Charlie Boyle has a perfect record at the Blackall 100. Seeming to appear on the trail scene from nowhere in 2016, he has 3 wins from 3 appearances (2016, 2017, 2022) and remains the only male to have claimed more than 1 title. By taking the line honours in 2022, he joins Shona Stevenson as only the 2nd runner to have claimed a win in both course configurations. Fresh off the back of an incredible 2:20:40 finish at this year's Gold Coast Marathon, Charlie was generous enough to share his reflections and insights about Blackall, and running generally.
Charlie, thanks so much for taking part in our interview series. You've got 3 wins from 3 Blackall appearances. Will we see you back at Blackall? Either in 2023 or sometime down the track?
I wasn't happy with my race last year and didn't feel like I was 100% fit and prepared for it. I definitely still feel like I have unfinished business with Blackall, and as soon as I finished the 2022 race, I started planning what I would do differently for the 2023 race.
I also had every intention of making this year's Gold Coast Marathon my last and pursuing my interest in moving up in distance, but after running 2:20:40, the allure and history of the marathon distance have pulled me back. I would never be able to live with the fact of not trying to run 41 seconds (1 second per kilometre) quicker if I walked away now.
Having pulled up following the marathon better than I have ever done, I felt like I could carry my fitness onto the Sunshine Coast Half Marathon and then switch focus to Blackall, but about a week after the marathon, I picked up a mild virus that dropped my fitness back, and I haven’t been able to get back to a level that I would be satisfied with in order to race Blackall.
So I will be back to Blackall, but it will have to be delayed by a year or so.
I'm also keen to test myself over the miler, 200-mile, last man standing (even more so now that there's $10,000 on the line!), and longer FKT attempts.
Image - Despite the win and barely missing the course record, Charlie wasn't totally happy with his 2022 race.
You've taken out 1st place in both course configurations; the "Alternate Course" format (2016, 2017) and also in the Standard Course format (2022). The alternate course is clearly a faster track without the infamous Bluff, but which course configuration would you say is your preference? (And why).
I don't strongly prefer either course configuration, but if I had to choose, I'd like to run the original standard course. This would involve running the course without the additional climb after the Bluff ("Gav's gut buster") and going anti-clockwise from CP4 to CP5, completing the loop back to the dam. There are a couple of reasons behind this preference.
Firstly, the dirt road on the standard course is undoubtedly more runnable compared to the challenging gut-buster section. Running on a smoother surface allows for a more consistent pace and may help conserve energy for the later stages of the race, which is crucial in ultra-marathons.
Secondly, going back to the dam provides another opportunity to receive aid and support from your crew. This can be a significant psychological and logistical advantage, as it allows you to refuel, rehydrate, and mentally reset before tackling the latter part of the race. In ultra-marathons, where fatigue and mental fatigue can play a massive role, having this additional checkpoint can make a difference in race strategy and overall performance.
While the Bluff itself isn't necessarily the sole factor that makes the standard course slower, the rocky and less runnable sections leading towards CP3 on the standard course contribute to the difference in course speeds. Ultimately, both courses have unique challenges and advantages, and the choice between them might come down to individual preferences and race strategy.
Image - Charlie running the faster ever Blackall time of 9:08 on the "Alternate Course" configuration, 2017
Speaking of the Bluff; last year you were motoring your way through the 50km field on that section (after what was presumably a very quiet first 30km or so!). Do you find that reeling people in one-by-one helps mentally, or does it feel like more of a traffic jam?
Yeah, I think it was around the 25km mark that I first started catching some of the 50km runners. I tried to let people know I was coming up behind them so I wouldn't startle them as I passed. Everyone is out there running their own race, and it's nice to have a brief interaction to pass the time. There were a few tight spots where it was challenging to get around, but in general, most people moved to the side quickly. It's important to stay relaxed and conserve energy.
Image - Plenty of room to pass; Charlie motoring past various 50km runners on Mapleton Forest Rd, 2016
Blackall is renowned for having a bit of everything in terms of terrain and scenery. Do you have a favourite section? (What is it, and why). Any sections that you particularly dread?
I like getting into a rhythm, so the sections where I can get up closer to tempo/threshold effort are more enjoyable. I haven't noticed them in the past, but I did appreciate the kilometre markers each km. That helped me mentally in the tougher/slower sections.
Image - Stretching out to tempo effort, Cooloolabin Dam section, 2016
On behalf of all mere-mortal runners everywhere: what's it like to be out front for 10-odd hours? Are you aware of, or thinking about who's behind you? Do you prefer to be able to see who's on your tail (or at least have a sense of where they are) or better to be completely clear of them? Or, are you just in your own zone completely, and not even thinking about the competition?
Well, I think everybody would say they want as much distance as possible between themselves and the person behind them. The few times I got updates, I was told that I only had about a 15-minute lead, which might sound substantial, but with a race like Blackall and the conditions, you can never rule out cramps or stomach issues until you have finished. That's another reason I preferred the old course that looped back to CP5, as it gave me a good opportunity to get information on where people were 11km earlier.
Image - Charlie on his Blackall debut in 2016, flanked by the 2 previous winners Troy Lethlean (L) - 2015 winner, and Ben Gerhardy (R) - 2014 winner. Charlie would go on to win the race, over an hour clear of 2nd place...
What sort of nutrition are you using on a race like Blackall?
I used SIS gels in the first two races (1 every 20 minutes), but I've been using Maurten gels since they became available. These gels don't have a strong flavour, and they have a higher carbohydrate content.
What's your post-B100 recovery routine? How long would you typically wait before attempting your next ultra race?
My body is physically pretty beat up after Blackall, and I have always had two complete weeks off after. I know some people are able to bounce back quickly, but it can take me three to four months to feel like I am back to normal while running.
Image - "The morning after". Charlie kicking off the recovery process, 2017
What does your peak training run look like in the leadup to a 100km trail race?
No one run or workout will make or break a build-up, but I have liked to get in at least one run of 4 ½ to 5 hours.
Are you a headphones and music and/or podcast type runner? Or do you prefer natural?
I never used to wear headphones, but now I do for some of my easy runs. It is usually podcasts and occasionally music. I don’t like it for long runs or workouts, and I recommend against it to the athletes that I coach.
Any particular tech or kit or equipment that you can't live without on a long run?
I like to track my training, so it would be my Garmin.
Image - Charlie and daughter Zoe (and his Garmin) pre-race, 2022
Do you have any pre-race rituals/superstitions or lucky charms that you rely on for race days?
I eat and drink the same thing for breakfast, and I like to wear a fresh, new pair of Nike socks for race day.
Image - Charlie with his traditional fresh pair of socks settling into the Kondalilla Falls circuit, 2022
How did you get into running in the first place? Were you always a competitive runner? Or discovered it in adulthood?
I was a pool swimmer in primary school and played soccer. I realised that I liked running more as the distance got longer and that I could hurt a little bit more for a little longer than most of the other kids.
In high school, I continued pool swimming and running and eventually started triathlons.
After university I trained with Col Stewart's triathlon squad and raced at an elite level for 2 years.
After a few years off while my kids were very young and putting on a bit of weight, I started back jogging towards the end of 2014. From there, my internal desire to see how well I could go took over, and I have been running since.
What lies ahead for you in the coming 12-18 months?
I have just moved into a new role at work, and I am excited to develop new skills and the opportunities for growth that that presents. My kids will both be moving into their teenage years, so I am looking forward to what that brings, both the good times and supporting them through the tough, challenging parts of that stage of their lives.
I'm going to try to take a more relaxed approach to training over the next few months and then start my Gold Coast Marathon prep towards the end of February, and I will have Blackall 2024 pencilled in (but I've learned that I can't make really solid race that far out).
Any trends in races or running that worry you, or you don't agree with?
I can’t think of anything that worries me. But the one thing that has never sat well with me - and I know that most people’s heart is in the right place - but running is an individual sport (unless it is a special event or cross country) so I don’t mind someone helping another runner to their feet if they trip over, but I can’t stand people carrying others over the line. Particularly in marathons.
Marathons are challenging, that’s the point: if you haven’t prepared enough (at least six months of training with the last 12 to 16 marathons specific), paced yourself correctly, or managed your nutrition properly, then you might not finish.
The whole reason why the marathon has such an allure and prestige is that it is tough. Same in ultras like WSTR or Kona Ironman where the leaders are pushed to their absolute limit and sometimes fall just short of the finish. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth working for.
Image - Powering home in the final meters of the Blackall 100 to claim his 3rd win, 2022
If you could choose anyone (living or dead) to go for a run with, who would it be with and where would you run?
I love this type of hypothetical question, and there are many people throughout history that I would love to run and chat with. From politicians, academics and economists to sportspeople.
But if I were given the chance to bring someone back temporarily, it would be my maternal Nana Jean Boyle. This is where it would get very hard as there is nothing I would rather do than have another conversation with my nana, but if I'm making the rules, then I would give up my place so that my two kids could get a chance to meet her.
As 3-time Blackall champion, father and running coach, how would you sum up your relationship to racing and running generally?
I love the fact that no matter your fitness level or how fast you are, endurance running is always an internal test between yourself and the course.
I am not into telling people at work what I do running-wise, but among fellow athletes, I love talking about running and racing.
I am passionate about helping anybody who wants to improve, and I believe anyone with guidance and a structured plan can improve.
Image - Taking a moment with son Archer, post-race, 2022
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It's been a pleasure getting to hear from you Charlie. All the very best for the next GCM attempt (and we can't wait to see you back at Blackall in the future!).
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