It has been 5 weeks now since TNF 100km. It has taken me a little while to post about it, because forgetting painful memories is a self-defence mechanism that helps us get through traumatic situations. This year, TNF was tough.
Last year, I ran it with Pip, and we had fun. As much fun as you can have while running 100km up and down mountains. This year, I had signed up to do it with Pip again. We signed up last year. The race sold out in minutes. Unfortunately, Pip still had not recovered from our last adventure together (the Dopey Challenge) and had to pull out. 3 weeks before race day, Richard agreed to take her place. This was a bad idea on many levels.
It was a last minute scramble to ensure we had all of the mandatory gear, but at 6am on a Saturday morning 5 weeks ago, we found ourselves at Scenic World in Katoomba, accompanied by Salomon packs, waterproof jackets, beanies, gloves, thermal tops and pants, fleeces, headlamps, maps, waterproof cases, bandages, phones, spare lights and compasses, waterproof matches and firelighters, 2 litres of water, Gatorade, gels, and a pocket full of pharmaceuticals (mostly caffeine). Pip was there with us as our support crew.
Leg 1 – Scenic World to Narrow Neck
Rich and I were off in wave 2. The course follows the road for the first few kilometres to break up the starting packs a little before we disappeared into the bush. We headed down thesteps to Federal Pass, and over the top of the Scenic Railway station. Then came the part that I dreaded last year. The closest that I came to pulling out in the entire race. Only 7 km in. Climbing the Golden Staircase. Rich was telling me to move faster but I was going as fast as I could. We still had 93 km to go.
Eventually we made it to the top of the stairs. We were passed by a group of guys including Nick Stabler, who was having a great run considering he started in the start group behind us.
Eventually we made it to checkpoint 1, 10.5km in. I asked Rich to refill my soft flask with Endura (which tastes like someone crushed up a few sticks of chalk and threw them in my drink bottle) and we were on our way.
Leg 2 – Narrow Neck to Dunphys Camp
We followed the path for another 10km, to the end of Narrow Neck. We were starting to work our way down, and in places the landscape was hard to navigate. It is the part of the course I like to call ‘Snakes & Ladders’, but unlike the game, the only direction we were headed in was down.
Several ropes and rails were put in place for us to hold onto as we made our way down. They reminded me of the snakes. We were approaching the Tarros Ladders. They obviously represented the ladder part of the analogy. I think the ladders are only placed here for events, and don’t stay there year-round. There was a little line up when we got there. It was a good time for a photo stop until it was our turn to descend. The view was spectacular.
We continued along the path, which was quite technical, and involved a lot of log-jumping and scrambling down large rocks. We followed the walking track along the ridge, chatting to other runners along the way. We continued along the Medlow Gap fire trail, and another dirt road that led to our second checkpoint, Dunphy’s camp. 31km done! Here, we stopped to fill our drink bottles again. I grabbed half a banana and walked out of the aid station eating it, until Rich caught up with me and it was time to run again.
Leg 3 – Dunphys Camp to 6 Foot Track
We continued along dirt roads, up the hill, and onto a ridge. Whenever I started to slow down, Rich was there telling me to go faster. There were ladders in place to assist us in climbing over some of the fences and gates on the course.
We soon came across a race marshall sitting atop a big rock. She told us to turn left, where we followed a little out-and-back section along Ironpot Ridge. It was a narrow track along exposed cliffs, and the view was spectacular. A couple of Aboriginal men sat atop a rocky outcrop playing the didgeridoo. After the turnaround we headed back along the ridge for a couple of kilometres the way we came.
Then came a steep downhill section. I was sliding everywhere. I wished I had my gloves on so I could have used the trees to slow me down. The ground was loose dirt, it was filling up my shoes and causing a bit of discomfort.
The next section took us through paddocks, and then a lot of stairs. Checkpoint 3 was coming up soon! It would be the first checkpoint where we would see Pip, our support crew. As we came over a hill, we could see the checkpoint across the paddock in the distance.
As we pulled into checkpoint 3, we were ushered to a table for a mandatory gear check. We had to show our space blanket and compass. Two items I knew were on the bottom of my pack. I pulled it off, and had to remove nearly everything out of my pack before I could find the 2 items requested. I shoved everything back in my bag as quickly as I could, and looked up to see Pip waving madly at us. We ran over to the little area she has set up. I tossed her my drink bottles, and she filled them up for me. I sat down, and changed my shoes and socks. It felt amazing to have clean socks on again! I drank a flask of perpetuem, and had a few potato chips, but didn’t really feel like much food. I headed out of the checkpoint ahead of Rich, knowing that he would catch up soon, and I’d have to run again.
Leg 4 – 6 Foot Track to Katoomba Aquatic Centre
This leg was only 11km long, but with 480 metres of elevation gain, it was time to bring on the hills.
We followed Nellies Glen road, a dirt road, onto the 6 foot track as it turned into a walking track. More stairs followed . We passed Nick Stabler, who was struggling up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, we followed a rough trail to Stuarts Road. A walking track led us past houses and onto a street, where we ran on roads through to Checkpoint 4, at Katoomba aquatic centre. We were about half an hour ahead of last year.
Again, it was great to see Pip waiting for us inside the aquatic centre. Jess Stabler was there with her too, waiting for Nick to come in. Rich sat down to get Pip to tape up his foot, which had been troubling him. I headed to the bathroom. I was a little bit frustrated to have to wait in line behind about 5 people who were not running, and did not seem to be in any hurry at all. By the time I made my way back to Pip, Nick had made it in, and we offered him some Coke. I headed for the tables and grabbed a cheese roll, walking out of the checkpoint eating it. Rich soon caught up to me, and we were on our way again.
Leg 5 – Katoomba Aquatic Centre to Queen Victoria Hospital
We passed Echo Point. There was a course change due to some reconstructive work that was being carried out on the Golden Stairway, so we descended a different set of stairs instead. Rich was already singing Pip’s praises, saying how much better his foot felt already.
I don’t think the course change saved us any time, as we still had to go the same distance, and we still had to go up and down. The stairs were steep and narrow. We ran through the forest and back onto Federal pass, and up lots and lots of stairs. Whenever other runners would come up behind us, we would tell them to let us know if they wanted to pass, because the path was so narrow. Most were content to stay and chat for awhile.
We came up the stairs to a grassy picnic area that was the 66km water stop. I had forgotten to refill my salt tablet stash at the last checkpoint, so we grabbed a few sachets of table salt. It was horrible! I tried to wash it down with Gatorade. I filled up a bottle, and then it was back to the stairs. Eventually, we found ourselves running along a road. We were running along near waterfalls, and the landscape was really pretty. Last year when I was running this section of the course, we were running in the dark, So it was nice to see the surroundings. Nick Stabler passed us again, moving well. I was starting to struggle, the cold air making me wheezy. I couldn’t run up hills without getting really short of breath. I regretted not asking Nick if he had a puffer when he passed us.
After what seemed like an hour, we came up to a road, and I knew the checkpoint was close. 2km later, we turned onto Kedumba Valley Rd. A marshall told us to put our safety vests on, as it was nearly dark. I was a little frustrated by this, as we were nearly at the checkpoint. It seemed pointless to me to stop, take off my pack, remove my vest, put my pack back on, put my vest on, and run 1 kilometre to the next checkpoint where I would stop again, but I obliged.
We ran into the checkpoint about an hour and a half ahead of last year. We had just completed the second-longest leg of the course. 78km done in around 11 hours.
Pip said that the officials had just announced we had to take our fleeces with us for the last leg. “Bullshit” I yelled. “They said last night we only needed to carry our fleeces if we were through this checkpoint after 6:30pm. It’s not even 5:30!” But she grabbed my fleece and shoved it in my pack. I put my headlamp on, and walked over to the table to have a gel, aware that I probably had not had enough nutrition on the last leg. I accidentally high-beamed the two volunteers on the other side of the table. I grabbed 2 more gels for the road, and set off. Time to finish this thing off!
Leg 6 – Queen Victoria Hospital to Scenic World
I immediately regretted not putting on a long sleeved top. As soon as the sun dropped, you could really feel the chill in the air. I pulled on my arm warmers and gloves. I had put my headlamp on over my visor too, which was a bad decision – The visor was throwing a shadow, so I couldn’t see the ground at my feet.
The next 8 or 9km were downhill on a dirt road, and I felt we were both moving really well. Rich had stopped pushing me to go harder at every chance he got. In 8.5 km, we descended 650m.
The next few kilometres seemed to pass reeeeeeallly sloooooooowly. With no phone or watch battery left, I had no idea what time it was, how fast we were going, or how far we had to go. A few signs every now and then telling us the distance would not have gone astray.
We passed a couple of shallow creeks, that had cinder blocks laid out across them as stepping stones so we could keep our feet dry. I was very thankful for this.
The 91km rest stop was the last stop before the finish. I knew what was still in store for us… A great big climb. Rich was blissfully unaware.
A few kilometres later, we entered Leura forest. There was only 5 kilometres to go. I knew it would take us at least an hour. The last kilometre would easily take half an hour.
We passed Chris Hayes, who was sweeping the 50km event. He was encouraging Nick Stabler up the stairs.
We turned a corner, and a girl standing there said there was 900m to go. I asked her what the time was. It was 9pm.
I am not sure whose bright idea it was to end a 100km race with a climb up 933 stairs to the finish line, but it was really cruel! My legs were burning, and I was using my arms as much as I could to pull me up the stairs. We could see Scenic World up on top of the cliff in the distance.
Finally, we saw light coming from the top of the stairs. We ran as fast as we could to get to the finish line, holding hands as we crossed, in 15 hours, 4 minutes. I was so glad we were done! We had survived the race, and not killed each other in the process!
A marshall stopped me to do another mandatory gear check of my thermal pants and waterproof jacket. We collected our belt buckles. Pip helped us into the car, as the organizers had been encouraging everyone to head home, as it was cold. People were dropping with hypothermia all over the place.
We headed back to the hostel, where I jumped into the shower. By the time I got back, A pepperoni pizza was waiting. Domino’s was just about the only thing open in Katoomba at that time of night.
We set the alarms for 4am, and went to bed.
Leg 7 – The Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon
This is something we joked about doing last year….. Running the North Face 100km, and backing up in Sydney the next day for the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. We left it until the last minute…… Richard registered us on the Friday. At 4am on Sunday morning, Pip, Richard and I woke up got dressed, threw our gear in the car, and headed to Sydney. I was already regretting the decision.
We arrived in the city in the nick of time, and jagged a carpark only a block from the start line. We were in the very last start group, and made it across the start line with only 30 seconds to spare. Rich soon took off, and I was running with Pip. I was pretty stiff and sore, and had a gel at the first aid station. After about 5km, I had started to loosen up a little bit, and was starting to feel a little better. We navigated the pinchy little hills through Pyrmont. If Pip hadn’t been there with me, I would have walked.
As we headed down towards Macquarie’s chair, we passed Rich on his way out. It seemed like a long way down, and an even longer way up. I was really starting to struggle on the uphill, but the end wasn’t too far away.
We crossed in 2:09. I was glad it was done! It was tough, but it was not actually as bad as I thought it was going to be. Pip made it easier. It was a lot easier than the last 2 legs of North Face.
A massive shoutout goes out to Pip for being the best support crew in the business! She knew exactly what we would be feeling like at every point in the race. I’ve done TNF100 twice now, and ticked that one off the list. It’s a great event, and one I’d love to go back to again. Next year, I’m thinking of doing the 50km and trying to get a good time… But that’s still a long way away. Plenty of time to decide. It was time to head to the pub!