The Ultra-Trail World Tour is heading south of the equator again this weekend for the sixth race on this year’s tour calendar, The North Face 100k Australia.
Taking place a few hours west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains, TNF 100k Australia represents quintessential Aussie trail running: wide, undulating fire trails snaking into singletrack through thick gum trees with a smell of eucalyptus hanging in the air. The signature Aussie hospitality of the race has played host to some big names over the years including Kilian Jornet and Ryan Sandes.
This is a year of firsts for the race: inclusion on the UTWT circuit and a new, more challenging course with runners being sent largely in the opposite direction to face a 1,000-metre, 10k climb near the finish. There’s additional elevation gain this year than previous years with 4,100 metres of total climb. While the course features a lot of mainly runnable fire trail, there are plenty of ups and–the bane of any runner’s existence–stairs. As we all know, a new course means new records are up for grabs.
The race begins this Saturday, May 17, at 6:30 a.m. local time in Australia (AEST), which is Friday, May 16, at 2:30 p.m. MDT in the U.S. We will be providing some live coverage on our Twitter feed. You can follow @UTAAUS (race), @Ultra168 (Australian ultrarunning media), and #TNF100 on Twitter for additional race coverage.
2014 The North Face 100k Australia Women’s Contenders
From North of the Equator
It’s an impressive group of women heading south this year, the standout being Catalonia’s Núria Picas. With wins at Transgrancanaria (post-race interview) and the Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (post-race interview) already in the bag this year, she’s likely to be in podium form. The only issue is that just three weeks ago Núria spent 23.5 hours on her feet in winning UTMF in Japan. It’s perhaps impossible to expect her to be fully recovered. Still, a tired Núria is a decent bet for the podium.
There are plenty of other women who will put pressure on her, especially over the 100k of fairly runnable terrain (with a nice lashing of stairs thrown in for good measure). The Brazilian living in Spain, Fernanda Maciel, who finished second at UTMF and 19 minutes behind Núria Picas (post-race interview), is one such runner. We were amazed at how spry Fernanda was the day after UTMF, walking quickly and even breaking into a jog to greet someone. She may not be fully recovered either, but her day-after state tells us she’s probably in decent form for this weekend. Fernanda showed us she could compete with Núria over the 100-mile distance, and we’re curious about how she’ll fare over a shorter, faster race.
Joelle Vaught, representing the U.S., will be another strong contender with two recent wins at the Wilson Creek Frozen 50k in January and the Hagg Lake 50k in February, local races. Although this race is slightly longer than her preferred 50k/50-mile distance, the 2012 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile winner (post-race interview) and 2013 runner-up (post-race interview) is well suited to the course’s speedier terrain.
Another potential podium placer is the U.K.’s Claire Walton, second place in the 2014 Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand and nine minutes behind winner Jo Johansen. She also won the 2012 Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile.
A fascinating international entrant is American pro triathlete Hillary Biscay. She’s not a stranger to ultras, having raced at least four ranging from 50k to 50 miles overs the years. While she just finished fifth at Ironman Australia two weeks ago, Ironman-distance triathletes are acclimated to super-high-volume training and racing so something tells us that this will be no issue. Her blog indicates she’s hanging around Australia for a couple months, first to race Ironman Australia, then TNF 100k Australia, and then Ironman Cairns a couple weeks later. We can’t wait to see how she races on Saturday.
[Editor’s Note: We expect Rachel Jacqueline, who has written this article, to be in the top-10 mix. She’s an Aussie living in Hong Kong who finished 13th in the 50k here last year but sixth earlier this year at the 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100k.]
Tina Lewis of the U.S. is on the entrants list but is not racing.
From South of the Equator
New Zealand dark horse and 2014 Tarawera Ultramarathon champion (post-race interview) Jo Johansen is a promising contender, having won Tarawera after running her first ultra in January 2014. Since her Tarawera breakout, she won the inaugural The Hillary 80k in New Zealand, a local race. TNF 100k Australia will represent her longest race to date, and it will be interesting to see how she handles the hillier and more punishing terrain.
2013 TNF 100k Australia returning champion, course-record holder (on the previous course), and top Australian ultrarunner Beth Cardelli is a strong local favourite. Cardelli recently finished fourth behind Johansen at Tarawera, but knows the trails of the Blue Mountains like the back of her hand. [Update 5/16: Defending champ Beth Cardelli didn’t start the race as she’s recovering from injury. She is at the race today, though, cheering runners on.]
Another strong Aussie contender is Gill Fowler. With a sixth-place finish at the 2013 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and eighth at the 2013 Cavalls des Vent 100k (much more challenging terrain than this race and thus hours more of racing), Gil is suited to more longer, arduous races but is a consistently strong performer. She’s been racing prolifically in local races throughout the Australian summer, so she’s likely fit. She was fifth and an hour back from winner Beth Cardelli here last year.
[Added 5/16: Australia’s Shona Stephenson is a late entry into the race. She should finish within the top-10 women.]
Other Australians likely to be in the mix are Isobel Bespalov and Susan Keith.
2014 The North Face 100k Australia Men’s Contenders
From South of the Equator
Australian Brendan Davies, the returning champion, course-record holder (on the previous course, that he nabbed from Kilian Jornet no less), and recent sixth-place finisher at the 2014 UTMF is one of the standouts from the local men. While Davies has his eyes focused firmly on Western States later this year, living in the Blue Mountains, the temptation to secure another course record in his own backyard is too strong not to miss. Like Núria Picas and Fernanda Maciel, women who also ran UTMF just three weeks ago, it’s downright impossible for Brendan to be fully recovered. Then again, Brendan’s got something going for him that the ladies do not: he pulled off the UTMF-TNF 100k Australia double last year, going on to set a course record here just weeks after UTMF.
Aussie Andrew Tuckey has twice finished third here, and he was 30 minutes back to Brendan Davies last year. Last year he had two international hits, a fourth at the 2013 The North Face 100k Hong Kong and an eighth at the 2013 IAU Trail World Championships, as well as one miss, a 33rd at the 2013 UTMB. We bet he’d sure like to finish higher than third this year.
Giving some fierce competition will likely be 2010 TNF 100k Australia co-winner (he finished in a tie with Andrew Lee), Aussie Stu Gibson. He’s been tearing up the local trail scene, consistently winning with no other men in close contention. His most recent win was the Maroondah Dam Trail Run in March. While Stu mostly keeps his running local, he has faced international competition previously in taking 11th at the 2010 Marathon des Sables.
Another is Perth-based Kiwi Scotty Hawker. Though relatively new to ultrarunning, Hawker has secured top-place finishes in UTWT races this year: fifth at the Vibram Hong King 100k (only seconds behind Vajin Armstrong) and fifth at the 2014 Tarawera Ultramarathon.
Up and comer, 22-year-old Aussie Ben Duffus is also keen to impress this year. Although his recent run in the local Buffalo Stampede 75k didn’t go as planned for the young runner (he dropped), he shows bucketloads of potential. He was seventh and an hour back to winner Brendan Davies last year here.
Aussie Andrew Lee was the 2009 TNF 100k Australia winner and the co-winner in 2010 (he finished in a tie with Stu Gibson). He’s finished eighth here the last two years.
Tim Cochrane, of Australia, has raced TNF 100k Australia a number of times and has finished as high as second in 2009 but was far out of contention last year.
A strong New Zealand runner is Mark Green. Two other internationals based in Australia, German Amadeus Gladbach and Canadian Mathieu Dore, will also likely be in the mix.
From North of the Equator
Jorge Maravilla from the U.S. leads the international contenders. Maravilla won the 2014 Bandera 100k, part of the Montrail Ultra Cup and the 2014 USATF Trail 100k National Championships, in January and finished eighth at Western States in 2012. He had a rough go of Transgrancanaria earlier this year, finishing 18th, and had to DNS the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile due to a nagging injury. Jorge is surely hungry for a good race this weekend.
Two other internationals heading over for the race are mountain runner Quentin Stephan (France) and Enzo Ferrari Accardi (Brazil).
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Will 2013 champions Beth Cardelli and Brendan Davies repeat as 2014 winners? Or will the influx of international talent given the race’s inclusion in the UTWT help bring new victors?
- Do you know about the preparations and fitness of any of these runners? If so, be sure to share specifics on why you think someone is ready.
- Is there anyone on this list who you know isn’t racing? Or anyone who you think we missed?