Summary: This is Team RunRun Co-Founder Matt Urbanski’s Ultra Trail Australia 100k race report. He provides a description of the course, how to manage it, race highlights, and more!
Runner: Matt Urbanski
Race Date: 5/15/2021
Location: Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia
Results: 9th OA; 10:41
Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/5311648519
3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
The Trails – really unique course! It requires so many different skills as a runner.
The Competition – This race brings out the best in Australia (and normally internationals as well). I feel fortunate to have been on the starting line here!
The Event vibe – UTA puts on an awesome race! It’s a big event, lots of races, lots of runners, multi-day with races for 3 days – it’s just an awesome all around event and feels special to be there!
Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?
The most unique thing about this race is all the stairs! Seriously, stairs like I’ve never seen before! I was warned about them, I prepared for them, and they didn’t disappoint. Power packed way to get a bunch of vert in a short time. Add in the ladders around 22k and you have some seriously unique stuff in this race! (yes, real ladders you’re climbing down! They’re surrounded by netted ropes but they’re straight down!)
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
I ran hard all day! It’s a 100k event and I have been doing more 100 milers the past couple years. This distance is one I didn’t know as well, and while I may have gone a bit conservative early, I was full on most of the day and pushing hard. I was able to fuel well and to deal with muscle cramping issues, and I finished hard up the final steps. Feels funny to say this after a lifetime of racing, but I’m proud of how hard I pushed on this course.
Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
Know the course. Many people talked to me about how tough the climb up Nellie’s Glen was around the 50k mark. I did this section in a training run and I was ready for it. It wasn’t as bad as if I hadn’t known it was coming. Conversely, the section between 60k and 76k was way slower than I had anticipated – tons of steps and lots of twisting, winding trails with steep ups and downs. I was alone for much of this section and my avg pace plummeted here. It took its toll on my mojo and mood too! Had I been better prepared for the section, I would have probably done better. Practice with all your gear. The required gear list here is substantial – as much as UTMB or more. So practice with your kit, know where all your stuff is, and practice with the kit.
Stairs. I don’t usually train on stairs. There are a ton of them here, with all different varieties – metal stairs, stone steps, regularly spaced ones, randomly spaced ones, short ones, tall ones – this course has it all! Be ready and train for them! My quads, and eventually my calves were all cramping from the stair workload!
Run hard downhill from 78k to 90k. It’s a smooth grade, wide open dirt path – bomb this one! It’s mainly uphill after that to the finish, so you can use up your downhill muscles here!
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
I’ll go out harder. I gave up time in the first 30k and was behind the front guys by the same margin for the rest of the way in. Everyone seemingly takes off like a bullet from the start and I thought I was being the wise old guy by holding back a bit. Given the uniqueness of this course, I would go out harder next time. There is a 5k road section early, followed by steep stairs down, and then technical single track. You can catch your breath there – get out faster, Matt!
Practice more stairs! Muscularly, I got worked. And with the simple motor skill of downhill stairs, I could be much faster. I get passed once in the race after the 40k mark, and it was on the Giant Stairway after the 60k mark. The dude who passed me flew down the steps – amazing skill!
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
There is a lot to know about the UTA course so study up ahead of time! First 5k – out and back road section. It’s fast and feels like a road race. It’s uphill on the way out, and downhill on the way back.
You then hit the Furber Steps and go steeply down. After about 1k of stairs, you hit technical single track. Some really slow spots through here. Position yourself accordingly – be ahead if you’re fast on this stuff and be prepared to be pressured from the back if you’re slow on this stuff.
Next is the Golden Steps around 10/11k. Steep. Tough. You’ve been warned!
But once you get up the steps, it’s dirt, fire roads for a good stretch, maybe 10k or so. Rarely is the course flat, but here it was rolling and I got into a nice rhythm.
After 21k you go off trail and drop on some steep technical trail which ultimately leads you to the Tarros Ladders. Wow! And then it continues steeply down for awhile after that.
Eventually you get to run again on dirt roads and things open up for a bit to the second CP.
After CP2, you make your way up to Iron Pot Mountain out and back. They have traditional music going up there and some cheering from volunteers directing you. It’s a bit technical and slow through here – I got passed a good amount between the ladders and here. But after the steep downhill, things open up again and are cruising all the way until past CP3 when you start the climb up Nellies Glen somewhere around 50k. At this point it gets steep and rocky! A good km or more, this section is one to be mentally ready for!
Once you do the initial climb out, the trail stays rolling and twisty, not fast, all the way until you pop out onto road around 56k. You have a km or 2 until you reach CP4 at the Aquatic Center.
At the AQ, you go into a gym and see your crew/get aid, before heading back out onto the road for a brief bit. You then cut across some trails that take you through town and back toward the trails along the Cliffs.
The trails from here on to Queen Victoria Hospital (78k) are generally slow and challenging to find any sort of rhythm. Lots of steps, both up and down, twists and turns – you basically make your way along the edges of the cliff on a cool trail with great scenery. But for running, it’s not fast at all, so be ready for this. There is one big descent and climb to be prepped for too. After the big Echo Point lookout where you’ll see lots of tourists (this course runs through the Blue Mountains National Park), you go down the Giant Staircase – super steep, lots of metal stairs, really cool! And then shortly thereafter, you climb right back up some tough steps up to Leura. Woof!
By the time I got to 78k I was mentally worn down from the slow section. I had been alone for much of the past few hours, and the race had thinned out up front with all of us evenly spaced out. But seeing my family at CP5 was a good boost. I got an update on my placing – near the top 10.
From here, the course bombs down for much of the next 10k on smooth dirt fire roads. You can let it loose here and run hard! It’s fun! And it was so refreshing to run again and to open up my legs.
As you near the bottom, you get a couple climb and descents before you really begin the climb to the finish.
I ran right through the aid station at 91 b/c I hadn’t been taking much in at all on the descent, and then the work to get to the finish is on! Lots of climbing, much of it steep highlight the last 10k. You’re on fire roads for the first few kms, and then it goes to single track. At this point, maybe with 5-7k to go, the course isn’t as steep and it’s got some little downs too. I had run this a couple times in training and I was excited to be here. I was passing lots of 50k runners at this point and they were kind and all moved over for me, and were cheering me on. I thought it might suck to have to do so much passing at this point in the race, but I felt obligated to run fast since they were stopping for me and I think they all propelled me to a faster run through this part.
And then you hit the Furber steps for the final km! Straight up, steep steps, all the way to the finish! Insane! I was cramping, my form was goofy, and I was working! I put it all out there and was powering to the finish. As I came up the final few stairs to the brief bit of pavement to run it in, I yelled and cheered – I was pumped! So many people cheering us in after such a tough finish – awesome! Then a 100m sprint to home and it was finished! What a course!
Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?
Gorgeous! In the Blue Mountains. The cliffs and trails are spectacular. There are waterfalls and views throughout the course. There are scenic overlooks, and there are times where you’re deep in the bush too. Great course!
Difficulty – Is it a tough course?
Yes! 14,000’+ of vert, and so much of it is compacted into short bursts of stairs. You also have to be able to run b/c there are plenty of fast and runnable sections too. Being a well rounded trail runner is a major advantage on this course.
Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
Top notch! UTA/Ironman put on a great event. It’s well organized, and they put on a great experience.
Competition – Is there a strong field?
Yes! The best in Australia were there.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
The race normally sells out. I had the good fortune of getting a late entry elite spot – thank you UTA! Katoomba is 1.5 hours out of Sydney, so logistics are pretty easy. You could take a train out there, but having a car makes things much easier.
There is plenty of lodging in Katoomba and in surrounding areas of Leura and closer to Sydney.
Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?
We were able to have crew at 3 spots – CP3, CP4, and CP5. The other three main check points had the basics for ultra fare. I only took advantage of getting my bottles filled there, and then getting everything else I needed from my crew at 45k, 57k, and 78k. I fueled with Maurten gel, a few Spring Energy gels, Tailwind, Maurten drink mix, and water.
Logistically, it wasn’t crazy difficult for crew to access the CPs they were allowed at. Julie managed all this with a 2 and 5 year old in tow – she’s a rockstar!
Weather and typical race conditions
It’s fall in Australia. Weather can be cooler, and I imagine it could still be warm. We had a cool day, 40s and 50s, maybe in the 30s at the start. Overcast at times, sunny at times, with little spats of rain. It was cold at the start. I started at 6:20am and got there around 5:40. That time before the start was chilly! I put on my required gear until it was go time, but I would have been wiser to put on warmer clothes and then leave them in a drop bag at the start.
Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?
Practice with your gear! The required gear list is hefty. I never needed any of the required gear during the race, but it’s good to know I could take care of myself out there if something unforeseen happened.
They did two gear checks, along with a mandatory gear check before the race. At 45k, they did a random gear check – they asked to see my mobile phone. At the finish, I had to show them my thermal pants and my rain jacket.
I carried all my gear in a Salomon Adv Skin 8L pack. It all fit fine.
Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?
Yes. There are the 3 CPs, the Start/Finish, and plenty of places along the course they could pop by for a cheer! Echo Point and along the Cliffs would be accessible, as well as at the Fairmont Resort. There were plenty of people cheering. At the same time, there were lots of quiet and solitary times on the trails too!
How’s the Swag?
Solid. The shirt was too big. I ordered a Small and it’s still too big. The buckle was cool. I liked that there is a finisher’s towel. They wrap it around you at the finish and it’s nice to have a new beach towel. For finishing 3rd in my age group, I got a cool gift pack. A UTA backpack with a nice reusable coffee cup, a beanie, a visor, and a couple stuffed cockatoo toys for my boys were all included.
The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?
5 out of 5! I really enjoyed this race. From the build up to the race, to the pre-race, to execution and post-race, every step of the way was quality and well run. I’m thankful to have been in Australia during this unique time in the world and to have had the chance to race. Thank you for all the help and support everyone!