“Ultramarathon? Me? No, never. Well, maybe one day…”


2 years ago, if you mentioned the word ‘ultramarathon’ to me, I would have been picturing the old Melbourne to Sydney races from the ’80s, with the likes of Yiannis Kouros and Cliffy Young. I can safely say even now that I would NEVER  attempt something like that… that’s just plain MAD!

Of course, I know now that there are many different types of ultras which vary greatly in terms of both distance and terrain. Basically anything over the standard 42.2km marathon distance is considered an ultra.

Which brings me neatly to Yurrebilla.

Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (YUM for short) is a 56km run from Belair Railway Station to Ambers Gully at Athelstone, taking in some stunning trails along the way. Being in the middle of Adelaide suburbia it’s easily accessible and very well supported, so it’s not necessary to carry a lot of gear. It started in 2007 when a small group of runners decided to see if it would be possible to run the entire Yurrebilla Trail (an existing trail). And YUM was born! YUM is actually an apt acronym because Yurrebilla is known as ‘The Gourmet Ultra’ due to the amazing spread at the checkpoints and at the finish. I will freely admit that when I first decided I was going to run YUM, it was the food that got me! In what other run would you get to eat PIZZA along the way?

I had first heard of this event 2 years ago when my friend Denis was running it (after having completed his first 2 marathons in the 2 months prior. I thought he was mad!). I had good intentions of going to watch him but celebrated Hawthorn’s Grand Final win a little bit too hard the previous day, so unfortunately I didn’t quite get there…

Fast forward to 2014. Early in the year, I was training for my first marathon. I happened to meet a few crazy chicks (I’m talking to you, Hoa and Rula!) who tried to convince me to enter YUM that year. I was adamant that I wasn’t ready for an ultra despite their best efforts to convince me otherwise. Apart from not feeling prepared for such a daunting challenge, I was also trying to maintain my soccer ‘career’ at the same time as my marathon training. I realised very early in the soccer season that running 30k in the morning then dashing off to play soccer was not sustainable and in fact pretty risky… I was lucky not to have any injuries. Often we would only have the bare 11 players so there was no option of sitting on the bench, and as a midfielder there wasn’t a whole lot of down time. I therefore made the decision not to play until after my marathon. As the soccer season ended 2 weeks before YUM, if I were to commit to the second half of the season I wouldn’t get to do the required training for YUM. To avoid getting talked into it, I quickly put my hand up to volunteer at YUM.

So the marathon came and went, the soccer season ended and it was YUM time! As it again fell the day after the AFL Grand Final, (and as it turned out the mighty Hawks featured again) I had requested an afternoon job at YUM. I was allocated to the finish line. As per YUM tradition I decided to dress up. I went with the Snow White costume I’d recently worn to a Disney-themed 21st. That night had been bitterly cold. This day couldn’t have been a greater contrast. Unusually hot for September, and windy as, I was glad I’d stuck to my guns and not been talked into running!
From the time I arrived earlier than planned at 10am, to the time the first finishers started to come through (the first in a gobsmacking 4 1/2 hours!), most of our efforts were concentrated on stopping marquees, flags and cups from blowing away! (I was so glad I had worn my Skins shorts under my verging-on-indecent length dress… otherwise modesty would have been out the window! Thanks to fellow dresser-upper and MC extraordinaire Karen for the wardrobe tip!)

I spent most of the day on Coke duty… if I had a dollar for every runner that said, when I offered them Coke, “I never drink Coke… but YES PLEASE!!!”… well let’s just say I would have had a nice little pay packet that day!  I had to be the bad guy on several occasions and tell people they couldn’t get any Coke for their kids… that was for runners only, and even so, we still ran out for a while… you should have seen the disappointment on the runners’ faces when that happened! There was also LOADS of food which I did enjoy (there was WAY too much and we ended up having to throw a lot away) and, fortunately, given the weather conditions, no shortage of water.

I got to see a lot of my friends finish, and for some it was their very first ultra. I couldn’t get over how happy Tania and David were to join the ultra club… for months afterwards, you couldn’t mention Yurrebilla to Tania without a massive smile lighting up her face!

I stayed until the end – YUM is not over until the last person finishes – and then helped pack up before going to the traditional post-YUM buffet dinner.

It was such a fantastic experience and I knew right then that I just HAD to run YUM in 2015.

This year I’m taking every opportunity and taking in all the advice I can get, to ensure my best Yurrebilla experience. When it comes to trail and ultra running, I am a sponge! I am lucky to have a lot of very experienced trail and ultra runners around me who are more than happy to offer words of wisdom… it’s a fantastic community! I went to a dinner recently with a small group of YUM virgins (and some not so virginal!) with race ambassador Tymeka Warburton who gave some really helpful advice including a lot about nutrition (probably one of my weakest areas). What really stuck in my mind was what she said about slowing down in the finishing chute and just taking it all in, and actually remembering it! For someone who has a tendency to break into a full sprint when the finish line comes into sight, that will be a big change for me, but I know I will do it! I get chills just thinking about that moment!

I’ve recently also completed the first of 3 big training runs, which combined, make up the entire course. Once I’ve done all 3, there will be no surprises on the day! (I’m yet to decide if that is a good or bad thing!) Beck, Grace and I (plus a whole lot of faster runners we didn’t see much after the start), set off just before 6am to complete the ‘back and out’ of just under 36km. It was such a great morning, the weather was perfect, great company and the surroundings were stunning! I can’t wait for the next run… it will be hard to resist doing another ‘back and out’!

And now for the unsolicited plug. If you’re thinking about running YUM and don’t feel you’re ready to tackle it this year, I strongly recommend that you either go support someone you know who is running it (I’m happy to accept any support I can get!) or put your hand up to volunteer. It’s an amazing experience and trust me, if you’ve got any inclination to run it, after experiencing the atmosphere, you will be hanging out for next year’s event!