It is with much excitement and joy that I bring this long-awaited two year long final instalment of the Ultra Trail Australia 100k race recap to you. The journey although long and at times frustrating, was always always great, and I never once gave up hope of completing my dream run at UTA100.
As mentioned in my previous blogs which you can read in the link here this race obviously meant a lot to me. It all started in 2015 when I signed up for UTA50. Plagued with a major ankle injury that year meant I had to forgo the race to the following year in 2016. I did indeed run that event, and it was then that the spark was ignited in me with the love of trail and ultra running, and I knew I wanted to sign up for UTA100. So I signed up for the UTA 2017 event for the 100k, but once again I got injured training and ended up having quite some time off running and had to down-grade to the 50k race. I had a great race even with the course changes, and knew that I would try again for 2018 for the 100k. Thanks to the race they have supported me as an Ambassador for the last two years and let me share my story. This is what is most important to me…that I can share that everyday women like me can do amazing things. We have set-backs, we don’t always get the results we want, but we can still keep going and achieve our dreams if we don’t give up. Im no elite runner, but people relate to me because I am just like most of you out there giving it a red hot go. Participation is everything.
This time around I knew that something had to change in my training. I no longer wanted the training to be so intense and the pressure coming externally. I didn’t want to get injured. I wanted to train on my own terms how and when I wanted, so I decided to coach myself for this event. I still had the support of people around me that I would bounce ideas off in terms of training, some great training buddies and also a supportive family who knew that training was key for me to achieve what I needed to. Without this, success simply wouldn’t come and I would not make it to the start line.
With all those things in place I also read all I could about others experiences, I listened to podcasts, especially the amazing Find your Feet podcast by Hanny Allston almost religiously on a lot of training runs. I adopted a lot of the knowledge she imparted in my race and it worked well for me on the day.
I decided that for me training worked best on a less is more approach, as I was plagued with fatigue the year leading in. I just never felt rested. So this time around I changed my focus from really long runs to back to back runs and only actually did two long long runs leading into UTA100. One was Six Foot Track marathon which was around 6 hours and the other was a 5 hour training run on the UTA course 3 weeks out from race day. Other than that I would do back to back 4hr/3hr or 4hr/2hour or 2hr/2hr etc runs and I had builds and recovery weeks thrown in, so that I was always able to keep running during my training and recovery time was not needed. This worked well for me. I was a little concerned when I saw all these people doing 8 hour runs, but in the end I knew this was best for me and also for my family and my hectic schedule, so I stuck with the plan.
We arrived on the Thursday night and the atmopshere was a buzz with excitement. We headed to the expo which was amazing and met some awesome people there, did a little mandatory shopping as we do and then headed back to our accomodation for the night. The next day I headed to the 22k race to support my athletes, the fellow RMA and cheer on all the competitors. I was careful not to stand for too long and to keep drinking and fuelling my body for the next day. It was a little bit of a juggle, but this meant just as much to me as my own race to be there for others, so I stuck to the plan and it was a great day full of emotions and success.
Come race morning I felt calm and excited as the alarm sounded at 5am. My wave was starting at 6.56am and I was keen to get as much sleep as I could before the event. I got up and had a breakfast of porridge and banana, with some brown sugar and a coffee and went up stairs to get dressed. I tried to remain calm, thinking in my head about what lay ahead and positive thoughts of myself running strong and free.
Before long it was time to go to the buses, and when I got to the start line the races were under way. I sat down and I was unusually quiet for me. My amazing crew mate Kate was there and she just looked at me and I burst into tears. The enormity of what I had embarked on to get to this moment and what I was about to do took over like a huge wave in the ocean, and I couldn’t contain my emotion. I just said to her, “I can’t believe I made it here….” Being the amazing person she is who keeps me calm and grounded (which is why I chose her to crew for me) she just said, “I know. You are going to be amazing”. With that I pulled myself together in agreement and posed for a few pics with my fellow RMA and crew and headed to the start line.
I will say here that it is so helpful that I had run most of the course prior to race day. This meant that I knew exactly where I would push and where I would hold back, where possible bottle necks could be and where to fuel. This was such a help to me.
I was lucky to be in a wave with a few RMA and we hugged and chatted before we took off. It was so exciting to go and start this journey. The first section is road and I planned to go out a little hard here so that I wouldn’t get stuck behind slower runners when we entered the trail. The road section was fun as we ran back past the start line with people cheering our names. So many people said “Go Nicole!” that the runners behind me said they wish their name was Nicole haha! Lucky me I guess :).
We entered the trail and crossed cascades and headed up to the entrance to furber stairs. I saw the lovely RMA Angela who was volunteering and encouraging all the runners. I gave her a brief hug and thanked her, and was on my way down the stairs. My hand warmers in my gloves and chest started to feel a little warm now so I took them out and shoved them in my pack as we ran towards the landslide. As usual it was a little hairy going over this section and I couldn’t wait for it to be over, but it is always quicker on race day and we were over and into the lovely flowing single trails in no time. I just kept my pace and let a few people past if they asked, trying not to panic that people were behind me on my tail. I knew the Golden Stairs were coming and timed my first gel perfectly a few minutes before hitting the stairs. Up we went. Yes it was tough, but I felt strong and took a few quick breaks a long the way. Having short legs makes some of those stairs hard, but I pushed up there faster than I have ever done before, and when I got to the top I was able to start running strong. I ran into CP1 ready to fill my bottles up as I didn’t want to carry the extra weight with them full of water up the stairs. This was a great plan.
I planned to run this race mentally from checkpoint to checkpoint. This to me was the best way to get through 100k, so I ticked off with excitement in my head CP1. Done 🙂 After filling up what I needed, grabbing a banana and a few bites of mandarin and thanking the volunteers, I was off to run the next section along Narrowneck to the ladders. In training this section really did my head in, but today it just seemed so much more relaxing. I just ran when I wanted and hiked when I didn’t. I took in all of the gorgeous views around me and just thanked God for this amazing experience I was in. Up and down we went and finally I reached the trail that lead to the ladders. This section is a bit of a scramble down some rocks and for me a little bit like abseiling for my short legs where I had to hold onto the ropes as not to fall! It was fun though and I joked to the volunteer safety guys that there was no mention of abseiling in the course description. Before long we came to the ladders. It was about a 6 minute wait, but I was happy to wait. I was in no rush. I really wanted to do the ladders this year as last year I went around. My fellow runners and I joked together about missing the royal wedding, and I ate some of my bar and took some pics and had a drink. Going down was fun. “Like a ride” I said, and then I ran off along the mountain.
The next section is technical, and up and down and I enjoyed running here. I was alone for a lot of this time and it felt peaceful and surreal. Then you come to the fire trail and once again I was in no rush, so I just ran and hiked strong where I wanted. (I know that I could have pushed a lot harder than I did in the first half of this race, but I was determined to not let anything jeopardise my finishing of this event, and so I decided to take a much more conservative first half, as I really wanted to be stronger in the second half, which is exactly what happened for me).
Soon enough I ran into CP2 and Dunphy’s Camp. I threw my pack on the ground and grabbed my bottles that were filled with Powerade and filled them up and drank a little water. I went over and grabbed a piece of banana and stuffed a mandarin into my pack, caught up to my fellow RMA Emma again, told her let’s get going and we were on our way. This was where the course changed from last year as we ran left towards Iron Pot mountain. I was nervous about this section from what I had heard, but also excited for what I was about to experience. Running toward the mountain was fun. I took my time and I met a guy who mentioned that he knew my beautiful surf coast 100k crew, Sophie, Sandra and Gav, and we chatted for a bit along the way. It was nice of him to say hello and I wished him well. When we got to the climb up Iron Pot I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was steep, really unmarked trail and rocky and slippery. Just as I had imagined, but worse! Up we went single file and it was really hard going. My heart rate shot up like a rocket and I had people in front and behind me. I climbed as fast as I could but before long I felt dizzy, sick and nauseated, my ears went crackly and thought I might collapse! I had to pull off to the side and let people past to get my heart rate down and feel better. I was a little panicked as I had had issues like this in training in one of my races that I had to DNF in during my lead up. I told myself it was okay…that I just needed to get my heart rate down and keep going. I made sure I got out of that dark head space as soon as possible and started climbing again. When I reached the top I felt okay, and just took my time walking across the ridge making sure to keep the heart rate low. It is a single trail out and back section with the most spectacular backdrop and Aboriginal men playing the didgeridoo! It was the most magical experience.
The way down the mountain was almost as precarious as the way up. It was basically un-marked slippery dirt and rocks and down the side of the mountain you go…I tried to go down as quick as possible without busting my quads which was really difficult, and held onto every tree I could to stop myself toppling over. I remember thinking it was awful but that it would be over soon and it was. At the bottom we ran off onto the trail and across the creek up onto the six foot track section.
It was here that my training buddy Jules caught up to me. She was doing well and I was waiting for her to catch up. I didn’t let it bother me. This was my race, and I was determined to run it my way, and I was happy she was running so strong, so I let her run off and just did my thing of running when I wanted and hiking when I didn’t. I threw a few bites of Vegemite sandwich into my mouth and kept going knowing that the end of this section would mean I get to see my support crew and have a coke! That was what I was looking forward to.
This section was hard mentally as there is a lot of runnable terrain, but I didn’t want to use up my legs, so I continued my run/walk strategy. I hiked the hills as fast as I could and the familiarity of the terrain meant I knew when I was getting close to CP3 and my crew. Before I ran in we were stopped for a check of our mandatory gear of our thermal and phone. A quick show and I was off down the hill into the checkpoint to the cheers of my crew and spectators. After 46km it was a welcome sight and I felt like a rock star. To my surprise my hubby was also there as he had made it early to the checkpoint instead of where I knew he would be at CP4, and this made me really happy.
I grabbed a coke, my shirt, and threw some watermelon down my throat as my crew sorted out my pack with all my supplies. They knew exactly what they were were doing without me even having to say. I was out of there in around six minutes to the cheers of the crowd, knowing I had around 11K until I would see them again and I felt great.
I knew that this next section was going to be hard. It is mostly uphill to Nellies Glen and that is next level stairs up the escarpment to Katoomba from the valley floor. I ran and hiked, ran and hiked and fuelled my way along this section. All I had had the whole way were my thoughts so far as I didn’t use my music. I was saving that for later in the race…and I felt content.
I passed quite a few people along here and was happy that by the time I got to Nellies I didn’t really have a lot of people in front of me at all at first. Before heading up I had taken a gel and a revvies caffeine strip to get me to the top. This worked well and I powered up Nellies passing people along the way. When I got to the top I knew that we headed back into the trail again and I still had energy and was actually running down stairs and up hills and passing runners. I felt amazing! I had planned out my fuelling based on terrain as much as time and this was working really well. I ran on down the road strong and into CP4 at 57k with hubby waiting outside and a smile on my face to the support of my crew. This was the start of the race for me mentally and I had made it here. This was now where the racing in my head actually started.
Inside the checkpoint I prepared myself for the next leg. I knew it was going to get dark and cold before I got to the Fairmont and so I prepared myself by changing my bra and my shirt and changing my visor into my buff. I made sure my headlights were ready and grabbed myself a bottle of coke, and drank a magnesium drink. I wanted to eat some more solid food so I put some more chips and sandwiches in my pack and off I went. I was about 15 mins in this checkpoint. Probably a little too long, but it is what it is and I wanted to be prepared.
After I headed over the road and into the trails again I felt something cold and wet on my pants. Really cold and saturated I realised that one of my soft flasks had leaked Powerade all over my pack and pants. I panicked and text my crew mate Laura to let her know as I stopped on the tail to sort myself out. I worried. My worst fear was getting cold. Lucikly none of my gear was wet and Laura called me. She simply said, “Yes, you are cold and wet, but you will dry…keep running”. That is exactly what I needed to hear and I agreed and did just that. I held the broken flask in my hand and just drank what was left in there for the next few kms. As I crossed the road near scenic world towards the three sisters I could hear the excitement of the finish line of the 50k. I had run just over 9 hours now and was ready to run my best.
As I rounded the corner the view captivated me and I was ever so grateful to be seeing this beauty. How lucky was I that I actually get a chance to do this I thought.
There was a few tourists on the trail in this section to the Giant Stairs and they cheered and congratulated me as they moved aside. I thanked them and kept moving. So much of this next half of the race I felt like I ran alone and with the odd person in front or behind. It was just perfect. As I headed towards the Three sisters I resisted the urge to stop and take a photo. I did however stop and use the bathroom as I hadn’t gone all day long. I didn’t want any stomach issues like at surf coast, so I quickly went to the bathroom and headed on my way down the stairs. There was one other person in front of me down the stairs luckily just as fast as me and I felt so strong and the stairs felt good and easy. My legs still felt great and I used the rails as much as I could to not fatigue my legs too much. I thanked the volunteer at the bottom who looked a little lonely, and was off again down into the most beautiful section of Laura Forest single trails that I love. I enjoyed running through here. it was late afternoon and the light was dark down there but I resisted the urge to put on my head torch as I wanted to save the battery. I was careful to run strong but not trip. When I go to the huts in the forest I knew that was my time to take my gel to help me up the stairs to Laura Cascades as they would be just up ahead. This worked well and I powered up all the stairs and through this section. Up and down, up and down. I had done this quite a few times in training so I knew exactly what was coming. I was looking forward to running over the bridge up to the rock and we had great support as we ran on through. Just after this section I decided to put on my torch and headed down again before ascending onto the road near the Fairmont. Running in the dark was not as near as scary as I thought it would be. It was rather peaceful.
My friend Kora was waiting for me here. She had run the 50k earlier, so it was so nice her to wait around in the dark and cold for me. She helped me to put on my vest and gave me a hug and sent me on my way. It was a boost to see her and also knowing that I was about to see another friend Ana at the Fairmont for a hug. I ran down the road trying to run as much as I could in this section to make up time. I still felt strong and it was exciting running into the Fairmont with all the cheers. When I got there I put on my thermal top as it was starting to get cold. A few RMA friends, Jodie, Ana, Sarah and Sophie were there for me I got some food into my pack from the aid station and filled up my water. Jodie made me tip one out telling me that I was carrying way too much. She was right. It was only 9k to the next checkpoint. I wasn’t even drinking that much. Off I went into the night feeling strong. I also kept my coke for this section and sipped it along the way. It helped keep me alert and I felt like I had good energy. I had another energy bar and ran along a lot of the trails here and before long I was up out onto the road towards CP5, 78km at Queen Victoria Hospital, the final checkpoint.
This was a real exciting time for me. I was feeling really good and I made sure that I ran down along this road to QVH as much as possible. I had people in cars coming and leaving cheering for me, and this just fuelled my fire to run faster. It felt like a long way, but in no time I ran into the lights and cheers of the checkpoint which was pumping like a night club! Before I ran through my crew made me go to the toilet again. I could go, and then I headed to their set up. A few other friends were here and came over to offer their support. I said hello, but was focused to just get out of there as fast as I could. It was really cold now and around 8pm. I still had my shorts on from the start of the race, but they had dried and were fine so I decided to just quickly change my bra and I put my Lebent thermal t-shirt on, my arm sleeves were still dry and my Lebent long sleeve thermal and Lebent thermal buff on my head. I also had my hot hands down top and in my gloves to keep my core temperature warm. My crew changed my socks, but my shoes were fine, so I kept them on. I also needed to carry my fleece, so we shoved that in. I decided I wanted the rest of the sandwiches and some sweet potato chips, so they threw those in my pack and I was very protective of my squished up chips from the Fairmont which also went in too. I didn’t want any more Powerade so I took two 300ml bottles of coke, one water and one hydrolyte drink for down in the valley. I was starting to get cold as this was all taking too long and I said I had to get moving. I threw my pack on, had a cup of magnesium drink and a cup of ginger beer and I was on my way hiking out of the checkpoint.
Not far up the hill I knew that I would still make it well within a bronze buckle, even if I walked the rest, but I also knew that I could make it under 18 hours if I did my best. There was no more need to save my legs. This was it. I told myself to run the 8k of downhill. I knew it was going to hurt. This was now time to use my tools like my music to get me through so I took out my iPod which had been tucked away all race and put it in my ears. I snacked on my sweet potato chips all the way to the bottom of Kedumba to the first creek crossing. I had a few walk breaks along the way, but mostly I was running and passing people in the process. When I got to the first crossing out came my poles. These were my secret weapon that were going to keep me upright and moving in a rhythm, and they did too. I was powering up the hills as strong as my tired legs could go and feeling amazing. I passed many people, mostly men along the way. As I came to the emergency aid station I stopped to refill my water, and there was an RMA volunteering which was lovely. It was cold there and there was a fire. I was not stopping for anyone and was out of there in a flash.
I knew to take my fuel on before this next last climb out of the valley, as it was the hardest. I also knew that the sign it was over was the giant rock on the left at the top. I put my head down and hiked and ran my heart out up this section. I felt so strong, I couldn’t believe it. I was over 90km into the race and I still felt great! Yes it was hard and yes it hurt, but my mind was so strong and not once did it falter. I knew I had my goal. I knew it, and it spurred me on to keep going.
Once I saw the rock I knew it was time to run. I ran as much as I could and it is surprisingly easier to run when all you can see is the glow of your head torch in front of you. As I closed in on the Sewerage works I put my poles into my belt. This was a little harder than I thought with my gloves on and took me a few minutes. When I was sorted I took another half of my coke and left the rest for later, a few sandwich bites and a gel and I was off into Leura Forest.
I knew we were so close. I passed a few people, but mostly I was running alone through this section. It didn’t actually feel as hard as in the daylight. Maybe because I couldn’t tell we were going up as it was dark. My head torch felt like it was dimming, but I wasn’t going to stop to change it over. It would have to last. I was trying to run as fast as I could in the darkness and hike where I couldn’t. I knew to take my last bit of coke and a gel at the turn on the bridge to prepare my body for the climb out of Furbers around the corner. It felt like it took forever to come, but when it did my heart skipped a beat. I was here. This was the last climb and I felt ready and strong, not spent and exhausted.
I popped a revvies into my mouth and I opened my mouth to breathe and it fell on the ground! I tried to pick it up, but it was covered in dirt, so decided that probably enough had gone into the roof of my mouth to help get me up there. Up I went on my own. Only the dim of a light in the distance behind me….I was so happy as I could go up at my own pace. As it happens it only took me 20mins to get up Furbers which I think is pretty good after running 99km. I felt strong and every now and then I would stop for about ten seconds to get my breath and re-focus. It wasn’t until the last top section that I came upon two other ladies who were on the stairs. I just told them we had this and to keep strong, and they did and we all powered up together. At the top of the stairs my friend Jodie was there. I could hear her voice. I called out that it was me and she jumped with joy. She grabbed my hand and ran with me up the finish ramp towards the finish line. When I got up the stairs I could hear the crowd and the announcer calling my name. I was so excited. I ran like it was a 100m race, my legs free and alive to the cheers of my friends and husband with my arms in the air. I had done it. I had completed my goal and I was the happiest person alive in that moment.
I will spare you the aftermath of such an event, and the toll it takes on your body, however the thing that stuck with me through this experience and why I think it was successful for me is the following things:
- I did the training. Consistency is everything, and I was consistent.
- I had course knowledge and used this to my advantage on how to run and fuel when and where.
- My fuelling was spot on.
- I had great support crew who helped me get to the finish line and knew what I wanted, and did all they could and kept me mentally and physically on track.
- I had a strong mental state of mind. My mind didn’t falter. I was determined and strong to the end. Even when it hurt.
You too can have an experience like mine. All you need to do is believe and do the work and you can do anything.