dimanche 20 mai 2012

The North Face 100 Australia 2012

Last week-end was the North Face 100 - Australia 2012 in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains.
The GPS trace is on Garmin and Runkeeper.
My results are on Tiktok.
The photos are on Picasa.

And the report is below :-)

Friday 18 May 2012 - 4pm - Fairmont resort

Registration opens and hundreds of runners queue to get a free T-shirt and cap, matches, a firelighter, a set of maps, a bib and time chip, and finally to get the (impressive amount of) compulsory gear checked. Next step is to leave drop bags in the 3 trucks going to the 3 last checkpoints. Then we can re-pack the mandatory gear in the race bag and head for the pasta party, before catching an early sleep.

Saturday 19 May - 5.37am

Wake up, get dressed in multiple layers of clothing for what is expected to be a freezing start (mornings recently have been as cold a 0.8*C, today should be about 4*C...), and head to the briefing. The hotel is not serving any breakfast that early, but the stomach is not so intent on letting much food in either. 6.15, we are first welcome by the aboriginal owners of the land, then the "wildlife manager" shows us an example of wildlife signs he's been putting all over the course (spot them all! and also, find the wombat!), and we also get some words from North Face representative, and organisers Alina and Tom, before heading to the start line. Surprisingly warm out there. First wave sets off at 6.54, 2nd wave a few minutes later, then we wait for our start.

Saturday 19 May - 7.02 am - Start line

3, 2, 1... Goooo!!!
It starts in the streets of Leura, everyone is over-excited and running way too fast for the distance ahead. But was probably a good idea seeing as at 1.6km we get all stuck in a huge traffic jam when we leave the streets for a brilliant single track that I would like to run at some point... :-/ Problem is, it then goes up stairs, and the continuous flow of "runners" can't go any faster than the slowest runner going up the stairs kilometers ahead... So we climb the Golden Stairs very slowly (even I can survive such a pace...) and reach the ridge at the top way late. CP1 is just 1 or 2 km further on the ridge at 18km.

10.08am - CP1 - 18km

5mn break, just enough to refill the water and eat some fruit (breakfast has been light...), grab a Go Natural protein bar and go again. Now is my favourite section, running along the ridge, up and down but never too steep, then all the way down. Taros Ladders at 28km are a huge congestion, we get to queue for like 20mn before going down them. Gives a chance for photos and stretching, but still way too long. There was an option for a by-pass but it was an extra-400m. It's then down quite steeply all the way to CP2 in the grass. All I have eaten on this section is the couple of mandarines from CP1 and one bite of my breakfast Carmans bar that is still sitting in my side pocket...

13.17 - CP2 - 38 km

The plan was to be there around noon, which would have been the case wasn't it for the two big traffic jams so far... A bit frustrating. Still not real salty food at this CP and my legs are starting to cramp badly so I load on electrolytes drink and have a nut bar (a full one! ^^) instead, plus have a stretch while Bernie refills our water. There is a gear check for maps and thermal pants. Also change long sleeve thermal for a dry T-shirt as it's getting warm and sunny. 12 mn later we're out and running again, through grassy fields, going through some private properties (thanks to the families that let us through!) before going up again. 41km is the start of an out-and-back kilometer where it is a bit annoying to keep passing runners going the other way, on a rocky track blocked by numerous fallen trees that you have to climb above, but the view is worth it. Also two aboriginal people are playing didgeridoo and clapping sticks on the side and encouraging us. Then we turn steeply down away from the incoming runners, and I hit a tough spot as we climb again, not having eaten nearly enough, and carrying way too much water, so it's all a bit fuzzy. There's a bit of a killer of a climb that I vaguely remember up a steep hill... But strangely everybody else is tired too and I can keep up and even pass people. We also pass Brett somewhere around here.

16.10 - CP3 - 54 km

This is the first CP where support crews are allowed. It's set up in the grass, a jazz band is playing, and they have noodles! Welcome real food, warm and salty, plus a bit of tea. Also the first drop bag means I can change Injinji socks (love them!), put some Nok cream on my feet (which are still fine), and give a bit of a charge to my Garmin (54% left). Unload my pack from the dirty shirt and extra-food that I'm not eating anyway. The coming section is short, only 11km, but it has the dreaded stairs. We start on a quite flat-ish large trail, a woman comes up to us running, amazed at how fast we can walk. The light goes down fast now and after a while as the trail turns into a single track through forest we are forced to finally extract the head torches from our packs. Soon enough we hit the stairs (km 61), steps up to hip level for some of them, a real killer but they are short enough, and now my most feared section is passed. Garmin lost satellite reception at the bottom of this, but we went up and out almost vertically. At the top it keeps climbing a bit to the CP4.

18.44 - CP4 - 65 km

This CP is different from last time I did it, now it is indoor at a swimming pool, welcome for the warmth. Volunteers bring each runner their drop bags, that's super well organised, and they also inform that the fleece  that we could leave at CP4 is now compulsory in our race pack. The plan is to keep the break to a minimum so I rush to the bathroom, gulp down half a cup of noodles, change from T-shirt to fleece on bare skin, and from cap to beanie, and ready to go again. The temperature when exiting the heated room is shockingly freezing, and I'm happy with my fleece! It starts flat on road and I start playing music, which gets my spirits up quite a bit. Then it gets to the "giant staircase, strong walkers only" at the three sisters. How fun this section was this time, just sliding and jumping down the stairs, with two fully functional knees, I had a ball! Reminded me strongly of going down the very same stairs 2 years ago with Ashley, slowed down by a knee that wouldn't bend, and as a result completely freezing despite wearing 2 fleeces. After the stairs we hit the road for more down, lots of fun jogging down in the dark, passing loads of people all walking tiredly now.  But... everything that goes down must go up again. At the very bottom we cross water, I am relieved to find that we can stay dry thanks to bricks thrown through it, and then surprise we keep going down, plus there are no markers for a while, just when we would expect it to go up, so I am getting worried despite seeing people ahead and behind, wonder if we should backtrack for markers, or look at the map, when suddenly we find a marker. And in fact there is another water crossing, again with bricks thrown through the water so we don't have to get wet feet, and then it starts climbing. There is also a table with a couple of volunteers, with water and endurolytes, which is welcome as we both ran out. They also check our compass and rain jacket. The way up is endless, but with some breaks where it is flat or downhill again, plus I start singing out loud to give Bernie, and myself, some energy. The slope then subsides to flat-ish 2km before the checkpoint, and feel super good again. Bernie doesn't really want to stop at the CP so I take up running to be there before him, feels so good! Start on a cup of noodles and a bit of tea, then a young volunteer asks what he could get us and I ask him some lollies, he comes back with a full cup of gummy bears, I pack some in my side pocket and here we go.

23.27 - CP5 - 89 km

2mn in Bernie realises that yes, wearing a fleece would be a good idea, as he's shivering hard. Only a flat 11km to the finish ^^ Once I'm warm again I feel great, feel like running this thing home. All the first few km are on the left side of the road, marked with orange cones, and we all have reflecting jackets too. I start jogging with music in my ears, then decide to wait for Bernie who doesn't want to "risk running". After a while we are back on tracks, the track I remember from 2 years ago where I kept tripping on roots and trees and rocks. It is a tricky track indeed, but at least I feel good. I keep passing people, both down and up. There a a few bumps with big steps, some board walk, going under an overhang, everything mixes up a bit, but suddenly we can hear people shouting in the distance, then we emerge into grass, and the lights of the resort appear. We run the last few dozen meters, the last bit in the grass between people gathered behind the fences, encouraging, I feel like I'm sprinting but probably not :-) Then pass the line, a girl is commenting in a mic, announcing our time, and congratulating us.  18h45 (and a few seconds)

01.47am - Finish line - 100km

The girl then asks us to show our thermals top and gloves to the gear check. I stay at the finish line for a while, laying down on the ground (she offers me a blanket, "buddy"), watching the people we passed on this final hill come in one after the other, but it's getting cold. Once inside we get the diploma and bronze belt buckle, then I just lay down on the floor with my feet on a chair. I have a go at the first aid as well, the girl gives me some ice. Then head up to the room, so good to have it just at the finish, and with a hot spa waiting :-) Brett finishes shortly before 3am so just in time for the bronze buckle as well.

Sunday 20 May

The night is short, cannot get any real sleep, and in the morning we all gather at the breakfast buffet. I can't eat much but some warm eggs are good as I was starving, Shortly before 10 the kids get to run their own 1km race, always fun to see them having so much energy. Then empty the bedroom and attend presentation with a barbecue. We get to see the last 2 girls to come in together, just a couple of minutes before the cut off at 11am. Ryan Sandes came 3 mn close to Kilian Jornet's course record from last year, in 9h21, these guys are just insane... And Beth Cardelli re-beat Julie Quinn's record from last year that was already breaking the previous course record. Then starts the long way back home, drive to Katoomba train station, wait 1h for the train, spend 2h in the train, then train to the airport, then wait an hour at the airport (having laksa for lunch/dinner at 4pm), fall asleep in the plane, bus to the carpark, fall asleep in the car, and straight to bed.

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