Ultra Trail 50km Recap
I was going to crap on about how my 2018 UTA story started on the 6th of June 2017 after I had my hernia repaired but I’m sure I’ve bored everyone with that story already. What I will say is that UTA, since the first time I ran in 2016, has been a race that I have wanted to run under 7 hours and until this year it’s eluded me. In 2016 and 2017 I ran 7 hours 31 minutes and loose change (45 seconds difference between the years in favour of 2016). That all changed this year.
This year under the guidance of Coach Darryl, I was the best prepared, physically and mentally that I have ever been. I had such little doubt about going sub 7 this year that I hadn’t even thought about going over it; it just wasn’t part of the plan. That’s not to say everything went to plan.
At 6.39 we started. The plan was pretty simple; warm up through the first 8 km, push a bit through Leura Forest, hit the stairs in a good position then push along the cliff tops all the way to the Fairmont, onto Wentworth Falls and hit the road section with a good pace into QVH. From there the plan was to smash the downhill hard and fast, run the hills where I could and hike where I couldn’t, until I reached Leura Forest again. There it would be time to push hard before dragging myself up Furber any way I could, before the final sprint up the boardwalk to the finish line. Of course that all sounds good until 4km into the race you feel pain in a part of your “good” ankle that you’ve never felt before. That pain never went away but it only got a little worse so that was “all good”.
Cramp Monsters are REAL!
The first sign of cramps came on the stairs out of Leura Forest (damn that was early) but it was OK; I could manage them and was able to keep them at bay. The pace was pretty hot, and as part of my nutrition plan I had my watch set to remind me every 45 minutes to eat. I also had places in mind where I knew I’d have time to take a gel or have a chew and I soon found I was eating well before my watch told me to, and was about 30 minutes ahead of my nutrition schedule. I’d been lucky to have Brendan Moss keeping me company for a lot of the way as we both swapped position regularly where our differing strengths allowed. I hit the road out of Rocket Point track feeling good and was keeping a good pace. When I hit Hordern Road I was certain I was well ahead of schedule even though I was running to feel and had no real idea what time I should have been there. I hit the aid station at QVH feeling pretty good and I’d managed to keep from cramping despite the pace. It was a quick top up of water at QVH and I was on my way. I couldn’t even tell you what food was on offer at that checkpoint – it wasn’t what I was there for.
Through the Kedumba gates and toward the descent I went. Just before the hill starts to change from flat to down I felt the calves start to tighten and I said goodbye to Mel Shields who’d kept me company since QVH. I needed to ease off and manage the cramps and Mel was running really strong. The descent began and what should have been a hot pace became a quad cramping, ankle hurting shuffle at times. The steeper the gradient the slower I had to go. The cramps were constant from that point and never left me until the end, probably close to 19km. The downhill finally gave way to uphill and that meant that the muscles that hadn’t had a turn to cramp now got their go. I tried every possible way to use different muscles; I walked hunched over with my hands on my quads and pushed with them, I walked backwards, sideways and every way in between just to manage the cramps. When I got to the helipad I was met by Kelly Glanville who confirmed I was not alone in my world of pain – she was feeling the same. I knew the end was nearing and didn’t linger in the aid station – a quick top up and I was away. I made a deal with myself in the climb to “The Rock”; if I could just get to that point I would let myself sit down for just one minute. I finally made it there and sat on a rock on the side of the track but I was there for less than 30 seconds, had a drink and gathered my thoughts. It was my reset moment and then I was back out on the track. I walked the hills I’d run up in training but made sure I ran down the other side, and when I reached the sewage treatment plant I knew I just had to run the last section through to Furber to come in under 7 hours – I had an hour and 35 minutes to “run a parkrun” and then climb Furber steps. It was not going to be fast but I managed to run from Fern Bower most of the way to Furber with the exception of a few stairs that I didn’t want to cramp on and end up stacking. The closer I got the more I knew I had it.
The only way is UP
I got to the bottom of Furber and the guy in front of me who’d been keeping an OK pace just stopped on the first step. I was not waiting. I excused myself, passed and grabbed the handrail to pull myself up. I’ve never really used the handrails that much but I was doing everything to drag myself up there as quickly as I could.
Finally I reached the boardwalk. I was hoping my daughter Sarah would be waiting for me at the top of the final stairs to run the last few dozen metres to the line with me, something she wanted to do last year but missed out on when I couldn’t find her in the crowd. My legs just cramped – I had to stop on the boardwalk to stretch – but I knew I had to be running when I hit those stairs. I heard my name being called and look around to see my wife Sharon standing on top of the wall urging me on. I sorted myself out and started to run. It wasn’t fast but it was a run. The pain was intense. I got to the stairs and my gorgeous little blonde angel was waiting patiently with Paul Mitchell. I reached out my hand and said “c’mon sweetie let’s go”. The cramps were still there but emotion drove me forward. I could see the familiar faces in the crowd, I could hear their voices, and I could see the finish line. Then it was done. I looked down and stopped my Garmin: 6:40:01 (officially 6:40:12). I’d done it! It’s one magical moment I will never forget. Best of all I got to run across the line with Sarah – what an amazing experience!
I owe so many thanks to so many people for this but most importantly I owe my wife Sharon and kids, Sarah and Alexander, the biggest thanks. All those early mornings and weekends where Dad would disappear for half a day impacted them the most. I couldn’t do this without them; I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to do it without them. I also have to thank my coach Darryl – he’s really gotten the best out of me. I have to thank head coach Brendan not only for overseeing my training but for creating this wonderful family that is UP Coaching. Lastly I have to thank my UP Coaching family. I love being part of this group – the support and encouragement are second to none. #hopethiswasnttoolongwindedforyoualex #seeididntforgetthehashtags #dreambelieveachieve #somethinginspirational #learntmyhashtagsfromthebest #painistemporarypridelastsforever
“Running through the finishers’ chute with my daughter was magical”
This year under the guidance of Coach Darryl, I was the best prepared, physically and mentally that I have ever been.