Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
In the weeks leading up to Ultra Trail Australia 2018 registrations opening Sean and I toyed with the idea of signing up for the 100.
"It might hurt... but we could do it.. couldn't we?"
We'd both finished a few road half and full marathons, as well as city 2 surf and the usual Sydney fun runs, so naturally going longer was the next step. And we were excited about it. And then we ran the 2017 Blackmores Marathon. Or should I say we ran part of it. We both DNF'd (due to being really under the weather), and such by the time UTA registrations rolled around we both signed up for the 50k and that was daunting enough.
We followed a training plan from Krissy Moehl's book; Running Your First Ultra. It was super helpful and great to look back on to confirm to ourselves that we were on or at least near the right track, and we had been putting in the right miles.
For start group seeding we used our ITRA (International Trail Running Association) ratings. I'll be honest, I'd never heard of these and wasn't aware we had them until UTA shot around an email saying they could be used for seeding. It turns out the Sydney Trail Series runs at Manly Dam we'd completed over this Summer gave us a rating and Sean was slotted into Group 1 and I was in group 2. We were both pretty chuffed with this, and it meant on race day I'd be starting only 7 minutes after Sean, so not too much waiting around in the cold Blue Mountains Air.
Fast forward to May 19 2018, Game Day, and it was scary. Exciting, but scary. And that cold Blue Mountains air was cold. Really, really cold.
FYI: This is a more like a Race / Entire weekend in the Blue Mountains Report as well as some general info about the event itself. Click HERE to go straight to Saturday if you want just my take on the 50k race.
Or if you're just interested in the gear I used, click HERE
Thursday May 17th:
Sean and I headed up to the Mountains on Thursday night. We checked into our campsite (we were sleeping in our van for the weekend) and headed to the Fairmont Hotel. We had bought tickets to the Trails in Motion Film Festival screening for that evening and it was great. I highly recommend catching one of the screenings around Aus, all the films were awesome.
In particular Patagonia's film Takayna about the Tarkine Rainforest in North Western Tasmania was a great one to get people thinking about the impact as individuals can have when we use our voices together. And better yet, how runners have been helping out! This area looks absolutely beautiful, and pretty unique for an Australian landscape. Travelling to Tasmania was already very high on our list, and some of the footage in this film has seriously bumped a Tassie road trip right to the top of our "what to do next" list. Watch the film for free when it comes out and sign the petition to gain World Heritage List Status for the Tarkine here.
Friday May 18th:
Friday morning we woke up and went for a little jog, just to check the legs were still working after tapering. The legs were good and the views were even better, every time we come up here I'm always enthralled with the beauty of this place.
After our run we headed into Katoomba for some breaky before going back to Scenic World and the UTA expo to watch the Pace22 winners cross the line. The Pace 22 winners were incredible. Both the male and female records were smashed, the mens by 7 minutes and the womens by something like 14... which is absolutely INSANE over a 22k race.
We went up to the expo, picked up our bibs and checked out the stalls. We wandered around with our friends Fi & Linda (Hi guys!) Headed back to camp to make lunch - BBQ tofu & salad rolls never tasted so good! We then packed our race bags ensuring we had all the mandatory gear (there's a shit load of mandatory gear even for the 50...) Later that night we went to the compulsory race briefing before heading back for an early dinner - minestrone - and sleep.
Saturday May 19th GAME DAY (& Finally my actual UTA50 Race Report):
Saturday morning we woke up early. As in at 4:30am. Sean was in the first group of the 50k runners and I was in the 2nd so we started at 6:32 and 6:39 respectively. We got out of out sleeping bags and into our race gear with a few extra warm layers thrown on over the top and headed up to the communal camp kitchen for breakfast.
Before a race we aways have the same thing Porridge. Oats, chia seeds, linseeds, walnuts and bananas or berries topped with a cheeky dash of brown sugar and soy milk. It warmed us up and gave us some protein to start the day. We both hit the loo a couple of times (standard for all runners thanks to pre-race nerves) and then walked to the start line. We were staying at the Katoomba Falls Tourist Park and it was literally 400m from the start line!
We bumped into a few friendly faces, said our hellos and good lucks before watching the 100k runners take off. It was finally here, and it was exciting! Before we knew it it was time for Sean to line up and then myself.
Leg 1: Scenic World → Fairmont → Wentworth Falls → Queen Vic (28.4km)
The race begins with a 7km or so road section. It's hillier than it looks on the elevation graph and it was important to remind myself to keep it cruisy, the harder (much harder) terrain was coming and the last thing anyone wants to do is burn themselves out early on a couple of road hills.
The road section worked well for self-seeding the people and meant that for majority of the course ahead there was very little waiting or bottlenecks.
At around 6km you come back past Scenic World and the start of the run to a big crowd that cheers you on, it's early on but it stills feels great to have people smiling and clapping for you.
After the road section we ran along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk around to Echo Point and down the Giant stair case. This was nice easy trail terrain and for the most part people were moving pretty well. A couple of slow moments on steeper sections but traffic basically flowed all day. The Giant staircase was the first section where I was going a lot slower than I'd have liked, but that was to be expected with lots of people and a really steep set of stairs. Being a trail race they don't close off sections of trail to the public, so racers are expected to share trails with the other hiker out there. Luckily we were in early groups and didn't encounter any issues here at one of the busiest locations in the Blue Mountains. Needless to say, the view was great!
Once at the bottom of the staircase we ran down Dardanelles Pass through to Leura Forest at a good pace before reaching Leura Cascades (a seemingly never-ending section of stairs, going back down, more stairs, down again and then finally heading up).
I personally think Leura Cascades is more difficult than the Furber Stairs however we'd only run about 11km when we reached these stairs, whereas when you reach the Furbers you've done 49.. or worse 99 if you're doing the 100!
Right before the cascades I managed to roll my ankle a little bit. Note to self, don't turn around to chat to people whilst running on semi-technical trail... It hurt quite a bit but seemed to disappear from my thoughts once I began climbing the stairs. Thank goodness!
Once at the top of the cascades we carried on along the prince Henry Cliff Walk, across the sky bridge around to Gordon Falls and onwards to the Fairmont, the first water stop at 17.2km.
The Fairmont had a fair few people cheering us all on, always a welcome sight and sound after any distance run. I popped a couple orange hydralyte* tablets in my flask, refilled my water and headed onwards.
* Note these are not the real hydralyte brand.. Sean and I found a product with the very same ingredients at Aldi for a quarter of the price. Speaking of Sean, here a few photos of him over the next section of trail (From Fairmont to Wentworth Falls) he passed by the photographers roughly an hour before me, potentially even more!
The next section from The Fairmont on to Wentworth Falls is some of the more technical and resultantly for most is a little slower going. This however is my favourite kind of terrain. I'm slow on road, however I don't seem to slow down too much on trail so it means if I'm lucky and having a good day I can catch and overtake a few people on this kind of terrain. Rather than eating their dust on tarmac. It's always good for the head space when you over take a few people rather than be overtaken!
Around Wentworth Falls I noticed a little twitch medially on my right knee, it felt like the warning signs of cramping. I popped a salt tablet in my mouth and sucked on it for the next 5 or so minutes. I don't know if these really work or if the effect is just placebo, but either way it seemed to make the twitch go away (or at least trick me into forgetting it) and so I continued on without any cramping.
I hustled on and got to the Queen Vic checkpoint. I again refilled my flask and headed onwards to Leg 2 of the course. Straight down Kedumba and almost straight back up the other side. The home stretch, no pulling out now!
Leg 2: Queen Vic → Jamison Creek → Furber Steps → Scenic World (Finish)
Running down Kedumba is generally either looked forward to or feared greatly. If you're a good downhill runner, and you've put in the training such that your quads won't die on you it's awesome, a long stretch of downhill with no stairs.. You beauty! However if you haven't done much downhill training it can be a frustrating long, slow, toe-destroying trudge.
I'd done a few training runs with Kedumba incorporated so I knew what was coming, and I was mostly looking forward to it. A break from going uphill! I ran the whole way down however I'm pretty sure the road was longer this time than any other time I'd run it. I was certainly happy to see Jamison Creek at the bottom.
Here's a couple of photos from a training run down Kedumba, just to give an idea of the beauty, even if it is quad-destroying.
The next 8ish kilometres to the Sewage Treatment Works was mostly uphill, with a few annoying downhills (we can't seriously be going down this just to go up again right?). However, to be honest, after the seemingly never-ending downhill of Kedumba it was nice to be breaking it up. Sometimes the thought of going uphill is exciting because it means you can walk! This whole next section is pretty beautiful and boasts some awesome views of the three sisters. Sometimes you forget to just take in where you are, and where we were on this run is pretty stunning.
I stopped quickly at the Emergency Aid station at the helipad (41.2km) and refilled my soft flask for the 3rd and final time, I then carried on for one of the longer climbs of the entire event. Just before the sewage treatment works I noticed a twitch in my quad and sucked on another salt tablet. Again it magically made the twitch go away.
The last section up from the Sewage Works is actually really nice, and for the most part (pretty much until the Furber Steps) pretty runnable! It's soft easy trail with a few tiny stairs thrown it. And again, like the entire course, it's beautiful.
I ran majority of this entire last section through Leura Forest except for a few hills that I hiked at what I thought was a quick pace, in hindsight I'm sure it was a little sloth like. None the less I made it to Furber steps, and onwards to the finish line.
Those steps were so much damn harder than I remembered, but that finish was far sweeter than I could have ever imagined.
Sean finished with a time of 5:47 and I finished with 6:55. We were both pretty stoked! Sean had hoped to go quicker but suffered pretty bad cramps from about 15k in and had to walk a lot more of than he'd have liked.
There's always next year! We'll be back.
The rest of the afternoon was spent watching our friends finish. It was such a buzz to see everyone at the end of their race after reaching their goals. It felt great! Everyone did amazingly well and the whole weekend was so much fun with such a great crew! Myself, Sean, Lisa, Rob, Beau & Linda all did the 50 whilst Fi, Andrew & Brian smashed out the full 100k!
Sunday May 20th:
Sunday morning Sean and I woke up feeling pretty good, we got out of bed, showered and made some breakfast. Yes you guessed it; porridge & tea again.
We headed over to Scenic world and grabbed a couple of coffees. As well as watching people still coming in from the 100k race it was time for arguably the most important run of the weekend (and 100% the cutest); the Injinji 1km Kids race. We watched the grommets running around having a ball and found our friends (Hi everyone!). A few of the girls Lisa and Fiona had placed 1st and 2nd respectively in their age groups so we were there to cheer them on (and get some great shots) as they climbed the podium!
A special shout out to all these beautiful people for making our weekend (and the training lead up) so much fun, easy and enjoyable!
All the Gear & No Idea (Mandatory & My own Kit)
Ultra Trail Australia is known for being a beautiful and super tough race, but it is also nearly as well known for it's extensive mandatory gear list for both 100 and 50km events.
See below for what I specifically carried to meet the gear requirements for the 50km. Light = fast, but also remember that you might need to wear some of these things in an emergency situation or even on a freezing race morning so it's pretty important to get some good kit. Whilst we're not ones for spending pennies wastefully, for some kit items it can be worth dropping the extra cash for quality. Try to think of it as an investment, because if like us you catch the trail bug you'll have good gear to take on training runs and races for years to come.
All the rest:
Well done getting this far! See you at the next one!
Yes we've done it. Like every man and his dog (or seemingly every super hot couple we've seen on the old Insta' and their super cute dog) we've bought a van and we're in the process of converting it to a camper. And to tell you the truth; its the best damn thing we've ever done! Or at least one of the best things we've done.. We've done and seen some pretty great stuff if we do say so ourselves.
Read on to see a play by play of us decking the van out. You may soon notice that I use the terms 'us' and 'we' very loosely throughout these conversion posts. When I say "we then put in a the bed frame" what I really mean is Sean did all the work involved in putting in the bed frame and I took a couple photos. To be fair on myself I did measure some things for him... But I'm 95% sure he double checked them when I was inside the house fetching him a cool drink.
Here are some photos of what we started with and the finished product thus far! We think it's coming along a treat. If you like what you see then keep scrolling for more info on how we've done it so far!
Tell me more, tell me more. Like what kind of car?
We bought a Volkswagen Transporter Runner.
This is a SWB (short wheel base for those who much like myself had no idea that vans came in different lengths until 6 months ago) transporter with absolutely no frills... well it does have bluetooth speakers and a reversing beeper thing. It's great and the perfect shell to make a home-on-wheels in!
Now for the Juicy Details aka a very brief overview of the kitting out!
After scouring Google, Instagram, Pinterest and all of the gazillion sources we now have at our fingertips for ideas we finally decided on the layout we'd use.
The key design aspects we were after included:
- Dual purpose use - Whilst this is a sweet holiday road trip or weekend getaway mobile for us, this little beauty has to also cart around a bunch of tools and building equipment on a day to day basis for Sean's work.
- Ability to sit comfortably upright on the bed/chair (Sean is over 6' tall)
- Being able to practically use the storage space underneath.
- Be able to walk through space from driver/passenger seat to back of van easily.
- Be able to store long objects (surfboards, some longer building materials) safely within the van.
We went with a long bench down the driver side of the van with 2 lift up tops and a pull out draw underneath. This would then have a section that during the day and non sleep times would slot in and act as a back support allowing the bench to be a 'couch' and during night time this back section would drop down to make a double bed. Pictures will help explain what I'm trying to describe here so carry on reading.
Sean made the frame such that it would fit over the wheel arch. We wanted the bed high enough that we could functionally store stuff underneath it and also low enough so that when it wasn't in bed mode (more on that later) we could sit upright on it without Sean hitting his head on the ceiling.
By removing some internal panels of the van, Sean was able to sneak a few key lengths of timber into some voids within the car body. These then could act as fixing points to anchor the bed and shelf frame sturdily to the structure of car without needing to drill through the metal car body at all. Whilst most people don't really care about this (which is fair enough), our current setup is by no means final for this car's lifespan and we wanted to be able to be flexible for whatever the future might involve, i.e., kids, resale, etc.
Next up was covering the bed frame. Since we had decided to make 2 lift top boxes, this was a little more difficult than if you only wanted a solid frame with drawer underneath. Without lift top compartments you could just cover the whole top with ply and call it a day. For us it was worth the extra effort however, so that we could access things under the bed/platform easily without having to get out of the van. Perfect for those rainy nights when camping, but also practical for Sean to access his work gear (again with the dual purpose).
Instead of buying ply, we used timber floorboards to make the platform over the bed frame which were offcuts and left overs from a house Sean worked on. This was a bit more work, but we saved a little cash and resources that would have probably just ended up as firewood or in a skip.
We also decided to do some shelving/storage along the back passenger side of the van. To do this Sean again built a structure that fit over the wheel arch and was attached to the car solely via sneaking timber inside the wall panels, and fixing to said timber, kind of clamping the shelf to the car. The structure was designed so that it would have a couple of shelves and a drop down table. Again pictures will help as my carpentry wordsmith skills are weak.
On this side wall structure (which is the skeleton of our shelves) you can see there is a lip close to the top of the wheel arch. This is also on the bed frame. They're there for the second bed section (converting it from single to double) to rest on. As I stated earlier whilst not in bed mode this section slots in along the wall on the bench side to make a back rest.
The drop down bed/couch back is in 2 pieces to make it more manoeuvrable (and lighter as I have chicken arms). The leg is also attached via a hinge so that it is down when used as a bed and folded back when used as a couch back.
Next up was putting shelves, walls and the drop down table on the storage unit! We went with 3 shelves. The putting in of the shelves was pretty straight forward and doesn't really need too much of an explanation.
One of the shelves (the bottom one) we've left open with just a small lip on it to stop things falling out. When in bed mode it acts as a perfect little bed side table. The next shelf up is where the drop down table is level with. And the top shelf will have a small lip added on to it also and will be a handy storage level for food and cooking supplies.
Now for the drop down table. This was an important aspect of the design to us so that if we were to pull up somewhere in the rain we could eat and cook inside the van when necessary.
Side Note: It also acts as a great place to pop your laptop and watch a quick doco before bed if that's your thing.
A few pointers about the table:
- The table is attached to the wall unit with hinges.
- It remains closed using a latch closure, much like you'd see inside your cupboards at home!
- It is supported by rope that ties onto the shelf above the table. This keeps the table flat when open.
Whilst there is still plenty of work for us to do to reach the vans peak usefulness capacity, at this stage we're pretty close! Eventually we'll be adding a drawer under the bench that pulls out at the back, and a few other bits and pieces. But for now it's totally useable as a home for us on our weekend getaways.