Ultra Trail Australia
2015 at the ripe young age of 40 was the first year I ran a 100km and it was run at the then event, The North Face 100. One year later with two x 100km events in my legs (The North Face 100 and Surf Coast Century) I made the pilgrimage to the Blue Mountains again to line up for my third 100km endurance event.
Now known as Ultra Trail Australia, this year’s event was just as memorable as the first. A little wiser, certainly stronger but just as anxious and nervous, it was time to find or lose myself again in the wildness that is known as the Blue Mountains.
The Ultra Trail Australia team, Race Director Tom Landon-Smith along with Alina McMaster and the rest of the team certainly know how to put on a cracking and memorable event. From the expo, race check in to the compulsory race briefing, you certainly felt every bit a part of the event and community.
An endurance race is a very raw and humbling event that can either break you or make you stronger. When I lined up at the start line I certainly felt prepared and ready but I also knew I still had a few weakness that I needed to address so this one was going to be no different to the other two endurance events, it was going to be tough.
With over 40 stalls if you were unsure of where to start at the humble beginnings of trail running, then this was the place to be. From socks to head buffs, trail shoes to hydration packs, gels to bars, Garmin watches to Petzl headlamps and even wine this was one of the most comprehensive expo’s we have visited.
The inaugural 22km race from The Queen Victoria Hospital to Scenic World, Katoomba was the perfect way to start the weekend of racing. With some of the big names in trail running lining up; Dave Byrne, Brendan Davis, Matt Abel and Lucy Bartholomew buses for both competitors and supporters were organised to the start line to see the elites and 700+ other runners tackle the short but by no means easy course. The excitement came at the end with Dave Byrne and Brendan Davis duking it out on the Furber steps to make for a very close finish.
Competitor Race Briefing – Welcome to country
Held the night before the big event, the KCC Auditorium is packed with nervous energy and enthusiastic competitors and supporters. David King and the traditional owners of the land give us their blessing to enter their sacred land as we felt the sounds of the clapping sticks and didgeridoo, which were beating as loud as my heart.
If you think this is a running race then obviously you haven’t read the race brief! I lost count of how many stairs there were after the 951 Furber steps and from here they only got steeper, longer and more brutal. There were the Golden stairs, Tarros Ladders, Nellies Glen, Giant Stairway, Fern Bower Track and a few more in-between. Words of advice here – train on stairs because there are plenty in this race. Over the course of the 100km there is approximately 4400m of total climb and descent – ouch.
The first official checkpoint is 46km in however along the way you have one at 11.4km and then again at 31km. The volunteers are what make this race and the welcome and support you get really gives you the lift you need at times. The most memorable checkpoint is the last official one – 78.4km. A fellow runner said as we were running the road down to this checkpoint ‘I don’t believe this checkpoint exists’ and my reply ‘oh it does and when you reach it, you will get a rockstar welcome’.
Ending the race with 951 steps is a little cruel but I couldn’t think of any other way to finish this race, its this ending that makes this race exactly what it is – beautiful and brutal. As you finish the stair climb, you run along the board walk up a few more stairs and then you are on the finishing shoot to home. For me, I came up the shoot to the welcome of some of the elites, unknown supporters and my family & friends. Relief is one emotion you feel along with satisfaction and untapped happiness. Once over the line you are presented with your finishing medal (or buckle in this case) and this year a finishing towel. It’s a great moment, I only wish I could remember it more.
The weekend doesn’t finish after you cross the finish line, its about celebrating those who are still racing and those who raced to take places as you head to the presentation the next day at the finish line. Watching the elites up on the podium gives you are kind of motivation that makes you want to run all over again and this time, faster. The winners: Pau Capell, Ben Duffus, Yun Yanquio and Beth Cardelli, Fiona Hayvice and Kellie Emmerson continue to inspire me and love this sport more than ever.
Movement and Walking
The challenge isn’t so much running 100km, its getting up and walking the next day and the day after that. Movement highlights the tightest parts of your body and for me; my calves took an absolute hammering. Thankfully no blisters or major injuries so overall to come away with a few sore muscles, well I’m happy with that. Times like this you always wonder, why do they make toilets just so small?
Running is an individual sport but you certainly can’t do this without the support of those around you. I was fortunate enough to have my husband and two sisters support me on the day along with a close friend. Their encouragement and care at each checkpoint made it easy for me to just eat and go. They filled up my water bladder and bottles, my gel bottles, stuffed my pockets full of sandwiches and fruit straps and slathered me with sunscreen. Thank you never seems enough but without them and their love, care and support the race would be just that much harder.
2016’s race had more low’s than high’s due to battling with gut issues from the 60km mark. I have to apologise to fellow runners for my vomiting along the course right up until the end, it’s a tough way to race.
I said when I ran in 2015, ignorance was bliss but there is certainly an advantage to knowing the course, especially all the stairs and technical parts. The race seemed to go faster this year, I reached points in the course in what seemed like record time and despite feeling less than perfect, I love this race. Its challenging, soul destroying and painful but this is soon balanced out with history and energy from the land, the vastness of the mountains and the isolation at times – how often do you feel so safe in such a massive backdrop?
This race may not suit my style of running and I certainly need to call upon my mountain goat legs more than once but will I be back to race it in 2017? Definitely. In 2015 I left a piece of me out there and in 2016 I revisited it and will do so again in 2017 – the race, the organisation and the landscape has stolen my heart.
What I wore/used:
- Inov-8 Trail Roc 245
- Injinji socks
- Mapp socks over the Injinji (a proven blister buster)
- Jaggad muscle tee (perfect for the 24 degree temperatures)
- Ultimate direction hydration pack
- Buff headband (first time I have worn this, loved it)
What I ate:
- VFuel gels – Citrus and Berry Flavour
- Tailwind – Naked & Berry
- Vegemite and salad sandwiches
- Iku black rice pudding
- Cans of coke (otherwise known as black gold)
- Fruit straps
- At One banana and pecan bars
To read more about this event, visit: Ultra Trail Australia