The Blue Mountains have a bit of everything. It was a pleasure to get a sampling of Australian trail running and hospitality last week as I prepared for and raced The North Face 100k. The race itself ended up being quite enjoyable and rather dramatic. The result is one that I’m quite proud of and the effort was a breakthrough on many levels. Francois and I even saw a Kangaroo.
After a casual and conservative start, the middle of the race was defined by an unfortunate error in navigation. Francois, Julien, Yan and myself ventured off the correct course at an intersection that was missing it’s marshal. We were following the race-standard pink flagging and were on the correct course, but had inadvertently missed an out and back section of trail totaling 1.3k and which took the leaders eight minutes to complete. We were entirely unaware that there was an issue until several kilometers later. We arrived at checkpoint 3 a little confused. We submitted to a mandatory equipment check before Tom got our attention and informed us of the error. To his credit, he was extremely poised in the face of a stressful situation and distributed what I believe was a perfectly fair penalty.
As I said, it took the Aussie guys eight minutes to complete the out and back, so Scott, Tuckey, and Jono soon came charging through checkpoint 3 looking rather sprightly. We remained in the penalty box a full 15 minutes, essentially meaning that we swallowed a 7 minute deficit for the unintentional navigational problem (15min penalty less the 8mins of trail we cut). Francois, Yan, and I were released from CP3 together and set to work making up the time we’d gifted back to the Aussies. Judging from how they looked at CP3, I knew it would take a bit of an effort, so I set the pace a bit hotter for our chase group.
We caught Jono quickly and Tuckey a few kilometers later. Scotty was still running very well up front and we wouldn’t catch back up to him until about 58k, after checkpoint 4. I figured we’d drop him quickly but he hung tough and slotted in, now making us a four man wolf pack. Clearly Scotty was having the race of his life. It must have been the effort from an uptempo chase, but soon I was the caboose of the group doing my best to hang on during a rather challenging section of the course. Thanks to a couple Razz Clif Shots, I came good again about 30 minutes later and, all of the sudden, it was just Yan and I in the lead of the race.
What ensued was the best duel I’ve been a part of in ultrarunning and one of the defining moments of my career so far. We ran shoulder to shoulder in silence for a couple of hours but my intuition said that Yan was the stronger runner of our duo. He looked really smooth and I was clearly laboring. The race concludes with an evil 15k climb and it was clear that the ultimate separation would occur somewhere on that slope. I would describe myself as being a pretty soft person, so I was thrilled to find the courage and motivation to make a strategic and decisive move with about 7k to go. I’m so stoked it held to the end and I’m very happy to have won the race in what was definitely one of my career best performances.
Needless to say, I was really surprised and disappointed to learn the next morning that Scott had protested to have me disqualified. Thanks to Tom, Elena and Jo for making the fair decision and for being so thoughtful in the face of a difficult situation. TNF100k Australia is a fantastic race on the level anything I’v been to internationally. I’d absolutely recommend it for the competition, venue, and scenery. It’s also a diverse and worthy course.
Thanks to The North Face family who made my trip possible and to the Aussie TNF crew who looked after me the whole time. You guys are awesome!
With six weeks until Western States, I’m very pleased with where my fitness is at. The priority will be recovery for a few more days before hard work begins again. I’m extremely excited and grateful to have a fourth crack at this iconic race.