This is what is so about our community… how people can connect over the love of running, support each other like old friends and be their finish line hug at the end of something huge. For Kirsty, the UTA 100 was a a huge dream… and she is proud to say so accomplished it… with fellow RLAG ambassadors there to support her!! Have a read!
Back in 2014, I was on a weekend away in the Blue Mountains with my husband and my almost 2 year old. It was a leisurely holiday with some gentle trekking with the little one in the backpack, and some site seeing. On the Saturday we went for a stroll to the iconic Echo Point, 3 sisters lookout. As we approached we experienced a party atmosphere as scores of trail runners ran past… As a runner I was intrigued and started asking some questions. It was the Ultra trail Australia, previously know as the North Face 100, but now they had also added a 50km. I thought to myself, 50 km could be doable..? (I’d run a couple of road marathons in the past, so 50km didn’t seem incomprehensible even with the difficult terrain. 100km however, that is just stupid. Who in their right mind would even consider that?!
Fast forward to 2018, and somehow, I’m still not really sure how, but there I was. Lined up at the start, ready to commence this daunting feat of completing a particularly gruelling 100km race. ‘They’ say, to experience true accomplishment, there needs to be a risk of failure. Well the risk of failure was more than real. My longest training run had been 42.4 km, having had to pull out of my 50km race earlier this year with extreme nausea and vomiting. Never the less I was here, and I was excited. In a way, I think being under prepared helped me, as I had little to no expectations of performance – just a strong will to make it to the end before the (generous) cut off.
For those of you unfamiliar with this particular event; over the course of 100km, there’s over 4,400m (14,436ft) in elevation gain, including a few stairs. I’m not sure on the total count, but word on the street is there’s at least 8,185 in the back 50… Including 951 in the last 1.2 km known as the Furber Steps. So perhaps not an ideal introduction to ultra running, but you have to start somewhere.
For me the lowest point was actually in the first 10 km, during the first ascent up the Golden Stairs, I felt out of breath and tired, and I even managed to stand up under a rock shelf, smash the top of my head and develop a small egg. I briefly entertained the thoughts ‘this hurts already, and I still have over 90km to go, maybe I should stop now – I can use my egg head as an excuse’. Thankfully I was able to squash these thoughts and get back to my mental plan. Focus only on making it check point to check point. I was almost at checkpoint 1, then there were only 4 more checkpoints, then the finish. I grabbed some fruit and water and headed on to check point 2, taking in the breathtaking scenery along the way. This was one of the longest, but also ‘easiest’ legs, so I arrived at checkpoint 2 feeling confident. Only other 14.5km until checkpoint 3 where my incredible RLAG crew would be waiting – no crew had been allowed at the first 2 checkpoints.
Checkpoint 3 was at 46km, so for me I viewed this point as the finish line of my first Ultra. A great achievement in itself. You could hear the cheering from 1km away which always seems to have a subconscious effect of an increase in speed. After a quick mandatory gear check 300m out, I cruised through the field to the smiling faces of my fellow Run Like a Girl ambassadors. Rhiannon and Laura, fed me, watered me, rubbed cream in my legs and while I have absolutely no recollection of the words they used, all I know is I left the aid station full of positivity and feeling like a rockstar. The next leg was another short one, and I was a little concerned about the hill at the end of this leg, so I took it easy and even walked a while on the flat chatting to some of my fellow participants making sure I felt fresh as I reached the base of the climb up Nellies Glen, which ended up being a lot more pleasant than I had anticipated.
We came back into town for checkpoint 4 at the Katoomba Aquatic centre. While the bush is spectacular, the streets lined with cheering and high fives definitely has its place too. I’d been given prior warning, not to hang around here too long. It was cosy and friendly inside and could apparently be difficult to leave. My husband and his friend met me here with apple juice, which was not in my drop bag, or the list of things I’d requested, but was exactly what I felt like. The benefits of people who know you well! A vegemite sandwich, some more magnesium on the legs a quick kiss and I was off.
I left the aquatic centre in good time, and started thinking I was really going to do this! I knew I’d make it! Even if I walked the rest, I’d finish before cut off. Despite the surge of energy this thought provided, I brought my focus back to check point 5. The next 5 km passed quickly and was highlighted by a surprise pop up hug from Laura at Echo Point where, 4 years earlier I’d commented on the craziness of the 100km coming through as I enjoyed my family holiday. From here we went down and down countless stairs to the bottom of the 3 sisters, and this is when it started to hurt. I started looking forward to the next big climb. One of the great benefits of having a course with so much up and down, is it provides variety for your muscles and different things hurt and different times, making the pain so much more mentally manageable. I stopped being able to stomach much around this point, which unravelling me a later on, but for the time being, I hobbled down the stairs, jogged the trails and hopped over the stream pavers mesmerised by sheer beauty of the ferns and waterfalls as the light faded from the sky.
I tried to pick up my pace thinking I’d be able to catch a beautiful sunset shot from the top if I made it in time. I didn’t, but I did find a friend at the top. Amanda, one of my amazing training buddy’s had completed the 50km and was already back on course with her cheering hat on! A bonus hug and a beaming face at 64km beats a sunset shot in my book. From here it was time to don head torches and hi vis vests for a relatively cruisey 5km to the water station at Fairmont. Here I was again greeting by Amanda, Rhiannon and Laura. Technically no crewing allowed, but the volunteers filled my water, helped with arm sleeves and crew provided hugs and words of encouragement. I’d started struggling to drink as well and the next kms blurred by to the last aid point. Here I managed to keep down a bit of soup and rug up in thermals and my fleece. Only 22km to go….. but those in the know, know how hard this particular 22km are, 8km of steep, knee groaning down-hill followed by a whole lot of up. I did manage to forget the knee pain at one point as I ran down; I briefly stopped to ‘take a squat’ on top of a prickle, which moved the pain a little higher and resulted in some uncomfortable chaffing, but it gave a good laugh at the same time!
Once on the uphill, I powered through to the 91km aid station where I attempted to eat and drink. It went down, and came straight back up. So I spent the next 10 minutes or so sitting in the first aid tent wrapped in blankets, sipping warm sugary tea. Feeling revived by sugar, I carried on. The good feelings lasted almost until the end. However, I came particularly unstuck on the infamous Furber stairs. I was 1 km from the end and I had the words of Lucy Bartholomew in my head. Make a decision to love the hills and stairs. I tired, I really did. However, I ended up showing the Furber stairs just how much I loved them; taking the opportunity to lay down and ‘spoon’ them every couple of 100m, I also adorned them with the little goodness I had left in my stomach. I’m not entirely sure this is the type of ‘love’ Lucy intended…? However, as I run the last 100m through the finishing chute, the love I felt for all things running, all things nature, all things community and all things people was undoubtedly real.
It is such a blessing to be able to experience this amazing achievement. The support and inspiration from both my local running community and fellow Run Like a Girl ambassadors and the RLAG community have been an invaluable. Every training run, every word of encouragement and every hug and every smile have all contributed to making this dream a reality.