Broken But Unbowed at The North Face 100

by Roger Hanney

In breaking news from the weekend’s extreme running event, The North Face 100 km Ultramarathon in the Blue Mountains just a couple of hours west of Sydney, many of the event’s 2,000 entrants witnessed one of the greatest acts of courage in recent sporting memory.

While that might sound extreme, consider this.

UK runner Claire Walton was considered a hot favourite for the women’s race. Could she beat the ferocious Spaniard, Nuria Picas, who won her first ever 100-miler (160km) just 3 weeks earlier, running around the iconic volcano, Japan’s Mt. Fuji, against many of the world’s best endurance runners? Or would she face off against globetrotting professional athletes like Brazilian Fernanda Maciel, or American Joelle Vaught? And, of course, Australia’s own world champion Gill Fowler would surely show her hand before the race’s finish?

But Claire didn’t quite get the start she expected. Instead, facing a 100km run through valleys, along cliff lines, across ridges and saddles, up and down extreme slopes and stone faces so steep that roped metal rock climbing ladders are deployed on course, as well as thousands of steep uneven stairs for a total of 4100m elevation gain and descent, Claire’s race was struck by misfortune.

She fell, hard, within the 5th kilometre. As a result, with 95 kilometres to go, she was not just shaken but utterly battered. Grazes and cuts were the least of her worries, when set against the swollen, screaming agony of her right knee. Nevertheless, she got on with the job, for another 11 1/2 hours, in the face of incomprehensible adversity.

Exaggeration? Not really.

14030011687_0d13a03a71_b-2Because yesterday Claire contacted the race organisers to update them on the outcome of her race.

On their Facebook she posted, “My x ray shows fracture down middle of the patella…. Even I don’t know how I carried on running! Want to say thank you to all who showed kindness to me. My gratitude to the care of the medical team (especially Jacinta ) at the end”

To clarify, the fastest 1% of the original field of starters barely made it around the course in under 11 hours. To qualify for a coveted silver belt buckle – a widely recognised signifier of high merit amongst extreme endurance runners – most runners struggle and fail to run faster than 14 hours. Runners were still finishing more than 27 hours after they began, crossing the finish line after 10am on Sunday morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut Claire Walton finished the race as 5th woman, just 7 minutes behind 4th place, barely 12 hours after she started, and she ran 95 of those 100 incredibly tough kilometres with a broken kneecap.

So if you’re thinking it’s too cold to go for a jog, or maybe you’re tired, or perhaps your hamstrings just feel a bit tight from sitting in an office chair all day, you might want to think again. In fact, you might just want to adopt Claire Walton as the patron saint of your future wellbeing.

Leaving the last word to Claire, she says, “I will hopefully be back next year, minus huge knee”.

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