After a successful finish of a 50K in 2015 event edition, I immediately knew that I will be lining up for the full 100K in 2016. Very serious upgrade, but very necessary for me as well. I always enjoyed racing in “shorter and faster” territory – what I did mostly in the past two years, but the idea of 100+ was lingering in my head waiting for the right moment. And “a right moment” for me was (and is) – being prepared, injury free and ready to fight. Finishing 5th overall male – was a real confidence boost and a big step into the future long ultras.
Training over the last four months prior to the UTA100 went as planned – managed to increase weekly mileage, NZ summer was ideal for travelling to mountainous places for a vertical training sessions, and in the final month before the race, I have introduced more road running and even a few track sessions, in order to refresh efficient running form and stride. As for a science guy, covering various aspects of performance is very important thing. Making to the start line of UTA100 – was a real joy, and with all that training behind, the remaining 100 kilometers of running felt almost like a finish straight.
The Race. And we started – with a rising sun. The first kilometers were not so slow, but I felt comfortably and easy – a good wake-up stretch on the road before hitting a set of stairs and a single trail. There was one rule I set to myself for this race – keep it easy until 50-60Km mark. The decision based on advice from fellow runners and because I was also not really familiar with the course and terrain of the first 50K lap. For that reason I tried to dismiss any urge of racing from the first kilometers (a competitive mind is always ready to shoot), and rather concentrate on good and efficient stride without overloading still relatively cold muscles. The lead guys were out of sight already, but that haven’t concerned me too much at this stage – mainly because of the distance left to run. Jordi, Ryan, Yun and Ben were close, and in the following kilometers we moved faster or slower against each other, mostly by the preference of trail we liked – it seemed that I was strong to climb uphill, but was giving a way in downhills or more technical terrain. Only in post-race review of the results I found that all race I stayed comfortably in the top 10, moving from 8th to 4th positions – right where I wanted to be!
A few big moves happened on a comeback to Katoomba, at 57km mark. Firstly, that checkpoint was a good lookout to check how close everyone was. Scott was just leaving when I ran into the Aquatic Centre, and while I was filling my bottles – Ben flew into the building and left in a few seconds. That was smooth!, and shows how important is to have a support crew for races like this. I ran with Ben and Yun for a few following kilometers, but as the pace increased I started to feel the first unpleasant muscles twitches, so I had to back off a little bit (though energy-wise was still feeling good). Running at a slower, conservative pace prevented from developing any major problems, however, the price I paid, was losing Ben and Yun from my sight. I have to admit, that even with the fatigue starting to creep into my mind, I was having a good time running those final 30-40 kilometers. Started to recall tracks I ran last year, knew what was coming next and what to expect. Meeting all 50K kilometer runners along the way felt like we were all rushing to the same party at the Scenic World, and that was literally a case. The checkpoint at Queen Victoria Hospital was – again – a big energy and support boost. Quick water refill, a few energy gels in the bag and was off for a long descent on a gravel roads. At this point I didn’t know how far ahead I was from Ryan, but I suspected that I will loose a few minutes on this long descent anyway – yes, in the downhill! – because knowing the toughness of the final 10Kms I decided to save my legs, go slower and hopefully increase my chances of a solid finish. That didn’t work so well at the end – muscles failing and Ryan passing a few minutes to the finish wasn’t a scenario was looking for. But knowing that I put everything I had in my body on that day, stepping aside was as positive experience as crossing the finish line a couple of minutes later.
I loved the competitiveness of the UTA100. Which applies to the other UTWT races – they make you fight until the end, and proves the point that “it’s ain’t over till it’s over”. Every race teaches something, and if you can take this lesson, change in a direction that makes you a better runner, there is no end of how good - as a runner (and a person) you could be. I am extremely grateful for the support I received on course from people I know and to those I shared trails with. Special thanks for my sponsor Gull NZ for fuelling my training in the most epic locations in NZ and making my sport more visible amongst others. And for The North Face AUS/NZ- for gearing up from head to toes with the most visible, lightweight and top-end gear, and the support during the race.
What's next? The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119K in June (Italy). More kilometers, more elevation, more sky.