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.
The North Face 100 2015
The North Face 100 2015
The North Face 100 2015
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.
On Saturday I will run my furthest race of the year so far at The North Face 100, in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. In this case the 100 refers to kilometres rather than miles. After this race I will focus on some shorter races during the southern winter.
The competitor briefing proclaims that “this is one of the most amazing and challenging running courses around”. It is well known for containing a significant number of stairs, but with around 4000 metres of climbing I expect it might fall short of being one of the most challenging courses. Hopefully it delivers on some amazing views.
The thought of running a fast time for a 100 km road race has popped into my mind over the past couple of years. As a target it rates a lower priority than my trail running goals but it persistently remains in the periphery.
When I realised that I would be in Australia during the running of the Gold Coast 100, a 100-km road race held in Queensland the peripheral target returned into focus. But luckily reality stepped in before I got carried away. Whilst I have run great times over the marathon and half marathon this year my mileage has been too low to allow me to convert that speed into a good time over ultra marathon distances. In the end I decided to attend the race, but without big targets in mind.
When the race started with first light I took off at my target pace of 4:48 min/km. That is the pace required to achieve a sub-8 hour 100-km time, and the target I would like to conquer at some point. I had decided to use the race as a gauge of my ultra marathon fitness, setting my starting pace and seeing how long I could maintain it.
The Australian Ultra Runners Association (AURA) is the body that maintains Australian rankings and records for ultramarathon events, and seeks to promote the growth of the sport in the country. While looking through their website last year I came across lists that they maintain of the fastest times recorded by Australian runners over a number of distance- and time-based events. That gave me an idea to attempt a fast 100 km road race to see how high up the list I could get.
I had a look at event options and found a flat 100 km race just north of Sydney during the period when I would be back in Australia during the holiday period. The catch was that it was a circuit race, like many of the ultramarathon races that are held. As an improvement over some races that can have circuits as short as 400 metres, the Narrabeen All-Nighter takes place on a 3.33 km circuit following a path alongside Narrabeen Lake. The event had previously comprised both 100-km and 12-hour races but due to numbers they only ran the 12-hour race in 2013, however they would be able to provide me with an official 100-km time. As a summer event the race avoids the heat of the day by starting at 8:00 PM (just before sunset) on the first Saturday night of the year and continues for 12 hours (finishing after sunrise), thereby giving the race its name. The total number of entrants for the event was 70, with 58 individual competitors and 6 teams of 2.
I ended up setting myself a target of 8 hours for 100 km, requiring that I run at an average pace of 4:48 min/km. I had initially considered options for starting out slower and running a slight negative split, but in the end decided on attempting a perfectly even paced race. Therefore I would need to run each of the thirty 3.33 km laps in 16 minutes. Or as I decided to think about it: run a 48-minute 10 km, and then repeat (9 more times).
I flew into Sydney on Friday and popped into an office store to purchase myself a folding table as the race director was unsure whether there would be sufficient table space for those runners who were self-crewing. After staying overnight in central Sydney I caught a bus around lunchtime on Saturday for the 25 km trip north. I checked into my accommodation in Narrabeen and rested for the afternoon. At 7:00 PM I set out for the 1.5 km walk to the start line, carrying my folding table and pulling along a rolling case with my supplies. Upon arrival I collected my race number and neatly set up my table with my nutrition so that I could grab supplies without requiring a complete stop.
After a couple of delays due to a late conclusion of the race briefing and then a problem with the computer for the timing chips the race started at 8:20 PM. Knowing that my intended pace would put me near the lead of the 12-hour race I started from the very front but was surprised by how many people ran out in front of me on the first lap. I glanced at my watch a number of times early in the first lap to judge my pace so that I could fall into my target pace. I completed my first lap in 16:06 and fell into a comfortable rhythm so that I could continue running without monitoring my pace.