After a successful finish of a 50K in 2015 event edition, I immediately knew that I would be lining up for the full 100K in 2016. It was a serious upgrade, but necessary for me as well. I've always enjoyed "short and fast" racing – what I was mostly doing in the past two years, but the idea of 100+ was lingering in my head, waiting for the right moment. And "the 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 in the four months prior to the UTA100 went as planned – I managed to increase weekly mileage. The NZ summer was ideal for travelling to mountainous places for a vertical training sessions, and in the final month before the race, I introduced more road running and even a few track sessions, in order to refresh efficient running form and stride. For a science guy, covering various aspects of performance is important. Making it to the start line of UTA100 was a real joy, and with all the training behind me, the remaining 100 kilometres of running felt almost like a straight finish.
And we started – with a rising sun. The first kilometres were quick, 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 myself for this race – keep it easy until the 50-to-60-km mark. I based this decision on advice from fellow runners, and because I was not overly 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 didn't concern 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 climbing uphill, but was giving time away on the 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 the comeback to Katoomba, at the 57-km mark. Firstly, the checkpoint was a good spot 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 an ultra-smooth transition, and shows how important it is to have a support crew for races like this. I ran with Ben and Yun for the following kilometres, but as the pace increased I started to feel the first unpleasant muscles twitches, so I had to back off a little bit, even though energy-wise I was still feeling good. Running at a slower, conservative pace prevented any major problems from developing, however I paid the price and lost Ben and Yun from my sight the price. Even with the fatigue starting to creep into my mind, I was having a good time running those final 30 - 40 kilometres. I began to recall tracks I ran last year, and I knew what was coming next and what to expect. Meeting the 50K kilometre runners along the way felt like we were all rushing to the same party at the Scenic World, and that was literally the case.
The checkpoint at Queen Victoria Hospital was – again – a big energy boost. A quick water refill, a few energy gels in the bag and I was off for the long descent on a gravel road. At this point I didn’t know how far ahead I was from Ryan, but I suspected that I would lose a few minutes on the descent anyway – yes, on the downhill! Knowing the toughness of the final 10-kms 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 – with my muscles failing, Ryan passed a few minutes before the finish. Not the scenario I was looking for. But knowing that I put everything I had in my body on that day, stepping aside was just as positive of an experience as crossing the finish line a couple of minutes later.
I loved the competitiveness of the UTA100. This 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 you something, and if you can take this lesson, and use it to make 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. A special thanks to 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 me up from head to toe with the most visible, lightweight and top-end gear, and for the support during the race.