I run with the same core group of ladies approximately four times each week. We have spent many, many hours running together and have formed lovely friendships along the way. Mid 2015 my friend Megan said to me “Anne, will you come and run UTA50 with me?” to which I responded “No” – I’d done my time with a trail ultra when I ran 6 foot track. She then said “It is for my birthday” – and there it was – I was committed to the event! I was running another trail ultra in May 2016 for Megan’s 40th birthday.
This group of running friends is a bit special. We’re all busy, professional women who get up early four mornings a week and meet to go running. Long runs on Saturdays have been known to start at 4:30am for 32km with us being home in time for children’s sports and husband commitments. We all know what it’s like to balance the needs of the children, the husband, work, study and our own sports and the support within our little group is tremendous. Of the ten ladies who signed up for UTA50, six had previously run at least one marathon, and the other four were super fit women who committed to the training required. Two ladies also agreed to come as our support crew – one did most of the training with us and most likely could have run the event, and the other moved her entire life around just for that weekend!
Training for UTA50 involved a bit of tweeking of our normal running program. Intervals were replaced by stairs; and the long run each second weekend involved a long trail rather than road run. There is a massive set of stairs not far from our usual meeting point, and loops of “Cardiff stairs” became the norm. As we came closer to the event we ventured out to the Watagan state forest to Mount Faulk Rd – something of a mission in itself just to get there in the first place, and certainly nowhere you’d want to be in the dark without company. Banjos were playing as we alighted the vehicles some mornings.
There was an opportunity for those who had not previously run a marathon to gain a qualifying time for a faster start group by running a Strava segment on the course, and thus for one of the long runs a group went to Katoomba and ran the 17km segment. That in itself was an operation for all to co-ordinate. I didn’t go along that day as I’d entered the marathon in Wangaratta and slunk off there instead to try to overcome the shame of the DNF at Caboolture!
We hired a house in Leura for the UTA50 weekend, staying for two nights. Megan had chosen a colour scheme for our group, now aptly named “Team Fortay”, and Hayley had organised matching visors for us to wear. Our group has a number of sayings appropriate to events and running, one of which is “It’s all about the photo” and we were not going to miss an opportunity for a good photo for this occasion!
Race day was terrific weather with a brisk start, quickly warming up to good running conditions.
The first 14km involved stairs – down – up – down – up and on and on. We’d been warned about the stairs and for this reason had trained a lot on the Cardiff stairs. What a joke! Cardiff stairs were like Kindergarten stairs compared to the stairs on the course. In single file we traversed these monstrous beasts – some barely more than ladders. One couldn’t stop because of the queue behind, but luckily, thanks to the start groupings, most people were of a similar pace and fitness. I honestly thought my heart would stop on some of the climbs and I only kept going because of the people behind, however no-one was shoving to get past!
We came out of the bush right near our house in Leura, and there were Nicole and Monique with drinks and food! How wonderful it was to see them! They had written on the road in chalk and were smiling and happy and encouraging.
Our group had split up by this point, with different groupings perhaps 10 minutes apart. Hayley and I were at the back, determined to have a good time and agreeing that we would stay together at a pace that worked for us both.
The next stop was at Queen Victoria Hospital at 28km. The few kilometres prior to this were quite exposed and on bitumen, and we arrived hot and ready for a little break. Nicole and Monique were there as well, and we stopped and chatted for a while before running on. The next 15km were quite extraordinary in terms of the terrain we traversed. I’ve never seen such big hills and they went on forever! We had a terrain map and took to counting the number of hills to climb until the end.
At Leura Forest Hayley and I caught up with another runner, Kathy. She explained that she’d had a fall earlier in the event and this had thrown her both mentally and physically. She had regrouped, but like us all, was tiring toward the end. We ran the last few kilometres together, and as happens at events like this, we’ve stayed in touch ever since!
The dreaded Furber steps loomed up and we commenced our climb. Honestly, after everything else we’d encountered on the course, I thought by comparison the Furber steps were a cinch. Others who had zoomed over other parts of the course thought differently, however I could smell the finish line and the three of us just kept going. There was carnage everywhere – people lying on the ground next to the steps; people crawling; people going up backward; people stopping to let others past. We came to the top and Hayley called to me to start running! OMG, running at 49.5km but of course she was right – it was only 500 metres to go and we were running up to the finishing chute. Kathy was slightly ahead but then slowed and waited for us, and we crossed the line together! 50km with 3433 metres of elevation and 4052 calories expended! Epic.
UTA50 was number 13.