What is it?
UTA is the ultimate in trail running. The event trail running was made for. The event you have always been training for, but didn’t know it. The event that will make or break you as a trail runner. The event that…
Okay, so what is it?
Sorry, I got carried away. UTA is a weekend of running events based in Katoomba and the glorious Blue Mountains, New South Wales. There are four events: 100km, 50km, 22km and UTA951 (a time trial up the notorious Furber Steps). Little ones can also start training early with a 1km kids’ run.
Tell me more about these Furber Steps.
The Furber Steps are 951 stairs leading from the lush Leura Forest up to Scenic World, or down from Scenic World depending on how you look at it. For many competitors, they symbolise what makes this event so tough. Especially because they bookend the 100km event.
Stairs schmairs… what’s the big deal?
Imagine you have just run 99km of serious ups and downs. And by serious, I mean 4,000m of elevation. You’ve scaled half of Everest, for Pete’s sake. You’re drained of all energy, brain dead and every part of your body is screaming in unison “no more!”. The only thing standing between you and the finish line is 951 steps. Look straight up and you can see the end lit up tauntingly like a beacon. You can even hear clanging cowbells of supporters. But before you can cross that line, there are 951 steps.
Got it. So that’s it for stairs?
Oh no. For both 50km and 100km events, there are some pretty gnarly stairs, like the Giant Stairway, Leura Cascades and Wentworth Falls. This magical section of trails winds around the falls along the cliff-face for about 20km, and, so long as you get there in daylight, it’s one of the prettiest sections of the course.
What do you mean by “get there in daylight”?
This is no walk in park. In 2016, we were lucky to get to the cascades with daylight hours to spare. The sky turned purple as we reached the water stop, and all around us the mountains transformed into a vibrant orange as the sun dropped. But two years ago, it was a different story. We ran the whole section from Echo Point in the dark. All we could hear was rushing water and all we could see was 5m of torch lit path in front of us. Not good for motivation!
Stairs, darkness, crazy hills…tell me again, why is this the ultimate trail running event?
Because it’s bloody fantastic. The scenery is awe-inspiring to say the least. But what stands this race apart is the way it tests your body – how far? Whether you’re at the front of the pack, in the middle or bringing up the rear, this run challenges every iota of your determination, strength and sheer bloody-mindedness. And all this for a buckle and a t-shirt.
Any advice for future UTA runners?
Train for ups, downs and stairs. And above all, remember to take in the surroundings. This is by far the most spectacular run on the trail running calendar. As David King said in the event’s Welcome to Country, “the colours are magnificent”.
NEED TO KNOW
WHAT: The ultimate must-do event on the Australian trail running calendar.
WHEN: Mid May
WHERE: Starts and finishes in Katoomba, taking in the best of the Blue Mountains, NSW.
WHY: Because there is no better way to test your body and mind amongst likeminded crazies.