The North Face 100, I can run trails too.

Leura Cascades from the Bridal Veil lookout the Monday after

I arrived in Sydney on Thursday and after touring some of the major landmarks Bondi Beach, The Opera House, Harbour Bridge , Circular Quay and Darling Harbour with the family I retired to our hotel to rest while the family headed out for some shopping. Friday morning we headed inland and I was glad to be leaving the hub bub of the city behind us. I was excited. I have known about and followed this event over the last few years with interest but not had the opportunity to participate. Now living on the East Coast in Brisbane it was more accessible and I was able to bring the family along for the experience. I also looked forward to catching up with my Western Australian friends and the opportunity to see just how competitive I was on trails. I have had success in road and track events achieving some great results but I have always loved running trails and I wondered if I could match with the best.

On arriving in Katoomba I found that an outstanding field of women were in attendance. I was not fazed. I had come for the experience not for gold and it was only 5 weeks since I participated in my 1st 24 hour event achieving an outstanding 212.433km and picking up a couple of Australian W40 records in Coburg along the way. I had been warned that it can take time to recover and for the heaviness to leave the legs after such events.

As I toed the start line at 6:30am I was hopeful of achieving a top 15 at least to finish in the top 15% of the field but planned to run the race my way and not to worry too much about my placing. I found myself in the middle of the pack under the starting arch and moved a few people back. In the last few weeks leading up to race day my left hamstring had pulled up tight, I visited my physio for some needling and it felt better but it had restricted my training a little and I needed to start conservatively on race day.

The countdown begun and the day started. I was a little choked with emotion at the start but I soon settled into an easy pace on the road and the field spread out nicely over this out and back section. Then down the Furber steps we went. I was cautious but moved quickly. A scream echoed off the cliffs from below. My heart sank, obviously someone had fallen and they sounded hurt. It wasn’t long before I came across a very distraught Jo Johansen. Understandably very upset, seemingly in pain and having people stream past her on the steps wouldn’t have helped. I offered sympathy as I passed but I doubt she took comfort from it.

The North Face 100 2014
Image courtesy of Aurora Images

This was my first TNF100 and I did not have the opportunity to train on the course so I had no idea what to expect. I knew there were lots of stairs and I was not worried about that. I just planned to run within myself and finish comfortably as you can over 100km. Before I knew it I came across people on the boardwalk near the old coal mine shafts at the bottom of the scenic railway. This is where I would see my family crewing for me for the 1st time that day. Then came the first climb up stairs, the Golden Staircase and up I went, and on we went.

Later I would ask people around me where this was. Someone said Narrowneck and knowing this was part of the original course I thought of one of my Western Australian running mates John (Tracker) Collins and imagined myself running in his footsteps. It was about here I thought my back was a little wet. My pack appeared to be leaking. I mentioned this to someone running with me. He said we were approaching the ladders and we would probably have to wait and I would get a chance to check it. I decided there was no real point as there was nothing I could do until a checkpoint. As it turned out I didn’t need to wait at the ladders and we had a pretty quick descent.

Checkpoint 1, I decided not to check my pack I filled my 250ml bottle grabbed a gel (Endura Cool Mint) drank two cups of water and ran on. I did the same at Checkpoint 2. Quick body check, everything feels fine, my left Achilles and Hamstring are not worrying me and I just have the usual soreness that creeps in that can be largely ignored. I continued on at an easy pace, I had been advised to not push the pace too much early on and the race would only really start after halfway. I had been passed by one or two females but I had no idea where I was in the field. I then started to look forward to reaching Checkpoint 3, and the 45km mark where I would see the family. I wondered if they had enjoyed their Skyrail ride. I was out of water and a little thirsty.

My son Cale helping me with my pack at Checkpoint 3, Megalong Valley

Checkpoint 3. Gear check, thermal pants and high vis vest. At first I thought they meant waterproof pants and I had a bit of a panic as I certainly wasn’t carrying them, then I realised my mistake and as I already had my pack off ready to swap bladders I was able to quickly show them my gear and ran to meet the family. I told Tim about the leaking bladder and I asked where I was in the field, he didn’t really know, apparently I was 3rd in the Masters category (W40-49). I was hopeful of finishing in the top three of my category so this was heartening.

Still plenty of time to go, pack replenished back on and I ran off, superb crewing by my gang. On seeing the 50km marker I let out a woohoo! I’m halfway and I feel great. I am really enjoying my running. The trail became familiar, it was the Six Foot Track and before I knew it I was ascending the stairs through Nellie’s Glen. It was here I started to move up the women’s field and I gained a few places. These stairs are not as I remember them but I do okay moving steadily up and onwards. It’s not long before we are running along the road back in civilization and checkpoint 4.

Quite a  few people are around and are encouraging and tell me I am 10th female. I don’t believe them but I am stoked nevertheless. I run into the hall and my husband and daughter are just past the timing mat. Quick change over of bladder and restock of gels, I slurp down some Gatorade and 500ml of Iced Coffee, yum and I am on my way again. I loved the next section I was courteous but call out to warn people as I approach Echo Point and the 3 Sisters lookout where there are lots of tourists milling about. I gained another place coming out of the checkpoint and I know the Giant Staircase is coming. I let one guy who is excellent at descending stairs pass he is pretty pleased with himself to find this is something he excels at. I continue on, up, down and onwards past waterfalls and more stairs and some rocky sections.

My good buddy Claire Broadway somewhere on the course between CP4 & 5.

I look forward to seeing my friend Claire visiting for the weekend unexpectedly coinciding with the NF100 and suddenly theirs a whoop and there she is. I expected to see her a little further down the track but she was out walking and by chance was on the course. A sweaty hug, a quick selfie, I give her friend Matt a big kiss, we exchange a few words I say I think I am in 9th or 10th place, Claire says there aren’t that many chicks ahead of me and I am off again. Now I just look forward to seeing my crew again at Checkpoint 5, 78km. I overtake some guys on some steps, they are suitably impressed as I leave them in my wake. Somehow I can still climb stairs at a fairly good pace. Someone on the course tells me there is a fire trail ahead so its the last of the stairs for awhile. Then we encounter some road and half the road is closed off so I know we must be getting close and its downhill so I run.

NF100CP5-Back Tim helping me get sorted at Checkpoint 5, 78km and then I am on my way again.

Finally I hear cheering, turn the corner and I cruise in, find my husband and daughter who have been waiting patiently expecting me sooner.  Again it’s a swift changeover, I change my top, my pack is restocked I put on a dry buff and pull my headlamp out ready for when it gets dark, I gulp down another iced coffee, some water and I am off again. I am running again with only 22km to go and I think I am in 9th place but no one can confirm this. I encounter Kedumba. I had heard it mentioned but not really knowing the course I don’t know what I am in for. It’s downhill and quite steep. It’s downhill so I run it. I let gravity take it’s course but I’m not super fast. The big toe on my right foot hurts I wish I had trimmed the nail, too late now so I just try to lessen the impact a little. There is a creek crossing and it is getting dark but since this is a road I don’t turn my light I don’t really need it. I take the bricks placed there as stepping stones to cross it and then it’s a slight uphill so I walk, then there’s more down so I must run. Another creek crossing and I notice the stepping stone bricks too late and I tiptoe through the water, the feet aren’t too wet. Finally the 90km marker and with 10km to go I turn on my headlamp. I wonder if I will catch any of the women ahead of me and wonder if anyone is chasing me and keep moving as fast as I can.

Kira, Tim, Cale and Jodie Oborne. Me and my awesome crew the Monday following the race. I showed them some of the course and yes I tackled some steps again.

I encounter a marshall and some 100km runners coming in the opposite direction and I am confused, I wonder if I have to do another out and back section and if these runners are in fact in front of me. It is awhile before I realise that I am on a section of the course I have already run in the opposite direction. It is dark now so I don’t recognize it.

The final kilometres are marked and I count them down one at a time but it seems to take ages to travel just 1km and since the path is rocky and uneven I take it easy, running when I can. I am getting hungry and have one gel left and wonder if I should take it or if adrenaline alone will get me through the last few kilometres. I opt not to take it. There is a marshall at the bottom of the Furber steps she is upbeat and tells me there is ‘only 1km to go, up the Furber steps you go’. I tell her I just want to finish in under 13 hours I think I have 20 minutes or so. I climb the stairs as fast as I can they go on and on, finally I hear the finish line crowd, the final few steps and then I see Cale with the camera and Tim and Kira are there as well and I run to the finish choked again with emotion. I hug Tim and the kids and I am heaving with emotion again.

The North Face 100 2014
Image courtesy of Aurora Images

It was a great day out running, I think I paced it well and glanced around from time to time taking in the spectacular scenery, there were a lot of wow moments. At no time did I wonder why I was doing it there was just too much to look at and concentrate on to let any negative thoughts creep in. There is no doubt that the 24 hour event and the 212km I ran 5 weeks earlier helped with my endurance for this event. I am now reaping the benefit of all those hill repeats I did in training. But, the best part is catching up with old friends, meeting new ones and generally being part of an amazing crowd of ultra runners.

The North Face 100 2014
Race Director and the Top 10 women, I just make the top 10. Image courtesy of Aurora Images.

Tim asked me if the week after if I thought I could have run it harder or faster.  I don’t think I could have having no prior experience of the course. I was thrilled to finish 10th amongst a quality international field of women and to prove I have diversity as an ultra runner being competitive on the road, track and trails.

Gear: Ultra Aspire Omega Pack

Shoes: Adidas Riot 5

Nutrition: Gu, Shotz and Endura Gels, Gatorade, Dare Iced Coffee Double Espresso


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