The North Face 100 – Will Andrews
Race Date: May 17th Results: 2014
My training start on Boxing Day 2013 and I completed 76 training runs before The North Face 100 date in May. I tried to follow a structured training plan, with an average of about 60km a week, peaking to over 100km on one week.
The nerves and excitement built up in the week prior to the race, and kit was checked and rechecked many times. I’d not been able to do the official Mandatory Gear Check before arriving at Katoomba so I had to trust that all my gear was suitable.
Jack and I went to registration almost as soon as it opened on Friday afternoon, and all gear was OK, name was ticked off and number bib received. All that remained for the evening was a good meal, the race briefing with the other 1000 competitors, rechecking gear (again) and an expectedly poor nights sleep.
Saturday morning was bright and crisp, and Jack and Sarah both came down to the start at Scenic World in Katoomba. I was in wave 5, so we were able to watch others start before it was my turn. Then we were off.
The first 4 km were up and down a road in Katoomba to try and spread runners out before hitting the Furber Steps, but there was still much queuing and waiting on the way down the steps and through the landslide area below the cliffs. Everyone was full of spirits at this point and plenty of talking was going on between racers. This slowly dwindled out through the day as runners spread out and needed to conserve energy. I spent the first 10km with another runner from Newcastle whom I’d met that morning.
As soon as we’d reached the bottom of the cliffs we ran past the Scenic Railway bottom station. Here was my first support as Sarah and Jack had come down the train to cheer me on.
We ran/walked around the bottom of the cliffs to come back up to the cliff top on the Golden Staircase. As we went up these steps I was very surprised at the number of people already struggling. It was steep, but it was only the beginning of a long day.
Once at the top of the cliffs we hit Checkpoint 1. This was a small checkpoint, but I’d started with minimal water so refilled here. This was where I realised how difficult it was to replace a full water bladder into my pack. I redesigned the pack many times during the day.
After taking on 2 litres of water with my Tailwind powder, I ran the beautiful Narrow Neck ridge along undulating tracks all the way to Tarro’s ladders. This had some ladders tied to the cliff to aid descent, but as there was a fair wait for this, I was directed around on a longer but quicker route.
There was then plenty of steep downhill and walking uphill through the forest before coming out of the trees at Checkpoint 2.
I topped up my liquid here, had a muffin and sat down for a few minutes while I sorted my bag out.
From Checkpoint 2 the course heads up Ironpot ridge. This is on private property and there was a very steep hill to climb before reaching the top. Here I started to realise that I was stronger than most racers walking uphill, as I overtook quite a few people. The top of Ironpot mountain was pretty amazing. It was the furthest out from Katoomba that we got, 3 people playing didgeridoos and sticks at the far point, all with the most amazing views.
Back down from Ironpot we hit Megalong Valley Road for about 6 kms. I found this section hard. It was not too steep but it was just a continuous grind in the heat of the day. I do not normally run listening to music, but I put some on here and used that to keep my legs moving.
It was a great moment coming in to Checkpoint 3. This is the first point that support crew are allowed on the course. So, even though I was not meeting my support crew, everyone was cheering you on. I needed some savoury food here but decided to continue to the next Checkpoint with the hydration bladder half full. I also took the opportunity to change my socks. It is amazing how much better feet feel in fresh socks, the rubbing and tightness is in different areas and so it is like starting from new. In fact, over the whole 100 km, I did not get any blisters or problems with my feet at all.
It was now up the 6 foot track towards Katoomba. Another hard slog with some music, but I also found a few people at my pace to talk to on the way.
Nellies Glen was hard enough coming down on the 6 foot track last year, it was even harder going up. Again, I was overtaking people and went straight into a run at the along the cliff tops at the end of the stairs.
On this section I was in touch with Sarah to make sure she was waiting at Checkpoint 4 in the Aquatic Centre. I’d estimated I would be there at 3:15pm and I ran through the door at 3:12. It was great to see Sarah and Jack and they helped sort out my gear while I scoffed down a pot noodle. As I was expecting the sun to go down in the next leg, I dropped off a small headtorch and picked up my main headtorch. This is quite heavy so I hadn’t wanted to carry it from the start.
A kiss from Sarah helped me on my way and down to the cliffs of Katoomba. The next section was interesting as we passed a lot of tourists looking incredulously at the crazy runners. The route took us around the paths to the 3 sisters and down the Giant Stairway. Here I tried a technique I’d been told during training. I put my gloves on and slid down the handrails. It gave my legs a little rest saved my knees from extra bending – every little bit helped.
Running through the Leura forest was now quite dark. This track is also at the end of the course and there were a few 50km runners on their way back, some of them already using headtorches. I was now at 62km and running further than I have ever done before. It was only a couple of km along the forest before the course head up more steps back up to the top of the cliffs. These stairs seemed to just go on forever, it would flatten out, go around a corner then head up again. But, again, I felt strong and was overtaking people.
At the top of these steps we were on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk round to Leura. Here the views were absolutely spectacular as the sun was just beginning to go down and the cliffs around the valley were glowing orange. Quite a few photographers up there, making sure that I ran – even if it was just for the few metres past the cameras!
I could not really remember the course around these paths. It was very easy to follow as there were pink reflective ribbon every few hundred metres and arrows at every junction, I just did not know where I was.
The sun was finally down, and I turned my headtorch on as I entered Fairmont Resort. The route passed around the golf course and then along paths to Wentworth Falls. It was now a great running track, hard mud surface, a good width and just a few ups and downs to slow me down to a walk (it’s always good to have a rest!). Along here I passed James, who I’d joined on a long training run at Sugarloaf. He was in a world of pain and not able to run, unfortunately he pulled out at the next Checkpoint. I walked with him for a short while, then carried on running. It was now very dark and beginning to get cold. I was looking forward to more hot food at the next Checkpoint.
At 76km we hit Tableland Road and what I thought would be an easy 2km run down to the checkpoint ended up with walking uphill before the run down. Sarah, Jack and Grace were all waiting at the checkpoint sitting beside a fire. I was now conscious of how well my time was going so I wanted to get through the checkpoint quickly. Another pot noodle, a refill of tailwind into my hydration bladder, a change of socks and I was off. At Checkpoint 4 I could not believe that I was tracking for a 16 hour finish time, but I came into Checkpoint 5 still on track. I’d originally thought I might achieve 17:30 at best so I was feeling very happy with myself, but still 22km to go.
I left my support crew and continued down Tableland Road. I ran all the way on this 7km downhill section, though some of it was very hard on the thighs. This went all the way down to Jamison Creek, which is the lowest point of the course. Then there was 15km uphill to the finish.
The climb from the creek for the next 10km was the hardest part of the race for me. I was trying to keep walking hard, but it constantly uphill, it was dark, and there was no-one else around. Again, the earphones went in and I tried to dance up the hills. I thought it was uphill all the way to the Furber Steps and the finish, but a lady went past me and said that there was the beautiful section back through Leura Forest which I had forgotten about (I saw this lady the next day on the podium at the presentation, so she’d done very well). This gave me a boost as it meant there was less distance of climbing, and I was able to get a few km of running in again before the final uphill.
I really enjoyed this last run. I’m sure I was not going very fast, but I was still running and it was 95km into the race. I overtook a couple of groups of people and they kindly stepped off the path as it was very narrow.
I reached the bottom of the Furber Steps at 15hrs 40minutes (ish). Only 900 steps to go! The battery of my headtorch was now failing but I did not want to waste time changing it for the spare. So it was some very dimly lit steps I struggled up. I had come down theses steps 15 hours earlier but they felt so much better going up at the end of the race. I used the handrails as much as I could to haul myself up, and I could hear the sounds from the finish line getting closer.
I turned my headlight off as I reached the road at Scenic World (pictures say something different), and Jack was waiting on the corner. It was amazing to run down the finish chute, and even more so when I realised I’d made it in less than 16 hours.
Overall the race was incredibly well organised, the course was well marked so it must have been impossible to have got lost, and the other racers, volunteers and the organisers were all really friendly. It was a massive challenge, probably more so than Ironman, but less competitive. And the final result, for me, was a much greater achievement than I could possibly have imagined.
My body did not feel too injured after the day, just extremely fatigued. But now 2 weeks after the race, I am still exhausted, which shows how tough I did actually find it.
Would I do it again? It was tough training – both physically and time wise. But it was definitely a great challenge and the day itself was very enjoyable. I would definitely not say I wouldn’t do it again, but there are always other challenges to tackle.