Ultra Trail Australia 100k
By Shaun Collins on 3rd June 2018 Race Reports
I was very lucky to complete the Ultra Trail Australia 100km a couple of weeks ago! The Ultra Trail Australia is a big event – 1,300 peeps in the 100km which I did, 2,000 in the 50km and same again in the 22km. It’s a carnival over 3 days and is a monster. It takes over the wee town Katoomba (2 hrs west of Sydney) with every second person donning a trucker cap or Thir headband and enough puffer jackets to re-feather the country’s goose population!
The day, for me, can be quickly described for those that want the short version, in quarters. The first quarter was fast and awesome, running with my mate Christian, way too fast but having fun – we nailed the first 10km in 48mins and the first 31km in 3 hrs 05. I managed to amateurishly twist my ankle badly…twice within 5 mins at about 7km. The second quarter was where I KA-BOMBED! – where the pace of the first quarter caught up with me causing quad cramps and then to make matters worse I ran out of water and Tailwind. So just when I needed to recover from the cramps, I was actually bonking my body more! The third quarter was recovery – to some extent, slowing down, chucking down everything I could to keep the legs working. That leaves the last quarter which was still quad hurties on the downhills but awesome sustained effort on the ups (passing people) to grab a finish. So not a pretty one in anyone’s books but a finish!!! 13 hours 36 minutes.
And now some details…
This was my first long distance event since doing the Tarawera100km in 2012 and I had been training up well (thanks to coach Scotty Hawker) until 4 weeks out when I sprained a wee ligament/tendon at the very top of my little toe where it joins the cuboid bone. I continued training for a couple of weeks and it was fine but wasn’t healing completely and was very sore after one particular stair session, so I was forced to drop to zero running for the last 3 weeks. I was okay about this but would have preferred to taper normally and keep the body moving. A wee 15 min jog two days out as a test of the injury was positive so provided a bit of relieve that it was coming right…100km right? I’d find out soon.
The start line was a massive buzz in itself. So many people (and this was only the first wave of 6 in the 100km) and music etc It was crazy stuff and so amping. I’d decided to start and do the first half with running buddy Christian who had done the event before and we’re pretty similar in pace.
Meeting kiwis on the start line was great! This is Doug Moore who I only knew through Facebook/Insta
The countdown started and we were off! At a cracker of a pace – the first 4.5km is on road to spread the field before dropping into the bush and the deep valley below. Obviously everyone is super excited so that section got nailed in under 20mins.
Once in the bush there was a big drop on stairs and then we sidled around the valley through rough rockie tracks. Somehow here I managed to sprain my ankle twice within 5 minutes, going over badly and it wasn’t even technical terrain. Christian afterwards said he was really worried as they were real bad twists from his viewpoint behind and he was surprised I kept running. This was the ‘good’ foot, so a bit bizzare but I managed to keep running – I was a little hesitant on the technical downs because of it but otherwise I switched off the pain and it wasn’t till I’d finished and took the socks off, saw the swelling and big bruising that I realised how bad it was.
Coming down the Furber Steps after the starting 5km road section
Running buddy Christian behind in the orange – sprained my ankle not long after this
We kept up the pace, Christian exclaiming at the 10km mark that we’d just done that in 48mins! Jeepers!! Alarm bells were ringing for both of us but Christian said it was important to get to the Tara’s ladders early to avoid delays due to queueing so we kept on. Clicking over the kms in low 5min kms – how long can we keep doing that?
We got to the ladder and we’re straight down without any waiting, which was awesome. This is a ladder set up especially for the event down a cliff which is about a 20metre drop.
At the bottom we took off down a technical downhill at a good pace (we love the gnarly stuff) although I was a bit reserved due to the sprains but we made some good time. Then it was onto another firebreak for a bit which was starting to get a little tedious but was good running. I was amazed at how quiet it was in the valleys with no bird sounds and very little chit chat from the runners.
We arrived at the second aid station at 31km in just over 3 hours which is a bit crazy a pace for me. I’m a long slow grind it out sort of guy, so this speed was all new. I topped up the water and left the aid station – Christian telling me to take off cause his injury was kicking in and his foot was giving him grieve. A few minutes after this aid station is a decent steep climb and it was here I knew I was in trouble. The usual beast legs started cramping as soon as I started to climb and I battled up this hill like an old man. WTF!! The pace had taken its effect and I was struggling. There was a cool out and back section here that had us sort of rock hopped along a ridge past an old fella playing a digaroodoo and back. I saw Christian on this only a few mins behind me and that would be the last I’d see if him.
The course then started dropping down to the bottom of the valley through farmland and scrub. Really lots of ups and downs. The downhills were killing the quads and the ups causing cramps. I was in a bad state so sucking down water and Tailwind and eating some food to try come right. Nothing seemed to be working so I just had to grind it out. Slowing down when the legs complained. About 5km from the next aid station I ran out of Tailwind and water – I had more Tailwind in my dropbag but that was still what seemed like an eternity away. Oh boy this is gonna be a long day. I think I was sucking back on the liquids more than I’m used to due to the speed and hadn’t realised. There was quite a lot of gravel road for this section leading into the aid station and as I walked the road, people were zooming past me asking if was okay – one dude even stopped and dolled out some salt tablets with instructions for how often to take them – and this worked enough to get me walking, slowly, to the aid station where I guzzled water and restocked from my drop bag. You can see in the photo below, it looks like I out for a Sunday stroll!
Just coming into the first aid station with drop bags at 46km – looks like I’m on a stroll, because I was cramping and had run out of water so was in a bad shape!
Leaving this aid station it was flat to undulating for quite a while but I just couldn’t run which was so frustrating. I switched my thoughts around from the negative “this is shit” to a more positive decision that I just needed to recovery so it was best to walk out the cramps get the right liquid and food balance into my gob, so the second half wasn’t as bad. I power walked as fast as I could catching people on the ups only for them to pass me again on the downs.
Then we came to a massive climb (at 50km) that took us from the bottom of the valley to the top which is where Katoomba is situated. I continued power walking up with a great paced group so the climb was finished in no time and the legs seemed to love the consistent steady pace. From the top of this climb to the next aid station was on a cool little single trail for a bit which I could jog and then out onto the urban streets to the Katoomba Aquatic Centre Aid Station (56km). Again, I could hold a jog, much to my relieve. It was great to see my family at this massive indoor aid station who helped stock my pack up again and offered heaps of encouragement despite me feeling a bit stink with the day so far.
I left the aid station glad I could jog a little freer now, helped by a downhill through urban parks to arrive back at the event centre area and onto the tourist covered walkways along the cliff tops. It was pretty crazy zig zagging thru bunches of tourists along the walkways, trying to keep moving forward and not knock into them all. Then down a bunch of stairs and onto some sweet people free single trails through bush which much more my styles.
This section was really cool and I was with a good group who was at the right pace for me – jogging flast and downs and walking the ups. This group split as we had a beastly climb (at 68km) up many stairs back to the top of the valley again and I could keep a good flow up these. From here the course seemingly went up and down any deep valley it could find for a good 20kms which was slow work. The cramps were gone now – I’d managed to reign them in with food and liquids but the quads were poked…damaged. They felt like they were meant to feel the day after the race – that can’t walk down stairs feeling, so the downhills were my slowest.
I was able to jog the flats and power walk the ups fine and managed to pass a few along this section. At around 74km there was a long sealed road section leading into the last big aid station (Queen Victoria Hospital) that was very sucky! It seemed like 10km but was half that, I just kept pushing, banking up the joggable bits to at least salvage a time under 14 hrs which earns a silver belt buckle rather than bronze. I knew there was some tough stuff ahead in the last 20km.
At this last decent aid station (complete with party lights and a DJ) my last drop bag allowed a restock into my pack and I was out as fast as I could. The next section was an 8km drop to the floor of the valley on a gravel forestry road – it was soul destroying! I was jogging, but slowly because the quads were protesting big time. It was so hard having people pass me on an easy bloody downhill – all I could do was wait knowing I’d probably catch them on the ups – which surprising I did, by catching a lot of them on the first up – that’s more like it!!! I powered up the hills using the same strong uphill power walk that got me through the Triple Hillary and probably pissing off a lot of other runners with my apparent freshness, some would pass me again on the next down but most would just fall behind.
This continued for what seemed ages as the last kms ticked by. I kept pushing as hard as I could to keep moving at a decent pace, even as I climbed the notorious Furber Steps. I tackled them at a decent pace passing a bunch of people and these steps didn’t seem nearly as bad or long as they’re built up to be – even after the day I’d had.
You pop off the Steps onto the finish line, to be greeted by a noise like nothing else, as people cheer you to the finish line and the familiar voice of Kerry Suter telling the crowd I was the crazy bearded event director from New Zealand. My youngest daughter joined me down the finish chute and it was awesome to see the whole family as I crossed the line and received a silver finishers buckle. I’d done it – battled through what I had actually thought should be easy given my past much longer runs, but turned into a mission!
A few days later amy quads were still not that capable of lifting me so easily out of chairs or down steps. The ankle was still bruised and swollen. I have to admit there is some disappointment that I didn’t race the event better, in line with how I imagined it, but Madeleine (my wife) keeps reminding me that I haven’t raced this distance for a long time. Sure I’ve run lot further but not at pace and that intensity! So I’ll clocked it up as a good session which taught me I need to train for races if I want to run races and then execute the race based on my style of running. If I had the chance to do it over I’d be a lot more conservative to start and capitalise on my strength on the hills and tougher stuff later on.
Two days later – a bit of a fattie! Having to walk around train stations and airports to get home didn’t help it!
The silver belt buckle for finishers under 14hrs
I loved the experience of this massive event. The atmosphere of so many people taking over this small town all with the same passion was amazing. The event is slick for such a massive organizational challenge. As an event director I looked on it all, taking mental notes of things done well, or things we do different/well for our events and in summary I love what we do – I’m not sure we’d like to do something this big because our “Professionalism in Jandels” value that we run or events by wouldn’t cut it – something this big needs a lot more and means the event loses something.
I’m not sure I’d run this one again personally – there’s too much road for my liking – gravel fire road or sealed road. I’m keener on the technical single trails. And having done it once it’s time to try something else. I would recommend every trail runner who does events to have a go at this through – for the experience you can’t miss it!
It was fantastic to be part of a group of Kiwis at the event. Just in our bunk room alone we had success with Shane Absolum and Nadia Currie doing their first 100’s and finishing in 17:57 and 21:47 respectively. Big ups to them for these massive efforts. Unfortunately, Christians injury he carried into the event flared up creating a DNF at 42km and Trent Vannisselroy also had a DNF at 54km through paying the price of not training. Then a bunch of other friends doing the 22km on Friday or the 50km on the same day our 100. My three daughters even got to do a 1km event on the Sunday after my event.
So my quick summary:
The injury I came into the race with didn’t hurt until the last massive downhill on the firebreak roads and was fine afterwards
I held things together and recovered from the bad cramp
Didn’t let the twisted ankle hold me back
Didn’t bonk – energy levels were pretty high most of the time (just the legs holding me back)
Had a great time with family and friends
It’s a massive event – the size, atmosphere, scenery!
Development points (not negatives)
Going out to hard – will be more disciplined in future
Cramping so hard I couldn’t run – tied in with the above point I reckon
Running out of water and Tailwind 5km short of an aid station
Twisting my ankle – WTF (I think this may have been because I hadn’t run for 3 weeks before/on anything rough or maybe I was subconsciously favoring the good foot?)
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This report first appeared on Shaun's own website - thanks for sharing it with us Shaun. Read more about The Running Beast's exploits here.