As the winners celebrated having conquered the Blue Mountains course in astounding times, several hundred more runners faced a long, cold night while they battled through the distance to finish The North Face 100 this weekend, the seventh outing of what is now Australia’s most iconic trail ultra.
Others wondered what could have been if only they had fought back against their own bodies just a little harder. But for a select few, and those watching from the sidelines, the 2014 edition of The North Face 100 will live in the memory as one of the hardest fought finish lines in the race’s history.
Stu Gibson (right), a hard-as-nails Scotsman from Hobart and formerly rated as Australia’s Fittest Man, narrowly led this mountainous run for 90 kilometres. In the final 10km of the day, he scrapped ferociously with Sydney’s Andrew Tuckey. The two men ultimately tried to outrun each other on the final climb – close to one thousand steep, uneven stairs climbing higher than Sydney’s tallest office buildings over the final two kilometres. In an unforgettable display of tenacity and heroics bordering on masochism, Gibson outsprinted Tuckey over the final 30 metres to take first place by two seconds in a time of 9:31:1.1
Behind Tuckey ran last year’s TNF 100 winner, Brendan Davies (09:53:10) followed by Jono O’Loughlin (09:53:30).
The women’s race winner staked her claim early, leaving her fellow competitors to fight for second place amongst themselves as she surged to a position of total domination.
Nuria Picas (right), a Spaniard who was recently successful over 100 miles around the iconic Japanese volcano, Mt. Fuji, utterly destroyed a course regarded by many returning athletes as the toughest in the event’s history to record the fastest ever women’s time of 10:57:43. She also finished 13th outright.
In second place for the women was Joelle Vaught in 11:45:15, followed by Fernanda Maciel (11:47:52). The first Aussie female home was Gill Fowler in fourth in a time of 11:56:01.
Behind the lead pack, plenty more stories played out. The casualty corner was packed with first-timers, shivering underneath the silver space blankets which so famously populate the finish line of the London Marathon. Spreading across the top floor of tourism icon, Scenic World Katoomba, bean bags littered with exhausted, grazed bodies slowly piled up as the sound system outside announced a new wave of finishers spared the near-zero temperatures so many others faced before the coming of a new day’s dawn.
To understand the sacrifice these ‘back-packers’ have made to reach this point, the average person needs to train in all terrain and all weather for upward of 20 hours per week for upwards of 12 months, in all states of health and personal life, and without thought of ever quitting or turning back. Because that is exactly what these ordinary people have had to do, to achieve the kind of extraordinary achievements seen in the Blue Mountains today.
The North Face 2014 results:
All images: Lyndon Marceau / www.marceauphotography.com & Dane Geercke / The North Face AU