Ultra Trail Australia 100km 2017

Pre-UTA

This was my 2nd go at the UTA 100. Last year I managed a very tiring & exhausting 16 hours 18 minutes. I really struggled for a lot of the race, sure there were moments when I absolutely loved it and I felt like I was flying, but for 60% of the race it was a real slog. My wife can attest to how poor I looked at the Aquatic Centre and at the finish.

As soon as I finished that race I knew I would be back better & faster the next year, and who knows perhaps getting a silver buckle to keep my bronze company. This determination to do better was my downfall as I didn’t give myself a chance to recover and started running and strength training almost immediately. At first when I felt the soreness on the side of my right knee I just put it down to the usual aches & pains, I then proceeded to do everything wrong when an IT band issue starts rearing it’s ugly head. 2 physio’s and a month off running later I began the long slow 4 month rehab journey to go from not being able to get into my car without IT pain to being able to run 10km.

I ran a reasonable marathon in Japan in Feb (3:44), then had a disastrous Buffalo Stampede 75km when I went in way too cocky and way underprepared. The good thing about Buffalo was it made me focus my training on the longer runs, and after seeing how well David Bristow & Nikki Burke ran while on the Keto diet, I decided to give Keto a go. There was a lot of things I liked about the Keto diet, the ability to run for ages with no gels or Tailwind and the super fat/delicious foods. However the restricted diet really started to get to me by the taper week, and it took all my willpower to not jump to carbs too early.  I had my first toast on Thursday and on Friday went to a half arsed carb loading day.

My training post Buffalo went surprisingly injury free and I mainly stuck to Hanny Alston’s training plan. I found that really worked in the last 3 weeks, and come taper week I was super calm & chilled. I wrote down everything I needed to do and various water/nutrition plans 2 weeks out, so I didn’t spend the last 2 weeks worrying about things.

UTA

My 2017 race started with a panic and ended with a panic, with lots of chill-time & fun in between.

I took my headlamp out of my main bag pocket when I used the port-a-loo for a quick nervous wee. Showed my wife & kids where to stand, said my goodbyes and went to warm up near the start line. They were just about to start the countdown for the 2nd Group when I remembered the headlamp and as I went to put it back in, the zip broke! In a panic I went to the nearest room and begged for some safety pins, which luckily they had plenty of, so I was still trying to safety pin up my bag when they started to call for Group 3. Finally I met up with a couple of fellow Trailblazers, but I couldn’t see Nikki Burke/’my pacer’ anywhere. The plan was to run with her for as long as possible so I didn’t overcook my legs too soon again. With seconds to go she appeared, my nerves vanished and we were off.

The pace was quite reasonable for the road out & back and we actually keep jogging up all the hill parts which I wasn’t expecting. The run down to Furber & landslide went a lot quicker than last year, there didn’t seem to be the hold ups as they was before and everyone was moving at a reasonable pace. Somewhere up the Golden Stairs other runners got between Nikki and myself, and who I got talking to as you do. When we got to the top I couldn’t see Nikki anymore so I kept running expecting her to pop up, but looking at the time I knew I had to make some time up to get to CP1 in a reasonable time so I got on with running. I felt really bad not saying goodbye to her or Tanya Carroll, or wishing them luck but the flow of the run was taking me along.

I got to CP1 and didn’t even stop a second, I had plenty of water and had only had 1 salt tablet by that time. The next leg in hindsight went quite quickly and I don’t think I walked more than a 100metres on a few of the real steep bits. I was passing quite a few runners and began worrying I was going to fast, however I felt really comfortable and knew I was just slowly and constantly gaining on people without a lot of effort. The wait at the Tarros Ladders was only short. I didn’t do them last year and was a little disappointed at how short they were. Will definitely do them again in future.

I came into CP2 feeling really good & happy. Filled 2 bottles with water and was off again picking up another dozen or so spots by getting through so quick. Around where Ironpot should’ve been I started running with a young lad called Matt Tallbot who was running his first 100km as he’d just turned 18 and they didn’t let him in the previous year. It turned out he was an ADFA cadet so we chatted about the Army (I was in 20+ years ago). He was the most switched on 18 year old I’ve met and I would’ve loved to have been so tuned into the world and mature when I was his age instead of wandering around bumping into things as I did.

We both kept up picking up spots on other runners and see-sawing with another runner, Amanda who would feature more towards the end of the race. I had my first cramp before CP3 in exactly the same point & spot as the previous year. Coming into CP3 was a shock as last year the place was heaving and a welcome sight with bands and lots of families & friends, unfortunately no support crew were allowed. At CP3 I stopped to fill another 2 bottles, he grabbed a can of Red Bull and we were off again. Last year the run & climb to the Aquatic centre was the most demoralising and draining period of the race; this year it went by in a breeze and even the climb to Nellies was enjoyable and seemed to fly by. We both kept up a jog until Nellies with only a few bits of hiking. This was the time when I caught up to Michael Hanavan and we had a see saw run together all the way up until CP5. The road run to CP4 was when my IT band starting reminding me of itself, only slightly but enough to concern me.

I was warmly greeted by my family at CP4 who were surprised how well I looked compared to the previous year, and after a quick swap over of some Tailwind, some more Jelly beans etc. My calf cramped up a bit when trying to rub gel onto it. I thought I was through the checkpoint quite quickly and looked around for Matt, but he was through even quicker than me and I didn’t get to see him again (he ended up finishing in 13:44). Thus began the lonely 2nd half of the race, apart from chatting with Michael when we passed each other and a few other people occasionally it was more of a solo effort from then on. Never having been towards the pointy end before I didn’t realise how few people there were and those that you came across you were either passing or they were passing you.

With iPod on I cruised through the next leg until we got to Fairmont. Even though I only stopped to fill 2 bottles and chuck some water on my head Michael was through even quicker, very impressive and a lot to learn from. Even though the leg from CP4 to Aquatic is the prettiest and most enjoyable to run, it’s also the most frustrating as it’s hard to find a rhythm with the ever changing terrain. Time wise I was still on track to get home in 13:30-13:50 so was feeling pretty good about things and knew I just had to keep to a regular pace to earn that silver buckle.

The road running part just before CP5 started to really test my IT band and I found I walked more of it than I had planned. Sporadic cramping had started to set in and every movement that was out of the ordinary caused cramping somewhere along my legs. Just after Fairmont I could feel a stone or something in my shoe, so despite the cramping I took off my shoe and found that my left sock had disintegrated in parts. That meant having to change socks at CP5.

I was really looking forward to getting into CP5 and was really happy with the time thinking that I was well ahead, when we found out that they had added on a 3km out and back. This dented my confidence and annoyed me somewhat, but with good cheer and remembering my keywords for the race, fun & form, I pushed on.

It was good to see David Bristow at CP5 and hear his words of encouragement. It was strange seeing CP5 in daylight, although it had a great vibe to it, it didn’t seem to have the real party vibe it has at nighttime. I knew there wasn’t much longer to the race and that I had to just keep going, apart from the cramping I was feeling really good and strong with plenty of energy left. The Glucodin tablets and glucose jelly beans meant my head was clear and thinking straight.

Trying to take my shoes off to change my socks was without a doubt the most painful thing I’ve ever felt. In particular my calves were cramping up so bad & painfully that I had to arch my back off the seat and grit my teeth to control the pain. While I was fumbling around trying to change my socks and get a grip on the pain I saw Michael come in and go out again just as quickly. In hindsight I should’ve just kept running, my socks weren’t that bad and could’ve lasted my another 2 or 3 hours, as it ended up costing me at least 5 minutes.

So after a quick cup of coke and some new socks I headed off again. I was glad that I had to put my fluro vest on as I got quite cold being in the checkpoint for so long. I saw a few other Trailblazers around CP5 such as Brook, Trevor, Rob, Tanya, Emma & Scott (again) so it was heartening to see familiar faces again.

Due to the course changes there was more road running on the return which didn’t do my IT any favours, and where I should have been flying down Kedumba I was finding myself having to jog/walk until the irritation went down. After the additional out & back, and the longer than planned time at CP5 I knew time was starting to get away from me, but felt confident I could still make it back under 14 hours.

When we came back onto single track the light had gone and it was headlamp time. Luckily I was still far enough ahead that I didn’t run into too many people coming the other way, so even though it slowed things occasionally it probably only amounted to 1 or 2 minutes overall. The problem with the new return route was that I couldn’t get any rhythm going and every change of terrain or stairs would bring on more cramping. I was cramping in spots I had never cramped before, regardlessly I still felt strong and thought I was moving at a good pace.

When I got into Fairmont, I filled 2 water bottles and was told there was 13km to go, it was 5:30 and I figured I should make that distance easily in 2 hours, even if the last 1km would take 20 minutes. I was still confident of making it back in with time to spare, but as the km’s seemed to drag by and the time starting ticking down I began to realise it might really get down to the wire.

After Fairmont, Amanda and myself starting regularly passing each other. I kept pushing her on and encouraging her, for which she came up after the race and thanked me profusely for.

It started to get really empty & lonely after Fairmont and I hardly saw anyone, let alone talked to anyone but Amanda when we were passing each other. The focus now became solely to finish in time and I started to really push things along and take bigger risks than normal going down stairs, however the cramping kept slowing me down and I just had to kept running through the pain.

As we got to within the 2km marker Amanda overtook me for the last time. I really started to look at the time and realise that I might not make it now. I kept pushing on as much as I could but the terrain and the amount of light from my headlamp didn’t allow me to sprint. The time kept ticking down, I wasn’t using a GPS and I’d forgot to start my stopwatch when we started so I was purely going off the actual time and I didn’t know how accurate that was to when we actually started. I had to assume we started exactly at 6:33. At 2km it was starting to get real close, assuming it’d take me 20 minutes to get up Furber. 5 weeks previously it took me 18 minutes to get up Furber, but that was after only 7 hours or training running and in daylight.

I kept looking at my clock as it got closer to 8:13 when I knew my chances would be limited of getting the silver, and still the start of Furber was failing to appear. I happened to glance at my watch as it ticked over from 8:12 to 8:13 and I thought my chances were gone when suddenly the turn for Furber suddenly came upon me. My mind was a mixture of ‘I’ve missed it’ and ‘fuck it there’s nothing to lose now’. Every step up Furber was a full of painful cramps. After you’ve done Furber a few times you realise how quickly it can go and how there are parts that you can run. So I ran what I could and willed my cramping legs on. My mind was still clear and my body was still working well, apart from the cramps.

Halfway up Amanda let me pass and I urged her as strongly as I could to just keep going and give it everything she had, gas, gas, gas! The clock kicking ticking down and at 8:32 I saw the time and realised I’d blown it, but then I looked up and saw the red windows of Scenic World seemingly just above me. I shouted aloud “fuck it, lets go” and pushed my way up the few more stairs as much as I could. I got to the wooden walkway, both calves turned into balls of cramping steel, I looked at my watch and saw 8:33. I slowed down for about 2 or 3 steps then thought I’ve nothing to lose now and started sprinting as fast as I could. I pushed through 2 x 50km runners and came up the chute. My mind wasn’t seeing much apart from the finish line and I just barely picked out my family in the crowd, the noise was ecstatic with cheering as I sprinted past another 50km runner, pushing through my cramped and non-working legs. I heard the race announce call ‘Joshua Stacey, you legend!’ as I had less than 20 metres to go, and as I was passing the finish line I heard him yelling, ‘I’m calling it now, 13 hours 59 minutes and 40 seconds! Give that man a silver buckle!’.

I crossed the line and managed to keep my feet, I’d become accustomed to the cramping by then. I bowed like a servant as the volunteer gave me my towel and a silver buckle! I heard a ‘Go Trailblazers’ from the crowd and I raised my poles in triumphant. Truly one of the most memorable and happy moments of my life.

I collapsed into a chair and took off my pack, my family came around to join me, but an official wouldn’t let them join me until I’d done my post race gear check. It was a great moment to see them again and show off my buckle. I was truly surprised at how well I felt post race compared to the previous year. I guess 2 hours less on your feet makes a big difference.

It wasn’t till I got home that I saw the app said my time was 14:00:19 and until a day or so later when Byron Pritchard suggested that that might be my real time and not my net time of 13:59:40 I felt conflicted, did I truly earn the silver buckle, was it the pity or gratitude of the race announcer as I gave my everything to get to the line that made him give it to me, was it really my net time? I’m still not sure, but at the end of the day the race officials gave it to me, the same ones who changed the course to make it slower; does that equal it out? If it was truly my net time, then yes I probably did earn it. I’m happy to live with the fact that this one is mine regardless of the circumstances of my own guilty complex. I’ll be back to earn another in a proper sub 14 hour time, now that I’ve run one I know how much I had left in me and I can do even better next time. Will it be next year or will it be the 50km instead, I’m not sure, but I will be back for the 100 one year.

A big thanks to all the Trailblazers, especially Nikki Burke & Michael Hanavan for this race, and to Matt Talbott who with together we got through the worst of it in good spirits. An especially big thanks to my forgiving wife, for putting up with the hours of training, the funny diet, the mood swings, the dirty laundry and lasting smells, the concerned worrying about me, and for wrangling my kids through the day and navigating with my car through Katoomba.

In all I had 6 bottles of Tailwind, 5 gels, 2 x homemade pumpkin/bacon/chia purees, a bag of jelly beans, about 15 salt tablets and about 20 Glucodin tablets.

In summary UTA once again proved to be the finest trail race in Australia. The organisation is mammoth and exceptional, the course is stunningly beautiful, the challenge is hard & exciting, and the runners are some of the most decent, intelligent & honest people in the world.

Did the race changes make it faster or slower? Going off the records it would suggest it was faster, though I think that was more to do with missing Ironpot as well as the increased abilities of the runners taking part. For my mind the return along the clifftops made it slower and more painful for me. I looked forward to the fly down Kedumba and the nice steady climb back up again. My main desire to do the 100 again, regardless of the silver buckle would be to see how much quicker I’d be along the regular course.

My legs are looking forward to a couple of months off before the training begins for my first 100 mile race (105 miles actually or 170km), the Great Southern Endurance Race.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s