Ultra Trail Australia – getting it done

Skip the boring stuff below, here’s the video:

I’m only 35kms in and I’m thinking quite seriously about quitting. In terms of training I’m as under-baked as a Donald Trump policy and even less convincing. On the flip side, I’m baking in the sun, which really isn’t that hot, but is smashing me upside my unprotected head, thanks to a forgotten cap and thinning hair. Oh, that’s right, I’m forty now – the whole reason I’m here – along with the five friends I dragged up to New South Wales as part of my self-indulgent month-long birthday festival. Two of those friends are up ahead somewhere and, I hope, going strong; the other two are hopefully not straggling too far behind. Perhaps if I stagger around feeling sorry for myself for long enough they’ll catch up and drag me along in their wake.

I can’t quit. This time my wife will be waiting at the finish. All three kids have been left behind in Melbourne for the selfish benefit of their father, the smallest still too young to understand how long three days is, or to be confident her parents haven’t abandoned her completely. I picture seeing my wife at the finish line. I can make her proud, yes, but more importantly I can’t let her down. We can’t have spent the money, deployed the grandparents and come all this way for nothing.

Ultra Trail Australia 2016

I keep plowing on. Fortunately, every few minutes I’m distracted by the outstanding beauty around, above and below me. Who’d have thought the Blue Mountains were yellow and not mountains? Apparently it’s an inland sea that dried up. Must be why there’s so many waterfalls – I guess it’s still draining away.

I start seeing Six Foot Track signs. I’ve never done that race. Is this all there is to it? After all the amazing things I’ve already seen today it’s – well, it’s a little bit shit, in contrast. What’s all the fuss about? Must be more to it.

Ultra Trail Australia 2016

Oh wait, is Nellie’s Glen part of Six Foot Track? In that case, stick a fork in my arse and turn me over. Must be a hard race that Six Foot Track if it’s taking in Nellie’s Glen. Umm, am I still climbing out of Nellie’s Glen? I’m formed up in a little posse of panting, sweaty characters, fallen into a rhythm with them, step after step. It feels like we can stay in this lock-step all day. It feels like we’re going to. At the top we congratulate each other. We turn right, head twenty metres along the path and then start climbing again.

Check points. This must be number three? Four? I’m assailed by the sudden sensation of being inside, albeit in a large hall. Lots of people making lots of noise, some of which is aimed in my direction, encouraging, invigorating. My plans of chilling out for a while and cooling off are immediately revised. I’m only really a half hour behind my target, I should get some stuff into me and get out. I set myself a limit of four minutes. Push on.

Out again in the heat of the day the two cups of coke I drank fade away within twenty minutes, taking some of my optimism with them. Why didn’t I drink water?! Coke ultimately dehydrates, and I already knew I was dehydrated. It’s true that dry is generally how I like to fly, but I’m even further behind than I would normally be.

Ultra Trail Australia 2016

I knuckle down. Getting it done. If I focus on keeping my arm swings even and controlled, I can manage the pains in my lower abdomen that could be a kind of stitch, could be muscular or could be some kind of low grade virus. Certainly not as bad as I’ve had in the past, I remind myself – probably the best advantage you get from a lot of race experience: a rich repertoire of various physical issues to reference. You do enough of these races and you get to a point where there aren’t many flavours of pain you haven’t learnt to live with.

Today I’ve been rolling with a few old friends. Achey-Breaky Knee on the left: started off bad but warmed up after about 25kms. Geriatric Hip on the right: much better in the last few weeks, but for four weeks before that I couldn’t run at all (the reason I’m so half-baked for this run). Desk Clerk’s Back: was threatening to tighten up badly but seems to be under control. The main issue I’m managing is that pain in the abdomen – not a new phenomenon, and possibly connected to the over-arching concern of feeling too hot, a little bit nauseous and not fancying any of the available foodstuffs.

Still, it’ll get dark at some point and the temperature has to drop. Up some stairs. Down some stairs. Up some more stairs. No idea geographically where I am. Didn’t really study the course map much. I’m really hanging out for the next check point, but once I’m on the road it turns out to be significantly further than promised, especially as I had factored in the trend I’d been seeing all day of stated distances being well short of my GPS. There seems to be a significant correction happening here!

The night’s falling. I’m not putting my headlight on yet, because somewhere along this road, where I’m blinded by the lights from cars coming the other way, is CP5, where I’ll do a quick reshuffle of my pack. Swapping the long-dead GoPro for my trusty head torch.

Finally I’m there and it’s SO worth it. The crowd are being whipped into action by someone on the mic and there’s that warm flush as the volume builds to welcome me down a quasi-finishing shoot. And then I see BJ! “What the hell are you doing here?!” I remonstrate, expecting him to be two hours ahead and well on track to finish under the fourteen-hour silver buckle cut off. Issues. Been at the CP for forty minutes apparently. My presence appears to galvanise him though, and he departs while I’m nailing some coke, assuring me I’ll catch him soon as I assure him not till the finish.

I’m not super-slick here, there is some sitting down, but I’m not really mucking around either and I get moving within ten minutes of arrival. Off into the night. The lo-o-ong descent on thankfully, beautifully runable road. I hit a rhythm and hold it, studiously banging gels every fifty minutes and drinking like a miner – still feeling warm to me. I start over-taking people in the second half of the descent. I overtake more on the climb that follows.

Ultra Trail Australia 2016

At some point the climb stops and there’s some semi-technical trail that I figure is leading me to the Furber Steps. I maintain some kind of pace, happy that I seem to be unusually agile and quick footed for this stage in mountainous race. I want to get to steps as quickly as possible. I know the fifteen-hour mark is following me like the previous record line in an Olympic trials pool. I would like the number to start with fourteen. These are the kind of mini-goals you set yourself when you’ve adjusted to what’s possible.

I hit the bottom of the steps and attack them like a man possessed. Using more of my arms on the rails than actually climbing with my feet. Two-thirds of the way up, a shadowy figure calls: “Joe Lewis. Am I glad to see you!” But he wouldn’t come with me. He liked my pace, told me to push on. I wanted to finish together, but he said there was five minutes difference in it, and I felt I still had a chance to beat the fifteen.

After that I noticed my pace slowing, regardless – physics catching up with me. Soon enough I’m up, rounding a corner, bursting out onto the stage of the finish line. First thing I see is my wife – glory! There’s music pumping, lots of people, bright lights, a guy on the mic. Is that Roger? I start acting like a fool, swinging my high-viz vest and dancing around. It’s 15h03m. Ho well. I finished. That seems good enough to me. BJ comes in five minutes later, as promised. Boy am I glad to see him. Cal has been there since the 13h20 mark, nailed it. The other three come through in their time. Welcome to beer country.

Ultra Trail Australia 2016






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One comment on “Ultra Trail Australia – getting it done
  1. […] despite experiencing physical issues that were equally as bad: Cradle Mountain Run, Bogong2Hotham, UTA100 – I wanted to retire during all of them, for various reasons. For instance, that knee […]

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