Ultra-Trail Australia is the biggest and most competitive ultra in the country, so it only makes sense that we ask some of the leading runners and coaches from the event what their top tips are for the race. One thing that’s really interesting is that they each had different advice to give – no two came back with the same response!
The UTA course has so much variety that there’s something to suit anyone’s strengths, but also something that will exploit their weaknesses. So your training needs to prepare you for everything: for hills, for stairs, and for the flatter stretches in-between.
Preparation! Your race starts well before race day so plan, train & prepare well. Train consistently & progressively and if possible on similar terrain to the UTA course itself, whilst practicing nutrition & hydration needs. Then come race day – relax and enjoy it as much as possible – It’s a great ride!
Have backup plans for nutrition. You might have had no issues in training with a particular nutrition strategy, but when it comes to applying it to a long, hard race occasionally things don’t go as perfectly – even if it’s just flavour fatigue! Have a couple of other options as sources for electrolytes and calories so that if you crave something different or are having stomach issues then there’s a plan B to resort to.
Be specific with training. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. And make sure you practice these with pack weight and at pace.
Bank extra sleep in race week! The longer the event the harder and more fatiguing it will be – and going into a race physically and mentally tired already will impact on your performance on the day. From your decision making, coping skills to your running movements and coordination – all will be negatively impacted by residual fatigue.
Ensure that you prioritise rest and sleep in the preceding week before the race. It’s often hard to sleep well the night before a race, so banking the extra sleep starting in the week before is the best strategy to ensure you perform at your best.
CP4-CP5 is the most underestimated section of the whole UTA course. Through here it’s all about momentum and using that to flow from downhill into uphill and moving smoothly over the technical terrain. Remain focused and remind yourself that everyone in the race finds this section tricky!
In a race you will feel ready if you have trained well – mind and body. If you go in doubting yourself you won’t be mentally strong. Using visualisation techniques before the race but also during your training will really help – train your mind as well as your body. Learn that in a race the low feelings will usually pass and you will feel good again. You can experience this and get conformable with it in training runs too. Focus on your breathing and just being in the moment and enjoy.
Give your crew clear instructions about not only when you expect to arrive at checkpoints but also what you’ll need. Prepare everything thoroughly, with labels if necessary, and tell that to keep track of your fuel intake. If you aren’t eating enough listen to their advice and increase your calorie intake. It’s also a good idea to tell them to arrive early and wear clothing that makes it easy to identify them in a crowd. That way you won’t be stressing about finding them when you roll in and are keen to get going again.
Don’t ignore speed work. The most important thing in your training should be weekly long runs, but speed work will build your engine and make you move better on the faster, flat terrain. The other benefit of speed sessions is they they are generally very tough, which will give you more mental conditioning for when you start to get fatigued.
Book accommodation as soon as possible and then make a meal plan for the time you’re in the mountains. It can be hard to find a restaurant for dinner and there won’t be cafes open for breakfast on race day. Try not to change your diet from what you generally eat during a normal week. Most people make all sorts of changes to their routine in the lead up to racing and while an increase in carbs is generally a good idea, it should be done gradually over several days and not just a massive pasta binge the night before running.