Student Athlete Billy Curtis completed UTA 22km finishing an amazing 3rd place overall!
The UTA is a trail running celebration like no other, and just a 90 minute drive from Sydney CBD, UTA is set in one of the most spectacular locations you can imagine. The Blue Mountains is in a world of its own, where you can lose yourself wandering in the charm of old town streets or get out and explore the variety of epic trails within minutes of the town centre.
Now the largest trail run in the Southern Hemisphere and second largest globally, UTA has developed over its 14-year history into an inclusive and iconic trail running festival across 4 incredible days.
We asked Billy to recap his race for you all to enjoy!
Ultra-Trail Australia is the third largest trail running event in the world and spans over 4 days, bringing in some of the best endurance athletes from Australia. Every year in the elite field there is a mix of trail runners, road and track runners, triathletes, elite cyclists and mountain bike riders. There are 5 events ranging from the 951 stairs race all the way to the 100km ultra. The UTA22 consisted of over 900 metres of elevation gain over 22km, the terrain was very technical and I climbed more stairs in one day than I have climbed in my entire life
At the start line there was some unexpected but really experienced faces. Legends of endurance sports including Courtney Atkinson, David Bryne and Vlad Shatrov all lined up at the front. Besides them were Aussie trail running representatives Nathan Pearce, Brodie Nankervis and Zac Bisset and two very consistent runners Max Taylor and David Bailey.
I thought the race would go out fast, considering the speed of some of the guys and everyone wanting to enter the single tracks and staircases first. I quickly realised everyone was easing into the race and Tait Hearps and I took off at the front. Straight off the road onto the first stairs was tricky, this early in the race pushing past is a bit awkward but everyone managed to shuffle places as they flew down the stair case. Brodie stormed down and I was glad to see the field starting to break up a bit.
The out and back fire trail was the only chance to run some really quick kilometres and I decided to push ahead and get to the first technical downhill first, around 6kms into the race. It wasn’t surprising to see all the athletes looking very strong on the out and back section. Everyone talks about the Golden Stairs and I really didn’t know what they were. I ended up hitting them at full pace and could not slow down until the terrain levelled out. Over 700 metres, the golden stairs is a technical downhill section that drops almost 300m down, and in wet conditions becomes insanely difficult. I was lucky to be the quickest down with Brodie close behind.
Being at the front here had some serious benefits – getting to focus strictly on the trails and not the back of another runner. The next 6km is short sharp with some technical climbs, sections such as ‘land slide’ has you jumping over boulders from an old ruined track. I managed to hold everyone off until the first major climb, myself followed by Brodie and Max managed to build an unexpected gap of about 4-6 minutes over the other athletes.
As we hit the stairs, my legs didn’t have much – Brodie quickly over took in an excellent move which really damaged my ego. How could one man fly so quickly up these stairs?! To put this into perspective, a large amount of the climbing is stair cases and you must climb over 900m. This is like running up the Q1 in the Gold Coast almost 4 times! Not to soon later, Max, who I had as possible favourite to win, was pushing really hard and I knew he wanted to get top honours.
Over the course of the next 6-8km I was just holding on by myself, staying steady until the last 2km where I tried to push home quick. Brodie came across the line first in extraordinary fashion, followed by Max who pulled out another second after racing really well at the Buffalo Stampede a month earlier. I rounded out the podium and was grateful to be in that position, I believe we all managed to sneak under this particular courses’ record.
The top 10 were really strong, if any of these runners had their day, they could have won convincingly but I feel the guys pushing early managed to sneak away without the next group realising, making it very difficult to make up ground on the big climbs. The event was electric all round, people on the tracks ringing bells, cheering and the finish line was pretty incredible. I was pleased with my run – you always want to win and go into these events with confidence.
On reflection I know that there were some really great runners there on Friday and I’m glad that I could practice my craft and get a decent result. Thank you to the support of UniSC’s HSPA program, it gives me confidence going forward knowing that I have access to such a professional network that have incredible success across many sports. I hope to use this opportunity to become one of Australia’s top trail and mountain athletes.
Congratulations Billy, we look forward to following your achievements both on and off the trails for the rest of 2023 and beyond.