Hi I'm Leonie, Collector of feathers, pebbles, words and adventures, with an overactive mind and a sunshine-filled heart.

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My first ultramarathon: Ultra Trail Australia 2016 race report

Sam and I at the start line
Well after 12 months of dreaming, 6 months of dedicated training, 4.30am training sessions, 2,400 metres of elevation, thousands of stairs (including 951 of the bastards at the very end!), 3 litres of water, 1 litre of electrolyte, a vegemite sandwich, 4 gels, half an energy bar, 2 mandarins, handfuls of red snakes, 2 bags of chips, after 50 kilometres; after 11 hours and 2 minutes I can say I'm an ultramarathoner!!

UTA was just amazing, the support, the camaraderie, the friendship, the pain, witnessing the feats of athleticism by every runner, and just the atmosphere of the whole event.

Couldn't have asked for better weather
Being in the mountains on any day is a gift, but to spend an entire day from dawn till nightfall experiencing all the moods of the mountains; from the crisp morning to the brightest, clearest day I've seen in ages to the burning pink of the sunset on the cliffs and the 3 sisters silhouetted against the darkening sky, I couldn't help but be swept up by the beauty of the place I feel blessed to be able to run in.
Nice and cool in Leura forest
The day started well, after a lot of organising and double checking and triple checking the night before, I headed up to Katoomba as the sun was rising. After wandering around looking for people I knew, I spotted Lindsay who'd run the 22 the day before and wished her hubby well for his 50. Then I found Lisa, Mel, Jenn, Booz and Tracey, Gemma and a bunch of the other girls, and we yelled and cheered and clapped for the waves of 100km runners coming over the start line, especially the crazy smiling Tova :) My start wave was creeping closer so I wished the girls luck and headed towards the start line and found Juliana, and Sam who was also in wave 4. I spotted Nicole from BMF who I'd trained with and wished her luck, and all at once it was time to line up under that awesome Ultra Trail arch. A quick selfie, and we were off! I lost Sam almost right away but knew if I was going to get through this I needed to run my own race so I went nice and easy from the start. Almost immediately I saw handfuls of people I knew, saw Lindsay again and Jenny volunteering, Melinda yelling out hi, Tony from BMF carving it up, Lucy Bartholomew giving the cowbell a workout, Lorelai and Wayne, and all day kept coming across more RMA legends, running, volunteering, spectating, and lets not forget the 10 or so RMA dads who gave a quiet 'go RMA', obviously patiently waiting to see their other half go past. I high fived every kid and yes, pressed the 'button' for power (thanks kiddo!).

There was a bit of frustration on the giant staircase; my strong suit is going down stairs fast so it was a bummer to be amongst the conga line, but it was over with pretty fast and of course when you're stuck going slow, why not take a few photos lol.

Ugh traffic jam
I felt so lucky to go into this race uninjured, just getting to the start line is an achievement, especially after seeing so many friends struggle with constant pain and injuries over the last few months, especially Tracey in her moon boot, Kelly who had to readjust her race plans after 6ft, and Mel who was clearly in the hurt locker when I found her before conservation hut. You're a tough cookie Mel. It was a hot day for the mountains, and being an early morning runner I'm not used to the sun burning overhead. I took a few short breaks, and came across an older guy who I see running every afternoon when I drive home from work. Small world! We talked about all the annoying trucks in St Marys. At one point I moved to the side to let a lady go past and she ran full pelt into a low branch, so I stopped to help her up and checked she was ok and not concussed. I was feeling good but just hot, craving watermelon and a pine lime splice, or at the very least some cold water. My hydration pack had warmed up and I was over the sickly sweet taste of gel. Lesson learned: pack fruit! This was about 17km in, just after I'd seen the crazy smiling Maz, near the Fairmont checkpoint where I finally saw Rita who I'd hoped to see at the start. She was looking strong but hot, like everyone! Thanks Fairmont Resort for the use of your classy loos.
Cheers from the crowd giving me a boost

In the first aid tent
I refilled my pack with water but it warmed up again fast. And I stuffed my pockets with red snakes. But of course, I bent over later to stretch and they all fell out into the dust lol. Again the support from the volunteers was awesome and gave me such a boost. Heading into the main checkpoint at 28km, I'd planned to stop for no more than 10 minutes but my brain wasn't working and I may have been longer. There was no watermelon as I'd hoped but I scoffed 2 mandarins and restocked my lolly pocket. I took a moment in the first aid tent to put sunscreen on and get fresh Vaseline and fixamol tape onto my toes which were hurting pretty bad. I knew the 10km downhill of Kedumba would be rough so tried to tape up as best as I could. It didn't work lol. Got some pretty purple toenails now that aren't long for this world. The afternoon sun was making me sleepy, and I started to seriously consider a power nap on the side of the trail. It was quiet and still after the buzz of the checkpoint, and I found this part the hardest mentally. I just wanted to sleep. Then some lovely random girl from Brisbane started up a conversation, and we struggled slowly together for a little while. It was tough going but I was still in a good place and didn't go into the pain cave: at no point did I want to give up or get into a negative headspace. I'm proud of this as I thought the mental side would get to me here. Another lady started chatting a little further on and I discovered she lived 3 streets away from me! So many people had trekking poles and I wished I had some coming up that long climb after Jamieson creek. I was mostly power hiking now, the 2 mandarins I had back at QVH were giving me tummy cramps every time I broke into a trot. This was frustrating as my legs felt ok, but my tummy refused to cooperate for a while. I was still enjoying the beautiful scenery and checking out this part of the mountains that I hadn't seen before.

A side of these cliffs I hadn't seen before
As soon as the sun was over the yardarm and the heat subsided I got my second wind. By this time Scotty Hawker, Pau and the other awesome 100km front runners had whizzed by looking fresh as daisies. How do they do it?! The afternoon sun on those cliffs was magic, and as I came through the 41km aid point for more water and lollies, Beth Cardelli flew by pausing only to ask 'where's the next female behind me?'. I heard black cockatoos overhead and thought of David King's beautiful words at the race briefing. It was starting to cool down a little so I put my thermal and my headlamp on ready for the dark of Leura forest.

I realised there was now less than 10km to go and I was still smiling. I didn't know what time it was, my garmin ran out of battery after 40km so I was trying to do some calculations in my head but simple math was impossible at that point, I was a bit confused. I ran through the last timing point down in the valley and was jealous of the two vollies snuggled together in a blanket, they looked so comfy!

This image will stay with me for a long time
I squelched through a massive mud puddle and got wet feet for the first time that day. No leeches though! Winning! Then a little creek crossing and there was just faint light in the sky, the stars were coming out, headlight was on and I was laser focused on that little pool of light ahead of me. I couldn't see anything else. Those last 5km seemed to take eons. I'd run this part in training so knew roughly where I was but my eyes were playing tricks on me and I kept thinking Furber was just around the next bend. I glanced behind me and saw a trail of headlamps snaking all the way down into the valley, and realised how much elevation I'd gained in that last little push towards the finish.
The smile is getting a little forced now

Finally, with some fantastic encouragement from a caring vollie, the stairs appeared and it was up, up, up, on leaden legs, 951 steps, and all of a sudden there were volunteers everywhere yelling '20 more steps! Through the boardwalk and you're there!' There was lights and cow bells and more kids to high five and I was DONE, I was in the chute, Tracey ran out and high fived me and I was done, all of a sudden it was over. Olivia gave me my medal and I saw Clare and Steph and Christy and some other girls whose faces I knew but I'd never met,  but it didn't matter, it felt like falling into the arms of old friends, and finally I got that watermelon I'd been dreaming about since midday and it was the BEST watermelon ever.
Holly was just after some Tailwind

I grabbed my drop bag and wandered around bewildered for a while, glancing about for friends, not feeling the cold in my singlet and shorts, getting hugs from randoms, trying to work out whether a shower or coffee was first. Coffee won. For a girl who's on her 3rd cup by 9am I was HANGING for one and OMG it was good,  and the shower was amazing, thanks KCC, then I had a cookie and rang Richie  who brought the kids to pick me up, which was unexpected but hugely appreciated.

I got messages from my boss and my family and friends, who were watching the live feed of the finish line.

Kids couldn't hack the pace
Standing around for a little longer and watching ordinary mums and dads doing this extraordinary thing, crossing the finish line hand in hand with their children who'd joined them in the finish chute, I couldn't help but cheer and hoot and clap, the atmosphere was one of elation and joy and partying and the sense of being held tightly in this wonderful warm community that is TRAIL RUNNING.

And that feeling is why I'm certain this won't be my last ultra!

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