For Sydney-based trail runner Jono O’Loughlin every May for the past 13 years has followed a familiar pattern, heading to the Blue Mountains to tackle the country’s largest trail running event, Ultra-Trail Australia.
O’Loughlin is just one of four runners who have finished every UTA100 since the event began back in 2008, and following a best finish of second in 2019 he’s looking forward to hitting the start line in Katoomba on Saturday 15 May.
“Part of it now is that I’ve done every one of them so I’ve just got to keep on coming back, that’s part of it, even if I missed out on one I’d be back every year anyway,” said O’Loughlin. “I really like the Blue Mountains, I like running up there, it’s a beautiful part of Sydney, one of my favourite places to go. The whole event is just top notch, it’s so well organised and exciting, so many people get amped up for it, racing out on course with supporters around is awesome, it’s a part of my life routine now and every year this is something I get really excited about.
“The first few I did it was about 100 runners that took off from the Fairmont Hotel and it was a totally different course, the number of competitors has also grown incredibly. When I first did it we had basic running shoes, rugby shorts and you chafe your legs and you’d be bleeding, crappy backpack, vegemite sandwiches, there was none of this nutrition,” he said. “The best nutrition would be maybe a power bar which was as close to sports nutrition as you’d get. No one had any idea what they were doing, except for a few of the really good adventure racers, one year I ran it with a cotton T-Shirt on, I really had no idea what we were doing.”
Since those first events in the late 2000s Ultra-Trail Australia has grown to be Australia’s largest trail running festival, with runners set to head to the Blue Mountains from across Australia to take on either the 11km, 22km, 50km or 100km race.
O’Loughlin will be one of more than 1,700 runners who will contest the 100km event, starting and finishing at Scenic World, with more than 4,400m of elevation gain set to challenge the most seasoned of runners.
“The prep is going really well, I’ve had a pretty big block in the last six weeks or so where I’ve got up to the mountains almost every weekend, just been training the house down,” said O’Loughlin. “I did the Mount Solitary Ultra which traverses part of the UTA course, pound for pound it’s a lot tougher than UTA because it’s only 45km, had a good run up there and finished second which I was pretty happy with as I was pretty tired in the lead up. I’ve had a couple of little niggly injuries since then which I’m trying to sort out now.”
O’Loughlin had his best ever result at the last edition in 2019, finishing second, just 10 minutes behind the winner, Poland’s Marcin Swierc, with O’Loughlin taking a lot out of his day on course.
“I guess I took out of it the belief that you can come close the pointy end, looking back I probably made a few small mistakes in there as well. I was really close to the guy who won it in the last 20km, he got out of the last checkpoint about two minutes in front of me there, I probably mismanaged a bit of the nutrition in that last leg, just didn’t have enough calories on board and bombed out coming back up,” he said. “If I was going to learn something form that race it was if I fixed up that final leg nutrition I might have been a bit more in the mix, he beat me by 10 minutes in the end, that final section where I was knackered and was walking, where you don’t care if you come first or last, you just want to finish.”
Like all Ultra-Trail Australia runners O’Loughlin juggles everyday life with training and preparing for both the mental and physical of challenge of running 100km, with trail running providing a great escape for the Sydney-based Lawyer.
“I’ve got some pretty good staff that work for me, that’s part of it, a very supportive wife, she really likes this whole event, she’s as into it as I am so she’s super supportive about me getting the training,” said O’Loughlin. “The main tricky part is the Saturday long run, that’s where it eats into the family time most, you leave home at 5am and don’t get home until 2pm or 3pm in the afternoon, the rest of the time the running works around the work and family stuff. I’ll run to work from home in Seaforth some days, I’d be sitting on a bus otherwise, and then I go running at lunch as well. It just fits in around the day.
“I’m more productive when I’m running a lot than when I’m not running, getting out for the daily run is a key part of my day, to try and clear the head is an important part,” he said. “The work I do is very combative and there’s a lot of tension with the people that you’re dealing with, particularly people on the other side of cases so it’s nice to zoom away from work and just look at things a bit more objectively rather than just getting angry when you’re picking up on someone else’s tension. I urge my staff to just get out of the office for an hour a day, to get away from it which is a good thing.”
Racing at the 2021 Ultra-Trail Australia begins on Thursday 13 May with UTA11, ahead of UTA22 the following day and UTA50 and UTA100 on Saturday 15 May.
For more information on Ultra-Trail Australia visit https://www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au/