Ultra-Trail Australia 50 – James Mooreia 50
Race Date: May 20th Results: 2017
Paul Murray suggested I do a write up of the UTA50. Apparently it provides some sort of cathartic release (and is hopefully interesting for others considering it in future years). I know it’s a little late (writing this late June), but I’m just back to running again, so am feeling a little more positive about it!
A whole bunch of flyers entered the various 2017 UTA events. If you weren’t part of the ‘dirt train’ build up, I’m sure you noticed all the Facebook traffic about it. This really helped me – Damian Whittaker’s organisation of bush runs in places I’d not been before, and other such as Jody Whitehead sharing tips for just about everything.
I’d entered both the UTA50 (May) and the Six Foot Track Marathon (which preceded it in March). These were a bit of a step up for me. The longest I’d been before then was the Sydney Marathon (my first) in Sept 2016. The lesson from Six Foot for me was getting fuelling right. I went into it fit, but after training on Tailwind I stupidly chose to use gels and water the night before the event – mostly as the aid stations were randomly spread and I hadn’t planned how to manage regular fuelling to hit the magic 300 calories per hour. My stomach was in knots by 26km and whilst I was happy with my time (4 hrs 55 mins) and place, I was keen to avoid a repeat at the UTA50.
I’d had a couple of niggling injuries - mostly ITB related from Six Foot (and the steep rocky descent at the very end), but otherwise came out ok. I had 3 weeks in the UK in April, including lots of mountain walking / running, which was good prep for UTA. I therefore arrived at the start line in reasonably good condition but maybe short of a few longer km runs.
I stayed in Blackheath with Fil Czyzewski and our families, and arrived in time to pick up our bibs on Friday evening. It was tipping it down – we’d seen the Flyers in the UTA22 on Facebook in the pouring rain and expected the same for our race. The race briefings all fell through – the car parks were flooded and the advertised ‘internet streamed’ version didn’t happen. However, we did hear that the course had changed due to flood risk. Instead of doing the second loop of the UTA100 we would be doing the first loop, and setting off two hours late to avoid congestion.
So – my carefully planned fuelling strategy was out of the window and I was back to the drawing board – the aid stations were now at different distances than previous. I worked out how much Tailwind / liquid I now needed to carry through each stage and tried to memorise it. I also took a look at the new course profile and tried to determine when I should be pushing and when not, but to be honest it was all a bit last minute.
The atmosphere at the start line was awesome. The weather had just started to clear up and there was a big bunch of Flyers (a flock of Flyers?) – including those from the UTA22 supporting. I’d made it into Wave 1 because of my Six Foot time, which was pretty lucky. A good part of trail racing is trying to make it past people on single track so whilst I was nervous about whether I was quick enough for Wave 1, I was happy enough that I’d see fewer queues at aid stations and less congestion on the trail.
We were off – a quick road out and back (during which we passed Wave 2 – shout out to Robbo who was leading it!) and we hit the stairs down in to the valley. I reckon I was about 2/3rds of the way back in our wave of about 200 as we hit the stairs. It was a pretty gentle pace down and then into some undulating single trails. I wanted to go a bit faster so started making my way past people. I have a technique of being as polite as possible, but passing anyway. Generally giving someone a yell that I’m coming and then lots of ‘thanks’. Waiting for a perfect gap each time would take too long – and usually I find there are a few runners that pass me back again on firetrail so I try and keep it friendly!
The first 8km was very rocky, pretty steep, and climbed back to our original altitude. I paced fairly steady along it. I really wasn’t thirsty but tried to keep sipping on the Tailwind. I’d mixed it reasonably strong to make the calorie target – with all bottles prefilled with powder, or with little baggies of pre-weighed powder ready. First aid station was at about 8km. I ditched any undrunk liquid, and as the second aid station was 20km away I filled 3 x 500ml flasks quickly and got going. I prepped the flasks all in advance of the aid station (generally while walking on a hill) so that all I did was fill up with water and go. My strategy was to have no solid food all race.
The next section was awesome. The sun was now out, and we were running above the clouds on ridges that allowed stunning views on both sides. Fat firetrails. This turned pretty quickly to scrambling rocky descents down into the valley. We caught up with the (walking) tail-enders of the UTA100. They all got out of our way pretty quick, especially where we were descending quickly. This was my strength and I passed a lot of people here. It was a mix of steep descending single trail and rock clambering. We reached the ‘ladders’ – a section where it was too steep and ladders had been strapped to the cliff. However, the marshal advised that there was a running option which was longer but would be quicker due to the queues here so I took it with a bunch of others.
Just before the next aid station I heard Robbo – possibly the most social man on course – coming up the hill behind me and talking to everyone he passed. We ran into the next aid station together. All the aid stations were well stocked and well laid out. I was again able to get in and out pretty quickly but had not drunk anywhere near as much of the liquid as planned. The sweet taste of it was starting to get a bit much, but I didn’t feel I was dehydrated or lacking energy (other than being 30km in). By this stage we were down at the bottom of the Megalong Valley and whilst we had a gentle downhill out of the aid station, the climbing soon began. There was a lot of climbing out which was pretty punishing to be honest. My strategy on all hills was to walk as quickly as I could, and run as soon as the incline eased off. This was pretty much the same for everyone around me and starts to become a mental battle to keep going, or at least until the next landmark.
From 30-40km the trails were easy to run, and I had plenty of fuel on. My pace was pretty average at this point though as I was starting to feel tired. I switched out a bottle of Tailwind for water to provide some relief from the sugary taste and it helped. The running opened up into pasture and soon I arrived at the final aid station – with about 9km left. I ate a few chunks of Watermelon here – again just to provide a different taste to the Tailwind.
The last part was mostly Six Foot Track in reverse, so I knew what was coming. Nellie’s Glen is a long steep ascent from the bottom of the valley to the top of the cliffs. We could see the top of the cliffs so knew we had a long way up to go. A pretty savage 5km of continuous and steepening ascent. We wouldn’t encounter the steepness of the Furber steps due to the course change but it was still tough. I buckled down, and tried to keep moving. I dunked my head in a few streams to cool off as I crossed them. I think I was passed here by Daniel Kiriakidis (and Brendan Fisher but I didn’t see him). A lot of people were pausing - I stopped a couple of times – 10 seconds to catch my breath. Soon enough I could hear cowbells from a bunch of supporters at the top. The steep stuff was over and I knew there was about 5km of undulating trail / road to the finish.
I caught up with Damian Whittaker who had cramped badly near the top and Robbo passed me on the final hill. I was soon at the aquatic centre where my cheer squad was waiting. It gave me the boost I needed, as did the high 5 from Matt Mahony who was marshalling. My right ITB and Achilles were done by this point and so it was adrenaline that was keeping them moving. Through the backstreets of Katoomba and I was soon in the finishing chute (with Kyle and John D cheering Flyers through just before we hit the last straight – much appreciated).
And finally the finishing line. I can stop running. First order of business – I had to produce a piece of mandatory kit for the inspector.. All good. I wandered off like a drunk man to find some food. I got some on board and sat down. 6 hours 9 mins and 113th position – I was really happy with this. It took about an hour before I stopped feeling nauseous!
I was really stoked with the outing. Despite getting sick of it, the fuelling with Tailwind had worked. A lot of scope for better fitness – I definitely lost a few places on Nellie’s Glen – but I didn’t have anything else in the tank. My training pal Fil wasn’t far behind so we gave him a yell as he crossed the line and we all went off to get some beers.
Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. The family weekend away was awesome, and the atmosphere and organisation of the event, especially with the last minute course change, was very good. I don’t think I’d be convinced to do the 100km course yet – so massive kudos to those that did it.
Tips – 1. I packed a light set of kit, and had it with all air squeezed out in ziplock bacgs flat in my pack. It didn’t move and made running a lot easier with it. 2. Pre-sorting all dosing of powder and practising dosing it into bottles (one of Jody’s tips). 3. The Six Foot Track has great pacing guides for each section and I’d developed something similar for the UTA, but with the course change this went out the window. I’d do this again next time as it helps to know what your average should be at each stage to stop you pushing too hard on the steep ascents. Previous Strava entries are a great source of info for this and other trail runs!