There are no photos to go with this blog. I questioned whether I wanted to blog at all – whether it was part of my new way (the old way). I do enjoy writing though and whilst it doesn’t really fit with the way I want to live right now, I’ve chosen to write and share regardless.
I did not take a single photo during UTA 2018, which for those who know me, is quite against my nature of recent years. I wanted to see those Blue Mountains with my eyes, feel them with my soul, not through a camera (or phone) lense. As the sun set over the Three Sisters, they’ve never looked more vivid.
I have closed my Facebook account, put Strava on private. This is all part of wanting my pre-internet heart and soul back. I used to be capable of doing great things (and terrible things) without the need for constant feedback, validation, approval, encouragement. I was rough around the edges and tough where and when it counted because I honestly and truely did not give a fuck what anyone thought of me. That was how I was raised and that is the way my heros continue to live. So in an effort to get a little bit more of myself back, I have disengaged. This blog is an exception, as is my instagram account which I am still wrestling with but won’t go into detail here as this is meant to be a race report, not an essay on why social media is making us weak and pathetic.
So to the start of the adventure that was UTA 2018. The wonderful Ross picked me up just before dawn on Thursday. We picked up the awesome Kevin and Baoping and off we headed toward Katoomba. 10 or so very funny hours later, we arrived in Katoomba. Ross dropped me off at the Hotel Gearin where I had “splurged” on a private room (in comparison to the previous years spent in various dormitories). I looked for the reception and then noted I had to check in at the front bar. An old drunk staggered toward me spilling his beer. He raised his eyebrows a few times and then greeted me with ‘hey shweet heart.’
“Have you got any other runners staying here?” I asked the guy behind the bar.
“Oh yeah, we’re completely booked out by runners.” Phew, I was with my own kind. It would be fine. I saluted old drunky and made my way to my room. A single bed, a heater and a sign warning me that on Friday and Saturday nights the hotel doubled as a live music venue but they supplied free ear plugs. Surely, given the hotel was booked out by runners, in fact the whole town was booked out by runners, this Friday might be an exception?
Fast forward to Friday night as I rechecked and packed my mandatory gear and the acoustic set began from below. That’s okay, I thought. No drums. I can handle that, I’ll just jam my ear plugs in and I’ll be fine.
Just as I got into bed ready for a full 6 hours sleep before needing to get up for the start of the race, the drums started up. The drummer had one beat and after two songs, I was ready to go and shove his drumstick somewhere unpleasant to teach him a lesson. Third song in, I was screaming internally, how could someone ride a single kick like that that with no regard? It was downright offensive. Then suddenly the alarm was going off and it was 4.30am. I must have slipped into a deep sleep midst rage.
I was wearing my VUR shirt but was in an arse of a mood until I got my double shot espresso at the start line. Apologies to anyone who may have tried to make eye contact with me and smile – I don’t make friends until caffeinated.
The lovely Celesta and Adrian were there and with hugs and laughs we wished each other well and it was time to line up in my start wave.
The first 46km of the race were really non eventful other than that I was in a delirious state of happiness where running felt effortless. Everything was pleasing me. I had chosen to listen to music on the open fire trails of the course, not because I need music, but because I had noted in training that I do tend to keep a slightly faster and more even pace when I listen to music. At 25km, Metallica’s Wherever I May Roam came on and I felt my face might crack I was smiling so hard. Even though I had put that song on my playlist it felt like such a pleasant surprise. Everything was just great.
At checkpoint three, I had decided to start practicing my “unsexy talents” which would involve eating while running rather than wasting any unnecessary time at checkpoints. I inhaled a Cliff bar as I exited the aid station and thought to myself that I must have eaten at least 500 Cliff bars over the years. I congratulated myself for being able to eat the same food day in day out over the years without being too precious about things like ‘flavour fatigue.’
This is the way of your people, I told myself.
Pop ate Polenta for 8 months straight during the war.
What’s another Cliff bar? You are so fucking tough. Good. On. YOU!
Well I think that might officially have been my last Cliff bar as I struggled with trying not to vom it up the remainder of the race. However, the fact I did not vom it up I think means I was successful at refining those “unsexy talents” required to run long races.
I’ll skip forward to the 50km point. I saw a first timer take a photo of the 50km sign and he said “so good to be on the other side of that!” I chuckled to myself as I knew well enough that that sign didn’t really mark half way. I think it merely marks the start of the real race as the first 50km really are very pleasant.
And from here, things became a struggle. As I ascended the stairs at the top of Nellies Glen I realised I was buggered. When I got to the top, I couldn’t run. My legs were completely smashed. But as ultra running goes, about ten minutes later, I was running and that fatigue was long forgotten, until it wasn’t. The roller coaster of fatigue and mania lasted all the way until the finish line. At times I would think I couldn’t possibly run another step. I hated the UTA and told myself I’d never do it again.
Fuck this race and fuck these stairs.
Then sudddenly I’d be screaming and laughing and fistpumping the air as I ran down the trail thinking
Wage War really are a great band, I don’t care that they’re 12 and the singer wears really bad shoes. This band is GREAT! These drums are great – no riding the single kick here! This run is GREAT! I fucking love this.
I had written down my time splits on my arm for easy reference and when I left checkpoint three, I was an hour ahead of my splits that would get me to a 17:50 finish. However from checkpoint three to four, I used that entire hour. From four to five, I just tried to hold my position but it was a real struggle.
Two highlights of the race both occurred around the Fairmont Resort – around the 69km mark.
I had been running for quite a while in the dark forest, when I exited onto the road that lead toward the Fairmont Resort. I was still at least a kilometre away from the resort and there were no other runners around. Out of nowhere, a guy in jeans holding a pack of cigarettes yells out to me. “Hey you! YOU! HEY! YOU!”
I looked toward him and suddenly he was running toward me. I grew up in Salisbury so I wasn’t bothered, I just thought he needed better manners. He started running along side me in his jeans and thongs and in between inhalations of his cigarette he said “I’ve run this race. The whole hungey k’s.”
“You’ve broken the ‘orses back you ‘ave. You ‘AVE!”
As crazy as he was, choofing away, I actually believed him.
Then when I got to the Fairmont, they had chips and lollies. I kind of wanted some but I knew I’d be sick if I tried to eat them. I took a handful but then didn’t know what to do with them.
“You’ve got a pocket in your hi vis vest” one of the volunteers volunteered.
“Fill your pockets!”
That was so awesome. A hi vis vest that doubles as a snack holder. A classy outfit for a classy lady.
I pushed on and came into checkpoint five on a high and I realised I could still make my time goal time if I just kept moving but it would be really tight. This checkpoint was a demonstration of my real true class – I skulled a can of coke, face planted a bag of chips, burped really loudly, thanked the volunteers – all within about two minutes.
In this section – the final 22km, my new Suunto Spartan Ultra went flat after 14 hours of use. Yes I should have changed the GPS setting, but not quite the battery life as advertised. I tried not to let it piss me off.
Why do you even care? You fucking hate Strava. You don’t need no validation. You are fucking badass. You hate technology. Run the fucking miles and who gives a fuck if your watch works?
Oh but I do give a fuck if my head torch is flat!
I pulled out my backup light and cursed myself for being cheap and buying Coles brand batteries for the back up light as now it was my only light and I knew I had at least three hours to get to the finish. I just hoped it would last.
The final 5km is quite runnable – other than those bloody stairs, but with my very average back up light to guide the way, I kept tripping and I gave myself the excuse to power walk it.
Then old mate came jogging up behind me and asked me what my time goal was. I said that I thought I’d missed it. That I was hoping for sub 18 hours but that ship had passed. I didn’t have a watch so I wasn’t really sure, but I felt pretty sure I was done on that one but that I could still aim for my goal number two which was to beat my previous personal best on the UTA course of 18:25. Old mate said “What the hell are you talking about giving in like that? You’ve got 41 minutes to do 4km!” I said “Yeah but those staiiiiiiiiiiirs!” He said something like shut up and start moving! (I don’t think he said it that bluntly but I heard his message – and I needed his light!) So I got hustling and stopped making excuses and started running.
When I got to the stairs I checked my phone. I had 26 minutes to get under 18 hours. Last time I ran this race it had taken me 30 minutes to get up the stairs.
What are you saving yourself for now Tash? Fucking MOVE girly!
I crossed the finish line at 1:01am and it took me a few moments to calculate my finish time. I’d done it – I’d got in in under 18 hours. 17:55. I burst into tears. I haven’t done that since my first half marathon, but I’d really pushed hard. I was really fucking proud of myself. I felt badass.
I dedicate this race finish to the ultimate badass, Uncle Joe (my pop’s brother who was tough as nails and loved the F bomb – and for this reason, I leave my race report unedited, F bombs and all). RIP.