Event: Ultra-Trail Australia 2017 UTA50
Date: Saturday 20th May 2017
Organised by: Ultra-Trail Australia / AROCsport
Ultra Trail Australia is Australia’s premier 100km trail running event, held in the Blue Mountains National Park in New South Wales. It was previously known as The North Face 100.
There are 50km and 100km races on the Saturday, and several other shorter events over the weekend and in the days leading up to it.
Ultra-Trail Australia has captivated runners locally and internationally and It has quickly grown to become one of the most talked about endurance events in Australian history.
I think that the North Face 100 had been on my radar since it was first run; it was an iconic race that piques curiosity. But actually running the UTA50 goes back to September 2016 where I was determining if I should run the 22 or the 50. A Venturer who I was examining for badge work put out the challenge which can be summarised as follows;
Venturer: Are you challenging yourself on the UTA20?
Me: Not really.
Venturer: You ask us to challenge ourselves.
Me: Ok, UTA50 it is.
And on 13th October 2016 I registered for the Ultra Trail Australia 50km.
Something to put on the table from the start, I was never going to be able to put in the training miles to race the UTA50, so the plan was always to ‘complete not compete’ and I had set a manageable finish time of 8 hours.
At the evening race briefing they announced that there was a complete course change for the 50km. Plans based on the old route are now out the window, we’ll need to wing it.
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT FOR UTA50 RUNNERS
Due to the wet weather forecast and rain predicted overnight, there has been a major course change to the UTA50 in the interest of runner safety. There are also significant changes to the start times for the race, so please read the attached information carefully. Essentially, the UTA50 runners will be taking in the first half of the UTA100 course.
The new course will allow you to experience the awesome Tarros Ladders and some spectacular trails through the Megalong Valley and Six Foot Track for the first time.
Have fun out there and stay safe!
Having been bitten on earlier runs, the plan was not to go out fast. I started comfortably and slotted into the chain of people heading down the single trail heading to the Fuber steps. Having glanced at the route, and remembering some discussions from the 100km runners giving advice, it is not worth forcing the pace until yo have passed CP1.
Bearing this in mind it was settle into the pace line and enjoy the views. I had decided to wear my merino thermals to start the day so that I didn’t get cold in the cliff shadows; this may have been a fair idea given how slow we were going at stages in this section.
After we had climbed the Golden Stair, the course opens onto fire trail and allowed people to set their own pace. I chose to run where I could and to stride out with power hiking on the climbs where others had stopped running. At CP1 I removed my thermal and bundled it into the race vest, had a gel and headed out. Next CP was 20km away.
The weather had cleared, the day was warming up, and the views were awesome. This was a great section of trail, and pretty soon we were at the end on narrow neck and heading towards the ladders down some pretty narrow single track.
It was here that we backed up a little as we made our way through the rock garden and waited for the ladders. Yes, you could bypass the ladders – but they are an iconic part of the event so there was no way I was missing the chance to use them!
After the ladders there is another rolling set of single trail, this is where I stuffed up. Not paying enough attention, or just settling into a rhythm behind other runners, I caught my left foot in a root and went down. A quick brush down, checking my knee and wrists where I took the fall, all seems ok. It was only another couple of km down the track when stepping over a downed tree that I realised that I have a problem with my left calf and have a tear/cramping issue.
Ok run to CP2 at 28km and see how we are going, some mental test during this session to work out if things are bad enough to pull the pin. Think back on the discussions that I should be able to finish even if I hike. At CP2 I drank a couple of cups of Coke (magic elixir) and check the calf – no real swelling but a fair bit of pain. Rule#5 is invoked and it’s time to head out to CP3. I discover on this section that I can hike faster than some people are running, especially up hill. I can get some mild jogging in down hill but cannot stretch out without calf pain. Power hiking it is.
Hello CP3 you are a welcome sight. Another Coke and off we go, keep moving and don’t let the calf cool down. We are now on the Six Foot track which allows a bit of a mix between running and hiking. Great views back up at the cliffs, but being in the valley means there is a bloody big climb to come and sure enough we hit Nellie’s Glen and the climb up begins. This was not fun, people were literally crawling up on their hands and knees as there were none of the handy hand rails to use as there were on Fuber stairs. Referring back to Rule#5 it was a slog up the stairs with no real stops; as we reached the top the cheers from the spectators at the top of the climb was a wonderful lure pulling us out of the damp narrow track and into the light. Unfortunately the climb doesn’t end here and you have another 3.5km of undulations until you reach the Aquatic Centre. For the 50km runners the Aquatic Centre is a timing station only so it was a case of check in/check out and keep running. As darkness has started to fall we were soon donning our reflective vests and as we left the roads and onto the final single trail it was also time for our head lamps. The final few kilometers varied from muddy boardwalks, to concrete walking paths and all with a mix of more stairs. Pretty soon we were onto the final ramp and up into the finish.
8h05m20s close enough to 8 hours to be mission accomplished. Surprisingly, I was not totaled and probably could have continued to run (a good sign). This will give hope for future events, hopefully when I can run more of the course.
So can you do a 50km on half marathon training? Yes, you can. But you don’t have as much in reserve if something goes wrong.
Is it better to have done the 50km on less training than not have done it at all? I’d do it this way again in a heartbeat!