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Ultra Trail Australia - Race Tips with Marie McNaughton

Posted by John Ellis on

In this series of interviews, we ask runners to give us a few tips on some upcoming big international trail races.

Here we ask Hong Kong ultra queen, Marie McNaughton, for her advice on how to have a successful race at Ultra Trail Australia, even if most of us could only dream of finishing as well as Marie in 2016 - 12:42 and 6th female.

1. Watch your pace at the start. This goes without saying for any ultra, but even more so for UTA which has a relatively flat / fast net downhill first half. It is very easy to enjoy the wonderful views and fun race atmosphere and just go out a little too fast. The staggered start groups, followed by road for the first few kilometres, means that there are no bottlenecks or congestion from the get-go. Pace yourself carefully for the first 40k so you have something left for the stairs in the back half. 

2. There are some quite freaky metal extension ladders you have to descend in the second section at the ~20km mark. Only three people are allowed on the ladders at a time so there is an inevitable bottleneck here. Use the time in the queue to refuel, enjoy the views and reflect on your race so far. You can chose to avoid the ladders altogether by running around the side. The extra 500m might be a good option if the line is long or you are scared of heights!!

3. UTA isn’t a particularly ‘climby’ or technical course, coming in at 4,400m of elevation.  That said, the course has a large number of steep staircases and the climbing is back loaded. The steeper stairs in the race have handrails; be sure to use them to pull yourself up and take the strain off your legs, or just crawl like I did last year! I don't think the course warrants poles, especially the first half, but you may want to think about picking them up at CP3 if you like to race with them. The rules only permit poles from CP1 so you can't start with them either way.

4. CP3 is a substantial CP inside a hall at the Katoomba Aquatic Centre. At over halfway through the race (57km), this is a good opportunity to grab one of the many chairs they have around and have a more substantial refuel and break. You may want to change to fresh shoes or shirt here, especially if the weather is poor. Just don't sit down too long, as the next section has some of the most stunning views to get you off that chair....

5. The last section is 22km but there is a water stop mid-way so no need to carry too much water. It starts with a long 7km downhill (think Tai Mo Shan road, but maybe steeper and longer), followed by a steep road climb and some grind trail.  If you have legs, you will find the downhill nice, fast and easy but, if your legs are in bad shape, it may be the hardest part of the race, so try and save something for this section by pacing well early on. Lastly, you have the small matter of the famous "Fuber steps" - although tough at that point of the race, you will hear the finish line which is literally at the top, so mentally its time to smile through the pain and get to the top as quick as you can!

6. The post-race facilities and hospitality are excellent with warm showers, a large cafe serving great food, an indoor screen to watch the finishers coming over the line without getting too cold, and bean bags to chill out on, so its worth hanging around and enjoying the atmosphere. You probably won't get all your drop bags back on race night, so if you have to make a quick get away, it's best to arrange for someone to pick them up for you the following morning.


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