It’s that time of year when the weather has just snapped, it’s cold (in Australian terms) and that means The North Face 100 is back on the radar for its 6th version. For the first time in the race’s history, there will be a slight change in the course, meaning that instead of coming up Kedumba Pass and ploughing though the technical single-track towards the end of the race in the dark, runners will (depending on how quick you are), come from the opposite direction, flow down the Valley and back up the other side into the Jamieson Valley and up towards Katoomba for a finish.
Arguably, some say that the course will be harder as the last 15kms of the race is pretty much uphill, but it’s not an overly ‘tough’ climb in terms of gradient, sitting at around 10%. For the lead guys, this is runnable but still arduous. For the average runner, this will of course be a tough challenge and could arguably take longer, but the course is what it is. Overall, we think that it will potentially add around 15-20mins to the course time for the lead guys and gals, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens on the day.
So who’s in the mix? Well in keeping with our tradition (mainly) of focusing on females first – let’s dive straight into the ladies 100km race. Personally, I’m really excited by the ladies field this year. I think for the first time we have some real depth in the top 10 and four or five runners that could arguably take this race out. So who are they?
First up is Kiwi, Jo Johansen. Since winning the Tarawera 65km she’s been like a bolt out of the blue and strong as an ox. The Tarawera course is very similar to TNF with open fire trail roads and Jo seems to have the pace and the power to go hard and stay strong for the duration. I think this race will be a real test of where she’s against some quality runners.
With the advent of TNF100 becoming part of the UTWT, we’re seeing more elite international runners heading over to our shores, with four of those being Tina Lewis (US), Joelle Vaught (US), Claire Walton (UK) and Fernanda Maciel from Brazil. Starting with Fernanda, she’s had some great results over the last few years, including wins at Transgrancanaria 123 and Lavaredo Ultra Trail. There’s not many races where this lady doesn’t finish in the top five.
Tina Lewis is another big name from the US with plenty of wins under the belt. 2012 was a cracking year for her with three wins from five races, including Leadville Trail 100 Mile, Miwok 100k Trail race and Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 km. Last year she also won the The North Face 100 China too. Serious credentials and a podium place for sure.
Her compatriot from the US, Joelle Vaught is another perennial podium placer. In the last five years she’s run 29 ultras, winning over half of them (15). She’s unbeaten in 2014 with wins at the Hagg Lake Trail Runs 50K and the Wilson Creek Frozen 50K. As with Tina, would be surprised to see her off the podium or outside of the top 5.
Claire Walton is another lady on the rise, hailing from the UK. She finished second to Jo at Tarawera earlier this year, just 9 minutes behind and also has a very credible win at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M Endurance Run in 2012.
But what of our local ladies I hear you cry? Beth Cardelli is the big name in the list, having won this race for the last three years. Normally I’d have her pencilled in and be ready to take a picture at the finish line of her with the trophy she practically owns. But a withdrawal at the Buffalo Stampede due to injury means that she may not be 100% primed for this. That said, I could be totally off the mark. There’s no doubt she’ll be up there… just how far up we’ll have to see on race day.
Gill Fowler is another local lady that’s put together a string of cracking results this year, most recently winning the 60km at the La Sportiva Prom series held last weekend. Gill’s finest hour came at UTMB last year when she came sixth and we think the best performance by an Aussie in 2013. While Gill prefers longer, more technical trails, Gill is also going to be there or thereabouts. A notoriously strong finisher, watch out for her in the last 20kms or so ladies (and gents!)… she’ll be the one bounding up that hill in the Jamieson Valley!
Scores on the doors? We’re going for the two US ladies, Tina and Joelle, along with Kiwi Jo for the podium.
Now for the mens.
Like the ladies it’s a very strong field of runners, but we’ve narrowed down the selection to seven of the guys we think will be bashing it out against one another.
First up is American Jorge Maravilla, who comes to our shores as the American national 100km champ, winning the Bandera 100 km
Ultratrail – US Trail Championships earlier this year. He’s also a previous top ten finisher at Western States, along with a second place at TNF China last year too. He did appear to have a bad day at Transgrancanaria recently, finishing almost three hours behind Ryan Sandes that day, but who knows what happened, we all have bad days. Jorge is going to be a hard man to beat and he hasn’t come along here to make up the numbers, he’ll be here to win. But he will face some very stiff competition from some of the local boys.
One of the names I’m really excited to see back on the start list of TNF is Stu Gibson and you know what, I think he might take this out. Stu is unbeaten this year on the trails over the ultra distance and you have to take your hat off to his attempt to beat Andy Kromar’s long-standing Bogong to Hotham record. That record, along with Ben Artup’s Six Foot Track record are I believe, the two best ultra performances ever to have taken place on Aussie soil. For Stu to get within three minutes of a near 20-year old record shows you what kind of form he’s in right now. Along with Bogong, he also won the Cradle Mountain ultra and Maroondah Dam this year too. In the last four years, Stu’s run eleven ultras and finished in the top two of ten of them. If this he isn’t on the podium, I’ll eat my hat.
Next up are two young guns setting the Aussie trail scene alight. Ben Duffus (AUS) and Scott Hawker (AUS-based Kiwi), have both had some fantastic results recently. Ben recently tried to go toe to toe with Dakota at the inaugural Buffalo Stampede and ended up in the back of truck, but the fact is he tried hard, really hard. He’s got bags of talent and a good head on him (most of the time), finishing seventh in last year’s race, but since then, taking out the Surf Coast Century 100km in a new race record too (8:28). Ben had a slightly indifferent run-in to Buffalo, but hopefully he’s been able to fine-tune his preparation to come good for this race.
Scott Hawker has been by all accounts training the house down for this race, and he comes into it off some very respectable results. Most notably, the recent Hong Kong 100kms where he placed fifth in a very stacked and talented field, finishing in 10:18. Since then, he also placed fifth at the Tarawera ultra, again against a very good field that included the likes of Sage Canaday (winner), Vajin Armstrong, Michael Aish and Michael Wardian too.
Then of course, there’s our own Brendan Davies, the serial racer who never seems to stop. Last year I must admit to writing Brendan off a little due to the fact that he raced UTMF 3 weeks prior – then look what he went and did. Broke Kilian’s record. He’s done the same again this year, and I’d be a fool to write him off again, but with Western States around the corner, plus a tough 75kms in his legs from the Buffalo Stampede Ultra recently too, my mind boggles at how he keeps getting himself back up for this races, mentally more than physically. The fact is that you can’t write Brendan off, he’ll be right up there.
And now for a couple of dark horses, although one of them isn’t really a dark horse give he’s been on the TNF100 podium for the last two years, and that’s Andrew Tuckey. Andrew is a lovely guy who quietly goes about his business. He doesn’t run with the lead pack, instead taking it easy early on, before shooting his way through the field. If you’re looking at how to run a good race, this man does it and you won’t find anyone on race day quicker over the back half of the race than Andrew. He’s been slowly building for this, with solid performances at Six Foot Track and the recent Mount Solitary ultra. A tough one to call, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up there with Stu Gibson in the latter stages of the race.
Our final dark horse is Jono O’Loughlin. He typifies everything I like about ultra running. Hugely talented, not interested in sponsorship and drinks beer. A very grounded man, Jono made it his mission to run a sub ten TNF last year and did so with seconds to spare finishing fifth. He won’t win the race, but he’ll be right up there and another top five placing isn’t out of the question. He’s also one of a very few select individuals to have run every single version of TNF100 since it started six years ago. To say he knows the course is an understatement. He plays himself down, but word on the vine is that he’s in good shape and raring to go. If you’re looking for him at the finish, he’s the one with a beer in each hand 🙂
A few other guys to keep an eye on include Andy Lee, Matt Dore, Amadeus Gladbach (5th at Buffalo), Sam Maffett, Paul O’Connor from Ireland, Kiwis Gregg Porter and Dave Heatley, along with Frenchman Quentin Stephan.
But who’s going to win? We’re going to plump for Stu Gibson, followed by Jorge Maravilla and then Andrew Tuckey.
That concludes our preview. As always, the usual disclaimers apply in that we base this article on the information given to us at the time of writing. We know that there will be late entrants to the race, or people moving between distances, so please don’t scream blue murder because your friend isn’t included 🙂 We write based on what we’re given at the time.