Ultra-Trail Australia is an epic event. It’s a trail running festival in the Blue Mountains, based out of Katoomba, with the anchor events being the UTA50 and UTA100. It’s the third largest trail running event globally.
It is a tough run. The 50km event features about 2,400m of ascent and the 100km about 4,400m of ascent. Did someone mention stairs? Oooh there are lots of stairs!
There were 25 members of TTS that were part of our seven-month journey from entry to crossing the finish line on Saturday 19th May. This is our story…
IN THE BEGINNING
It’s 9:59am and a select group of TTSers are hunched over their keyboards in the corner of their workplaces, waiting for UTA entries to open online. The clock ticks 10:00am and in a flurry of activity the entries are in. Productivity drops as emails exclaiming “I’M IN!!!” fly through the ether.
With 233 days to go until the big event, training plans are drawn up. We agree to build a good base up to Christmas and then start proper training and long runs in the new year. Let the games begin!
When the aliens arrive and say “take me to your leader” we’re gonna call Doug. He developed a training plan that had our Garmins twitching with excitement and some of us quietly weeping in the corner. Commencing in February, 15 weeks of serious preparation lay ahead, with TTS intervals on Tuesdays, hill sessions on Wednesdays and normal TTS sessions on Thursdays.
The weekend TTS sessions are replaced with a glorious selection of long runs, slowly building toward the UTA in May. The summer months mean some early starts to beat the heat. There are protests from partners when alarms are set [in some cases] prior to 5am, to allow travel time to some of the highest points in and around Canberra.
RACE DAY APPROACHES
The training is finished and we’ve all enjoyed the taper and carb loading. It’s time to get it done!
We all make it to Katoomba safely and pretty much injury-free. The herd is in good shape. We’ve all spent a small fortune on acquiring our mandatory gear (a pack to carry 2L of fluids, jacket, thermal top, buff , space blanket, compression bandage, head torch, whistle, phone and food). We all studiously pack our gear and prepare ourselves for the big event the next day.
Ok now we can get excited! 5:00am start. Eat lots. Get into favourite race gear and don large pack. Catch bus to start line.We are here. It is time. Assemble into appropriate waves and await the starter’s gun … eeek!
This race is beyond words. The scenery is incredible … it’s what sky running is all about. Following the escarpment from Katoomba down through Leura Forest, past the cascades and onto Lillians Bridge and Wentworth Falls.
It’s idyllic, with rainforest and waterfalls, some of the most beautiful trails in this country.
There are a few stairs. Did anyone mention the stairs? Suzie claimed through the earlier sharing of a Facebook post that there are OVER 8,100 STAIRS ON THIS RUN. Why did nobody tell us that earlier? Ah well … back to the scenery!
We all ran our own race. There’s not space here to do it justice, what everyone went through to finish. We all had to dig deep and respect what an unbelievably tough event this is.
The finish is epic, the last 1km including the Furber Steps, 951 steps and 220m of calf-cramping elevation gain.
But when you reach the top and run those last metres along the wooden boardwalk before turning the corner to the finish, it all becomes worth it. The sense of achievement is golden and the cheers of the crowd awesome!!!
DOUG’S STORY: THE OLYMPIAN APPENDIX
“After four months of UTA training, and with only four weeks left until the event, I found myself in Calvary Hospital with acute Appendicitis. CT scans confirmed the Doctor’s diagnosis and I went into surgery on ANZAC Day! At this point I was resigned to missing out on UTA, the flame was extinguished. But I had underestimated the encouragement and support of my running buddies, and a story that Kerry told me that reignited the flame … the story was about Victoria Mitchell who competed in the 3000m steeplechase final at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast only two weeks after having her appendix removed. Victoria, you beaut! I can still do it?!”
“There were good days and bad, but I slowly eased myself back into running one week after surgery, feeding off the daily encouragement I received from everyone. I toed the start line 25 days after surgery. If you would like to know how I felt when I finally crossed that finish line, with all my TTS mates screaming like crazed fans, I think the picture says it all. Anyone who thinks running is not a team sport is missing out, something none of us at our cherished TTS running club ever have to worry about!”
ANDY’S STORY: THE LEGEND FINISHER
“….it was the end of the day when all runners were tired and looking forward to an evening of celebrations, when the call came out to get back to the finish line to support the last TTS runner to cross the finish line. The motorcade hits the road, heading back to Scenic World, checking the UTA live feed app every minute for an update on the last checkpoint. There it is – 6.02pm and Andy hits the bott om of the Furber Stairs (1km to go, 900+ stairs and 220 metres of elevation gain). C’mon Andy you can do it! How hard can this last km be with a dodgy ankle? He hits the finishing shute 30 minutes later – it’s dark and cold and the crowd is screaming out his name. Lightsabre in hand, he crosses the finish line. Legend ”
IAN’S STORY: THE TRAIL RUNNER
“I quit endurance running in 2014. Chasing marathon PBs at some point had turned into hating high intensity training and tiring of repetitive lake runs. This bought me to the natural conclusion that running was for idiots. After a while on the bike, I was surprised to notice that Sharon’s Facebook posts of Mt Cooree, Mt Ginini, Mt etc runs were making me jealous. This warranted investigation.”
“I committed to UTA 2018, did some bike to 10k work and showed up for that first the sewerage works run. Week after week, out there on the bush tracks, running at conversational pace I got the bug back. The combination of the dusty trails, gum trees and great people made the long runs a highlight of my week. I’m not sure if I’ll do the UTA50 again, but I’m keen to keep running in the bush or wherever with you guys. Thanks for everything.”
AMY’S STORY: THE ORANGE SHIRT
“With Ultra Trail Australia you receive an event shirt as part of your race pack. When I found out this year the event shirts were orange I was so excited and even more determined to get through all the long runs, hill repeats, those Red Hill steps and get to the finish line to earn to wear it. (I think I am a litt le obsessed about all things orange )”
“When I first laid my eyes on this beautiful shirt – oh I just loved it and I couldn’t wait to wear it. But I had to run/walk/hike/ pull myself upstairs over 50km before that could happen.”
“I think having the reward waiting for me at the end made the race feel more manageable – or maybe the training had something to do with it. There were lots of stairs, downhill bits and uphill bits, road, single trail and some pretty nice scenery too.”