Warning: I am writing this from home, after an entire week of debilitating muscle soreness from the UTA22. I’ve barely been out of the house in seven days. Haven’t cleaned, haven’t done the washing. Just needing the loo has made me want to cry.
This is what the UTA22 can do to you.
I entered this race in December and then, well, just pretended it wasn’t happening. And I learned there are a few reasons why for this run, you can’t do that – even though some 3,000 runners completed it this year.
Here are the UTA tips I found out the hard way… and why I can’t wait to go back to Ultra-Trail Australia in 2019.
Lesson 1: UTA22 requires a warm up
|PHOTO: VICKY HUYSKENS, BEROWRA BUSH RUNNERS|
When I realised the race started with a bus ride and a 90-minute wait at the Queen Victoria Hospital, the derelict tuberculosis home, I was baffled. ‘But there’s nothing there!’ I thought.
Instead I found this festival vibe complete with coffee cart and muffins. And, well, I got a bit carried away with listening to The Killers and enjoying the interviews with runners while sipping my tea. By the time I’d queued for the loos, the race briefing was starting and I’d somehow missed the chance for a warm-up altogether.
And you need to warm up. Really. Here’s why.
Lesson 2: It’s the down that destroys you
The Jamison Valley is my special place. When I was little, I spent days yabbying in the creek above Wentworth Falls. I did my first overnight bushwalk over Mt Solitary as a teenager, and as a junior reporter on the Blue Mountains Gazette, I remember sitting at the end of Falls Road, willing the teenager who’d tragically disappeared on the same walk to be found. In a decade living abroad, whenever I was homesick, the Jamison is where my soul flew back to.
So I knew there was a flipping great hill on the UTA22. The trouble is, I only planned for the up.
Long and fast downhills are known for causing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS) – the leg wobbling and pain that can last for days.
The name, though, is a bit misleading. Although the pain from DOMS is delayed, the muscle weakness is almost immediate, starting around 30 minutes in, according to a 2005 study of 20 people published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The best way to prevent DOMS is to train downhills and shorten your stride, but there’s some suggestion that warming up can help prevent soreness, too. Either way, by the time I got to Jamison Creek, my quads and calves were ruined.
And the problem is, unlike most trail races anywhere else in the world, the downhill in the UTA22 is at the start. My suffering was only just beginning.
Lesson 3: If there’s food, eat it
I was delighted to reach the first climb – three kilometres or so of climbing, then another agonising downhill before the up began in earnest.
I’m weirdly fond of uphills, though, so I ran through the food station without stopping. I started to overtake a few people, and felt pretty happy again. There was a bit more up, then a bit more. My hands were on my knees now, so I lifted my chin to see what was ahead. Oh yes, more up. We trudged round some hairpins, and climbed into Leura Forest, where I looked again. This time I saw the spectacular cliffline, ominous and immense, and I realised I really, really should have eaten something that would help me get to the top of it. The race winners Ben St Lawrence and Lucy Bartholomew were probably having lunch by now. My bars were out of reach though. There was nothing for it but to keep going (up).
Lesson 4: Grace matters as much as goals do
When I finally got to the Furber steps, they took the wind out of me, and for reasons I didn’t expect.
About halfway up this climb out of the underworld, I met some tourists descending the metal ladders. It didn’t seem safe to squeeze pass, so I waited. There was huffing and puffing behind me, and eventually a shout: ‘Oh come on, we’re racing, let us through!’
I was shocked. To me, trail running is about feeling free and wild and sometimes a little bit broken. Of course, I get that racing is fun too, and I’ve made enough bad choices in the heat of things to excuse the runner behind me, but it made me wonder. Should paths be closed for races? Is trail running the right place to chase PBs? Are there goals that motivate you to run hard, that aren’t based on time?
Lesson 5: Get your whole foot on each step
Honestly, I don’t remember much after this point. My memory is of shoes, limbs, runners wailing with cramp, and cow bells.
Back home that evening, I hobbled to the computer and started planning which distance to enter in 2019, and that brought me across this stairs advice from The Body Mechanic. Stay upright to engage your bum, and land with your whole foot flat on each step. Maybe if I’d done that on those 951 stairs, I’d have been able to get back to my car without calling a taxi… now there’s a good goal for next year!