In just over ten days’ time, there’s a little race on in the Blue Mountains you may have heard of. It really was the first big commercialised ultra to hit our shores and it’s come a long way from the 138 starters that gave it a crack, back in 2008 in its first year. Now we see a plethora of international runners headed our way to contest what is really quite a ‘flat’ course as once described by Mr Jornet when he came to race a few years back.
Of course, he doesn’t mean flat in a derogatory sense, he terms flat as in very little technical terrain, and despite the climbs, they’re mostly on relatively smooth fire trail that is quite runnable for some. In saying that however, I do remember my very first race at this event back in 2010 and hauling my fat ass up Kedumba Pass around 11pm at night wondering what the hell I was doing in the freezing cold. Looking back, I loved it.
So who’s in at the deep end and who’s going to take out the glory? The helpful guys in charge advised me to look at numbers 1-40 for the big guns, so off I went to trawl through a 1,000 odd names or so, whittling down a shortlist of around twenty across both male and female. Given the influence of UTWT en France, il y a une forte présence decoureurs français passeau-dessus. They’re all looking for a nice warm-up race ahead of their season and to build for UTMB later in the year. I’m also really pleased to see some quality Chinese runners on the list too, mixed with our local Aussie and Kiwi guys and girls as well.
As always, we start with the ladies and it’s going to be a cracker of a race between one of our local top gun girls in Beth Cardelli and US runner, Amy Sproston. Beth has been in great form already this year, winning The Hillary Ultra in a new course record time, she looks to be peaking well. She’s knows this course well and if we’re honest, it’s her race having won the thing three times already. Beth will be looking to go under the course record and as such, Amy is going to need to be in good form to beat her.
Amy however has good mileage in her legs. She won the HURT 100 earlier this year, as well as finishing third at Western States last year. She knows what it takes to hurt hard, so expect these two to have a really close battle. For me, Beth to take it on the nose in the final leg up that long, slow grinding uphill to Furber Steps.
Other ladies in the mix are Li Dong from China, a very strong, capable runner, along with Clare Walton from the UK who finished fifth last year.
The mens field is probably slightly deeper and I do think it’s going to be a show down between three big guys in Francois D’Haene, Andrew Tuckey and Dylan Bowman.
Francois is the King of Europe as far as 100 milers are concerned, currently the UTMB champion and what makes me like him even more is that he’s a wine maker too. He’s one of those guys that strikes a great balance between running and having something else in his life. Very similar to our best runner over 100 miles in Andrew Tuckey. We’ve featured him a lot recently and for good reason after his second place at the Buffalo Stampede last month, along with wins at Coast2Kosci and his oh so close finish with Stu Gibson in this race last year.
But let’s not forget Dylan Bowman either, a real speedster that belted the course record at Tarawera a few months back in a smoking time of 7:44. He also finished on the podium at Western States last year too. Speed he has, but has he been doing his stairs training? We’ve seen a fair few speedsters head over here and get stuck on the stairs. Dylan though is all class to let a few stairs get in his way. I think he’s going to be too hot to trot for the other guys, and given his form over courses like Western States and Tarawera, which are similar in some respects to this one, he gets our nod.
But what of the others? Well there’s a certain Brendan Davies, current course record holder who’s up for this too. Compared to last year, Brendan has really eased back on the intense racing, and like Tucks is gunning for a top ten finish at Western States next month too. I think Brendan will be right on the tails of these two and could even squeeze a place on the podium too.
Finally from the Aussies is Jono O’Loughlin who like those before (and after him) is in great form. A strong showing at Six Foot Track saw him run a 3:23 PB, before he knocked off Mark Green in a very close finish at the Mount Solitary Ultra just a few weeks ago. Jono informed me that he’d has a little accident at the weekend, which could inhibit him slightly – I told him to toughen up 🙂
There’s a stack of other names too you should look out for as top ten placers. Vajin Armstrong from over the ditch is headed back for another crack, as well as fellow New Zealand resident, but Lithuanian national, Andrius Ramonas. He won The Hillary Ultra a few months back, smoking a gun field. Rounding up the Kiwi’s are Mark Green, resident here in Sydney who finished second behind Stu Gibson at Six Foot Track recently and then Scott Hawker, who took at the inaugural Ultra Easy 100kms in January.
Then there’s the French legion of runners in Cyril Cointre, Antoine Guillon and Christophe Le Saux. Keep an eye out also for a strong showing from Yan-Qiao Yun.