28 May 2017

Reflection: It's just one point of view - my UTA story

UTA 2017 has come and gone in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the flash of a camera or an explosion of fireworks. It was an intense few days in the beautiful Blue Mountains and a fitting curtain call on what was an epic 6 month build up to race day. 

With Beau and Charley just before their UTA race - Aurora
Ultra-running is a funny sport as often best laid plans can go to waste and with so many variables inevitably encountered, what is expected doesn’t always play out. This year was certainly no different for me both as an athlete and as a coach.

Being prepared and fit to go was always a goal of mine since I crossed the line in 2016 where I was well off my best but well aware of what needed to be done in the lead up to my 5th outing in this event. My coaching goal was simple, have my athletes prepared to achieve their individual goals and learn and grow from the experience as a coach.

Slippery board walks early on - Aurora
The week leading into the race I felt great, my training had been great post pneumonia in early February and I felt I had finally got back to my best form through consistent and effective training. I was approaching the race in my best shape physically, mentally and emotionally since 2013. In short I was good to go.

My clients were ready too. I had athletes in both the UTA100 and UTA50 and expected them all to run to their potential. I pride myself on preparing my athletes for their events in the best way for their goals and ability. Smart training for rewarding racing had me feeling good about holding onto my 100% finish rate from 3 years of coaching.

"Landslide" an addition to the 50 for 2017
"Sometimes you have to let go of what's gone, appreciate what remains and look forward to what comes next" (Unknown)

This is true of the 10th anniversary year for all involved. Weather had its way but thankfully the event remained a go, a modified go, but still a go! I was quite unsettled on the Friday as rumours were flying around of impending course changes, I found it hard to get my head around the changes until it was officially confirmed later in the day.

For the record - Tom, Alina and crew managed to pull it off and keep the race on which is testament to their organisation and the relationships they have formed with authorities, I'm not sure anyone else could have done this given the position of the race on Friday.

When news broke officially it was first important that I accepted the decision so that I could then ensure my clients had someone to fall back onto if they had any questions or concerns. Obviously there was some anxiousness around the course changes, primarily around timing and so forth but the general feeling was still positive and as a coach I was able to feel at ease that all would be well. Personally before the official announcement of the course change I was hoping for an out and back along the cliff tops to Queen Vic and back to Scenic World as I felt it would have played more to my strengths and what I had trained for but I was still feeling good and had run sections of the new course in the past so I was somewhat familiar with it.
Bring on the finish arch - K. Gibson

My race plan was to start with purpose and settle into the run taking advantage of the good spots and conserving in the tough ones. By the top of the Golden Stairs I was aware that my body was not too keen to play ball, my legs were not clearing the lactic acid accrued, and I was hoping that after some more time settling in I would feel better. I didn’t have the leg speed needed on the fire trail often finding myself hiking sections that I should have been running and at around 19km I was starting to cramp.

I was mentally very strong and found myself having to run according to how I felt but this meant I was at too low an output and by the Megalong Rd CP I had to stop for food because I was hungry, an issue that was made worse by a later start and not adjusting my pre-race nutrition accordingly and a reduction in my heart rate due to my lower output in the last hour or so.

Post break and ready to get it done - B. Duffus
I regathered myself here, taking 5min to refuel and readjust ready for the climb up to Nellies and over to the finish. I again battled cramps just out of the CP but once they cleared I was able to consistently shuffle along to the single track where I managed a strong and steady hike to the top of the stairs. I was feeling good and closing in on the finish maintaining a fairly good effort and this allowed me to push into Katoomba with some purpose.

I managed to get moving reasonably well again and when I approached the finish arch I was feeling content and satisfied that I had done my best on the day, a time of 5:17:42 and 37th overall. My body didn’t want to come to the party on the day, I had prepared very well for this race and while this aspect is slightly disappointing I was also happy that I had dug in and battled to the end salvaging a reasonable performance. I can only feel as though I definitely had more to give but on the day I just could not get things flowing in the manner I had prepared for, as frustrating as this was it just means I have more to learn and implement in the future.

Ultra-running is always tough, some days you run fast and others you do not, UTA was somewhere in the middle this time around.

As a coach I was basically blind of what was unfolding until shortly after I finished. Kellie had been keeping an eye on things during my race and informed me that my clients were all moving along well at that point in the afternoon. With runners in both the 50 and 100 ranging from the front to towards the end of the field I was hoping that they were all having a good day out and most of all backing themselves and their ability to complete the challenge they had taken on.
Finish with purpose - M. Reeves
With some variables being thrown their way before the start it was always going to affect some differently than others. With my original start time I had planned on getting across the various CP’s to support them but with the delayed start after I had showered an eaten I based myself at the finish to ensure I could see them cross the line. All in all, I was extremely proud of each individual performance, another 100% finish rate with 5 PB times. This is both a testament to their preparation and trust in my coaching to ensure they had what it took to meet their goals for UTA.

In the wash up and upon reflection I was very fortunate at UTA in 2017. I was able to share the experience with Kellie, although she couldn’t get out on course she was still right by my side across the entire weekend. I made big steps forward in my running and while I didn’t hit the bulls eye my shot was definitely much closer than in my last 3 previous efforts. As a coach I shared a journey from sign up to finish line with many amazing and determined athletes, a privilege I take very seriously. And finally once again I was blown away by the weekend, the atmosphere, the encouragement, this event is unique and like no other sporting event I had seen nor participated in.

On the home stretch - B. Berriman
Where else would you see the first place runner take the time to genuinely talk to the runner who came across the line in the final position? Only in ultra-running.

With this in mind, recover well, be kind to yourself and take the time to restore your body and mind. I am not sure what will be next on my radar, there are some penciled plans but I have definitely taken plenty away from this event that I intend on building upon. One thing is certain in 2018 I will be lining up in an Ultra Trail Australia event, once again chasing that elusive day out in the mountains.

Photo Credits

Meg Reeves - legend mountain crusher
Ben Berriman - legend BMMC man
Kellie Gibson - legend wife
Ben Duffus - legend ultra runner
Aurora Images - official photo supplier