2017 Northburn 100, New Zealand

2017 Northburn 100, New Zealand

Terry Davis and his team have created a monster, and the brutality of the Northburn 100 has me hobbling like a geriatric this morning!!

Having never raced a miler outside of Australia, it was time to take myself outside my ‘comfort zone’. My only previous experience is the GNW100, (with 5,500m ascent) completing it four times.

This 161km race has 10,000m of vertical, treeless exposed terrain, with weather that can blow you off the mountains and a laughing sadist race director in Terry.

(Whom, it must be noted, picked me up personally from my B&B in Cromwell at 5:10am on the morning of the race. Terry I’m truly grateful.)

I’ve never felt so nervous in the weeks preceding. Fear, excitement and my first time visiting New Zealand; it seemed like a big step for me ‘racing’ across the ‘ditch’.

The race itself is three different loops (50km, 50km and 61km), each with increasing ascent and difficulty level. Names like the ‘Loop of Despair’ and ‘Loop of Deception’ constantly remind you that if there’s a downhill option, that’s not the way you’ll be going!!!

The start. (Sean Beale @ Sweatband Photography)

0 – 50km: 2600m

All three races set off together (50km, 100km and 100mile). The 6am start was slightly delayed as tracking devices were checked. A countdown from 10 and we were off. (Online tracking by ‘YatchtBot‘ proved to be a really cool way family and mates could watch, in real time, the race unfold.)

Still dark, the almost two hundred head torches formed a procession of runners, beginning a day or/and a night or possibly 2 nights (48 hr cut off for milers) in the Central Otago mountains just outside Cromwell, on New Zealand’s south island.

Head torch procession. (Sean Beale @Sweatband Photography)

For myself it was a matter of finding a rhythm, not worrying about anyone else and striking that balance between conserving the quads for later, but keeping the pace honest.

It wasn’t long before the crowds were thinned by the early hills. The usual chatty banter was minimal due to the dark start, but also the regular inclines had folks focusing on what was in front of them, and what was to come.

RD Terry Davis’ race briefing the day before had made it clear and in no uncertain terms, that you enter this race because it’s a total ‘bastard’.  And that’s exactly what you’d get.

Seemingly unnecessary descents back down one side of a mountain would be available, but only to provide horrific ascents right back to where you started via a loop of some sort. He loved it! He was only partially disappointed that the weather wouldn’t live up to the previous year’s 100km/hr winds, that literally blew race leader Charlie Sharpe (UK) over a fence and off a ridge?!! The tag line ‘Northburn – you don’t race it, you survive it’ was a feature he relished.

It was even joked by Dan Bleakman, on the ultrarunning website Ultra168, that athletes may be eligible for a refund for overly mild weather conditions!!!

Quite frankly I was over the moon.

Taking advantage of the cloud cover I wanted to make sure the first 50km loop was as painless as possible in the relatively cool conditions.

Little groups were forming towards the front and I soon realised that including two 100k’ers and a couple of 50kers, I was in the front 13 or 14.

I ran a fair chunk of this section with Jeremy Spencer who’d also ran in last years GNW miler in Oz, as well as bumping into Steve Pemberton doing the 100km.

The most memorable parts were the ‘moon-scaped’ uneven terrain and stunning crystal clear water that ran through soft mossy meandering streams, interspersed with vicious ‘Prickly Spaniards’.

Soft and springy. (Sean Beale @ Sweatband Photography)

On the downside the unsure footing rolled my feet and hip stabilising muscles. My rubbing wet feet and heels were also becoming a slight issues. Blisters! I hadn’t really considered something as basic as that to derail things.

Completing the first 50km I arrived back at the Home Base marquee in around 6:30hrs, with 2600m of vert behind me. Ready to roll, but without crew, I was careful to dry my feet and change into fresh socks. I refuelled and was out in about 10-12 mins.

50 – 100km: 3750m

In a rearrangement of two years previous, circuit two now began with the ‘death march’. A 15 km straight up, vertical trudge.

Jeremy who’d caught me in the cp with a very slick crew, was alongside for the plod. We marched on….

A few rare switch backs allowed for a brief couple of trots, the shaking kit in my ridiculously loaded pack (6-7kg) gave me the impression he was sitting right on my shoulder. It took some time to realise I was slowly creating a gap.

As we gained altitude I could see others up ahead. Not close enough to stress about, but nice to gain an insight. I mentally noted rock outcrops they were passing, checked my watch and timed the difference, 7-8mins. It helped! Not only to gauge the competition, but also how long the visually insane incline would take me; it always pleasantly surprised me and helped maintain a positivity that was growing with each stride.

The cloud cover was gone by now and with zero trees, everyone was fully exposed to the sun.

There is nowhere to hide, Terry’s new tag line.

‘Leaning Rock’ up at the summit. (Sean Beale @ Sweatband Photography)

‘Leaning Rock’ and ‘TW’ provide aid and drop bags check points, but also have out and back sections.

The leader Martin Kern (FRA) was returning, and we briefly shouted words of encouragement.

30mins later Steve Pemberton, was running towards me. Steve was looking strong and said he was first male in the 100km but 2nd overall to female Jess Carroll up ahead. I whooped and congratulated him and told him to finish it off and go hunting..

Within only a couple of mins Ryan Kunz (USA) and three others were approaching, he informed me he was 4th in miler, 6th overall. The others were descending fast.

This was cool, I was seeing the race unfold in front of me.

And then I realised, the turnaround was just up ahead. I was 10th or 11th, but places 5-9 were only just ahead. Sweeet!

And then I checked myself! We were barely half way and with pretty much the whole second loop descent still install, and the most brutal third, 60km loop/night section, still to do.

I decided to ‘calm the farm’. Let the carnage unfold and see what would happen.

Descending the second circuit. (Sean Beale @ Sweatband Photography)

As to be expected, the 18km downhill back to Home Base was anything but.

Eventually I reach the power line trail back to the start/finish, a never ending ‘undulating’ 10km saw me complete the second loop and 100km in 14:15hrs, just after dark.

(There was no sign of Steve in the 100km men’s race. He hadn’t arrived?? Turns out, very soon after I spoke to him, he’d took a wrong turn before TW and ended up doing the whole of the insane “water race”. It must have added on hours. Monumentally unlucky mate!!)

100-161km: 4000m

I was in and out of the checkpoint at Home Base more quickly this time. With no wet socks to change, it was a simple matter of empty my rubbish and refill the pack. I noticed that my food uptake (baby food and Cliffbars) had gone down and I’d survived much of the second 50km on the Trailbrew powder in my water bladder and chest bottles. (I wasn’t overly concerned, but released I’d have to keep a close eye on my nutrition, if I was to prevent any energy disasters later.)

Switching on the Ayup head torch, my path ahead was lit up like a lighthouse. I went out and back along the road for a couple of km’s, before the marshals, shouting encouragement, now directed me left.

Looking up the ominous first climb I caught glimpses of other head torches. They were a long way off but they were there!! With still almost 4,000m of climbing on the remaining 60km loop, there was no need to panic. I was feeling good now and moving well, particularly on the ascents. Hike, hike, hike!!! As fast as I could stride, I kept pushing.

To be honest I had really no idea what was in store this loop. In short I knew it was up, up, up and then some ugly circuits around TW at the summit area. Aside from that it was head down and move forward.

Lights above in the darkness told me that I still had steep stuff ahead, but it was hard to gauge the terrain outside of my immediate beam of my light.

Jean Beaumont (NZ) in 8th was the first person I caught. She was looking strong and it wouldn’t be long before we’d be at TW cp, now the 115km mark.

I ran into the aid station and quickly refilled and attempted to eat one of the chia and coconut pots I’d made. I’d barely opened it, took a glance at the slimy contents and start retching from the depths of my guts. The speed the volunteer backed away was impressive. I laughed and told her not to worry,

“There’s not enough food in there to make a mess.”

Immediately I realised it was Coke time. I’d had to do this once before, so know that it can work. I’d already been knocking back occasional drinks of the syrupy ‘doctor’, but knew now I’d pretty much have to switch to it exclusively.

I filled my two 600ml chest bottles with it and got out of there fast. One minute later I was straight back in. Oops. I’d realised how cold it was (just before midnight) and with a very long descent, before coming back to this aid station twice more, I  changed into my long sleeved merino thermal.

Second attempt and I was out. Jean was now just behind due to my faffing around, but I was happier for the decision. Making my way down the never-ending descent of the 11km “Loop of Despair”, I wondered if we were still on track.

Soon though, I passed another runner in the dark (7th) with his pacer. He sounded like he was doing it tough and was now moving slowly. Down, down, down. All the time knowing, the longer I descended the longer the return would be. At an impromptu toilet stop Jean caught and passed me, but as we began the big climb I was feeling strong and positive. Possibly the sugar and caffeine from the coke!!!

I re-passed her and marched on. At times the steepness was ridiculous. I figured, (obviously) it was no more steep to me than anyone else, and as long as I was moving with more purpose than others, I wasn’t hindering my cause.

Bizarrely I was starting to enjoy this. It was the middle of the night, I was on a mountain in the middle of NZ and I feeling invincible.

Up ahead another runner (6th). This was just getting better. I was soon alongside previous winner Glenn Sutton (NZ). He said something kind about my efforts and I asked how he was going? But now wasn’t the time to start chatting, so I moved on.

We’d moved into the pointy phase of the event and as my coach Andy DuBois says;

“If you can race, now’s the time!!”

Soon I was back into TW, Coke refilled, then out and up to ‘Leaning Rock’ at the summit 3km away. Within 500m of the top I couldn’t believe I’d closed in on Sho Watabe (JPN) the 5th place runner. The aid station crew were in tents on the freezing ridge up there. We reported our numbers, and immediately turn around. He kept close for a while, before we met a car, placed to signal the point where you’re ‘thrown’ off the side of the mountain, down a virtually unmarked trail. The ‘Water Race’, is exactly what you don’t want at 129km. Ropes are tied to prevent runners falling backwards along heavily sloped hillsides.

I occasionally checked behind and could see head torches of those I’d passed getting dimmer.

The next ascent was exactly what I’d come to expect by now, steep and long. At least it was now on an easy to navigate, unsealed road.

I ran into TW for the final time and refilled with Coke. (This would have been a good time to jettison all unnecessary food that was weighing me down. Like a ‘security blanket’ I clung to it; just in case?)

Sitting in 5th place and heading towards a time that was way beyond all expectations, I began to run hard. This was it. 139km done: 21km to go. The tracks were runnable and I started to stride out.

Some parts were retraced, others were new. I got excited a few times when those completing the 100km event came into sight.

The miler then veers to the right, for the final climb. With only 13km remaining, another 500m hike is thrown in for good luck. Seriously!!!

Mid-way up I did get very excited, as a light ahead was moving very slowly and I hoped it was Ryan Kunz in 4th. Sadly for both me and the guy in question is wasn’t. He was a miler completing his second loop and had unnecessarily ventured up, instead of ahead for the undulating approach of the second loop.

Finally the summit!

The home straight and remaining 7km was non-technical and very runnable. I checked my watch and for the first time realised the time: 24:15hrs.

I’d hoped to finish under 30hrs, maybe sub 27hrs if everything really went well. Now though I was reassessing. All I could think was exactly what I’d visualised in previous races: another Andy tip.

Picture the time and tell yourself nothing else will do.

And so I did. Sub 25, something starting with 24:??hrs, nothing else will do.

At an intersection I passed Marina Brun, (who I’d car shared and flown over from Australia) going out on her last loop. She’s done this beast a few times and was more than a little apprehensive this time about cut-off times. To be honest she’d scared the shit out of me over the two days leading up to the race.

I was over the moon to see her heading out, she was going to do it easily, (and did: finishing in a superb sub 40hrs). We hastily shouted our support to each other.

I picked up the pace, rounded a few corners, passed the final enthusiastic volunteers in the bottom car and along the flat road that approaches the vineyard.

It was still dark, I honestly couldn’t believe it; I crossed the line in 24:51hrs, stunned!!!!

I literally stood there swearing in disbelief. I wasn’t meant to be there so soon, crossing the line in 5th place overall, 1st in my age category (40-49). I’d been petrified by the prospect of this race, but there I was.

Even writing this, I still haven’t processed the feeling of gratitude and happiness I got from this event. I’m still buzzing!

And there it is…… Northburn you are amazing!

A huge thanks to everyone who sits out all night volunteering and making events like this possible and to everyone who has supported me in the 5 months leading up to this one!!

The spoils – The Northburn 100 mile buckle!!!


Special thanks to:

  • My wife Christine and the kids (Sandy and Stella)
  • Alvin Caoynan and the team AdOnDigital for making Northburn possible, so grateful! (http://adondigital.com.au/)
  • Coach Andy DuBois: Mile27 (http://mile27.com.au/)
  • Troy Lethlean at Trail Brew (http://trailbrew.com/team/)
  • Byron Bay Runners: WhatsApp and Facebook support
  • All the runners and volunteers
  • Race Director: Terry Davis



GNW 100 2013 Part 1

Great North Walks 100 mile
“Australia’s toughest trail race”
(November 9th & 10th 2013)

Section 1: Teralba to Watagan Camping Area – 28km/17.8miseconds to go(Saturday 5:58am – Teralba, NSW, Australia)

“You’ll think you’re going too slowly at the beginning, go slower”
Our crewman Luke Martin’s words of caution rang loud and clear in my head as we prepared to leave Teralba on the first leg of our GNW 100 mile journey.
The Great North Walks 100s, ‘Australia’s Toughest Trail Runs’ are two races that run a section of the 260km full route. Its popularity has increased in recent years and it was a relief when we both heard back to say we’d been successful in getting a starting number. The 104km and the 109mile races (yes, just for “fun”, they are both more than a bit over) had just under the 185 runner’s (a few DNS) this year.
Jules Devlin is a good mate from Byron Bay, who over the past couple of years I have trained with for various trail runs and marathons. We’re pretty close in most distances. He’d run The North Face 100km in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney last year, and so had more ‘ultra’ experience than me. He’d mentioned the GNW at the beginning of the year and the possibility of doing the 100 miler, just to “put the idea into my head”.
With over 6000m of ascent and decent, through some of the most beautiful, leg smashing Australian single trail, I was beginning to get seriously nervous and excited.
An old school mate from UK, Steve Richards, who knows me as well as anyone, posted this cool tune by Hopeton Lewis called “Take it easy” on my facebook page.
“take your time, take your time, take your time, no need to hurry!!”


We’d all listened to it in the car on the way to the start line.
It was perfect!!

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Registered, weighed in, a quick coffee (with a touch of whiskey), count down and we were off… Slowly….
But for 30 seconds Jules sprinted into the lead, laughing,
“It’s got to be done; it’s got to be done”

He briefly led that race, he nearly had it!!?
We had found ourselves in the front 10 runners but knowing some of these would be 100km runners, our main concern was, ‘are we moving too fast’. Jules had worn his Garmin specifically for this reason. We’d figured that although the battery would not last the duration of the race, it would at least help us reign in any desire to start too quick, particularly this soon.
The weekend forecast had promised a hot Saturday with a rainy and cooler Sunday.

The first leg to CP1 was simply awesome. It managed to combine every type of Australian trail running that I’ve encountered. It was the single trail that stood out for me. River gullies, rainforest, cave over hangs, hills, hills. We both commented on the fun we were having and feeling great! Pulling into CP1 whooping, Luke smiled and ushered us over to the Ute where all of our stuff was waiting.
Luke Martin is a mate of Jules’. He trains with him when he is doing triathlons. Luke’s from Newcastle and as a local knows the trails, having ran on them and paced for his brother Levi in the past. He had volunteered months ago to crew for Jules and myself on this our first 100 mile event. I couldn’t believe our luck.
He took our backpacks refilled them with drinks, water, gels, salt and caffeine tablets. We didn’t eat much here.
“You’re going great boys, you’re pretty quick though?”
With only 28 km’s gone it had been cool and we were not ready for food. We signed out of CP1 with more “yeeews”! Enjoying every second!!

(Completed: Checkpoint 1: In 9:38am – Out 9:49am
Total running time – 3h 38mins : Total distance 28km/17.8mi: Position 8th )

Section 2: Watagan Camping Area to Congewai Public School – 24.5km

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To CP2 the trail continued along fire and single trail, with a few fair ascents and descents thrown in, cloud cover had been good so it was nice running in cooler temperatures than had been expected. Things were perfect. We’d noticed the clouds were beginning to break up a little along the ridge and soon realised it was getting warmer.
The track went down for some time before hitting a road. Stepping out from the rainforest it was apparent that it had got very hot. With barely any shade, the road winds through a valley exposed fully to the sun. We ran for a km or so and began to walk up a slight incline. Within a couple more km’s the heat was intense. (It was later reported that CP2 had been 38⁰C. I’m not sure how hot, but I think it was better not to have realised any of this at the time.)
Still, we met a guy, Dave Waugh, who I’d ran with and finished 2nd to 3 weeks previously at the Washpool 50km. I’d spoken to him briefly pre-race and on asking for advice he said, “When you feel like you can’t go any further, tell yourself, you will start to feel better.”
He is a modest quiet spoken guy and great trail runner (until that morning I hadn’t realised he had won this event in 2005 (its first year) and 2007). So it was all the more sad to see him struggling along the road. He looked hot. He said his stomach was giving him grief and he wasn’t feeling great. We offered him anything we had, but he was sorted. We chatted and joked for a while before Dave said, “it’s not far to CP2, you go, I’ll see you there.” Jules invited him to join us at our Ute and share anything he needed. Dave was doing it with drop bags at each CP, and so, was without support.

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As this was our first attempt, I was glad we had the goal of reaching Luke and his beaming face. Jules had arrived a couple minutes before me and was just leaving the medical tent. This was our first ‘race’ weigh in. He’d lost a few kg and as a safety measure they monitor you. I’d dropped about 2kg too. We sat in the shade by the van. Luke took the backpacks, refuelled and grabbed our first change of shirts and shorts.

(Completed: Checkpoint 2: In 12:33pm – Out 1:42pm : Leg time 2hr 44mins
Race time overall – 7h 35mins: Total distance 52km/32.6mi : Position 10th )

Section 3: Congewai Public School to The Basin Campsite– 24.5km


This next section to CP 3 we’d been waiting for, Luke had warned us. The climbs were amongst the toughest on the course and at this time of the day, the sun hits the side you climb.
Within the first 5 km we passed 3 people ending it, returning with aliments or injuries. Veterans, aware of what was to come and realising the efforts it would require, made turning back to their crew more appealing. The naivety of being first timers was possibly an advantage at this point.
The climbs were good? Hard, but on picking up various make-shift walking poles, I realised how much easier it was on the legs.
The communication tower at the top felt good to get to.
Run, fuel, walk, fuel, climb, fuel…..
On a fairly long downhill section we saw Dave. We’d missed him at CP2, he’d forgotten to refill his pack bladder, and had made quite a quick pit stop, 10 minutes compared to our hour. Lying on his back on the side of the fire trail, he’d been sick and said he could only move 50 metres before puking. We stood chatting for 10 minutes and eventually got him to take some Coke Cola from us. He got up and began to run with us. Within a km we met another runner sitting with a dude who’d stopped to help him. Dave told us to go on and sat down with them. They can’t have sat there long, because within 30 minutes they’d caught us up. Feeling better, he was laughing about hunting us down!!
He’d refilled at a water tower, and was moving.
We ran alongside a number of others in their own world. Jules and I talked shite to each other. This was wicked; we were fully loving the experience, opportunity and adventure of it all.
After what seemed like a long time we reach the top of a fairly long climb and the unmanned water station. As we refilled our bladders we were joined by Dave and 2 others runners, both of whom we’d met at races in Washpool or Nerang. It all seemed quite cosy that we were about 75 km into the race and we knew everyone around us. Dave said it was ‘mostly decent from here to CP3’. We ran along a ridge for a while. The ground felt cushioned for the first time in ages.
We began the decent through rainforest and pushed ahead a little. We were now only 3 km from CP3 and ticking along brilliantly. The GNW trail then swung left up some serious steps and began to climb. It zigzagged for a while and then hit boulders and rock ‘steps’. We climbed for a few km’s and then reached a fire trail. After some slight confusion over an unmarked intersection we found ourselves on a main firetrail road. 50 metres along was a Ute with some support crew (who we’d seen a couple of times at various intersections). They cheered as we approached,
“you’re flying boys, only about 14km to CP 4” ,
?????? the 100 km – Checkpoint 4?, where we’d meet our 2 pacers, WTF?????????
“Nahhh mate! We’re only a couple of k’s from CP3”
“Ahh nahh mate, I know what you’ve done, you’ve missed the Lyrebird trail that takes you to CP3, and came all the way up here.”
CP3 at 82 km, it turns out, is about 1 or 2 km from the point where we’d began to climb. Nooooo!!! This can’t have happened; we’d stuck to the GNW path. And that was the error. The map clearly showed a short out and back to The Basin picnic area that serves as CP3. We hadn’t noticed or registered it.
To say we were gutted is an understatement. We turned on our heels and began to retrace our route. Both shouting our various frustrations at what had happened.

It’s hard to pin down what was so annoying.
• The time we’d clearly wasted: about 2 hours.
• The extra unnecessary energy we’d used.
• Losing the feeling we’d had on getting to within a km of reaching the dreaded CP3 in such good spirits. To have seen Luke’s face…. We had been still buzzing at that point. And now, to be turning up hours later, dark and still having to retrace the section we’d smashed, again!!!
Pink or purple glow sticks guided the path towards the final 100 metres into CP3. Luke greeted us smiling, camera in hand. He’d realised quickly what we’d done.

Forget it. Get sorted, refuelled and out. I was beginning to get agitated and paced for a while and then sat down.

Sitting down I ate some soup and Coke. I’d happily been using Hammer Perpetuem as my main source of fuel, but it felt like I should get something solid into me before the night sections started. As I sat, the tiredness began to sneak up on me. My initial haste to get out was less now, I was getting comfy!
It was hard to put the situation out of my mind. Jules and Luke both told me to get up and we checked out. Once we were moving again I felt better. I switched to my head torch and began the long night that we were about to go into.

(Checkpoint 3: In 08:02pm – Out 8:47pm : Leg time 6hr 20mins
Race time overall – 14h 02mins: Total distance 81.7km/50.7: Position 41th)