Event: Ultra Trail Australia aka UTA
Distance: 11km, 22km, 50km, 100km
Type: Point to Point (11 & 22), Loop (50 & 100)
Where: Katoomba, Blue Mountains, NSW
Start: 22km – Old Queen Victoria Hospital, Wentworth Falls
Finish: Scenic World, Katoomba
Event Partners / Supporters: Ultra-Trail World Tour, Aussie Grit, La Sportiva, Camelbak, Petzl, Buff, Injinji, Scenic World, Fairmont Resort & Spa
UTA has been on my running bucket list for a while. I had serious FOMO last year seeing so many of my running friends competing in this event. It just made me want to do it more.
Even though I was on holidays when entries opened, it didn’t stop me from signing up. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, better now than always wonder: what if.
Besides a minor delay in starting my training plan due to my foot, I had to trust in my base training, and allow my injury to resolves.
Once I got the all clear from the podiatrist, I eased back into training. Before long I was back into a rhythm.
My training included long descents, hiking repeats, and of course stairs. I tested out various fueling options and everything I would wear on race day.
With my training done, it was all a matter of getting there and just enjoying it, no matter the outcome.
Upon signing up, it asks for your last road half marathon. Mine being Canberra, it suggested wave 2, with a finishes time of 1:45-3:05. I umed and arghed about this. As I could have gone either way. Yes, I did have a goal of 3 hours, but I also knew that that could blow out entirely. I settled on wave 2.
Race day arrived, and upon arriving at Scenic World, it was fresh, with fog in the valley. I could tell that weather-wise, it was going to be a ripper autumn day.
After a short race brief, we headed over to queue for the buses to take us to our starting point at Old Queen Victoria Hospital, Wentworth Falls.
Immediately disembarking the bus, I headed straight to the toilet for nervous wee #1. Then there was lots of waiting around. At this point, I ate my banana, as I had only had a small amount of yogurt, and knew that I would need a bit more fuel.
Those in wave 1, were called to enter the starters shute. Since I still had 20 minutes, I decided to go back to the loo, and queue for nervous wee #2.
By now the queues were a lot longer, as more people had arrived (all up I think there were a total of 5 waves, the last wave starting at 10:40 am).
Watching the clock I felt like I had picked the line that was just not moving. At 9:15 I was 3rd in line when our waved was called. “Pee faster people!” I called out. A lovely lady in the line next to me, let me go ahead, as she was in a later wave. I thanked her, did the fastest pee imaginable, quickly washed my hands, and made it to the lineup.
I shoved my glasses in my bag and happily hanged out at the back of the pack.
At 9:20 on the dot, we were off. How exciting! I just plodded along, watching my step and just enjoying my surrounds.
Having studied the elevation map, I knew I didn’t want to go too hard on the downhill. Let’s be honest here, I really wanted to open it up and fly, but I knew that the second part of the course would be undulating hills, and all up. Putting on the handbrake I kept it easy.
Along the way, I ran with a lovely couple named Glenn & Anita. They were part of a running group called ‘The Running Nutters’. We talked for a good 30-40 minutes, and the k’s just flew by. I lost them around the 10km mark, but I truly thank them, for their advice and stories.
Passing through Jamieson creek, I chose not to use the stepping stones, because knowing my luck, I’d slip and fall, instead, I just chose to stay on the fire trail and plow on through. My feet barely getting wet.
Not long after this creek crossing the hills start, and that’s when the walking began. There were many times I thought “I wish I had my poles”. I would have been a lot faster and would be able to conserve a lot more energy.
FYI, poles are not allowed on carryon luggage, only checked luggage. Knowing this, I didn’t pack them.
Back to the story.
Kedumba Pass was just magnificent, with grand trees and deep valleys, it had elements of other places I’ve been, like the Otways (Vic), Hepburn (Vic) and Mt Bushwalker (NSW).
Coming into the aid station, you could see the Three Sisters in front of you. All I could think of was “oh wow, I need to get to the other side of that“. I didn’t let that thought faze me. I was out running a part of the world I’d never run before, and I was soaking it all up.
Taking in some fuel, I powered on. By now I had decided to just fartlek it. Run to that tree, walk to the next, and just keep assessing. I’d pass people, then they would pass me, then I would pass them again. It was working though, and slowly I’d be passing more and more.
Walk the Moon’s One foot in front of the other was on repeat in my head. When things got tough, I would sing this tune to help me get through.
I did plan on having headphones with me, except for the fact that I left them in my bag back at the house. Getting into the zone, I’m glad I didn’t have them.
Slowing the landscape was changing. I now know it as the old Sewage Treatment works (they should just call this “Pooh Corner”). It closed back in 1990, yeah I looked it up, so you don’t have to.
Entering a grass valley (aka Pooh Corner), we were now heading into single track country aka “Leura Forest”.
Having been in the open for most of the run, it was dark, dense in some section and a lot cooler, which was quite refreshing.
Whip birds and bellbirds were singing away and it was truly enchanting.
Being on a single track, it did make it harder to overtake. I let anyone behind me know, that if they wanted to pass to just tell me and I would pull over, which I did. Unfortunately, not everyone was like that.
Passing the 5km to go marker I thought about having another gel (mistake). Looking at my watch I had 45 minutes to finish under 3 hours. Yeah, it’s possible, just keep this pace and you could do it.
With now 3km 3km to go, I knew we were close. I asked the lady behind me (she had done it before), how you know you get to Furber Steps. She said I would know.
I could hear the crowd, the cowbells were calling. I was close. All was left to be done were the stairs.
You CAN.NOT.MISS these stairs. With 951 of them, the distance is short (approximately 450m), but the elevation is intense (100m), I decided the only way to do this was to count.
Count I did, one foot in front of the other. There was no way I was going to stop. Not even for a selfie. I made sure to look up and take in my surrounds, but I just wanted to finish.
Losing count around the 800 mark it didn’t matter the end was near.
Once I was over that last Furber step, there were only 5 more stairs after the boardwalk (easily forgotten), before entering the finishes shute.
The crowd was on fire, my name was being called, and I sprinted home. Crossing the finishes line I had the biggest smile on my face.
I collected my medal, and visor before getting checked for mandatory gear. The requirements were a buff/beanie and space blanket. A 40 minute time penalty would occur if you did not carry these items. Over 900 penalties were given out.
Having never run this event before, I was really happy with my result.
Total Time: 3h17m55s
Time to Furber Steps: 2h59m01s
While the 3-hour goal was a stretch, I will know for next time that it is doable. Making it to the base of Furbers under 3 hours is a feat in itself.
You know your training was on point when you cross the finish line and you feel like you still had more in the tank.
I will be back, maybe not in 2020, but I know I will want to better my time, and then come back for the 50 for sure.
Top: Pink Ascis singlet
Bottoms: DHB shorts
Shoes: New Balance Hierro
Fuel: Waer & Huck Nutrition
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