UTA100 Take 2: Bugger having a time goal

This was my second time at the UTA100 start line. The short summary of last year’s run is that I had a good run to QVH (12h15m) where the wheels fell off with my right quad locking up at the top of Kedumba. It was a painful slog down into the valley and a big push to meet my midnight time goal but I proudly crossed the finishing line exactly on midnight after 17h11mins. The recovery took me a few months and included being taken off an international flight in a wheelchair.

I came back this year for a few reasons. Two being that I loved the atmosphere last year and I had unfinished business with Kedumba. The course changes the night before meant the latter wasn’t to be; instead I’d have to face my stair nemesis twice! Aaaaah! Too late now to wish I’d done some actual stair training …

I didn’t sleep so well. I woke up with every downpour dreading starting in the pouring rain. (I don’t mind running in the rain, I just hate standing around in it before starting!)

I woke up to pouring rain- eeek! I ate three slices of toast with avocado, taped my ankle and was off to the start line. It was only drizzling now and cleared up before I actually started. Phew. I’d already thrown a time goal out the window as my aim this year was to finish in better physical shape than last year. Plus, with the course changes I thought it would be even crazier to have a time goal. Who knew what bonus stairs so late in the event would be like?!

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Waiting for our waves

Start line: 6:49am

I’d requested start group 5 (same as last year) even though I’d qualified for group 4 – I didn’t want to go out too fast. I had a good, distracting chat with some NRG members cheering the start line and then we were off. I was surprised when most of the people around me were running the hills… bugger that! I started chatting to those around me. There were a number of 100 virgins (good on ‘em) who were asking me a bunch of questions, making me feel like the veteran the app incorrectly had me categorised as.

The descent down Furbers wasn’t too, too slippy or congested. I absolutely love the single track along to the Golden Stairs and managed to get into a rhythm. There were some pretty slippery sections that slowed everyone down but overall I felt like I was moving well. I was also reeeeally hungry (why?) so woofed down a muesli bar. There was quite a congo through the landslide and then I managed a gap where I was running with one other lady wearing an impressive amount of pink. Still hungry I now popped a gel and somehow managed to choke on it while running up a small hill. Oops.

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Col’s photo, on her 50k run through the landslide a few hours later

Up the Golden Stairs congo and many a conversation about the course changes and the weather. I was laughed at when I told people it would be sunny in the afternoon and we’d have a lovely sunset! I high fived the 10km marker as I passed it. Somewhere along the ascent there was a sensational view of the three sisters completely surrounded by clouds. There was also a guy out there not wearing socks ?!

Coming into CP1 I realised I hadn’t drunk much so scoffed down my electrolytes and only refilled the one flask since my bladder was still pretty full. I looked at my watch and was surprised that I was 5 mins slower than last year given how good I was feeling. Shame, I thought, I guess it’s going to be a long day out (over 18 hours?)

CP 1 Narrowneck: 1h39m, 11.4km

I had a great time along Narrowneck and came to the realisation that I hadn’t been along here since the UTA100 last year. There was cloud soup in the valley on both sides and then I entered the cloud enclosing the top of the ridge. The gum trees were stunning with the wet highlighting their colour and I totally loved the misty atmosphere. I was still feeling good even though my left knee (which had been an issue the past three weeks) was complaining. In fact, I felt so good that I was allowing myself to run any of the small inclines I chose so long as my heart rate stayed down. Towards the end of Narrowneck I started to feel my left hamstring and I was feeling a pressure on the top of my left foot (residual from a rogaine two weeks ago). I wasn’t keen to stop just yet since I knew there’d be a queue at the ladders where I could sort it out.

The queue went back further than last year so I got my shoe and sock sorted out and more food into me while I waited. I was offered the alternate route to the ladders that, from last year’s experience, would have been quicker; however I was keen to see the ladders this time around regardless if it took an extra 10 minutes. I said hello to a couple of fellow NRGers up ahead and was surprised by Martyn’s response to “How are you enjoying your run so far?”. It gave me incentive to catch him up and overtake him ASAP, hah!

By the time my turn came around I was starting to shiver. The lady in front of me was having trouble getting down due to her fear of heights so I did my best not to rattle the ladders with my shivering. I think it might have helped if there was a marshal at the bottom to assist with coaxing instead of two marshals at the top?

I loved this next section of single track and happily ran along. My left glute seemed to be overactive but I was still feeling good and smiling constantly (surprising given three parts of my left leg were now complaining) and still moving well. It was a rough, muddy descent off Mount Debert and another congo line formed. Now on the fire trail the next destination was Dunphy’s. Another few good conversations up the hills and a few laughs with the guy who was wearing the same pack as me. I high fived the 30km marker and loved the didgeridoos and clap sticks at the top of one of the climbs.

There was a lovely marshal on the fence stile greeting each runner by their name (I was told I was not unique – a few Nicole’s had been through already. Hah!) My split from CP1 to CP2 was exactly the same as last year (it’s hard not to compare, isn’t it?)

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Col’s photo, views from Narrowneck a few hours later after the mist cleared

CP 2 Dunphy’s campground: 4h10m, 31.6km

I filled up both flasks even though my bladder still had some water in it, as I wasn’t sure how little/much of the course had been knocked off due to the course changes that removed the climb up Ironpot. I passed the junction where 50k runners would go right and I went left, polishing off the chips I’d grabbed from the checkpoint. Up towards Ironpot we went. I’d guessed we’d turn off just before the final climb up to Ironpot Mountain (we did). I also guessed that this would shave off 2km, but who really knew? Down past the stock dams I went, it was certainly nice farm scenery. Then I watched as people in front of me pulled up to walk the small hills. I did too, rationalising that if they were in front of me and could walk then so could I. When I processed this thought I chuckled, it was the first sign that I was getting a little tired. They were in a start group ahead of me and there was no reason for me to set my pace off theirs, so I started running again.

I took it really carefully through the creek crossings and watched as some people rushed through and fell in! No damage done, thankfully. Then it was time to tick off Megalong Valley Rd. I’d struggled over this section last year, but this year was the opposite. I was still overtaken by a number of people with a faster uphill walk than I have but it just didn’t matter. On this section a guy with quite a strong run also overtook me. I was a little surprised to see such a move from someone in one of the last start groups. Would he blow up later in the day? Another two followed a little later and I suddenly comprehended that these were the lead UTA50 runners!! Impressive to say the least. I might have done an extra ~5km, but they’d started at least 2-2.5 hours after me!

I passed the 45km marker and knew this wasn’t right. A quick gear check (hi-vis vest and head torch) and I was into checkpoint 3. I was 42 mins earlier than last year. We’d skipped the climb up, along and down Ironpot, which I thought might have been about 20 mins, but perhaps we’d shaved off a lot more than 2km… ?

CP 3 Six Foot Track: 5h42m, unknown kms

Hats off to the vollies at this post. While one collected my drop bag another filled my two water flasks and brought me half a cup of coke. I removed my water bladder, picked up a 32g 1L bottle, had a bathroom stop and was out again within 5 mins. Thanks vollies!

With the next section unchanged I was expecting a ~2 hour split to the aquatic centre, which is how long it took me last year. It was great to pass a bunch of hikers in good spirits and letting runners pass despite the congestion. Somewhere along here I had my first proper tired moment and started walking a section that was runnable. Solution? Inject more food! I kept my cool and just ran when I felt I could run without getting my heart rate up too high and walked otherwise. It was certainly something to see the 50k runners go past – I don’t normally get to see them. Bonus is lots of calf muscle eye candy ;) I saw my first female 50k runner but wasn’t sure if she was the leader since someone could have passed while I was at the last CP.

I hit the single track at the bottom of Nellies and popped a gel to keep the energy levels up. When I hit the stairs I got out the shotz and started counting in batches of 100 (great tip Adam Connor!). It was a proud moment to get to the top of Nellies without stopping once, and with a reasonable but not high heart rate and without being overtaken by a single runner. In fact, I’d over taken a fair few – what a turn around from last year! Ellen – our conversation on these stairs from 2 years ago still made me laugh! And my answer is different now :P

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Top of Nellies. B’s photo while cheering in the UTA100 leaders several hours earlier

With just the Stuart’s Road Track to go I got out my phone to message B and was surprised by my split. Hoo hoo! I could hear a good group of cheerers but it took me a good 10 minutes to reach them. Impressive cheering it was – I wonder if they could still talk the next day? A quick loop around the back and I was getting ready to enter CP 4.

I spotted B just before I entered and he looked flustered. Little did I know that he’d cycled down to the Megalong Valley to surprise me before I entered CP3 only to have missed me by 5 minutes. Then he had to peddle hell for leather back to Katoomba, only to arrive 2 minutes before me! I’d run this section 15 minutes faster than last year.

CP 4 Katoomba Aquatic Centre: 7h23m, unknown kms

I grabbed my drop bag but then had to go back and ask the rules about carrying fleece and rain pants since no one had said anything. I was told that if I’d make it to QVH before 7pm I didn’t need to carry them for now. It was 2:15pm so I figured I’d be safe enough and asked B to carry them to QVH for me instead.

I changed one sock (yep just one), put a pre-filled and de-aired bladder into my race pack, ate some of B’s pie, and drank flat coke. He asked how my right hip was doing (the body part that had really been causing me grief the past few weeks). I laughed and said fine, because my left knee, hamstring and glute seemed to be taking the load. I wasn’t concerned though – nothing was complaining loudly.

Somehow 13mins had passed but I was now on my way again. We didn’t go through the swamp so I was simply following everyone around me. Again there were some runners moving significantly faster than me (oh yeah, I’d forgotten there were 50k runners on the same course) but soon I popped out into known territory. I was sent one way and the 50k runners the other. Goodness, are they going to make them go down Furbers and then back up again?!

The views across to Mt Solitary and further on to the Blue Breaks were stunning and clear. Onwards along the Prince Henry Clifftop track I was starting to see some runner (and even car) carnage. There was a point where I overtook people and they simply jumped on the back of me, thankful to have someone else set the pace. It was hard to keep running my race and not to think about those behind me. I collected names (which I’ve since forgotten) and told myself to pretend they weren’t there. I walked where I thought it was wise and ran everything else.

Coming down to the junction with Leura Cascades someone screamed out my full name from a reasonable distance away. Perhaps they could read my first name, but surely not my last name. I stared hard trying to place them but really couldn’t. When they called out the full name of the guy behind me, who I’d only just met, I realised they were punching race numbers into the app. Great job marshals!

After some time I realised that I’d stopped eating – it was the pressure of leading. I pulled off, let the bus pass and injected food. Happy sigh. I was glad to run alone again – what does this say about me??

Somewhere along here my left glute and hamstring settled down. Now I saw the UTA100 leaders for the first time (but not the first five place getters). It was great to see them. They’d done ~35km more than me and were still moving well. There were moments when passing on the single track almost ended up in a tap dance (perhaps with international runners who tend to go right whereas we tend to go left?) so I started calling “go left” when it looked like there was confusion and this seemed to work well.

I saw Lucy, who was leading female. I gave her big cheer and was gobsmacked when she cheered me back. I’d just hit the junction and was sent up some stairs towards the golf course (ish). Woohoo no climb down and up to Sublime Pt Rd! I wasn’t going to miss those stairs!

There were some good cowbell ringers on this stretch of road. I pulled into the Fairmont still feeling like I was on fire today. Woohoo. It had been dark when I got here last year but today it was still light as it was only 4pm. I asked how many kilometres we’d done but no one seemed to know…

Fairmont Aid Station: 9h12m, unknown kms

I had barely touched the water in my bladder so I only refilled one flask, woofed down a piece of watermelon and was off again. I passed a number of people I knew going the other way: Hannah, Gill, Simon, Iain, others. This revised course was certainly more social (let’s not think about the stair pain they all looked to be in and that I would soon be in too…). Over Lillian’s Bridge and then along the Nature Track I ran (well walked now, too uphill for running). I asked the marshal if we’d do the Nature Track on the reverse leg too and he said yes. I’d never done this track before and enjoyed it. There were no other runners around me but I did have a fun chat with two bushwalkers. I thought it strange not to see anyone going the other way, but perhaps there was a break between the elites and the next group?

Up another hill and I could now see/hear a cowbell coming towards me. It was B! He’d timed it perfectly as he’d only been on the track ~200m. We ran back together with him deafening me with his cowbell. ~70km and I was still smiling :)

I pulled into the conservation hut toilets to pee and then ticked off the next section. B and his cowbell found me again before the car park. Apparently other runners were saying to him “what, you again?”. Haha.

I was still eating well and running fairly well. Both ITBs were complaining now, but not too loudly, so I wasn’t worried (how long would that last?). I enjoyed the next section as it involves running next to the cliffs. It was a bit trickier this year as I had runners to pass going the other way but it wasn’t too bad. I ran with another lady along the fire trail up to Hordern Rd. It was beautiful running in the twilight looking down into the valley and across to Mt Solitary. It got dark as I ran down Kings Tableland Rd but no matter as it was all bitumen. I just couldn’t believe I was coming into QVH without a head torch on – WOOHOO! (Hold that thought)

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B’s photo of the Kedumba cliffs and Mt Solitary

B cycled past me just before the final incline into the CP and told me he had pizza. I did a little happy dance while running and exclaimed “What an awesome boyfriend”. A very confusing/funny conversation with the guy behind me followed as he’d heard “He’d make an awesome boyfriend” thinking that a complete stranger had just cycled past and offered me pizza.

CP5 QVH the first time: 10h54m, unknown kms

Queue runners low as I entered QVH and was told to keep running for a 1.5km turnaround. But but but … what about the pizza?! I’d last eaten at Wentworth Falls so my pizza stomach would be ready. The next marshal told me I should get my head torch out. But but but … I don’t want to have to stop and take my bag off before I get to the CP. Silly me. I got out my emergency light, which didn’t do much since everyone else was wearing a head torch and tried to dodge puddles. When I started getting lightheaded too I had to give myself a talking to – this was clearly not 750m one way. So I ate a protein ball, got out my headtorch and got the out and back ticked off. Silly me indeed.

Bonus though was the marshal at the turn around point knew the kms. She said when I got back to QVH that’d be 77kms ticked off. Good to know!

CP5 QVH the second time: departed at 11h32m, 77 kms

Now this, this was a good CP stop. B produced a whole meat lovers pizza. There was so much pepperoni and BBQ sauce on there that it truly was the taste of heaven. He even produced a beer for me. “Wait, you need to read the label first”, he says. And here, another example of his classic humour, it said “Mad bitch”. Haha. (He thinks only crazy people run 100km. What do you think?) I managed two slices of pizza and about a third of the 10% (!) Belgian beer. YUMMO. Some coke, coffee beans and electrolyte too. Take that system of mine. B asked how the body was doing and when I told him about my ITBs he suggested some stretching. Just imagine the spectacle of me trying to do an ITB stretch at 77km into the event. I think the other people in the tent loved the entertainment.

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Finally I attached my poles (sure I’d packed these for Kedumba, but surely they’d be good to get me back through the stairs?) and headed back along Kings Tableland Rd and left B to sort out the leftover pizza and beer.

The trip back to the Fairmont was non-eventful. It certainly was much tougher than my first time through a few hours beforehand. I think it was an advantage to get one direction out of the way in the daylight and with only the elites passing every now and then. Now I had head torches shining at me and a very constant stream of people going in the other direction, which made passing on the muddy and tricky single track sections a lot harder. Andrew & Rocky managed to pick me out and I was happy to see them and know that they were going well.

Another runner latched onto the back of me from the fire trail off Hordern Rd. He didn’t offer up any conversation, just walked on the back of my heels. Poor soul. At some point I asked him to give me a little gap as his head torch was a lot brighter than mine and throwing shadows at me. He only spoke when he wanted to say “I struggling” and he only left me when I slowed to eat, blasting past me. I’d then find him minutes later, completely spent and walking the downhills, only to run on the back of my heels again as I passed. Sigh. When he said “I really struggling” I asked him when he’d last eaten. We were getting close to the Fairmont now. He hadn’t eaten since QVH! I told him to pop a gel. “Really? was his reply. YES! (That was almost two hours ago.)

I was glad I’d brought the poles and got these out once I passed the Wentworth Falls. A triumphant moment on this section was when we got near Conservation Hut and I was told to go down the stairs. Woohoo, no Nature Track for me (as it was a longer distance). Mind you, trying to get my legs down all those stairs was a little taxing at this stage of the race…

Fairmont Aid Station: 13h8m, 87kms

There was B again at the Fairmont with his cowbell. He asked me how I was doing and my response was “I need to pee”. Sheesh, how’s that for sharing too much information?! I got my water bottles topped up and when I was told that the toilets were inside the hotel and down … I stopped listening. That was too far away. Off I ran towards Katoomba instead. See you at the finishing line in two hours said B. Really? I would have thought more like 2.5 hours but hey a ~15h finish would be pretty awesome.

When the marshal sent me down Sublime Pt Rd I had another moment of realisation. Turns out we hadn’t missed out on those stairs after all … they’d been saved to torture me later on. But it did also mean concealed bushes where I hid myself for a sneaky pee. Plus, these stairs really weren’t that bad. I was happy going up them for sure, down hurt.

My legs weren’t moving so fluidly anymore but I still really enjoyed the section back along the Prince Henry Cliff Top and continued to smile. I felt admiration for the people I was passing in the opposite direction and tried to give every one of them a cheer and some encouragement – they had a loooong night ahead of them.

I stopped a few times to turn off my head torch and take in the scenery. The Milky Way visible in the sky (how lucky were we with the weather?), the lights of the other runners, the cliffs, the three sisters. Beautiful. There’s something about these long distance events that I’m drawn to and find difficult to describe adequately in words – but they are simply magic experiences.

It’d been over an hour and I hadn’t reached the top of Leura Cascades yet so I knew a 2 hr split was definitely out, it would be an hour from the base of the stairs to the finish line. Finally I reached the junction. There were still participants coming from Katoomba and heading towards QVH. I headed down, finally “smelling” the finishing line. This long stair descent was certainly my toughest part of the whole day as my ITBs were unhappy chappies. I had to work out how to use the guardrails with poles but managed to get as much weight onto my arms as possible. I think I was overtaken by 4 people on this descent, which was a little frustrating but also impressive with how well they could control their legs at 94km.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the bottom. One of the marshals had told my “heel friend” that there was 3.5km to go (that’s not right I thought) and when the next one told him there was now 4km to go he started arguing (politely) with the marshal. But the other guy said … LOL.

I decided reserves were no longer needed and upped my pace. Pushing up my heart rate for the first time today and chowing down the final kms. I overtook most of those who’d overtaken me on the descent and then some. I was starting to get hungry but was having trouble getting to my food with my vest on and I’d barely drunk any liquid. I finally fished out the choc coated coffee beans. I dropped the excess water, keeping about 200ml. I popped a gel not long before the base of Furbers and went up as fast as I could move my legs. I got held up every now and again by runners and eventually was stuck behind a line of 10 moving a lot slower than me. About 400m from the finishing line I felt a massive blister form under one of my toe nails. It was pretty painful but nevermind.

Eventually I got through the group and crossed the finishing line with a solid run absolutely bounding with adrenaline. Not only had I finished it in better physical form than last year (no limp for me) but I’d done it 1.5 hours faster to boot. Due credit must go to the pizza, beer and an amazing support person who’d clocked up 100km on his bike in the process!

Finish: 15h39m (22:28pm)

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Thanks also to Steve and Chris, NRG run leaders, for their training nights. Always a special thanks to Ellen, she assisted in getting me past my “I’m never going to race again” moment.

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