Race Report - UTRA Snowy Mountains 70km
A race report of the February 2021 Ultra Trail Run Australia (UTRA) Snowy Mountains 70km event - An almost entirely singletrack trail run that follows the Thredbo River via the Thredbo Valley Trail (TVT). A cruisy, scenic and well-supported course in Australia's Snowy Mountains.
I'm not entirely sure what convinced me to sign up for a February race, but given that I didn't end up completing the entire 100 miles of GSER I figured I could dive (almost) straight back into training and running. Having also decided to run the April 2022 running of the Alpine Challenge (postponed from November 2021), it felt like a good opportunity to throw a build race in and see how things are tracking.
This is another run around the Kosciuszko National Park region that I had been considering doing for a while, so I was keen to give it a go. This is the first year they have run a 70km event - in previous years the ultra distance course has been a 50km course.
The 70km course was designed to start in Jindabyne, but due to the water levels of the lake from recent rains much of the track around Lake Jindabyne had been flooded, so the course had to be modified. The revised course started at the Kosciuszko Education Centre just inside the National Park, and ran from the park entrance, through Sawpit Creek, and then followed the track down to the Gaden Trout Hatchery and the start of the Thredbo Valley Trail (TVT).
Once at the Trout Hatchery the course follows the TVT up the valley (which makes it a general uphill trend), through Lake Crackenback, and then up to Thredbo. Thredbo is the turnaround point, where the course heads back down the valley and includes a short loop near the end before finishing at Lake Crackenback.
We headed up to the start point in the dark just before 6AM for a 6:15 race start. After the usual milling around at start line we ambled into the corral and the gun went off at about 6:15. Due to the course change it was almost immediately onto the single track, which meant just going with the flow and sitting on whichever pace happens to be the pace of the train of people that I was behind, occasionally passing, or being passed if the opportunity arose.
After about 4km things opened up when we reached the Gaden Trout Hatchery- the first checkpoint. From here we started the TVT proper, heading up the valley, and basically stayed with the river the whole time which made for some excellent views (though at this point I didn't really take any photos because whilst the views were good, there was a lot of tree cover so I doubt photos would have come out well).
This was a pretty cruisy part of the run. Very nice trails, good views of the river, and still reasonably cool - at this point we were clouded in, which meant the heat of the day hadn't quite hit yet. After 25km we rolled into Lake Crackenback for the first aid station, after crossing the Skitube bridge.
I spent the time here to fill up with water, reapply sunscreen and to swap my buff for a hat - much to the delight of the MC, who had just been talking about sun protection (and after the Blister Incident of 2021, I am all about sun protection). The sun had definitely come out now and it tends to be a little more spicy in the alpine areas.
From Lake Crackenback the course keeps heading up the Thredbo Valley - it definitely felt to me that that hills on this section of track - particularly the last 10km or so towards Thredbo - were steeper, and in some cases more technical, but that's probably because I was already getting tired. The sun was well and truly out by now, and I was finding that the sun was affecting me more than I anticipated and I was going through quite a bit of water. There were plenty of aid stations between here and Thredbo, so I took the opportunity to fill up with water and eat plenty of oranges on the way through
Seriously - pretty sure I ate two entire oranges at the Ngarigo aid station.
Although the going was getting a little tough with the continued uphill trend and the sun beating down from above, the scenery was still quite spectacular. The trail meanders up the Thredbo valley crossing the river several times via suspension bridges.
I was feeling pretty rough by this point, but eventually made it into the Thredbo aid station and turnaround point. I had some fresh shoes in my drop bag and had already made the decision to swap them (I wasn't sure how the shoes I chose to wear would go over the distance, having only worn them for a max of 30km previously. Feet were getting a bit sore so figured I might as well swap them).
The volunteers at the aid station were super cool and had obviously dealt with ultra runners before, helping me get stuff out of my drop bag and change shoes.
After spending about 5 mins at Thredbo before turning around and starting the way home. I felt pretty good leaving Thredbo, but to be honest that didn't last too long with the sun beating down. Although there is certainly more downhill on the way back.
I topped up with water at basically every aid station, though I had forgotten to pack salt tablets - the science isn't clear if these actually do much during an event, particularly to avoid cramping or hyponatremia, but I'd ended up drinking 8L of water over the course of the run and my legs were getting a bit crampy, so I feel like they can't have made life too much worse.
Once hitting the Diggings aid station on the return leg the track splits off to return to Crackenback via a slightly different route. This was quite a nice smooth track to run on, but to be honest I was feeling pretty rubbish by this point. Had some lovely spectators tell me I look amazing (to which my response was "I don't feel amazing!").
Eventually the course gets back to the Skitube bridge, which is a mentally tough point because the finish line is just up the hill, however, there's still about 8km to go, so we head out on a last little loop along the river. This is a really pretty section of singletrack, but for me at this point it was a combination of some running, some walking, and trying to act like I wasn't dying whenever I saw someone else.
I started to feel a little more positive after hitting the turnaround of the out and back, and was doing more running at this point. We rejoin the original track into Crackenback. It's at this point I realise that my watch is going to record a distance that's a little longer than 70km (final distance on my watch was 71). That's totally normal for ultras, particularly when GPS error is factored in over the distance, but it's still a bit sad when you're right in the pain cave when you notice this.
Everything is hurting at this stage - my legs are trying to cramp, my body is screaming at me to stop, but I know I only have a kilometer or so to go. I pass a couple of 42km runners walking in and head up the last bit of single track, then start a bit of a descent - I can see and hear the finish line now.
Running up towards the finish chute was mildly amusing - The last little hill, a horse behind me, and then trying to run my way up the hill before my legs completely cramp up on me. But, I get there, and cross the finish line in 8hrs, 15 minutes, placing 14th of 87 finishers (or 6th in the age category).
I'm happy with the time since I was aiming for about an 8hr finish. In hindsight, I probably went out a little too fast for the conditions and the course, but still learned a lot about body management - particularly with the sun and managing tired legs in those last 10-20km. Every ultra is a learning experience for me.
Next up is the Buffalo Stampede Grand Slam (10 + 20 + 42km) then three weeks later back for the Alpine Challenge 100km!