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!
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!