As I begin to write this, I am vowing not to write as many words (9645!!!!) as I wrote last time. If you want to read about my 2016 race, grab yourself a cuppa and settle in for the long haul!
In case you don’t have a few hours to spare, Ultra-Trail Australia according to their Facebook page is the 3rd largest trail running event in the world (I couldn’t find out what the top two were!), this year with over 5000 runners ages 1-80 from 62 nations. So it’s kind of a big deal! There is a 22km race on Friday, along with a time trial on the notorious Furber Steps (all 951 of them!) and on Saturday the 50km and the 100km (the 100km with a 28 hour time limit, so technically that one goes until Sunday!)
I was doing the 100km again. A few people asked me before I went, and also over the course of the race, what made me come back and do it again. My answer was mostly “I don’t know!” An excuse for a weekend away maybe? I thought I could improve on my time from 2 years ago?
After I backflipped from “never again” to “next time I’ll train properly for it” within the space of about 12 hours, I signed up on the day entries opened in September 2017 with all good intentions.
And then it was April and UTA was 5 weeks away. Trained properly? Not so much. I did do one big long run. It was the Five Peaks Ultramarathon. If that hadn’t slotted nicely into the programme, I probably would not have run more than about 24km in training. Not ideal!
UTA100 has about 4400m of elevation. I had done a fair bit of vert in my training but one thing missing was stairs. It seems that most of the vert in UTA comes in the form of stairs. Thousands of them. The extent of my stair training this time around was walking up the one flight of stairs at work every day. Last time I actually did put a bit of time into stair training. This time, KNOWING exactly what was to come, I put zero time into it. Bad plan!
I arrived in Katoomba on Thursday around 6pm, having had my flight changed twice since I’d booked it. A chance meeting with fellow SA runner Mick at Adelaide Airport resulted in him very kindly offering me a lift from Sydney Airport to Katoomba, as he was hiring a car. We had a good chat along the way about what was to come, and I got the opportunity to pick an elite runner’s brain about all manner of things!
I was staying at a house in Katoomba with 11 others – 100km runners Justin, Kazu and Gez, 50km runners Hoa, Kylie and Tracey, and cheer squads/support crews Andrew, Chris, Rula, Bev and Elena.
I did a quick shop on Thursday night and along with a few things I’d planned to buy, I made a couple of impulse buys – a block of dark chocolate and a pair of fluffy house socks (to put in my finish line drop bag!)
Friday morning I went to the race expo (Mick and I had already done our check-in on Thursday night) and stocked up on short dated Clif bars – 2 dozen for $20! The rest of the day was mostly consumed with race prep – I had planned to go for a short run with my pack on once I’d repacked it – but time just got away from me!
I’ll talk about nutrition now. My race nutrition ‘plan’ consisted of: sandwiches (one peanut butter, one chocolate spread, and one combination of both that was kind of like a Snickers) cut into quarters, 4 nut bars, 4 Clif bars, 4 serves of mashed sweet potato with salt, and 5 litres of Gatorade. It was interesting to see the other runners getting their nutrition ready – they all seemed to have a much more scientific approach than me! Most of their fuel was liquid or gel based, although Kazu and Tracey were having some pretty tasty looking rice balls as well! Personally I prefer real food. I’ve never tried gels and the only liquid I have other than water is Gatorade, and Coke at the checkpoints. I don’t count calories, I don’t work out protein v carbs v fat, I just eat what tastes good and works for me. And so far, that strategy HAS worked for me! I tend to have a lot of food left over at the end but I’d rather have too much than not enough. I don’t tend to find much at aid stations that interests me as far as food goes, other than potato crisps and boiled salted potatoes! Bananas and watermelon don’t do it for me!
Anyway I spent a bit of time in the kitchen while I had the place to myself, and cooked up my sweet potato, cooked up some pasta for dinner, made my sandwiches and started packing my drop bags (Checkpoint 3 46km, Checkpoint 4 57km, Checkpoint 5 78km, and the finish line) as I had to take my checkpoint drop bags to the expo between 4:30 and 5:30pm that afternoon.
Also in my drop bags I had spare socks, a few changes of tops, extra baby wipes (super useful things during trail runs, they serve a wide variety of purposes, not least of which is to wash my hands after visiting the grotty portaloos!) and my mandatory fleece jacket which I would pick up at CP4. Also in the CP4 and CP5 drop bags were some previously unseen notes that I had asked some friends to write for me, to keep me motivated late in the race! (I had toyed with the idea of writing myself some little motivational slogans in each of my drop bags, but I thought it would be even better to have something I’d never seen before! Something to look forward to!)
I’d also written myself a list of what I needed to do/pick up at each checkpoint, in case my ‘ultra-brain’ had set in by then!
In my race vest I had all my mandatory gear, with my rain jacket (unlikely to be required given the forecast) on the back of my pack as I couldn’t fit it in! (Tip for people running the event in future – VACUUM PACK YOUR MANDATORY GEAR – it will be so much easier to fit in your pack! The other piece of advice I would give re mandatory gear is HAVE TWO FLEECES – one in your CP4 drop bag and one in CP5. That way, if you’re having a good day and you get to CP4 well ahead of schedule, you can wait until CP5 to pick up your fleece. Conversely, if you’re having a shit day and you’re at CP4 later than expected, you have a fleece ready at CP4. I have a fairly cheap one which is consequently quite bulky, and you probably want to avoid having to carry it any more than you actually have to! (Having said that, I was glad to have picked up my fleece at CP4, even though technically I could have waited until CP5 to pick it up. More on that later!)
(Those pieces of advice are for you, the reader, and not for me for ‘next time’. Because, I said it before the race and I say it again now, there will not be a next time! Not for the 100km anyway!)
My initial race kit was (top to bottom): a buff around my head to keep my ears warm for the chilly start (my start time was 6:27 and I was there from about 5:40am), a hat for once the sun came out, my Vegan Beast Mode singlet, rainbow arm warmers, cycling gloves (for the rock climbing parts, the handrails on the stairs, and to protect my hands in the event of a fall), compression shorts, black skirt, calf sleeves, old favourite white Nike socks (that would most likely be going in the bin at the finish line!) and my trusty Salomon trail shoes!
The night before, I also taped my feet to prevent blisters (as per usual) and I also taped both my knees as I’d had twinges in both of them at work on Wednesday. The left one had given me some trouble just before Five Peaks, but I’d never had issues with the right one before – it could only be psychosomatic as I hadn’t actually done anything to injure them, but I figured there was no harm in taping them just in case!
I tried to be quiet in the morning as I was the first one up at 4:15 am and I didn’t want to disturb the others! I ate my cereal while listening to my favourite ‘pre-race-get-psyched-up song (‘Let’s Go’ by Def Leppard) and then made my way to the shuttle bus in the dark to get to the start at Scenic World.
I caught up with fellow SA runners Robyn, Steve, Beck, Kazu (who had left the house a bit later than me), Atsushi and Mark before the start. All of those but Mark were with me in start group 2.
The race was organised into 7 waves, theoretically group 1 was fastest and group 7 slowest. I wasn’t sure why I was in group 2, looking at the estimated finish times for each group I thought group 4 was more appropriate. However the race organisers had put me in group 2 so who was I to argue? The reason for putting the fast runners first was to avoid congestion – there’s a fair bit of single track early on and you don’t want elite runners having to squeeze past slower runners on these sections! The other benefit I could see was getting an extra half hour of daylight to run in (group 3 started half an hour after us). I was expecting to be at the back of that group (which I was) and possibly running on my own for a lot of the first part of the race (which I actually wasn’t!)
The race started with a short out and back section, resulting in us coming back past Scenic World again before heading off to start the real stuff! As we were heading out, we saw the lead runners coming back – given that group 1 had started only 7 minutes before us! That was another cool thing about getting to start in group 2!
I managed to get a few high fives from some kids as we went back past Scenic World, one kid seemed REALLY taken with my rainbow arm warmers! I got a LOT of comments about them during the race – many people wanted to know where I’d got them, and were surprised when I told them they were actually socks!
The next time we’d see Scenic World would be at the end!
I kept the pace really conservative in that first bit – my first kilometre was over 7 minutes and I even walked a bit of it! I wanted to avoid getting carried away and although it felt weird to be letting everyone pass me, that was my race plan! The other part of the plan was to WALK ALL THE UPHILLS. I ran with Steve briefly after he had to stop to adjust his calf sleeves a couple of times, but I knew that wouldn’t last, he would be way too quick for me!
Early on, in a narrow section, there was a girl behind me, and I offered to let her pass, but she was happy to stay behind. That was, until we started chatting and we talked about what times we’d run in the past. My time was a few hours slower than hers. After our chat, she paused for a moment and then said “Actually, I think I will pass, thanks!”
The first interesting bit of the course was a part of Federal Pass known as the Landslide, because it involves climbing over a whole bunch of rocks! I remembered last time I had fallen over sort of near here, but not actually on the technical bit! I was determined not to let history repeat itself, however I didn’t get out of the Landslide unscathed – I misjudged a jump down off one rock and managed to graze the side of my right thigh just above the knee. Luckily it didn’t break the skin. I wanted a quick stop at CP1 unlike last time when I had to get patched up!
Next up was the Golden Stairs. I had completely forgotten about this bit. Even immediately after the 2016 event when Karen had been complaining about how hard this section was, I couldn’t remember it! I will remember it now! A pretty tough climb of about 200m elevation on some rather uneven steps!
It was here that I met Alison, a runner from NSW who was wearing a ‘Big Red Run’ top. I asked her about it and it turned out she ran it the same year as a whole lot of people I know from SA! It was nice to have some company and distraction on a pretty nasty section! This was the first of many times I shared a chat with a fellow runner – and for me, that was the best part of the whole event, the people I got to share it with!
I ran into CP1, the 11km mark, with Alison. This was a quick stop for me – I think it was only 6 minutes including a toilet stop and putting on sunscreen as well as filling up my bottles. I try to be as quick as I can at the checkpoints but it always seems to take longer than it should! At CP1 I met a runner called Nadine who was changing from Vibram Five Finger shoes into sandals and commented on my arm warmers!
After CP1 I ran with a guy called Neil for a while before catching up with Alison and another runner called Vicki who amazed me with the distances she had been running in training – including 60km every Friday!
I did fall once – just before the 21km mark, my feet went from under me but I landed softly and didn’t do any damage (or get my clothes dirty!) Just after this was Tarros Ladder, where we had to descend an actual ladder (actually 2 ladders end to end) which was installed just for the race! Sometimes there’s a delay here and there is an option of a detour if you don’t want to wait (or if you don’t fancy walking down a steep cliff face on a ladder!) – in this case it was only a 1 minute wait so it was a no-brainer for me! When I reached the bottom I called out “THANKYOU LADDER PEOPLE” to the people who had the unenviable job of installing and uninstalling the ladders!
Soon after this I met up with another SA runner, Gary, who was also in my start group and who I’d only met the previous weekend at the Mt Misery trail race. It was Gary’s first UTA although he had run a few Heysen 105s and in good time too! Gary and I ran together up until CP2 (31km). Here I refilled my bottles, reapplied my sunscreen and grabbed a handful of chips. Here I also met up with another SA runner, Ryley, for the first time, he had been allocated to group 2 but had not made it in time due to the bus from where he was staying at Leura taking 40 minutes to get to Scenic World – instead he started in group 3. It was a repeat of last time where he’d started several groups behind me and still managed to catch me pretty early!
Ryley left CP2 before me but I soon caught up with him as we went up Ironpot Mountain – another climb I’d forgotten (or maybe blocked out!) It was pretty steep and at one point Ryley stabbed himself in the hand on a sticky outy bit of one of the trees he was using to help him climb! (Another good reason to be wearing gloves!)
Once we’d climbed the mountain there was another out and back section, I remembered this bit well, this was where we got to go past the didgeridoo player twice, and also see some of the other runners who were ahead of us and behind us. That was pretty cool! Ryley had gone off ahead by this stage. On my way back I encountered two guys both using one hiking pole. I asked them if they were sharing, and it turned out they were – one of them had brought them, but as they were both ‘broken’ by this stage he’d decided to share with his mate. Another example of great trail camaraderie! They still had a long way to go – it was going to be a looooong day for them!
I caught up with Ryley a bit after this and we ran/walked together for a while, he was having a shit day and was thinking about pulling out, he’d never DNF’d before but just wasn’t feeling it today! We went past a marshal and Ryley stopped to stretch and refuel as he was having issues with cramps – the marshal said that a LOT of people had stopped with cramps at this point! I ran on, telling Ryley I’d see him at the next checkpoint.
There was more road in this section than I’d remembered. Dirt road, and a few cars to stir up the dirt! I was glad to still have my buff on, now around my neck so I could pull it up over my nose and mouth to avoid breathing in the dust/dirt!
I had been quite conservative in how much food I was eating in the first part of the race, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get any more of ‘my’ food until 46km. Heading towards CP3 I ate everything I had and drank all of my Gatorade, knowing that there was more to come, and then only 11km until the next top-up.
As I approached CP3 (46km), the first checkpoint at which support crews and drop bags were allowed, I thought back to 2016, as this was the point where I had first met up with Anna, and we would run most of the rest of the race together. I wondered what the rest of the race would bring – would I find a buddy? Would I be going it alone? Or would I have a selection of buddies over the course of the night? I’d never actually run through the night alone in an ultra before (in 2016 I’d been with Anna, and in Heysen 105 in 2015 and 2016 I’d had buddy runners, Kirsten and Gary respectively! The thought of running on my own through the night didn’t bother me, there would be a lot of other people out there (unlike in Heysen which is a much smaller event) and the trail was so well marked it would be near impossible to get lost especially in the dark with the reflective markers being so effective!
After a mandatory gear check on the way into the checkpoint where we had to show our phones and thermal tops, I spent 14 minutes in total at CP3, including a toilet stop, a change of top and arm warmers, topping up my bottles, having my first Coke for the day, and getting out my first motivational note and my mobile charger/cable to charge my watch. My new Garmin Fenix 5S has a battery life in GPS mode of 14 hours, and Ultratrac mode of 35 hours. I had been told by a few people that Ultratrac gave some pretty inaccurate data so I had decided to use GPS mode and charge on the go (bearing in mind that there was no chance of me going under 14 hours!). As the charging point is on the back of the watch, I would have to take it off while it was charging, so therefore it would be best done when I knew I’d be walking for a while. The climb up Nellies Glen was the ideal time to do this!
Not long after I’d arrived at CP3 I saw Ryley, he wasn’t far behind me. I didn’t see him again, as it turned out he stopped at CP4 as he had hinted he might. It’s a very tempting place to stop if you’re thinking about it, as it’s back in Katoomba again and very close to the start!
For the first time, I was running without looking at my watch. I started out taking photos of it at checkpoints so I could remember my splits, but then realised that this was being electronically timed so I didn’t even bother doing that after a while. Plus, my watch has wrist-based heart rate monitoring and it would need to be against my skin to record heart rate, therefore with my arm warmers on, I wouldn’t be able to see it all the time. That was actually a great thing. I didn’t know what pace I was running, exactly how far I’d run, or what time it was. I just ran by feel. I knew where we were on the course only by the kilometre markers and by the checkpoints. I was SO glad I’d done it this way!
Soon after CP3 was the halfway point in the race – as I wasn’t looking at my watch it seemed to take AAAAGES before I saw the magical 50km sign (there were kilometre markers every 5km). I decided to stop for a photo here, just as I had last time. Last time I had also posted on Facebook that everything was going ‘swimmingly’ but this time I was not getting into all of that – the phone was just to take the occasional photo along the way, and it was in flight mode so I wouldn’t get distracted! I had a ‘dumb phone’ with me as well (as opposed to a smart phone!) which was to be used in case of emergency.
As I stopped to take a photo of the 50km sign another runner had the same idea and she suggested we could take photos of each other.
We introduced ourselves, her name was Col, Sydney-based but originally from Wales. We ran and chatted together for a while, before she went on ahead.
Then we reached the point I was least looking forward to, the Nellies Glen climb. According to the course description it’s a 480m climb all up, including an obscene amount of stairs. It was time for some motivation, and then to take off my watch and charge it until I reached the next checkpoint. I opened my first motivational note, from work friend Susan, and it certainly did the trick! (Although I have to say there was VERY LITTLE RUNNING happening in that section!)
I could hear Vicki up ahead as I climbed the stairs – I hoped to catch up with her again, she was a lot of fun! The climb was actually not as bad as I’d thought – maybe because I’d built it up in my head, I found myself getting to the top and saying “Is that it? We’re at the top already?”
I did end up catching up with her and we ran together for a short while until she got ahead of me again and that was the last I saw of her! She hadn’t seen Alison in quite a while – she wondered if Alison’s self confessed lack of training was going to cost her in the end! (I stalked her afterwards and was pleased to see she DID finish, although undoubtedly a lot later than she’d expected!)
Somewhere around here I saw the guy in the traffic cone costume, who had been at the point really early in the race where the 100km and 50km courses split. If the signs and the marshal at that point weren’t clear enough, his presence certainly ensured that no-one could easily get lost! When I saw him again at this point I decided I needed a photo with him!
I got to CP4 (57km) where I checked my watch and it was up to 88% battery with 9 hours down. Even if it took me another 9 hours (or even much more than that) I should have enough battery to get me through. Because as we all know, if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen, right? Even so, I wasn’t quite game to ditch my charger at CP4 – I put it back in my pack ‘just in case’. Here also I picked up my fleece, and unable to fit it inside my pack, put it on the outside of the pack, putting my rain jacket inside. I DEFINITELY would not be needing that, but with the night promising to get cold, the fleece may well be required!
I collected all my food and some more motivational notes, filled my bottles and got another Coke. I also decided to put some more water in the bladder. The bladder was new (Karen had kindly given it to me) – I’d never used it before. I didn’t want to put too much water in there, both for space and weight reasons. It was about 21km to the next major checkpoint so I didn’t want to run out either. I needed some help from the volunteer to close it up again – I was trying to put the clip on while it was inside out and was wondering why it wouldn’t work!
After the race, while I was Googling to find out how many stairs there were, I found this gem of an article that said, among other things, that the race starts at 60km. I believe it! (If you want some GOOD advice, you’re probably best to read this article rather than my race report. If you want what I hope is an entertaining read, read on…)
After CP4 I soon reached Echo Point, a very popular spot with tourists. They were all very good, getting out of our way and giving us encouragement along the way! At this point we could hear the finish line. I remembered that from last time too! Still 40km to go, and some 100km runners had already finished!
It was around here that dusk was starting to fall, it wasn’t dark enough to put the headlamp on yet (I was trying to put that off until the last minute, as I knew I had 7 hours worth of light with my rechargeable battery, and although I had spare batteries, I did NOT want to have to change them in the dark in the latter part of the race!) but I was enjoying the colours in the sky. Although I hadn’t been taking very many photos at all, I decided now was as good a time as any. I stepped off the course to go to a lookout, got one photo of the sky and then asked a random to take a photo for me which turned out pretty well!
After that, all the fun started! I had forgotten about the Giant Stairway, or as I now like to call it, the Stairway To Hell. A lazy 200m descent on a narrow, steep staircase. My calves started screaming at me at this point!
As if that wasn’t hard enough, it was followed almost immediately by a long climb up to Leura Cascades. Here I got some more motivation thanks to notes from Karen and Beck, and a few jokes from James (one of which I didn’t get – I must remember to ask him about that next time I see him!) – all very welcome distractions!
I decided to put my headlamp on around this point – just under 11 hours in, that gave me until just under 18 hours to finish, without needing to change batteries. I was pretty sure I would make it! And almost instantly, it suddenly got pitch black!
Soon after this I caught up with Clayton from Sydney (I introduced myself as Jane from Adelaide) who was having some knee or ITB issues (I forget which – I ran/walked with a lot of people with either knee or ITB issues that day!) and was looking forward to seeing his family at the Fairmont Resort (69km) – not an official checkpoint but a basic water stop. This was where he happened to be staying so he said it would be hard not to stop for good there! I put on my hi-viz vest as we got off the trail and onto a road, and it seemed to take AGES before we reached the resort! He was mostly walking but tried to break into a run a few times. Eventually we reached the Fairmont and I topped up my drink bottles and decided, because I was having trouble getting my hi-viz vest on and done up over my backpack with the fleece on the outside, to just put my fleece on.
A wise man (Doug) told me, before I did my first UTA 2 years ago, to put my warm gear on BEFORE I got cold. I hadn’t forgotten that, although it was not an issue in 2016, being such an unusually hot day! Doug had had to pull out of the event some years earlier due to hypothermia, but later went back and did it again, this time finishing.
It was really only so I wouldn’t have to carry it, that I decided to put on the fleece, but actually not long after that I did start to get a bit cold! So, as I said earlier, although I had wished I had had 2 fleeces and I could have picked one up at CP5 instead of CP4, if that had been the case I wouldn’t have been able to put it on when I did, and who knows what might have happened?
It was only about 9km until the last official checkpoint, CP5, the party checkpoint! It would be really easy to stay here for a long time and soak up the atmosphere!
I don’t really remember much detail of this section as it was all dark, and once again I missed out on seeing Wentworth Falls in daylight! I ran a fair bit of it on my own, and it was really cool – I was on my own, but not alone! Occasionally I’d see a hi-viz vest up ahead, but at times it was as if there was nobody else out there! Serenity plus!
Approaching CP5 I caught up with a guy called Paul who was in start group 3 (so technically about half an hour ahead of me!). He was also having knee/ITB issues and was looking forward to seeing his family at CP5! He had had a bit of treatment at the last checkpoint and was planning to get some more at CP5, so chances were I wouldn’t see him again after that. As we ran into the checkpoint, me towards the drop bag tent and him towards his crew, we wished each other well and went to do what we had to do! (I had to do a bit of detective work because all I had to go on was Paul from Sydney, but I finally managed to find his results and found out that he finished not long after me which was good to see!)
At CP5 I took my shoes off as there were a few rocks in there which were really annoying – I discovered the rocks were in my socks (no, not in my head as it turns out!) so took them off as well – my socks were really dirty and I contemplated changing into some nice fresh ones, but figured then I’d have 2 pairs of socks to probably throw away so I put the dirty ones back on! (Pleasingly there were no signs of blisters or black toenails – well there were some black toenails due to dirt, not due to them being about to fall off!)
I collected the last of my food, replenished my drinks, had one last Coke and got my last lot of motivational notes. I saw Tina from Adelaide who was on her way out, I wouldn’t see her again until Scenic World.
After CP5 is about 9km of descent along Kedumba Valley Road. It’s a nice relief from all the climbing but not so good if your knees are shot – as was the case with a lot of the runners that I encountered on this road! Another SA runner passed me just after the checkpoint – Damian, who I had run a lot of Five Peaks with.
I caught up with a guy who had some tunes playing – I started chatting with him and he said “Is that Jane from Adelaide?” – it was Clayton from Sydney! (It’s kind of weird because these runners I saw in the night, I don’t actually know what they look like! So if I had seen them at Scenic World at the end, I wouldn’t have recognised them!) We walked together briefly and then I started to run and said I’d see him at the finish!
Not long after CP5 I caught up with Blake from Newcastle. He was in a bit of trouble – he had been reduced to walking since the 40km mark due to cramps, and on top of that, his head torch battery had gone flat so he was having to rely on his backup handheld light, and was not sure how long the battery would last! So he was relying on other people’s headlamps for additional light!
I walked with Blake for I think about 10km – from around 80km to 90km. I think we ran a few little bits but it was mostly walking. It was the longest I spent with one person throughout the race!
I had a look at one of my notes – this one from Gary, it was short and to the point (something like “You entered this, now bloody finish it!”) – I later found out that it was inspired by another runner Amanda, who had planned to write a note for me but didn’t end up doing it, only her wording was a bit less subtle!
Eventually, when we approached a couple of other walkers, I told him I needed to take off and start running a bit, knowing that he would catch up to the walkers and be able to share their light – I wished him well and went on my way!
I only had about 10km to go at this point – so close yet so far!
Next landmark was the emergency water point at 91km – the guy I was running with at the time, Steve, was going to stop here for a top-up but I very happily said to the volunteers who asked me if I needed anything, “No offence intended, but I’m not going to stop at your aid station!” Although, the fire was very tempting – I remembered that from last time while I was waiting for Anna to get checked out by the medical staff! And I ran straight through to the other side – less than 9km to go!
I didn’t really encounter anyone else until the very late stages – I passed a few volunteers along the way and a timing point at the sewage treatment works at 94km. I remembered that one from last time – my shoes getting very muddy (I like to think it was mud) and me having to wash them before flying home – no way was I putting them in my bag like they were! I very carefully went through the ‘muddy’ section, trying to avoid getting too much on my shoes so I wouldn’t have to wash them until I got home!
I read the last of my notes around the 95km mark. They were from Voula, and had some great motivational quotes as well as some Def Leppard lyrics – really got me pumped for a good finish! I was starting to get a bit warm so decided to take off my fleece (that I had been wearing since 69km) – I was pretty confident I wouldn’t get cold between here and the finish, although it would be over an hour away!
I was back in Leura Forest again, running carefully so as to avoid falling at the last hurdle, and just enjoying the ambience!
With probably 3-4km to go I caught up with Mary (from Sydney but originally from Ireland) and Martyn (from Brisbane) and we ran (actually mostly walked) for a little while. Mary and I disagreed on what was the worst part of the course – she was convinced the Furber Steps (which were yet to come) were the worst, but I didn’t think they were, being so close to the end, all you would be thinking about by then would be the finish line!
I decided I really wanted to run as much as I could before I hit the steps, and I had found out from Martyn that it was 11:25pm and we had just over 2km to go, so my goal of finishing before midnight was looking a bit unrealistic but I wanted to give it a crack nonetheless! (I was expecting the last kilometre to take around 30 minutes). So I took off to get this thing done!
There’s not really much to say about the Furber Steps! One foot in front of the other, and don’t even THINK about counting them. You hear the crowd at Scenic World getting louder and louder as you get closer. You use your arms to drag yourself up by the rails as much as you can. And then you hear the magic words from the volunteers “Only 73 more steps and you’re there!”
As I ascended the last step I turned off my light (another good piece of advice – to make the finish line photo better!) and took the fleece from around my waist so it wouldn’t obscure my bib number at the finish. I did consider tossing my fleece away before the finish line but I knew there was another mandatory gear check right after the finish line and what if they asked to see my fleece?
As I approached the finish line I started to sprint – I still didn’t know if it was midnight yet but I didn’t want to die wondering. I heard the announcer calling Damian’s name – I ended up finishing JUST before him! It was 12:04 – missed it by that much! But I still got my bronze belt buckle for finishing under 20 hours (I’d actually completely forgotten about that – when the volunteer handed it to me along with my souvenir finisher towel, I said “Oh that’s right, the belt buckle!!” How could I forget the belt buckle?)
My time was 17:37:04 – about 45 minutes quicker than last time, not as fast as I’d hoped but given my less than perfect preparation I couldn’t be unhappy with that!
Mandatory gear check time – we had to show our compression bandage and rain jacket. Damian came up to me and said “Why didn’t you tell me at Five Peaks that UTA was this hard?” I quite honestly said “I’d forgotten!”
After the gear check I headed to the recovery zone to get changed. I asked a volunteer for a plastic bag in which to discard my socks – I didn’t want anyone to have to touch them! She came back with a Chux wipe and I happily bundled them up and handed them back to her. Bye bye socks, you’ve been great! I may be sentimental about running shoes but not so with socks!
On my way to the Runners Lounge to get myself a wine and some chocolate, I saw a familiar face – it was Col, who I had run with at around the 50km mark – that seemed ages ago! She was very happy with how she went and was celebrating with some friends!
I caught up with Bev and Rula, who had had a nice day of supporting and cheering, and Hoa, who had had a good day out in the 50km, and Bev bought me a glass of wine!
The plan was to go home for a shower, don my full length compression tights (to aid recovery) and then come back to see housemate Justin finish, but after having done a 100 miler in the Flinders Ranges 2 weeks ago Justin was having a hard day out and consequently by the time he was approaching the finish, I could hardly move so I went to bed around 4am while the rest of the girls went back to see Justin finish.
Next morning we went back to Scenic World for the presentation (including one of our own, Howard, winning his age group once again!) and tried to get our heads around what it must be like to be one of the runners that finishes just before the 28 hour cutoff time – they were out there all night! I’d only had a few hours’ sleep but they’d had none! They did get a pretty awesome reception though, especially 75 year old Alf who is there every year and is always one of the last to finish. Everyone loves Alf!
I also caught up with 100km newbie Mark who I hadn’t seen at all over the weekend – he had had a pretty good run but thought it would probably be a while before he was back running again!
A bunch of us went for a lovely Vietnamese lunch before Mark and I got a lift with Justin back to Sydney – Mark was flying home that night and I was spending the night in Sydney, catching up with my friend Tracie before flying home Monday afternoon.
I don’t think I have ever been this sore after a race! It’s Tuesday evening as I write this, my calves are still very tight and I still have to go down stairs sideways (a handy tip if you hadn’t figured that out already!) but at least I can walk properly now! (Note to self – the night after an ultra, don’t book into a hostel where you have to go up 2 flights of stairs to get to your room!)
Time for the thanks! Thanks to the organisers and all the wonderful volunteers – nothing was too much trouble for them! The course marking could not be faulted. Whoever designed the course was obviously a sadist but whoever marked it did a sterling job. Thanks to Team SA for being there and especially to my housemates – you all did an amazing job whether you ran, crewed and/or cheered! (And special thanks to Hoa for being my chauffeur back to the house on Sunday morning!) Thanks to my friends who wrote me motivational notes – they all helped hugely and it’s something I would definitely do again/recommend to others! Last but not least, thanks to Mick for the lift from Sydney to Katoomba and to Justin for the lift back!
I would highly recommend this event to anyone who is up for a pretty huge challenge! I can’t speak for the 50km as I’ve never done it (although I would certainly consider it!) but if you’re only ever going to do one 100km race in your life, you could do worse than this one! Don’t expect it to be a walk in the park though, and don’t plan to be doing too much for the few days afterwards! (I do recommend trying to keep moving though – a bit of gentle walking works a treat! Sitting on a plane for an hour and a half – not so good!)
So, what would I do differently next time? Train smarter – possibly even follow some kind of training programme but definitely include more long long runs and more stairs. Any stairs. Any stairs would be more stairs than I did this time! Possibly be a bit more scientific about my nutrition although what I am doing SEEMS to be working – who knows?
But really, what would I do differently next time is nothing. I would do nothing. There won’t be a next time. I really mean it this time. Ultra-Trail Australia 100km was a wonderful event both in 2016 and 2018. I learned a lot about myself as a runner and I met some fantastic people along the way. I don’t regret doing it one bit.
Sure, with some disciplined training I could do better. I know I could. I said to housemate Kazu, who got the coveted silver buckle (sub 14 hours) that I would never get one of those. She told me I could, and maybe with some pretty serious work it would be possible, but you know what? I don’t want that. The thing about the race that meant most to me was the people. The volunteers along the way and the fellow runners that I met along the way. I don’t think I’d want to do it again and ‘just race it’. I don’t think I’d enjoy that very much. And for me running is very much about enjoyment and the social side. I do like to run fast, don’t get me wrong. Winning and getting trophies is nice. Getting PBs is nice. But what’s nicer is being able to share the experience with other like-minded people. I could definitely have finished before midnight if I hadn’t spent time walking with people like Blake, Paul and Clayton, but it would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. So I’m OK with the fact I’m never going to be the proud owner of a silver belt buckle. For me, what I got out of UTA was so much more than any piece of bling! (And that’s saying something because you probably know I love my bling!)
UTA100 was an amazing experience but not one I care to repeat. Time for some new challenges! (Aaaand… ‘only’ 7737 words later…)