Far more than usual, during the week leading into the Ultra-Trail Australia 100km I was growing impatient, and simply wanting the race to start. Some disappointing runs at the end of 2016 and an injury plagued 2017 meant that it had been 2 years since my last “good” ultramarathon (obviously that’s a relative term, but realistically I think all runners know when they feel that a race went well and when it didn’t!), so I was itching for another one! While the 9 Dragons 50km in February hadn’t quite panned out as I hoped, it was still an encouraging sign for where my fitness was at, and since then my training had gone quite well. I was feeling physically ready and with this being my 5th attempt at UTA100, I felt mentally prepared as well.
Finally, race morning arrived and it was time to finally execute. As is always the case, many runners bolted along the first few kilometres of flat road but knowing that a sub-8hr run wasn’t on the cards for me this year, I held back, repeating my mantra for the day “smooth and comfortable”. This also made it that bit easier to hold back on the descent down Furber due to some slight congestion. While I picked up a few places on my way along Federal Pass, I again was forced to hold back on the way up Golden Stairs as I hit a conga line of runners. Smooth and comfortable.
From the top of the stairs until the end of Narrow Neck, I was running alongside (or at least nearby), Jono O’Loughlin (who, having run every edition of the race and placed in the top 10 in all but 1 of those, has a fair idea of how to run this race!), with a pack of several runners in hot pursuit. I always find it interesting to note the different running/hiking strategies different trail runners use, with Jono opting to run everything, while I would walk uphill at every opportunity. On the flatter stretches I was often tempted to pick up the pace further but would keep checking my Stryd power meter and see I was already slightly above the output Andy DuBois and I had agreed upon. So, instead I refrained and stayed alongside Jono. Smooth and comfortable.
The descent off Narrow Neck through Tarros Ladders is always a highlight, being one of the more technical descents of the course. I was unsurprised to see Carlton Rowlands come flying by at this stage though; the Euros always seem to love this bit! But once we got onto fire-trail again, I dropped back a little bit to relief myself and swap over my nutrition bottles. “Wasting” even a couple seconds feels like too long for me during a race, but given I came into Dunphy’s camp less than a minute behind Jono, it couldn’t have been too bad. After quickly refilling my bottles at the checkpoint, I was again having to hold myself back a bit along the dirt road. Smooth and comfortable.
Ironpot Ridge has to be one of my favourite parts of the UTA100 course; the wonderful views coupled with the sound of didgeridoos makes for a unique race experience. It’s also a chance to see who’s in front of you (with the out-and-back), and I could see that I was only a couple of minutes from picking up a few places. In fact, during the fun descent off Ironpot ridge, I passed a couple of runners and could see that I was slowly reeling in a couple more. Smooth and comfortable.
Those around me were starting to struggle a little more than I was. 2 years ago, this was the point that I had also started to hurt, but this time around I was actually feeling quite good. “Fresh” certainly isn’t the word I’d use, but my legs were turning over well, my energy levels were high and my thoughts were all positive. The climb up Megalong Valley Road is good litmus test for how well any runner has paced the start of their race; this was definitely the best I’ve felt on that climb, so I felt encouraged that I’d set myself up well for day. Smooth and comfortable.
After a quick mandatory gear check, I was into the Six-foot track checkpoint and seeing my crew (a.k.a. Mum and Dad) for the first time since Scenic World. In previous years we’ve prided ourselves on not taking much more than 10seconds through a checkpoint, but this time my soft flask got stuck in its pocket on the way out and that time must have just about doubled! Other than that, I was feeling good, with my spirits lifted even higher from all the support from those at the aid station. During the flatter stretch that leads to Nellies Glen I was maintaining a good rhythm and looking forward to what was to come. Smooth and comfortable.
Nellies Glen is always a highlight for me; hiking up the longer staircases is my respite from the runnable sections and the cool shade is always refreshing in the middle of the day. However, I always seem to forget that the Aquatic Centre isn’t located right at the top of Nellies, so the stretch that follows once again caught me a little off guard. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise though, as it was during this section that I caught up with Mark Green and Harry Jones, so entered the checkpoint in second place. Smooth and comfortable.
The leg between the Aquatic Centre and Queen Victoria Hospital is arguably the crux of the course. The third quarter of any ultramarathon is tough; it’s far enough in to be tired, but far enough from the finish that it’s still a daunting task ahead. Add to this the fact that this particular section contains far more stairs than any other and it’s no wonder that so many people’s races have come undone along here! I was cautious to save my quads on the way down the Giant Stairway, but just before getting to climb up Leura Cascades I tweaked my right ankle; not bad enough to stop running, but enough for the 50km runners coming in the opposite direction to hear me exclaim a couple of carefully selected words. In the scheme of things, this was actually perfect timing, as hiking (rather than running) up the long staircase that immediately followed was a perfect way to get it moving again and have it feeling back to normal by the top. Smooth and comfortable.
Similar to the stretch after Nellies, I always “forget” how long it is from the top of Leura Cascades to Tablelands Rd. I “know” it’s about 14km, and that there are a lot of short up and downs (nearly exclusively involving stairs), but it still just seems to surprise me how long this bit takes. To be honest, I may have stayed a little too “smooth and comfortable” through here. I was feeling good but refrained from pushing, just maintaining the same steady effort that I had all day. I was actually surprised the reports of how far Brendan Davies was in front of me weren’t changing; I thought he might be pulling away. I told myself I was saving myself for the final climb but in hindsight, I think I was a bit afraid to take any risks. So, it was a bit of a relief when I eventually did reach Tableland’s Rd and could open up my stride, knowing it was a long descent to come and then it’d be into the final grind. Smooth and comfortable.
After once again being buoyed by the support of the checkpoint crowd, I no longer felt the need to hold back as I made my way down Kedumba. While I wasn’t hammering it as hard as I absolutely could, I was definitely moving quicker than previous years. But I knew the climb that awaited me would be the real test. I kept glancing at my watch to see how much further I had to go to the bottom; I just wanted the climb to start! Smooth and (increasingly less) comfortable.
When I finally hit Jamison creek I just about let out a sigh of relief when I found I could still run up climb that followed! Previously, I’ve “cracked” on this bit and been forced to walk on gradients that I had been running earlier in the day. My earlier patience was paying off! All the support of the 50km athletes further encouraged me to keep running and I was starting to dare to wonder if I could run all the way to Furber steps.
Turns out, the answer was a resounding “no” and I “cracked” soon after the water 91km water-stop. Once I’d walked once, I was walking lots. Fortunately, uphill hiking is one of my strengths, so I probably wasn’t losing a lot of time, but once again, I feel like this climb left some room for improvement. I was now just willing Furber Stairs to arrive, so I could finish this off. Luckily, the course flattens out a bit after the Sewage Treatment Works and I found I could still run the flats and small descents relatively well.
When I eventually reached the base of the Furber Stairs and was informed Brendan had passed through several minutes beforehand, part of me was disappointed, but part of me was quite relieved. 2 years ago, Yun Yanqiao was only 1min ahead at the point, so it came down to “sprint finish” up the stairs. While I was prepared to do it again if I had to, it was kind of nice to be able to relax a bit and enjoy it as I made my way up!
This year I was able to enjoy the atmosphere and emotion of running down the finishing chute and was thrilled to see I had taken 15min off my previous best. It was also a nice change to still be able to stand and even walk over to Brendan to congratulate him!
I’m incredibly happy to have put together a “good” ultramarathon once more, and I can’t thank those who have helped make that happen enough. I’m looking forward to what’s to come =)
Shoes: Hoka One One Evo Mafate
Compression: Compressport R2 V2 Calf sleeves
Socks: Le Bent Run Light Micro
Shorts: Home One One/Rabbit Run Shorts
Shirt: Hoke One One/Ceramiq Full Zip Tank Top
Pack: Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest 4.0
Nutrition: Infinit Nutrition Custom Formula