TNF100 Wrap: “Iron Pot-Gate”

Another year and yet more excitement to throw into the mix at TNF100. Last year we had “Sprint-Gate”, where Stu Gibson smashed ahead of Andrew Tuckey in the final throws of the race. This year, we have “Iron Pot-Gate”. For those not in the know, four lead runners missed the iron pot out and back and were handed a 15 minute time penalty as a result. One of those was eventual winner, Dylan Bowman who beat second placed runner, Scott Hawker (who ran the full course) by just six minutes at the end. It all made for an interesting outcome and obviously a bit of debate post race.

There are probably people who would rather not debate this and keep the warm fuzzy glow. Yes it was a blip, but a blip that actually had a major impact on the result of a major global race. Things can be learnt from it.

This is key. Without debate, we never learn. There are no hidden interests on my part and I’m not a paid mouthpiece for anyone. This situation will occur again at some point and by having debate, we can learn and inform future decisions.

Li Dong crossing the line on Saturday in 11:05
Li Dong crossing the line on Saturday in 11:05

Outstanding performances

First up, congratulations to both Dylan Bowman and Li Dong. Dylan in particular is taking the UTWT by storm, with two wins down under now and one wonders whether he can go a few steps further at WSER100 in six weeks time and improve upon this third place from last year. This race will certainly have prepped him for that, both mentally and physically. Reports from the course said he red-lined the last seven kms, probably to see how hard and far he can go. That will put him in good stead for a shot at the big dance and a shot at the overall title for UTWT. He’s a phenomenal athlete with pace to burn and he knows ow to hurt.

Li Dong is a little Chinese pocket rocket who’s showing class across a number of results this year, including a second at the HK100. It would have been awesome to see her and Beth Cardelli go head to head in this race. It would have been very very close between them. Li is a bit of a rising star among the Chinese ultra running ranks.

For all concerned, the pace up front was hot. Both Jono O’Loughlin and Francois D’haene commenting just how quickly the leading group were traveling, with both fading somewhat in the final quarter of the race.

Dylan ran a smoking time of 8:50
Dylan ran a smoking time of 8:50

But one guy from down under really stood out and that was Blue Mountains-based Kiwi, Scott Hawker. I must admit that after a slightly indifferent run at The Hillary, I kind of wrote him off a little for this one. I didn’t think he’d have the pace to duke it out with the likes of Dylan Bowman, who is renound as a speedster. But my word did he prove me wrong big time and I’m glad he did.

After the Ultra Easy, I commented that we’ll see big things from this fella this year and he’s proving that right. This is a world class result against some world class athletes. Well done Scotty. People may claim that this course was slightly easier that previous years because of some of the changes, but to run sub 9 hrs is pretty darn good and to be within just six minutes of Dylan is massive. Scott has just proven himself to be on the same level as these guys and someone who can mix it with the best. He was always a good runner, this result has just pushed him onto the global stage as someone who can really compete for prizes.

On another note, it was sad to see Andrew Tuckey succumb to his first DNF. But I don’t think this is a bad thing for Tucks. Be it injury, stomach or simply his head having a big fuzz, this kind of stuff you learn from – he’ll be extra special focused now for WSER100. In some respects, I think this will do him a world of good.

It was good also to see Shona Stephenson back on the podium. She had a mixed result here last year and has been a little up and down with results of late, but today’s run was solid. Nice work.

The Iron Pot saga

The first thing to note is that the course is well marked, runners carry maps and detailed directions too. There is a marshal stationed at the point at which the runners took the wrong turn. But were the runners simply ‘in the zone’? It’s impossible to tell, but it’s certainly possible to be in such a state of concentration that you could miss it. I get that, I’ve been there and missed some shocking turns on the GNW course. When you’re that focused on placing one foot in front of the other in a 100km race, your thinking and judgement is impaired.

But there are some big questions. Should the runners have been DQ’ed? Should they have been made to run back to the point at which they hadn’t run? Was a time penalty appropriate? Was it too long or too short? What level of accountability should runners have given the information available to them?

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This is not for me to answer. It is up to the discretion of the race director. I guess for TNF100, there are considerations as part of being a major tour series – more on that later. After all, livelihoods and people’s pay days are at stake here, runners have travelled thousands of miles to race and be away from their families. To DQ a big named international runner is a big call. But there are also local guys who have trained their nuts off and placed every ounce of focus on this race for months to test themselves against the best. Who wants to rock the apple cart? Remember the flack at Speed Goat a few years ago when Kilian cut the switchbacks? A big call was made then too.

But a decision has been made in the heat of the battle. It’s a tough call to make for a race director, one that is part of a major global race series with many eyes facing down under. But the decision is final. We can and should debate it, but we should respect it.

Ultimately, the race is the loser

We’ll never know the real outcome as not all variables were equal at the end of the race. Scott will feel disappointed as he ran the whole course. Dylan will feel disappointed because of the time penalty, and just how long that time penalty should have been.

If everyone is satisfied that they did everything right and in the best interests of everyone concerned, then we’re all good. But if there’s any lingering doubt, then morally it’s up to the individual to decide what they do.

Global eyes on local races

As someone sitting at home watching and reporting on a computer screen instead of actually being there racing or reporting in some way for the first time in seven years, from the outside, you can see the added level of professionalism that goes hand in hand with this race as part of a big global series of races.

A few weeks ago, I posed a question… UTWT or Skyrunning? Who cares? It was posed for a reason. Not to be facetious or to be negative. It was a genuine question to see what impact these organisations are having on some of our big local races and what runners thought. Most runners are probably a little too far removed from the process, which was reflected in the blase attitude of most when it came to asking the question. The entire point of that article was to articulate that, and to show that there is still more work to do around the recognition and investment the organisations are making in our local races. That point flew over the heads of some I suspect.

You can see the extra levels of professionalism coming into the organisation of races such as TNF100 and Buffalo Stampede in particular. There are a certain standards expected and now being delivered to the runner who as part of paying their (very high) entry fee, want an experience that they can’t elsewhere. The razzmatazz, the pumping music, up-to-the-second timing and tracking of runners (when it works) and great pictures to place on the desk at work.

On the flip side however comes a whole new level of bureaucracy and rules that impact our local races.

 

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Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

7 thoughts on “TNF100 Wrap: “Iron Pot-Gate”

  1. What was the marshal doing, sleeping? Couldn’t he yell out to them and send them the right way? When the officials stuff up the athletes should not be punished with a DQ. Remember poor Jez Bragg and the sign that was changed? Not his fault but he was severely penalised over an official stuff up in this race. Maybe going off course is common in ultras but it is the fault of the organisers and they should make sure it doesn’t happen again.
    The time penalty looked appropriate when you consider the 3 guys were behind out of the checkpoint after their nice rest.

    1. I was at the prize giving where it was explained how they came up with the time penalty. I’m sure it was also mentioned that the marshal was not in the correct position to yell out or direct the first group of runners, so in that case a DQ would have been to harsh.

      I have no issue with the time penalty but I do wonder about doing that in the middle of the race. The 4 athletes had time to regroup, refuel etc and then run on. Maybe in the future if it happens again would be to let them run on, impose the time penalty on their final time and advise say the top ten runners as they come through the checkpoints that the lead bunch has that time penalty.

      Either way it is the most awesome event, and to me it is unbelievable how the elite guys/gals can cover that distance in that time.

  2. its a tough call, I have heard that the Marshall was not at the check point, but the course is well marked, and its pretty clear on the course description and the map that “iron pot ridge” has an out and back. it probably would have been fairer to let the race continue and deduct the time penalty at the end, it was an advantage to them to have an enforced pitstop. they had an opportunity to rest and refuel , then charge up Nellies Glen fresh. this debate will go on for a while , Dylan probably would have won, but it would have give The RD more time to think about the penalty and deal with it rather than making a decision that can’t be changed

  3. Thanks for the article and kind words. I will state for the record that there was not a marshal and we followed a very clearly marked trail at an intersection. To us, it was not even a question as to which was the right way to go. It’s a damn shame and a sad coincidence that there were no Aussies in our group at that exact moment (we were all together at the checkpoint just a couple Ks earlier). Andy Tuckey told me after the race that even he did a double take at the intersection and was confused by the lack of marking in the right direction. I wish I could have run that section of trail as I heard there was a didgeridoo player out there which is a talent that’s always fascinated me.

    Tom said we had a :30sec gap on the group behind us at that point and it took them just under 8mins to complete that section of trail. We were stopped at CP3 for 15 minutes meaning we essentially took a 7min time penalty for the unintentional mistake. I then beat Scott by 6mins, which means I ran the last 55k a full 13mins faster than him. No disrespect to Scott – he had an amazing run – these are just the facts.

    To the point that it was an advantage to have a forced rest, I respectfully disagree. We would have much rather run a 1.3k section of trail that takes 8mins than stand around for 15mins. Ask any runner near the front of the race and I’m confident they’ll tell you the same. At the CP3, I volunteered to Tom to turn around and make up the distance then and there. There is no question in my mind that I would have run several minutes faster on the day had I run the Iron Pot 1.3k.

    It was a tough situation for the organization but these things happen in trail races. It really saddens me that there is now controversy around the legitimacy of my victory on what was one of my best races ever. At the TNF50 mile championship in 2012, a similar situation happened where I was on the wrong end of the same decision. I’m quite confident that, if the shoe was on the other foot, Scott would not have wanted to be DQed or been happy if I protested his race result as he did mine. In my opinion, the official results are a fair representation of who had the strongest races on Saturday. I understand if the Aussie crowd wants to see their guy win on his home course, but I did not cheat the race or my fellow competitors. I just wanted to communicate that myself as I have a lot of respect for this website and the guys I raced over the weekend.

    Again, thanks for the article and for having me down under! I’ve really enjoyed connecting with the Aus/NZ ultra community this year and have had nothing but good vibes up until the protest on Sunday. Still I’ve gone home with a positive experience, a deeper appreciation of our sport, and a victory that I’m quite proud of. Hope you can understand my point of view.

    Cheers.

    1. Hey Dylan, thanks ever so much for commenting on the article. It’s quite pretty humbling that you’ve taken the time to read and then add such a detailed comment. I hope that you can see that the point of this article is that we wanted to bring some debate to this matter, not to point any fingers. That doesn’t help anyone, nor does it set the right tone. I’ve always said that what I want from this article was a chance for people to hopefully learn from what has happened and so it could help inform any future decisions, should it occur again. It was great having you in Australia (and New Zealand)… best of luck with WSER100 in a few weeks time… we’ll be following you with eager anticipation, and I know many Australian runners will be gunning for you to win. Thanks again, Dan – Ultra168

  4. Posted last night from iPhone, not sure why it didn’t upload, so here goes again from memory, sorry if it duplicates.

    I have seen it posted elsewhere that ‘things have gone soft if runners are not responsible for their own navigation’ and I ask the rhetorical question…What are the ‘rules’ regarding this, and is that an expectation of trail runners?
    Of course not. Trail running is still ‘trail running’, a subset of running and athletics in general and hasn’t changed in the 38 years since I first ran one, and despite varying degrees of ‘technicality’ and distance, it is still a a running competition.
    If we want runners to carry their own maps and navigation then there is already a sport for that; Orienteering and its various offshoots, but those that deem the navigation as part of the toughness are trying to redefine the sport away from the pure physical running talent and preparation. On average, by and large , the better runners will do better at the trails.

    It is quite possible that , of late anyway (and down under in particular), the sport has regrown in popularity out of ‘fat ass’ versions, where of course you BYO your own race facilities around the basic framework of a course.
    Now that it has gained in popularity and commercialisation ,with steep entry fees, there is no question in this long term (former?) RD’s mind that the participants are there to race each other over the same course and it is not a test of map reading and navigation. The only difference from track or road is the surface and environment.
    [….and before we ask, yes it continues to bug me that Marty Dent suffered in 2014 6ft due to our assumptions around markings, in particular that if our growth was of such a nature that we want to attract the best of the best , then we have to be more pedantic. In defence however, 6ft was not ‘commercial’ and an unpaid job for all.]

    This takes me to the rest of points about the course distance itself, the necessity for confusing ‘dog legs’, the time penalty and the fairness of ‘win’.

    Dealing with the last first, it is clear ( by far actually) that the best runner on day won, the time penalty was more than appropriate and in fact too punitive for an organisational slip up (there seems to be agreement that the markings and marshaling was inadequate). There is nothing to be gained for a runner of that level to sit around for 15min instead of running the 1.3km in 8min. Let’s get that out of the way.

    The pedantic requirement to put in dog legs and out and backs simply to ‘make up distance’ (my assumption that it wasn’t for the view) in a code of running where the performance comparisons are irrelevant for the ‘same distance’ races – and where accurate distance is hard to measure anyway- is simply an invite for what happened here and has happened in other races. Who would have cared, and how would it have affected the outcome, had the race been 98.7km or perhaps 100.9km had a better diversion been contemplated? We know that the performance outcome is more related to the degree of course difficulty, so why be anal about the distance?

    It is great to see the response from the winner, and the perspective he put on it. I am in full agreement. If a big event (with unarguably the most resources compared to others in this region) has slipped up, then there is much work to be done by the rest for the sport to get the recognition it deserves. By ‘much work’ , it is not a question of what is actually provided, but what is accepted by organisers in terms of runner vs organiser responsibility.

    cheers

  5. As a middle of the pack first time runner, it took me 15 minutes to do the turnaround, and that was in traffic, with a walk and a shout out when passing both dig players and the percussion guy. So a 15 minute time penalty for the top guys was more than adequate. I think it would have been much more controversial had Dylan lost by only a few minutes.

    Can someone show me the shortcut up Nellies or Furber? I’ll gladly take the time penalty 🙂

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