I first spoke to Brendan Davies (36) in the latter part of 2012. A schoolteacher, he was motivated by the escape that running provided. On the horizon was the Tarwaera Ultra in New Zealand. This race was being billed as the really big kick-start to the 2013 season. It had a stacked field with Sage Canaday, Timothy Olson, Anton Krupicka (who didn’t race), members of the Salomon International Team and of course all the local talent such as Vajin Armstrong, Mick Donges and Grant Guise. Brendan was relishing the opportunity to race… deep down though he had a bucket list. Brendan had a desire to travel and to race the best ultra runners in the world. As 2012 came to a close and 2013 started, Brendan was rewarded for his commitment, dedication and ability with a position in the Inov-8 International Team. Dreams would become a reality…
IC: Brendan, it is great to catch up with you once again.
BD: Thanks Ian, it is great to be back
IC: The last time we spoke you had aspirations for racing in Europe and a calendar that would fulfill your bucket list. 2013 is looking great… you must be happy.
BD: Absolutely. I have some great races planned. I have raced at Tarawera, UTMF and now TNF100. I go to Europe in June for Mont Blanc marathon and I hope to do UTMB.
IC: That would be awesome; UTMF was quite a race and a new experience. You had a great race in 5th place but I guess very different to racing in Australia?
BD: Definitely, the amount of elevation and the length of the climbs is just something else. You can’t get that in Australia. We don’t have the high mountain ranges. Our mountains are hills in world standards. We have hills not long climbs. I was certainly tested on the long climbs… what I found is that European men can go uphill so much quicker. They had a better technique. Something I really need to work on. I was slower on the climbs.
IC: I guess from your perspective when you train at home in NSW (New South Wales) you always run. I know that may sound stupid but if you train in the high mountains you have no option, particularly around Chamonix; it just isn’t possible to run everything. You must become efficient at hiking and walking. I guess you are going to work on that?
BD: Absolutely, that is probably the most important thing I learnt at UTMF. If I had the opportunity to race at UTMF again that is the thing I would really work on. I made the mistake of not doing enough research but I never anticipated the walking aspect. It is something I am now going to work on and I will find tough climbs and I will work and work to get stronger for the European races.
IC: What is it like racing in Japan; I would imagine the Japanese are passionate?
BD: Oh yes, they love the running. We had Japanese men in the field and the crowd really got behind them. Great organization and the RD put loads of effort into making everyone feel welcome. The race itself was very difficult. 9000m+ of elevation but I thought it may have been runnable… it definitely wasn’t. It was scrambling and rock climbing in sections. Massive climbs that gave you no opportunity for a rhythm. Thankfully road sections between climbs kept me in the race. Early on I was in 3rd place and then on the first big climb the European men such as Seb Chaigneau and Julien Chorier just pulled away. They cleaned me up on the climb. The race fluctuated for me. I finally settled into 5th place and I held that.
IC: I presume weather was an important factor. Japan at this time of the year must be chilly.
BD: It was nice during the day. The locals said how lucky we had been to get sunshine. However at night it dropped below zero. At the highest point of the course it was very cold.
IC: The experience at the finish, they had a local winner so I guess that must have been fantastic for the locals, however, for you it must have been emotional. This was a big race and big learning curve.
BD: I was absolutely over the moon. I can’t explain the emotions. It was just such an epic and brutal event. When I saw the finish I took my pack off, threw it in the air and high fived the crowd. It was such a relief. I was overcome by emotion. It was such a tough event. I used every trick in the book to get to the finish. My body and mid were absolutely smashed at the end… I had given it everything!
IC: Nice to hear that even the elite have to fight hard and dig deep to reach the finish line. What was your lowest point?
BD: I don’t think I really had a low point in the race. My nutrition and hydration went really well. I was happy. If I had a low point it was probably the last leg. It had the most brutal climb I have ever done in my life. This beat everything and I am including rock climbing. I had to scramble, it was muddy, it was so tough and it went on and on. At the top it went on for 7km and switched back on itself repeatedly. It was just incredibly tough. My quads were smashed to oblivion.
IC: How was your recovery post UTMF?
BD: I had some rest and I had some massage. Everything post UTMF was all about getting ready for the TNF 100. It is Australia’s biggest race.
IC: TNF 100, what an incredible race eh? Not only did you win it but also you set a new CR!
BD: I feel pretty good today; I think it is all just sinking in. It has hit me what I achieved. I never expected it, a real bonus to set the new CR too. Actually I had no idea of my time in the race. It was only when I finished that I found out the time. I knew I was having a strong race because I know that course and I was running sections that sometimes I walk, so, I knew it was going to be good.
IC: What do you put it down too? You have been super motivated this year. In our previous chats you have said what you would like to do and achieve. Everything is now falling into place with Inov-8, the International Team, a top five at UTMF, do you think that you are in a really good place with your running at the moment? Also, UTMF was only a few weeks ago but you obviously recovered and came back stronger from that experience?
BD: I truly believe that everything I have done in the last six years has been building to the performance at the TNF 100. This year in particular I have been so focused about my running and where and what I wanted to achieve. All those little 1% gains and ticking boxes. It is paying off. I have been waiting for a performance like this; I knew it wasn’t far away. Certainly UTMF and TNF were two big races. I was always going to run both and race them. Months ago I treated them like a block of races. I planned a way to recover from UTMF and use it as a way to benefit the TNF 100. I truly believe UTMF prepared me mentally plus having the aerobic capacity to run 100 miles almost made 100km insignificant. Instead of struggling at the back end of the 100km I had a lot more power in the 80-100km section. So, doing 100 miles as most definitely helped. The hills at UTMF were so much harder, the course was tougher and in comparison TNF 100 was easier so it put me in a great place.
IC: After UTMF that was one thing we discussed, UTMF was such an eye opener for you that it made you realize what else was out there. Suddenly what was difficult on home ground suddenly became easier and your mental balance shifted
BD: Absolutely. Shona Stephenson and I both said the same thing after UTMF. Of course, you can’t just say that and not have a plan. I went straight into recovery mode post UTMF, I didn’t train much but I kept my race legs by doing a half marathon and a 10k. I thought it was a good plan. Both high intensity races that would keep my race legs. The TNF 100 is the no1 race in Australia. It is what counts.
IC: Makes perfect sense. When you have raced 100 miles and then three weeks later you are not going to get any fitter, what you need is recovery and maintaining your top edge. Exactly what you did!
BD: Exactly my plan. UTMF essentially was my last long, long run for UTMF. I saw that as a positive.
IC: Going into the race, Ryan Sandes was without doubt the favorite so what was your thought process when he dropped at CP2?
BD: No, no way. I met Ryan last year and he is a great guy. I have always welcomed international guests to our races. I want the sport to grow in Australia and Ryan is a real powerhouse in the sport. I look at it, as he is someone to test myself against. I have been able to run against Kilian and Ryan, I have watched them, studied them and I have emulated what they have done. I have listened and learned and I have got a little bit closer each year.
IC: Well you surpassed your expectations this year. It is quite incredible. When Ryan dropped at CP2 that left you out in front dictating the pace is that something you don’t mind?
BD: I lead from the front, pretty much from Km 1. You have a little out and back section just after CP2 and it is great as you get to see the competition. I turned and expected to see Ryan. But it was Vajin Armstrong and I had no sign of Ryan so I assumed something must have gone wrong. I didn’t let it affect my performance. I have raced Vajin several times and he has had the better of me, so I respected him as much as Ryan. It kept me motivated to keep going. I didn’t look back; I don’t believe it is a good thing. I needed to keep going and run my own race. Even at the finish I was asking if anyone was on my tail. Running at the front you run scared, you need to be motivated.
IC: The Blue Mountains are your home territory; I guess you know these trails like the back of your hand. What’s it like to win and set a CR on home soil?
BD: It is so special for me. I was in a race that has a small community. The ultra running community is small. I know so many people in the race, front, middle and back. It was so special to share the moment with so many people. The race is in my back yard. It is very significant. A very special moment to be able to share it.
IC: Southern Hemisphere running is going through a renaissance, you, Shona Stephenson, Beth Cardelli, Ruby Muir, Vajin Armstrong amongst others are leading the way. What does the future hold in store for you all?
BD: We are going to be more of a force in international big races. We are going to encourage a new generation of ultra trail runners. I was speaking to people after TNF 100, I spoke to a guy who was 21yrs old who finished seventh, he came up to me and humbled me by saying that I was his inspiration. Many others said this. That touches me and it also signifies how the sport is growing. We are going to get a new breed of runners that are faster, better and more focused than myself. They will lead to the way and it will go from strength to strength.
IC: You are in Europe for the Mont Blanc marathon in June. You will be representing Inov-8 as part of the International Team, how excited are you about being part of this team but also running in the Skyrunning calendar.
BD: I am honored. I have always worn inov-8 so when I was asked on to the team it was such a great honor. To be around other international runners will be a great experience. I also think my Inov-8 teammate Shona Stephenson will really prove what a great runner she is when she gets to Europe. She has gone from strength-to-strength. The longer the race the better she goes. I am really excited to see the other athletes too to see what they can do. I will be a great experience. I am just really happy that Inov-8 has backed us.
IC: Brilliant, what lies ahead for you post Mont Blanc?
BD: Possibly Ice Trail Tarantaise but I am not sure it will fit in my schedule, we shall see. Maybe I will come back to Australia and then I will focus on the road. I want to get my road marathon time under 2:30, I did a 50k in Canberra two weeks before UTMF and I could have gone under 2:30 in that race. So, that will be on my agenda leading up to the world 100k championships in late October in South Africa. I would like to be in the 6:30’s for 100k. So, the latter half of 2013 will be about road running.
IC: Look forward to catching up in Europe. Certainly 2013 is going to be a really exciting year for you.
BD: Thanks so much Ian.
TNF 100 Results:
- Brendan Davies 09:16:12 new CR beating Kilian Jornet’s previous best
- Vajin Armstrong 09:42:22
- Andrew Tuckey 09:44:52
- Beth Cardelli 11:01:08 (12th overall)
- Joanne Brischetto 11:44:35
- Shona Stephenson 11:45:38