TNF100 Australia 2015
I realize that it is becoming incredibly apparent that I am battling an early mid-life crisis syndrome this year. I mean, no thanks to the booming trail running events in local scene and reachable countries – what the hell? But there are many (ehem!) older friends who are successfully adapting not to mention excel while flying through this stage of life. To most of them, it’s the age of becoming, realizing their true potential, and purpose in life, so on and so forth.
I am just at the doorstep, but I think I’ll have all the trouble shedding off my excess weight as the metabolism rate drops like the quality of running medals these days.
Well, good thing I am battling this unfathomable crisis as a lazy recreational runner. I sometimes wonder how does a hardcore prostitute come up with a midlife crisis resolution… what an interesting thought!
First of, Alhamdulillah, syukur! – I am grateful in the turn of event that allows me to steal an opportunity to make complete bonkers of myself, and thanking my other half so I could improve my Blue Miles loyalty collection.
OK, pleasantries done, let’s talk business.
TNF Australia – I remember daydreaming about this stage of TNF so far back when running events still charges RM10 for a 10K running event, and registrations are still done walk-in at Wisma OCM. So long ago when runners haven’t learnt the skills to bitch and bicker on Facebook.
TNF seems to hold a special place in me since I started running TNF Singapore back in 2009 with MacamBagus’ partner Ian Yusof, then with Kash and Azam. Consequently the following editions as MacamBagus put a strong showing, with Nik and Kash in tow as we did our first 50k. I certainly miss their company standing at the starting line that day. Melancholic really.
|Where it all started - 2009|
|And this is what it is|
Travelling from Sydney Central Station takes no hard effort like when required to clean my Trek, especially with super-efficient intercity trains at an hour’s intervals, and the overall journey that takes through beautiful countryside of about 30 minutes. Conveniently, the Opal card is a prepaid travel card that charges a maximum amount of AUD$15/day regardless of your fees for the day or amount of travels with buses, trains and ferries. This was especially cheap as we came from the Cockatoo Island via ferry, and connecting trains.
We stayed at Katoomba Metropole, which is just across the Katoomba train station. Location is good as it’s close to the pick-up point at Carrington Hotel literally a minute away if you run at a 4min/hr pace, and close to all the shops. Other great option would be YHA Katoomba, which is across the road from the pick-up point at Palais Royale, but further down the road. But really, anywhere is within walking distance, so do not let the sketchy maps online fools you. It was a decision much helpful for us when pulling 3 bursting luggage from the train station.
In terms of the town itself, Katoomba has a good collection of outdoor stores if you need to get few last minute gears. There’s Target, Coles and an array of pubs if you fancy. Along the street there is one halal kebab store, which for a good AUD$9, a kebab the size of a bazooka and feeds 3 people. Be sure to ask for hot sauce and pickled chillis for extra kick to ensure comprehensive bowel detox the next day. But the shops (except for Coles) close early on normal days. Katoomba is dead after 18:00 hours.
Upon arrival in Katoomba and checking-in, we headed to KCC Katoomba for registration at the event expo, and the scene was, err… to put it diplomatically, very festive. In the hall, the progression (not necessarily in this particular order) shall be;
- confirm our bib number on the runners’ list on ‘The Wall’ after you perform a short treasure hunt. This differs from a newbie and a seasoned runner
- proceed to designated registration counters according to the bib numbers, collect the bib. The counters are mostly very efficient – I collected my bib within a minute before I even managed a pep talk with the volunteer
- line up to collect the race tee (or much like scramble) - the tees are in European size so err on a smaller size. Runners are able to strip open and test the size in full view of others. I have successfully added another red dri-fit tee in my collection
- it’s a sort-of-a-expo, so wander around aimlessly at the makeshift TNF booth, Tarawera booth (and personally meet the RD, Paul Charteris) etc if you want to ask him if it would be ok to bandit his race
- deposit dropbag for CP3, CP4 and CP5 (this is optional either for all CPs depending on your needs) into the designated trucks outside the hall. Prepare your own duct tape and marker. No technology here – write your own number to each designated CPs. No ‘Fragile’ stickers will be entertained
|Observe the Turkey Bags|
a) RD advised us to deposit the fleece jacket and waterproof pants at CP4
b) Half the runners seemed to have packed roast turkeys in their Wooly’s dropbags (yes, all 3 of them), but rest assured that all CPs are well-stocked. I just had the mandatory items as (a), some chocolates and a fresh pair of socks and shoes, just in case
c) Of course I have made a pre-Mandatory Gear check at TNF store in Sydney which saves some panic anxiety attack
I signed up for the buffet dinner out of curiosity, and fear that I’d not fuel well, but for Muslims going for the 2016 chapter, you could easily opt this out as the available selection is only the vegetarian pasta, garlic bread and salad. For AUD$29, you could have 3 giant kebabs in town and some. Nonetheless, the dinner is pre-assigned, so check on the allotted time.
Also, I read somewhere that carbo-loading on the race eve alone is quite pointless as the process should take the whole week prior, and so far it was true to my regime.
|For the record - Spaghetti Bolognese, Vegetarian Penne Pasta, Pilaf Rice, Beef Stroganoff|
|Cold salad spread if you fancy, but really - how much can you gobble?|
After that, back to the Expo for the race briefing in a packed hall – some basic information on the gears, how to navigate placing of the bib, etc. Noteworthy is a light and cheeky speech by the RD, Tom Langdon Smith. He also announced that the 2016 edition would be a grand re-branding exercise where the 5-days event will take place. TNF Australia will then be known as Ultra Trail Australia, in line with UTMB, UTMF, UTK and the rest – already it seems that the future is going to be awesome!
I spent the next 3 hours packing, unpacking, re-packing etc, just to make sure all the gears are in place, worrying about the little things just short of color coordinating what I was going to wear on race day. For the record, what I had on me in my pack are;
- 2litres of hydration – pre-mixed Gatorade (Mixed Berry)
- Lightweight Kathmandu thermal pants
- Super light Inov-8 long-sleeved thermal base layer
- Inov-8 Stormshell HV
- Reflective vest (Australian standard, no less)
- Fleece gloves, a beanie
- Silva headlight, fresh supplies of batteries, and a back-up torch light
- Emergency space blanket, compression bandage (these are the things I wish I do not have the space and time to put into practice)
- Blister kit, of which I have perfected over the years which includes 3M plaster, bandages, alcohol/antiseptic swab, wet tissues, some dry tissues, nail clipper)
- Miscellaneous items, which includes the waterproof/windproof safety matches and firelighter block (provided by the Organiser) as we have the opportunity to re-live the Flinstones days
- Junk food, which of course include my all-time favourites – jellies, asambois, Mars and nuts. There’s nothing to be proud of here, but I do realize they do not contribute to protein and carbs intake required for the long run
As you can see, those weights are clearly not heavy enough to sculp my upper back, and not also creating enough sway resistance to hold my core intact – probably contributing to my 1-pack abs. Nonetheless, I tried to invest into some lightweight materials. Having said that, hydration reserve in my bladder remained intact most of the time, given the aptly positioned CPs and water stations.
The race itself
I was flustered to stand among strangers in a strange continent thinking about unnecessary little things to fill my head off the long race, like when do I need to go to the toilet again, or what happens if I need to crap in the woods? But bigger issue would be beating hypothermia in the mountains is actually quite scary.
Given my unrelenting left ankle problem (and of course mostly due to my poor showing and non-improved ultra timing), I figure starting from the very back is somewhat conservative but crucial to ensure that I actually finish the race injury-free. But at the starting line it was not short of premature celebratory mood, despite being the slowest of all groups. We were the extreme underdogs who’d take selfies every 2 minutes along the course, talks all the way from start to finish, and treats all CPs like a picnic. I swear those guys with turkey drop bags I saw the night before were in this group. I’m almost certain there were picnic mats and packs of beer in those cooler bags!
|Boleh lah senyum lagi... Azmil - fresh from KoBL|
Although the past few days prior to the event weather was unpredictable, I gambled by having my shorts on, my 2013 XTerra tee and a featherlight Inov-8 Windshell HZ on that morning, and the Inov-8 Trailroc 255 (despite its poor show at Kemensah Krazy, I have no other credible pair as the other shoes is not weathered enough), accompanied by the buff. So that was enough for me, as the temperature started around 16degrees at the start and quickly warmed up as we scaled the first hills after the start.
The course description can be viewed at http://www.thenorthface100.com.au/race-info/100km/the-course, so I’ll save this blogspace from narrating the obvious.
The race started, and for our group 6, we headed out close to 7.00 a.m. for an overall target to finish within 24 hours. Basically the first 4km was run on the road as we headed to Narrow Neck Road, and turned back to Scenic World, before disappearing into the trails. Immediately after Scenic World, the road section rolls with our emotion as Azmil and I caught up with many old dramas from Bolehland.
From there, it was basically downhills via Furber Steps passing several ancient waterfalls, and soon the glorious windows to the Blue Mountains eased up. But really, there was not much time to stop and look around as the train moves forward, and tones of runners are chugging behind. The sections are mostly single tracks, and being civilized runners that we are, most runners would wait patiently before being cordially invited by the front runner if overtaking is required. Well, I said most runners…
After the Landslide, it was a repetitive trails and switchbacks before we arrive at CP1 (10.5km – Narrow Neck). A quick pitstop as my supplies were still intact, but for record, there were abundant supplies of jellies, gels, bananas and isotonics.
Headed out fairly quickly as we are looking forward to the highlight of the Tarros Ladders. Still moving with Azmil and Hana, we passed the beautiful section cross fire tracks over a place marked as Mount Debert in the Course Description, that cuts through the expanse of the Blue Mountains. Of course, in that early stage of the race, I’d call that stretch as the Gum Tree Stretch.
But somewhat, it was the same feeling when coming up the ridges of TMBT just off the kink into Miki Camp that it was a real privilege to access some of the most remote areas through ultra running. The trail felt hard below my soles as we snakes around the tracks to cover over 21km of trails but it was a fun, mostly rolling runnable part of the course, so it was done in no real drama. By the time I reached CP2 (31km – Dunphys Camp), Azmil was no longer behind me. Here they served chips, jellies, gels, oranges, melons, bananas, isotonics. A quick potty break and forever putting the soles of Trailroc back in place, I was off on Leg 3, where a good 8km would be run on private land. This is quite an uneventful section I occupied my time dodging the cow’s dung while doing math calculations in my head, before we arrived at the enormous climb that of Ironpot Mountain, or other wise called ‘Whatthehell Hill’, similar to Hill 365 in TNF Singapore.
This climb is not as heartbreaking as Nuang climbs but I cursed myself for leaving the poles behind. It was enough to clench your butts off and burning those quads. But once we reach the top, running along the Ironpot Ridge is one of the most memorable experience I had for the race. Some guys were playing the didgeridoo at the cliff – not exactly the thumping beat of Armin van Buuren to my liking but it took away the nagging feeling of the slipping soles of my Trailroc for a bit.
It was quick at the ridge, and soon enough comes the fast and furious downhill of Tinpot Hill, and I deliberately hopped along kicking sand and stormed down for kicks. It was one of the fun bits of the race where you’d squeal like a horse (what?), coupled with many creek crossings. It I had been deliriously crazy under the scorching sun as experienced in Kemensah, I’d jump into them right away but given the mild temperature we experienced that day, I tiptoed to ensure the shoes are dry the longest possible time. Then came along another dreadful climbs and long solitary Megalong Valley Road (it was mega, and long, how apt) where I finally picked up a stick to support my upper body in the long stretch. This is a stretch of dusty dirt road open to traffic, accessible to the CP for all support crews.
The spirit is lifted when approaching the final kilometer to CP3 (46km – Six Foot Track) as I joined a couple of other anxious runners racing against time for hot food. It was way pass lunch time, and it was godsent that they served hot noodles there (albeit served with a plastic knife).
Coming out of CP3, I knew a meager 11K coming into Katoomba Aquatic Centre was all I need to come to my stash of fresh socks at CP4. What I failed to see is the 350m elevation gain pass Nellies Glen is one nasty climb! In my head was that I have passed the halfway mark and would reach CP4 well before sundown. Boy that was wrong in all alveolus clusters of my body. But really, looking back now, I was just exaggerating as the elevation gain is not THAT punishing. I mean, really… I was hallway up the stairs when I realized that I’d never make it in sub-20.
It is also noteworthy to share that upon reaching the peak of this climb, the rolling sections are actually a joy to run on after the slow momentum. We were then again atop of the cliff headed back to Katoomba when the sun-kissed landscape is quite postcard-perfect.
|Turkey Bags sorted in number groups, close to the floor for turkey chill factor|
Coming into CP4 (57.0km – Katoomba Aquatic Centre) after a short section of road through Katoomba neighbourhood, the sports hall was buzzing with all sorts of acrobats in the hall, and all sorts of swimming flips on the other hall. I quickly dropped the pack, retrieve my dropbag, and head to the changing room with a fresh pair of thermal pants, long-sleeved thermal base layer, new tee and socks. The hall is well-equipped with changing rooms, toilets and some privacy for solat. The food was abundant as I headed for some warm soup, chippers and buns. I imagine it would be great to have a plate of steaming hot rice with stir-fried tofu and chicken, and a can of ice-cold Coke – but it is uncommon for me to hallucinate in the middle of the endurance run.
It was here I regrouped with Syed, Iziddin, Hana and Ewegene, and while getting everyone ready allows us all some time to rest and stretch. And by the time we got out, it was already dark and I assume I spent too long in the transition eating too much buns and hot soup.
We spent the next hour progressing towards Echo Point – a fairly flat, wet stretch as temperature continues to drop. Apparently we went under the Scenic Skyway cables and past Cliff View lookout – a miss since it was pitch black. I reckon runners in Start Group 1-4 would enjoy this view much earlier in the race. The track continues to pass many scenic vistas had we pass it during the day but I was mostly consumed to put a step ahead at a time.
In the course description, this stretch you’ll read a crazy detailed turn-by-turn info that will make you palpitate just by looking at the text. I gather this section is heavily accessible by foot traffic, and there are lots of turns which may get you lost eventually.
But as we started a mini climb towards Leura Cascades, I left the resting pack in dire effort to keep the muscle warm, and I proceeded to catch the roving train ahead. We quickly arrived at 66K’s water point, and a quick calculation in my head confirms that I might even miss the 24-hour target no matter how fast I move forward. It was quite heartbreaking, but it is what it is. This Leg 5 is the slowest, toughest and second longest distance of the race with trails along the single tracks, roads, private land, and grass-patch.
Needless to say, I reached CP5 with Carol – a runner I spent on-off zapping with each other for the previous 10K. It was a welcomed rivalry as I am still freaked to be running on my own in pitch black, let alone unfamiliar territory.
CP5 (78km – Queen Victoria Hospital) is another lively pitstop of the race. But the food is now somewhat an eyesore to me. Requested a cup of hot noodles, sans the noodles, and chomped on some lollies. Knowing the dark stretch of the night, I asked for coffee, but the caffeine mix was too mild. Lesson learnt - I should have refilled the coffee into my bottles for reserve, or at least a premixed coffee.
But, a quick change of dressing to couple of hotspots, I was off CP5. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but mind you the tunnel is still a killer 22km to go. Immediately the trail came about the dirt road which descends beyond Kedumba Pass en-route to Jamison Creek. Man, those were some killer descends much like TMBT’s CP8’s Keranaan Village. My calves and quads were scorching and I was on the verge of cramping, and I can’t stop but wonder had I put a compression pants on – would it help?
It was now way past midnight when we hauled up at the Aid Station (91km) and I was delirious and sleepwalking most of the times. The conversation with Carol has long been silent as both of us battled our inner demons. Aptly enough as we entered Leura Forest, I was walking dangerously close to the ravines half awake, sometimes stopping to doze off. It became apparent that my lack of sleep the previous night was deadly.
But as the trails slipped by me, we finally arrived at the foot of Furber Steps for what seemingly a short dash to the finish. Carol literally snapped me out of my slumber as I slumped to sleep at the steps, and together we climbed the treacherous, yet I would imagine a scenic climb nonetheless (a total of 860 steps by the way, with 200m elevation gain – although fairs quite badly against 2053 steps to reach the top of KL Tower), steps that I recalled calling a ‘Fucking Furber’, and to the top of the cliffs, and straight into Scenic World, and to the finish line, and welcomed by a modest roar from the crowd.
It was 05:00 hours, and we were handed the unceremonious UTWT stamp (Oh crap, now I have to collect all the UTWT stamps for crying out loud!) Picked up the Finish Bag, along with my drop bag, and it was time for cold melons and hot soup.
I risk being bombarded in FB for being a nitpicking incompetent runner (not to mention unfit) when saying this, but I am a little disappointed at the condition we came back to. Sandwiches would help. Coke would definitely be great. Generally, the reward at the end surely lacks the festive mood what TNF Singapore offered, despite TNF Australia being more distinguished. I know, I know – this is just primarily my personal preference on choice of food. But I would imagine a warm towel would help to freshen up from the long cold night, a finisher tee would be a nice token, complimentary medals would have been great for runners to bite and post in their FB/IG (not me – I never do such things). O wait, perhaps it was simply because I came in so late the party has moved on. Or is it that all Ultras do not have a medal system? Sorry, I am still green…
Not particularly glorious, I hopped on the free bus, and headed back to the hotel and in similar manner post Mount Rinjani Ultra, I slept with all the dirt and stink that drove my wife out of the room.
So there you go, just an insight of what TNF Australia from a perspective of an Ultra beginner. Although looking back, I might have taken things waaaaayy to easily, and not running where I was supposed to. Even a sub-20 hour mark is actually very manageable. Perhaps a 2016 comeback?
For record, some of the apparent (some, foolishly enough – repetitive because I am not that kind to read my blog entries before races. I am just the kind to repeat the mistakes over and over again) mistakes are;
- Not getting enough rest. We have had a tight schedule in Sydney being good tourists hopping from one souvenir shop to another, and despite a quiet night glamping in Cockatoo, we arrived a little tired in Katoomba still flustered about registration, expo, dinner and other million things we thought important at the time. I’d highly recommend to arrive in Katoomba on Thursday prior, rest, walk around and sort all your drama.
- Not eating enough. Fair – we were in a foreign land and restricted to selected food. I was solely on multigrain loaf and nutella the entire week, with occasional fries I skimped off my wife’s Filet o’Fish. I have no cure for this except bringing my own pots and pasta sauce (by that, I meant sardines and chillies and tonnes of black pepper) but Australia is special that way to stop you at the airport, and confiscate my stash of frozen dinners. I think the next time I do this will be with my rice cooker and canned sardines.
- Not bringing my poles – well this is a no brainer since I invested on the Z-freaking-poles. Silly mistake!
- Not packing the right food. Even though the CPs are packed with food, I should have stashed ‘my’ food. I said this in previous entries so this is mind-boggling that I keep on not doing it. What on earth is wrong with me? Let’s see – peanut butter sandwiches, BigMacs, Coke, sausages… o crap! Now I know why those guys packed in whole turkeys in their dropbags!
There are also some areas, which seem to roll well;
- Shoes – 1.5 size bigger shoes. I need to stress here that a pair of size 14 trail shoes doesn’t come easy. No blister, no pain. Hopefully black toes will be an urban legend
- Hydration strategy, which is simply drinking to thirst kept any nasty pains at bay. And the pre-mixed Mixed Berry flavor pars well with asamboi water. Next experiment is to add chia seed
- Not letting negative thoughts on whatever things on the trails to mess with my head, and enjoy the run has allowed me to stop kicking myself in the butts on tackling punishing and monotonous trails. No point fighting the inevitable. Free mind, free… err, feet?
- RPM classes have so far helped to strengthen my legs, so that’ll stay for a while. The ‘Margie Mantra’ – ‘Don’t stop spinning until the party ends’ sometimes helped to push me through some relentless sections.
Now that I have claimed my Zero Week gloriously putting back the weight I lost walking vigorously around the parts of Australia we visited, and sitting comfortably in my sitting room after a hearty dinner, I looked back into the days I spent up the Blue Mountains. As much as I loathe the sometime monotonous trails, I can say now that it was not at all bad.
Really, not a bad experience at all. You just have to be there with the right frame of mind and stop beating around the bush. I’ll try very hard to remember that the next time I run in a ridiculously expensive race in foreign countries.