On a beautiful autumn weekend earlier this year, Brendan Davies ran 100-kilometres through Australia’s Blue Mountains faster than anyone had done before. Outer Edge caught up with the Australian trail running marvel to discover how he, a humble teacher and relative newcomer to the sport, developed the weaponry to run faster than Kilian Jornet, the pin-up boy of world ultra-trail running.
Of all extraordinary feats achieved in sport, nothing provokes incredulity quite like the efforts of boundary-breaking endurance athletes.
Australia’s breakout ultra-trail runner and winner of May’s 2013 North Face 100 kilometre epic, Brendan Davies, astounded everyone with a display of sustained speed over a punishing route through New South Wales’ Blue Mountains. His time broke the record set by renowned Spanish endurance phenomenon, Kilian Jornet, a feat that instantly vaulted him to a place among the world’s best. Jornet was recently described in the New York Times as “the most dominating endurance athlete of his generation”. Brendan eclipsed his 2011 record by three minutes.
The manner of Brendan’s victory was so startlingly abrupt and unexpected that the significance of his performance didn’t have time to galvanise into something mainstream sport media could recognise. Ultra-distance trail runners such as Kilian Jornet and South Africa’s Ryan Sandes, like the Californian climber Alex Honnold, are famous outside the narrow confines of their niche communities. Brendan Davies doesn’t enjoy anywhere near their scale of acclaim. Brendan is so far from the glow of popularity afforded to the likes of them he’s Pluto; way out in space, far away from the limelight.
In Outer Edge’s estimation, Brendan taking out Kilian’s record was like the Socceroos knocking Brazil out of the World Cup. Ultimately, it was a shame Ryan was afflicted by a cruel stomach virus that forced his retirement well before the halfway mark of the 2013 event, because even a fully fit Ryan would most likely have had his hands full with Brendan hitting the form he did.
With the status of Ryan as a benchmark, it would have been a lot easier for the mainstream media to understand Brendan’s performance. The fact he finished nearly 30 minutes in front of the superb Vajin Armstrong and Andrew Tuckey in second and third, and broke Kilian’s record, confirmed the significance of the achievement; but doing it while also defeating Ryan would have been something else.
Six years before the adulation that came with winning The North Face 100 so convincingly, life for Brendan was very different.
It was around that time he looked in the mirror and saw a podgy dude looking back. He’d spent the previous decade eating pies and knocking back stubbies with his mates.
“I didn’t really do a thing in my twenties, I was a typical university student, drinking beers and having a good time and after that I focussed on my career, got married and became complacent with my fitness,” he told Outer Edge soon after his victory in the Blue Mountains.
“There was an actual moment; I remember it well – I saw a photo of myself and thought, ‘I’ve got to do something about this weight!’ so I joined the Woodstock running club,” he remembers. “Within two years I’d lost 25 kilograms and been selected for the Australian 100-kilometre team.”
Despite being mildly interested in running as a kid, and being aware he had some talent as a distance runner, he didn’t think to investigate the boundaries of his ability as a younger man.
“I’m a naturally curious person, so it’s strange I didn’t have a crack back then,” he says. “Perhaps I was just focussed on getting my career sorted first and it crowded out everything else.
“Now I’m always looking to try new things. With running, there are so many types, so I started with basic road running – but I started to bottom out with my times, so I added some trail running to mix it up and really loved it,” he adds, with a sense that he’s recounting the key plot points of a grand plan.
“I started running along trails in the Blue Mountains and, after being selected in the Australian mountain running team thought, ‘Okay, I’ve been selected now’ and began to take it seriously. We were looking to buy a house and I suggested that we look at the Blue Mountains. We moved there and discovered a really cool community of trail runners.”