By Daniel Lewis
Brendan Davies was in tears as he approached the Leura finish line in The North Face 100 on the weekend, then fell to his knees when he crossed it, so emotional was he to have won such a prestigious event in his own backyard.
”It means a lot to me, this race, being a local guy,” he said. ”I train on this course a lot. It’s a dream come true to win a local event. This will always mean the world to me. It’s the biggest win of my career.”
The 36-year-old school teacher from the Blue Mountains didn’t even realise at the time that he had also managed to set a new race record of 9 hours 16 minutes 12 seconds.
Flat batteries meant his watch stopped working towards the end of the gruelling 100km trail running event that takes in Narrow Neck, Nellies Glen, Megalong Valley, Jamison Valley, Kings Tableland, Kedumba Pass, The Six Foot Track and Echo Point, so he had no idea he had run the final sector of the race so strongly that he had broken the 2011 record of celebrated Spaniard Kilian Jornet (9.19.06) by more than two minutes.
Davies’ victory was greeted warmly by the trail running fraternity. ”What a great performance from such a humble, friendly guy,” was one Facebook comment.
It was only three weeks ago that Davies achieved a brilliant fifth place in a star-studded 100-mile (161km) race in Japan that boasted 9000 metres of elevation gain.
North Face second-place getter, New Zealander Vajin Armstrong (9.42.22), said it was classic Brendan Davies that the Australian had never sought to use the race in Japan as an excuse not to do well in The North Face.
”A lot of people would have said, ‘I’m coming in a bit tired’. He made himself believe that [the Japanese race] was going to help him out there. He felt strong and fit and fast and he just took it to us all day. I was shocked a couple of times when we came to the aid stations and heard how far ahead he was. I was never upset about it because he’s a fantastic bloke. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person, to run a performance like that.”
So good have been the recent performances of Davies in high-profile events like the Tarawera 100km race in New Zealand (where he came fourth) that trail running website ultra168.com recently dubbed him ”the showman of Australian trail running for the last 6-12 months”.
Despite that, going into The North Face 100, the hot favourite had been defending champion, South African runner Ryan Sandes.
But Sandes started to feel unwell about five kilometres into the race. His stomach started churning and his food and drink started going straight through him, forcing him to repeatedly go to the toilet
The stomach bug saw Sandes pull out at check point two, 38 kilometres into the race at Dunphy’s Camp in the Megalong Valley.
In his presentation speech Davies offered his comisserations to Sandes and said he hoped his own performance helped keep Australian trail running going from strength to strength. The four Australians and one Kiwi who made up the top five all broke the magic 10-hour mark.
As Dan Bleakman of ultra168.com wrote after the race on Sunday: ”Three years ago Aussie trail running was in its own little world, before a bunch of internationals decided to see what all the fuss was about in the Blue Mountains and dominate our most popular individual trail 100km event. Records were smashed beyond what we thought was possible, and if I’m honest, I truly thought we wouldn’t see matched by an Aussie for at least another 2-3 years.
”But along came Brendan Davis and [women’s winner] Beth Cardelli. Yesterday’s results have seen them rise to global international competitors.”
Davies went into the race aiming for a time of about 9 hours and 40 minutes and felt it was his concentration on only running ultra-distance trail events that had enabled him to do the time he did.
”The 100ks seem a lot easier than they did in the past. I had a storming last leg [in The North Face 100] which gave me the record in the end because I was behind at the last check point by 4 minutes or so. I can only think the reason I had that strong last leg was because of the extra training I’ve been doing and the extra training I’ve been doing. Instead of struggling I really powered through it this year.”
As part of his preparation for the Mont Blanc Marathon in France at the end of June, Davies will also be competing in the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon in the Wolgan Valley near Lithgow on June 16.
Towards the end of this year he plans to go to South Africa to do the world 100km road championships in Durban. He was 11th in the same event last year. Next year he hopes to do the famed Western States trail run in the US.
In the women’s 100km, another Blue Mountains runner, Jo Brischetto, scored a fantastic second place to Beth Cardelli, who calls Berowra home but was up in the Blue Mountains every second weekend to put in solid training sessions of up to 50km on sections of the course. ”A lot of the time we would start [running] at four o’clock in the morning and finish at lunchtime.”
When Cardelli first started striding out with the Berowra Bush Runners in Sydney’s north in 2007, she struggled to complete 10km.
But on the weekend, the 33-year-old claimed her third The North Face 100.
What is more, she bettered her own race record with a new fastest time of 11 hours 1 minute and 8 seconds, more than 17 minutes quicker than her 2012 effort of 11:18:49.
Only 12 men beat Cardelli to the finish line overall and her only disappointment was that she hadn’t become the first woman to break the magic 11-hour barrier.
Cardelli wasn’t wearing a watch but knew during the race that she was on track to do a very fast time. “I was trying really hard to break 11 hours,” she said.
Her training involved heading to the Blue Mountains every second weekend in the months leading up to The North Face to put in solid training sessions of up to 50km on sections of the course.
Cardelli first started running by joining the Berowra Bush Runners simply because she wanted to meet people after moving to the area.
She is grateful the group also helped her to become a lover of running. ”I didn’t run at all [before joining Berowra Bush Runners]. My first 10kms with them, I was pretty much a wreck, but I thought ‘if I just keep coming back …’ Your body just eventually gets used to it.”
Next up Cardelli is heading to Italy to do the 118km Lavaredo Ultra Trail in the mountains of the Dolomites, another North Face race.
For the first time this year there was also a 50km North Face race. The men’s winner was Vlad Shatrov in 4:15:21 and the women’s Kylie Murray in 5:19:50.
The North Face races started and finished at the Fairmont resort in Leura and at the presentation ceremony on Sunday the resort was heaving with hobbling but happy runners who were busy comparing times, injuries and war stories.
When the North Face 100 was first held six years ago, it attracted about 170 competitors. But trail running is a booming sport and this year there were 1022 entrants in the 100km North Face race and 508 in the new 50km race.
However, only 698 made it to the finish line of the 100km, although their average time of 16hrs 41mins was a big improvement on the 17hours 16 mins of 2012. This year’s oldest 100km runner was 70.
Keeping the competitors fueled up required more than 5000 litres of water, 1700 boxes of noodles, 250kg of lollies, 800kg of fruit and 2500 sausages.
Competitors said the addition of the 50km event had made the running less isolated because there were so many more competitors and spectators.
North Face 100 race director Tom Landon-Smith of AROC Sport described the 2013 event as possessing a ”special vibe”.
A celebrity competitor was Antarctic adventurer James Castrission from Blackheath. Castrission was thrilled to finish 13th in the men’s open division of the 50km race with a time of 5:40:24. It was a ”perfect day with an incredibly positive vibe from all involved. Awesome to be a part of it,” he said.