101 Reasons to run Ultra Trail Australia

While plenty of attention is garnered by the front runners, we reckon the more moving and inspirational tales of ultra running are found further back in the pack, as with the likes of Brett Sammut whose story from 2015 ran in Edition #17 of Trail Run Mag. With Ultra Trail Australia happening this weekend, we thought it worth a look back at Brett’s experience in the Blue Mountains.
WORDS: Chris Ord

When life becomes too much, some run away to oblivion. Others, like Brett Sammut, reach the precipice but use running as a way to step back and rediscover a reason to live, and then some.

But what happens when the spectre of failure looms large on the trail to redemption, as Brett faced attempting his first UTA (then The North Face 100)? 

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© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

The night was a darker pitch than any before. A suffocating weight of blackness tunnelled vision down to transient sweeps of light cast by passing cars. A two-hour walk of wallowing pain echoed as barely ten minutes, but every second of it was unbearable, like seventeen years of pain focused through a magnifying glass; beams of a black sun searing into his mind, charring it like the sun burns a dried autumn leaf.

In that moment, there was a clear, definite and imminent end to this phenomenal feat of endurance for 43-year-old New South Welshman, Brett Sammut.

He was about to quit in the most final way he could imagine.

From his perch on a gutter leading nowhere, on the fringe of a regional city the ex-policeman had served and loved and hated, Brett was preparing to throw himself in front of the next speeding truck that happened along.

His enduring to that point in his life was of a kind more miserable, intense and soul-shattering than any ultra runner – even at their lowest ebb – could ever imagine. Unless, that is, an ultra runner out there has ever been moments from throwing themselves in front of a speeding B-Double, Brett’s preferred method of ending his inner turmoil.

It wasn’t the first time Brett had tried to take his life. A policeman for 17 years, Brett was used to staking out dark corners on the hunt for people who wish and inflict harm on society. He was used to long chases. Long hours. Long nights. Like anyone exposed for an extended period to the raw pain of other people’s lives, Brett suffered. The things he saw, the things he had to do, to deal with while in the Force wore him down to the point where he joined those he usually chased into the gutter, albeit in a more literal sense.

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015 // Aurora Images

“I was an overweight copper,” says Brett whose peak was around 118kg. “I left the police with diagnosed depression and anxiety. I felt worthless. I knew why I’d become depressed: it was a combination of seeing things that people shouldn’t see and doing things people shouldn’t have to do.”

A beer drinking culture within the force where colleagues drank to forget the worst shifts didn’t help.

“I didn’t drink beer so I was a bit of an outcast, but also, I had no real release valve like they did. I’d go home, not wanting to talk to my wife or daughters about the things I witnessed. I just bottled it up.

“One day my bucket spilled and I had a bad (mental) crash. That’s when I first tried taking my own life. I’m just grateful that the truck never came. I would have missed out on so much. It was a wake up call I needed.”

The following day, in a cloud of confusion, Brett sought a doctor and got the help he desperately needed. The solution, however, was a bitter pill to swallow.

“Medication,” says Brett. “I hated taking that medication.”


IMAGE: Chris Ord / Adventure Types

“To me, it was a sign of a failure. I know it was needed to help me. But I resented taking the medication and to get up every morning and take a 10-milligram pill was hard. The the first few weeks I flushed them all down the drain.”

It wasn’t long before Brett was forced to spend time in a psychiatric hospital.

“That was devastating,” he recalls. “One moment I am a policeman, with the power to take someone’s life or liberty in just circumstances, the next minute I’m locked in a room for three months, my own liberty taken, with no power to do anything.”

Brett had hit his rock bottom.

“I got diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, a few anxiety disorders and suicidal tendencies. I also had a diagnosis of a perfectionist disorder.”

Before being hospitalised, Brett had taken to running in order to lose weight. “But I read somewhere that running could also help ease reliance on medication, so I had thoughts of using that as part of my therapy.”

With some skepticism, Brett’s doctor prescribed he go for a run, on an assumption he would fail and they could get back to the medicated course of action.

“He was trying to expose me to a ‘safe’ failure, I guess, as part of my treatment. But he didn’t want me to really use running as part of treatment.”

Despite no training, Brett travelled to run the Canberra Half Marathon, his first.

“I loved it. It wasn’t necessarily what my doctor wanted – me to love the running – but I did.”

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

It’s not unusual to find perfectionists or indeed obsessive compulsives, out on road or trail, monitoring to an inch of their lives time splits, calorie counts, and race pace. Indeed, sometimes for those with personalities locked like a homing missile on the intricacies of measurement in running, the sport can be harmful. Had running just become another mask for the pain, an addiction akin to his beer drinking colleagues back in the force, albeit arguably healthier to all appearances?

“To a degree, yes, but really for me it was about the participation medal,” says Brett. “It was about the achievement, the sense of completing something, more so than being good at something.”

“When I stopped being a police officer I became a nothing,” he explains. “That was how I identified, even though of course I was a father, a son, and a husband. But so much of your being is wrapped up in what you do when you are a policeman. When it is ripped away, you are at a loss. For me, rightly or wrongly, there was no real reason to live. There was no reward. To live, I still needed the thing that was in fact killing me.”

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While running and the medals on offer were no doubt a safer substitute for his achievements as a police officer, he admits to still using running as a way to escape problems, rather than face them.

“Leaving town was the reason I started running in a lot of events. In the first year after getting out of the psychiatric ward, I raced twelve half marathons. It was getting out of Orange. Getting out of town. Leaving everything behind me. I could actually relax doing that. And then driving back home I had that little medal, which to me is someone saying ‘you did well’ which you don’t get in hospital.”

Brett’s journey to the trail and ultimately his first attempt at this year’s The North Face 100, went via some triathlons and road runs, before he signed up to a Running Wild 6-Hour event in the Blue Mountains. The fit was instant, Brett describing how there was something more alluring, more medicating, more comfortable about the trail running scene that plays an important part in his ongoing recovery.


IMAGE: Chris Ord / Adventure Types

“Trail running it seems like a little family. I was accepted straight away. And not as Brett the depressive, Brett the suicidal guy, or Brett the ex-copper. I was just Brett the guy who could run. Like everyone else there.

“There was a sense of not only acceptance, but also community, and I think that is unique to trail running as compared to the road running scene where you don’t know anyone, and no-one wants to know you.”

The friends Brett gained from running quickly replaced those from his policing days who had quickly fallen away when he became ill.

“There is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness within the police force,” says Brett. “But I’m happy to say that the trail running friends I have gained are a much better, more accepting bunch.”

The environment he was beginning to immerse himself in also played their part, believes Brett.

“It can be so peaceful on trail. I think that helps clear the mind for people like me. There’s no cars, traffic, noise, no clutter…”

Brett firmly believes running and treating depression go hand in hand.

“Trail running in particular amplifies that level of recovery process. My medication levels have dropped the last six months, and I attribute that to the trail. Even when I was running road, I still required my full dose… there’s crowds, cars, people hating on you for being a runner – it remains a place of heightened anxiety. There’s none of that in the bush – just birds and space. Even when you trip over you can laugh it off – you’re by yourself, there’s no one else to blame – and you get back up and run. There’s something about the environmental aspect of the trail that definitely lessens my anxiety, lessening my reliance on medication, which was the aim from the beginning.”

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IMAGE: Chris Ord / Adventure Types

Fast forward through Brett falling in love with singletrack, and we’re standing in the crisp night as crowds mill atop the cliffs of Luera, in the Blue Mountains, filing in to collect their race packs place for tomorrow’s The North Face 100. For many, it will be the biggest challenge they have ever faced. The question that hangs heavy in the air anchoring the nervous chatter, is will they achieve it?

For Brett, that weight of expectation has extra gravity. What happens when a man battling mental illness, someone whose daily nemesis is the prospect of failure, faces something as tough as running 100km; what happens when he faces a race where the Did Not Finish rate is one in three?

While others are anxious about how their body will hold up, for Brett – having now been physically fit for two years – the spikes of anxiety are more about how his mind will hold up to the rigors of an ultra.

The question was answered at Checkpoint Three, but it wasn’t his head that caved in to the challenge. After 47km, it was his body. Three hours of being violently ill, vomiting, cramping and becoming dangerously dehydrated, Brett faced his inner demon and pulled the pin.

“My first thought was of letting down my family,” says Brett. “I thought about what I had sacrificed for the race, and more importantly what my wife and kids had sacrificed for me to race.”

Those thoughts alone would have cut deep for Brett, or for any family man. But what Brett hadn’t let on was that his wife, Francine, has terminal breast cancer, and he is her primary carer. Time, therefore, is of the essence, and both he and his wife had sacrificed a sizeable chunk of it for Brett to run in The North Face 100. Their family’s collective sacrifice in seeing less of their husband and father in a precious period of life, where death again threatened, was arguably much more of a black hole than your average ultra runner’s time vacuum.

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IMAGE: Chris Ord / Adventure Types

“There were tears when I met up with my family. They were waiting at checkpoint four with homemade signs and banners,” says Brett.They, of course, were a bedrock of support. Dad was safe. Husband was alive. All was well.

“That first hug from my wife was heavenly.”

“Quitting was hard. I felt like a failure again. My goal was to finish. I failed at that goal. But I look at it now – I am healthy, I didn’t get injured. A year ago I would have been in worse mental state by quitting. But I’m proud of what I did regardless – I ran further than I have ever run before.”

Determined to turn the situation into a positive, Brett remained on course to help fellow runners who were racing without support.

“The race was meant to be a chance for me to fight my personal demons and score a victory, but while I failed in this instance, I still saw it as a chance to help others to achieve their goals. So I spent the next few hours and into Sunday morning helping strangers to get through checkpoints and lifting their confidence in their ability to get the job done; to be able to keep moving and keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

“It was the best thing I could have done. I never realised how much joy it would give me, especially when it came to seeing the names of people I helped on the finishers list.”

“That’s what I take away, that to me running is not about times, placings, results or, now I have come to accept, even finishing. It is the chance to be a part of an amazing community and the feeling of belonging.”

A few years ago, Brett Sammut felt overwhelming reason to embrace death. On the trail he found reason enough to live. Trail running gave him strength enough to face failure when it visited 53km short of his long-imagined success. And it continues to give him 100 reasons to live: the 100 kilometres he intends to conquer in the Blue Mountains in the future.

“I’m still on a journey and I want to keep coming back to The North Face every year,” says Brett. “First of all to finish, and then keep getting better. It’s my reward that I will keep looking forward to, keep living for.”

Addendum: In 2016, Brett is returning to run the 50km.

(*And the 1 in 101 Reasons headline? Of course, his two girls and wife…his family). 

Brett Sammut’s blog on his The North Face experience can be seen at https://brettsammut.wordpress.com 

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or mental health issues, contact:

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The North Face 100: event wrap

Dan Lewis wraps up The North Face 100 for 2015, an event that just keeps getting bigger and more dramatic, from the emotional finish by The North face athlete, Dylan Bowman, to the 27+ hour crossing of the 100km line by 73-year-old Alf Johnston.

There was a feel-good start and a ferocious finish to the eighth edition of trail running epic The North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains today.

The 100km race and its sister 50km event attracted more than 2000 entrants, but it was a man from Nepal and a man from California who made things really special at both ends of the 100km classic.

On a day with perfect conditions for racing, records tumbled and special memories were created.

No-one who followed the first third of this year’s TNF100 will forget the excitement of seeing Nepal’s Purna Tamang bravely running at the front of the race just weeks after his country was devastated and his own home destroyed by an earthquake.

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PHOTO: Lyndon Marceau/The North Face

Despite his disrupted training coming into TNF100, Tamang took the lead early and stayed there as the race dived into the Jamison Valley down the Furber Steps, climbed out again on the Golden Stairs and then charged down the Narrow Neck fire trail. He reached the first checkpoint on Narrow Neck (10.5km) in 54 minutes, with a 37-second lead over second-placed Longfei Yan of China, with race favourite Francois D’Haene of France in fifth place, 50 seconds behind the race leader.

The first woman to checkpoint one was Cassandra Scallon of the US in 1:05:11, 42 seconds ahead of Australia’s Shona Stephenson, with Dong Li of China the third placed woman in 1:06:34. The favourite for the women’s title, US runner Amy Sproston, was fourth, 1:21 behind Scallon.

The top 10 men charged through Dunphys checkpoint (31km) with less than a minute between them, but the steep climb to the top of Ironpot Ridge shook things up. Tamang was dropping off while four of the top runners – D’Haene, Dylan Bowman (US), Yun Yanquiao (China) and Julien Chorier (France) – took a wrong turn and missed 1.5km of the course. They were all handed a 15-minute time penalty when they got to checkpoint three (46km) on the Six Foot Track. Ironpot Ridge also saw Dong Li go past Scallon to lead the women.

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PHOTO: Lyndon Marceau/The North Face

As the men climbed out of the Megalong Valley it was New Zealander Scott Hawker in the lead, closely followed by American Dylan Bowman, Longfei Yan and D’Haene. Walker was the first runner to make checkpoint four (57km) at the Katoomba Aquatic Centre in 4:46:05.Tamang was back to 17th at the same check point and getting a lot of massage work done to aching legs by his support team.

Heading east across the clifftops to Leura, it was Bowman, Longfei Yan, D’Haene and Hawker in a pack with a four-minute lead over the rest of the field at Gordons Falls. Dong Li had also forged a lead of nearly a minute over Scallon.

At Queen Victoria Hospital (78km), just before the plunge back into the Jamison Valley via Kedumba Pass, the leading pack had been cut to two. Bowman and Longfei Yan had a 2:31 lead over Hawker.

Ahead lay a traverse of the Jamison Valley and one last agonising climb up Furber’s 900 steps to the finish at Scenic World, with Bowman prevailing in a new record time of 8:50:13 – a whopping 40 minutes better than the record on the new course set last year by Stu Gibson (9:31:11).

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PHOTO: Lyndon Marceau/The North Face

The normally laid-back Californian was emotional after the run, declaring: “It was the best race of my life.”

He was followed in by Hawker (8:51:35) and Yun Yanquiao (9:01:29), with Longfei Yan making it a great day for China by coming in fourth (9:08:50).

Being a Blue Mountains resident these days, Hawker was cheered at the finish like a local hero rather than a Kiwi raider.

Bowman’s win comes on the back of his record-breaking first place in another Ultra-Trail World Series race earlier this year, New Zealand’s Tarawera 100.

His TNF100 win was forged through an epic battle with Longfei Yan. “All of a sudden it was just Yan and I shoulder to shoulder for 26–27km and we didn’t say a word to each other the whole time,” Bowman said. “It was just a battle. Then I made my move on the last climb. I figured this is it, just give it a go, and it stuck.”

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PHOTO: Lyndon Marceau/The North Face

Before the race, Tamang said: “It was a hard decision to travel and leave my village as I lost two family homes. My wife is looking after the family, though. But as a man and an athlete, sometimes I have to make sacrifices even during hardships like this. I thought me coming [to Australia] and taking part would bring awareness to the tragedy in Nepal and hopefully it will bring support and goodwill.”

The crowd at the finish line was elated when he finished strongly in 20th place.

The best Australian was 10th-place Jono O’Loughlin (9:51:53) while popular Blue Mountains local and former TNF100 winner Brendan Davies was 17th (10:25:56). D’Haene, a previous winner of the Mount Fuji and Mont-Blanc Ultra-Trail World Series races, finished fifth (9:11:51).

The day kept getting even better for the Chinese when Dong Li became the first woman home in 11:05:22. Sproston was second in 11:27:50.

In the 50km race, New Zealand-based Lithuanian Andrius Ramonas streaked home to win in a course record time of 4:23:41, beating his nearest rival by 17:24.

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PHOTO: Lyndon Marceau/The North Face

The first female, and seventh overall, was Australian Emma Rilen in a time of 4:59:05. “That was awesome, that was great,” she declared after smashing the course record by half an hour and beating her nearest female rival by 13 minutes.

Ramonas, was delighted he made the decision to drop down in distance from the 100km race because, although he won easily, he started to suffer serious cramps as he climbed the Furber Steps near the end of the race. “Nice stairs!” was his wry comment after crossing the finish line. “There was no way I could have done 100 because I had lots of cramp in my legs.”

Trail runners can expect to see a lot more of Ramonas as he plans to stay three or four years in New Zealand while completing an intimidating Phd in exercise physiology, specialising in nutrition strategies for ultra-endurance running.


The North Face 100: Inspirations

More than 2000 runners line up tomorrow for The North Face 100 , representing 35 countries and all walks of life. Some are elites – you’ll read a lot about them across the mediascape to be sure, internationals and local go-fasts rocking the single track in unbelievable min/km pace. Worthy of accolades and attention, their feats are admirable, absolutely.

That said, I still prefer the stories that echo back from the past of the pointy enders quipping that while their 10-ish hour (as it was back then) 100km , was hard, but by geez they respected the hardy souls at the back taking 24 or so hours to knock off their tonne. Many of these super athletes admit that they couldn’t and wouldn’t stay out there that long. That’s why they rush it through…

But back there in the mid and rear end, are stories of – to steal a line from our 100 Reasons documentary of TNF100 a few years back – ‘Ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.’

So we thought we’d highlight a few heart tugger tales of people out there, people like you and me, plodding through what to them is an Olympian effort, a special effort, and given the extra challenges-of-life some face, a Herculean effort.

There are a number of driving forces that urge these runners to push themselves to their absolute limits. Here are a few short profiles of runners out there tomorrow achieving extraordinary things, and providing relatable inspiration for us all.

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Pip Candrick // Pain Relief
“I found each time I came away from the mountains I felt somewhat healed.”

In 2011, Pip was diagnosed with a brain tumour, low grade glioma. After two brain surgeries and a long recovery she joined a gym, and through the gym was introduced to a trail running group. Still suffering from seizures as a side effect from the surgery, Pip requires a companion to run with her out on the trails. In 2014, she ran The North Face 50km course with the assistance of her trainer.

Pip hopes to one day be able to run mountain trails, and The North Face 50 independently.

“These runs are challenging but compared to the little challenges I live with daily they are a release in my life and are what I call my pain relief.”

Tim Horsburgh // Celebrating 15 Years of Remission
Fifteen years ago Tim Horsburgh was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. Without treatment he was told he would have less than four weeks to live. After six months of treatment, intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, his official remission date was May 2000. Almost 15 years later to the day, Tim Horsburgh will take on The North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains. But it was a long road to get there.

In 2009, after noticing trouble breathing just walking around Tim realised he needed to make a change for his health. The first goal was the Sydney Running Festival Half Marathon in 2010. Since then he has lost 30kg, completed marathons, ultramarathons and triathlons. He will be competing in The North Face 100 for the second time this May, and celebrating 15 years of remission.

Leigh Jeffrey Neilson // The Ultra Running Traveller
For Leigh Neilson, trail running is about the obvious health and social benefits. He runs to clear his mind, keep his body active and to learn to adapt to different environments. But his main reason for running is to see as much of the world as possible.

“I have run along a beautiful, clear set of rapids in the Canadian Rockies, surrounded by soaring peaks, circling me in. I have dodged thousands of commuters on the streets of Osaka, this time circled in by skyscrapers. I struggled through extreme heat in the desert of Rajasthan, which taught me how important preparation is, and made me appreciate how the locals have managed to survive there for thousands of years. I have run through the cold in Iceland and along the Namibian coast, where I came within metres of Cape Fur Seals frolicking in the sand.”

Leigh admits he is not an elite runner, and says it’s unlikely that he ever will be but that is not what’s important to him.

“There are two certainties in my life- firstly, I will never feel that there is nothing left to explore on foot. Secondly, I will never be happier than when I finally finish a long, steep climb and turn around to see the beautiful scenery that awaits me.”LM_150515_TNF.Athletes_31_MEDres (logo)

Brett Sammut // A Treatment Plan for Depression
In a bout of depression, Brett ran to escape. He ran to escape the black dog, escape himself, escape reality. With severe depression and thoughts of suicide, Brett ran. He ran until he started to enjoy it. Meeting accepting runners along the trails, Brett ran more, and the more he did, the more his mood lifted. He started to rely less on medication and says running became a treatment plan for his depression. The people he met on the trails became the people he looked up to and aspired to be.

With a wife and two daughters to care for, Brett no longer runs to escape from reality, but to get fitter and be more prepared for what this life will bring him.

“Everyone out on the trails has a story to tell, a history, or a reason why they run. We have all come from such different backgrounds, have varying abilities and ambitions and all stand on the start line with vastly different goals in mind. But one thing is guaranteed, once out on the trails, we all are the same and all suffering as much as the next person.”

Ruth Johnstone // Telegraph Pole to Telegraph Pole
Four years ago, Ruth described herself as a “38 year old wife and mother who was a smoker and morbidly obese.”

To turn it around, she decided to quit smoking and go to the gym 30 minutes a day. After building on her time at the gym, she decided to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.

She started her running by running from one telegraph pole to the next, then walking. “I did my first 1 km nonstop and thought – Okay, I like this.”

Starting with a 10km race and moving to half and full marathons, Ruth is now taking on The North Face 50 this year in May. This year she has reached her goal of losing 60kg.

“I love to push myself to places I have never thought I could go. I am certainly not the fastest but that’s okay because I run the same distance as the winner and I run to complete not compete.”

Working in a highly stressful job, Ruth says running is a great therapy for her at the end of the day – and it’s free. Ruth urges everyone to give it a go – ‘You may just surprise yourself.’

Travis Saunders // Running for Autism
Travis Saunders started running four years ago when his son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He ran to cope with stress and depression.

“I remember going for my first run after he was diagnosed and I threw up in the street and couldn’t complete a short jog. This was the night that changed my life.”

As a father of a child on the autism spectrum he set up Run4Autism (www.run4autism.net) in 2013 as an ongoing fundraising and awareness campaign for autism not for profit organisations Australia wide. The website platform has raised more than $138,000 for 10 autism organisations around Australia.

This year Travis will continue his running journey and take on The North Face 100.

“Running in the North Face 100 has been a dream of mine for the past three years and this will be the first time that I run in a 100 km trail event. Even though I have run in several 24 hour events and a few smaller trail ultras, I felt that I could never ever call myself a true ultra runner until I completed Australia’s premier running event on the ultra-calendar, The North Face 100.”

The North Face 100 kicks off tomorrow morning (Saturday 16th May) at 6.20am.


During the race, one hundred athletes will have GPS trackers, including 40 elite athletes. These can be tracked on the live feed that will be on The North Face 100 website. There will also be a live feed of the starts and finishes.

For the ORDINARY HEROES 🙂 – check in to http://tnf100au.livetrail.net , punch in your runner’s bib number and you’ll see the last checkpoint hey passed through another time.

As it takes about 55 minutes for the fastest runner to get to Checkpoint 1, the live results will show no runner times until about 7:15am when runners start to arrive at Checkpoint 1. After Checkpoint 1, the timing system, LiveTrail, will show an estimate of where every runner is located at all times. It will give an estimate of the time that each runner will be due to arrive at their next timing point.

Or, check in with their support crews, or call them… they will have mobile phones on course as mandatory gear! And they may just be happy to hear from you. Depending on their state of being…

It is also a good idea to download the free app ‘The North Face 100 – Australia’ for scheduling, timing information, and other race info.


Masters of the Trail: learnings from Yogis

Dan Lewis gets the Jedi mind trick low downs from those wielding the sabres of trail talent…

Brendan Davies, former winner of The North Face 100, says his thick new beard makes him look more intimidating and protects his face from the elements in his native Blue Mountains, but it is not a secret weapon in his bid to win the prestigious race again this weekend.

“It just seems to be all the rage in ultra-trail running now,” Davies said of the hipster-inspired big beard look.photo (9)

That’s just one of the insights delegates got at day two of Australian’s first National Trail Running Conference being held in the Blue Mountains this week in the lead-up to TNF100.

After Race Director’s Day on Tuesday, today was Runner’s Day and Davies’ presentation on how he meticulously prepares for every big race did make you suspect that maybe even the beard on the previously clean-shaven runner was part of his well-planned plot to win a second TNF100 title.

Davies also coaches runners these days through his UP Coaching business and was one of a number of presenters at the conference to give his insights into what runners should be doing before, during and after trail running races like TNF100.

Others to share their wisdom included fellow elite runners Hanny Allston and Jo Brischetto, coach Andy Du Bois, race directors Sean Greenhill and Andy Hewat and US medical expert Dr Marty Hoffman.

Together, they covered subject matter such as choosing an event, nutrition and hydration, training, gear, developing an event strategy, psychology, pain and injury and post-race plans.
Some good laughs were had with a striptease designed to show just how silly the obsession with gear can be.

Davies highlighted how different TNF100 and Western States were as trail running races and how different his preparation was for each race.

His hot tip for this weekend’s TNF100 is wear trail shoes with some gnarly tread – “almost football boot studs” – because a lot of those Blue Mountains trails are still super muddy from heavy autumn rains.TNF13_aurora_02 (1)

Here are some other things that were learned from the day:

  • * Hanny Allston thinks 18 months ahead with her racing and ranks races as As, Bs and Cs. She tries to run just two A races a year where she gives it everything she’s got while the C races are basically treated as training run.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of always wanting to make the next race longer and harder than he one before.
  • For every 10km you run in a race where you performs to your optimum ability you need a week to recover, says Allston, so that’s 10 weeks for TNF100 runners.
  • Don’t just run the big ones like TNF100, support your small, local races as well.
  • On training runs of up to three or four hours you shouldn’t consume calories because you want to train your body to burn fat during races so it needs fewer calories.
  • “You are kidding yourself” if you think there’s big performance advantages from the electrolytes in energy drinks, says Dr Marty Hoffman. And pre-loading hydration before a race is also futile because the human body can’t store excess water.
  • Just drink to thirst – that’s going to provide you with adequate hydration. If you are not thirsty and your urine is clear before a race then you are adequately hydrated.
  • Drinking too much water causes hyponatremia, which can be deadly.
  •  Judging hydration levels based on the colour of your unine during races is futile, Hoffman says, because hormones produced during running can make your urine look like you are dehydrated when in fact you have hyponatremia.
  • When it comes to hydration and nutrition, “listening to your body is really he key”, Hoffman says.
  • Maintain a high-carb diet in the week leading up to a race but don’t start the race with a bloated stomach full of food, says Andy Du Bois,
  • You can develop the necessary glycogen stores for a big race just by eating a normal diet.
  • The TNF100 has more than 4000m of climbs and descents and Sydney runners who think training on the Spit to Manly track is good enough preparation are kidding themselves, says Du Bois.
  • To perform well in TNF100 you need to do a lot of training on steps.
  • On your long training runs, make sure your pace is similar to what your race pace will be.
  • Walking and running are very different skills and unless you think you can run up all the steps in TNF100 your training should include lots of walking up steps.
  • Walk up the steps two at a time in training so doing one at a time will seem easier in the race.
  •  There’s no research show core strengthening exercises like planks and crunches do anything to help your running.
  • Recovery runs should be easy but done on technical surfaces to help loosen all your leg muscles.
  • Jo Brischetto has 17 running packs – “one for every mood”.
  • Bottles are better than bladders because they make it easier to see how much liquid you have consumed.
  • No matter how cool they look, don’t wear ankle socks – they just let in the dirt that causes blisters.
  • Hanny Allston’s running philosophy is: “All in perspective and all in good time.”
  • Jo Brischetto’s favourite racing mantra she keeps repeating to keep herself in the moment is “one perfect step” while a favourite training mantra is “train hard, eat Nutella”.
  • Hanny Allston believes runners shouldn’t set themselves times as it just leads to heightened anxiety during races.
  • Jo Brischetto believes its important to have race goals that aren’t attached to times or places such as getting your nutrition right, avoiding chaffing or being mindful.
    Brendan Davies tells his runners not to look at their watches during races.
  • Marty Hoffman says it’s important to be able to reset goals during a race if things aren’t going to plan so there is still some sense of achievement. Otherwise you feel like “you just screwed up the entire race”.

But our favourite bit of advice was Hoffman’s tip that the rock stars aren’t just at the front of the pack.

“You need to still think of yourself as a rock star in the middle or the back of the pack.”


Trail Run Conference: The Directors’ Cut

What is the collective noun for a gathering of trail running race directors? Is it a mob? A gaggle? A herd? A gang? A horde? A rabble? A misery? Dan Lewis looks for the answer as trail race directors from across Australia and New Zealand congregated at day one of the first National Trail Running Conference being held in the Blue Mountains this week in conjunction with The North Face 100.

Whatever the collective noun of trail run race directors is (and we would love to hear your suggestions), there was one in Katoomba this week for the opening of the first ever Australian National Trail Running Conference.

The conference is part of the week-long festival of trail running associated with this weekend’s staging of the iconic The North Face 100 across the stunning Blue Mountains landscape.
It is the creation of Blue Mountains adventurer and TNF100 safety director Lucas Trihey along with emergency medicine and outdoor event safety expert Dr Ursula King.

Day one was Race Director’s Day and it attracted race directors from across Australia and New Zealand to discuss the issues surrounding their roles.THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009

Conference speakers included TNF100 race director Tom Landon-Smith and US endurance event medical expert Dr Marty Hoffman. Delegates discussed everything from trail marking, mandatory gear and using volunteers to the planning needed to make a trail running race successful and safe.

Trihey, who provides the safety services on a number of trail running events, told delegates that trail running was booming across the globe, but not every event was booming because some were struggling to adapt to change and growing complexities and regulations.
“It’s a shake-out period as well as a period of growth,” Trihey said.

From fewer than 200 runners when it started in 2008 to more than 2000 at this year’s North Face weekend, Landon-Smith said it was vital to assemble a great team if the directors of big races were to avoid burning out.

Back in 2008 he and partner Alina did nearly everything themselves – “it was madness and I can’t do that now” – but in 2015 just marking the course will employ four people for about six days to get it done properly, Landon-Smith said.

Blue Mountains-based race director Sean Greenhill of Mountain Sports, which puts on races like the Glow Worm Tunnel Trail Marathon and the Buffalo Stampede, said the secrets to a successful trail running event included a “superstar finish” that left people energised and talking long afterwards (think Jenolan Caves at the end of the Six Foot Track Marathon), a location within three hours of a major population centre (think TNF100, two hours from Sydney), or at an established tourist destination (think Rotorua in NZ).

Greenhill also said race directors should adopt tactics like limiting the number of landholders they have to deal with to save time and money with negotiations and access fees.

There was also debate about medical exclusions and making people do qualifiers to obtain race entry.THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009

Some race directors said they relied on the “scare factor” to discourage unprepared people from entering their events while others at the conference said they didn’t like to see any limits on public participation in trail running events. It was so important for the health of society generally to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to engage in the sport, they said.

There were also plenty of laughs at the conference as delegates recalled the many crazy things that inevitably happen at trail running races, like runners going missing despite supposedly bomb-proof course marking and marshalling.

Andy Hewat, race director of the unmarked Bogong to Hotham trail run, said he would like to see a grading system so runners knew what level of trail marking they could expect at different races.

Trihey said the one thing all race directors needed to remember when course marking is that “runners lose a lot of brain function”.

They are “tired, oxygen-deprived, brain-addled”, he said, and “you have got to expect that they are going to be stupid. Flagging tape is cheap and there’s no such thing as too much course marking.”

Tomorrow at the conference is Runner’s Day and will feature talks from the likes of elite athletes Hanny Allston, Brendan Davies and Jo Brischetto.

POSTSCRIPT: The National Trail Running Conference is set to become an annual feature of the North Face trail running festival in the Blue Mountains each year. And if you are already in the Blue Mountains for TNF100 this week don’t miss the Banff Film Festival of outdoor adventure flicks on in Katoomba over the next two nights plus the Trails in Motion trail running film festival screening on Thursday night.



The North Face 100: an A-Z

Dan Lewis previews this year’s The North Face 100, with an A-Z guide of the iconic 100km Blue Mountains trail running event (May 15-17) that attracts elite athletes from around the world. IMAGES: Incite Images / Mark Watson

THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009A is for AROC Sport, the organisation that runs TNF100 each year and started it in 2008.

B is for Kilian Jornet Burgada, the freakish Spanish trail runner who won the 2011 TNF100. B is also for the cherished belt buckles awarded to those who finish in under 20 hours.

C is for the camaraderie of the runners, climbs (more than 4000m), checkpoints (five) and competitors (a thousand in the 100km race). C is also for cut-off time. If you haven’t finished by 10.53am on the Sunday your race is over.

D is for Brendan Davies, a Blue Mountains runner who won the 2013 TNF100 in a time of 9:16:12 – still the record. He’s aiming for another win this year.

E is for the incredible emotion runners display when they cross the finish line. E is for the eighth running of TNF100. And E is for employment. TNF100 is a big employer of the Blue Mountains outdoor guiding fraternity for their first aid skills.

F is for TNF100’s companion 50km race. It’s for Furber Steps, the first big descent into the Jamison Valley and the last agonising climb out of the valley (860 steps, 200m of vertical gain) just before the finish line.

G is for Tasmania’s Stu Gibson, last year’s winner. He won’t be in this year’s race unfortunately, he’ll be working in Antarctica. G is also for the Golden Stairs, the race’s first big climb out of the Jamison Valley. G is also for the Gundungurra people, the traditional owners of the land across which TNF100 is raced. Gundungurra man David King has provided a great welcome to the runners every year since 2008.THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009

H is for hotel rooms. It’s impossible to get a last-minute one in Katoomba on the weekend of the race due to the hundreds of runners and supporters who come to town.

I is for Ironpot Ridge, a section of the course with spectacular bush views that isn’t usually open to the public.

J is for the journalists like Dan Lewis (ex-The Sydney Morning Herald) who will keep you informed about TNF100 on its Facebook page and website.

K is for Katoomba’s KCC convention centre where the expo (where you can buy cool outdoor gear), registration and race briefings will be held on the Friday. K is also for the Injinji 1km-4-Kids race on the Sunday morning.

THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009L is for Andrew Lee (right), a Blue Mountains runner who won his first TNF100 in 2009 and famously tied with Stu Gibson to take out the 2010 race. L is also for Tom Landon-Smith, TNF100 race director and a former member of the Australian cross-country ski team.

M is for the Megalong Valley, where the race follows the historic Six Foot Track that connects Katoomba and Jenolan Caves.

N is for the first ever National Trail Running Conference that’s being held in the Blue Mountains to coincide with this year’s TNF100. N is also for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, a key supporter of the race.

O is for overseas runners from 35 countries This year’s elite field includes athletes from New Zealand, Japan, France, Canada, Britain, Lithuania, Spain, South Africa, Ireland, China and the US. The world’s top-rated trail runner in 2014, Francois D’Haene of France, will be out to see if he can do better than his second place in 2011.

P is for Petzl, one of the race’s sponsors. Their head torches come in very handy for night running. P is also for prize money – $1500 to the male and female winners – that will be handed out at the presentation at 10am on the Sunday. And P is for Nuria Picas, the female winner of last year’s TNF100 in a new record time of 10:57:46.

Q is for the old Queen Victoria Hospital on Kings Tableland, Wentworth Falls – the last checkpoint (78km mark) before the finish line.

R is for race rules – everything from no iPod use at checkpoints to no faeces on the track.

S is for Scenic World in Katoomba, where the race starts and finishes. S is also for the race start, 6.20am on the Saturday. And S is for spectators. Scenic World is a great place for spectators to cheer on the runners.

T is for Tarros Ladders, a spectacular climb down the cliffs runners must make from the heights of Narrow Neck to the grassy oasis of Dunphy’s Camp, named after the legendary bush walker and naturalist Myles Dunphy. And T is for outdoor clothing company The North Face, which has sponsored the race since 2008. T is for Blue Mountains adventurer Lucas Trihey, who co-ordinates the race’s first aid team.

U is for the Ultra-Trail World Tour, a prestigious international trail running series which TNF100 is an important part of.

V is for high-visibility vest, part of the mandatory gear runners must carry with them to stay safe. The mandatory gear list also includes thermals, a waterproof jacket, beanie, gloves, compass, compression bandage, whistle, space blanket, maps, matches and mobile phone.

W is for the women like three-times winner Sydney-based Beth Cardelli who are going to make the female section of this year’s TNF100 so competitive.

X is for x-factor, that special something that has made TNF100 Australia’s greatest ultra-endurance trail running event.

Y is for YouTube, where you’ll find some very cool TNF100 videos.

Z is for zen, that meditative state of mind trail runners seek as they compete in TNF100.

Check out www.thenorthface100.com.au  and follow the action.

Adventurer launches new trail conference

Already one of Australia’s foremost adventurers and remote area outdoor event safety experts, Lucas Trihey is now staging the first National Trail Running Conference in May in the Blue Mountains. Trail Run Mag quizzed him about his latest big adventure. Interview: Dan Lewis.

I’ve spent 30 years working in adventure. I’ve worked as a climbing and expedition guide and spent six years editing and publishing outdoor and adventure magazines. I’ve climbed new routes on cliffs and mountains all around the world and in 2004 I changed tack to explore Australia’s deserts and lead expeditions and small groups in the arid parts of Australia.

Lucas on one of his many epic adventures.

Lucas on one of his many epic adventures.

My most precious memories are the more unusual and remote expeditions.
The Mt Chongtar expedition in 1994 in the Himalayas was as part of a team of just three climbers without sherpas or porters. We had good conditions and weather and pulled off the first ascent of the massive mountain – at 7400m it was the highest unclimbed mountain on earth at the time. My favourites was my 17-day, 400km solo trek across the SImpson Desert in 2006. I pulled a cart that weighed 160kg and I loved the solitude, the desert sky, the vastness of the landscape and not seeing any sign of other humans for so long. Being alone is a rare experience these days. I feel very priveledged to have had 17 days in such a wild place.

In January 2000 I pioneered a 30-pitch rock and ice climb on Mt Scott North in Antarctica. This was a beautiful and technical climb and it almost became my tombstone. Half way up my climbing partner dislodged a small loose rock that knocked into a bigger rock, and then due to a nasty chain of collisions an even bigger rock was heading straight at me. I was tied to a belay ledge and couldn’t move as this wheely-bin-sized boulder hurtled straight at me. With nowhere to go I pressed against the rock and waited for the killer blow. Amid a thundering of rocks, sparks and dust I was pummelled and battered leading to a cracked helmet, a bloodied finger and cut ropes but miraculously alive. Smaller rocks had hit me but the bigger evil one must have bounced right over me. We carried on up the climb chastened and wary. The steep ice pitches near the top were some of the most beautiful climbing I’ve ever done but I had a deep weariness from the near-death experience lower down and I was relieved to be finally on top.LT mic

To be humble. Nature is so much more powerful than us puny humans. We venture out there for fun and to learn about ourselves but never to conquer. Nature can swot us down like a fly if she cares to.

My personal climbs and expeditions led me into guiding and adventure photo-journalism. This led to a bit of a profile in the adventure world that then took me into support work for other people’s expeditions and working with film crews in wild places. And that in turn introduced me to adventure racing. In 1997 I was asked to form the Australian climbing and safety team for the Australian Eco-Challenge in Cairns. This massive event was a real eye-opener with internatonal crew and teams, millions spent on logistics, vehicles, film crews and all the rest. That experience then led to enquiry for support services for other events. At Eco-Challenge I also met Tom Landon-Smith and Alina McMaster for the first time and years later that led to our relationship working together at The North Face 100.

I had been trading for 15 years supporting events under my own name and lots of clients would say “what’s your business name” and I’d say I just trade under my own name. Finally Sean and Mel from Mountain Sports told me I had to get my act together and formalise the business so I came up with the name and haven’t looked back since (thanks guys!). It was a surprise to me how much of a difference it made to have a business identifty and how it led to other work and more job offers. So here we are with an awesome little team working for me now and more interesting jobs coming in all the time as we meet more event organisers. And the business is expanding to cover mapping (paper and electronic), risk management consulting and the safety plans that have become a critical part of how event organisers plan to keep the runners safe and well. I love the challenges of helping event organisers to stage events in wild places. It’s a fun business.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.55.17 pmHOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN TRAIL RUNNING EVENTS?
It started when I worked on the Eco-Challenge in 1997 in Cairns and gradually morphed into a lot of my work supporting trail events. The big year for trail events was 2008 when both Wild Endurance and The North Face 100 started up and my business did the first aid and safety for both events. After that more and more trail events popped up and we started working on a few of them.

Wild Endurance, The North Face 100, Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon, Buffalo Stampede, the Running Wild NSW series, Sydney Trail Series, Kanangra Classic, Coastrek and a few smaller events. We are also helping plan some new events this year including the Hounslow Classic and the Mt Barney Sky Runs. I also work on the Big Red Run, a six-day, 250km stage race in the Simpson Desert and the Burke and Wills Trek, an 11-day trek that covers 330km of remote outback.

We are very focussed on looking after the runners. With race Director Tom Landon Smith we spend a lot of time planning preventative measures, fine tuning the route, reviewing the mandatory gear and planning in detail the medical teams. As TNF100 has grown it’s brought its own challenges. It seems to be attracting a slightly less experienced group of runners and some years we see of lot of unnecesary illness caused by rookie mistakes with nutrition, hydration. We also see a lot of runners not understanding their limits and pushing to exhaustion and collapse. Our focus has been to both educate them (and Tom has been very supportive) and to monitor runners at the checkpoints so we can catch the really sick ones before they head into the Kedumba Valley, which is cold, dark and hard to get out of.THE NORTH FACE 200 - 2009

Over-hydration is consistently a problem and in recent years we’ve seen way too many runners falling ill with it. Typically we see about eight times as many runners get sick due to over-hydrating compared to a dehydration. At events overseas runners are dying from over-hydration and I think it’s important that we send strong message to runners, especially new runners, that they should only drink if they are thirsty. In an average year just at the events I work on we send 10 to 15 people to hospital with moderate to serious hyponatraemia caused by drinking too much.
The other things at races that are a serious danger to runners are heart issues and this is a bit more of a lottery. If runners haven’t been ill most won’t have done an ECG test so if they have a heart condition it may remain undiagnosed until they push hard on a big race. There’s nothing much we can do about those except to have defibs around the course and to have staff who can do good CPR.

The most special things I see at trail events is when me and my staff help someone to achieve a special goal. While it’s always eye opening to see the performances that the elites pull off (watching North Face winners over the years has been amazing!) it’s powerful and emotional to watch some of the middle-of-the-pack runners to pull off a lifetime dream. We’ve had some pretty ill people at Checkpoint 5 at North Face who we’ve nursed back to reasonable health who have finished in good style.

I’ve seen so many events now and tens of thousands of runners that I’m starting to get a feel for what they want to know and what they like about running trails. So the motivation for NTRC was really to stage something to help people realise their dreams. Let’s expose them to some inspiring elite athletes and coaches, give them good quality information and well researched and sound guidance on nutrition, hydration, training, the mental aspects of trail runs and how to get the best from their body and mind to help them perform.

We are so lucky that we have access to so many elite athletes and coaches that the line-up is stunning. Dr Marty Hoffman from the USA is the world’s leading authority on the health aspects of ultras while Brendan Davies and Hanny Allston are both solid, world-class athletes. They are also great communicators. Andy DuBois is a massively respected coach, Jo Brischetto is an amazing athlete who came out of nowhere a few years ago to become a dominant athlete. Jo’s great passion goes beyond her own running – she’s an active leader in the trail running community, started Summit Sisters and Trail Kids and is an inspiration to many runners. We also have some “wise elders” in the mix including Sean Greenhill who was involved in the early days of Fatass, Running Wild and 16 Six Foot Tracks! Andy Hewat is race director for Bogong to Hotham and we have Alina McMaster and Tom Landon-Smith from AROC with a lifetime of podiums in adventure Racing, Rogaining and staging successful North Face 100s since 2008.

2 figures-oldand youndWHO IS THE CONFERENCE FOR?
The Conference is for all trail runners. There’s a mix of information for entry level runners as well as lots of more advanced sessions for more experienced runners. The structure is a mix of short presentatons by our experts followed by discussion and Q&A sessions to share ideas and knowledge. There are also some very experienced runners among the delegates which will lead to some great exchanges.

I’m hoping we’ll energise the trail community through a spirit of sharing of information and experiences. My co-organiser Dr Ursula King is experienced with staging conferences and in presenting information in a way that stays with the audience so I’m confident the sessions will be stimulating and helpful.

Yes, we’ll be putting it on every year in the week before The North Face 100.

I’m seeing a genuine desire among race directors to move with the times and keep improving the organisation at trail runs. I’m seeing more and more events every year which have made it a priority to invest in improving systems for things like runner tracking, medical and first aid services, better maps and safety planning.

Trail running is similar to a lot of developing sports in that there’s a mix of people organising events. While there are lots of experienced organisers there are also less experienced organisers but a common thread among all the events I see is that everyone seems keen to develop and improve. The trail community is very vibrant and active. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when so many of the people organising events are passionate runners themselves.

The things that sometimes worry me are mostly educational issues (like so many runners getting ill due to hyponatraemia or taking too many tablets) and the word is getting out so as long as the opinion leaders help us to get good information out there I’m confident we’ll see a better understanding of these health issues over the next couple of years. Hopfeully the conference can help a little with this as well.Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.40.58 pm

The “industry best” standards in the outdoor industry (guiding etc) have a lot of promise to help the fledgling trail running community. Some of these include good expedition planning documents that serve the same function as running event safety plans. Events with hundreds of runners need good plans to avoid messing up, losing runners or to respond when a runner gets sick. Running events also need to collect medical background questions for all runners and I see this happening at most of the events I work on now. It’s relatively easy to collect this data as part of the registration process, which is a good development. That information is gold if a runner gets sick and I’ve seen with my own eyes how such information can save lives due to quicker and more appropriate medical responses to peculiar ailments.

Paper based systems have major limitations – mostly to do with it being difficult to share with other members of the event medical and first aid staff. So if a runner sees our medics at an early Checkpoint it’s time-consuming to get the details in front of the doctor at the finish. Our electronic system means any data entered into a patient’s record anywhere on the course is automatically live for all users across the event. We can also take photos and insert them into the runner’s record so for example a doctor might be able to give the medics on the scene better advice to cope with something unusual.

A big advantage of our electronic system is the the medical background data is available (behind a secure password-protected gateway) to the medics in the field. So if they find a sick runner they can immediately look up and check for allergies, previous illness, medications etc.

Preparation. Know your body, know your limits, don’t try new stuff on race day. Trial and test your nutrition, hydration and gear. Get advice from experienced coaches about a race plan.


BEST: Seeing the inspiring performances by all the runners – the elites because they are so incredible and the rest because they are out there testing themselves to the limit, learning about themselvs and achieving things. They are all amazing.

WORST: Seeing too much unnecessary illness caused by poor planning and poor advice. Don’t pre-load with fluids or drink to a schedule – you’ll make yourself sick. Only drink if you are thirsty. Don’t take preventative anti-inflamatories, they will make you sick and there’s not even good medical evidence they help with pain or inflamation.Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 9.36.05 am

I’m employing new staff as we take on more events and that’s exciting. My staff bring their own enthusiasm, specialties, interests and experience and it makes for a stimulating work environment to be constantly trying to improve our service and to help event organisers keep improving the events. Trail running is booming and I love to see that so many runners are being exposed to the beautiful natural places that I’ve been working in all my life.

The conference in May is my current “big adventure” – it has lots of challenges and excitement and the only thing wrong is that it requires too much office time for my liking. But hopefully like lots of challenges it will all be worthwhile on the day when we see all the delegates walk in and we get to meet them, talk with them and hear their own running stories.
Aside from that I’m trying to organise a summer trip to the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts in northern WA. There are some extremely remote waterholes out there surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of sand and gibber plains. It will be really hot but I love the heat and it means we won’t be bothered by other travellers. And always in the back of my mind is another desert crossing on foot. The nights spent under the desert stars in 2006 in the Simpson are some of my most treasured memories … something to dream about.


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Trail Run Mag Hardcopy

The North Face 100: Gibson and Picas win

The North Face 100kmAs 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 The North Face 100kmwill 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.

The North Face 100kmNuria 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.

THE NORTH FACE_DANE GEERCKE_02To 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



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.


TNF100 Training Camps

Mat Want 4This coming weekend (January 26-27) will be an important stepping stone for all those locked in and getting their legs loaded for The North Face 100 in May (18-19), with the inaugural The North Face 100 Training Camp. A second is planned for  22nd-24th March. Both  are designed to assist runners of all levels achieve  race objectives, whether that be simply finishing or getting a coveted Silver Buckle.

The camps will be hosted by The North Face Athlete, Hanny Allston, a former World Orienteering Champion and elite trail runner who has an established background in sports coaching and is also a Trail Run Mag regular contributor.

The camps will be based at the race headquarters, Fairmont Resort, and will include informative sessions on running technique, training, race strategy and nutrition. Each day runners will be taken on guided runs along the more technical sections of the course including the privately accessed Iron Pot Mountain for one of the camps.

The North Face 100 continues its dominance of the Australian ultra scene as the quickest to sell out (this time round within a week) and the most competitors at 1000 participants. Looking to further grow the sport and provide a stepping stone to the main race, event organisers have instituted a 50km run as part of the weekend’s roster. The 50km Solo replaces the 50km Marathon Pairs of previous years and organisers believe that this category has the potential to rival the popularity of the 100km event.

Race director and course designer Tom Landon-Smith shared his thoughts:

The North Face 100: 100 REASONS DOCUMENTARY DVDThe new 50km event will allow more people to enjoy this incredibly spectacular setting and course, and to join in the wonderful event atmosphere of The North Face 100.  With a start and finish also at Fairmont Resort there could not be a more memorable weekend for runners.’

The 50km course is touted to be as spectacular and as challenging as the long course, but in a smaller package, and ideal for those who can’t commit to the intense training program required for the 100km course, or who might be looking for a step in between a road marathon distance and the fully fledged The North Face 100.

For more information on the new 50km Solo and The North Face 100 Training Camps visit the all new event website: www.thenorthface100.com.au

And for more inspiration, be sure to lay your eyes on the new documentary about the race, 100 Reasons: Running The North Face 100. Check it out and order your copy – essential viewing for an insight into the realities of running The North Face 100 – HERE.