Dark now and much cooler, which was great to chill the core temperature. By now I had slipped into my base layer to keep the chill in control. And by now, I suppose I did not look so fresh anymore. I sat down for a minute to change batteries in my headlamp and my stomach by now was playing up in all sorts of ways. I could not even think about getting anything down, no gel, no power bar, not even fruit anymore. When the medic approached me to ask the usual check in questions and to check responsiveness, I could not answer but had to get up and run to the side for a few steps where finally I emptied my stomach of content I never knew was there …
UTA 2016 – ULTRA TRAIL AUSTRALIA
May 12, 2016 – PRE RACE
We (Liz, Sister-in-law Loritta, her friend Yvonne and I) had travelled to Sydney two days ahead of the race to spend one night before heading up to Katoomba the next day.
May 13, 2016
A scenic train ride of approximately two hours and we found ourselves in Katoomba
up in the Blue Mountains and at the Scenic World, the venue of the five day Ultra Trail Australia festival. Accommodation rather basic but adequate at the KCC community centre.
At least merely metres away from the start and finish line – very important. Off to race check-in to get formalities sorted.
and ready for an early dinner and to catch a few hours of sleep before the race.
May 14, 2016 – RACE DAY
An early morning line up, just in time for sunrise.
and soon I found myself at the starting line, along with another 1,300 runners, divided into seven starting waves, all intent to brave 100km of mountainous terrain. Beautiful autumn weather, a little chilly in the morning and pleasant during the day, blue sky all the way, set the scene for a great run ahead.
Cut off time: 28hours
Target time for me: sub 20 hours; this would get me not just any finisher’s medal but the coveted UTA buckle.
And “Liz and the Gang” there to see us off and to cheer us on. Once we are off, they all would head out on their full day sightseeing tour through scenic world and perhaps they might get a glimpse of a few runners along the way.
06H57 – Start
LEG 1 – Scenic World (Start) to Narrow Neck (Checkpoint 1) 11,4km
From the start, still fresh and chirpy, out on to Violet Street and onto Cliff Drive for a quick and immediate warm up, uphill yet on asphalt road. It was not long though, about 5km until the trail caught up with us. Down the infamous Furber steps, 951 steps, which is not all that bad, we knew early on that a) there would be many more steps to come and b) we would be climbing up the Furber steps again in a couple of hours on our way to the finish line. Or at least so we hoped if we were to make the 99km between now and then.
CP1 was a refreshing retreat, still relatively cool temperatures, I relished the water melon and the mandarin oranges. Loads of vitamin C, Fiber from fruit and water. Three minutes of wolfing that down but with no time to loose; on to leg 2.
LEG 2 – Narrow Neck (Checkpoint 1) to Dunphy’s Camp (Checkpoint 2) 20,2km
The sun higher up now and getting more intense, I had long removed my fleece, that I started out with and here I take a few minutes – more watermelon and oranges – and to quickly smear a thick layer of UVA110 sunblock onto face, neck and arms.
Then quickly on for about 10km on relatively comfortable Fire Trail all the way to the end of Narrow Neck at the 18.4km mark. Then steel ladders and rough track to Tarros Ladders. Did I mention more steps?
Then a steep track over Mount Debert followed by a steep descend across loose surface to Medlow Gap and another 6km or so of dirt track.
And Just when you thought the views couldn’t get any better…it was hard to feel pain on this leg as there is far too much to look at while we were making our way through open forest over Mt Deberta and the Tarros Ladders added some adventure.
LEG 3 – Dunphy’s Camp (Checkpoint 2) to Six Foot Track (Checkpoint 3) 14,4km
Ironpot Ridge is a narrow mountain top cliff and here race organizers had arranged for a very special and unexpected treat. As we were obviously crossing through native land, here a group of native Aboriginals, playing their Yidaki and Clap Sticks entertained us for the brief moment it took to run pass them and gave us a brief insight into their culture at the same time. I could not help but spend 30 seconds to take a pic or two.
Then down the spur towards Tinpot Hill. This was very steep to start with but flattened out after a while. Up a short hill to a dirt road. The track from here is grassy in parts as it goes through paddocks.
Legs slowly beginning to feel the drain… we are keeping our smiles up for the occasional camera plotted along the trail… , this sunset I did not want to let go by…
The track then crossed Galong Creek a few times as it continued up to Green Gully and then on to Megalong Valley Road.
LEG 4 – Six Foot Track (Checkpoint 3) to Katoomba Aquatic Centre (Checkpoint 4) 11,3km
Checkpoint 3 is in an absolutely stunning setting with beautiful views of Narrow Neck and if that was not enough the atmosphere is unbelievable. There was even a live Jazz band out there, performing in the middle of the bush to entertain runners as we were passing through but probably more so the support crews whom were waiting for their runners to come in.
On my part, a quick sit down and a bowl of Instant Noodles to fix me up. At this point my stomach was starting to show the usual symptoms of closing up and a bowl of hot soup was just what the doctor had ordered…, and just in time to ingest some salty soup and calories before the next mountain.
Now, straight ahead onto Nellies Glen Road, a dirt road which forms part of The Six Foot Track and up another 480m in elevation.
The stair ascent up the Six Foot Track is described as a hard but classic Blue Mountain walk – well, we were not here to walk, were we? And I had long lost count of the steps we had been climbing up and down this wonderful day.
LEG 5 – Katoomba Aquatic Centre (Checkpoint 4) to Queen Victoria Hospital (Checkpoint
One should be forgiven for forgetting the names of the many walks and paths – Prince Henry Cliff Walk – steps; The Giant Stairway – guess what – steps; ‘Gordon Falls’ – steps; Olympian – steps; Dardanelles Pass – steps; Leura Cascades – steps; Olympian Parade – steps; Elysian Rock – steps.
Steps, steps, steps, …
LEG 6 – Queen Victoria Hospital (Checkpoint 5) to Scenic World (Finish) 21,6km
After that, another five minutes of rest and I was ready for another cup of “Maggie Mee”, a nice bowl of hot instant noodles soup, Ahhh, great! I feel better already. Less then 25km to go…
From here, first 10km downhill, nice and runnable, what a relief. But not all good things last forever, not on this trail. 91km and final water stop. From here it is all uphill. Through what seemed like jungle terrain, at 95 km I needed a quick sit down in the jungle. Two runners pass me by and check on me, I flagged them to go on and then forced myself back onto my feet, my watch had given up on me about two hours earlier – no more battery. So I had no clear gauge just how far I was and how much longer to go.
All I knew was that I had to reach the Furber steps and that would be my last climb to the finish line. Where are they? More dense forest, more climbing uphill, I am telling myself how enjoyable this is but I have stopped believing myself a couple of hours back on the trail. Then suddenly Several race marshalls, one on the radio, telling base that they had a runner with a broken arm.
Poor fellow was being given first aid on the trail and lucky for him, now really not much further, no ambulance out here. He would finish the last few km with his broken arm.
I asked one Marshall: “Where are the Furber Steps?” Answer: “Right here, you are standing on the first one!” Hallelujah! And with seemingly new energy I bolted up the steps, one by one, by one, by one …
From far up there I could here one guy shout: “700 steps – 200 to go!” Well, he is ahead of me,
regardless, steps, steps, steps…
I am finally on the top and on the run to the finish line! Sweet feeling of victory and there is Liz,
my unfailing and loyal supporter in my craziness. She has not only braved the journey to
Katoomba and the basic accommodation and food but now she has been standing out in the
cold for hours and waited for me until this hour (02H00) in really not pleasant temperatures to
stand around just to welcome me and to see me cross the finish line.
A couple of hours rest, and we will be off to Sydney for a well-deserved few days of vacation on Ieveryone’s part…!