UTA50 Course Description – Stairs, Hills, More Stairs . . . What are you in for?
The UTA50 is sometimes considered to be the “middle child” in the Ultra-Trail Australia weekend. It sits between the quad-busting and lung-bursting “sprint” event – the UTA22, and the long, slow and gruelling slog that is the UTA100.
So that makes it the easy option . . . . right? . . . . wrong!
The UTA50 course has got a bit of everything which makes sure that it really puts you to the test. There is a fast(ish) road section, a truck-load of stairs, a massive steep downhill followed by a long hard 10km climb out of the Kedumba Valley . . . and then some more stairs . . . the FURBER STAIRS!
Leg 1:Scenic World (Start) - Queen Victoria Hospital (Checkpoint 501)
The first 6km of the UTA50 is a fairly hilly road section. A mixture of sealed road, and fire trail. It is an out and back circuit which brings you back past the start/finish at Scenic World after about 4.5km and allows your support crew a chance to check out your form before they wander off to get themselves breakfast.
This 6km road section helps to spread out the field so that you have effectively self-seeded by the time you get to the start of the trail at the top of the Giant Stairs.
When you are on the Giant Stairs it becomes more difficult to pass people for a while, but this is so early in the race that you really don’t need to stress. There are PLENTY of places to safely pass people during the next 44km.
CAUTION: The Giant Stairway is long and extremely steep and narrow. The stairs descend 200m in elevation. It is uneven and may be slippery if wet.
My advice is not to get carried away and race the road section in an effort to avoid any potential traffic jams on the Giant Stairs. The number of people who overcook themselves in the first 6-10 km of this race is scary, and has the potential to make the back half of the course a pretty ugly affair!
In terms of pacing, when you run the first road section you should be able to carry out a conversation with your running buddies. You should be able to talk in normal sentences. This means you’ll be running in your Aerobic Training Zone, and not spending too many of your cookies too early on!
Once you reach the bottom of the Giants you hang a left and run about 1.5km on a beautiful and very picturesque single track through the Leura Forest.
Once through the forest you then make your way up a series of deceptively hard stair cases to the Prince Henry Cliff Walk and then on to the Leura Cascades. At this point you’re about 12km in. Only 38km to go!! Easy.
The section of the course from the Leura Cascades, past the first water point at the Fairmont Resort (17.2km) and then on further to Wentworth Falls (25km) looks like pretty easy going on the course profile. No particularly big climbs, and no big descents either.
DON’T BE FOOLED. This section is hard. In fact it is very hard. Just ask anyone who did the UTA100 last year when the weather forced them to run this section twice! It is stairs, stairs and more stairs. None of them are particularly difficult to negotiate, and once you’ve climbed up out of Leura Forest, none of them are particularly long. It is just that they are relentless.
From the top of the Giants (6km) to Wentworth Falls (25km) is pretty much all stairs except the 1.5km of single track through Leura Forest, and a section of road from Sublime Point through to the Fairmont drink stop.
Don’t let this put you off. Embrace it. Learn to love the stairs. Even if you don’t love them, tell yourself you love them every time you train on them and you will eventually trick your brain into believing it.
People enjoying themselves run faster than people who aren’t enjoying themselves. So put on a smile, have a positive attitude, and you can turn this section of the course into your strength not your nemesis!.
Wentworth Falls through to the main check point at Queen Victoria Hospital consists of a steep little single track climb though to Tablelands Road and then down Tablelands Road to the hospital where you can refill your supplies and lap up the glory and attention of your adoring fans and support crew.
There are numerous highlights during this first section of the course, make sure you don't miss them all as you race on through.
Leg 2: Queen Victoria Hospital (Checkpoint 501) - Scenic World (Finish)
Now that you’re at QVH you’ve only got the “sprint" event to go!! This is the bit that looks the scariest on the course profile. It consists of an 8km steep firetrail descent down Kedumba Pass to the Jamieson Creek, followed by 4km of steep undulating firetrail from Jamieson Creek through to Leura Creek.
The 8km descent down the Kedumba Pass can be brutal on your body if you haven’t prepared well. You need strong quads, and good downhill running technique to safely negotiate this section of the course and still have the strength and energy to push on through to the finish line.
The single best piece of advice I could give to help you through this section is to make sure you do some downhill-specific training sessions. Ideally on a 3km (or longer) section of firetrail with a 5 degree – 10 degree pitch. You need to run down these firetrails at quite a steady pace to inflict some DOMs on your quad muscles. This will help to ensure your quads are strong enough to cope with the Kedumba descent on race day.
Not far past the Leura Creek crossing is the 41.2 km Emergency Aid Station. If you keep your head up during this short section of the course and you will see the amazing Three Sisters up ahead in the distance. You can already see the finish!
Expect some carnage at the Emergency Aid Station! This will be where the people who raced the road section will be falling to bits! There will be sore knees, ITB issues, cramping, dehydration, stomach upsets, tears, tantrums, and a lot more cramping.
This is when your positive attitude “I love hills as well as stairs”, and your awesome downhill running preparation, will kick in. There is less than 9km to go. You're nearly there!
From the Emergency Aid Station to the Katoomba Sewage Works is a brutal 3.5km fire trail climb. It feels like it lasts forever and it is VERY steep in places. This is where you need to grit your teeth and get on with it. You entered this event for a challenge, and here it is, right in your face. If you’ve packed some trekking poles this is one of the sections of the course where they can be of huge benefit. I know a lot of people who can climb steep firetrails up to 25% quicker using poles.
From the Sewage Works at 44km, there is another short sharp climb up to Leura Forest (you've been here before so you know you're close!) and onto a beautiful single track which leads you through to the bottom of the Furber Stairs. This single track is easy on fresh legs, and anything but easy on legs which have now run 46km! The small hills feel like mountains, the tree roots feel like giant obstacles and in the back of your mind you'll be thinking "I've still got to go up those damn stairs"
The last km, as I'm sure you're aware, is up the Furber Stairs.
951 steps to be precise.
Fear not. By this stage you are so close to the finish line you know you're going to make it.
The thought of sitting down and relaxing, and maybe even drinking a beer and eating some pizza will drag you through to the finish no matter what state your body is in.
Endurance racing is after all 90% mental.
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