There’s an event not far from ‘Godzone’ that has been kicking around for 10 years now. It’s the largest attended trail running event in Australasia and continues to grow FOR GOOD REASON.
I’m talking of course about Ultra-Trail Australia (formerly ‘The North Face 100’). Set in the picturesque Blue Mountains National Park the race weekend offers several challenging distances of 22km, 50km and 100km as well as the ridiculous ‘Furber Stairs Challenge’ and the Sunday Kids race.
We could talk at length about the incredible scenery, the rolling horizon of eucalyptus, the cliff faces with words like escarpment, buttress and arête. A handful of photos should be enough to convince you there are vistas on this course that have brought many to the brink of tears. This isn’t a marketing campaign or my attempt to help fill your bucket-list. What I want to impress is just how easy it is to attend this race.
Flights to Sydney are typically comparable to flights between the North and South Island meaning you can stamp your passport for the same price as traveling to the ‘other’ NZ Island. And landing in Sydney is no handicap either. There’s a train that leaves the airport and chugs right up the hill to Katoomba where the race starts and finishes. Your internal transfer is around $25 each way with trains departing regularly throughout the day, seven days a week. Katoomba accom’ couldn’t be easier with the event itself offering bunkroom options, only a couple of hundred meters stagger from the start and finish line at Scenic World, or if you can operate the internet, a multitude of book-a-batch and AirBnB style lodgings available as well as hotels and motels all for very little cost.
Chances are, this race is within a half days travel of the cupboard you keep your running gear in.
Ultra-Trail Australia like most races in NZ is somewhat ‘self-supported’ in that you are expected to carry an encumbering amount of safety equipment including the ever-entertaining ‘Snake Bandage’. For years I’ve attended this race and on countless excursions into the Aussie wilderness I’ve never once had to bandage a snake.
Kiwis are generally well represented at this event and the Tarawera lads can always be found around the traps as well as representing the silver fern at UTA’s epic event expo. The expo spanning several days prior to the main event is possible Australasia’s finest gathering of trail running exhibitors and a fantastic way to score free stuff and slick deals on almost anything trail running related. It’s like a Christmas Market for runners.
Again Pacific’s triple star is well represented on race day and you can expect a surprising number of kiwis who have made the short trip over. A quick glance at results an indicator of just how well we as a nation of trail runners perform at UTA with the top-10 typically being deep with Kiwi-born athletes such as Fiona Hayvice, Mark Green, and Vajin Armstrong. Claim can be made for the 50km course record in the form of Auckland resident Andrius Romanus. Plainly there’s something about how we train that converts really well in the Blue Mountains.
It’s not all beer and skittles though. UTA is tough and if you were to ask a corpse on the finish line to summarize the race in one word they will typically say “STAIRS!!!!” while staring blankly off in memory of a nightmare past. The rough guide is that it’s your Tarawera Ultra-Marathon100 time plus 2-3hrs. Aid stations are a little more spread out, you carry a lot more stuff, there’s more vert and it comes generally comes at you in relentless 30cm perpendicular offsets (stairs!!!). Your quads will feel it and if the stairs don’t get you the 8km downhill off Kedumba will make the final 14km rolling uphill to the finish TOUGH. But what challenges us most will afford us the great reward.
Run the 100km back to Scenic World in under 14hrs and get a sweet silver belt buckle. Do it under 20hr and collect a bronze one. Make it home before I go bed at 8am and I’ll personally shout you across the line (seriously, why they keep giving me a microphone is still a mystery).
“We snapped up some cheap flights less than $400 return with Air NZ. there was plenty of flights coming up all around that price. Booked an air-BnB and a car so had the freedom of going where ever whenever.
That race was great starting in the dark running through the whole day and finishing in the dark was an experience itself! I had never ran more than 6 1/2 hours so was pretty nervous but after the gun goes of you forget about nerves and just enjoy the scenery, surrounding mountains and just chatting to the ppl around you. One of the best things was seeing Kerry and Ali from SQUADRUN, Paul Tim (Event Directors – TaraweraUltra) and other familiar faces Fiona Hayvice, Anthony Hancy so many Kiwis. We had Ollies dad as support crew having a car meant he could go to some of the CPs and was always great to se a familiar face there” – Doug Moore
“Logistically, it’s a piece of cake; within half a day of leaving home you’re settling into your Blue Mountains race-base. Once there you’re in for a sensory feast; expansive vistas, larger than life birds squawking overhead, alien fauna darting off the tracks, and occasionally indigenous tunes echoing through the gum trees. Australia’s hard, rocky, somewhat unforgiving terrain offers such a contrast to NZ’s softer, greener trails. Yet, the locals warm hospitality and familiar mannerisms makes it feel like you’re in your neighbours’ backyard” – Fiona Hayvice; Icebug, CEP, Further Faster (Montane), Tailwind Nutrition, ENDUROBeet, BackToItWellington
Where: Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia
Distances: 22km, 50km, 101km
When: 18th to 21st May 2017
Entries on sale from 12th Oct (sells out fast!)
Who: Anyone! About 3,500 mad trail runners of all abilities (super relaxed cut-offs yay!)
Trail: A mix of ‘fire road’ and single track.