Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 - Year In Review

2013 is quickly coming to an end and it's time to look back and reflect on what's been and done and remind myself of some of the memories, experiences and friends that I've met in this year's chapter of this running journey.

At the top of the list for experiences would have to be the great travelling I've been fortunate enough to do. I've travelled far and wide for racing, to New Zealand, Japan, Europe and Western Australia. It hasn't always been easy; juggling work and racing, but I wouldn't have had it any other way! The trip to stunning Chamonix in France with the Inov-8 athlete retreat is something I feel blessed to have experienced. I left a more informed and focused athlete. Likewise my two trips to Japan were equally as beautiful. To feel the Japanese charm, culture and hospitality is something everyone needs to to at least once. I definitely left a better person for it. 

New Zealand was also a great experience. It was the first time I'd raced with big international athletes that I've admired and respected for a long time; it was quite a buzz! From the media and Q & A panel I was part of I learned from these guys and girls how to be an advocate for our sport. I came away a better ambassador.

Apart from racing, my 'running' career has also gone in a slightly divergent direction this year. One of my big motivations is helping others achieve their own personal goals and I have taken some small steps building my UP Coaching business. Although I don't have a whole lot of time to dedicate to it, the handful of runners I coached and mentored this year kicked some major race goals. I feel just as great knowing I was part of their success as any of my own personal successes this year. I also have wonderful memories from the Trail Running camps I've cohosted this year; first with Ultra Training Australia and more recently with Hanny Allston at Lake Crackenback. I get inspired by hearing about other people's running journeys and seeing them improve.

But to get to the racing. As much as I love all the other things I do around running, racing was my main priority. In summary, it was a huge year. Lots of racing; lots of highs but also a few inevitable lows, the recent GNW100 miler being the one that wasn't to be. But this is the nature of racing and at the end of the year I can now look back with much satisfaction; knowing I stayed true to my principles and motivations - to be a prolific racer but have a handful of 'key' events, to be versatile over various distances and terrains, to set, work towards and achieve goals and to get joy from (and hopefully give back) to the running community.

I have to happy with the overall results too; 30 top 5 finishers including 13 race wins.

I love the Central West races. I was honoured
to win the inaugural Orange Marathon.

It wasn't a huge year on the road., but I took my opportunities when I could. The highlights:
- Winning the inaugural Stromlo Running Festival 50k
- 50k PB in 3:05 at the Australian Running Festival, ranking 10th on the Australian all time list.
- Half Marathon PB in 1:12 at the Bathurst Half
- Winning the inaugural Carcoar Cup 60k in 4:02

With the late cancellation of the 100k World Champs, I didn't get a chance to race 100k on the roads. It was disappointing that I didn't run for Australia this year, particularly since I chose this early on over the World Mountain champs and the World Trail champs. I have some unfinished business still and I know I can improve on my 6:55 from last year.

Running in France was a real eye opener!

The trails were good fun this year. Of course the highlight was winning my local ultra, TNF100 in course record time. It was one of those days where everything went right. But the one I probably got the most satisfaction from was at Ultra Trail Mt Fuji. It was just such a different and difficult race and I had to fight so hard for that 5th spot. It really gave me the self-belief that success at the international level is possible.

Some other highlights:
- Winning and running 75km at the Knapsack 6h race
- 4th at Tarawera 100k
- 2nd at the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon
- 4th at Hakuba Trail 50k in Japan
- 3rd at Surf Coast Century 100k, such a hard day at the office!
- Winning the Fitzroy Falls Marathon, which was my first trail race back in 2007

A big thank you and shout out to all my sponsors who have played a massive part in me being able to do what I do; I hope I've replayed the faith you've had in me as an athlete and been a good representative for what you and your products stand for. Cheers to Barefootinc, Hammer Nutrition Australia, Injinji Performance Products, Ferei Australia, Valley Fitness, Suunto Australia and of course Inov-8. Many thanks to Lake Crackenback and Mountain Sports who have given me opportunities as an ambassador. 

Shortly, I'll post my plans for 2014. It is already shaping up to be a big year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Praise for Race Directors - 6 Inch Trail Marathon 2013

I'm sitting at the airport awaiting the red eye back to Sydney after a wonderful but way too short trip to WA for their biggest off road event, The 6 Inch Trail Marathon. This event started out as a fat ass event 9 years ago hosted by mate and Australian 24h rep Dave Kennedy. I first met Dave in Wales when competing at the second Commonwealth Championships where I was contesting the trail event and Dave the 24h. As much as he loves the battle of the 24h, Dave is very much a trail runner deep down and does most of his training on the trails around Perth like the Mundi Biddi MTB trail, the Bibbulmun Track, Bluff Knoll and knows them all very well.

Soon enough the fat ass grew too big and Dave now puts this on as an official event and it's a beauty! It's very much what I would call an entry level ultra trail event and behind the Perth and City 2 Surf marathon is the 3rd biggest running event in WA, a figure Dave is very proud of. I had the privilege of staying with Dave and seeing just how much work goes on behind the scenes being a race director. Dave is literally running around doing every job imaginable. In one of his other races, the 100 km/miles Waterous Trail on Foot, he even ran the race himself. Up to a couple of years ago he was doing the same at 6 Inch too, but now 'it's gotten a bit too big for me to run it anymore'!

The 'Hokey' Nut
The most challenging feature of WA trails is not the terrain (although the pea gravel feel like you're running on marbles and the honky nuts are potential ankle snappers!), nor the elevation of which there isn't a great deal. It's more the climatic conditions. December in WA is hot and this weekend was a stinker. Dave wisely starts the race at 4:30, just as the first light is creeping in from the east. But with days prior reaching a baking 40 degrees, it was always going to be a challenge for all competitors (just ask the English cricket team that are over here at the moment!)

This is my last race of the year and went into the race wanting to end the year on a good note. Besides the heat, this race plays to my strengths being a faster type of race but it did attract the best of Western Australian road and ultra runners and lots of great up and comers. But this weekend was much more about just the race, it was about learning about a new playground, the subtle and obvious differences of running on the other side of Australia and meeting a whole new community of trail runners. Although my race didn't go exactly to plan, I'm going home with great memories and new trail running experiences and with a bunch of great new friends.

But to get back to Dave! During the course of the two days I spent with him, I got to see how privileged we are as weekend warriors to have race directors that put on events for us all. Dave marked the course over many days. Dave worked his guts out packing and repacking the bus 3 times with all the aid station gear. Dave drove the bus to drive the competitors from the finish to the start line in the morning. Dave then shuttled people from registration to the start line I the bus. Dave liaised with all the vollies and designated roles. Dave arranged drinks and food post race. Dave had less than 2 hours sleep in the 2 nights before the race. Dave had lists and lists...and Dave did not stop talking or doing the whole time!

Dave did everything but run his own race!
And the proof was in the pudding. So many runners loved the many people made an effort to personally heartily thank Dave after the race. Maybe they're thanking him because he was the one that allowed them to reach a goal. Maybe it's because Dave was the guy who, by organising the event, set them a new challenge, or maybe it was because Dave was the one that gave people a means to try something new. Whatever people's motivation, if it wasn't for Dave this great trail running mob in WA would be a little less likely and many wouldn't get the opportunity to immerse themselves in this great lifestyle of trail running.

Of course, this is the same sentiment for many other race directors out there. As trail running is a sport not regulated by an over arching body (and thank goodness for that) the sport does rely on our Race Directors for it to make it happen. Even with SkyRunning and Ultra Trail World Tour et the end of the day it is events put on by clubs or private enterprise that will ultimately dictate the future of the sport. I hope I hope I never forget to thank Race Directors for all their hard work.

Anyway, my first 6 Inch race was up and down. I do go away happy but with that irritating feeling of unfinished business! After a conservative start and surprisingly winning the first big climb 'King of the Mountain' challenge, I settled into a good pace with another Perth gun Gerry Hill. After about 6km I decided to break away on a long gradual descent and dropped the chasing pack that also included Scott Hawker; who really has a massive ultra running future ahead of him and another young local guy Tom Bakowski.

As I continued through the first leg I was consistently running in the 3:40-3:50 pace range with some of the quicker km in the 3:30s, I was well under threshold and feeling great at this point of the race. On some of the longer straight stretches I glanced over my shoulder and couldn't see any chasers; I'd opened up a pretty handy lead early on. At the 18km point, I met up with Dave who was out on the course checking on the aid station preparations and he later told me I'd opened up 2 minutes on the chasers. It was still very early in the morning and it was still quite cool with a nice little breeze. But it was early days still. I reached the 23km aid station and refilled my 1L UltrAspire bladder as I was using the smallest vest possible, the Spry. I downed a Hammer Gel and pushed on.

The next leg was a tough little section, this is where we reached the highest point of the course and there were some long exposed sections where the sun was starting to become quite punishing. But I shouldn't complain, at least 90% of the course in under shade and it could have been a lot worse. I was watching my hydration and I was happy where I was at in the race. With a couple of minutes lead I was in a good position but not home by any means.

Early on in the race
Towards the end of this leg there is an aid station at the 34km mark at the top of a short but steep climb. Dave had shown me this hill the day before as we were out marking the course. He showed me from the top of the hill where the aid station would be set up and he had offered to take me down and up again to offer me a feel of the hill, but I declined the offer. It hindsight I wish I had taken him up on it!

The whole out and back is 5km all up and as I started the 'out' leg I was noticing my pace dropping a bit but decided that this was probably a good thing given that the big climb was coming. As I reached what should have been the start of the climb I came to a junction where I could go straight on or left down a little gully. My gut was saying left as I knew the climb started at a dry creek bed from what Dave had told me but there was a little problem. There was a strip of pink tape lying across this trail on the ground of the trail I should have gone down and some marking tape tied to a branch on my right hand side of the trail that went straight on. So in my mind, with not much time to think intelligently I chose to go straight on. As soon as I headed up the trail I knew it didn't feel right but as it was still heading uphill it could have been it. Soon this trail began to level out though and knew that it wasn't the one. I had probably ran another 400m and by the time I had turned and returned to the right trail it was about 4-5 minutes lost.

As I started to climb the right hill back on the course, Scotty Hawker was already descending it. He must've been too far behind me and after the race he told me his support had it down to 30s as I turned off on the start of the out and back leg and this sounds spot on to where he was now in the race. Dave came down and asked me where I went wrong and he followed me back down the trail to fix the little problem with the ribbon. Evidently what had happened was a mountain biker or a kangaroo or something had snapped through the marking tape that was orinally stretched across the trail that I had incorrectly chosen to head up and had left the right amount of pnk tape on the right hand side tie point where it had snapped from. This happens in trail running and I stuffed up big time by not thinking it through fully and by not trying out both trails before choosing one. Had I just decided to head down the other trail as well I only had to turn the next corner down the gully and I would have seen another ribbon.

But it did not in any way cost me the race. Scott had paced himself beautifully and was warming into the race. Almost as soon as I started on the descent and the 'out' section to get back to the course proper, I began to drop pace a lot. I was feeling mentally a bit demoralised and physically was beginning to feel very low and my legs were going to jelly. I was feeling a little light headed and dizzy and the little pinches were taking their toll on me. 3km or so later, a couple of little walks to get my heart rate together and to get some food and water into me, I was passed by Tom Bakowski. I knew I'd be hard pressed keeping up with him the way I was feeling. The temps were now in the high 20s and it was now about surviving to the finish and holding on to a podium spot.

Dave Kennedy (RD), with Scott and Tom
And thankfully I did, the 4th placed guy at the out and back, Gerry Hill must have pulled and I held onto 3rd comfortably in the end. In the end there was 16 minutes between Scott and I and this is significant and shows what good form Scott is in before his big tilt at the HK100 and gives me something to think about going into a massive year next year about race preparation and pacing in the heat!

At the finish, everyone hung around and enjoyed the plentiful post race food and drinks, including midstrength beer and champaigne, and vegetarian subway! Dave did a short and sweet presentation and prize giving ceremony and what struck me was the generous applause each and every competitor received as they crossed the finish line. This race had a great little feel about it, from the time I met a bunch of athletes at Dwellingup Caravan Park the night before at the Q and A session, to the time I said goodbye I met so many lovely and approachable people. I'd like to see more and more easterners get over and run this event, it's well worth the trip over!

And we all have Dave to thank for it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Recently I had the privilege of being part of Movember, a fundraising cause which aims to raise awareness of Men's Health; particularly prostate cancer and depression. As part of my role of an Ambassador at Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa, I was invited to speak at their annual Movember Sportsman's Dinner which included an informal Q & A session with MC of the night Ben Ikin and included other guest speakers Jared Tallent and Nick Farr Jones. It also coincided with my second Trail Running Camp that I cohost with Hanny Allston at the resort.

I would like to sincerely thank all those that donated to the cause via my Movember Page. All up $436 was raised and the team I was part of raised $2000. A pretty good effort and worth carrying that hideous thing on my top lip for a month! I would like to thank Scott O'Neile, the GM at Lake Crackenback for the opportunity to be part of the wonderful night. Below is a bit of a talk that I prepared.

'Changing the face of Men’s Health'
I participate in a sport that is pretty hardcore, it’s an individual sport that pushes mind and body to the absolute limit. It’s called ultra marathon running. And just because I love it so much, I make it harder by doing it not on flat roads but on some of the toughest terrain imaginable; up and down mountain trails (if there is a trail), through creeks and mud and bog, sometimes over ice and snow and sometimes, if I’m lucky enough to be racing abroad, in literally quite breathtaking altitude. I’ve raced in snow blizzards (funnily enough in Canberra in Summer), thunderstorms, minus temperatures, on snow and on scorching hot days! This is ultra trail running! So really it’s a very diverse sport but it can be pretty much summed up in this way ‘athletes, do whatever you have to do to get you from Point A to ridiculously far away Point B. Or in the case of the most famous Ultra Trail race, Ultra Trail Mt Blanc 100 miles in and out of 3 countries), so you get it, it’s a long way usually via the hardest way possiblein the shortest amount of time’. Then there’s the chaffing, and all the peculiar places you can get chaffing. The only pain worse than chaffing is the feeling of that initial contact of hot water on the chaff of the post race shower. That’s my sport that I get so much joy from! And funnily it just happens to also be one of the fastest growing sports in the world right now, and thousands upon thousands of people are discovering the joy and challenges that this sport offers. Yes joy! That’s right! There is joy to be found in running these long distances. I’ve been in races in Japan where the pre race brief contained warnings about bears, Mountain Lions in the US and I’ve had Mexican standoffs with roos in Australia, but I’ve also encountered some amazing wildlife. Ultra trail running can be the most beautiful, serene and captivating experiences. It’s on the whole, a peaceful and pure sport which connects you with nature and our roots as human beings.

You know ultra runningis actually quite similar to life; instead of getting from A to B in a race, living in its most basic form is really about getting from birth to death. But where running and living differ is that we don’t want to go through life the hardest way possible in the shortest amount of time as is the case in ultra running, we often want to go through life living in an uncomplicated and fulfilling way, in the longest amount of time! We all go through good and bad patches in all the parts of our lives; personal, professional and the like, even through the difficult stuff, how often have we all heard others say ‘at least I’ve still got my health’.When we do happen to get sick we notice how even day to day tasks become hard and we feel vulnerable even if it is the dreaded man flu. This tells us that a big contributing factor of how content we are in our lives is of course how engaged you we are in our own health.

But I’ll pick up on this theme a little later.

When I was researching Movember, I watched a couple of YouTube clips that Adam Garone, the founder of Movember presented. Now here is a regular guy who has done an extraordinary thing. He’s brought about one of the biggest fundraisers in the world, and certainly the biggest fundraising event that supports Prostate Cancer research. But what is even more impressive in my opinion is that he has indirectly started hundreds of thousands of conversations all around the world. Even with my moustache, as strange as it is, it’s proven to be a wonderful conversation starter. (Once people are able to look at me face to face that is!)

When I’m not running, travelling, competing or recovering from chaffing related injuries, I work as a Special Education Teacher in a primary school in Western Sydney. This year I teach a colourful lot- a class of 15 year 5 and 6 children, some with emotional and behavioural disorders, of which 11 are boys…I’m sure you can visualise what my classroom is like during the day! The Mo has actually had a number of advantages; I’m sure there has been a positive correlation between the length of my mo and the compliance of the kids! But more importantly, the Mo has also been a way to talk to my colleagues about Movember. Which in a predominantly female workplace is interesting. Once they got over the shock of my Mo, they love nothing else than having a chat about the Mo. My fellow male chalkies, yes all three of us out of 35 staff, of which me and one other are doing Movember, would keep the conversation about the mo simple. ‘Your’s is growing quick’, or ‘I think I may curl mine at the end of the month’ or if we were getting really deep and emotional ‘geez it’s hard to keep it symmetrical when shaving in the morning’. But that was about it. The women staff on the other hand would cut straight to the chase. ‘What’s the cause again’, or asked about my motivation ‘Have you had friends or family affected by men’s health issues’, or were quite happy sharing stories of people they knew who had been affected by cancer or depression. It’s quite striking to realise how many men in these ladies’ lives have been impacted.

The Movember tagline is ‘changing the face of mens’ health’ and Adam Garone describes this as not only giving men the challenge of changing their appearance for a month but more importantly (and this gets back to the earlier theme I mentioned ‘getting men engaged with their health and having them have a better understanding of the health risks they face’. So suddenly I wasn’t just growing a moustache, which let’s face it men, is the easy part. I found myself in the staff room being an advocate for men’s health awareness and this made me think a lot about my own journey with my own health.

There was a definitely a period of my life where I was very disengaged with my own health, it was probably between the age of 25 to 30 that were particularly bad. I had just left university after a long and undistinguished undergraduate career, that only ended when I had out ‘unied’ all my friends who had graduated and moved on. I chose teaching as my career, not so much because I was drawn to it but more due to the awesome 9 – 3 hours and all the holidays you get (a big fallacy)! Anyway I soon found out that teaching is in fact one of the most time demanding jobs there is. I also met and married my beautiful wife Nadine, and I was keen to get established in my career. And I did, I put in big hours, worked back and usually had no time to cook and eat properly. I definitely didn’t prioritise any time for exercise either.

Only 7 years ago, almost to the day, I was pretty much in the worst spot I’d ever been in with my health. I did not run, nor was I particularly careful with what I ate, drank or did with my life. I played some squash, but mainly to be around mates and get a good workout once a week that would alleviate some of the guilt of my poor lifestyle. But even looking back at that, although I enjoyed the game a lot, I think it was the post match get together with the other teams that I looked forward to the most, and every comp night always seemed to end with party pies and beer. So much for the calories I’d burnt off on the squash court!

The crux for me came when I returned from a holiday to Vietnam, where I enjoyed all the local cuisine way to much and drank way too much (only due to the humidity in South East Asia of course!). I remember looking at a photo of myself and thinking WOW is this the road I want to go down in life? I was 87kg, that’s pretty much look at me now and add a half of me again. But you know what? I wasn’t just about how I looked, sure looking at yourself in a mirror is a big motivator of change, but for me it was more what was going on in my head and how I was behaving in my life. I was stuck in a rut; and my mental, as well as my physical health was suffering. I was irritable, I lacked patience, I lacked confidence and had low self efficacy. I was less resilient and became easily overwhelmed when things went wrong. I’m sure I went through bouts of depression; and Nadine is pretty confident that I did. My priorities were all muddled up, there was a lack of purposefulness and I had a sense of a foreshortened future. I was definitely taking my health for granted. The point is, it’s with routines and lifestyles like this when we doubt that change in our own lives is ever possible. We see others that make great changes in their lives as just being lucky, or they have the resources, the time and the money to do it, or they don’t have the commitments that I do.

It’s so easy to go on in life doing things in an unthinking and unplanned way, focusing on the day to day tasks without ever stepping back and thinking about how I want my life to be. This is how distracting life can be without making any goals. And after I looked at that photo of myself I made myself some small goals. I was now entering the phase when I was re-engaging with my health.

I chose to change. Of course initially it was a conscious choice because I saw what I looked like and I knew what I felt like on the inside but it wasn’t my plan to become to an elite runner, it was simply a choice to change. It was a choice to change my lifestyle, my eating habits, my routines, my philosophy, the time I spent at work, my belief in myself, my exercise routines and my commitment to health.

And the process of reengaging with my health has not been easy. It was hard to get into new routines of making healthy meals, instead of going for the convenient option of takeaway. It was hard to always choose the healthy options on the menu when I really wanted to go for the deep fried, salty, fatty option. It was hard living opposite an RSL club and not being able to go over the road for my regular afternoon beer and chat with the lads that I’d gotten to know. It was hard doing those initial runs in the beginning months not looking at all like a runner, being heckled and from car windows. Now I run too fast for them to even get the window down in time! It was hard to keep my meal sizes down and stay away from the sweet snacks between meals. I still struggle with this. It was hard to say no to people when I know what type of night they had in mind, when all I was thinking of was the fun run the next morning. It was hard to find the balance when I had a new found passion. It was hard for me to renegotiate my relationship with my wife. No more weekend sleep ins together as I’d be out training. Having this new passion meant I had to give other things. I had to negotiate with myself as well as Nadine and it was hard to give up these other things. It was hard to stick to my new priorities. At times it’sbeen hard not to have my cake and eat it too.

And in the process of reengaging with my health I have learnt that I like myself and my life more. And it’s not just because of the act of running and the success I’ve had in my running career so far.For me it’s more the fitness, the mental health benefits and the enjoyment of the environment. Running has taken me around the world to places I would never have chosen to go but have loved. It’s about the people I’ve met, so many wonderful, inspiring and generous people. I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for people like Scott, who randomly sent me a question on Twitter after I won TNF100 this year. Now I’m here ad coaching him towards his first TNF100 next year. But principally, at the core, the reason I’m loving life more is because of the changed relationship with my body and my commitment to my health and sharing this passion with other people.

Which is what has brought me to this beautiful location at Lake Crackenback. Lately I’ve started taking on some coaching roles on board; running trail running camps and teaching children clinics, along with coaching people who have made a similar commitment to their health and have decided to set a big race as a goal to work towards. I enjoy sharing my passion and skills that I’ve picked up with others.

But back to the reason we are all here; Movember. I was trying to think of how I could bring ultra trail running and Men’s Health together, and you know what? There are many parallels between long distance running and Men’s Health.

In ultra trail running, it’s a lot more than just running and being an athlete. You have to be your own nutritionist, first aid officer when things go wrong, crisis counselor (when you get lost) and decision maker. Our journey with our own health is a bit like this. No one else has more control over your own health than yourself. No one is going to make you see a doctor about the new pain you have or the worries and anxiety that you’re experiencing. When things get bad, you’re the one that has to act.

However, thankfully we don’t always have to do everything ourselves. In big trail races, there are checkpoints where we can refuel your body, refill water and get some moral support from family and friends. Sometimes these checkpoints are the difference between finishing or not. Sometimes they can be the difference between making the right decision or stubbornly going on and doing damage.

Recently in what is one of Australia’s toughest ultra marathons the GNW100 I had an experience I’ll never forget, I was running a 176km trail race, a race that I’d won and set the course record the year before. But it was much different this year. It reached 38 degrees in the middle of the day and I was affected by heat stroke and then couldn’t hold any liquids or food down. I’d lost 7kgs by the 100km mark. I was determined to push on. Thankfully at this point my crew and medical staff spoke the sense I needed to hear and I called it a day.

Just like I needed a wise head that day from my crew and medical staff, sometimes in life we need the words of others help uschange a pattern or make a decision to do something about our health. The Movember message is just this, to spread awareness and encourage men to engage with their health.

The other message I learnt that day was that we can never take our health for granted. I was probably guilty of taking the race for granted, not factoring the external aspects that the weather was presenting and running a race plan that wasn’t suitable. I was reminded that day, in a very unpleasant way that we’re not indestructible.

Another parallel is about the dreaded feeling of ‘hitting the wall’. I definitely hit a couple of walls that day; and it was only pure stubbornness that even got me to my eventual retiring point in the race. Unfortunately for thousands of men who get diagnosed with prostate cancer or testicular cancer, or indeed any serious health issue, they would feel like life has suddenly hit a wall. Thanks to Movember, through the money raised that goes towards cancer research and early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatment and for their message of getting that annual check up and adopting a healthier lifestyle, the wall is going to impact people with less severity and intensity.

Last parallel- everyone goes through good and bad patches in ultra trail running. It simply comes with the sport. And everyone goes through good and bad patches with their health. With running I learned that most bad patches don’t last forever. I’ve won lots of races after going through significant low points, ever after getting lost! And our own health is exactly like that. For most of us we struggle with some form of health issue. The message here is that with applying more common sense strategies, like regular checkups, following up on the small things and becoming more aware of health issues we can also bounce back and get back on the right track.

I’m very proud to be just one of 100s of thousands of men and women worldwide who are part of this Movember movement. Not only has it refocused my commitment to my own health but this itchy protrusion on my top lip has given me the opportunity to spread awareness and start many conversations.

With Scott O'Neile from Lake Crackenback Resort

Monday, December 2, 2013

TNF100 2014 'New' Course Thoughts

With the change of start location to Scenic World in Katoomba, we say farewell to the familiar original course and welcome a significantly different course. I’m sure we all, as I do, have many fond memories of the old course; the sections we loved most, the views or the places we have become accustomed to running in the dark through…but change is change and I’m embracing the new course and see it as just another challenge put out there to conquer!

First thing to mention is that while there are changes, over half of the new course is exactly the same as the old course, run in the same direction, at similar points of the race as far as distance. This is the first loop that included Narrowneck, Medlow Gap, Dunphys, Iron Pot Ridge, 6 Foot and Nellies Glen. Further, the remaining half is still mostly on the old course, although the difference here is that we will be running this section in the opposite direction. In fact the only new sections that I can tell are a small 4km road run at the start (unfortunate but wisely necessary to spread the field before hitting the single track), the following descent down Furber Steps to Federal Pass and the final ascent up Furber Steps to the finish. There are also small variations around Wentworth Falls/Conservation Hut (no more Nature Track, instead replaced with the more direct track up stairs to Cons Hut) and the Leura section is different, with more trail through Pool of Siloam track and avoiding the road running that we’ve had to do in the beginning stages here on the previous course.

What does this mean in terms of race difficultly, average finishing times and race planning?

In terms of difficulty, this new course is no doubt tougher on the legs and runners should expect at best half an hour to anything up to 2 hour slower times than in previous years (that is given similar fitness levels etc). The sub 14 silver buckle is now much more difficult to achieve. But this is good. Nothing like the changing of goalposts to bring out the best in all of us!

The areas I see as having the most impact on longer finishing times are:
  • The change of direction of the single trail section around and up to Leura Cascades. Again, don’t underestimate how long this tricky trail takes in the opposite way. There are many small pinchy hills and…yes…stairs and steps are abundant through here! Remember all the steps we used to go down at the beginning? Well you're now going up them and after 60km in the legs!
  • The 8km descent down Kedumba Pass and 8km Sublime Ridge Climb. This massive descent now is later in the race and on already screaming legs, this could be a very slow and painful trip to the bottom. While the climb up Sublime isn’t technical at all, the incline is relentless. Just ask the 50km runners from last year how tough this was.
  • The final ascent along Federal Pass and up Furber Steps to the finish. After 97km and a massive climb up Sublime Ridge just completed, this could be at best a death march, more likely what I heard lately 'a scene from MASH' late in the race!
There are a couple of ‘faster’ replacements however; the most obvious being the initial descent to Federal Pass down Furber which will replace the longer, trickier (in my opinion) descent down from Leura that the old course did. The shorter section from Lilian's Bridge to Conservation Hut up the Empress Falls Track may be shorter and quicker but again, is stairs, stairs, stairs and your legs will be wishing it had gone the longer but less taxing way around!

The other factor to consider will be Checkpoints and planning your nutrition and hydration. The first CP will now be much earlier in the race (10km, almost rendering it superfluous), subsequently bringing all the remaining CPs 8km ‘earlier’. (There is some compensation with the Iron Pot Ridge out and back not as long but this would be pretty immaterial to race time and overall course difficulty).

The last leg is now 22km long instead of 12 and without doubt at least double in time. In response to this, there will be an ‘emergency aid station’ (foreboding choice of words!) in the Jamison at 91km (the ‘helipad’ area). This will not be accessible to crew nor dropbags, so essentially the last 2-5 hours of the race you will have to plan really carefully. Unlike in previous years where the last 12km could be achieved on adrenalin and some swigs of sugary drinks alone, do not underestimate how important nutrition and hydration will be through here as the last 10km are pretty much all uphills and stairs!

So to put on my coaches hat now, should your training change in response to this course change? ABSOLUTELY! My number one training principle is SPECIFICITY. Look at the course. Break it down and train for the new course. How are you going to condition your body for the large descent at 80km? Or, visualise the fatigue you’ll be feeling at 90km. How are you going to handle the final ascent? Most will probably walk a lot of it, should power walking be incorporated? Train accordingly for it. Prepare your body and mind. Get out on the course or find somewhere adequate and simulate it. A classic example of a suitable training session would be to finish up a long run with a Kedumba descent/Sublime/Furber Ascent for maybe 40-50km all up (hmmm....TNF50 course?). Also, don't ignore the stairs. Sad, but it's as part of TNF100 as sand is to MDS!

Personally, I am excited by this new challenge and will be aiming up for this race again next year. It will be a ‘A’ race for sure. While I would have loved at least one more year of the original course to see if some local young guns, grizzly seasoned vets, internationals or indeed myself could get close, break or obliterate my record from last year, it’s something that unfortunately may never occur and so be it. Life goes on.

I’ve been asked if this course is better than the original course. I’ll answer it with this; I’m not nostalgic enough to say ‘the old course is the original so is the best’. Nor will I say that the new course is better ‘because it's tougher’. The answer will come down to our individual preferences and running strengths and what we value about trail running. Personally, I think the only way I can answer it is by saying ‘the course will never be perfect until runners go up and over Mt Solitary!’ ;-)

I'd love to hear your thoughts too. Comment away!