The Gnarliest of Gnarly – Two of the toughest 100 milers

If you kept up to date with some of our musings last week, you’ll have read the article we posted about the shortage of 100 milers here in Australia and New Zealand. Some may say that we have enough to meet the demand. I think there’s room for one or two more, but before we try to solve the real problems in life, let’s have a look at two of what I would regard as the toughest 100 milers going down under in both Australia and New Zealand.

‘Tough’ is subjective – and we’ve had this discussion before on our pages. Tough can be a race that’s done in extreme heat (or cold), it can also be because of the terrain – I think it’s a combination of a number of factors, but one critical element and judgment of toughness is the amount of up and down we experience in a race. Based on that, I think that two of the toughest milers going around are the Alpine Challenge here in Australia and Northburn 100 over in New Zealand.

I ran Northburn in its augural year back in 2011, spending 35 hours running struggling through four seasons of weather in that time. I haven’t run Alpine, but have spent a considerable amount of time on the course in the form of running Bogong to Hotham (64kms), twice… and with a personal best of 9:58 on that course, know just how much of a slog it is. The climbing is brutal.

So with that, and if you’re thinking of entering either race, we thought we’d provide a bit of a preview of both races – both of whom are part of the Ultra168 Supporters Club. You can save $40 on Northburn entry and $60 on the standard entry fee at Alpine.

First up is Northburn. Due to a tragic incident on the landowners property, the 100-mile race was postponed from this year’s event and new regulations have meant a drastic rethink of the course – but that rethink has brought back what is now probably an even more brutal course to rival the likes of UTMB in France.

Stunning views over the Northburn course
Stunning views over the Northburn course (Credit Silver Vision Photography)

Northburn 100

We chatted to race director, Terry Davies to get his take on what runners can expect.

“There has been quite  lot of turmoil in rural New Zealand of recent months. Land owner liability issues have raised their head and while the reality may be quite different from the perceived risks, there is enough grey area that some land owners are just saying no to race access to err on the side of caution.

“This is a major reason behind the newly re-drawn course for the Northburn 100. The entire course has been re-jigged to fit into one landowners’ property so that it does not spill over into multiple other land owners as in previous years.

“On the first loop, the change is minor and merely adds some extra alpine stream running distance and cuts out some 4WD road. The second loop is drastically changed from the previous second loop but incorporates many of the same trails as the previous 3rd loop. It does however also add in roughly 3km or new ridge running cutting out the same distance of 4WD road.

“The last loop was always hard but is now one of the most stupidly hard 60km sections of course anywhere in the world containing 4,000m of vertical in this one loop alone! The ‘true’ loop of despair is back. After a relentless climb you get sent back down to come up another track, then right after that you have an even tougher loop that includes the infamous ‘water race’ and a new untracked section. As always there will be plenty of markers on the course for who find using a compass and map slightly challenging!”

The Alpine Challenge

Set in the spectacular Alpine National Park of north-eastern Victoria the event takes in some of the best, hardest and most exposed high country in Australia including Mt Feathertop, Mt Hotham, The Fainters, Spione Kopje, Mt Nelse and Victoria’s highest mountain, Mt Bogong.

The Alpine Challenge 100 miler is arguably Australia's toughest when it comes to pure climbing and time taken
The Alpine Challenge 100 miler is arguably Australia’s toughest when it comes to pure climbing and time taken

The 100 mile course is arduous with six major climbs that take a cumulative toll. The event takes place in an exposed Alpine environment that participants continue to underestimate, to their peril, as demonstrated by the high DNF rate and rescues by ASAR. It is subject to sudden and severe changes in weather; hot sunny days as well as rain, fog, high winds, sleet and snow can occur during November.

One of our best 100-mile runners, Gill Fowler is a regular at this race and has this to say about it:

“The Alpine Challenge is an amazing adventure through some of Australia’s most spectacular mountain ranges and rugged bushland. This is probably one of the main reasons why I come back to do this race year after year.

“For many ultra runners, heading to Europe or the US remains one of our big goals. The Alpine Challenge is a perfect testing ground for getting us ready for those experiences. The massive climbs and technical running prime us for what we can expect, but above all, nothing beats the stunning and rugged beauty of country Victoria. If you’re thinking about running this event, don’t think – come and do it!”

So there you have it. Previews of two of the toughest 100-mile races going in Australia and New Zealand. Get hill training!

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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.

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