The North Face 100 2012- The Race

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I was a lot more confident going into this race this year- then I started to worry I was too confident. It turns out I was both right- I’d forgotten how insanely hard the race is, but I am also a much more experienced runner.

Crazy runers, or Facebook addicts? Both!

 

I attended a funeral on Friday morning, picked my wife up from work at about midday and drove to the mountains. We had a burger at Plucked and arrived at the Fairmont just before 2:30pm. A fantastic number of my Facebook friends were already there and it was great to finally meet some crazies that I’d been swapping stories with all year. That was the last bit of peace I had all weekend, from then on it was all go!

Helped Sarah show off the new Petzl Nao headlamp, then as soon as registration opened I was off! 3rd in line for my paperwork and managed to be first through the gear check. Very nervous about getting my teeny weeny torches through because Tom the Race Director was standing right behind my gear checker! Everything was fine- we found out later that people had been trying to get strapping tape through as a compression bandage, and one guy turned up with 2 iPhones and said they were his main and backup light!

I hung around for a few more hours talking to people and then it was time for dinner. The pasta buffet at the Fairmont was better than last year and as I was getting a large piece of pavlova one of the employees remarked ‘that’s 4 of those pavlovas we’ve gone through tonight’. They were massive, and delicious.

Adam Darwin's crew chief

Back to the room for a final gear check and laying out of clothes and in bed by 10pm. As you’d expect, I didn’t have a great sleep, but that’s pretty standard the night before a big race. Up at 5am, breakfast loaded with chia seeds, black coffee and grabbed a Powerade to sip before the start. We arrived at the Fairmont to organised chaos and quiet desperation. We all filed into the hall for the competitor briefing, which as usual went late, so by the time that finished and we raced outside to the start I only stood around for a few seconds before the gun went off!

Thanks to Wendy Chung for this image

The first few km are around the streets and are meant to allow the runners to spread out- unfortunately the event has become so popular that the only wave without major holdups this year was wave 1, the fasties. It was here that both my best and worst fears were realised. I figured that it wasn’t possible to hit a sub 14 hour time with the times we were getting in these first km, so I relaxed and went with the flow. In truth, I was never in a position to go sub 14, so this saved me from doing anything (more) stupid.

After passing the Scenic Railway I was opening a gel and fell flat on my arse- the gel squirted a long way! No major damage and I got into checkpoint 1 in 2:42 (sub 14 hour time for this section is 2:10). Grabbed 2 pieces of watermelon, filled my bottle, drank, filled again, picked up a mandarin and placed in my pocket and I was off. The run down Narrowneck was fantastic as usual and I had a great chat to several people- many of whom I would be constantly swapping places with during the day. Annalisa Meryment took off after a quick chat looking like she was doing it easy, then we hit a choke point at Tarro’s Ladder. A volunteer was sending people along a 400m diversion to bypass the ladders, but I decided it was more important for me to rest, eat and talk. The weather here was lovely, last year people were pulling out thermals, it was bloody freezing. I pulled out my mandarin and ate that, finished my bottle of Endura and did a quick gear check. Down the ladders, up a couple of evil spurs and then back on to some fire trail which we follow in to checkpoint 2. Lots more familiar faces at cp2, but a mandatory gear check slowed me down as hey asked to see our maps! How bloody rude, that’s the one item I KNOW I won’t use during this race as the course is so well marked. Of course they were at the bottom of my pack. I had written out my checklist on my iPhone so I consulted that, checked in with Facebook, grabbed a fruit bun and headed out to the dreaded Ironpot Ridge.

I could probably get a bit better at racecraft here-I couldn’t go faster than a walk as I was eating the bun, but the bun wouldn’t go down fast enough- too dry. So I had to bite, take a drink, wet the bread then get it down. It took me too long to work this out, lesson learned. I paused at the bottom of Ironpot Ridge to have a gel and another runner passed me saying ‘I thought you were having a spliff and I was about to ask for some’. Now I’ve seen and heard some pretty odd things while running, and that’s right up there. Ironpot is a pig of a section- you can’t get in any sort of rhythm, it has big ascents and worse descents, you constantly have to slow or step aside for other runners and as it’s an out-and-back, you don’t even get any real sense of accomplishment from doing it.

A creek crossing, lovely trails past farms, and oh yes, more huge f/ing hills! It was about this time that I started to notice other runners flagging. We’d covered some picturesque but brutal and unforgiving landscape, and hadn’t even reached halfway! As much as possible I tried to make sure everyone was ok but there was clearly a big pain monster stalking the crowds. One guy wearing bright green shorts I’d seen earlier on and asked ‘do you have a volume control for those shorts?’ I passed again and tried to get him to run with me into cp3. ‘Why?’ he said and I replied that I wanted to make sure he was too tired to hit me for the comment about his shorts. I made up 15 places on this leg, then lost 15 places by the time I left, symmetry at work…..

Yes I look sick- it's Instagram's fault.

Coming in to cp3 I got a cheer worthy of a real runner, it was awesome! I’m not sure what everyone else thought about a middle of pack runner getting such a rousing reception. I’d been looking forward to cp3 because this is where my first real stop would be. I came in, drank 2 cups of Endura, filled my bottle grabbed my checkpoint bag and went to sit down with Sarah. I ate a boiled egg, and got stuck into some macaroni and cheese. Unfortunately I ate too much and had too much fun talking- I spent 18 minutes in this checkpoint! Quickly shoving down a Newman’s Ginger Treat bar, I left and headed up the Six Foot Track for my date with Nellie. I think it’s worth mentioning here that I had published my nutrition plan for comment and most people said I didn’t have enough real food on the plan, so I’d added the fruit bun and probably ate more of the Mac N Cheese than I should have. It’s nobody’s fault but my own, however I will be careful in the future- the commenters were right that I didn’t have enough ‘real’ food but I was wrong thinking I could fit it in!  I’d eaten so much I couldn’t run properly, I was probably nervous because it was going up Nellie’s Glen last year that I had my low point, I had decided to pull out and it was only the care of my wife that got me through..

For those unfamiliar, Nellie’s Glen is a bunch of stairs going up towards civilisation- more than 500 of them. They’re uneven, often wet and slippery and it seems like they never end. This year I let a couple of people past so I could concentrate on keeping some sort of rhythm. It didn’t work very well, but I had one major advantage- last year the light fell just as I was at the bottom- this year I made it all the way to the Aquatic Centre (Checkpoint 4) before light fell. I really feel this section cost me about 30 minutes- if I’d had a 10 minute transition at cp3 instead of 18, and been able to run a bit more I could have done much better. Coming into CP4 I saw Martyn Dawson who had run despite an awful cold. He’d had to pull out at CP2, but don’t forget that’s 38km and harder than a road marathon! He came along to cp4 to support other runner- thanks Martyn! Into the sports centre I had a quick cup of noodles, some Endura, filled my bottle and had some Coca Cola. That was the best tasting Coke I’ve had in my life, and the noodles were obviously some form of ambrosia. Back out into the (now) night, and about 300m from the cp I remembered something- sh@t- I’d forgotten to fill my bladder. I hadn’t been drinking much water as I’d been supplementing with the collapsible bottle, but I’d just left for the longest section in the whole run without checking a basic requirement. This could spell real trouble. I’d been playing leapfrog with David Madden all day and found him again on Federal Pass getting a bar out of his bag. We had a great chat, and I was making him run little bits (probably should have made him eat his energy bar, that would have been more help) and we met another runner called Scott (I think).

Then behold! It was Adam Darwin finally catching us after 80km, his tardiness caused by a toilet stop at the start! The four of us crossed Leura creek, then Jamison creek together and began the long slog up Kedumba walls. Just after I’d told everybody not to stop at the campfire halfway up, we came to it and discovered a mandatory gear check. I got my stuff checked in double quick time and just as I was leaving Adam D yelled that they had water! I came back and filled my bottle then yelled for Adam, intending to continue with the others. Hearing no reply I looked ahead and thought I saw him climbing the next hill so I took off in pursuit. It wasn’t Adam D but by then I was too far ahead and made the decision to bust my boiler and finish strong. I should have made that decision 80km earlier at the start, but I’m a bit timid sometimes.

A quick note about the Petzl Nao headlamp- I was lucky enough to have one for this race, a few months before they are available to normal people! It behaved flawlessly after I read the manual properly and got my minor niggles worked out. You can read more on this review. I kept the headlamp on the lower regulated setting, putting out about 80 lumens which was nice and bright, and lasted the entire race with some battery left over! One of the guys I was running with up Kedumba muttered to himself ‘oh my lamp does work’ after I got ahead- he’d thought his wasn’t working because mine was so bright!

only 11km to go!

Covering my headlamp, happy I've just finished the biggest hill on the course

Another rousing cheer when I came into checkpoint 5, and I decided not to fill my bladder for the last 11km, I would take a bottle of Powerade and one of Endura. My quickest cp at only 5 minutes, ate a gel on the way out and hooked on to another runner for the ride home. Pretty uneventful until Conservation Hut cafe where I had my last gel, then the massive ups and downs past Lillian’s Glen and up beside the golf course for a strong finish. At the ‘1km to go’ sign I looked at my watch and figured out that if I could do a 9 minute km for the last km I would come under 16:30. I can’t even list how many things are wrong with this logic, but let’s just say I was wrong. My final time of 16:33:58 was more than 2 hours under last years time, and a big relief. Even more fantastic was that David Madden and Adam Darwin both finished in under 17 hours! This time is significant because it means you finish before midnight i.e. on the same day you started. A sub 20 hour finish also means you get a bronze belt buckle. This is a great achievement as the stats show- 990 solo entries sold, 634 total finishers = 356 DNF and DNS. 1x Gold buckle to Ryan Sandes for winning, 111x Silver buckle for under 14hours, 419 Bronze buckles for sub 20 hour finishers.

When we got back to the hotel room I had a shower and read for a while. My wife turned off the light and I suddenly remembered I’d forgotten to eat! She caught me rummaging around in my checkpoint bags looking for uneaten food. Next morning I got up early and went to the hotel dining room. Pretty sure they regret including breakfast in the room rate because I had 3 breakfasts and then went back with my wife later for more……

How bashed around am I? Well I came through with no blisters, and only mild muscle pain in most areas. I went for a short run on Monday night and it loosened up my legs nicely, they were very sore! I’ve had 2 nights sleep of 12 hours or more and I’m starting to feel human again.

 

So what worked? Having the collapsible bottle and taking it full of Endura worked really well. Also the removable arm warmers from my cycling kit were great- it meant I did not have to remove my pack and go looking for extra clothing several times during the event. Swapping sunglasses at CP4 with a pair with clear lenses means I didn’t have to worry about getting hit in the face by branches at night.

What didn’t work? I took a lot of food that wasn’t used, I ate too much at CP3, I forgot to fill up my bladder at CP4, forgot to have the final growling dog bar- must read the checkpoint instructions!

Congratulations to all runners, whether you made it to the end or didn’t make it to the start, we’ve all had a life altering experience. Or at least stomach altering.

Do we look fresh, or manic? Fantastic effort guys!

North Face Non Mandatory gear

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Here’s a list of a few things I’ll be carrying in next weekends North Face 100. They’re not on the mandatory gear list, but don’t make life hard for yourself- if it will make your race easier, take it!

Sunglasses- I’ll be wearing Serfas Portal sunnies, thanks to the local importer VeloVita for getting them in on time! Why wear sunglasses all day? Lots of reasons- you won’t get a headache from the sun, if you get hit in the face with a branch on the single track you won’t get an eye injury, and if you get photo chromatic lenses they’ll adjust to the available light.

Garmin 910XT– how else will I know how slowly I’m running?

Nipple tape– You may not need it, I do.

Spibelt– I’ll most likely have my 2 pieces of spare food in the pocket, and hang my race number on the front using the optional elastic toggle thingys.

Socks- I’ll be wearing Injinji socks. The higher versions because I’ll put anti leech stuff under the socks so the little blighters can’t get inside

Skins- Most likely I’ll wear a long version of the Linebreak compression tights

Shorts with a pocket- I love the Patagonia Ultra shorts. Sadly unavailable now, however they are great because they have nice big pockets on each side. I reserve one pocket for rubbish and clean out at each checkpoint, the other pocket for stuff I need close to hand.

iPod- I’ll use the iPod Nano 16GB. Anybody who knows me understands that my first priority is chatting to other runners, but last year when leaving checkpoint 4 I was alone and loved putting on some choons as I descended the Giant Staircase.

Headphones- the Sennheiser PMX-680i are very comfortable and pretty easy to route the cables.

Bodyglide– it’s not fun to put lube where the sun doesn’t shine- if you don’t, it’s going to hurt bad. Insert prison joke here.

Gloves- for me, something like these is ideal, they have a mesh back so my hands don’t get too sweaty but they give some protection. Yes I know they’re ugly.

Salt Stick capsules– this is very much a personal ‘feel’ thing. In a road marathon I’d have one at 20km and one at 30km to stave off cramps. During TNF I’ll probably have a couple more but can’t really predict how many I’ll need. I always take a few extra, because I ALWAYS see someone on the course who needs them. You should consider what you’ll be taking for cramps! By the way- the super huge ‘this will last me for 10 years’ bottle was only slightly more expensive than the ‘3 marathon’ bottle.

Aspirin- I’m a simple bloke so a simple solution for headaches seems in order. Might be some Panadol in the first aid kit too but I’m mostly looking to follow Jane Trumpers advice and steer clear of drugs. Unless someone lights a joint up Kedumba, then I’ll try to warm my hands on it.

Compeeds– These things are like magic on blisters and hot spots. If you get a hot spot, stop immediately and slap one of these super sticky things on, the pain will go away and you can carry on- an absolute must in your kit. I gave one to a guy on Kedumba last year and I think he would’ve named his children after me. Poor kids.

Ventolin inhaler – I would never have survived childhood if it wasn’t for Ventolin, and while I’ve only had one asthma attack in recent memory, cold weather can cause EIA- exercise induced asthma. I’d be silly not to carry it.

 

Petzl Nao Headlamp Review

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Here’s a brief overview- full review to come. I’m very lucky to have been sent a Petzl Nao headlamp for testing and review. What makes me so excited? Well, it truly is a new technology applied to an old concept. For a full description, check out this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZb3k_x067w

It’s an ambitious goal, and it mostly works well as I’ll explain. I’ve been using the Nao for over a week both in  built up areas and in the bush.

The Good-
It’s amazingly bright- my Petzl MYO RXP has about 140 lumens, the Nao is 350 (and the MYO RXP is pretty bright to start with!). Even on the low setting straight out of the box other runners were saying they thought a car was coming up behind them. The battery pack is lighter than the MYO RXP. The reactive circuits work as advertised, and they’re amazingly fast. The headlamp is held on to your head by a new system that puts less pressure on your head than the old elastic strap, and it’s easy to adjust.  It has a square, rotating momentary switch on the front that allows you to turn it on and adjust easily even with gloved hands- this is a major improvement over the RXP- I loved that lamp but the ‘on’ button was a pig to use. Running at the front of the group along some quite technical single track was just a joy- I’m not a fast runner but others in the group were calling on me to slow down- it was a great feeling. I don’t think the lamp makes me run faster, simply that I had more confidence than the others because of the light output. OK, maybe a little bit faster? It has an uncanny ability to adjust when you swing your head around and up the trail. When standing around in a group, it turned itself down so that it didn’t annoy others. It’s particularly good when there isn’t much light ‘pollution’ around, or bright spots (reflecting packs etc).

The Bad-
The Nao initially doesn’t feel ‘right’ when I put it on- the cable that leads to the battery hits the top of my ear which is very annoying, and it’s not long enough to re-route. It doesn’t feel symmetrical on my head, but perhaps that is my head! After a while, I forget about this and it’s no problem but I’ve experienced this every time I’ve put it on so far. There’s a few circumstances where the reactive lighting is incredibly annoying. Running along partly lit streets at night, the Nao keeps on making wild adjustments to the light output which is disconcerting to watch. Also when in a group, if you’re travelling along single track and you have someone in front of you, the sensor will detect any light reflecting from that person and turn your light down! Have you noticed how much reflective stuff is attached to the back of your gear? The effect can be vicious, making you work harder to see the trail than if using a normal headlamp. On wider tracks, you can avoid this by simply running to one side of the person in front, which is best practice anyway as you can see more of what is coming up.

I should point out though that this is simply the way the Nao works- you can program the light modes using your computer and a program called OS by Petzl, which is a free download. Unfortunately it doesn’t recognise the Nao battery yet, meaning I could not change the reactive lighting modes or simply use regulated mode.

(UPDATE- this is why I’m not a real journalist. If I’d given the instruction manual more than a cursory glance I would have realised that you can easily set the headlight into regulated mode by simply holding the momentary switch for 2 seconds. I also found that Petzl have a way to re route the battery cable so it doesn’t hit my ear. So I’ve gone from cranky to amazed, and all it took was a bit of RTFM). So that’s 2 out of my 3 grievances with the product gone, time to give it a higher score!

Regulated mode means that the headlamp regulates the power output (and therefor the light output) so that the lamp stays at the same brightness, without dimming as the battery runs low. So most of my concerns about this headlamp can be fixed by simply programming a mode that does not use the reactive mode. This might sound counter intuitive to not use the technology available in the lamp, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s strengths lie in being in front, or not in suburban streets! One mode for bush running, one for street running- perfect! Using the instructions provided, I have figured out that this sequence will be best for me during the North Face 100- turn it on, then hold the switch for 2 seconds to put it in regulated mode, then one more click to put it in level 2 (approximately 88 Lumens output). This will give me a burn time of approximately 8 hours, and I should only need about 6-7 hours. Perfect!

The Ugly-
It’s not available Nao, er I mean now! Official release date is July. I’ve already had several offers of cash under the table to part with it. And I’m wondering if I can keep it long enough so I don’t have to be without one for long. Before I used this headlamp I wondered why I could possibly want another one- we’ve got others in just about every room in the house. But this is definitely a headlamp that will be added to my collection. If not Nao, then soon!

North Face 100 Nutrition Plan & Drop Bags V2

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Well it’s only 20 days to go so I’m trying to figure out what to eat on the day. This will all go out the window as soon as the gun goes off, but it pays to be prepared……. Basically I’m writing this because in the later parts of the race I won’t be able to think for myself, but if I know what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing I’ll be ok.

After talking with a friend today, I realised it isn’t very clear where all this stuff is coming from-
Checkpoints will provide-
Endura sports drink (pre mixed)
Water to fill bladders
Fruit
Bread/buns
Gels are available at some checkpoints, but you can’t depend on them, and if you do, you might have to take grape flavour, which is quite vile tasting. Other items I will have to carry.

Start to Checkpoint 1
1x Banana
2x Gel
At CP1- Drink 500ml Endura at checkpoint, take another 500ml with me when leaving.
Chia seeds
Do not fill bladder

Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 22x Gel
1x packet Gu chomps
1x Salt tablet

At CP2- Drink 500ml Endura at checkpoint, take 500ml with me plus 1x Growling Dog bar. Take a piece of fruit, maybe a bun
Fill up bladder

Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3
3x Gel
1x packet Gu chomps

At CP3- Macaroni and cheese 2-300g. Chia seeds, 500ml Endura, take 500ml with me when leaving plus  1-2 boiled eggs and a banana
Check bladder, don’t fill up too much

Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4
2x Gels
1x Banana
1x Gu chomps
1x Salt tablet
Important- must eat Gu part way up Nellie’s Glen!

At CP4- 500ml Endura, fill bottle to take with me
check bladder, fill up to 1.5l!
Take a cup noodle with me

Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5
Important- eat 1-2 gels going up Kedumba!
4x Gels
1x Gu chomps
1x Growling Dog bar
1x Salt tablet

At CP5- check to make sure you don’t have too much water. Drink 500ml Endura, take a 500ml bottle with me. Eat a piece of fruit if you can. Piss off and finish the race.

 

This means I’ll need to carry from the start of the race to checkpoint 3-
8x Gel (1 spare)
3x Gu Chomps (1 spare)
small flask with chia seeds
1x banana

And I’ll need to pack the following
Checkpoint 3 bag
3x Gels (1 spare)
Macaroni Cheese
Chia seeds
2x boiled eggs (peeled, in a sandwich bag)
Banana
Gu Chomps

Checkpoint 4 bag
4x Gels
Gu Chomps
Growling Dog bar
fruit?
Chips
Proper headlights (will be carrying low weight versions during the day)
Clothing for night time
Leave sunglasses in bag here

extra mandatory gear if required

Checkpoint 5 bag
Lemonade/ Coke
Gels
Gu Chomps
Chips