A few days ago we featured Ryan Sandes and Mick Donges, two Salomon team mates going head to head on Saturday. This time it’s the turn of UK and North Face athlete, Jez Bragg and local 100km road sensation, Brendan Davies. We’ve been lucky enough to catch-up with the two guys this week to get their thoughts on the race and also give you some more information on Jez, who is probably not that well-known to Australian audiences.
Jez is no stranger to the international ultra scene, with a fourth place at last year’s Western States and a previous winner of UTMB. He’s full of pedigree and has the speed on the road too with a sub 7 hour 100km to his name, similar in time to our local Aussie boy Brendan.
We caught up with Jez this afternoon and asked him for his thoughts for the race on Saturday as well as posing a few of the questions our readers wanted to know. You might be surprised to know that Jez still works pretty much full-time, running his own chartered surveying business back in the UK and combining it with around 25 hours of training a week – a far cry from the Kilian’s of this world!
He trains big too, regularly knocking up 60-70km training runs at the weekend, and then a casual 40km on a Wednesday afternoon if the luxury affords him. Having just won the Fellsman race back in the UK for the third time, it seems that the early pre-season injury that saw him out for three months is behind him and he’s in top form ahead of Saturday.
How did you start running?
I used to play rugby at school, which carried over to university, but I found myself doing more and more running. I decided to give a marathon a crack and from there found a love of trails and racing. I guess I got good at it, joining the North Face global team and I’m lucky enough to be able to travel the world and compete in some of the best races in our sport.
You’re from a fell running background in the UK, and we’re seeing some strong UK runners coming to the fore now.
Is the scene a good grounding for UK athletes to do well abroad?
Certainly, you’ve got the likes of Lizzy Hawker and Andy Symonds (finished 2nd place to Dakota Jones at Transvulcania) showing that they’re world-class athletes. You have to deal with pretty tough conditions in many of the UK races. The mud, rain and cold is something of a norm for us, so I guess it provides you with a certain toughness for the races abroad, which tend to have much better conditions that we have in the UK.
How’s your lead-up been to this race?
The start of the year saw me out injured for three months, but in some respects that has given me a chance to rest the body ahead of what will be another fantastic year of racing. I recently won the Fellsman (61 mile / 100km) race back in the UK for the third time, which has given me great confidence ahead of this race. Although it was a slower time than previously, the weather was pretty atrocious for us all, so overall it was a pleasing win. I feel it has set me up nicely for the North Face 100, and the later on Western States and UTMB.
What’s your favourite race?
That would have to be Western States. There’s a certain heritage and feeling that you get when you’re over there that’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t run it. I think they have more volunteers than they do runners(!) and you’re made to feel very special. You’ll get into a checkpoint and someone will be there to get you water, or even give your quads a rub down – it’s a pretty amazing experience to be a part of. I’m heading back this year for another crack and can’t wait to get over and hopefully run the proper course this year!
Just touching on Western States and some of the other US races.
Do you think that they need to change in order to maintain their position as some of the leading global ultra races with the rise in Europe?
It’s hard to tell. They do put on a mean race, and there is so much history associated with those runs that they’re not just going to change if someone asks them too – in fact they’re more likely to dig their heels in the ground. That said, there are a number of races in the US that are showing what you’d call more European like models and offering cash prizes. It’s going to be an interesting next few years that’s for sure.
What do you eat during ultras?
I tend to be more of a real food man. It’s mainly gels for much of the race, bu I’m lucky to have a bit of a cast-iron stomach for this type of thing, so will hit the flapjacks and noodles for the longer runs.
Now it’s the turn of local boy Brendan Davies, the man who’s had a storming start to 2012. Many of us were in awe of his recent performance at the 100km World Championships in Italy, knocking off that elusive sub 7 hour finish and 11th place overall. Brendan has made huge strides in the last few years and we see him as a real threat to the international talent that’s headed our way. Brendan shares his thoughts with us too ahead of Saturday
How has your training and prep been post the 100km world champs?
With TNF only one month after the World Champs, it was important that I jumped straight into active recovery mode. I gave myself about half a week to eat like crazy and do some very easy running. Since then it’s just been steady running with the mantra of nothing long or nothing intense. I feel my endurance is where it should be so no need to work on that too much so 30K is the longest I’ve done. In the last week or so I’ve introduced a few more tempo and interval training sessions to build the cadence up, a couple of shorter sessions on hills too. This week it’s short and sharp on the treadmill and then 3-4 days of taper. It’s like a traditional build up to a big race but compacted down into a month or so.
Are you in the best shape of your life right now? Your training prior to the World Champs was phenomenal!
I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve been for road ultra running and I definitely feel my endurance base and stamina is great as a result. It was a very long and consistent block of training and racing leading up to the World Champs, but 6:55 on the road does not necessarily mean a quick 100k in the Blue Mountains! TNF100 is up and down all day and I haven’t trained very specifically for it so we shall see how it goes.
How far do you think Aussie ultra and trail running has come in the last year?
There is no doubt there’s a global movement towards greater participation in trail and ultra running and Australians have jumped right on this wave. Races are more frequent and are beginning to get some big name sponsors. The general exposure of trail and ultra running is phenomenal thanks to sites like www.ultra168.com and Trail Run Mag. On the running side of things, a lot of young runners are seeing ultra and trails as a path to follow instead of the traditional road or track. There is much greater depth in races too. Only five years ago ultras were seen as a very ‘underground’ scene. I wouldn’t say it’s in the mainstream yet but definitely the average citizen has some awareness of ultra running.
Do you have any specific plans for the race in terms of tactics?
Standard formula of building up into the race and pulling in the guys in front as the day wears on. I really want to run the entirety of the course this year (apart from the unrunnable bits on Iron Pot and Nellies). No time goal, there’s no point. Pacing yourself by the watch is near impossible on a course of this nature. So I will run by feel and back myself at the tail end of the race to finish strong and the time and place will look after itself.
Who do you see as the main contenders for the race on Saturday?
The internationals are the main contenders. The standouts are obviously Jez Bragg and Ryan Sandes. You don’t fluke winning UTMB or Leadville 100 and they should dominate this event with a 1-2 finish but in what order I don’t know. In the ‘race within the race’ of first Aussie home, well there is a mob of about 10 blokes all capable of that. In the women’s, Julie Quinn deserves favouritism but look out and Beth Cardelli.
Where do you see the sport in five years or so here in Australia? Perhaps our own Sky Running event like we’ve seen in Transvulcania?
I think we will see participation rates continue to rise, with more and more weekend warriors getting out and having a go. This may eventually lead to some of the younger rising stars being taken on as professional athletes with the big corporate teams. As far as races with some of the big racing circuits, it would take some massive investment in the sport here, to bring it more into the mainstream in order to entice big company’s over to our shores. I think what we will see is a greater number of events too, but these will still be geared towards all and not just the top end athletes like Transvulcania. Event saturation could be a concern in the future though.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
It’s already shaping as a huge year, sometimes I have to remind myself I have a full-time job and it’s not running! I would really like to get my road marathon time under 2:30 this year. I think I could retire from running marathons satisfied with that one! I have a few No Roads team commitments such as the Kokoda Challenge and Sydney Trailwalker. If my body has not crashed on me by November I may have a crack at a 100 miler.
Any advice for those having their first crack at the 100km distance on Saturday?
Talk to people, make friends and enjoy the journey together! Practically, if you are planning on being out in the night, don’t be light on with the warm gear. It’s been bloody cold up here at night this week and it won’t be any different on Saturday!
Thanks both to Jez and Brendan for their time and sharing their views. We wish them both the best of luck on Saturday, along with everyone else competing.