Race Report: The North Face 100

I arrived in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba feeling underprepared for a 100 km race. Therefore I set out running to feel with no specific target time in mind, but thinking it likely that I would struggle towards the end.

The weather at the start line felt milder than expected and an easy first 4 km of road running provided a good warmup. The race is known for its stairs and we descended the Furber Steps, which we would ascend many hours later to finish the race. At the bottom I followed a conga line of runners as we followed a contour along the base of the cliff, but as we commenced our first stair climb up the Golden Stairs I overtook the runners directly ahead of me and found myself in empty space so that I could set my own pace.

I ran easily past the first checkpoint and arrived at the famous Tarros Ladders. A temporary construction for the race each year replaces the metal spikes that normally allow the descent of this 17-metre cliff, so I queued behind other runners to make my way down. After passing through checkpoint 2 I tackled the steep climb up to Ironpot Ridge and during its short out-and-back section I was able to greet a number of other runners that I knew. Following checkpoint 3 I stepped foot on Six Foot Track – home to the most famous trail marathon in the country – for my first time. A long gradual dirt road climb took me to Nellies Glen, and the stair climb back into Katoomba. I was feeling really strong and overtook many people on the climb, before hitting the tar at the edge of town and continuing to push the pace on my way to checkpoint 4 at the aquatic centre. Mentally I was trying to convince myself that the 57 km loop completed was a great warmup for the trail marathon remaining, once more looping out of Katoomba.

I had been warned that the section between checkpoints 4 and 5 can be a slog. Featuring no major climbs or descents, the route follows along the cliffs continually dipping and climbing through a series of stairs. I experienced a really low point mentally, continuously catching myself running slower than my legs were physically capable of. I was helped along for part of the section when I met another runner, who happened to have read my blog and identified me, providing company for a few kilometres.

Then I stepped foot on tar once more when I was 3 km out from checkpoint 5, and suddenly rebounded. I slowly picked up the pace and cruised into the aid station. After a brief stop I continued on to reach a long dirt road descent. After 7 or 8 km of constant descent I bottomed out and commenced the long climb back up to Katoomba. Chatting with another runner, Garth, to get a better idea of the upcoming terrain a woman suddenly appeared beside me and asked me to tuck her jacket into her pack. I tucked her Salomon jacket into her Salomon pack, glanced down at her Salomon shoes, and then took in her Salomon outfit. I looked at her and asked: “Are you Cassie?”

As we walked up the hill I found out that Cassie Scallion had started out the race feeling very strong and went through halfway under course record pace. Unfortunately she then suffered an upset stomach, which she had not deal with well. As the ground flattened out we picked up to a running pace and I watched as Cassie seemingly floated away ahead of us.

Garth and I continued on together, keeping each other honest by pushing the pace into a run whenever possible as we continued towards Katoomba. The sun set and we took out headlights, running well on a final trail section as we made our way towards Furber Steps. As we passed another runner on the single trail I misjudged distance and brushed shoulders, only to be greeted by name. It was Alex, who I was sharing accommodation with in Katoomba. After heading to the start line together, I had met him briefly at checkpoint 4 and then once again with only 3 km remaining. I let Garth continue on ahead as I ran with Alex to the base of the steps, completed the final stair climb and then turned a corner for the short straight to the finish line.

As it turned out I finished still feeling strong; it was the middle of the race where I struggled. But overall I was very happy with the result, and looking forward to some shorter races before considering my next ultra.

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