Epic, Epic, Epic.
That sums up the whole weekend and the race.
The journey started sometime in mid 2017 when someone (perhaps me) shared a promo video for UTA with the boys. Well before you know it September came along and a session down at prosciutto bros was scheduled to catch up and talk, it was here 4 of us, Lachlan, Paul, Ross and myself committed to signing up for the 50km event. At 10am on the 27th September I furiously tapped the keys on my keyboard and registered for the event. It sells out in less than a day so I wanted to be sure to get an entry. Before long a flurry of messages were flying around as the others had all had successfully registered! It looks like this thing was going to happen!!
After much discussion about what the heck we had just done our thoughts soon turned to the logistics. After a bit of toing and froing we eventually got round to booking accommodation and flights in mid November. By this stage accomodation was thin on the ground but luckily we found a 4 bedroom house in Wentworth Falls that fitted the bill. Flights were booked soon after and before you could say UTA50 we were all set for the biggest running adventure of our life.
Over the next few weeks I kept running, aiming to stay consistent and even try and start increasing the kms. After a period of time trying to find a plan online that I felt comfortable with I still didn’t feel there was much out there that would give me the confidence to run UTA hard and really enjoy it. I can’t really remember how I got onto Squadrun. I most likely saw thier ads on the UTA site and decided to have a look. I really liked there approach to training with a range of priority runs to target every week. They seemed to understand we all have busy life’s and were not overly prescriptive with when you had to run. With a wife who doesn’t run much and 2 young kids I needed something as adaptable and easy to follow as possible!
Upon initially starting with Squadrun at the end of January I started hitting the sessions. I was also part of the hidden FB group and I was starting to see all the posts. This community of people were ‘real’ and to be honest I felt I was a long way behind the 8 ball. However I kept plugging away week after week always getting 4-5 sessions in and always doing the P1 long run. As I continued and UTA got closer my commitment went up another level. I attribute this to the massively supportive community and the amazing plan from Ali and Kerry which I could see was paying huge dividends. I was getting so much stronger and quicker and just wanted this to continue. I must admit towards the end I was starting to get over the constant battle to try and fit the runs in (my wife I think had been over this around week 2). However before I knew it taper time was upon us and then I was at Melbourne airport waiting to board a plane to Sydney. Blue Mountains here I come!!!!
As soon as we hit the western highway and the scenery changed all of us definitely got more excited by the prospect ahead. The weather upon our arrival in Sydney had been clear and sunny and the forecast was for more of the same over the next few days. Our first stop on the Friday afternoon was registration and the expo. As we got to Scenic World we realised the end off the 22km was happening so we got to the finish line to see the top runners finish including a massively impressive run by Lucy Bartholomew finishing in 1h:48m and taking over 15 mins off the course record. We managed to have a chat with Lucy and Her dad Ash a little after the race which was nice and congratulate her on her impressive run. After watching the end of the race we registered and collected our bibs and tees. It was all getting very real. We visited the expo next and spent way to much time queuing for a free Salamon cap and browsing all the other stalls. It was at this time I headed to the Squadrun tent and caught up with the amazing Ali, one half of my coaching team. It was great to finally meet her in person and say hi. I also had a chat with the awesome Brett another Squaddie who unfortunately wasn’t able to run this year but who was volunteering over the whole weekend – what a champ! He imparted some great advice for the run which I was to find out proved to be very useful in the race as I hit the Furber steps.
After checking into our accomodation and a bit of sightseeing on part of the course around Wentworth Falls we then headed to the pub for an early dinner. Upon getting back to the house everyone spent the next couple of hours getting everything ready. I used the time rechecking my pack for the millionth time and ensuring all the mandatory gear was still in there! I also ensured the map and instructions from checkin were put in the pack as they were mandatory as well. I got all my gear out ready for the morning and with that I headed to bed. It took a while to get to sleep with all the excitement and nervousness and I woke a number of times during the night. However before I knew it it was 5am and time to get up.
I grabbed a couple of slices of jam toast and a black coffee and was ready to go. We were running a little late and left the house at about 6.15am, 15 mins later than planned. We headed to the Fairmont resort (albeit via a slightly longer than planned route) to get the shuttle bus to Katoomba. Starting at the Fairmont was a good move, as we got closer to Katoomba the bus rapidly filled till it was full including plenty of people standing. We arrived at the bus stop around 7ish with a 900m walk to the start line. Upon getting there the buzz was evident all around. The waves were heading off in quick succession with massive cheers and and the constant ringing of cowbells. We dropped our bags at the drop bag tent and headed towards the start line. Before long our start time of 7.32am was nearly upon us and we were called to the start. Months and months of planning, training and excitement was all about to come to a crescendo!!! With the obligatory start line photo of the ‘lads’ we all got lost in our own thoughts. And then………
We were off!!! As soon as I started running I felt good. All the training and tapering seems to have paid off. We headed off down Cliff drive up the first hill, this was the section that was on road and was easy to get carried away on. I worked hard to stay steady and not push to hard. The excitement and expectation of what lay ahead was high. I saw many Squadrun runners and volunteers during the race but in this section in particular due to the out and back nature you got to see lots and lots of people. The shouts of ‘Squaddie’ lifted the spirits and really showed the Squadrun spirit. Even Lachlan got in on the action shouting out to every Squadrun runner we saw!!
Before long I was back at Scenic world and heading off the road onto the tourist trail. The views over the valley were spectacular and I stopped a couple of times to take a few photos. Hitting the Giant Staircase slowed things down somewhat as a conga line of runners carefully descended the steel stairs down the cliff face to the bottom of the valley floor. Once there it was amazing single track through the amazing Leura forest. At this point we were around 20km in and I still felt great, however I knew I had to continue to run within myself as everyone says the last 20km are the hardest.
It’s funny the first part of the course almost looks flat on the elevation profile, however it is far from flat. It constantly rises and falls over the valley floor gradually heading back towards the top of the cliffs. The steps here are relentless. Even the smallest incline or decline has steps and of course none of them are even. Thank goodness I did stair training!! Still, it was going well and I was just enjoying the awesome scenery of the beautiful forest, waterfalls and amazing rock formations. We headed over the top of Wentworth Falls and headed onwards to The Fairmont aid station I think it was at this point I had my obligatory fall. I hit a small rock on a fairly even section of the path and took a tumble including a cool full body roll. Luckily I only had a light graze and could continue on.
By this stage our group was starting to stretch out a little. Lachlan had come in first followed by myself and Ross spread over a few minutes. Paul’s ankle that he had injured in training was giving him some discomfort and so he was having to take it easier than he’d hoped. He came in to the checkpoint 5-10 minutes later and after we were all fed and hydrated we got our now obligatory group shot. Soon after it was Onwards to CP501 at Queen Victoria Hospital and the real start of the race! Just a quick note about the Fairmont aid station – the toilets in the resort are the most amazing toilets you’ll find at any event. 5 star luxury!!
The next 10km were fairly uneventful. At this stage I’d climbed 1200m. This was unnerving for a couple of reasons. Firstly it didn’t feel we had climbed that much elevation and secondly it meant we had 1200m of elevation still to come. The final few kms before the aid station are on road and at this stage I did zone out slightly. I was starting to get tired and The monotonous pounding of the feet on the road started to send me into my own world! I soon picked up and headed downhill into CP501 at QVH. I caught up with Ross who told me Lachlan was having some ITB issues and was a little behind us. I grabbed some lollies and chips as well as a sticky bun and refilled my water and electrolytes. I had been managing my hydration well and only used the 2 soft flasks in the front pockets. I still had one filled with water in the back but I hadn’t used it and i never touched it the rest of the race. Lachlan came in a few minutes behind Ross and I and we had a chat about how things were going. Paul was behind us but we didn’t know how far. We waited a little and then decided to message him that we were heading on. I think Paul was doing his best to manage his injury at this point and wished us luck and told us to go for it. Ross, Lachlan and myself headed off but before long I was on my own heading down Kedumba pass. To be honest it felt a little weird at this point. I had hit all the training sessions as part of my squadrun program and felt I had a good shot a completing the race strongly and wanted to give it a real go but I did feel some sadness about our group slowly splitting up as the race progressed.
I continued down the pass keeping my pace steady to avoid blowing up my quads. I made great progress and passed a lot of people with very few passing me……………until I hear the shout of Squaddie and Lachlan flying past me dodgy ITB and all. After hitting Jamiesons Creek we started the climb out the valley, the start of over 1000m of climbing!!! Lachlan gave lots of words of encouragement up the hills which did help. I felt strong and the memories of my difficult climb up the Klingsporn track back at Mt Buller were well and truly pushed away. I headed into the last aid station with Lachlan and topped up my electrolyte and grabbed a few lollies and chips before heading off again. The hills continued as soon as I left the aid station and would continue for a few more kms until I reached the sewage treatment works. However I continued to feel strong and power hiked the hills running whoever there was any flat or downhill. Lachlan by this point had left me and was powering to the finish.
Running back through Leura forest singlet track was awesome but by this stage I was really pretty tired. I continued to pop Clifbloks regularly to ensure I had the energy to tackle the Furber steps that I would soon be reaching. As you get closer to the steps you can hear the noise from the top drifting down. The crowds cheering and the dulcet tones of Kerry Suter on the microphone! Hitting the steps I found some renewed energy and bounded up the first flattish section but before long the steps got steeper and I am now working at full capacity just trying to get up as quickly as I can. I bump into Lachlan towards the bottom but he soon gets a little ahead of me as we head up. The last minutes of the race up the steps are all a bit of a blur but i just remember pushing on and on to finally finish the race. Then I reach the top. This is it the finish chute and finish line!!! As I’m running towards the line I hear Kerry talking up my sprint finish and then I cross the line. I am an emotional wreck at this point and I struggle to even get my medal. I am done, finished and just so happy to have finished. 7:30:36 was the final time. Something that I never thought I’d achieve at the start but everything went to plan and I managed to execute it perfectly.
What an adventure it was. Thanks to Lachlan, Ross and Paul for the support and friendship it made the race such a great day out!!