You tell your children that you’ve ran 100kms of trails over a period of 15 hours the response you get is “100kms? 15 hours? That’s good Daddy did you run slowly”? Show them your step count of 112k and they don’t know if to treat you like a superhero Dad or a complete nutter. I like to believe that it’s both!
I recall many a conversation with runners last year that I’d never do a 100km race, I can safely say that I was sucked in and how relieved that I was.
A fellow NRG runner posted that they’d accidentally signed up for the 2017 UTA100, can you believe it, one minute later I was clicking on submit, obviously I was inflicted by the same chronic ‘submit button before brain engages finger syndrome’, I was in! That runner ended up being the fourth female to cross the line, congratulations Robyn.
The mandatory gear was purchased months in advance in preparation for crewing for Chantelle Farrellys C2K, only for me to be shot by a sniper in the hamstring one week out, the first use of the mandatory gear would have to wait. The training subsequently became somewhat haphazard but remarkably the recovery from the hamstring was very quick even though my physio was somewhat skeptical (thank you Vic).
Training was a mixture of club runs for NRG in particular with the build up the 6ft Track, then SUFR runs for the final weeks on the lead up to UTA. I consumed Adam Connors blog a must for any first timer, I read prior race reports (thank you Jeroen & Chantelle), but in the end just approached the race with the mindset that I was going to finish and enjoy it. The day could not come quick enough but finally with gear packed and the Airbnb booked I was ready as ready could be.
Registration hit home how big an event this was and how important it was not only to all those competing but to those volunteering to make the whole weekend a success.
With rego and the compulsory briefing complete we headed back to our cabin with news that the weather had forced the adjustment of the course in particular with no last leg run through the Jamison Valley. A slight panic set in as this was the only part of the course that I had run and was mentally prepared for, but to be honest my thoughts were more along the lines that this would not be the ‘real’ UTA100 course, therefore how could I credit myself as a UTA finisher if it wasn’t across previous years’ route (obviously I was getting ahead of myself there as I hadn’t even crossed the start line at this point). All I can say now in hindsight is that 100kms over trails, in the dark, with runners coming towards you in the dark of night, blinded by piercing headtorches this modified course would well and truly test anyones metal and endurance as an ultra runner.
The rain did come down throughout the Friday night, bucket loads, but had dropped off when it came to leave our cabin, the logistics of the event transportation was fantastic catching the bus outside The Carrington and in no time, we were at Scenic World where the atmosphere was electric. My ‘Finish’ bag was dropped off by my support team (don’t I sound special), CP3, CP4 & CP5 bags being dropped off the night before at rego. The first two waves were off then it was our turn at 6.33am, the excitement was incredible but my mantra was being repeated over and over in my head “Don’t go out too fast, don’t go out too fast”, and we’re off.
Start to CP1
Race time to CP1: 01:15
The out and back section was all about keeping to my mantra, many familiar faces running down in the opposite direction from waves 1 & 2, high-five with Chantelle left me thinking “I can do this” there’s only another 98kms to go, enjoy this what could possibly go wrong.
Landslide was a bottleneck, what more can you do but take on food and water, chat to others around you and grab a photo.
The ascent of Golden Stairs was trouble free, and it was into cruise mode for Narrowneck my first run along here and with the cloud lifting from the valley and peaks just rising above the mist/cloud line the views were proving as magical as everyone had stated on the lead up to this section. CP1 arrived and even though I was only running with two 500ml flasks I didn’t stop and carried on through.
CP1 to CP2
Race time to CP2: 03:38
Tarros Ladders were another bottleneck with the advice from the crew manning them to run around them, it would be quicker, but having never done the ladders I had to see what all the fuss was about. Dean Israel; Catherine Sharp and Jenny Morris joined the queue behind me, where had I passed them, they were in front of me before Landslide? No idea, only 15kms was I hallucinating already?
The climb towards CP2 went with no fuss, Dean and I were running together as we passed the Digeridoo players, quite magical, paused for a video this time, “How much time would I use up with photo & video stops” I thought to myself, who cares. Still felt strong and comfortable coming into CP2, filled two prepped 500ml flasks, grabbed handfuls of watermelon and bananas’ and set off only to see that Dean and Catherine were gone, was I really in CP2 for that long?
CP2 to CP3
Race time to CP3: 05:05
I managed to catch Dean up shortly after CP2 but he was strong up the hill towards CP3 and pulled away, why didn’t I do more stairs training (little was I to know how that thought would come back to haunt me later in the race). Up to this point I had been a little worried that I hadn’t been taking on enough fluids but had heeded the advice at the pre-race briefing to only drink when thirsty, up to this point I’d taken on 3 x 500ml flasks plus a couple of cups of water (at CP2), once I hit the top of the climb I did take a pee stop so I must have at least taken on enough to trigger it, although the pee rate was more of an 80-year-old rather than a…. oh well, no difference there then! Note to self, book a doctor’s appointment.
CP3 arrived, quick check for high-viz jacket and torch and into CP3. One of the key points I’d taken from Adam Connors blog was to limit the number of treats in your check bags but there peering teasingly from within was a 300ml bottle of flat coke, now I’m not a big coke drinker but this little beauty was orgasmic, how soon would it take me to run to CP4 for my the next beauty.
I filled 2 x 500ml flasks with Tailwind and water; prepped my other two empty flasks with Tailwind, and grabbed two pre-prepped from my bag. All this took way too much time (even though I had a funnel in the bag to assist with getting the Tailwind into the flasks), but the table still had enough white powder scattered giving the appearance that I’d had most of the NRL players as my support crew, lesson learnt.
I left CP3 strong in the legs, but annoyed that I’d been there for too long. One thing I will say though, the volunteers here and organisation of getting you in and out of the CP was brilliant.
CP3 to CP4
Race time: 06:50
Arrived at CP4 at 13:23 / left at 13:32
Nellies Glen, what can I say but you were a bitch! Thank feck that we run down you for 6ft.
All I really remember about CP3 to CP4 was that bloody climb, I mean it’s not as if we don’t do other climbs in this race but this I found somewhat soul destroying, it could have been something to do with the runner in front of me constantly calling out “Be nice to Nellie, she’s beautiful, come on Nellie, we can do this, be nice to Nellie” (machete, homicide, fugitive kept coming to mind) but I did find it tough going, the run down into Katoomba and the Aquatic Centre was tough going, had I hit my limit.
Just writing this report it’s amazing how much of the run you forget, but Nellies will not escape me for a long time, the saving grace, CP4. How much of a buzz is it to run in to that checkpoint? Gillian Russell spotted me first, we grabbed my bag only to realise I’d picked up the wrong bag, I did ponder on doing a trade but Orla O’Leary found me, she had my bag and I remembered my bottle of flat coke, queue seductive music as I lift this little gem to my lips and smash it down, get in there! Gillian and Orla were flapping and my mind could not take on board what they were trying to do “Take it easy, slow down” I quipped, “no rush”.
Key point of advice, if you can get someone to assist as support crew, snap their arm off and accept the offer. It’s truly wonderful to have someone at CP4 to greet you.
On that note, I took a step back as there were ladies present and let off one of the loudest, earth shaking farts I’d ever done, possibly a few nervous souls in the immediate vicinity had dived for cover not realising it was only a natural gas release, and off I trotted into the late afternoon and the sun getting lower behind me.
CP4 to CP5 (via Fairmont)
Race time to CP5: 10:13
Arrived at CP5: 16:46
Just before CP4 my watch had clicked over to 48kms, the longest I had ever run, well this is exciting I thought to myself, only another 52kms to go.
This section I found so uplifting, the views to my right running along the cliff edge were remarkable as the escarpments were glowing gold with the lower sun angle, there weren’t too many runners around and I just found this section such a joy to run, little did I know the beast that was waiting to greet me on the return leg would be a whole different ball game.
The run into Fairmont and a drink stop was made all the better for the smiling face of Aileen Davidson. For those who don’t know Aileen she could quite easily be confused for Mary Berry (not in appearance I hastened to add) but for her amazing culinary skills at baking. “Where’s the bloody cake”? I called out, “at the finish line” came the reply, I must admit I almost stumbled at this news as I’d been wondering where Aileen was going to be camped out seeing as CP3 had been closed to support crews and that was going to be her place to dish out the cake, oh well, I’ll just have to run harder to make sure that I was back to the finish before all the cake was gone.
Leaving Fairmont and dropping down this is when the first of the men (heading back to the finish) crossed my path, honestly, I wasn’t affected by this much, the fact that they’d be finishing 6 hours ahead of me I was perfectly ok with, I just whispered to each and every one as they passed “Touch the bloody cake and I’ll hunt you down”. Lucy Bartholomew cruised on past before I’d had time to wish her a happy birthday, damn these guys are good.
Coming down to Wentworth Falls I began to see a lot of happy and familiar faces Richard Bettles, Tim Lyndon; Jeroen De Graaf; Chantelle Farrelly; Hannah McRae all of which had a huge smile and greeting, very uplifting, thanks to one and all.
I really managed to get a good run into QVH at CP5, the time was getting close to 4.30pm and I knew that coming close to a 14 hour finish I’d need to be in and out of CP5 before 5pm, obviously, I was ignoring the fact that we were still short by approximately 4kms because we’d not done Iron Pot. Iain O’Donnell brought me back to reality upon calling out as we passed just before CP5 that we had a 1.5km out and back. Was he just trying to fuck with my mind after all he is Scottish! Sure enough at CP5 there’s Orla, “Hi, hi, hi, yes feeling good, bye, bye, oh shit” as we were made to run on through and past CP5, this out and back was tough.
CP5 to Finish (via Fairmont)
Race time – Base of Furber: 14:44:54
Race time – Finish: 15:08:50
Time of Day: 21:41
CP5 was rocking, I felt good, my legs still had plenty of running in them, the flat coke was awesome and I even devoured half a pot of Pot Noodles, what more could a soon to be (I hoped) ultra runner ask for? Cake! It could wait.
Orla was a champion as ever, assisting me in changing socks and a fresh (long-sleeved) shirt. Paul Garske helped me tape up my left big toe which had slight signs of a blister, head-torch on and Orla even tried to help me by taking gear out of my backpack to lessen the weight “Er, hold on Orla, that fleece and waterproof pants are mandatory”, that could have been interesting come the gear check at the finish line.
Off into the dark I headed, the hope of a 14-hour finish was long behind me but heading into this race I reminded myself that my goal was to finish and enjoy it, so far I’d succeeded in the latter.
STAIRS! Bloody stairs, why didn’t I run more Curry Mountains.
I don’t wish to dwell on this last section too much other than to say it was tough. My legs could run, my mind was good, but upon leaving The Fairmont for the second time stomach cramps began to set in so much so that by the time I got to within 5kms of the Furber steps I was beginning to think that this was appendicitis. The cramps were chronic, I desperately tried to get another peanut butter wrap (my food of choice throughout the race), but my mouth could not generate enough saliva to swallow, I reckon it took upwards of ½ hour to consume one wrap whilst washing it all down with Tailwind. The symptoms did not ease.
Jenny Morris passed me with about a kilometre to go to Furber, I’m sure I called out “Go Jen”, but this could well have been just in my head. And so I found myself at the base of Furber, I’d done the climb twice in the past month, this would be a doddle, wouldn’t it? Twenty four mins later and two attempts to throw up I was greeted by Orla who was just walking down the ramp to see where I was, my slow climb had obviously caused some concerns, but when there’s cake beckoning a few stairs are not going to get in your way.
There was Col beaming having finished her 50kms earlier in the day (congratulations), as I ran the shute with familiar faces cheering me in, the euphoria was absolutely overwhelming and with a leap and a punch in the air I crossed the line. I’m a bloody ultra runner, now where’s the cake?!
What did I learn?
I learnt at an early stage in my life to never accept no as an answer, shit happens but it’s what we do to learn from our failures that sets us up for the rest of our lives. We’re all in control of our own destiny if we just apply ourselves, but even I hesitated when it came to believing that I could run a 100km trail race, but boy am I pleased I signed up.
Next time (yes there will be a next time), eat more solids including some warm Pot Noodles at CP4.
I reckon my water intake was on the low side but I certainly didn’t jeopardise my race.
Don’t set my Petzl Nao to Reactive Lighting mode, just keep it set to constant as each time my beam hit a 3M reflective strip or another runnsers high viz jacket my torch would dim considerably, disconcerting on the narrow trails and cliff edges.
Don’t take as many photos next time.
Don’t spend as long at CP2 and CP3
The start, the middle, the finish
Seeing Cols smile at the end
Turning my torch off on the cliff edge and taking in the stars, mind-blowing (and no I wasn’t running at the same time)
And yes, Aileen’s cake was bloody delicious!!!!
Last but not least, Orla O’Leary you are nothing short of a saint, you kept my spirits high, go raibh maith agat, go raibh maith agat, go raibh maith agat