After every event there’s loads of race reports talking about how the day panned out and the trials and tribulations of the journey. So instead of adding to the mix of kilometre by kilometre accounts of Ultra-Trail Australia, I thought I’d bang out a few points looking at the highs and lows of the event, from a runners perspective.
Lets start with the negative: The course changes. Yep, there’s nothing the poor race directors could do. The forecast was for Armageddon so changes were necessary. Unfortunately for me they decided to chuck in a few million more stairs. This terrain is far from ideal for old chicken legs and I dreaded it all day. There was also the sneaky out and back at Queen Vic Hospital that I was unaware of until getting there. I planned my nutrition to be able to refill upon arrival, only to be told I had 15minutes of an out and back to complete before being able to do so. This was a major issue as I had depleted all my supplies earlier and was desperate for some fluid and salt tabs to ward off severe cramping. Needless to say I swore a lot and pulled grumpy faces as I ran through the checkpoint…..neither of which helped my cause. There was also the course markings that were made inaccurate due to the changes in the route. This isn’t really a big deal, but meant for constant calculations and occasional questioning if I had taken a wrong turn. This is in no way a criticism of the event organisers, purely an observation of the types of things that went through my fatigued mind on the day!
Now to the positive. There’s lots of great stuff about UTA. The on-course support, the friendly volunteers, the scenery, the great selection at aid stations etc etc. But I’m going to focus on my highlights. To start with there’s my awesome wife who crewed for me. She’s an experienced hand at this nowadays and knows exactly what I need to get in and out of aid stations quickly and keep moving on the trails, no matter how tired I might be. Emma knows I’m not the most loving guy when I race as I’m focused on the task at hand and typically I’m in a dark place. The key to great support crew is patience and being familiar with their runner’s quirks. I also had Blake Hose along for the ride, lending plenty of positive words while I mentally battled with enduring the cramps and seemingly endless stairs. Next there’s the crew from The North Face I had around me across the weekend, both the athletes and employees. These guys live and breath the brand. They love the outdoors and sharing the experience and they’re incredibly supportive. I’ve only recently joined the team and immediately I feel welcomed into the family. I think many runners join brands for the wrong reasons. Free shoes and gear is nice, but the attitude of the sponsor, the demands they place on the athlete and the culture of their brand can have a big impact on performance and long term health. The biggest player in the trail scene has a tendency to have little care for their runners, breaking them via over-racing and simply wanting maximum social media posts. My advice to young athletes is to find a sponsor that puts holistic health and long term performance ahead of all other measures of a successful partnership.
A big plus from the day was the lesson I learnt about strategy. I went into the race with no expectations and really relaxed, and employed a relatively conservative approach. It seemingly worked, however I feel that if I spent a little bit more early in the piece I would have been closer to the pointy end, as I prefer to be racing rather than on my own. That said, I now know that I can move well on terrain not necessarily suited to me and that I can be confident in conceding ground on technical or steep stuff and then make it up on the more runnable sections.
Immediately afterwards I was asked if I’ll run again in 2018. I’d like to say yes well in advance, but with my busy work schedule and a desire to race in various parts of the world, who knows! Ultra-Trail Australia will always be special to me. It was spectating the event while filming it a few years ago that got me running again. I can confidently say that I will run it again and hopefully make it a focus for the year, as for when….
Featured image: Marceau Photography © Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography