Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Next Phase

The North Face 100 marks the end of my strength and endurance phase of my training periodisation for Western States and I now enter the sharpening phase as happy as I can be with how the build up has gone. Most pleasing is that I am feeling very strong and very fit. The body has held up really well; not without a few scares mind you, mainly with my right achilles tendon, but even this has come to the party and settled down a lot and rarely causes me any more discomfort.

All the big racing and training blocks are now behind me and I have entered the sharpening phase full of eagerness to get the zip back and just bring down the cruising pace a couple of seconds per km less. This will mean that I'll be hitting the road and flat trails a lot more over the next couple of weeks and looking to get a bit more speed work in at the track and in the form of some shorter races. It may sound a bit absurd to concentrate on speed for a big 100 miler but to be honest, this is one area that I think will serve me well on the very runnable Western States course.

When I backward planned my training phases from Western States, the first thing I did was work out when the appropriate time would be to start my big endurance blocks in order to ensure I wouldn't do 'death by volume' too early in the year. For me, it really started with a race - the Tarawera Ultra in early March and since then my weeks went from around 110km a week to over 160km a week. I wasn't at my best there but this was just part of the deal. Since then, I have used specific races as key performance indicators for different training aspects. For example, I made sure I got a big block of strength training in prior to the Buffalo Stampede and that race really complimented this phase nicely. The endurance and strength aspects of my build up really melded together and culminated with UTMF. It was a brutal race but it gave me so much back both physically and mentally and the important confidence boost I needed.

The first Penrith Lakes parkrun
was my first 5k of the year
The North Face was really about bringing it all together on a course that was probably the closest I'm going to get to Western States in terrain terms. I was using it as almost a 100k training race. Again, I realise it sounds totally absurd, but I'm sure you all know what I mean when I say I'm no different to any other runner who can justify all the decisions they make! Sometimes it doesn't always makes sense unless you're the person making the decisions! It was all for a greater purpose I thought. When it comes to TNF100, I always feel the pressure to perform on my local trails and it was a great opportunity to run fast amongst a quality field. Perfect practise for Western States!

So now I start sharpening, and it's actually a phase I enjoy for the variety it offers. I get to run short, sharp races at threshold pace and I hit the track more often and with more purpose. It is also a time to lower the overall volume and the length and difficulty of the long runs. So in the next month, I've decided I will only be doing one more run of +30km, with most of my longish runs around 20-25km but at a higher than normal intensity on road or flattish fire trail.

To kick it off, last week I ran the inaugural Penrith Lakes parkrun on Saturday morning and then went around again at the SMC Half Marathon on the Sunday. There was a bit of easy running before and after each event, and this type of thing will be my routine for the next couple of weekends. I was slightly surprised how little speed I have lost over the last couple of months, given that I haven't been a regular track attendee and my training has been much more endurance focused than it's ever been. But to hit my targets of sub 17 for the 5k and sub 1:15 for the half a week after TNF was very pleasing. In my mind I can only get a little faster an fitter if anything by the time WS rolls around. 

It was great to be back racing at SMC. A new venue but
the same friendly atmosphere!
It's been quite the journey and definitely the biggest lead in to a race that I've ever done. Now all that is required is a little icing on the cake, an appropriate taper which will include some beneficial course familiarisation runs with Beth Cardelli and I am race ready to rip into the big dance. I'm not leaving any stone unturned. I feel I've laid a great foundation to give this most prestigious of races a good shake. I was very fortunate to get a spot in this race and there is no way I'm going over unprepared. I will be going over there with the mindset that I can race my best and that I'm be the most prepared I've ever been to do something special.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

That Deep Sense of Satisfaction - TNF100 2014

The North Face 100 is the biggest trail ultra event in Australia. Not because of it's toughness, large participant levels or it's big elevation +/-. Not even for the amount of stairs! No, nothing like that. It's simply the biggest because it's the one day of the year when so many people run, walk, limp, hobble, and crawl a bloody long way in order to experience our beautiful sport and achieve a massive goal. In the months leading up, there's the endless long runs, hill repeats and hours enduring Blue Mountains roadworks on route for training runs on the course ;-) In the lead up there's battles with pre-race nerves and self-doubt and during the run we all suffer, reach depths we never thought we could reach, fight the elements and then collectively as a group, once it's all over, celebrate in each others joy and achievements. This is ultra-trail running at it's best!

It's a race at the pointy end, no doubt about that. But looking around at the finish line on Sunday at the presentations I took a moment to reflect on my first trail ultra, and stepped into the shoes of the so many around me; those there not for the purpose of a finishing position so much but more for a finishers buckle or time and that deep sense of satisfaction that comes with completing what was a massive journey towards that finish line.

Well all one in ultra trail at least...
I fondly remember my first finish at an ultra (6 Foot Track 2008), and the sense of both shock and achievement of what I'd just done. I felt like I had fluked finishing it, and that somehow I had dodged all the bullets (injury, nutritional problems, dehydration etc). Fact is, that with all things new, I was taking a leap into the unknown, stepping out of my comfort zone and having a crack like so many others did on the weekend. But I had also done sufficient enough training, had researched and discussed ad nauseam on CoolRunning all the ins and outs and turned up ready as I could be on the day. So whether you finished or not in your goal time on the weekend, you turned up ready and willing to have a crack at 50 or 100km; which is in my opinion, is just as worthy as a finishing time.  So before I go into the race details from where I ran, I have to congratulate all the ultra first timers who toed the line on Saturday. You've now joined a special sport full of special people and I'm sure you'll all be back for more (but it might take you a week or so to come to that decision!)

The deep sense of satisfaction of completing my first ultra has long been dulled by many shifts of the goalposts as one does. After UTMF, I had purposely tried to put TNF100 out of my mind. I just went about my training as per normal, trying to just get back into my usual WSER training routine. The taper was short, I skipped my usual midweek long run on Wednesday and track session on Thursday, and had Friday off. I wanted to go into the race treating it more like a training race for Western States, pushing hard when I needed to and testing myself on the faster sections. I didn't really have a goal in mind apart from racing hard and strong and coming away mentally and physically tested. If I did that, there would be the reward of a massive confidence builder. Like always, the placing would look after itself. It nearly always does!

About to head down Furber Steps with Jorge
Photo courtesy of Jared Cox
The race started under beautiful conditions; the Blue Mountains had definitely sensed the significance of the day and delivered. The new race HQ at the KCC and the new hub at Scenic World I believe has added much value to the race. I got to the start around 6am and felt as ready as I could be to run 100k. I had visualised how I was going to run and was happy with the plan. Although I hadn't told him, and only told those close to me, I though the man to beat from the local contingent was Scott Hawker. His form this year has been outstanding; 5th at the Vibram Hong Kong 100, 5th at Tarawera and then winning the local Mt Solitary Ultra in race record time. But I guess it was when I got to run with him just over a month ago did I realise that he was in a special place with his running. There was also the other top Aussie guys; Tucks (who is always so tough), Ben Duffus, Andy Lee, Jono O'Loughlin (who aims up every year for this one) and the darkie Stu Gibson, who amazingly, I have never raced before. There was also Jorge Maravilla from the US who comes with a big CV and Quentin Stephan from France whom I had met at Tarawera. Both gentleman have won some big, hard races of late.

At 6:30 we were off. The new course up and down Cliff Rd enabled some easy chit chat and I settled into the front group. I took the role of tour guide, leading the way, pointing out to Jorge the mighty Narrow Neck plateau that we would soon discover. The return leg to Scenic World was wonderful! So many friends and runners wishing me good luck, it was a real boost and very appreciated. I felt for poor Jorge, thank you to that one person who wished Jorge the best too. Oh well, nothing beats having the home ground advantage! I took it down Furber steps pretty fast, aware of not holding up the huge mass of runners behind. The views across the Jamison Valley were spectacular as always. Once at the Scenic Railway Station I settled into a groove and Quentin took the lead along the flowing single track along the Federal Pass. Quentin lead us through the landslide section and as we exited again onto the single track Scott put in a surge and took control. It definitely looked like he wanted to get to the Golden Stairs first. I held back and chatted to Quentin. I found out he lives in Chamonix and trains with Kilian. Yep...I was listening!

Golden Stairs is always a tough old grind
Photo courtesy of Rod Cutler
I managed to bridge the gap to Scott by the turn up the Golden Stairs, close enough to quip that 'straight is a shortcut!' Up we went, and I ran most of the ascent as is my style. Jorge and Quentin power hiked and kept up easily while Scott extended the slight lead. He was working this section well. As we hit the exposed plateau of Narrow Neck, Mick Donges was there to greet us. It's such a shame he is injured and unable to race, but great to see his positivity out there supporting everyone. Along the fire trail, Tucks and Jono joined us and soon were climbing the small ups together. Half way up Stu eased by and took up the challenge to chase Scott. As we hit the first aid station, the small pack stopped to refill their bottle. I stopped to fill my 500ml bottle (I also had a litre in the bladder), and Stu ran through to take the lead, followed by Jono and everyone was gapped in that move. Stu was playing a card early but no one seemed to mind too much. Tucks and I ran a lot of the leg together and he commented to me that seeing Stu out in front was like watching me last year along the same section.

We pushed on and I definitely felt as though the pace was faster than previous years. The splits show this to be true too, with a 1:31:15 leg this year compared to a 1:33:51 last year. Granted though, we had run an extra 7.5km before the leg last year. Down Tarros was fun as always and I went down with Tucks, Jono and Scott right behind. Quentin and Jorge were right there too. The next section through Mt Derbert and the tricky single track is one of my favourite sections and by the time I hit Medlow Gap I had gapped my chasers and nearly caught Stu. Once on the fire trail, I made up some ground and Stu and finally, after years of never crossing paths, I got to say g'day in person. Way back in the No Roads Trail Running team days, we were actually team mates, but we unfortunately never got to run together as Stu got injured before our first Kokoda Challenge in 2011. After a little while Jorge joined us and we ran the section to Dunphy's basically together. After a quick transition, again just filling the water bottle, we were on our way to Iron Pot.

Jorge and Stu pushed along the fire trail and gapped me quickly. Approaching the base of Iron Pot, a frisky colt in the paddock was showing his dislike for runners by running back and forth perpendicular to the fence, kicking his back legs out in a show of who was boss! Needless to say I ran this bit quicker than I would have liked. Thankfully the farmer was out in the paddock and I told him that his horse was a little flighty and I think he must have moved him. Up Iron Pot Spur was fun as always, I felt strong and hit the top running. The distant tapping of the clapsticks and hum of the didgeridoo is always a very welcome sound. It's a very special place up there. You don't get to stop and see it, but there are numerous Aboriginal grinding grooves up there by the turnaround. It's definitely worth a hike up there one day.

Stunning scenery on way to CP3
Photo courtesy of Lyndon Marceau
The turnaround always is a good chance to see how others are travelling. Within a minute of turning I saw Scott, Tucks, Jono and Quentin. The rest of the way to the drop down off Iron Pot, no one else was seen, which was quite encouraging. Knowing we had already gapped the field somewhat kind of told me that the winner would more than likely be one of us 7. Through Green Gully, Scott and I were joined by Quentin and it pretty much remained this way to Megalong Rd and to the base of the climb to Saddlepacks. On the climb, Scott and Quentin were going stride for stride and I dropped off the back. By the top at the locked gate they had 150m on me, but this was quickly bridged on the downhill run which is another favourite section of mine. By the 6 Foot CP I had passed both and found some breathing space. The gear check went pretty smoothly and I was glad to get to the CP in 3rd and see Nadine.

Coming into CP 3 to see my supercrew!
Thanks Kellie Gibson for the photo!
A sign of the changing practises of ultra running is how short the stoppages are at CPs now! All of the guys I saw were using bottles and this makes my method of using a bladder seem laboured and very outdated! Scott was in and out in 30s with a quick bottle swap. I thought my transition of just over 1 min was quick, definitely the quickest I've ever been at that CP, but things are now at a different level. Nadine was brilliant, swapping my now almost empty bladder with another full one filled with Enduralyte Fizz and water, loaded me up with a new gel flask and Hammer Bar and out I went. It was all a blur!

Along the 6 Foot Track, I got to enjoy the company of Scott and feared it wouldn't be for long! We shared some thoughts on Stu and Jorge out in front and we both agreed that them being under 2 minutes was definitely nothing to be alarmed about just yet. Along here we managed to drop Quentin who up to here had seemingly been happy to run to our race plan. I opened up a small gap on Scott but this quickly disappeared once the grind on the single track to Nellies Glen started. I told Scott this was my least favourite section of the whole course and off he went.

My plan to run to the first step on Nellies eventuated and I started the stair slog with purpose, taking them as quickly as I've ever done. Not quick enough to hold Tucks off though; around 3/4 of the way up he bounded by and he had dragged Quentin with him. Finally at the end of the death march, I hooked the right down to the Nature Track. I love this section, with the Fern Gully, so lush and verdant; the front page photo of this blog was taken through here. Going back up a small stair case I passed Jorge who was cramping up so I gave him a couple of Enduralyte capsules that would hopefully ease them a bit for him. I wished him well and went on.

Running with Scott along 6 Foot Track
Photo courtesy of Moritz auf der Heide
Approaching the exit of the single track at the back of the residential area, I began to hear loud, distressed noises what can only be described as a cross between a howl and a heave. I'm sure it must have brought a few of the locals out into their backyards, such was the anguish in the sound and concern it would have ellicited! Unfortunately it was Scott who was having some stomach problems. I felt for him, I've been in that spot too and it's not nice.

At the CP I found out I was a minute or so behind Tucks but Stu had come in 10 minutes in the lead! Whoa...he had put a massive gap into us on what is a very tough leg. He had definitely played a major card now and we all had to respond to that. Had he used up all his bikkies or would we burn ours in the chase? The race was now taking a seriously interesting turn. At the checkpoint, Nadine again did a sterling job, sticking to the plan as per CP3, and I was on my way. I let Liz Hawker, Scott's wife know that he was having a few issues, but he would be along shortly.

Out of the CP, I made quick tracks along the reserve to the Cliff Top Track and ran this section hard. The wind was cool and relieving and I was loving the flat sections. I was using a polite assertive tone to warn the tourists and the they were all very accommodating. I hit the Giant Staircase wanting to get down them ASAP, desperate to connect back onto Tucks. I descended them very quickly, two at a time and sliding down the handrails of some short stair cases. I got to the bottom knowing that I must have dragged back some time, and finally, 100m or so along Dardanelles Pass I spotted Tucks. We would run most of the next leg together.

Prince Henry Cliff Walk is hard work!
Photo courtesy of Nadine Davies
Andrew looked very comfortable along the trails; his breathing was easy and he was taking the stairs with purpose. At the base of the Leura Forest stairs, I said 'let the fun begin', somehow wishing we were turning down towards Sublime Ridge instead of heading up! Being behind Tucks I basically took his lead, when he walked so did I, when he ran I ran and this went on pretty much all the way to Gordon Falls. Even though I was always close to Tucks, I never felt once like I had the strength to pass and keep in front. Any pass would just mean a repass by Tucks and I didn't fancy a yo-yo game with him. In any case, I was enjoying following the bright green beacon of the shirt he was wearing, and I felt he was pacing this leg really well. After Gordon Falls and towards the Golf Links Lookout, Tucks gapped me again and I only really rejoined him going over Lillian's Bridge at Empress Canyon approaching Conservation Hut. Again, I didn't feel I had it in me to pass, I feel I'm quicker on the stair descents but Tucks has it all over me going up stairs. As I reached the shortcut track, I just caught a glimpse of the green machine as he took off around the corner 100m up the trail. From here I knew he would probably get to the last CP in front of me.

Along the Little Switzerland trail approaching Hordens Rd
Photo courtesy of Lyndon Marceau
Approaching Hordens Rd, Team Greenhill let me know that I was a couple of minutes off Tucks but more importantly still only 10 or so behind Stu. Things were good. Stu had maintained his lead without pulling further away. The race was far from being a foregone conclusion. I pushed hard on the road to Queen Vic hospital and got in and loaded up with water and caffeine for the final kick home. I was confident I could make inroads on both Tucks and Stu by the bottom of the valley and then it would be game on in the last hellish 12km!

I took off with a surge from the CP and ran the mile or so to the start of the descent proper hard. I ran the downhill with a lot of purpose, and as quick as my aching quads would allow; this type of stuff is really mind over matter, blocking out the pain and just going with gravity; leaning from the chest forcing your legs to up the cadence and keep up or else! I reached Jamison Creek half and hour later, happy with the pace of the drop down to the floor, but with Tucks, to my mind, no closer. This was a little disheartening but I wasn't defeated. I started the climb out and I was passing many of the 50km runners now who were all giving me great encouragement. Apologies for not always replying beyond a thumbs up, I was really in the zone here :-)

The push down Tablelands Rd towards CP5
About a kilometre of lumpy up and down I started a steep pinchy section and quickly realised that I'd made a pretty basic error and was reaching empty on energy. In my haste to get down the big hill, I'd forgotten to take in some calories before the climb out. Now I really only had one option, to walk a bit, suck down some gels and wait until it kicked in before I could start a run again. The walk wasn't overly strong either, I was pretty spent and pretty much came to the realisation that my hopes of catching Tucks and Stu were fading and that I'd have a fight now to hold onto 3rd. As soon as the energy levels restored somewhat, I took off running again. It was slow, but 'any run is faster than a walk'.

I finally reached the sewage plant and ran the little single track well to the Federal Pass. Turning left, I was getting lots of support from the 100km runners heading out on the Federal Pass and more 50k runners whom I passed. I was running with all heart now, and the km signs began to tick down. I ran all of the trail to Furber, including some little staircases that really hurt. No doubt about it Furber is a tough tough way to finish any race, let alone a 100km one! I began walking up; trudging is probably a better verb. I was saying to myself 'keep moving forward' over and over. The steep stairs sent my heart racing and I decided that even with only 500m to go I probably had another 5 minutes out on the course and sucked down more gel to get me home. Reaching the junction, I wasn't aware we had to take the left to Scenic World unlike the way we entered Furber from Katoomba Park. More stairs, and steep buggers too! Once I turned left and had descended a couple of switchbacking stair cases I heard a marshal say 'the next guy isn't too far in front' and turned back. God, it was Jono O'Loughlin, powering up like a freaking steam engine up the stairs! Where did he come from? I had been looking back constantly up Furbers and nothing but just like that here was Jono ready to snatch the podium in the last couple of hundred metres.

Relief! Jono would have been just about to enter the frame
The only thing I could do was put my head down and just keep going. I finally got to what seemed like road level and just one set of stairs to go, I knew it was going to be close. Reaching the board walks I just drew on everything I had left and went for it. I was sure Jono was right there and ran like that all the way to the finish. I had a quick look back in the last 20m and couldn't see him, and it was then I really only could celebrate. I fell in an exhausted heap and went straight to foetal. My mum was one of the first to come over to me which made the whole experience even more bazaar!

A couple of minutes later I heard the full story of the battle between Tucks and Stu and really couldn't believe it. Tucks had closed that race amazingly well and Stu, who did all the racing early, was rewarded for his courage but not without a real fight. It probably would have been a race were a tie would have been fitting, but hats off to Stu, he was the deserved victor and knowing Tucks, this will make him even hungrier for next year.

The aftermath! Jono is a top bloke
and a great athlete
I am completely satisfied with how my race went and has left me so excited for many reasons. I've said all year that my focus has to be Western States, and now another piece in the Western States puzzle has been laid and it fit perfectly. I've come away feeling that the plan I laid out at the start of the year, the plan that I backward mapped from the big day on June 28th is almost complete. Saying this though, would I have loved to finish first home again? Hell yes! I would have loved to keep the title up here, but it simply wasn't to be. Am I disappointed? Hell no! I ran the best I could but Stu Gibson and Andrew Tuckey (amongst many others) were simply superb on the day. I now have 4 consecutive Top 5 finishes in this race, filling every position except 2nd. Perhaps next year shall be Tucks' year. That would be most fitting. But something tells me the young guys like Scott, Ben Duffus, Caine Warburton, Moritz auf de Heide and the 7 race veteran who just keeps getting better Jono O'Loughlin will push me down the pecking order.

Lastly I would just like to say a massive congratulations to all the UP Coaching clients that I took out either on TNF50/100 preparation days, gave guidance to at the Lake Crackenback Trail Running weekends or generally mentored along the way. It was very satisfying seeing so many of you reap the rewards of hard training and proper preparation and smiling at the end of the race! I get a massive buzz out of passing on what I've picked up in this trail running caper and I look forward to expanding my coaching horizons in this direction further post Western States.

The Top 10 (without 8th place Jorge).
RD Tom Landon-Smith is left on top row in red shirt.
Gear and Sustinence
Top: Hammer branded Ultra Tank
Bottom: Inov-8 Race Elite 135 Ultra Short
Socks: Injinji 2.0 Mid Weight Mini Crew
Wheels: Inov-8 Trail Roc 245
Pack: UltrAspire Omega
Timing: Suunto Ambit2; Movescount move

Hydration: Water in bladder with Hammer Enduralytes FIZZ
Nutrition: Hammer Gel and Hammer Perptuem Solids and Hammer Bars

Crewed by: My awesome wife Nadine.

Some fun with Tucks and RD Tom

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Back in the Backyard!

Only two more sleeps now until the TNF100/50 and things are gathering momentum up here in the Blue Mountains. Ewan Horsburgh rang me today and told me he spotted Naria Picas shopping at the Woolworths in Katoomba...but I digress.

Personally, I'm looking forward to Saturday very much. I had a great time out there last year and I'm hoping that I can enjoy the course, the atmosphere and the physicality involved even half as much as last year. I just love this event; it's quintessential Aussie trail running and I get to do it with so many mates from the front to the middle and back of the pack. This year, I've had the absolute pleasure of taking so many people out with me on the course as part of my UP Coaching training days. I've enjoyed sharing with everyone my thoughts about how to tackle the race. These are people with differing motivations and purposes in their ultra running journeys, yet from the top of the field runners to the back, the level of camaraderie and support never wanes. I wish you all safe and successful running. When the going gets tough (and it will), just take a look around, breath in some clean mountain air, listen to the birds and things will pick up. Think how privileged we are to have the opportunity to do what we do.

Above all though, it's wonderful to see how this event highlights equally the immense beauty and indigenous significance of this part of the world. It's a spectacular place to run through, and the course adjustment this year if any highlights this beauty even more with the 5th leg (first in the 50) particularly stunning when run in that direction. For those first timers in this race, don't forget to say G'day to the didge players on top of Iron Pot Ridge too.

I'm feeling ready to go, I hope you are too!

You can follow race progress online here http://tiktok.biz/northface100/2014/1

I'll also be carrying a tracker that can be seen on the TNF website

iRunFar's preview by Rachel Jacqueline and Aussie site Ultra168's preview

See you all out there!
On Federal Pass with Mt Sol in background. Don't forget to take a peak!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

UTMF 2014 Race Report

The unforgettable sight of Mt Fuji

A little late again with the race report, sorry folks. Last week was straight off the plane from Japan and into the classroom. But it's given me some time to think back and reflect on this epic of races.

Coming into my second UTMF, I was confident I could put in a strong showing. Despite the course being 8km longer and with more vertical than in previous years, I really thought that I could get close to my time from the year before. This turned out to be not quite on the money but there is no doubt in my mind that this performance was far better strategically and from a performance perspective.

Thanks to the NSW school holidays, Nadine and I enjoyed a very relaxing and enjoyable holiday for a week prior to the race in the historical and beautiful city of Kyoto. We did a lot of walking and sightseeing and this was the perfect way to taper for the race. We ate wonderful Japanese food and visited many special places. There were many highlights and we both loved having the time to see much more of Japan than we had previously.

We arrived at Lake Kawaguchiko on the Wednesday before and were met by much cooler and wintery conditions than in the previous year. Mt Fuji was shrouded in cloud and when she did poke her head out it was clear that there was much more snow cover on the ancient volcano as well. I was sure glad I packed my Inov-8 3 quarter tights. I don't need much incentive to wear them at the best of times so the deal was sealed; I would wear them come race day to keep my legsies warmsie.

The following couple of days were spent hanging around the Inov-8 x Descente stand at the race expo and eating some really healthy, albeit at times unknown Japanese food. It was protein and it tasted damn good. My body was feeling refreshed and ready to go. At the prerace press conference we were taken through the course by the Race Director and Japanese trail running legend Tsuyoshi Kaburaki. 'Beware the Tenshi Mountains' he said like wise Yoda. He also added that the rerouting of the course with the extra 8km and more vertical will add 90 minutes to the finishing time from previous years. I was listening.

Then the running royalty were paraded and it was like a who's who of the world of ultra running. Guys and girls whose names I had only heard of on Talk Ultra podcasts or read about online. I couldn't hang around to hear all the interviews; dinner was calling and traditional Japanese dinners (or should I say feasts) are worth being on time for!
You don't want to be late for this!
I laid out my gear, did my final gear check, went over the crewing plan with Nadine and got into my traditional Japanese bed nice and early. I slept well and the next morning begun with a relaxing bath in the hotel onsen followed by a big breakfast. I made sure I didn't skimp on the rice. Nadine and I went back to bed for a couple of hours knowing that we both had a big day ahead of us. This little nap was refreshing and calming. I was ready to go.

Prerace with fellow Aussie Tegyn Angel. He went on to finish 2nd Aussie!
Photo courtesy of Kellie Emmerson
Leg 1: Start Kawaguchiko to A1 Fujiyoshida. 18.2km
The start was frantic and after a countdown of 10 - 1 in a mix of English and Japanese the mass were on their way. Although I was only a couple of rows back from the front I was quickly spat backwards and found myself way off the lead bunch for the first couple of kilometres. When I eventually found some free air I closed the gap somewhat only to find that what I thought was the lead pack was in fact only a chasing pack and that a bunch of guys including Francios Dhaene had shot way out. The first gravel road climb began and I found my rhythm running with a few familiar faces like Jeremy Ritcey, Sebastion Chaigneau and last year's champion Hara-san. I was surprised to see the leading lady Nathalie Mauclair storm past and really pushing the pace; it was if she was running a 10k tempo rather than a 170km ultra such was her effort.

Eventually we summited the first real peak and began our way back down, a short steep descent and I stuck to my prerace plan of pushing the pace on the downs but being careful to look after my quads. It's a fine line but I had to run to my strengths. I passed Joe Grant on the way down and this began our little yo-yo battle that would last for the first half of the race. Joe is a fellow Inov-8 team mate and a top guy. He was running in the X-Talon 212s and eating up this downhill. I managed to catch Ryan Sandes too and we exchanged greetings; we last saw each other at TNF100 the previous May. At the checkpoint, the leading guys basically ran straight through and it was here I noticed a trend among all the leading guys, none apart from me had chosen to use a bladder. It soon became apparent that they were only carrying very minimal water, the majority going with 2 x 500ml collapsable 'squeezy' type water flasks. I took note.
Position into A1: 10th
Coming into A1
Leg 2: A1 Fujiyoshida to A2 Niju-Magari. 15.2km (33.4km)
This leg starts climbing gently up a gravel road before turning to single track after about 8km where it turns really nasty for a couple of km of real scrambly hiking. Most of top guys and the leading female flew off into the distance as soon as we hit the single track and I was passed by many. Although I thought I was travelling OK, it was obvious that others thought this section deserved less respect than I was giving it. Last year, when the course was run in the opposite direction, this was a killer up and down and I was glad we were getting rid of this section while still quite fresh. As soon as we hit the descent I caught a few guys that were taking this very technical section quite cautiously, including early pace setter Christophe Le Saux, who is very recognisable with his big mop of hair! A smooth descent then followed to the A2 CP. I was happy with how I had started.
Position into A2: 20th (19th man)

Leg 3: A2 Niju-Magari to A3 Yamanakako. 5.9km (39.3km)
Leaving CP2, I put on my headlamp, and strode up through the bamboo forests up a short and steep climb. I remembered this peak from last year and knew once on the other side it was a nice downhill for around 4kms. I got stuck into the climb, powerhiking most of it. My legs felt pretty strong and from memory I don't think I was passed by anyone which is always a good sign for me. Once we hit the down, I opened up and caught one of the early bunnies, a Japanese runner.

Into A3, all runners were greeted to a generous Japanese applause. This was the first CP where crew were allowed and it seemed every runners' crew was already there. It was crowded! I swapped bladders, Perpetuem bottles and grabbed a Hammer bar from Nadine. Although I hadn't made up any significant ground I was warming into the night leg. There was even a film crew there following the action!
Position into A3: 19th (18th man)

Leg 4: A3 Yamanakako to A4 Subashiri. 16.4km (55.7km)
Leaving A3, we hit the suburban streets for a couple of kilometres and I immediately went into my road running gear. I caught Joe and a Japanese runner pretty early on and began the next climb feeling pretty confident that I could make some ground up on this leg. The leg was a series of short, sustained climbs, most were runnable and on a reasonable trail. Not long into the climb I caught Mike Foote too and we shared a bit of banter. He was having a bit of a low patch but even so I thought he looked pretty comfortable. His low is my good! The fog was beginning to come in quite thick and visibility was quite difficult at the peak of this range. On the real steep sections Joe Grant went powering by...again. Eventually we started the descent down the range and it was mostly switchbacking single track which is always fun. The lower I got in altitude the less fog was around and I was taking advantage of the awesome 600 lumens of brightness that my Ferei headlamp was offering. A couple of kilometres from the A4 CP I caught the leading female who was beginning to slow down after her intense start to the race. She was fading now.
Position into A4: 15th

Leg 5: A4 Subashiri to A5 Tarobo. 9.9km (65.6km)
This leg was a real grind, 90% of it being that douche grade stuff, really tough to find a rhythm on too. It was initially through some very rough bushland where the trail was quite indistinct before opening up on more firetrail type road later on. I ran a lot of this leg with Mike Foote who was back on the way up after his little down patch. It was a really interesting leg as we crossed over multiple dried 'river' beds of lava flow. We eventually then started the climb on the volcanic soil that makes up the surrounds of Mt Fuji and I knew we were close to the highest section of the course. Mike got away from me and said that he'd 'be seeing me on a downhill soon'. I wasn't so sure, he was running really well. The volcanic soil was a slog on the uphill grade. Towards the A5 CP there is was a little out and back section (different to last year's route) and I got to see the leading group and was heartened that they weren't too far in front. I didn't really recognise many of the faces; but it included Antoine Guillon (whom I recognised from the year before), Nick Clark (who had given the big UTWT talk the day before at the press conference) Joe Grant and 3 highly ranked Japanese men including Hara-san. Mike has also managed to get a couple of minutes ahead too. I hit the CP and didn't hang around. It was cold and a nice descent was beckoning!
Position into A5: 16th (15th out)

Leg 6: A5 Tarobo to A6 Mizugatsuka. 5.9km (71.5km)
The little out and back from the CP afforded me the chance to see my chasers. Sebastien and Nathalie Mauclair (who was hanging tough after her very fast start) where running together now. After descending the slope of Fuji, the trail turned on some very technical single track, up and down many gullies and rocky sections. I didn't lose nor gain any positions on this leg; the results show that I moved up one spot but I think I caught one of the Japanese runners right as we were very close to the CP. It was only a short, but tough leg. I remember grabbing some beautiful soft, sweet rolls from the tables at the CP. The Japanese can bake some beautiful bread and these complimented my use of Strawberry Perpetuem beautifully!
Position into A5: 14th

Leg 7: A6 Mizugatsuka to A7 Kodomo-No-Kuni. 9.0km (80.5km)
This is where I had told myself prerace where my race would start. This was the beginning part of the course that I had to extract every metre out of as quick as I could (within reason of course). It was what I called the Mt Fuji downhill half marathon, most of it was on long gradual, very runnable gravel service road. This was my terrain and I had to make the most of it. The Movescount data shows that I was consistently running 4:30km on most of this section, but more importantly I thought I was still managing my body really well. Despite the temptation to really smash the downhill, I kept my pace quick but really consciously thinking about my footfall and impact that this was having on my legs.

The initial stages of the leg were on some pretty neat single track and I began to open up. Pretty soon I passed a runner who was doing it tough, I wasn't sure who it was but later I found out it was Iker Karrera. The trail then turned to the gravel road and so the road rhythm started up again. I quickly reined in Joe again, he seemed to be slowing somewhat, but gave him the reassurance that come the Tenshi Mts he'd be back up past me in no time. The CP was also the only spot on the course where a drop bag was allowed. With Nadine and my support from Descente heading back the hotel for a bit of kip, it was always the plan for me to be self sufficient until A8. I have to say the volunteers at the CP were fantastic, radioing ahead my race number to someone at the drop bag depot who then had it ready for me when I came through. I quickly changed bladders, restocked Perpetuem and Gels and was on my way in no time. I managed to leapfrog Piotr Hercog at this checkpoint, but Joe, who was being crewed and slightly more efficient, did the same to me so my position in and out remained the same.
Position into A7: 12th

Leg 8: A7 Kodomo-No-Kuni to W1 Awakura. 14.4km (94.9km)
The next leg was for me the fastest section of the course; downhill in nature, wide open gravel road. It was time to go! Within a minute I'd re-caught Joe and this was regrettably the last time we would yo-yo. Although I was sure Joe's power on the climbs would see him march by up the Tenshi Range it never occurred. He is a real gentleman and I'm so glad someone of his caliber is on the Inov-8 team. Running down the gravel road, there were lots of long, open sections and in the darkness of the night I was beginning to make out a distant headlamp and I knew that I was catching someone else. Many times I mistook the reflective marking tape for a headlamp, but not this one, it was definitely a moving light and this encouragement was all I needed to keep the hammer down. Eventually I caught them and it was Lionel Trivel, 10th in last year's race. He didn't let me go easily but eventually his headlamp faded behind me. I got to the W1 water station happy how I had run that section. It was always going to extract as much out of it as I could. Bryon Powell, who was doing a marvelous job covering the event for his site iRunFar.com, gave me some good encouragement as I ran through the water stop.
Position into W1: 10th
Somewhere during the night!
Photo courtesy Bryon Powell
Leg 9: W1 Awakura to A8 Nishi -Fuji. 9.5km (104.4km)
This was a tricky leg. The beautiful open firetrail was over to be replaced by tricky single track that followed a power line corridor. Quite lumpy with a few surprises; the odd steps, a couple of gullies, a desolate shanty town and past a foul smelling chicken farm (bad pun). It was a real mental challenge not to walk on some of these sections; and you really had to keep your focus as the trail was slippery and the dew on the grass made for wet shoes and socks so I was really picking the driest line. I was really happy how the TrailRoc 245's were performing and I was glad I hadn't swapped shoes at A7 as I had prepared for if the situation warranted it. In the distance behind me I saw the headlamp of Lionel's and knew that he was travelling well. This kept me motivated to keep pushing. I was looking forward to the aid station where I would be reunited with Nadine once again! Being the deep dark middle of the night, and fatigue beginning to set in, it was just the mental boost that I needed.

Once at A8, Nadine told me that I had run a terrific section while she had been away sleeping and that I had made up many positions. I remained circumspect; that was always going to be my best part of the course and what laid ahead now, the Tenshi Mts, had the ability to make or break me. As I was repacking my kit Lionel came in and this was my cue to get going again. I wasn't going to waste all the good work on the trail I had done with a slow transition. I said this to Nadine and she mentioned that I had also caught Hara. In my haste, I hadn't noticed anyone else in the CP, but Nadine pointed out that Hara was sitting down to my right having something to eat and talking to his wife. He looked to be in a little distress. I last chatted to him at Tarawera Ultra and knew that an injury had ruled him out there. I hoped that he could get going again as it's always great to see the champion defend his home turf. Leaving the CP we had our gear checked, and I passed another runner here Antoine Guillon (7th last year) who was having some trouble explaining why his pack was so light. It must have been under 2kg as this was the minimum weight requirement when leaving the all the checkpoints. I couldn't work out how his pack (with water and food and all the gear) could be under 2kg. Mine must have been around 5kg, I was carrying a full 2L of water, 500ml of Perpetuem, a Gel flask and the rest. The next leg was going to be a killer and either he was taking a really calculated risk or had underestimated the ruthlessness of the Tenshis. Either way, I was out there happy to leapfrog someone for not much effort!
Position into A8: 10th (8th out)

Leg 10: A8 Nishi -Fuji to A9 Fumoto. 18.9km (123.3km)
After a couple of ks of easy street running we hit the wall that is the first ascent into the Tenshi Mts. I knew this ascent was a long, tough, slog. The year previous I had descended this and remembered many times saying to myself 'when is this damn downhill going to end!' As soon as we hit the beginning stages of the climb I went into powerhike mode; trying to stay as upright as possible and utilise my glutes rather than my quads by slouching over. The climb makes no false threats; from the outset it's a killer, no respite, just up and up and up. Antoine, who must have sorted out his pack problems quickly caught and passed me and his hike was unbelievably quick. It wasn't all doom and gloom though, I managed to pass Thomas Lorblanchet pretty early on into the climb and to my surprise continued to pull away. This was a great confidence boost and a sign that all the hard work I had done on my climbing was coming to fruition (or he was dying in the arse...probably the latter actually!)

The night air was cool and with every metre climbed the city lights below became fainter and fainter. The Tenshi Mt range section are actually a combo of 6 peaks so I knew not to relax mentally at the top of the first peak. I was using the mantra 'any type of run is faster than a walk' and as soon as the trail went down a few notches in intensity I would pick a tree and run to it. Summiting the first peak, I took a second to reflect on the craziness of what that was...think the Eastern Col climb of Mt Solitary x 5 end on end.

The night was slowly losing way to the dawn at this point and I was really looking forward to the revitalisation that morning brings. On I marched, ran and stumbled, the track at times turning so scrambly ropes were hung down to assist. As the sun broke through in earnest I hit the second last peak which was particularly nasty; and at the base I came across a sight I didn't expect, a runner laying out all their gear and shirtless in the middle of the trail. It was Emmanuel Gault; I had no idea what he was doing, but I offered my assistance to which he replied that he was fine. Fair enough, it was a nice morning for a lay down! I continued the trudge upwards. As if getting to the top wasn't hard enough; the downhill off this one was some of the hardest, trickiest and downright most dangerous descending I had ever done. It was just so steep and slippy. The clay and granite rocks were not giving any traction under foot and I was longing for my X-Talons that I had left in the dropbag. A couple of times I did some big arse slides and was saved by only a lonely tree from falling further. Once I fell and grabbed a tree which only served to swing me around to the side of the knife edge off the side of the mountain. Half way down this descent I was passed by Lionel Trivel. It's never nice being passed but I took a lot of encouragement that it had taken him close to 3 hrs on this range to catch me even though he was only a few minutes behind me at the last CP. Anyone that is French is in my eyes a good mountain climber!

Eventually, I summited the last peak and started another tough descent down. Yes it hurt but knowing that the bottom would bring an end to the Tenshis was keeping me going. Half way down I passed Dave Mackey; and I guess it was here that I was beginning to realise that I must have been well and truly in the top 10 by now. Even though I never go into a race with a place expectation, it's funny what motivates you when you're out there in the heat of the battle. Once on the bottom, I was greeted by a couple of marshals and I literally knelt down and kissed the tarmac. I was glad that the Tenshis were over! I jogged the last km to the aid station and after what seemed an eternity (the best part of 4hrs) I was seeing Nadine again
Position into A9: 7th
Leaving A9 with the Tenshis behind me!
Photo courtesy of Koichi Iwasa
Leg 11: A9 Fumoto to A10 Motosuko. 15.3km (138.6km)
Leaving A9, Nadine had told me that 3rd-6th places were all within 20 minutes of me. I have to admit I was definitely being motivated by positions now. I got moving! The next section was a mixed bag; a flat section followed by a power hike climb. The run into the climb was a gently ascent and I put the hammer down best I could. I quickly caught and passed Nick Clark and my next aim was Lionel. Once we got to the climb though I knew it was going to be tough to make ground on him on this terrain but I gave it my best shot. My legs were still powerful and purposeful on the climb. Sumitting the peak, Ryugatake, was one of the most breathtaking experiences of the whole race. Mt Fuji was massive, exposed and in all it's resplendent glory. There were a couple of picnic tables up the top and some hikers already out on it enjoying the view.

The descent started, very technical at first before turning into much more forgiving switchbacks. We were descending down to a lake, and the views from the top all the way down were spectacular. I was really giving the descent extra effort but there was still no sign of those ahead. At the bottom, we had about 4km of road running into the next CP along the side of the lake and this was the new rerouted section from the year before. I was really surging at this point and Koichi Iwasa from dogsorcaravans.com and Bryon were both there telling me that 5th wasn't far ahead. I hit the accelerator and powered on all the way into the CP. Nadine was ready to restock my kit bag and again she was gave me the same message; from Mike Foote in 3rd to me in 6th there was only 20 minutes. I knew in the scale of things that this was not a lot of time; the business end of a 100 miler is always in the last quarter of the race and I was potentially in with a real shot of getting deep in the top 5. I just had to find that last extra bit, push myself to a new level and run sections faster than those in front of me. It was going to be tough but this is the mindset I had as I left the CP.
Position into A10: 6th
Being looked after by the best crew in the world at A10
Leg 12: A10 Motosuko to A11 Narusawa. 19.0km (157.6km)
Immediately after leaving A10, we faced another mountain range climb and I was just keen to get up and over them and move onto the flat 10km road running section before A11. This climb was tough, very technical, narrow single track. The first peak was climbed OK but the downhills were now beginning to hurt a lot. My quads had eventually begun to pack it in and each footfall on the descent was stinging. This is the real mind over matter stuff, and I was pushing aside the pain using the mantra 'it's meant to hurt' and plowed on. The 3 short series of climbs that made up this section were taken way too slow to catch anyone in front, and this is when thoughts of losing spots began to creep in. Once on the bottom, the course then followed a major highway for about 10km, boring and brutal on fatigued legs and although it gave the brain a break from having to think too much about the trail. it took a lot of mental toughness to up the ante. In hindsight, I think I pushed way too hard on the previous leg and I found this road, of which most was slightly uphill in nature, very tough and thought that unless guys in front were walking, I wasn't going to catch them with the pace I was doing.

It quickly became quite a demoralising journey up this road. Breathing in truck exhaust fumes, putting up with concrete paths and not seeing anyone ahead on long visible stretches changed my mindset from one catching others to one that started to think about being caught. Mentally is just turned right here. It's funny what goes through your brain. Questions like...'is 6th a good result?' 'will my sponsors and supporters be pleased with the result?' and 'out of the top 10 last year, will I be the most consistent performer'. Of course I still had all these things to run for and I ground out the rest of the leg into the A11 CP. I downed some Coke and had a 2 minute breather while a timing tag was retied to my shoe. I had no idea how far in front 5th was. Looking at the splits later it turned out to be only 10 minutes to Lionel; I must have only just missed seeing him on the long stretches of road afterall. It turned out he was still very catchable even with just 11km to go, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It wasn't going to happen with the mindset I was now stuck in.
Position into A11: 6th

Leg 13: A11 Narusawa to Finish Kawaguchiko. 11.4km (169km)
Leaving the CP, it was back up the last little mountain and I was greeted with the coolest thing ever, a marshal standing there playing the theme from Rocky on his saxophone. It was simply one of the best renditions ever, from the very first bar to the last he didn't drop a note or miss a beat. If anything was going to lift my spirits it was this. I gave him a quick bow and continued up the firetrail climb. This little section was tough and it never seemed to stop going up. I was walking now many sections that I shouldn't have been, and the downhills were stinging my quads. I was as good as finished now, just surviving the rest of the way now was the challenge. Finally I came to the top of the last peak and the last torturous stairs down to the edge of Lake Kawaguchiko. Each stair was taken very gingerly...in short they were hurting me big time! I got to the bottom in unspectacular fashion and began the final 3km flat finish along the shore of the lake. Running into the finish is always a very emotional moment; after all running for near 22 hours can do this to you! I high fived as many of the hands that were outstretched that I could reach, bowed to the crowd, threw my pack in the air and ended it 21h 53m and 57s after the start. I was a happy man.
Position at finish: 6th
Descending the final stairs~perhaps that is the only reason I was smiling!
Photo courtesy of oshowtheripper
Overall, I'm very satisfied with the way I raced this year's race. I was strong on the sections I should have been strong on; the roads, the gravel roads and the descents. But most pleasing was that I was also strong on all the climbs and instead of going backwards on them as I did last year, I actually felt I moved up on the field on them, particularly in the second half of the race. There is always room for improvement though. The last 20-30 kms I thought were a missed opportunity to sneak into the top 5 again, but hey, this is a massive result for me regardless and when the main race this year is Western States, I have to say that UTMF ticked every box it was meant to do.

Jubilant to be finished!
Photo: Nadine Davies
So where to from here? Well, just like Tarawera and the Buffalo Stampede were and TNF100 will be, UTMF was a vital stepping stone towards Western States. It's always been and always will be about this race this year. So far everything is on track and all the performances are heading in the right direction with every race. I have to thank all the gang at Descente for having me over, Inov-8 for all their support and of course my brilliant crew Nadine.

Lastly, I just have to encourage all lovers of all things trail running to put this race on your list of must dos! It's just an absolute classic race and nothing could outdo the Japanese charm and hospitality. To give you some idea from a different perspective; my wife Nadine's recount of her experiences crewing for me were summed up like this:

"I saw people who ran UTMF over 40 hours, and who could be said to be doing it more tough than the elites, who then sat down, got their own shoes off, found their own quiet spot to collapse, got up, got their own drop bag and end of race bag, and then walked themselves and all their stuff back to the local train station to go home- seriously- I am sure I am asked to take shoes off not because I am needed to, but because he knows I will! I have showered him, helped him in and out of cars, up and down stairs, gotten any form of food or drink he's asked for (that I can actually get in that country- seriously, chocolate milk after a race in rural Japan Bren?!?!), handled all forms of his disgustingly stinky (stand up by self stinky) clothes, got up to hand him things that are 10cm out of his reach, gotten him bags to spew into, found him blankets, taken 152, 476 photos, etc etc. All fine It comes back to me in other amazing ways, such as standing at the UTMF and STY awards, and having the final UTMF runner come in in just under 46 hours, and have her brought onto stage, and listen to her talking, while she, and I, and half the crowd have tears streaming down our faces; I get to see the joy of two people wearing foam Mt Fuji's on their heads discover each other, and yell with joy and hug each other although they have never met before; I get to see my husband as simultaneous vulnerable and strong as he gets; I get to see a culture come together and express their joy in each other and others; I get to see people cry and hug and get and give high fives for 100 metres even though they could barely lift their arms a moment ago; I get to see the sun rise and the sun set and all the colours of the sky and the light turn yellow and pink and clear and the light fade into tiny spots- I get so much... But geez loiuse, smells and filth after a 100 miler are pretty darn gross... He's got a few more hours, then I'll start asking for cups of tea of my own..."

Not a dry eye in the the house!
The last finisher under cut off, 45h 50m. Yes she needed to be held up!
Gear and Sustinence
Top: Inov-8 Base Elite 160 SSZ
Bottom: Inov-8 Race Elite 195 3QTR
Socks: Injinji 2.0 Mid Weight Mini Crew
Wheels: Inov-8 Trail Roc 245
Vision: Ferei HL20 600 Lumen LED Headlamp
Arm Warmers: Skirt Sports Toasty Mitts (Don't laugh...these are super practical in a race like UTMF!)
Pack: UltrAspire Omega
Head Warmer: Inov-8 Beanie

Hydration: Water in bladder with Hammer Enduralytes FIZZ
Nutrition: Hammer Gel and Hammer Perpetuem

Photo Nadine Davies
Mens Top 10
Photo Nadine Davies