I decided the best way to ensure I was maximizing my endurance potential which would be key for this race was to start doing back2back run commutes carrying a weighted pack. In previous years my training consisted of running say 25/30 hilly miles on a Saturday then spending the following week recovering (while cycling to work in between) then doing the same thing over and over again. This time though my training went something like this – Monday cycle to work, Tuesday, Wednesday & occasionally Thursday run to work and back using a combination of varying distances of 5.5 miles, 7.5 miles or 9.5 miles depending on how I was feeling, Friday cycle to work then Saturday was either hill training (25 miles max) or arranging a long run with friends and Sunday was a rest day. As you can see these are not huge distances but the combination of back2back runs plus the cycling increased my endurance capabilities immensely and I really started to feel the improvements over the winter months.

As a test I entered the 85km TNF Trans Gran Canaria to get an idea of how this new training plan had worked plus to gage my fitness level, the race was in early March which gave me plenty of time to recover for TNF100 plus it had a similar total alt gain of around 4,500m so it was a pretty decent test. To my surprise I finished the race in 119th position (time 13:22) out of 345 finishers (95 DNF’d) which considering the mountainous terrain compared to Surrey where I live plus the roasting temperature of 28 degrees on race day (UK was wet & around 9 degrees) I was really impressed by my performance and this filled me with great confidence for the TNF100 in 2 months time.

In terms of diet I made no changes. For over 2 years now I’ve been following a low carb/high fat eating plan with plenty of fruit and veg, good quality protein from meat, fish and eggs plus nuts, butters, oils etc. Its worked for me plus I always look forward to filling my face with sugar on race day. :)

Registration & race day morning.

This years registration was a simple affair for 2 reasons. Firstly I was able to get my mandatory gear checked and signed off prior to registration via a local agent in Katoomba, I had this done on the Tuesday before the race which meant I could relax knowing this was done. The TNF100 organisers take mandatory kit very seriously because of the remote location of the event and there are random kit checks during the race, if you are missing an item then you are either not allowed to continue or incur a heavy time penalty. Secondly I turned up so early for registration on the Friday before the race that I was 1st in the queue and was in and out within 10 minutes of opening unlike the 2 hours it took the previous the year. That night I made last-minute checks with Kirsten (support crew) and got my kit ready for the morning – it was now getting very exciting indeed!

My race start time was a 06:33 (start group 2) so I made sure I went to be bed as early as possible the night before. I set the alarm for 4am which gave me enough time to consume and digest a breakfast of bacon and eggs which is my favourite race morning breakfast. Kirsten came round to collect me at 05:15 and after a quick coffee and pre-race chat we set off….

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Having a quick pre-race chat with last years winner Brendan Davies.

Having a quick pre-race chat with last years winner Brendan Davies.

Looking focused with chaos going on around me.

Looking focused with chaos going on around me.

Legging it at the start with the front runners.

Legging it at the start with the front runners.

 

Leg 1 – Scenic World to Narrow Neck (10.5km)

The 1st major change to this years course was the out & back 4km road circuit from Scenic World before the descent down the Furber Steps. Kirsten and I had checked it out a few days before and despite the immediate steep ascent of around 1km I wasnt too worried. I’m pretty fast on tarmac so knew I could get away quickly so the plan was to start on the start line and leg it and that’s what I did. It worked because I stayed with the front-runners for the entire uphill section but lost a few places on the way down as usual because I’m quite sluggish running downhill for some reason – it must be my short legs or something. Anyway going back past the entrance to Scenic World on the way back down I heard someone shout ‘go Tim’ but I didn’t look to see who it was because I was so focussed, I knew I had to get down the Furber Steps as quickly as possible to avoid any congestion before the scramble along the Federal Pass. It was a swift ascent down the 900 or so steps and to my relief no congestion, once at the bottom it was a right turn to run past the Scenic World mining displays, claps & cheers from a few keen tourists made me smile and I thought “its 6.45am and its only been light for 30 minutes so how come you’re down here so early?”

The trail along the Federal Pass is very technical so it was important to keep focussed as the pace was high (I tripped over here in 2013 so was determined that this was not going to happen again.) It was around this time that I got chatting to a fellow Brit who was running right behind me, it was his 1st TNF100 and I talked to him briefly about my 2 previous years running on the old course. It then dawned on us that we had been chatting via twitter for over a year – small world!

The 1st real test of the day was climbing the Golden Stairs which was a real shock to the system. These stairs were part of the old course but I didn’t remember them being this steep and difficult, my heart sank a little knowing what was to come later in the day and also ‘not’ knowing what was to come too. After 200m and much relief I reached the top of the stairs to a clearing, it was then a simple 1km uphill run along Glenrapheal Drive (fire track) to checkpoint 1.

Running along Glenraphael Drive towards CP1

Running along Glenraphael Drive towards CP1

Leg 2 – Narrow Neck to Dunphy’s Camp (31km)

In 2013 not only was I running with 2 cut knees because of a fall 3 days before the event but I was also suffering from horrendous stomach issues from the off but not this time. I arrived into CP1 in tip-top shape & despite soaking myself with water while trying to fill up my hydration bladder I was in & out within a couple of minutes.

The next 10km were an absolute joy because it was just pure running along dusty fire roads. I had the opportunity to look at the wonderful views to my left & right of the Blue Mountains and felt very privileged once again to be running in an area that is usually out-of-bounds to the public. It was around this time that I noticed I was running alone. There was no one was in front of me & no one behind me and this felt very strange. I usually get to this point during the latter stages of a race but not the start so I knew that I was making good time, I also realised that I was running up all the hills too which wasnt the case in 2013 and this gave me a massive confidence boost!

At the end of Glenraphael Drive the course takes a sharp right down a very steep path where ropes & steel ladders have been put in to help the runners get down leading to the Taros Ladders which are also only erected for the event.  Once down the ladders it’s a fast & technical ascent down where you need to take care not to trip on the loose ground underfoot. Then there is the easy ish ascent & descent of Mount Debert before hitting another dirt/fire road that takes you into Dunphy’s Camp and CP 2.

Dusty & hot. Running between CP1 & CP2

Dusty & hot. Running between CP1 & CP2

Leg 3 – Dunphy’s Camp to Six  Foot Track (46km)

My main concern arriving into CP2 was not being able to contact Kirsten, In previous years the mobile network had worked perfectly but after leaving CP1 it went dead. Kirsten needed to know a rough arrival time of me into CP3 whch is the 1st time during the race you get to see your support crew so I was quite frustrated not being able to contact her. However a comedy moment happened around this time – I mentioned to one of the marshalls that the phone network was down and she said “oh if you stand on that picnic table over there you will get service” and I thought to myself  “are you joking?”  Also and unlike the previous 2 years there was no mandatory kit check at CP2, I was all ready to show my compass or waterproof jacket etc but was just told to move on so I filled up my bladder, took down a gel and quickly walked over to the picnic table. Luckily for me (as I hate being the centre of attention) I didn’t need to stand on the table because my phone connected to the network and I was able to send a message to the crew.

Moving out of CP2 is an easy affair of which the 1st 8km is through private farmland with amazing views. However, and especially for the newbie TNF100 runners that easy 8km suddenly turns into the horror ascent of Iron Pot mountain. This is a hill that is not runable at all, it’s just a slow and painful hands on knees trip to the summit. It levels out for a bit at the top but I knew that shortly we had the out-and-back section along Ironpot Ridge. This is one of those cruel sections (intended to avoid cheating & is pretty standard on races like this) that takes you out to a point where your chip is recorded then sends you back. Ironpot Ridge is incredibly technical & you need to take extra care because there is two way traffic. Fortunately for me this year the traffic wasnt as bad as the two previous years because my time was good so I breezed through this section with ease. One of the highlights of this section is running past the didgeridoo players, the sounds plus the amazing views of the Blue Mountains make it very special – I just wished there was time to stop and take it all in.

After the out & back section the course goes steeply down Tinpot Hill and when I say steeply down I really mean it! There was ‘caution’ & ‘warning’ signs throughout this crazy decent. The ground was so dry, dusty & loose that you had to take extra care, I was holding onto trees & branches just to get down safely. To be honest it was proper comedy at times and I could hear people behind me cursing to themselves. One runner shouted out “this is a great lesson in how to ruin your quads in 5 minutes” which made me chuckle, he was so right! Once down the hill the course goes uphill again for a short time then making its way through scenic farmland, creeks & paddocks before eventually reaching Megalong Valley Road (dirt road). At this point I knew it was only 6km from CP3 but also knew that this 6km would not be easy, it starts out fairly flat but soon goes up & up & up – for me it was not runable so I power walked it. Once at the top though it was max pace down for the next 2km. Shortly after this decent I started to hear the noise of the spectators at CP3 in the distance which was a massive relief because I desperately needed a refuel and brief rest.

Running into CP3

Running into CP3

Best crew ever. Provisions waiting for me at CP3.

Best crew ever. Provisions waiting for me at CP3.

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Leg 4 – Six Foot Track to Katoomba Aquatic Centre (57km)

I’ve run the TNF100 for 3 years in a row now and for some odd reason those last few km’s running into CP3 have always been tough. I always feel low and negative about what lies ahead during the next 50km and this year was no different. However (and like every year) a quick pit stop was all that was needed to get me on my way again with renewed energy. So after a quick chat to ‘the crew’, a few bites of ham and cheese plus 2 mini cokes quickly gulped down I was off again. Running over the chip timer on the way out of CP3 I glanced to my left and spotted a large sign and arrow that said ‘withdrawals here’. I quickly cleared that from my head but what was to come a short time after was even more horrifying! The runner in front of me (around 100 metres) had clearly doused himself in aftershave during his CP stop and the smell was horrendous! Now don’t get me wrong, I wear aftershave, on a night out, but not 50km into a 100km ultra marathon. Luckily for me he eventually took a walking break and I passed him while thinking about my ‘heady’ nightclub and DJ days in the mid 90’s because that’s what the smell reminded me of.

Leg 4  mostly consists of running up the Six Foot Track towards Katoomba. Its tough, really tough, consisting of many steps and around 480m elevation. In 2013 this section almost finished my race so I was dreading it however within a few km’s from leaving CP3 I was feeling good and realised that I was still running up all the hills which boosted my confidence. The trail then changes from fire road to walking path before the start of the long climb up on the steps.

It was around this time that I was joined by a fellow Brit called Tom who was currently living in Australia. I generally avoid conversation during races preferring to keep myself to myself but I immediately clicked with this dude from the off and we got chatting. One of our conversations was about how many people where using poles in this years TNF100 which I’d not seen in either 2012 or 2013 and I came to the conclusion that it was the ‘European effect’. What I mean by that is so many people are travelling around the world now to race (especially Europe for the UTMB races etc) where poles are pretty much standard issue and this trend has caught on. In 2013 I ran the UTMB CCC and used poles for the 1st time because I was told I would definitely need them so that’s what I did. However (and as a test) when I ran TNF Trans Gran Canaria back in March I decided to take poles with me but keep them in my pack unless I really needed them. The poles never saw the light of day and to be honest it felt much better without them. Tom and I both agreed that the people we’d seen with poles today were definitely struggling especially during leg one where its a bit of a scramble plus on the steps where you really need your hands free.

Eventually (and with much relief) the trail comes out onto a road in Katoomba and then its a simple 2km run on tarmac down to the Aquatic Centre and CP4.

Running along the Six Foot Track.

Running along the Six Foot Track.

 Leg 5 – Katoomba Aquatic Centre to Queen Victoria Hospital (78km)

When I arrived into CP4 the 1st thing I noticed was how quiet it was. In the previous 2 races this place had been buzzing with many runners and their crews but it was fairly calm this time. However my crew was not going to have me standing around for long so after a quick bite to eat plus a mini coke I heard the words “I want you out of here in 30 seconds!” So again, I legged it…..

A quick break at CP4

A quick break at CP4

Leaving CP4 I was very anxious about the next 21km to CP5 because this was where the route would completely change compared to the previous 2 years so I was heading into unknown territory plus this stage was also 11km longer than previous years. The initial few km followed the original route along Echo Point towards the Three Sisters which was very busy with meandering tourists. New South Wales was currently basking in a rare Autumn heat wave so people were flocking to the Blue Mountains, and why not, its one of the most beautiful places in the world especially when the sun shines.

I eventually caught up with another runner and noticed he was wearing a Union Jack sweatband so this obviously turned into a conversation from the initial “hello mate, how you feeling?” etc words. Turns out he is an ex soldier called Steve who did his service in Hampshire England which is near to where I live so we had some common ground, why he was living in Australia I never found out. Anyway while Steve and I were chatting a group of local kids decided it would be funny to run behind us then overtake us going up some steps, I remember shouting at them jokingly “oi that’s not fair, you have fresh legs, try doing it with 60km in them!”

Arriving at the Giant Stairway there was a warning from the marshal that it was very slippery and he wasnt wrong. Extra care had to be taken especially on the metal stairs but it wasnt that congested compared to 2012 & 2013 so the decent down the 800+ steps was fairly quick. Once at the bottom the course turned left as usual along Dardanelles Pass and through Leura Forest picnic area. It was here when a few tired looking TNF50 runners came running towards me and I wondered what they were thinking about looking at me and visa versa.

This was the point when the course changed from the previous years because it took a sharp and brutal left turn up many stairs towards Prince Henry Cliff Walk and this is also where Steve and I got chatting again and the subject again was about poles. Apparently during TNF100 2013 he’d been using poles but had unfortunate accident. He was using them to get down some slippery ground but they failed causing him to land on his face knocking himself out and perforating an ear drum – he’s vowed never to use poles again. (I would love to hear your thoughts on poles). Shortly after this conversation Steve and I both arrived together at the 66km emergency water point and thank goodness we did because I’d drunk almost 2 litres of water since leaving CP4 – it was getting very hot.

So, after many more stairs and steps both up & down throughout Leura Forest the trail (to my relief) eventually came out on a flat clearing and I took a walking break.  Back at CP4 I’d decided to carry a mini coke with me just in case I needed it and that turned out to be the correct decision because my stomach was not capable of taking down food or ‘energy products’ anymore. Problem though – I want to drink the coke but had had nowhere to dispose of the can. Answer – give empty can to random lady standing outside her van, cool! Problem though – random lady was trying to persuade her broken TNF100 runner daughter to get out of the van and back on her feet. I immediately thought that once you’re sat down in that state its unlikely you will get back up so I wished her luck, thanked her for taking my empty can and moved on towards the Fairmont Hotel Resort for 1km along Sublime Point Road.

It felt strange running though the Fairmont Resort during the day because in previous years this was the race start and finish. However I was pleased to be running on familiar territory again heading towards the Conservation Centre and Wentworth Falls along many, many, more steps both up and down. It was at this point I started to come across lots of stationary and ‘broken runners’, way more than I’d ever seen before in any race. I didn’t know what to do – what do you do? “This is a race” I kept saying to myself so kept on moving knowing they were not far from emergency help if they really needed it. Running across Wentworth Falls I stopped briefly to take in the views and look at the waterfall and my head was saying “why don’t you just stay here, call the crew and throw in the towel?” Then I firmly kicked myself up the arse and moved on up the steep and rocky ascent towards Kings Tableland Road. It was here that I caught up with Paul who I’d been running with during leg 1 and I immediately knew his mindset was not in the best place because he was being very negative about getting a sub 14 time. And you know what he was more than justified to think like that because this was becoming a bloody tough race and at this point all sorts of mental negatives had to be dealt with regardless of how the body was feeling. I knew what was to come though after CP5 because it was a route reversal of the previous 2 years (going downhill at the start for 8km out of the 22km till finish) so I reassured him that a sub 14 time was still possible in the time we had left which was around 3.5hrs from leaving CP5.

Thinking back I couldn’t believe how long it had taken to get to CP5 because leg 4-5 had been truly brutal! When I arrived I remember Kirsten saying something like “don’t look around you, its total carnage here!” “You’re on track for sub 14, can you do it?” And I really wasnt sure….

Running through Leura Forest.

Running through Leura Forest.

 

Running towards Wentworth Falls.

Running towards Wentworth Falls.

 Leg 6 – Queen Victoria Hospital to Scenic World (100km)

It’s hard for me to explain how I felt leaving CP5 knowing I had another 22km to run. However I did have some course knowledge from the previous 2 years and one thing I did know is that it was going to be all downhill for the next 11k so guess what? …. I bloody legged it!!

Leaving CP5

Leaving CP5

But clearly I wasnt legging it fast enough because after a few km into this downhill section I was passed by Paul (who I’d lost at CP5) shouting something like “SUB 14 IS DEFINITELY DO-ABLE MATE” as he ran past me. I shouted “go Paul” as he disappeared into the darkness. It was actually very dark by this time with only my head torch for company and once again I was surprised how alone I was. At one point I thought I’d taken a wrong turn because (in my head) I hadn’t seen a fluorescent route marker in a long time so I turned around and starting walking back up. I then saw a light coming towards me so took a gamble that it was just me and turned around again. Luckily it was just me and my messed up head and I was back on track!

The next few km were the toughest I’ve ever run before. The ‘death march’ up towards the emergency CP at 91km was soul destroying, I passed a runner that I’d seen earlier in the day lying on a stretcher with a medical team and hoped he was ok. When I finally reached the emergency CP I made a comment to the marshal that “the person who’d put this course together needed a slap”. Of course this was a tongue-in-cheek comment which the marshal found funny but I was shocked to hear from him that they had been dealing with broken limbs this year. I grabbed some water and moved on….

The final 9km are a bit of a blur, firstly because I still had some uphill running to do and to be honest I just wasnt in the mood for that anymore and secondly because my GPS watch kept saying ‘you are not going to go sub 14′ over and over again. I was convinced it was not possible for the 3rd year in a row and I was gutted but I kept pushing on towards the Furber Steps and the final 1km ascent of the day.

This final 1km was the most dramatic and horrific of any race I’ve ever done before. I kept looking at my watch thinking 14:10, or maybe 14:15 but no way sub 14. I came across a lady at the top of one of the ladder sections who was trembling with either fear or exhaustion, I said “please take care” and moved on still convinced that sub 14 was not possible. Then suddenly without warning I’d reached the top of the stairs, I could see North Face banners, lots of people and bright lights and thought this is not where I thought I’d be right now. I then heard a shout “mate you need to leg it” – so that’s what I did – I legged it!!

I crossed the finish line with the clock showing 13:59:59 but because my start time was 06:33 there was 3 minutes to come off that so I’d gone sub 14 by just 3 minutes. I was speechless from both happiness and tiredness.

Legging it!

Legging it!

Legging it towards the finish line.

Legging it towards the finish line.

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Crossing the finish line.

Crossing the finish line.

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Garmin stats

 

Why TNF100?

So, why did I decide to fly to the other side of the world for the 2nd year in a row to compete in The North Face 100 Ultra Marathon? The answer is simple – The Blue Mountains in New South Wales is the most spectacularly beautiful place I have ever been too. Everything is different there compared to the UK, the wildlife, the trees, the incredible waterfalls and the reliable weather. In May its Autumn so at night it can be chilly but during the day the temperatures range from 20-25 degrees Celsius so its perfect for trekking and of course racing. Obviously my return to The Blue Mountains wasn’t just about racing but was my main holiday of the year too so I arrived 7 days before race day staying again at The Silvermere Guesthouse in Wentworth Falls then returning back to the UK 7 days after so I had plenty of time to prepare and recover from the race plus be a tourist too.

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Last year my race time was 15 hrs 33 mins for 100km, anyone coming in under 20 hrs gets a North Face 100 bronze buckle belt so that was easily won. If you come in under 14 hrs you get a silver buckle belt so I had my sights set on achieving a sub 14 time in 2013. I knew that shaving 1.5 hrs off last years time was not going to be easy but a combination of hard training over the winter, a top 10 finish in The South Downs Way 50 miler (UK race) 5 weeks before TNF100 plus getting into start group 2 gave me the confidence that it was possible, I would give it my best shot!

A minor disaster!

This year I suffered quite badly with jet lag for 4 days waking up at 4am every morning no matter what time I went to bed, my body clock was all over the place and I felt very tired during the daytime. However it didn’t stop me getting out each day for long treks around the mountains and for some pre-race recon in areas I could get to easily on foot. I wasn’t that worried about getting out for a run because my last training run a week before I flew out was 33 miles in 5:15 so a couple of weeks off running plus 4-5 days trekking would offer some level of rest for the legs leading up to race day. But by Tuesday I couldn’t resist going out for a little run around the lake near to where I was staying so headed out once the sun had risen. I’d only been out for about 5 minutes on the walking path that goes around the lake when I saw a flash of neon through the bushes coming towards me, it was a cyclist heading straight for me. I knew that if I didn’t get out of the way quick it would be a head crash so I jumped to the side of the path to get out of the way as quickly as possible and the worst thing that could happen did – I tripped on a root and came crashing to the ground landing on both knees sliding across the path. The cyclist stopped and asked me if I was ok and I just said “yeah mate I’m fine”, stood up and continued on my run with a limp. It really hurt and I had that sinking feeling of what had just happened 4 days before the race, I didn’t look down and just carried on around the lake (just a few kms) until I reached home again. It was then I saw the blood running down my right leg and realised that I’d cut my right knee open plus the left knee was badly scraped too. I was gutted and upset and knew that this was not good at all and would need to spend the next few days ensuring that I did everything I could to get these knees into some kind of shape for Saturday. My friend Kirsten (@_papergirl) who would be my support crew on race day came over with the first aid kit, she couldn’t believe what I’d done but it was what it was and I was not going to DNS no matter what so would just have to deal with it as best as I could.

My right knee after the accident.

My right knee after the accident.

My knees the night before the race.

My knees the night before the race.

Registration.

Registration on the Friday night before the race was chaotic! This year the organisers had added a new 50km race into the event so not only was there 100’s of 100km runners (1,022 in total) waiting patiently for their bib, maps and other race instructions but there was also many of the 50km runners there too (500 in total). It was a slow process but I got chatting to some local lads plus listened to a Q&A session that was happening on stage to my right with the likes of Brendan Davies and Ryan Sandes. I was actually limping around the hall because my jeans kept rubbing on my scabby knees causing a lot of pain but I just tried my best to ignore it. Once my mandatory kit was checked and signed off I got my bib and race goodie bag and headed off home to eat, re-pack my bag and do one final kit check, everything was sorted and I was excited! I even managed to get 6 hours sleep which is unusual for me before race day so I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to roll…..

Leg 1 – Fairmont Resort to Narrow Neck (CP1) – 18km

The race starts at The Fairmont Resort in Leura which is a huge hotel & leisure complex, Kirsten and I arrived at 6am and the air was full of excited and nervous runners chatting to each other noisily. One thing I always notice about these starts is how colourful all the runners are. Kit choice is a very personal thing and I love seeing what choices others have gone for, it seemed that I was not the only one doing this as pretty much everyone else was checking out each other too, it was like an ultra runners fashion parade!

Once we’d had the final race briefing plus a comedy talk from a local indigenous man we headed out to the start line. Start group 1 would leave at 06:50 and I would leave at 06:53. Once start group 1 had gone there was another brief comedy moment – there was a scrum from the start group 2 runners to get behind line but someone had kicked the air pump over that was holding up the inflatable start line so it deflated and came crashing to the ground, it was very funny but was fixed immediately and we were ready to go.

Heading to the start line.

Heading to the start line.

The 1st 1.6km is on tarmac and I went off like a rocket keeping up with the front runners in my group. My reason for going off so quickly was so that I could get to the start of the trail path as quickly as possible because I knew that if I didn’t there would be the chance of a long bottle neck that I remembered from 2012. This year it didn’t happen and I hit the trail with no congestion at all. The first section of trail is just a short 900m before running on more tarmac for a further 2km before hitting the trail again at Prince Henry Cliff heading towards Leura Cascades. The trail here is rough and technical and was the 1st time I realised that I was dragging my right leg because I kept clipping tree roots and small rocks. The pain in my right knee wasn’t that bad but I knew I wasn’t picking up my leg enough to clear what was on the ground so tried to concentrate on every step which is not easy when you’ve got so many runners in front and behind you to think about too. A few km’s on and the inevitable happened and I stacked it not once but twice in spectacular style landing on both knees each time, the runners behind me asked if I was ok but there was no time to stop and think so I just carried on ignoring the pain.

The 1st test of the day was the Golden Stairs which is a steep, rough stairway of 200m up. It was quite a shock to the system but was just a taster of what was to come later in the day. Once at the top of the stairs we reached a fire road and then ran 1km into CP1. I spent 10-15 minutes at this CP firstly because I desperately needed the toilet (no more info on that) plus I wanted to check the knees, they looked ok so I filled up the bottles and headed on towards CP2.

Leg 2 – Narrow Neck to Dunphys Camp (CP2) – 38km

Leaving CP1 I felt ‘relieved’ and fairly calm after the incidents during leg 1. The next 10km was along Glenraphael Drive which is a long fire road of varying gradients with stunning views in all directions. I used this time to pick up the pace, relax into the race and get some fluid down me. By this time the sun was warm but the wind was cold so was glad I had decided to wear a thin windproof from the start. I remember thinking how stunning the Blue Mountains looked from up here and it really too your mind off the running. After 10km the course turned right onto a narrow walking track heading down towards the Tarros Ladders at the bottom. (The Tarros Ladders are erected for this event only and enable the runners to get down a very steep section of the course.) Before reaching the ladders you have to negotiate a steep path going down holding onto ropes secured into the rock and more temporary steel ladders. Once I had reached the start of the Tarros Ladders I made the decision that it would be foolish going down them with my legs in poor shape so asked the marshal if I could take the alternative route which is usually used in case of congestion and is about 400m longer than going down the ladders, the marshal said it was fine and I moved on with no one following me and this is when another comedy moment of the day happened. I’d only ran about 20 meters along the dusty path when I tripped over again, but what was different about this fall was that instead of falling forwards I fell to the right and went sailing head over heals down the side of the mountain. Luckily the ground was soft and after 3-4 tumbles I came to an abrupt stop in some bushes. My heart was pounding but realised the funny side of it immediately and was glad that no one had seen it happen, I climbed back up to the path and made my way down to the bottom of the Tarros Ladders to re-join the main route with the other runners.

The next section was a fun but technical track through trees and rocks which goes up and down Mount Debert, once at the bottom there was another steep section down before reaching a dirt road. Then it was a relatively simple 6km on fire roads and walking tracks into Dunphys Camp and CP2.

It was here when the 1st mandatory kit check was requested, the marshals needed to see both my head torch & backup light plus my fire lighter block & waterproof matches (given to us at registration). I was so pleased with the way my packed worked this year, I was using an OMM Ultra Light 15 which has incredibly fast access into the main compartment, I had also packed my mandatory kit into 2 separate dry bags (one large bag for clothing, one small bag for anything else). This meant that as soon as I was asked to show an item of kit I knew I could get to it quickly and be on my way without too much hassle and it worked really well this year.

I filled up both bottles (or so I thought I had), grabbed a quick bite to eat and moved out of CP2.

Leg 3 – Dunphys Camp to Six Foot Track (CP3) – 54km

For those that know me will know that I love to eat anything cheese related during training and long runs. My favourite is a cheese and onion pasty which I always carry in the UK however in Australia they do not exist, the only thing that comes close is a cheese and spinach pie that I knew I could get from the café in Wentworth Falls. This year I found at Coles Supermarket (same as Tesco) some individually wrapped strong cheddar bites and these were perfect for race day. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t just eat cheese during a race but I do find that this ‘treat’ at a certain distance always gives me a lift. For some people its flapjacks but for me cheese always hits the spot and I left CP2 with a cheesy grin on my face!

Unfortunately my happy cheese grin didn’t last long as I was about to approach a very tough section of the course – the ascent of Ironpot Mountain.

Ironpot Mountain is stupidly steep, its one of those hills that when you look up from the bottom you can see the other runners in a long line snaking up the narrow track, it almost looks vertical when you are at the bottom. So using feet, knees (ouch!) and hands I started the 1st section of the climb negotiating fallen trees, rocks and other obstacles along the path. Eventually the track levelled out along Ironpot Ridge but despite the easier gradient the path was indistinct in parts and tricky because you had other runners coming towards you at the same time. The reason for this is because at the top of the mountain there was a marshal writing bib numbers down, you had to run to the top, turn around and then run back down along the same ridge going towards other runners going up. One of the highlights of this section was listening to the didgeridoo players along the ridge, I said “hello” and they returned the compliment saying “good luck mate” which made me smile.

After coming down Ironpot Ridge the route took a very steep descent to the left which was pure comedy! The path was dusty and soft with minimal traction so you had to use anything you could get your hands on to help you get down. Because the terrain under foot was so soft you didn’t have to worry about hurting yourself so I just ran down as fast as possible while being choked by dust from the runner in front of me, it was good fun!

Once at the bottom of the comedy descent I hit a dirt road for 1km, the route then went across some grassy paddocks and farmland, across Galong Creek before reaching Megalong Valley Road (dirt track), from here it was 6km to CP3.

This is when I realised my mistake at CP2 – I’d only filled up one bottle and the bladder in my pack was also empty. I didn’t fill the bladder at CP2 knowing that I could get through the next stage easily with just 2 x 500ml bottles but in my rush to get through CP2 and not realising how much I’d drunk between CP1 and CP2 I had only filled up one bottle. I knew the next 6km would be fairly easy as it was on undulating fire roads but it was hot and I was thirsty.

After running about 2km along this fire road I came across a car full of DNF’s, I’m guessing the reason they were there was to pick up a fellow runner but it was strange seeing them in an area that I thought was out of bounds. Anyway I took a chance and asked if they had any spare water and luckily they did and without question filled up one of my bottles for me, I was very grateful and relieved to have some fluid to get me through to CP3.

Eventually I came to the 50km marker, I glanced at my Garmin and could see that I was just under 7 hrs for that distance so was on track for sub 14 hrs. It was then 4km to CP3 where Kirsten would be waiting for me and I could re-fuel before going up the Six Foot Track .

Running into CP3

Running into CP3

Leg 4 – Six Foot Track to Katoomba Aquatic Center (CP4) – 65km

Coming into CP3 was a bag of mixed emotions, firstly it was the 54km point so it felt good knowing that I was halfway through the race but on the other hand I knew that the next 2 stages would be the toughest of the whole day so I felt apprehensive, also CP3 was the 1st time the runners would see their support crew.

The CP was buzzing with families and crew waiting for their respective runners and there was a thick smell of BBQ food in the air which made me feel hungry. As I arrived I was clapped and cheered which was an amazing and uplifting feeling after running for the last 7 hours. I found Kirsten easily and she had everything I needed out on a small table, while I munched on small pieces of sausage roll that I’d prepared the night before plus 2 small cans of coke Kirsten filled my hydration bladder and bottles with water and electrolytes. The sugar and caffeine from the coke hit my system immediately and I felt instantly energised, I said thank you and made my way out of the CP, past the tents with food and back onto the track.

The 1st 5km was along an undulating dirt road so the running was fairly easy however this quickly changed once I reached the walking track and one of the biggest climbs (up stairs) of the day. From here to the top was an elevation gain of 480m mostly up stairs so I was glad that my blood was full of sugar to get me through this tough section. Just before I got to the stairs I saw some Kangaroos in a field to my right, it was the 1st time I’d seen them in the wild so I stopped for a brief minute to take a quick look.

At this point I was joined by another runner called Scott, he was from Sydney but had lived in the UK for many years so knew all about the areas I had been training in. We both chatted and wheezed up the stairs together until we reached the top, I’m not sure what happened to him after that because I didn’t see him again for the remainder of the race but this always happens in long races like this, you chat to this person and that during the day and rarely see them again.

After about 45 minutes of climbing up the stairs the track reached a junction with a marshal ensuring that runners took the right hand path, at this point you were fooled into thinking that the stairs had finished because the route went along a flat dirt road for about 500m which was a welcome relief. However the route then turned left back into the trees and up yet more stairs, it was a real test for my sore legs and a tired brain but I eventually got to the top coming out onto a tarmac driveway in a quiet suburban area of Katoomba.

From here it was a simple 2km on tarmac until I reached Katoomba Aquatic Centre and CP4.

Six Foot Track

Six Foot Track

Leg 5 – Katoomba Aquatic Centre to Queen Victoria Hospital (CP5) – 89km

Once again the smell of hot food coming into this CP was overwhelming but I had to resist stopping for long and concentrate on getting re-fuelled ahead of the longest and toughest section of the day so I downed some more coke and drank a warm coffee that Kirsten had got for me. At registration we were told that we would have to carry our fleece jersey and waterproof trousers if we arrived at CP4 after a certain time, I couldn’t remember what time that was so asked one of the marshals what the score was? To my relief I’d arrived at CP4 well before that cut off time so was told I didn’t need to carry them. “Thank goodness for that” I thought as I didn’t need any extra weight on my back for this long 24km stage as I would need to carry a full 1.5 litre hydration bladder plus 2 full 500ml bottles to get me through. I ditched my cap in favour of a lightweight thermal beanie instead, this is because in a couple of hours time it would dark & cool plus it would be time for the head torch to come out. I said thank you to Kirsten and got on my way after a few minutes.

The next few kms headed towards a popular tourist area in Katoomba of Echo Point and the Three Sisters. After spending so many hours ‘in the bush’ with very few people it was strange having to say “excuse me” so many times so I could get past, everyone was cool though, some clapped, some said well done (even though I’m not sure they even knew what this strange running man in tights was doing). Running through Echo Point and past the Three Sisters was such a buzz because all the tourists were clapping, cheering and some were even taking pictures. Once past the Echo Point visitor centre I ran downhill for a few hundred metres towards the top of the infamous Giant Stairway.

Running towards Echo Point

Running towards Echo Point

Running towards Echo Point

Running towards Echo Point

All smiles at 70km

All smiles at 70km

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

The Giant Stairway descends for over 200m with 800 steep steps to deal with on the way down, it wasn’t easy with tired legs plus all the  human traffic in the way going up and down. Once again a polite “excuse me” was all that was needed. Once at the bottom the route turned left and followed the ‘Federal Pass’ track which I ran along at the start of the day, the marshals had been out during the day reversing the way markers. In 2012 it was 5:30pm when I reached the bottom of the Giant Stairway and had to put my head torch on because it was getting dark, today I arrived at the bottom at 4:00pm so knew that I had at least 1.5 hours of daylight left.

The Giant Stairway

The Giant Stairway

The route continued further along the Federal Pass before a right turn onto a wide grassy track, across a bridge and back into the forest on a wide dirt track. It was at this point that I took a small breather and a stretch as I knew what lay ahead of me. The next 11.5km would all be run on this dirt track in the dark which at first went steeply downhill for a very long way before going back up just after the 75km marker for another 5km, it was this section that almost broke me! It was so steep and so long that it was impossible to run it so I just had to make do with a fast trek up until I reached a large pitched tent where the marshals were waiting offering hot drinks plus checking mandatory kit, this time they wanted to see my waterproof jacket. Its worth bearing in mind that the mandatory kit list is essential for a race like this and anyone caught missing an item will not be allowed to continue.  A lot of runners would be out for 24hrs+ so its vitally important that the correct kit is carried at all time. Leaving the tent the path still went up for another 2-3km and once at the top the path flattened out at a clearing and I was relived that I could finally run again into CP5.

To give you an idea of how hard this section was it took me 3 hours and 31 minutes to run/walk 24km!

On arrival at CP5 I glanced at my Garmin and could see that the time logged so far was 12.5 hours and realised that my sub 14 hour goal was not achievable. It may only be 11km to the finish line but I knew that because of the terrain on that final section it would take more than 1.5 hours to complete so I settled down for a PB on last years time instead. Kirsten gave me some great words of encouragement saying that I looked strong and was doing really well, I drank some more coke and coffee and set off for the final leg.

Leg 6 – Queen Victoria Hospital to Fairmont Resort (Finish) – 100km

The 1st 2km of this final leg was along Tableland Road which had been partly closed for the event, the runners had the left hand lane and the cars had the right hand lane limited to travelling in one direction at a time. There was only one other runner in front of me but there was car after car of support crews coming past me heading to the finish to meet the runners when they arrived. It was quite a surreal experience running on that road with head torch on and neon safety vest (mandatory kit after CP5) flapping in the wind. Kirsten drove alongside me and shouted more words of encouragement before zooming off.

At the end of this road the route went down a dirt track towards Rocket Point and then downhill all the way to Wentworth Falls waterfall. I’d been trekking around this area for most of the week so it felt very strange crossing under the falls at night with a just a head torch on. Then after some stairs the route went along the Undercliff Walking track before turning off again and following another section of steps towards the Wentworth Falls conservation centre. It was at this point that the fatigue of all the steps and climbs of the day finally hit me but I knew there was more steps still to come, all I could do now was walk anything that went up but tried my hardest to keep the pace as quick as possible. After the conservation centre I followed the way markers towards The Valley Of The Waters nature track and down a very steep flight of wooden steps, across a river then back up to the top following another flight of steps. When I got to the top I passed Leaura golf club which is within the Fairmont Resort which meant I only had 1km to go, the path flattened out and I started to run across the grass towards the resort hearing the noise that was coming from the finish line. I turned the corner and crossed the finish line with the MC announcing my arrival – what a buzz!!

The Undercliff Track - daytime shot.

The Undercliff Track – daytime shot.

My finish time was 14 hours and 27 minutes taking over an hour off my time from 2012, I was disappointed that I hadn’t gone sub 14 but was really pleased with my time on what is an extremely tough course. My official place was 197/1022 starters.

TNF100 Garmin Stats

TNF100 Event Video 2012

Posted: January 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

Saturday January 5th 2013

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

North Downs Way &  Surrey Hills  – 36.8 miles in 6 hours 48 mins

Today was the official start day of  TNF100 2013 training so I ran from my house in Woking along the canal towpath and joined The North Downs Way trail path at Newlands Corner. I then dropped down into Westcott then climbed up into the Surrey Hills reaching Leith Hill tower at dusk (22 miles). I then followed the Greensands Way to the summit of Pitch Hill, through Winterfold Woods & the village of Albury. The final climb of the day was St Martha’s Hill which drops down into the town of Guildford.

Leith Hill Tower

Leith Hill Tower

Route Map

Saturday 29th December 2012

Posted: December 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Guildford to Caterham – trail running along The North Downs Way – 28 miles in 6 hours

This run was a bit of last-minute decision. @bryanwe put a tweet out the day before asking if anyone was “up for a run tomorrow”. I thought about it for a couple of minutes and said yes, I just had to get the miles in as I was feeling good and I knew that Bryan would be running long.

We left Guildford in the pouring rain, ran up to the top of St Martha’s Hill & then onto Newlands Corner re-joining the North Downs Way path all the way to Dorking. By this time it was dark so the head torches were on. Going up Box Hill was ridiculously muddy, hard work & quite funny! Once at the summit it was just mud, mud & more mud all the way to Caterham. Huge fun!

Guildford to Caterham route map

Saturday 16th December 2012

Posted: December 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

Double Marathon – Woking to London’s Thames Barrier – 54.2 miles in 8 hours 39 mins

I decided to finish the year on a high by running a double marathon into London from my home town of Woking. I ran 2 marathons in 8 hours & 39 mins following the River Thames Path.

Marathon 1

Marathon 1

The London River Thames flood barrier

The London River Thames Flood Barrier

Marathon 2

Marathon 2

Route map & stats

Saturday 8th December 2012

Posted: December 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

Trail running along The North Downs Way with @bryanwe – 15.5 miles & 25 miles

Today I was running with a friend, the day was split into 2 parts..

Part 1 – 10.5 miles – Solo run from Woking to Newlands Corner to meet point.

10.5 miles to meet point

Part 2 – 25 miles – Newlands Corner to The Sands & back with Bryan.

25 miles – Newlands Corner to The Sands & Back