UTA22 – where do I start? This was our first ever trail race. We all felt nervous and a little under trained, but were willing to give it our best. My lead up that week hadn’t been great – I was on antibiotics for tonsillitis and had a terrible cough. The diff on my car had also died the day before, and we were supposed to be driving it to Katoomba. There was last minute plan changes and transport arrangements.

Arriving in Katoomba to rain, cold and fog (when you are from Port Macquarie) was a shock to the system. The weather for Friday didn’t look good and we spent Thursday night packing our packs with all the mandatory gear – checking and double checking everything.

Friday morning came – no one slept very well. Nerves and excitement (and snoring) kept us awake. We made it to the finish line to catch the buses to the start. It was still cold, wet and foggy. The long bus ride reminded us of how far we had to run back!!

We were at the start line early (9.05) and we weren’t due to start till 10.06am. Trying very hard to stay warm and dry. We then heard the race would be delayed – this was tough to hear.

After standing cold and wet for an hour the race started at 10.42am. The rain was still coming down. The first part was good – finding a rhythm and a pace through all the people. Then we started the decent. Down, down and more down. This was a lot more taxing on the body than I gave it credit for. Parts were extremely slippery and muddy so needed to walk to prevent falling over.

Finally made it to the bottom, a creek. To then turn the corner and faced with a huge hill! We were taking our time – my friend Fiona and I had caught up and staying together. Fi started to say she didn’t feel well. I was trying to get her to push through, but then heard someone yell my name to turn around and saw Fi on the ground, surrounded by people and her legs up in the air. She almost fainted. We got her some fuel, water, time out and back on her feet again. This was at about the 10km mark. We kept moving – climb after climb – it was relentless.

I came over the hill and could see the aid station – I could have cried. I saw my other friend Kylie standing there and was so pleased. I explained to her that Fi almost passed out and she explained that she did pass out. OMG!!! No warning, she just hit the decks.

We stopped here for a while – had food, water, toilet stop (one toilet here is not enough, just saying) and the mud was insane!!!!

Off we went again – the 3 of us together. We walked and talked and had each other’s backs. Once we hit the rainforest the scenery was so pretty – we stopped to take photos and just paced ourselves. Checking in with each other, making sure we were fuelling and drinking.

We hit about the 18km mark and it was pouring rain again – the sun had gone behind the mountain, it was getting dark, we were cold and wet. We knew the stairs were coming, we knew all along there was stairs at the end. We really didn’t have any concept of what these stairs were like, or just how taxing they really were. We could hear the crowd, we could see the lights, we were soo close.

        Ultra Trail Australia Pace UTA22 2017

I started to count the stairs thinking that would be easier – nope, I stopped about 120 just because it was too depressing!!!

Fi stopped a few times, had to sit down, she was going downhill again. Huge cramps in her calves. I just knew we had to get to the top.

We did – we got to the top and finished together. I have never been so happy to see a finish line in my life. It was still raining, we were so cold, hungry, exhausted, hurting all over.

        Ultra Trail Australia Pace UTA22 2017

As we crossed the line our other 2 friends Bec and Georgie were there. Georgie smashed it and I was so proud of her and her time. Her determination and fitness got her over the line. Bec looked so upset – turns out she went into shock just before the stairs and couldn’t finish the race. She was devastated. To come so close and physically couldn’t do it. The ladies at the finish line made the executive decision to give her a medal – she earned it. We all stood together hugging and crying at the finish line. WE HAD DONE IT!!!

We barely had time to ‘live’ the moment – we just wanted to go home. We grabbed our drop off bags, bundled into the cars and home for hot showers.

As we reflected on the day, the months leading up to the race and so much more, we all had a moment of tears as we checked in with loved ones at home. What we had achieved that day was massive.

Would I do it again? I really don’t think so.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely – I was so bloody proud of all of us.

Would I encourage others to try it? For sure. You only live once. The advice I would give though is be prepared. Train hills and stairs till you can’t look at hills and stairs again. And not just up, coming down is just as important.

Overall the UTA22 was an incredibly well run event with so many inspiring stories. I was in awe watching the 50 and 100 – following them, tracking them.

Give it a go – life is too short.

Nicole Champion.