It was mostly clear to me at the end of the North Face 50km event that I’d have seriously struggled to complete the 100km. That’s not to say I couldn’t have done, but it might have involved walking much of it (to be fair, that’s not that different to the second half of the 50km, except that I do feel I ran the majority of the runnable stuff, except for the brief point around 37km where I was out in the sun and struggling to maintain mental discipline - and it did only last a km or two). But to really feel like I succeeded at the 100km, I’d want to be running most of the way between the last checkpoint and the finish.
Given that I don’t feel that I could have done the 100km this year instead of the 50km, what would I need to do between now and a future such opportunity?
One of the two key things I took from the pre-race Runners Forum was that Kilian Jornet (2011 winner, international trail running superstar) has vertical training goals. So more important than kms clocked per week is elevation achieved. To improve in the Blue Mountains, I need to do more vertical distance, preferably over a continuous run (doing 30 sets is not the same as running 5km uphill). These opportunities exist, and I do do hill work but probably not in sufficient volume to be ready, yet.
There were an awful lot of steps in the Blue Mountains, far more than I envisaged there could possibly be, even if a psychotic race director routed you down and then back up every possible staircase (I’m not convinced that isn’t the course). So, with that in mind, I need to do more stairs and steps. While running up and down an office block is boring, it’ll probably help, but I also need to find some uneven steps, as that is the reality of running in the Blue Mountains.
To get from 50km to 100km, I need to increase my weekly mileage. One suggestion from the elites at the Runners Forum was to aim for weekly kms the same as the race distance, which seems reasonable to me. I’d say that’s conservative for marathons and 50kms, and for me ambitious for a 100km race (that’s about eight-ten hours running per week, depending upon session speeds), but this is Fantasy North Face 100km.
I should do some more running when I’m tired from previous runs, to simulate how it feels at the 80km mark. That probably means back to back training runs at the weekend, particularly considering the desire to get nearer to 100km per week.
My training has been fairly ad-hoc this year. It’s not been terrible, and I’m not doing dissimilar kms than this time last year when I had a coach. I haven’t used not having a coach to skip very many training sessions (but there have been one or two). However, I haven’t achieved the levels of consistency that I’ve been hoping for - doing 50km or more every week, without fail. I suspect slotting in parkruns on Saturday morning haven’t helped - they do help with fatigue training for the Sunday, but I should probably do more than just the 5km. However, having a weekly km or elevation target (rather than simply aiming for 4 runs a week) would allow me to do parkruns, have them count but not replace a full session.
Normalise the distance
At the moment, 50kms seem like a hard event, and 100kms seem very scary indeed. And let’s not even think about 100 milers, for now. However, just as running marathons seemed to make running marathons normal (to the extent where I decided to do one five days before the race, three weeks before the North i Face 50 and suffered no obvious issues as a result). So running 50kms and longer on a more regular basis (not racing them, not running them hard, just doing the distance), and long runs with a lot of time on my feet, could help to get to a place where a 100km race is just a particularly long run.
I should probably be about 5kg lighter for an event with as many hills - or indeed any event where I’m landing thousands of times! I’m working on this by cutting down on excuses to binge - whether it’s too much alcohol (in an evening or in a week), too much junk food, I just need to choose my battles wisely and attempt to limit everything to moderation (including excess).
As this is Fantasy North Face 100, I suspect that living in Leura or Katoomba would be the ideal preparation, giving you the ability to get to know the trails that much better. Both winners this year cited training regularly on the course - I think Brendan is bit more local than Beth but she still got there every couple of weeks. Short of moving house or burning up a lot of aviation fuel, this one might have to stay fantasy. However, there are training events on the course - if this was my A-race, perhaps doing at least one would be of help.
Don’t be afraid of the big races
Brendan Davies, this year’s winner and new record-holder, did Ultra Marathon Mount Fuji just three weeks before the North Face 100. That goes against almost everything I’ve ever read regarding recovery times from big races, and yet in his blog entry he says it helped him. I do understand the theory - if you do a tough race beforehand, the legs will hopefully recover even stronger afterwards, but it must be a real gamble. I certainly don’t think Mt Mee three weeks before did me any harm, but the recovery period in between might better be spent peaking in training. One to think about, at least.
It’s not impossible to do TNF100 without a support crew - I’m sure 100s of people do it every year - the race logistics seem awesome, you can get drop bags sent to whichever checkpoint they’re needed (I gather) - which means you don’t have to carry every gram of kit for the whole race (e.g warm clothes need only be picked up at checkpoint 4). But friendly faces and encouraging words can definitely help. Involving the support crew in the planning process is essential so that they know where to be at what times, and what I’m likely to need. As with any endurance event that requires a lot of training, having an early conversation with family about support levels and training volumes and time away from home is better than having it too late.
It seemed that the planning needed for the 100 was significantly greater than for the 50. I made some terrible choices that could have compromised my race, but I got away with it because I was only doing the 50. Kit choice, drop bags, nutrition strategies are all things I barely worried about for the 50 that would require proper thought for the 100.
Am I going to go for it? I’m going to focus on my road running for the next couple of months until Brisbane marathon, and then hopefully throw in a couple more trail races before the end of September. There are 50 weeks until the next North Face 100, and 102 until the one after that, so there’s no need to hurry. I should bear all of the above in mind, as most of them are good for trail running in general, a sport in which I aim to improve.