TLDR for the rest of this, I had an awesome day out, went under 12 hours
of the day is here enjoying the whole course once again with a 30
minute PB. (oh and for many years I have arbitrarily tried to claim I
was not a runner, with my arbitrary switch been a sub 12 at UTA, guess I
have to own up to being a runner now)
Somehow I ended up running the Ultra Trail Australia event again with one days notice. As in 2017 I was up here as a volunteer helping my friends Tom and Al with their event. As a course marker Ian and I got to be out on course for the week leading up to the event putting out arrows and pink flagging tape. (also packing the course up post event). However we got all the course marking finished by Thursday afternoon, I asked Tom (Landon Smith) if I was needed on Saturday (Dave M also was around by now as another course marking person) and when he said no I asked if I could have a jog on Saturday. He said sure, so I hopped into the 100km event, thanks Tom.
I have of course run this race previously, before volunteering, three times in the 100 (2016 (writeup), 2015 and 2014 (photos and writeup)) and twice in pairs (With Jane in 2012 (photos and writeup) and with Aaron in 2011 (photos and writeup)). However had not really planned to do the event this year as I knew I would be up there course marking again.
Now to talk about how I managed this and a few things I was testing out on the day by doing the event again. My friend Danealle mentioned to me she has this term "Yes Fitness" which is a great way to encapsulate my long term goals with getting outside and doing hard things. Yes fitness is the fitness you need to be able to say yes to any adventure outside suggested by any of your friends and be pretty confident you can get through it having fun and not really struggling. Of course depending on the sort of friends you have this may be pretty challenging.
Historically I am a mountain bike rider and skiier. Having done both those sports through the 90s to the exclusion of pretty much all other sport. Though I got sick of resort skiing in Australia around 2001 I was happy to continue mtb riding and doing events and improving that all the time. However in 2001 I met Dave and Julie, both of whom get outside and do big adventures regularly. Julie has won TNF100 twice among many other amazing performances, they have also both been world rogaine champions a number of times and love having adventures outside.
Over the years hanging out with them and other friends doing outdoor activities such as Adventure Racing, longer rides, getting hooked on runing and getting into regular long runs has all been fun and the long term idea has always been that any friend could say lets go do something in the wild and it will be fun. In all the sports I do, cycling, running, kayaking (and in so many other sports) Canberra has a huge number of very fast people, to the extent I can pretty much always try to claim I am slow and not that good because I am surrounded by people a whole lot faster/better than me in any given sport.
Being surrounded by these fast/strong people is great inspiration to try to approach their level of ability and mental toughness plus getting more experiences under the belt gives you your own back ground and history to pull on when ever you head outside. Also the more often long hard outdoor activities and events are done the easier others not quite as hard become (mentally and physically). My friends Tom, Alex, Paul and Lee recently raced the Godzone AR in NZ, which by all reports was the hardest edition yet. They all have come back saying it redefined the concept of what is hard, so anything that is not a 3 day trek through mud carrying pack rafts and navigating will lilkely be viewed as pretty easy, even if it is a 12 hour run on trails or a 50 km paddle in windy conditions.
In my own experience of doing hard things to make other stuff easier, an example I found was doing the annual round the K ride in 2016 just two weeks after the Alpine Challenge 160km run in the vic alps the ride was suddenly so much easier because it was no where near as hard as the run two weeks earlier. Thus as a combination of experience and previous efforts and the mental battles you had in those all build up it should all help with future adventures and simply being able to say yes to geting out in the wilderness and having fun with all your friends.
So though I run a fair bit I had not done a run longer than 64km since late 2016, and the last run longer than 50km had been Razorback in March 2017. I twisted my ankle (turns out it was two torn ligaments and a talus fracture) competing in a 100km event in Norway at the end of september in 2017, though that was 57km into the event it was more a hike than a run due to the conditions. With three months of no running after that injury to recover I admit I kind of wondered if I had good ability to get through the mental game of a 100km again at the moment. Hence the reasoning behind how useful it is to have a history of doing hard things outdoors so long efforts can still be easier mentally.
I had some good runs earlier in 2018, a 35 minute PB at Mt Solitary Ultra (5h53m I think) and a good run with friends around Googong plus six foot marathon in the same time as 2017 in that time frame too meant I had my confidence to be able to run well back. So when I got the opportunity to race UTA100 again I had two things I wanted to test myself with. For a long time this concept of Yes fitness had me thinking I should at any given time be fit enough to be able to go and run 100km tomorrow and get through it pretty well and the next bit was that so long as you have a history of events and efforts plus confidence to back up getting a big effort like this done a lot of it is mental past the first 30km or so. (the other nice thing about running lots is it toughens you up a lot, I have found for a while now the fitness and toughness I get from running lets me go do other stuff more easily most of the time)
With the knowledge that a lot of it was mental I admit I had spent some time during the week thinking about it and if I could get my head in the game enough to run well, the half marathon of stairs from 57km to 78km is the crux of the race and getting through that pushing solidly and effectively is a big mental game to then be able to still open up a fair bit through the kedumba descent and focus on the finish. Once Tom gave me the go ahead to race I decided I had to get my head in the game and focused on running for the following day.
Ian and Dave did the final crowded area setup stuff for the course such as echo point on Friday and told me to just chill and get ready, I had the opportunity to hang out with Jane for a bit after her excellent run in the UTA22 (5th female) and bought a new pair of shoes (La Sportiva Akashas) from Tom Brazier and the La Sportiva crew there as I did not have a pair of racing shoes with me at UTA. Big risk of course running in a brand new pair of shoes I had never tried before but hey always fun to push the boundaries a bit, I bought 2 boxes of Gu as I planned to race the entire event on Gels as that seems to work pretty well for me in efforts up to around 12 hours. Though I knew people running all the check points I did not want to waste time much and had pretty much planned to re fill my water bottles and grab some hammer gels and keep going all the way around the course, carrying my Gu and not having any drop bags anywhere.
Gear wise as you can see in the photo top left I only had my small UD pack (SJ 2.0) and a Naked belt, my food reserves and phone would all be in the belt and the dry bag with compulsory gear would be shoved into the vest along with a litre of back up water in the bladder. Not the best vest to have something so small holding all the gear, in the end it chafed my back pretty painfully through the run but it was what I had so it worked out. Fortunately I had excessive amounts of pink race gear handy as pink goes faster so I was set there ;), I borrowed a few other bits from some of the other AROC crew and a crew reflective vest and managed to pass gear check and be ready to head out on course Saturday morning in Wave 1.
Saturday morning I was pretty much the last AROC person left in our accommodation as everyone else was busy making the event happen from much earlier, luxury. I had some toast and headed to the start line. Once we got going I settled in and chatted to those around me which was my aim for the first 50km anyway. Once onto Narrow Neck I settled in with a guy named Nick and had a good run with him until CP 3 at Six Foot Track 46km into the event. He was doing his first ever 100 and had a fantastic run finishing in 12:25 or so. He saw his family and changed clothes at CPs which cost him some time but definitely a great effort (and I can out faff anyone so am not someone to criticize anyone else for spending a bit fo time at CPs).
I got the cramps I get every year somewhere around the Iron Pot descent and had to back of and ease through the rest of the way to CP3 to keep them at bay. My friend Ali has suggested these may be psychosomatic to some extent as I get them every year I now expect them and the mental head space may bring them on somehow. Anyway they went away enough and I still felt good heading up Nellies Glen and pushed hard through the top of the stairs there. I got to 57km at the CP4 Aquatic centre still feeling pretty solid and happy so ready to run and push through the half marathon of stairs. After this point the run was a bit more lonely as I passed a few people and got passed by one person but did not really hang out with anyone for the rest of the run.
As I ran through toward Fairmont I knew I was on for a good day but looking at my time thought I was likely to finish in around 12:10 to 12:15. Which was fine by me on a 1 days notice 100km UTA run. I saw Jane and her friends in fancy dress at Fairmont and leaving said I thought I was unlikely to break 12 but would keep pushing on. I got to Queen Vic CP5 with time to re fill and be pushed out by Linda (stop yakking and go and f****** run, thanks Linda) the CP manager with my watch saying 9h08m. At this point I knew it was possible for me to go under 12 hours if I had a really solid run to the finish, however knew it would be close and depended how much I really did have left in the tank.
In previous years I had made a mistake with fueling either on the approach to Queen Vic or soon after and not had enough sugar in my system (diabetes fun), so was careful to eat a bunch of Gels approaching CP5 and just as I left it so as not to lose 15 minutes having to walk a section I should be running through. I head down Kedumba and though not going at sub 4 minute pace (hi Dave) I managed to scoot down there well and settle into the next climb, passed Gail and butt slapped her as she had requested the previous day and kept on pushing. The 50km runners are kind of fun to see all through here and cheer on as much as I can, they also provide a nice focus to keep on passing. Lots of daylight left at the emergency aid at the heli pad at 91km so I headed on up to the sewerage works.
When I hit the sewerage works I knew it would be dark in under the trees by this point and asked the marshall there to pull my head torch out for me. Looked at my watch and saw it said 11h03m, at this point I knew I was capable of sub 12 and just needed to really push through Federal pass. I hoped to get to the base of the Ferber stairs with 20 minute to spare as I know from past races I can climb the stairs in just under 16 minutes at the end of the 100. I pushed as much as I could and got the the base of the stairs with 17 minutes to spare. Oh boy the stairs are going to hurt, they did but it was worth it as I admit I had a big smile on my face to come into the finishing straight and see the clock with 11:58:50 or so on it, crossing the line on 11h59m04s definitely kept the smile seen bottom right on my face for a while (42nd place, 40th male).
I admit I surprised myself with this run, I had sort of expected without any targeted training and no mental build up to the event I was likely to run around 12h40m. Tom (Brazier) had an excellent run to into 12th place (10h42m) on almost no run training. Just a lot of Adenture Racing, kayak rolling and rock climbing, plus lots of calf raises. He and I had a similar mental approach, see how the day goes and keep pushing if it keeps working out. Also running a trail like this is pretty straight forward, just like a single leg in an adventure race so really may as well keep having fun outdoors and soaking up the blue mountains atmosphere. It is also possible the fact I had no mental stress about the event helped the day go well, oh and I know the course better than almost anyone else out there having been a course marker two years in a row.
So I was happy to pull of my test of myself with the run a 100km event pretty well on any given day and push through mentally for a run longer than any recent effort. Thanks again to Tom, Al and all the other AROC crew for the company all week and the fun that is UTA and to all the other runners out there having some fun in the Blue Mountains.