Is it a marathon, is it an ultra? The race director tells us that it’s around 43kms in distance, but unlike our road counterparts who measure the millimetres of their nether regions, as ultra runners we couldn’t really careless. Foremost on our mind is how much climbing is there and how tough is it? The answer to both we think is ‘very’, given the reports we heard last year. This race has a bit of everything. Marcus from Ultra168 has spent a fair bit of time out on the course as he preps for Western States in a few weeks. He also did his trail service out there as part of the requirements for WSER100 as well and the word he used was ‘epic’.
‘Epic’ is just one of the reasons why we’re previewing this race this year. The other major factor is the great field lined up, as it contains quite a few top-end runner ultra runners all gunning for a hit at the pecking order following TNF100. Following his performance at TNF100, Brendan Davies is the man to beat. It used to be that everyone would pin a target on Ryan Sandes back and aim to chase. Brendan threw all of that out of the window a few weekend’s ago with his blistering course record. All of a sudden, he’s the man of the moment and he’ll have a group of eager beaver runners all vying to take his title from him.
So who’s in the mix. There’s a very hearty men’s field, but to be honest as we usually like to, let’s start with the ladies. The big news rolling out of Newnes is that kiwi pocket rocket Ruby Muir is in town.
It’s great to have someone of Ruby’s talent on show over here in ‘stralia. She’s had an amazing year to date, taking all before her and if I’m correct, I don’t think she’s lost a race yet. We know that her fellow Kiwi’s hold her in high regard and really there isn’t much more to say other than it’s going to be very interesting to see how she fairs over the coming years with some racing in Europe and hopefully beyond. You only have to look at her 100km time at Tarawera to think about the possible damage she could do at races like UTMB and WSER100. That’s all hypothetical for sure, but there’s no denying her talent and while we don’t want to make a big thing of it as the ladies race is a race in its own right, it’s hard not to turn a thought at how far up the men’s field she’ll finish too. Quite simply, she’s a top athlete in her own right and comparisons will always be made, but let’s leave all that behind for now and focus on who’ll be gunning to make Ruby sweat a little in the ladies field.
As we saw with Ryan Sandes at TNF100 a few weeks ago, anything can happen in racing, so it would be wrong of us to assume that Ruby’s going to walk away with this one. She’s got some stiff competition with the likes of Shona Stephenson, Gretel Fortmann and Angela Bateup all making a showing next weekend. All three ladies have the potential to give Ruby a real run for her money in this one. Angela just keeps on keeping on and produces classy performances year in year out at the likes of TNF100 and Six Foot Track too. Shona too managed a very worthy PB in her latest North Face 100 and is very likely to feature in the top three. (UPDATE – Shona has pulled from the race). Then there’s the lovely Gretel, always there or thereabouts and hopefully recovered from an achilles injury that saw her pull out of UTMF recently. There will be some quality racing up front in the ladies that’s for sure.
So who’s in the mix in the men’s line-up?
While everyone is chatting about Brendan (how the hell does he do it?!?!?!), there’s a few other names that are sure to be right up there. The one we’re thinking for the win is Tony Fattorini. The gossip-mongers deep in the mountains tell me that ‘Fats’ as he’s known is beating down the doors for this one and is in great nick. To be fair, he’s always in great nick and a Glow Worm / Six Foot Track double would make for a very nice first half of year for the Sydney Strider who just seems to keep on performing.
Brendan will be a hard one to call. We called it wrong at North Face and couldn’t possibly see how he was going to back that one up so well, so we’ll leave the judgement out for now and simply say that ‘anything could happen’. The other guys also going gunning for another big performance post TNF100 include the ever-relaxed Mick Donges and Mr. Blue Mountains Man himself, Andy Lee. When both are on form, both are shoe-ins for a podium.
However there is one other name on the starters list that catches the eye and that is a certain Ben Artup, or more commonly known as Mr. SleepTrain. I’ve never chatted to Ben in ‘real-life’, but his name as far as I’m concerned is the stuff of legends. When I first moved to Australia in 2007, I distinctly remember looking at the race records of Six Foot Track and was utterly flabbergasted that anyone could run that race in the time that Ben has done on that hallowed turf. For years I didn’t even know his name, he was simply this guy who would just Sleeps and Trains. He was this mythical legend in my eyes, and I do hope to have a proper sit down and chat with him sometime soon. I hear all sorts of stories about these training runs and three peaks challenges across the wilderness of the Blue Mountains and I’m fascinated to know more. I am thoroughly of the belief that his Six Foot track record and Andy Kromar’s Bogong to Hotham are the two best performances in Australian ultras.
I can also relate to Ben in another way as we are both the proud owners of twins (boys in his case, girls in mine). It’s fair to say that Ben has been off the radar somewhat since their birth and so he should be. I feel his pain in terms of how hard it can be to balance training and family. Quite simply, family will always take priority but word on the vine is that Mr. SleepTrain is coming back to some kind of form. But as he pointed out to me over email last week, this is his first marathon in over two years, so let’s not get carried away just yet and see what this coming weekend brings and enjoy it for what it is. I know one thing’s for sure, to have Ben back in form and raring to go at the start line of next year’s Six Foot track will be a joy to see.
Scores on the doors?
Fats for the win in the mens and Ruby for the ladies. Enjoy the trails guys and girls and have a great race.