5 Sneaky Tips for Running Ultra-Trail Australia (or any Ultramarathon…)

May 16, 2017


Feature photo by Lyndon Marceau, Marceau Photography

Ultra Trail Australia
, with good reason, is seen as the jewel in Australia’s Trail Ultra crown and is goal event for many new and leathered Ultra Runners alike. While it held this vaunted position long before its inclusion in the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT), appearing on a global circuit alongside other prestigious events like Western States and UTMB has pushed the race even further into the spotlight. This year, the race’s 10th anniversary, will see fierce competition up front between locals and international athletes alike and many pundits consider UTA a benchmark race for our elite talent. For a great summary of the who’s who up at the pointy end, check out Ultra168’s ever-thorough preview here http://ultra168.com/

This post is aimed at those running their first UTA and, potentially, their first 100km Ultra. It’s by no means a how-to guide, just a few pointers I’ve picked up since running my first UTA (at the time it was called The North Face 100) in 2010. 2017 will be my 6th UTA and, while I can’t lay claim to having run them all like some legends out there, I still reckon that’s taught me a thing or two (or 5).

1. Study the elevation profile and fuel accordingly


UTA100 elevation profile - https://www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au/races/100km/the-course

UTA100 elevation profile from ultratrailaustralia.com.au

Step 1. Snag yourself a copy of the elevation profile.

Step 2. Study it. Work out where the big climbs are (Golden Stairs, Ironpot, Nellies Glen, Leura Cascades, Jamison Creek, Furber Steps)

Step 3. Consciously knock back a gel or whatever fuel source you’re using a good 20-30 mins BEFORE you start climbing (e.g. bottom of Furber Steps, at the track junction 2km before Dunphy’s, at the locked gate on Nellies Glen Road, at Echo Point etc.)

Step 4. Don’t die quite as much on the bumpy bits.


Takeaway: Prepare for the hard bits by looking after your nutrition pre-emptively rather than waiting for the Glycogen Dementors to come and steal your soul.





2. Less is more when it comes to Drop Bags

This one’s fairly straightforward. Whether you’re self-crewed and using the drop bag service or relying on some gullible sucker to drive around after you all day, the KISS strategy is a winner when it comes to organising your drop/crew bags. Here’s what I do:Have ONE Small bag per aid station.

1. Have ONE Small bag per aid station. Hucking around a huge duffel bag or full-sized plastic tote to every aid station sucks, particularly if the forecast rain eventuates

2. Label those bad boys CLEARLY with your name, race number and intended aid station. Make this unique if possible: the hardest part of self-crewing is finding your bag among all the others


@ultratrailaustralia Drop Bag Lyf #crewisoffracing #splits #tags #elevationprofile #optimistic

A post shared by Wildplans (@wildplans) on

3. Don’t put the kitchen sink in your bag: have your nutrition, a small first aid/suncream/chafe kit and all your mandatory gear there (e.g. if you require your wet weather gear from Katoomba Aquatic Centre), and not much else. It’ll be tempting to throw in multiple changes of shoes, spare this and spare that, but don’t. Choose well the first time and commit to it lest you spend the entire race undermining yourself.

4. Put what you need in grab bags; e.g. I’ll be taking 2 gels and 1 x additional 500ml flask from 6Ft Track through to Katoomba Aquatic Centre. These will both go in one zip lock bag and that’s all I’ll grab

5. If you’re taking powders (in your drink flasks/bottles), pre-load them DRY into spare flasks. Pouring sachets into flasks or bottles when you’re fatigued and in a rush is tedious, but having them leak all through your bag is a nightmare. Add the powder beforehand and then add the water at the aid station.

6. Leave yourself a checklist of things to do before you leave the CP so you don’t get 2km down the track and realise you forgot to refill your water bladder or pick up your mandatory kit. I tend to print and laminate a set of splits which I keep in my pocket throughout the race and this has a small checklist for each CP.

7. If you’ve got a crew, make it your mission in life to make them genuinely smile or laugh at every CP. Thinking about them and their happiness will not only make their lives more enjoyable, but (if nothing else) it will help distract you from your own whining.

Tegyn's Ultra Trail Australia Splits and Checklist

Tegyn’s 2017 UTA Splits and Checklist

Takeaway: Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, but don’t be an old maid about it. This is Endurance Running not Flight of the Grey Nomads. The simpler you keep things at Aid Stations the quicker you’ll be through them and the less likely you are to forget something important.



Stairway to Hell

Stairway to Hell

Last year I wrote something similar to this in a Facebook post, but at that point I claimed the halfway point was at the Queen Victoria Hospital (78km). Having spent the last 35km of the 2016 UTA fighting cramps, I’ve since brought this back a little. It goes like this:

  1. You’ve just run 60km
  2. In that distance, you’ve had 3 very solid climbs which have worked your hamstrings, glutes and quads like no Stairmaster ever could.
  3. Between these lung-busters you’ve had a couple of technical descents, where you may (or may not have) further smashed your quads, but otherwise you’ve had plenty of flat, monotonous, repetitive running that has fatigued a relatively limited set of muscles.
  4. Now you hit the Giant Stair Case and give your quads another smashing before starting to the gorgeous and intimidating, Leura Cascades.
  5. You top out of those bastard steps, or so you think, and you pick up the pace, running up steps and bounding off them.
  6. All of a sudden the rapid changes of direction (left/right AND up/down) are working stabilisers, psoas, ankles etc. in new and exciting ways.
  7. Your pre-fatigued major muscles are already struggling and so the minor ones take the full brunt of your rude and aggravated assault.

Don’t underestimate this section. The elevation profile makes it look fairly easy going (compared to the other bumpy bits) but it’s liable to be some of your slowest kms, Furber steps notwithstanding.

Takeaway: Don’t kill yourself down the Giant Steps, definitely don’t smash yourself climbing out of the Leura Cascades and run within yourself between there and Queen Vic. Coming down Kedumba can either end you if you’re already cramping or give you a pleasant boost in pace if you’ve still got something in the tank.



4. But it could end a lot sooner…


Don't kill your race before it's over

Don’t kill your race before it’s over

I say this with a sense of irony, given my personal goal for the 2017 UTA is to push as close to breaking (specifically, to run at or close to my Cross Over Point) as I can, but probly y’all a bit more smart than me.

It should hopefully go without saying that this is a fairly long race as those things go. It’s got over 4000m of climbing and descent and these are well spread across the length of the course. It’s very easy, with all the ceremony and pomp, the blaring music, pre-dawn frosty breath illuminated in the party lights, the excited MC, to go out WAY too hard. DON’T DO IT!

Sure, it’s going to get pretty crowded on that single track between the top of Furber Steps and the top of the Golden Stairs but let’s put that into perspective; you leave Cliff Drive for Prince Henry Walk just before the 5km mark and top out at the Golden Stairs at about 10.4km – that’s 5.5km of fairly technical running where you might experience congestion before BAM! You’re on wide open roads for almost ALL of the remaining 90km.

Takeaway: Don’t cook yourself in the first 10km. As Ultra 168 put it way back in 2011, “Don’t take too many cookies out of the jar too early”. You won’t win the race in the first few km, but you can definitely screw it up.


Ultra168 released a great post a few years ago which analysed a lot of start times/fade/finish times but I can’t for the life of me find it. Maybe it’s the one I’ve referenced above?

5. Visualise hurting


Embrace the hurt

Embrace the hurt

The Stoics call it Negative Visualisation. Tim Ferriss calls it Fear Setting. Matt Fitzgerald discusses the importance of preparing mentally for the hurt. Whatever you call it, here’s the crux: Endurance Sports hurt in ways that only Endurance Sports can and which only Endurance Athletes understand. Sure, there’s the physical pain, but (at least in my experience) that’s nothing compared to dry needling your foot, unanaesthetised root canal treatment or romantic heartbreak. Endurance Pain is VOLUNTARY and if you start the race like a gaunt, lycra-clad Harvey Dent, physically committed but mentally absent, you’re stuffed.

A much wiser strategy is to visualise how much this bastard is going to hurt BEFORE it starts to hurt. Don’t tell yourself fairy tales about how comfortable you’re going to feel, picturing pretty fluffy kiwi sheep jumping over fences. Instead, repeat after me: “this is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” When you accept that fact you’ll be ready for battle when your motivation takes a cliff dive with your blood sugar.

Takeaway: Train Hard, Fight Easy. Embrace the pain of running 100km, don’t sugar coat it and wrap it in fluffy blankets.


What do you think?

Got any sneaky tips of your own? Think we’ve missed something? Got it all wrong? Let us know in the comments and share your wisdom with others!

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