Following the steps of Dean Karnazes…

It is fitting that this is my 100th post on my blog – as it is about my 100 km race in the Blue Mountains last Saturday!

Arriving in Katoomba on Friday around lunch time with Ann from Queensland, we used the free time to drive to the various look-out along the cliffs, so Ann (her first visit) could get a feel of what lays ahead of us the next day.
It was a gorgeous day and the view was magnificent – only those cliffs looked daunting and almost unsurmountable! Where and how the hell are we going to get up and down those cliffs?!

At 5 pm we arrived at the infamous Fairmount Resort in Leura to register for the race and have all our mandatory gear checked. During the registration Ann and I pumped into DK – the one and only Ultra Marathon Man!

Dean Karnazes is the host of the race – The North Face 100. He flew in this morning having raced and finished a 345 km race the previous weekend. Looks like a 100 km here will be a walk in the park for him.

He is such a great guy – we had a short chat, took some photos and he was more then happy to sign his books at the same time. Looks like he was in for a long night as more and more runners lined up behind us to see him too.

After the obligate pasta dinner, I went back to the hostel to arrange my final pack and get some sleep. Even so I prepared drop bags for Checkpoint 3, 4 and 5, I made the decision in the morning to try and spend as little time as possible on each CP and not waste time changing shoes or gear. I also did not carry any extra food for the first 3 legs and relied on the provided food on CP 1 and 2 (which were excellent and plenty full). So my final pack was as light as possible.

Saturday morning 5 am breakfast and final gear check – we (Ann, Denis and I) drove to the Resort for a last cup of tea, before we had to line-up in the start area for the final safety and race briefing and then finally the gun went off shortly after 7am.

It was a relief to start running since the temperature and wind chill made it a very cold morning in the mountains…we had to do a loop around the hotels golf course, which allowed the field to spread out a bit and after a short stretch through Leura’s road we soon settled into a conga line along the cliff walk towards the famous 3 Sisters.
The first 17 km to Checkpoint 1 were uneventful apart from the steep decent into the valley and an even steeper climb out on the other side up to Narrow Neck.

The line of runners along this first leg made it almost impossible to overtake and I kind of settled into a slow jog through the cool and damp forest. It was a good thing as it allowed me to keep some strength for later in the day.

Arriving at CP1 after 2hrs28min and 28min behind my schedule I did not have to convince myself to quickly fill-up my bottles, grab some food and head out straight away – the next bit was quite exposed to the freezing cold wind along the top of the cliff and running was a good way of keeping warm and making up some time. The section on Narrow Neck Road allowed for great view over the Blue Mountains and smooth running until the end of the cliff – where we had only one option to get down – using the famous Tarros Ladders.
The ladders proved to be a bigger obstacle then thought and unfortunately we runners started piling up waiting to get down as only on runner at the time was allowed on the ladder. Very quickly the ice cold wind cooled us down even with wearing the rain jackets and hat. At least I used the 35min waiting time to take in some needed food and fluid.

After I finally climbed down the ladders I forced myself to walk first for a km or so to simply warm up all muscle again…a good move as I soon after overtook two runners who pulled their hamstrings and had to give up soon after….the organisers seemed to be overwhelmed by the strong increase of runners this year and clearly did not expect the field to be so evened out in quality, causing this kind of delays and they promised to look into the issue to improve it for next year.

This second delay put me back over an hour on my schedule and I submitted to the fact that 15 hour finish is now out of reach. Nevertheless I kept going hard and after an interesting out and back section on the course – meeting the runners who were roughly 20-30 min ahead of me, I arrived at CP 3 and grabed my first drop-bag. After a random gear check by the organisers, I quickly took my own gels and drink powder, refill the bottles and eat some nuts before heading out within 15 minutes.
The next section was well known to me – Denis and I spent a weekend with family and friends in the Megalong Valley training on the 6 ft track section a few months earlier. This time however we ran the other direction back to Katoomba and for me it was the hard part of the race, felling sluggish and tired, I had a very hard time to even run along the flat part and struggled even more up the steep and endless steps up Nellies Glen.

My goal was reached, when I arrived at CP 4 with the last daylight! 67km into the race I enjoyed a warm soup and some raisin buns before setting myself up for the reminder of the race in the dark. Rain Jacket on, Headlight and a hand held backup light plus the reflective jacket on top.

Off I went again only 15 min after arriving at this CP.
The final section of the course I trained on twice on, so it was well known to me and with the help of one ‘No Doz’ my feet and brain were awake again and I enjoyed a real great first 15 km of the section – mostly downhill across two rivers and then steep up to Queen Victoria Hospital on the other side of Jamison Valley – the good thing about the dark night was that one could not really see too far ahead and therefore the very steep climb was actually reduced to a few meters of trail in front of ones feet and it was half as bad as during daylight.

At CP 5 again I grabbed my gels, drinks and another soup and was out of there as quick as possible. I just wanted to get this done now and finish before midnight. Looking at my splits and times between CP’s, it seems that I made up 20 position between CP 4 and the finish – but I would have only overtaken a handful of runners on the trail, so it was my short pit stops where I left the other runners behind.

The last 11 km were a very long 11 km and the 2hrs+ are prove of it. It was demoralising on the last few km, where we all had to climb down into the valley only to crawl out of it on the other side, a mere 1 km from the finish line.

Once I could see the end I managed to get my last ‘second wind’ and sprinted down 2 runners in the last 500m. I was very happy to get into the warms of the Fairmount Resort, but did not linger too long and after checking how far behind Denis and Ann were, I hopped into the car and drove to the hostel.

After a nice, long hot shower and a shocking cold ice bath for my leg, I drifted into a restless sleep till 6am when the sun and birds woke me up. Off I went back to the finish line – I missed Denis by 2 ½ hours but Ann was due to come in anytime. I enjoyed some nice café and buns waiting for her and finally after just over 24 long hours she arrived, still ahead of 11 other battlers.

We all were happy with our result – as usual in such long races – it is not the ranking at the end which counts but the voyage to the startline and the journey to the finish, which marks each and every one of us.

Dean Karanzes confirm to us at the ceremony, that this was indeed his hardest 100 km race he has done (and he has certainly done some in his life). He told us, that we should be very proud of ourselves to not only have made it to the start but finished this great race! We are now part of an elite group of people, which call themselves Ultra Marathoner – having followed in the steps of DK!

Happy and save running

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