High points, low points, and the all important three points

Wow. I did it. I finished The North Face 100.

It's two weeks later and if I'm really honest about it - the relief of knowing I've accrued another three qualifying points for the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc is my most dominant emotion.

That's not to say I'm not proud of my achievement. It's The North Face 100. It doesn't tickle. It wasn't my first 100k event, but I didn't know whether I was capable of finishing. So there is plenty to be proud of.

And it's not to say that there wasn't any fun or fear during the 100ks. There was both of these things, in spades. So my race report is all about my high points and low points from TNF100.

Low point: How I felt on Saturday morning. I felt like I'd hardly slept and my tummy was unsettled. I downed a couple of Gastro Stop tablets and hoped for the best. Long time readers of my blog know what they're for.

High point: Having friends at the start. My friends B and A had another friend also competing in the event and travelled down to support us both. I was so, so touched to have them there.

Low point: Pretty much the entire first 20ks. Physically, I didn't feel good, and I'm a little embarrassed to say that my physical state affected me a little bit mentally. The first four ks was on the road along the top of the cliffs at Katoomba before heading down the Furber Steps, along the bottom of the cliffs, and back up the Golden Staircase to along the fire trails along the Narrow Neck plateau, before turning off to approach the Tarros Ladders.

High point: The Tarros Ladders. Now, when I say ladder, I mean ladder. This really is a special part of the course, where the event crew erect a series of ladders in the weeks leading up to the event. If you're interested, check out this video to see how the ladders are fitted and tested. I had no choice but to stop for a few minutes as only one competitor can make their way onto the ladders at a time. As I waited, and took my turn on the ladder, I reminded myself that this was one of the unique aspects of TNF100; and that this was what I'd signed up for. I was here, it was event day. In what seemed like the blink of an eye I was already 21ks through. It was time to focus on the task at hand and start enjoying the ride. And I started by taking a selfie, of course! Look at this scenery. What's not to enjoy?!

The next section of the course made its way through an equally pretty section of countryside and before I knew it, I was at the Checkpoint Two at Dunphy's Camp. I moved through quickly - after a quick stop at the portaloo I topped up my water, grabbed some fruit and a handful of potato chips and kept on moving.

High point: climbing up and across Ironpot Ridge. I passed a couple of competitors up Ironpot Mountain which gave me some confidence. My strength training had paid off. There was a technical section across to the top of Ironpot Ridge where not only was the scenery beautiful, but we were greeted by a group of didgeridoo players. It was a breathtaking experience, one that I'll never forget.

Low point: the hill down from Ironpot Ridge. It was really steep, and mostly dirt and gravel. I took my time down here. At the bottom though, it was a nice passage through mostly farmland and fire trails to Checkpoint Three at the Six Foot Track.

High AND low point: The Six Foot Track is one of the most famous trails in Australia - I was respectful of this and let myself enjoy it. I also passed the halfway point and even though I don't think anyone was around to hear me, gave myself a bit of a cheer and stopped to take a photo.

I knew the next section back up to Katoomba would be steep, but because darkness started closing in just as I got to the narrow, steep section it seemed a bit more overwhelming than it probably should have. In fact it was a just little bit frightening. My strategy for dealing with this? I told myself I had plenty more of this ahead of me so I just had to suck it up. Not very sympathetic, but it was effective.

High point: Hankies! At Checkpoint Four KKB presented me with some of the ugliest hankies I've ever seen in my life. I didn't care what they looked like. My nose needed hankies. My one man-sized hanky I had was wet and dirty from the day's use. At the Six Foot Track Checkpoint KKB asked me if I needed anything. My request for hankies got a response something like, "right." So I didn't hold out much hope.

High point: running a few ks after Checkpoint Four. I had announced quite seriously to KKB at the Aquatic Centre Checkpoint, 57ks in, at around 6.30pm, that I didn't think I had much running left in me. A fellow runner passed not long after leaving the Checkpoint so I didn't settle for that, I took it as a challenge to try and keep up. The terrain was on my side - the route was fairly flat and smooth through Katoomba's parks, streets and playing fields, and along Cliff Top Walk to Echo Point.

Low point: walking for basically the rest of the race. They told us at the briefing that the section between the Aquatic Centre and the Queen Victoria Hospital Checkpoint was the hardest of the race. It was. After my unexpected burst of running I turned off Cliff Top Walk to head down to Leura Falls and this is where the terrain got tricky. Lots of stairs constructed of wood, dirt, and rocks. I don't know where the water was coming from, as it wasn't raining, but in parts the stairs themselves were like waterfalls. The field had thinned out, but I continued to pass others on the ups, but lost a lot of time on the downs. This section meant it took me a much longer time to reach Checkpoint Five than either I or KKB had imagined.

High point: my crew. KKB was patient, supportive, and resourceful. When I got to Checkpoint Five at around 1am, after taking forever, despite being super worried about me, he had a motivational speech ready to go, thinking I would be feeling deflated. I wasn't, I was in good spirits... it's my flesh that was weak. Namely, my feet. The felt like they were on fire. I need to learn to push through this very specific kind of pain if I want to do better at ultramarathons.

Low point: quite literally, the bottom of the Jamison Valley. It was dark, cold, and the downhill from Checkpoint Five seemed never ending.

High point: the volunteers. They were all brilliant, but I want to give a special shoutout to the lady who was perched in a damp, dark corner of the Leura Cascades, and the young bloke at Leura Forest. I asked this guy how long he'd been there. He'd been there since 10am Saturday morning. By now it must have been somewhere between 5am and 6am on Sunday morning. Who signs up for this gig? And more so, who remains so happy for so long?

Low point: the sun coming up. The sunrise was beautiful. But I had hopes of finishing before daylight. That wasn't to be this time. Maybe I'd jinxed myself when I chose "Lanterns" as my theme song... all that stuff about marching till we meet dawn...

High point: friends at the finish. Halfway up the Furber Steps, in the last k of the race, I heard my friend B's voice. I can't remember what he said but it was comforting, it was welcoming, and it was really only at this point that I savoured how close I was to the finish.

High point: my fellow competitors. There are too many to mention, and to everyone I chatted with on event day, I say thank you for your company and for your mostly high spirits. It was a pleasure to share this experience with you and I hope I was able to help you on your journey as much as you did me.

A few competitors though, deserve a special shoutout:
  • Random guy at the start - who yelled out "discipline guys, it's a long day" as we turned the corner out of Scenic World at the start of the race and started running  up the little hill there. Almost everybody immediately stopped and walked; after all, as back of the packers, walking the hills was more than likely our common race strategy.
  • Lachlan - who ran with me during the first 5-6 ks, and later in the race waited for me at the top of the hill at Megalong Valley Road enroute to Checkpoint Three. After a lovely chat, I told him I was going to run a bit - after all we were on very runnable fire trail and I knew this wasn't going to last forever. He wasn't a runner, and though he suggested that he'd try and run with me, he dropped off a short time later. I felt a bit bad about this, but at this kind of event you have to run your own race. From checking the results, it looks as if he didn't finish, which made me feel even worse!
  • Alf - the oldest man in the field. I spoke to him on the start line when we were both a bit confused about how many start groups were left, and whether the next one was ours. We exchanged advice, his being that the company along the way is a big part of the ride. He completed his third TNF100 this year, in 27:41, at the age of 73 years, and was a nice bloke to boot. Legend. (And I don't use that word lightly.)
  • Marc - my Swiss friend who I first met up Ironpot Ridge (he stars in my video above) and saw at various stages from Ironpot Ridge to the Six Foot Track. There were a few narrow creek crossings in this section and whenever I was with him he would cross over the rocks using his trekking poles to steady him, then at the other side leaned back to extend a pole for me to hold on to to steady myself. What a gesture! I was sorry to see that he too, didn't finish.
  • Michelle - who I first encountered along the fire trails at Narrow Neck. She complimented my hill running as she dashed past me on the single track towards the Tarros Ladders. We spoke many times during the event, and I was honoured that she shared with me the news that her son had successfully finished the 50k event. I last saw her on an uphill out of the Jameson Valley, and I was happy to see that she did finish the event, not too long after me.

I ran across the finish line, with tears in my eyes. I'd done it! In some ways I could hardly believe it, and in other ways it had been a long time coming.

I downed a cup of pumpkin soup, and a hot chocolate, which was really all my tummy could handle. As we drove back to the hotel my friend B asked me whether I'd do the event again. "I wouldn't rule it out" was my immediate response. Immediate!

A brief silence descended on the car. My response was surprising, even to me. Usually I'm a bit gun shy for at least a few days before I start thinking about whether I'd have another crack at an event like this, or even at a particular distance. But The North Face 100 is one of those events that gets you. It's not all beer and skittles, sure. In fact it is possibly one of the hardest one day endurance events in Australia.

But its enormity, its beauty, it's character captures you and enchants you.

I guess The North Face 100 wasn't just about the three points after all.

Even though my race report is too long to win the race report competition, here's a piece of The North Face equipment I wouldn't mind checking out... 

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