Northburn 100 – 2016 Race Report

2016 Northburn 100 mile Report – March 19, 2016 – Strava link

WOAH! Where did he come from?  Hang on.  What was that about hallucinations?  Stop and watch.  Nope.  Definitely a real person.  Bugger.  You’ve got 10kms to go and somehow you’re in third place – but there’s someone dressed in black chasing you down – they’re about five minutes behind.  Time to move.  Last climb ahead and then it’s downhill to the finish – let’s go!

rego_NB100_2016100 miles up and down a mountain range without a tree in sight.  That’s the Northburn 100 for you.  Race organiser Terry Davis did his best to scare the wits out of us at the race briefing – using what appears to be his favourite word on several occasions – ‘it’s bleak up there. There’s nothing.  Did I mention bleak?  It’s BLEEEEEEAK ok?’

Maybe thanks in part to this, a terrible pre-race-nights sleep followed – I probably managed three hours before waking up at 4:30 on the Saturday for the customary bowl of muesli, banana and a piece of toast with peanut butter. I’ve discovered eating a big meal before a race is counterproductive – even really long event’s like this – I’ve learned the hard way about that one. Arrive at the start with only a few moments to spare and right on 6am we are off.

Loop 01 – 51kms – 2,650 metres vertical


The ten or so runners in front of me took off with real pace – and for the next hour or so I was constantly being passed by people who seemed to be in quite a hurry – and as a result self-doubt enters the mind (am I going too slow? maybe I’m actually just not very good at this?)  Some were even hurdling gates (ok, I was a bit jealous of this – I tried to jump a gate while training many years ago and ended up flat on my face with two gentlemen staring at me in bewilderment – never again!).

fence_line_NB100_2016After a while people stopped passing me – which was nice!  I caught up with Tarawera Ultra organiser and trail machine Tim Day on the first big climb – he was in good spirits and said he was in no hurry – just wanted to finish.  We climbed and chatted for a while and then I felt strong enough to push on a bit harder and we parted ways – I was gutted to learn later that Tim pulled out after the first 50km section due to illness.  I’m sure he’ll be back.

The following fence line climb goes on forever – it’s proper steep and is our first encounter with the speargrass that appears at regular intervals thoughout the race.  Unforgiving and sharp, they are not to be messed with – the spike on them will go straight through the top of your shoe so every footstep is a careful one.  I enjoy climbing though (you really can’t run this section) and it appears I like it more than most as this is where I began to pass people – in fact I only gained places walking up climbs – never on downhills, (I’m hopeless at those).

mt_dunstan_silver_vision_NB100_2016We ran through a moss covered section that was beautiful but hard on the ankles.   At the summit of Mt Dunstan is a HUGE descent – nearly 2 hours straight down followed by the ‘loop of deception’ – which, because of it’s informative name, was not so deceptive!  You can see the start/finish line but head off north for another 10kms – really cool this section with a varied terrain including a sharp drop into a gully and meaty climb out – I think there were even some trees here!

Back to base after 7hrs 10 mins and 51kms.  Feeling really good – no idea about position in the field but wasn’t even thinking about that.  Wifey working hard to restock the pack and after about 10 minutes I was off again for the second loop.

Loop 02 – 51kms – 3,755 metres vertical

Heading in while I was heading out was the kids race – so awesome seeing these little fellas running at full speed on trails and having an awesome time!  Gave me a real buzz which was good because the following climb – aptly named the ‘Death Climb’ was truly impressive.  It was a continuous uphill for two and a half hours to the top aid station TW then another 40 minutes – in unbelievable winds – to Leaning Rock.  Another huge descent followed by a climb back up to Mt Horn (it has two rocks on it that look like horns) – I turn a corner and startle a flock of sheep.  They bolt up the mountain at a pace I can only dream of.

leaning_rock_NB100_2016The guys at the Mt Horn aid station here have a little wooden hut to hide from the elements – very simple – a heater, a chair, food – but it looked so inviting after 13 hours of running.  Gotta keep moving though.  Drop down to the pylon track and it turns out this requires a high level of mental fortitude.  It is really zig-zaggy so I never felt like I was making any forward progress towards the end of the stage.  Head lamp came out along here and I finally finished the stage at 10:30pm – 15 1/2 hours after kickoff and 102 kms completed.  I took longer this time – roughly 20 minutes – probably a bit too long on reflection as fatigue was restricting my motivation.  Still feeling ok but quite anxious about what lay ahead.  Freaked out is probably a better description!

Loop 03 – 61kms – 4,019 metres vertical


start_of_loop_03_NB100_2016Into the unknown.  Well for me anyway.  I had never run past 15 hours before and never further than 100kms.  I got to pass both these milestones at roughly the same moment at the start of the lap 3.  This loop sets the benchmark for nasty in ultras – 61kms and 4000 metres of vert (38 miles and 13,000 ft) – double the vertical of the Kepler track over the same distance.  Tough on fresh legs, simply stupid after 100k’s.  Back out the same way you come in after loop 2, then you head up another climb…up up up … then suddenly two eyes are heading towards me… is that a dog?  No! It’s a hare.  It’s huge!  It flys towards me and I just had just enough time to think ‘ummm… is this going to hurt?’ before at the last moment it veered off. Of course it did.  But this is where you realise that you’re not exactly thinking straight.  30 minutes later and a headlamp is suddenly pointed at me and voice yells out ‘hey! I think I’m lost’.  It’s Jean Beaumont, the lead female and a slow realisation dawns – if she’s lost, then… umm…. I guess so am I!  How did that happen?  I was following markers right up to that point.  Sure enough, Jean was right, we had missed a junction and were both too far south.

Phone out, call Terry. Not answering. Load maps from website (there is a 4G transmitter on Mt Horn which is mighty handy!) and figure out if we head East over a fence we will connect back up.  When we finally reach the correct junction we are greeted with ‘oh, there you two are!’ – so at least someone knew we had disappeared.  Time lost was probably 30 minutes and an extra half a kilometre – more for Jean as she had arrived from the far side of the hill.  I heard of several others that missed the same turn off as us and I believe this is being addressed for next year.  All good, what’s 30 minutes amongst friends!

dawn_day_02_NB100_2016Over Mt Horn, up to TW again then the ‘loop of despair’ – I kinda liked this.  I know that sounds weird.  Middle of the night, howling wind, huge drop then huge climb – good times! – it was there I gained another place but other than that I saw nobody at all.  Back at TW again and off up to Leaning Rock for the second time arriving around 4am (22 hours in).  By this time the forecast winds had found another gear and were over 60 knots from the north.  On the exposed ridge it was so strong that my shoes we sliding over the gravel as I leaned into the wind (earlier the leader Charlie Sharpe was blown over a fence!) – pretty special conditions.  While up there my headlamp suddenly stopped – plunging me into instant blackness – the first battery was spent but in my state I couldn’t work out what the hell had just happened. Has there been a power cut? If so, why now? It took twenty or so seconds for me to realise what was going on (and changing the battery up there wasn’t easy!)

Then downwards to something sadistic thing called ‘The Water Race’ which, well, just felt unnecessary!  Terry said we’d be saying all sorts of things about him by this point and sadly he was right.  I was still feeling fine but it was so technical – there was no track – and that speargrass was back and was super stabby (I landed on one at some point here) so while it wasn’t horrible it wasn’t something I’m keen to do again any time soon.  The climb back to TW was very steep, epic headwind and my brain was starting to make faces out of the rocks on the ground (reminding me of Edvard Munch’s ’The Scream’.)  That actually helped entertain me a bit.  On this climb I moved into 3rd place – I didn’t know this I was just putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top of this brutal gravel road climb.

Time for my final TW visit and a last hit of pumpkin soup (those guys up there are just incredible – terribly cold and windy and they have to keep track of who’s been where and help find drop bags etc…and they still have a smile on their face –  HUGE respect for that crew) Ten minutes shy of 24 hours I headed down the mountain for the last time.  The wind was still smashing hard so despite feeling good and having a runnable downhill it was slow going.  A last goodbye to the little hut at Mt Horn and down to a checkpoint called ‘The Brewery’ – I can’t remember why but with only ten k’s to go, there REALLY should be beer here.  A note for Terry next time.  It was here I found out I was 3rd.  Choice! but…

Just after this, as I turned my headlamp off, I looked across the valley back to the brewery and saw the aforementioned lone figure dressed in black hunting me down.  I went as hard as I could – even running up some of the final climb – to try and hold position.  On the final downhill I saw the turn off I missed hours earlier – so obvious in the daylight!  I stopped to try and work out which way to go – even calling Terry again (sorry mate) who set me straight – all the while wondering when the figure in black was going to come flying around the corner and take that coveted final podium spot (1st and 2nd – Charlie Sharpe and Grant Guise had long since finished).

shall_we_do_one_more_lap_NB100_2016With 3 kilometers to go I decided to just put the hammer down and go for it – big mistake!!  Within seconds everything hurt – a tendon around my right knee shot out in pain, I got the stitch and it felt like something was pinching in my left ankle – super nasty.  Ok, ok, fine then, nevermind finishing with style, let’s just finish.  At least it made me realise that I had run the race right below the do-not-go-harder-than-this line for its entirety which was really satisfying.

Round the corner and to the finish!…. but there’s nobody there…. then someone shouts out ‘runner’ and suddenly an enthusiastic crowd appear from nowhere – really quite cool!  A whole tub of ice cream to celebrate and then I told Terry his race was ‘a piece of piss’- he called my bluff and suggested making it harder next year – ‘oh, nahhh mate she’ll be right, leave it as it is, yeah all good!’


Final stats: 3rd place overall, 27 hours, 5 minutes and 164kms (102 miles) – well, that’s what the Garmin watch said so I’m sticking to that!

nb_buckle_NB100_2016Some thoughts….

The honest truth was that I entered this race with the sole goal of gaining points for two of my dream races – UTMB and Hardrock – and I wasn’t really looking forward to 100 miles on the rock – but the people involved and the whole event was just so inspiring that my entire opinion has changed – and I may well find myself at the start line next year just for the sheer fun of it all, it really was awesome.

Oh, by the way, the figure in black never turned up – sleep deprivation is a hell of a drug.


18 x vfuel gels

6 x One Square Meal cranberry bars (bite size)

4 x chocolate muesli bars

5 x cups of pumpkin soup

2 x snap lock bags of lentils, baked beans, avocado and hummus (approx 500 grams each bag – basically a burrito without the wrap – sucked up in about 30 seconds!)

2 x frozen smoothies – plain yogurt, rice milk, banana, berries, LSA and ground almonds (approx 300 grams per bag)

Doesn’t seem like much food but I was never hungry and I felt strong from beginning to end so I guess this works for me!


Water and a few cups of pepsi towards the end


Garmin Fenix 3 watch with portable USB charger which allowed it to record the entire event.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 02 shoes

Icebreaker merino socks (only one small blister)

UD PB 2.0 Vest for all the compulsory gear and food

AY-UP head torch with spare battery

Now the anxious wait for the lotteries for the big three – UTMB, WSER and Hardrock – better start saving now!

Thanks for reading!


P.S. – This is mud – not some new style of activewear! :


The North Face 100 – 2015 Race Report

The North Face 100 – 2015 Race Report

Let’s start by going back.  It’s just gone 8pm on Saturday the 17th of May, 2014.  I’m 88kms deep into my first attempt at TNF100 and I’ve just chucked my guts for the first time ever in a race.  I’m not gonna lie – I was completely unprepared for it and it totally freaked me out.  It came from nowhere and destroyed what motivation I had left.  After two more of these special moments I realised things weren’t looking good.  No longer was I walking – it was more of a two foot drag.  A perky Australian flew past me with some words of encouragement ‘’KEEP GOING, YOU’LL GET THERE’ ‘nah I, well, I think I’m done’  ‘BULLSHIT! YOU’RE FINE MATE, NEARLY THERE’.  Despite his enthusiasm, my spirits stayed low, it took me a very long 90 minutes to cover the 3kms to the final aid station.  By this point the air temperature was near freezing and so was I.  With nothing in the stomach, nothing in reserve and a body temperature in the 33’s I agonisingly pulled the pin.  The team there were amazing and I have the highest respect for the brilliant assistance they provided – however I have a very competitive nature, so the next day I decided I had to come back and finish the job – and I wanted to run through that 91km aid station as fast as I possibly could…


6:23am Saturday the 16th of May 2015 – Scenic world start – CP01 Narrowneck (183rd place)

Off we go.  Lovely day, good temperature, great company, plenty of jokes in the first few ks.  Road running? Sure why not.  See the elites already motoring back the other way.  They make it look so easy.  Down the furber stairs and along the semi-technical track that runs to the golden stairs.  Halfway along, full of confidence, I stuff up a footing and my shoe gets stuck between two rocks.  This catapults my knee against another rock shooting pain all over the place.  Just 5ks in.  Please no please no please no….  remove foot, start running….. positive thoughts…. come on come on…… bit of blood dripping down …. a few more k’s ……. everything still working…. knee still functional…. yes! Onward!  Up the Golden stairs and through checkpoint 01 in 1:15.  I don’t know if this is good or bad because I’ve managed to forget all the goal times my support team (wife!) and I worked on already.  Nevermind….


CP01 – CP02 Dunphy’s Camp (171st)

Open fire roads make pacing strangely tricky.   I run downhill with small steps trying to minimise the impact on my right IT band which invariably causes me grief towards the end of these sorts of races.  This means that many, many people go past me which can be somewhat demoralising.  In races past I would have followed them but for once I listened to the little voice inside my head that said ‘let them go’.  The Tarros ladders were a little busy this year but the view is awesome and it’s a good time to get that gel down that you should have had twenty minutes ago but forgot… again…. into CP2 feeling bloody marvellous in 3:18.


CP02 – CP03 Six Foot Track (146th)

I like hills.  Well, I like going up them anyway.  As I climbed Ironpot ridge I suddenly found myself passing all the runners who had flown past me earlier.  It’s a good feeling passing people uphill – and this was to become somewhat of a theme for the rest of the day.  The local Aboriginal people are crucial to the success of this event and it was once again an incredible experience running along the ridge with the sounds of the didgeridoo ringing across the valley.  Hang a left and true to form, everyone passed me again on the big downhill out of Iron pot. ‘Let them go, be cool Andrew!’ – It’s normal to talk to yourself in an ultra right?  I got my revenge on the massive uphill road that leads to CP3 – arrived 46km in 5:09.  Still feeling ok.


CP03 – CP04 Aquatic Centre (131st)

CP03 is such a cool spot.  Maybe too cool.  Last year I just wanted to grab a beer and listen to the band.  Flag this running gig.  Fortunately they were on a break when I arrived so the lure wasn’t so strong.  Brief chat with wife, suck the insides out of a burrito (avocado and beans) eat a banana, mandarin, salt tablets and a gel (how many should I have had by now? hmmm….)  I left holding a peanut butter sandwich with every intention of smashing it on the way up six foot track.  The 50k sign is a great thing.  Every step from now is less than I’ve already done. Yes! Up Nellie’s I felt great – unlike the previous year when I cramped halfway up the stairs – also a first – I had no idea what to do about calf cramp! (yes, there were a lot of unfortunate firsts in the 2014 race).  Again I got to enjoy the rare experience of passing people up stairs – sorry!  Rock up to CP4 – 57kms in 6:41 feeling a bit tired but otherwise on track.  I still had the uneaten sandwich in my hand – rock hard by now.  It turns out I really don’t like chewy stuff while running.


CP04 – CP05 Queen Vic Hospital (118th)

I wasn’t looking forward to this section – last year I found it to be quite horrendous.  It took over four hours and it felt like 4 days.  So. Many. Stairs. This year I discovered that a whole section of misery had been removed – the very difficult staircase down from Echo point was closed off – replaced by a flat road section.  It kinda felt like cheating but I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.  I can’t believe I’m saying this but I actually enjoyed all 21kms to CP05 in just over 3 hours – perhaps because I was dreading it so much.  Elapsed time was 9:46.  A short sit down as my left calf was pinging a little bit.  More beans and avo, another gel – my 11th of the day – banana, mandarin some nuts and then off.


CP05 – 91km Aid Station

A super long downhill kicks this final stage off – 7kms or so.  I was still taking it really easy for the first half of it – mainly out of habit.  Then I realised this was the last downhill of the race so I threw caution to the wind and went for it – it felt great to be finally bombing the downhills like everybody else.  Also, it wasn’t dark yet and the sunset was just incredible.  I reached the lowest point (geographically) of the race – a small river crossing called Jamison Creek – still feeling alarmingly good.  Shouldn’t I be vomiting by now? Hating every step? Wishing for it all to be over? Something was seriously wrong… or right… or something.  Suddenly I was at the dreaded 91km checkpoint, quick water refill, a ‘thank you for being here’ and I was off like a scared rabbit.  Race time was 11:27 (it had taken me well over 15 hours to get here the previous year).



91km – Scenic World Finish (104th)

The last 9kms is tricky.  It’s all uphill and in places it’s wet and technical.  It was also now dark and I have a very average headlamp.  Even though I was expecting difficult, I was still surprised at how tough the going was from 93kms on.  The good news is I was still in good shape.  I am nearly always the guy that gets passed at the end of a race, but today was different.  All that self preservation early on was paying off – I was passing people quite easily.  Now call me heartless, but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in getting your race strategy right, and it is a very good feeling to pass people that flew past you 10 hours earlier in the day.  It’s nothing personal, but it is awesome.  At 99kms you arrive at the base of the furber steps.  This offers a challenging conclusion to the race.  For the first time I actually allowed myself to believe I was going to finish!  I put the hammer down and ascended in 15 minutes with my heart somewhere near my throat.  Coming out the top to the noise and a very relieved wife was absolutely amazing!  Final time was 12:55.


I signed up to TNF100 this year somewhat reluctantly – basically I don’t like leaving things unfinished.  Now, all of a sudden, I find myself looking forward to next year… 🙂 Thank you to everyone involved – especially my wife who is the best support crew you could hope for – this is truly an amazing event.

-Andrew McDowall