Now in its sixth edition, The North Face 100 has become a well-recognised event in the world of ultra-running. The great thing about this race is that it started in the right place at the right time and over a number of years has evolved into one of the pedigree races that people want to do. Why? Quite simply because it attracts quality runners and talent.
The thing that happened to this race that hasn’t happened to others is that genuine global superstars of international running make the effort to come over to Australia and race. This in turn encourages our local talent to turn up and fuels the desire to have a crack against the big boys of international running.
Two years ago, Kilian and crew smashed all before them – it was never a contest. But this creates the desire to train harder and perform better, and as a result we now find ourselves with a starting list to drool over. There’s a reason why we’ve called out the talk of the sub 10s, and that’s simply because we have a number of runners on the list that have the potential to run sub ten. We’ve heard a lot of talk over the last few weeks, the proof will be in the pudding come 3:59pm Saturday to see how many of those touting a sub 10 will make it over the line.
Let’s put things into perspective, don’t for one minute underestimate just how hard it is to go sub 10 on this course. Many (including myself) have in the past taken too many cookies out of the jar early on. While there are miles of open fire trail and ‘flat’ running, there are some serious climbs that test those legs, not to mention the killer decent into the Jamieson Valley. But the exciting thing is the potential of our local Australian and New Zealand runners as they bid to give Ryan Sandes a run for his money for as long as they can.
Let’s be honest here, Ryan is going to win, and he will do so, probably by at least 20-30 minutes. But there are a few guys up front who are going to make him work for it a little longer than checkpoint 3 at Old Ford Reserve. There are a group of runners who’ve been bubbling with potential now for the last 2-3 years, and it seems as though it’s finally coming together for Australian and New Zealand ultra-distance running. The massive strides made by Vajin Armstrong and Brendan Davies at home and abroad have not gone unnoticed as they seek to forever close the gap.
The gap is still there, but it’s getting smaller and smaller as each year goes by. Brendan and Vajin have spurred each other on well over the last few years and this healthy competition has seen their times drop. Ryan will be using this race as valuable prep for Western States, but unlike last year where he ran the first half pretty hard and eased off somewhat in the last 46kms, we think Vajin and Brendan will be pushing him for a little longer this time round. One thing’s for sure, I personally can’t wait to be at the aquatic centre to see how it unfolds and who can maintain the pace.
So who are the contenders? Typically, we usually start with the females so as to ensure they get their rightful mentions in a sport dominated by males, but we’re going to break from tradition this time round if you’ll forgive us just this once.
We’ve called Ryan as the winner, but how does the podium look? We could honestly say, “take your pick!” as there are a good 7-8 names that given a good day out on the trails could claim their spot there, so let’s look at them in a bit more detail.
The obvious starting place is Vajin Armstrong. His form has been superb thus far with a fantastic 3rd place at the Tarawera 100 back in March where he really pulled out all of the stops to finish behind world-class runners like Sage Canaday and Timmy Olson. In the lead-up to that, Vajin was putting in some serious training (200km+ weeks), and is known for his very strong training ethic, add to the fact that he’s an extremely nice guy and he has a winning combination. He’s moved up a gear this year for sure and although there was 30 minutes difference between him and Ryan last year, our sources suggest that we expect him to be pushing closer to the 9:3x time in this year’s edition.
Then there’s the Aussie trio of Andy Lee, Andrew Tuckey and Brendan Davies. Quite simply Andy Lee is Mr. North Face 100 and trains his rear end off each year to take the line honours. Our sources up in the Blue Mountains report that 2 time winner Andy is in great form and is in shape to be pushing there or thereabouts his records from previous years. One thing we do know about Andy is that he wears his heart on his sleeve and pushes himself to the brink. Serious challenger and remember he is one who can already claim a sub 10 time – Been there done that.
Andrew Tuckey’s run was perhaps the run of last year’s race given it was his debut performance over this distance. A year on and a sabbatical from work and it’s likely that we’ll see him better this time for sure. Always a hard one to call, but we certainly expect Andrew to be in the sub 9:45 camp if he’s well-trained and primed for this race.
And lastly, the showman of Australian trail running for the last 6-12 months, Brendan Davies. Like Vajin, he put everything into the Tarawera 100 and gained a brilliant 4th place, finishing just nine minutes behind his Kiwi friend. But that was merely a taster for things to come as Brendan ran what we thought was his finest race against some serious mountain men over in Japan at UTMF just a few weeks ago. The picture below tells you everything you need to know about the effort he put into that race. The only question we have is whether that took too much out of him to mount a serious challenge for the podium this year. Brendan races a lot and always seems to bounce back very well though – so we thought rather than leave it to chance, why not ask him? Here’s what he had to say…
“I feel fantastic and am rearing to go. I am the strongest, fittest and fastest I’ve ever been and will be giving the race a red hot go. Yes I did run a 100 mile/9000m gain race only 3 weeks ago, but I refuse to and will never use that as an excuse for inferior performance. Throughout my career, I’ve consistently raced probably more than anyone on the scene and my results prove that I perform well having done this. Last year for example, I ran 10:02 at TNF 4 weeks after the World 100k Champs. If that is a guide, then coming into TNF after UTMF should only, in my opinion, prepare me mentally and physically much more.
“That race was very difficult and finishing that so strongly gave me a lot of benefits coming into TNF. Yes, the common view is that I couldn’t be recovered from such an arduous race three weeks later. I won’t go as far as to refute that but I will say that if anyone knows how to consistently back up race after race and still perform at their peak it is me. On form then 9:40 is what I’ll be aiming for, with running the way I currently am and good race execution, it should be on. Sub 9:50 is the B goal, with a course PB my C goal. I know I am a much different runner from last year so have set myself these targets. Whatever place that gets me is always just the bonus.
“If Ryan uses this run as an A race and smokes the field like he did last year from the front then it’s his race. I don’t see anyone that I’m familiar with, being the Aussie guys that I know of and Vajin being able to stick with him. But I believe that a whole stack of guys like myself, Tucks, Jono, Mick have continued to improve since last year and will be much closer to him ready to pounce if he falters. On the other hand, no doubt Ryan has also continued to grow as an ultra runner and could literally run away from the field and smash the course record to smithereens. He would certainly be the only guy in the field that you could confidently pick to do this, no disrespect intended to any other fellow competitors.”
So there you have it, Brendan holds some very similar views to us and he makes a very interesting point about the continual improvements some of the local guys are making, something which we’ll come onto further down the article.
Another serious overseas sub 10 contender is Jeremy Ritcey from Hong Kong. Jeremy has had a string of excellent results over the last 12 months and raced against Ryan at last year’s HK100 with a time of 10:20 – where some say that course is tougher than TNF100. According to our people in the know in Hong Kong, Jeremy ‘eats hills for breakfast’ – however he unfortunately pulled from UTMF recently with ITB issues we believe. Whether he’s recovered in time for TNF we’ll have to see, but the potential is certainly there.
Another guy that could be there or thereabouts is Jono O’Loughlin. Jono is a good friend of mine and training partner (when he’s feeling slow!), and the potential of this guy is unreal. If you knew his Vo2 max, you’d fall off your chair. Potential however is nothing if the training isn’t realised, but man has this guy thrown the gauntlet down this year in training. I’ve never seen anyone hurt himself as much as he does, but a recent injury could leave his challenge in serious doubt this year. We’ll have to see just how bad it is on the day, but if it’s as bad as he said, he could be just out there for the ride and to celebrate his sixth finish.
There’s a few of the gun runners named and shamed, but after that, this is where it gets interesting and where we have a bunch of runners who on paper and on a good day have the potential to go sub 10 too. For some, it’s their first foray into the 100km distance, but their form over the shorter stuff suggests that sub ten could be within their reach – for those in the know, keep an eye on Ben Duffus, Rob Walter and Sam Walker. For others, they’ve been around the traps for sometime now and are really putting their heads above the parapet to suggest that sub 10 is within their grasp, here’s looking at you Mr. Donges and Mr. Wight. Again, racing over this type of distance is very hard to call unless you know each of these guys on a personal level, so you can only go off what you hear from around the traps, but take a look at the list below and see if that doesn’t get your mouth-watering at the prospect of any number of these guys giving the magic ten a smash.
We won’t go into too much detail (otherwise we’ll be here all day), but suffice to say, anyone of these guys on their day could knock up a potential podium finish if all goes well.
- Chris Wight
- Sam Walker
- Ian Gallagher
- Timo Meyer
- Grant Guise
- Mick Donges
- Rob Walter
- Ben Duffas
- Mark Green
- Chris Truscott
- Matty Abel
- Jim Villiers
But enough of the men, what about the ladies we hear you cry? Well the big news to hit us this week was the news that Kami Semick has pulled from the race with injury. This now leaves the door wide open for a number of Aussie and Kiwi ladies to lay claim to the crown.
In the battle of the locals, there’s going to be a real ding-dong between quite a few of the following ladies, namely Beth Cardelli, Gill Fowler and Julie Quinn. Also in the mix at a local level, but likely to be around the 12hr+ mark-ish will be Joanna Kruk, Jess Baker, Mandy Lee Noble, Michelle McAdam, Steph Gaskell, and finally international runner, Hiroko Suzuki from Japan.
As with the guys, it’s impossible for us to go into depth into every runner, so forgive us if we focus on who we believe will be fighting it out for top spot. Word on the vine from the lower reaches of the Central Coast has us believe that current champ, Beth Cardelli has been training very hard for this race before she heads over for a summer in Europe and SkyRunning beckons. We’ve heard that Beth is gunning for a sub 11 this time round, which will place her firmly in the top 20-30 runners and we think overall female winner.
Don’t write of a lady of the calibre of Julie Quinn however. She’s finished in the top 2 for the last 4 years running and there’s no way in hell she’s going to be knocked of a top 2 placing without a decent fight.
And then there’s Gill Fowler, the current women’s record holder at the GNW 100 miler and another runner who’s come on leaps and bounds over the last year or so. The top four ladies are all going to be within a hairs breadth of each other we feel and to be honest, there will be some very exciting racing going on between this bunch – it could go down to the wire.
Another lady to watch our for (although she’s not racing the 100kms) is Hanny Alston in the 50kms. She has the potential to take the whole thing out herself, but with guys like Matt Cooper and Vlad Shatrov racing as well, it will be tough. Also keep an eye out for the likes of Caine Warburton and Wes Gibson. Both training well we hear and podium potential. However we’ll call Hanny for a podium outright if she’s fit and racing hard. I for one can’t wait to see her step up to some 100km running in the next few years, it’s not exaggeration to say that I think she’s one of the best potential talents we have right now in ladies ultra running. Watch this space!
So who’s up for our podium? As always, there will be a few dark horses we miss from the lists, but we like to think we’ve captured and acknowledged 95%-odd. But here’s our pick for the 100km podiums:
Men: Ryan Sandes (new CR); Vajin Armstrong; Andrew Tuckey (Brendan Davies and Andy Lee very close behind)
Ladies: Beth Cardelli (new CR); Julie Quinn; ?
That’s the Ultra168 lowdown, but what do we know? Who do you think will win?
If you’re racing, best of luck out there. You’ll have a ball I’m sure!