Record torn up at The North Face 100

It was a huge weekend of trail running achievement up in the Blue Mountains on the weekend, with records and PB’s smashed all over the Blue Mountains at The North Face 100, Australia’s biggest trail event outing. There were a few good runs had by the Trail Run Mag crew, too [Roving Ed Mal Law snagging a silver buckle in the TNF100, co-publisher Adrian Bortignon registering a handy time in the long one too; our AU editor cracking his first TNF50 and Asia Editor Rachel Jacqueline over the line for fifty fast ones]. But because we’re pretty confident you’re more interested in what transpired at the pointy end, rather than the midpack where we were plodding out some fantastic trails, we’ll pass you over to Daniel Lewis who reports from the front line of trail running.

_MJW0888Brendan Davies was in tears as he approached the Leura finish line in The North Face 100 on the weekend, then fell to his knees when he crossed it, so emotional was he to have won such a prestigious event in his own backyard.

‘It means a lot to me, this race, being a local guy,’ he said. ‘I train on this course a lot. It’s a dream come true to win a local event. This will always mean the world to me. It’s the biggest win of my career.’
The 36-year-old school teacher from the Blue Mountains didn’t even realise at the time that he had also managed to set a new race record of 9 hours 16 minutes 12 seconds.

Flat batteries meant his watch stopped working towards the end of the gruelling 100km trail running event  that takes in Narrow Neck, Nellies Glen, Megalong Valley, Jamison Valley, Kings Tableland, Kedumba Pass, The Six Foot Track and Echo Point, so he had no idea he had run the final sector of the race so strongly that he had broken the 2011 record of celebrated Spaniard Kilian Jornet (9.19.06) by more than two minutes.

Davies’ victory was greeted warmly by the trail running fraternity. ‘What a great performance from such a humble, friendly guy,’ was one Facebook comment.

It was only three weeks ago that Davies achieved a brilliant fifth place in a star-studded 100-mile (161km) race in Japan that boasted 9000 metres of elevation gain.

North Face second-place getter, New Zealander Vajin Armstrong (9.42.22), said it was classic Brendan Davies that the Australian had never sought to use the race in Japan as an excuse not to do well in The North Face.

‘A lot of people would have said, ‘I’m coming in a bit tired’. He made himself believe that [the Japanese race] was going to help him out there. He felt strong and fit and fast and he just took it to us all day. I was shocked a couple of times when we came to the aid stations and heard how far ahead he was. I was never upset about it because he’s a fantastic bloke. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person, to run a performance like that.’

Andy Green | NF100Going into The North Face 100, the hot favourite had been defending champion, South African runner Ryan Sandes. But Sandes started to feel unwell about five kilometres into the race. His stomach started churning and his food and drink started going straight through him, forcing him to repeatedly go to the toilet. The stomach bug saw Sandes  pull out at check point two, 38 kilometres into the race at Dunphy’s Camp in the Megalong Valley.

In his presentation speech Davies offered his commiserations to Sandes and said he hoped his own performance helped keep Australian trail running going from strength to strength. The four Australians and one Kiwi who made up the top five all broke the magic 10-hour mark.

Davies went into the race aiming for a time of about 9 hours and 40 minutes and felt it was his concentration on only running ultra-distance trail events that had enabled him to do the time he did.
‘The 100ks seem a lot easier than they did in the past. I had a storming last leg [in The North Face 100] which gave me the record in the end because I was behind at the last check point by 4 minutes or so. I can only think the reason I had that strong last leg was because of the extra training I’ve been doing and the extra training I’ve been doing. Instead of struggling I really powered through it this year.’
_MJW1341As part of his preparation for  the Mont Blanc Marathon in France at the end of June, Davies will also be competing in the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon in the Wolgan Valley near Lithgow on June 16.

Towards the end of this year he plans to go to South Africa to do the world 100km road championships in Durban. He was 11th in the same event last year. Next year he hopes to do the famed Western States trail run in the US.

In the women’s 100km, another Blue Mountains runner, Jo Brischetto, scored a fantastic second place to Beth Cardelli, who calls Berowra home but was up in the Blue Mountains every second weekend to put in solid training sessions of up to 50km on sections of the course. ‘A lot of the time we would start [running] at four o’clock in the morning and finish at lunchtime.’

When Cardelli first started striding out with the Berowra Bush Runners in Sydney’s north in 2007, she struggled to complete 10km.But on the weekend, the 33-year-old claimed her third The North Face 100. What is more, she bettered her own race record with a new fastest time of 11 hours 1 minute and 8 seconds, more than 17 minutes quicker than her 2012 effort of 11:18:49.

_MJW1193Only 12 men beat Cardelli to the finish line overall and her only disappointment was that she hadn’t become the first woman to break the magic 11-hour barrier. Cardelli wasn’t wearing a watch but knew during the race that she was on track to do a very fast time.

“I was trying really hard to break 11 hours,’ she said.

Her training involved heading to the Blue Mountains every second weekend in the months leading up to The North Face to put in solid training sessions of up to 50km on sections of the course.

Cardelli first started running by joining the Berowra Bush Runners simply because she wanted to meet people after moving to the area.
She is grateful the group also helped her to become a lover of running.

‘I didn’t run at all [before joining Berowra Bush Runners]. My first 10kms with them, I was pretty much a wreck, but I thought ‘if I just keep coming back …’ Your body just eventually gets used to it.’

Next up Cardelli is heading to Italy to do the 118km Lavaredo Ultra Trail in the mountains of the Dolomites, another North Face race.

For the first time this year there was also a 50km North Face race. The men’s winner was road running hot shot, and recent star of the Sydney Trail Running Series, Vlad Shatrov in 4:15:21 and the women’s Brooks Trail Run Fest Queen of the Mountain winner, Gippslander Kylie Murray, won in 5:19:50.

The North Face races started and finished at the Fairmont resort in Leura and at the presentation ceremony on Sunday the resort was heaving with hobbling but happy runners who were busy comparing times, injuries and war stories.
When The North Face 100 was first held six years ago, it attracted about 170 competitors. But trail running is a booming sport and this year there were 1022 entrants in the 100km North Face race and 508 in the new 50km race. However, only 698 made it to the finish line of the 100km, although their average time of 16hrs 41mins was a big improvement on the 17hours 16 mins of 2012. This year’s oldest 100km runner was 70.

Keeping the competitors fueled up required more than 5000 litres of water, 1700 boxes of noodles, 250kg of lollies, 800kg of fruit and 2500 sausages. Competitors said the addition of the 50km event had made the running less isolated because there were so many more competitors and spectators. North Face 100 race director Tom Landon-Smith of AROC Sport described the 2013 event as possessing a ‘special vibe’.

A celebrity competitor was Antarctic adventurer James Castrission from Blackheath. Castrission was thrilled to finish 13th in the men’s open division of the 50km race with a time of 5:40:24. It was a ‘perfect day with an incredibly positive vibe from all involved. Awesome to be a part of it,’ he said.

Book Review: Extreme South

Book Review: Extreme South by James Castrission
REVIEW: Chris Ord

Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll. It’s not what you’d expect from an adventure tome that took less time to hit our shelves than it took its protagonists to complete the adventure.

But adventurer James Castrission proffers all tenants in his latest, Extreme South, detailing his and constant companion in the field, Justin Jones’, most recent achievement of becoming the first people to trek unsupported to the South Pole and back. It’s a feat that rolls way too easily off the keyboard given the immensity of the challenge and, having read the book, I’d still opine that we mere mortals can never really get a true picture or appreciation of the effort. And no amount of standing in an ice bar supping frozen daiquiris will do it (what? Isn’t that how all literary critics work? It’s called immersion, people…the equivalent of hydrated method acting).

But back to the sex. Of course it’s all musings about wet dreams and how the vast, often visually barren expanse of the Antarctic sparks intense erotic visions while cooped up in a tent with your best mate; the drugs component is a pharmacy worth of Nurofen; and the rock ‘n roll is iPod-generated and occasionally degenerates to the Australian national anthem (no offence but I’m yet to hear a good hardcore rendition yet).

In a way, that encapsulates the key challenge of keeping a reader engaged in a journey that is relentlessly monotonous: day after pus-blister-inducing day spent performing the same exacting bodily movement over and over (foot forward, schlep, foot forward, schlep, foot forward, schlep, foot forward, schlep ad nauseam) all in a world of white, and often white-out, paired with unrelenting pain and misery and suffering.

Hey: let’s spend four years of our life in the planning to make that happen! Which is exactly what the fellas did. Imagine that? And for all of those 1408 days in preparation they knew their end game was boredom and pain.

Welcome to the world of true adventure. It’s not glamorous – it’s tear- and snot-filled. It’s not a life of riches – the pair had major sponsors drop out late in the day, and they are not now on a whirlwind global tour of inspirational presentations to become rich – they are doing it to repay the bills, auditorium crowd by standing ovation auditorium crowd.

Even the fame is of no real motivation – we Adventure Types know them, sure, but Cas and Jonesy aren’t on the cover of Who magazine just yet (although the six packs – one of the few hard earned benefits of their crossing –  may get them on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine. If Cas would just cut his hair and shave…).

No, there was nothing glamorous about the expedition, that much is clear. And beware any wanna-be adventurer that enters the fray with such celebrity-seeking thoughts. Talk to Cas and Jonesy first, for between them they are perhaps in the current day sense the most qualified to talk about real adventure, what it promises and what it actually delivers.

Which is what their trip delivers: Real Adventure.  It’s not a Boys’ Own adventure for shits and giggles, although there was plenty of the former, not so much of the latter. There was the literal version – their meticulously calorie-counted diet and stress on the body enforcing plenty of ice besmirching (not to mention leg and boot besmirching – it’s hard to defecate in howling icy winds). And there’s the relationship version where best buddies Cas and Jonesy constantly get the shits with each other.

This is perhaps one of the more insightful aspects of the book. The ideal of Cas and Jonesy as a harmonious unit bonded by friendship and mutual experience in tough times comes crumbling down as Cas delves into their shifting relationship dynamic. Here we have not just a voyeuristic titillation in the opening of a can of brotherly worms, but an indication of how the travails and constancy of true hardship can play upon and fracture once unbreakable bonds. It’s the ying-yang of adventure at close quarters accompanied by those near and dear to you as the pair explode at each other nearly as much as their bums explode over the ice and with nearly as much mess, albeit it of the emotional kind.

Cas then reflects upon such dynamics as played out in the field of adventure over the ages with particular reference to the Antarctic explorers he idolised before realising that they, too, were all too human and, like Cas and Jonesy, never felt more so than when out there on the belittling ice.

Not only was the duo comparing themselves to the past and hoping for a better outcome – one hundred years ago Norway’s Roald Amundsen beat England’s Robert Scott to the South Pole. A broken man, Scott died on the return journey – they also had to contend with the fact that there was another out on the ice at the same time, hoping to achieve the same feat. On the flight in to Union Glacier they had to stare down Norwegian Aleksandr Gamme, out to emulate his countryman, Amundsen. The race was unofficially on, whether any of the three wanted to admit it or not. And history was not on the Australians’ side.

And so, once the background of the trip is recounted replete with early dramas that pre-splinters the pair before hitting Union Glacier, we read of the breakdown of body and mind as their trip edges forward, slowly, slowly, the pace almost matching the drawn-out experience. At first chapters plod, occasionally punctured by challenges of crevasses and gear break downs and moods and spats and frustrations. As the journey the unfolds the rhythmic composition of Cas’s retelling is like large thick waves of chapters slowly thumping through, the reader willing them and the words to pick up the pace a little. Perhaps this was Cas’ intent in the writing, perhaps not – but in the context of the type of adventure we’re reading about, it works. You start to get a little frustrated. Another long day on the ice. I get it. Enough already! Give me some drama…and then, just when you can’t stand it anymore, you think you’ll put the book down for a breather, Jonesy pisses Cas off, Cas shits himself, a crevasse opens, an argument ensues and the possibility that they will even make it to the Pole, let alone the return, diminishes. And you turn another page as they take another step forward regardless.

There’s something about it that works – if a book and a writer can prompt even the slightest echo of feeling in a reader of what is transpiring in the story, then it’s a job well done. That includes frustration, anticipation, disappointment, hope…thankfully Cas doesn’t ever give you the real shits.

So, to be fair, just like there is only so many ways you can describe a scene of ice and snow, there is only so many ways to build a picture of the daily grind the fellas suffered out there. And that repetition is part of the suffering.

Cas’ delving into snippets of Antarctic history is welcome sideline – a mental gear shift for the reader – but like the ice fields, perhaps a little lean on detail. I would have liked to go further into what happened out there all those years ago, especially in exploring the mindspace and relationship dynamics of the Antarctic explorers of yesteryear – I wanted to know more about their drama to then compare it to where Cas and Jonesy were sitting, remembering that for all their modern day equipment and advanced logistics planning, they like those before them still had to deal with the same conditions, the same hurt, the same mental anguish. And like past adventurers, a lot of the time there was no way out – they could still die. In so many ways. 

Of course, there’s plenty more contained within Cas’ book, including his own humility in the face of the dealing with the fact that the pair may not to be ‘the first’ to complete the feat, with Gamme on a flier. In the quiet times, out there in the mêlée of pitch white, that fact plays with Cas’ mind.

Nevertheless, first or second, we know that the pair survive and, after 89 days, make it back to Union Glacier – the ice, the storms, the crevasses, the hunger, the pain, the breakdowns, the arguments… they live through it all.

And to get a little hyped, in the world of adventure, that’s pretty rock ‘n roll.

And worth reading about in Extreme South. Nurofen and iPod not required.