By Dan Lewis.
Lots of heaven, a little bit of hell, and only about half the distance of a marathon. In the Pace UTA22, the Blue Mountains finally boasts a trail running race that’s accessible to novices but also attracts the elite to this spectacular sporting landscape.
From the old Queen Victoria Hospital at Wentworth Falls to Scenic World at Katoomba, the 21.6km Ultra-Trail Australia challenge is short enough yet hard enough to entice the entire spectrum of trail running enthusiasts.
The Pace UTA22 was first run in May, 2016, as an approachable companion event to the established UTA100 and UTA50, and amongst its 800 debut participants was mother-of-two Lesly Jones, who came 309th in 3:28:31 in what was her first trail running race.
They shared everything from the ecstasy of the Blue Mountains scenery on the Kedumba Pass descent, to the leg- and lung-burning agony of the Furber Steps ascent.
Despite the torture of the 951 steps of Furber, which she likened to childbirth, Blue Mountains-based Jones loved running the UTA22. It was a joy that came after serious misgivings.
“In the week leading up to the race I started worrying about a number of things including ‘coming last’, ‘dying out there’ (an unlikely scenario-fuelled by my mother who, every time I’d mention the run, would advise me not to ‘kill myself’) or being blown away, or hit by debris being carried by the wild winds howling through the mountains Wuthering Heights-style all through the week leading up to the race,” Jones said. “But the day arrived and thankfully it was radiant, with expansive blue skies and a summery kind of warmth in the air,” said Jones, who enjoyed the majesty of the landscape.
“Just before we reached the clearing in the Kedumba Valley, I asked the man running beside me if he had been into the valley before. He said he had not and I told him it was like paradise. He said he thought it sounded like somewhere he wouldn’t want to leave, and it certainly delivered the eye-popping wow factor. The looming ancient rock formations set against the vast blue sky and the bright light were surreal. My senses were on high beam. I spoke briefly to another equally enthralled running woman and she agreed that this was her favourite part of the run, too. I left the magical clearing and squelched through the mud and onto the skinny, light-dappled bush trails with the whimsical little pixie dells on either side, hopping over the rushing water and eventually into the green light and mossy boulder-filled Leura Forest. The feeling that I was living on a perfect planet dominated my thoughts and I was encased in a cocoon of feeling that I was at one with the land, sky and all the runners around me. The endorphins were really kicking in by then.”
UTA race director, Tom Landon-Smith says the Pace UTA22 is a great introduction to UTA and trail running.
“It is a challenging course that takes in the beauty of the Blue Mountains but is still achievable for novice trail runners,” said Landon-Smith. “The course has about 1200m of total climbs and descents and the biggest climb of all is up the Furber Steps.”
Jones soon found this out for herself.
“As I ascended the Furber Steps my euphoria subsided to be replaced by strong urges to vomit and cramps in my calves that reminded me of being in labour,” Jones said.
“I stopped on each landing and let people pass and I breathed deeply and concentrated on not vomiting. When I did reach the top of that astoundingly steep staircase, I could sense the ending was nigh. I ran as quickly as my cramping calves would allow and that’s when I saw and heard people clapping and cheering. I looked around thinking I was missing something and then the enthusiastic woman who was announcing the finishers ran up to me and asked me my name and I realised the applause and whooping was for me because I had finished! I felt a huge amount of gratitude towards the gracious and generous people and the breathtakingly beautiful land for allowing me to have this unique and delightful experience. Thank you.”
The 45-year-old now has her sites set on the UTA50 for 2017 and a training regime that will now include the dreaded Furber Steps.
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