OpMover Kirsten takes on UTA100

This story is reprinted with permission from Kirsten, a run coach at Operation Move.

What started in 2017 with me ‘putting my toe in the water’ with the 22km also saw me crew for Ness (who I had never met in real life but knew from Operation Move Run Club) as she took on the 100km.

Sitting at aid stations and nervously awaiting her finish (all the anxiety 😂) I saw so many amazing inspiring people come through and I decided I was coming back the next year to do the 50km.

Last year I did the 50km and while I can’t say I loved all those stairs – it reaffirmed my love of the event. I remember being at the start line and looking around and again I was inspired to come back and try for the 100km.

So this weekend I lined up in the last start group, nervous about how much it was going to hurt and hoping like heck that I wouldn’t hate it.

Ness was with me as my crew chief – Along with Hayley and Danielle – and I couldn’t have been gladder to have them there dishing out tough love, chicken sandwiches, soda water, MarsBars, and warm hugs. They were amazing. Apparently, I talk too much.

I wasn’t filled with confidence as I started out and my legs felt heavy and tired. I hadn’t run since Monday morning – it had turned out to be a busy week. I kept a controlled pace with lots of walking on the uphill road section and made sure not to go stupid on the downhill bit. Geez, it felt good just to get going after all the anticipation and build up.

I was only 30mins in front of the cut off at the first 2 Checkpoints but was pretty happy that if I just kept moving with purpose, I could stay in front of the sweeps and never need to know their names.

Shorty after CP1 I fell into step with a lovely man who had plans to hike the whole thing. I hung on to his brisk pace for the better part of 20km till we checked in to CP2.

About 20km into the 100 is this thing called Tarros Ladders, a couple of Bunning’s extension ladders secured with crampons and a rope cage. I was nervous, but I had spent some time visualizing myself going down the ladders (I had seen a YouTube video so knew what the set up looked like) and when we got there we were able to get straight on and descend. I straight out asked for guidance and told them I had never done them before. Took a deep breath, reminded myself that I can do the hard things, and stepped on.

I got to the bottom and just wanted to shout to all in earshot that I felt like a rockstar, I managed to keep quiet somehow and enjoyed the beautiful single track that led on from there. There was some gorgeous single track to follow which was a lovely way to calm the nerves and get my head back to the task at hand.

Out of CP2 and straight back onto fire trail heading towards Ironpot Ridge and Mountain. There was some rock scrambling to be had but with the reward of hearing the Digeridoo being played at the summit. It was really very beautiful. Heading down off Ironpot it got quite steep and it was very dusty and dry and I got a face full of dust from whoever happened to be in front of me. I tried to allow a bit of distance to avoid getting dust in my eyes.

There was more fire trail to be had that wove past some farms in the valley. Then we had a steep climb out to get to CP3. I had fallen into step with a lovely Kiwi lady who lived and worked in Singapore and we had some fun chats. She was moving really well and I was determined to hang onto her for as long as I could. Heading up the climb out of the valley I was feeling like I had no power in my legs and arms. The wizard sticks had been out pretty much since CP1 but this was probably our first really serious climb. But this had me really worried. My companion was motoring up the hill and she was out of sight pretty quick – I kept struggling for a bit longer and then started to feel light headed. I stopped, realized that I needed to eat and that I hadn’t been eating enough. I shoved a handful of lollies in my mouth and kept moving. The hill kept going too.

At the top of the hill, there was a lovely couple volunteering – the woman fell into step with me for about 200m and gave me a little pep talk – telling me how far to the aid station, reminding me to eat and drink and reassuring me I was doing a great job.

After what seemed like forever I turned off the road and onto the grassy track to get to CP3 (6ft track).

Down the hill, round the bend, you can hear the music playing, up to the hill into the setting sun, and there’s someone standing in silhouette on the rise which I’m assuming was a course marshal because there was a random gear check here before being allowed into the checkpoint. I crest the hill and realize that the person standing there is Ness!! God, it was good to see her!

Quick gear check and I am minutes from sitting down for the first time since 6:30 that morning.

When Ness and I did Oscars100 Hut2Hut in February there was a team who had crew bringing them chicken sandwiches and soda water and it had sounded amazing. So there was a chicken sandwich, soda water, and chocolate waiting for me. Amazing.

Ness and Hayley got me sorted – headlamp on, pack lightened as much as possible in preparation for the next leg. This was a relatively short one at only 11km but with a big climb out through Nellies Glen to get to CP4.

It was dark about 45mins later and with the light gone so was all my perspective and context. Your world shrinks to just what you can see in your lamplight. Distance, elevation and time become irrelevant – you just keep following the flags and moving with purpose, existing only in that pool of light.

Two-thirds of the way up Nellies Glen I came across my friend Sam. She tucked in behind me and we stuck together for the rest of the leg getting to The Aquatic Centre at 7:30 pm.

Danielle had joined Hayley and Ness for this CP. Change of clothes and socks, another chicken sandwich, fresh batteries for the Ayups. It was 20km of mostly stairs between here and the next crewed CP5.

Sam and I left the checkpoint together – it was easier to head out into the night with a friend by my side.

My next big mental hurdle for the course was coming up – The Giant Stairway. Last year on the 50km I nearly had a panic attack halfway down. My hands get sweaty just typing this. Jo had told me it was easier in the dark – I was hoping like hell that I would find it so. It seemed to take forever but it eventually ended and we decided to take a food break at the bottom to regroup. Both Sam and I were feeling hot, so stripped off some layers (I’m sure much to the surprise of the runners coming past us). At this point I started to regret having changed into long tights – it wasn’t cold down in the valley and the constant stairs meant that we were pretty warm.

About halfway to Fairmont Resort, Sam started feeling sick – she couldn’t face her Gu Chews and had run out of real food. I had plenty so shared some of my food. At one point when we were back up on the cliff tops, we sat down on some rocks for a bit to have some food, listen to some music and Sam needed a cry. We checked the app to see how Sarah had gone on the 50km -she finished about 2mins before we checked – yay Sarah!

We got to Fairmont and she stocked up on potato chips. We refilled water and had a loo stop. Sam wasn’t keen to get going, but I had a sneaky suspicion that if I left her there she might not leave. We headed off into the night again finding it hard to warm up after stopping. It was after midnight by this stage and another 10km till we saw our crews at CP5.

It felt like forever but in reality, it was 3hrs. We were moving – not fast, but not dawdling either. Coming down the road into QVH Sam told me she was going to pull out at CP5. She knew what the last 22km would bring and she didn’t feel she had it in her. She was cold, felt nauseated and had a painful knee. I said that’s totally up to her – but to think about how she might feel the next day and suggested she might feel better once she had seen her husband (her crew) and had something hot to eat. As we came into the checkpoint she headed into the medical tent and I went with the girls.

Hot soup, sweet tea, fresh merino, buff and gloves, and batteries for the headtorch. A caffeine tablet to get me through those tired hours to come.

I would have given anything to stay there under the heater chatting to my crew, being brought cups of sweet tea.

Ness told me to stand up. I headed off by myself this time, for the last 22km.

I never felt worried about being out there in the dark by myself, I suspected the descent down Kedumba was going to feel endless -and it did – but not as endless as the subsequent climb back out of the valley.

I passed the 90km sign and everything started to crumble, I started to cry, I was so tired and I knew that I still had a few more kilometers of climbing and then Leura Forest to go. They weren’t sad tears, but happy grateful tears, but still a bit early for finish line tears.

I managed to hold it together (mostly) til I got past the final Aid station at the Helipad. I couldn’t be bothered stopping but probably should have to take off any excess clothes/gloves/buffs because I ended up stopping to do that about a kilometer later. It had been raining earlier and there was a decent fog hanging around the trees & it was very mild. I was cursing those long tights.

I kept bursting into tears. I was completely overwhelmed with how beautiful it was, how lucky I was to be there and doing what I was doing. I was full of gratitude and love for my crew who were AMAZING. I couldn’t stop crying for more than a few minutes at a time. I must have managed to stop bawling for a few minutes because I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a Lyrebird cross the fire trail in front of me. Of course, once it had disappeared I started bawling again, and I sent a message to Jo to tell her because I remembered that the lyrebird is hers – I felt like she had sent me a sign of her being with me through these last tough kilometers. Yes, I was very tired and emotional at this stage lol.

Eventually, I got to the Leura Forest and while it started out well – hey this meant there was only 5km to go! I soon felt like I was trapped in one of the seven levels of hell. Winding tracks, stairs up and down, no concept of time or distance, my watch got stuck on 95km and every single step hurt. And I was still bursting into tears. I just wanted to lie down in the dirt and sleep. I kept telling myself that I didn’t come this far to only come this far. I was not giving up, I didn’t care how slowly I moved – just that I moved. My fatigue had started to make me feel nauseous – I kept having little bits to eat as I could manage.

I reached the bottom of the Furber Stairs and hugged the volunteer (she smelled so clean!) and started on my way up. In all honesty, they felt better this year than last after the 50km.

You can hear the crowd at the top as you make the climb. I managed to (mostly) hold onto my tears till I got to the top where the boardwalk starts and there was a massive crowd of people cheering. Of course, I sobbed as I ran up the boardwalk and across the finish line. They were shouting my name (thanks to my bib) cheering me on, ringing cowbells and there were dozens of hands out for high 5’s. I felt like I had won the whole damn thing. I crossed the line and Emma was there volunteering to hand out the towels that you get as a finisher and she caught me in a big hug.

Hugs from my crew who were there to cheer me across the line, hugs from my coach Aaron who was waiting for me to finish, hugs from my running group ladies. So. Many. Hugs. And a stack more tears.

I found out that Sam had kept going and so after a brief stint (and mini feast) in the recovery room – I headed out to the finish line to wait for her to cross the line. I was so proud of her for continuing on and Finishing. Epic effort.

So how does a continuous 100km feel?

Turns out it hurts a lot 😂 but I loved almost all of it. The last 10km was tough and those 4km through Leura Forest felt like torture but I did it. But it’s 100km – there are going to be some bits you don’t enjoy. One thing that surprised me about the 100km was the abundance of fire trail in the first half of the course, it is very different from the second 50km (which is a good thing).

My goal was to finish it, and not hate it. I would have loved to have finished in 24hrs, but now I’m just excited about next time. Yes, there will be a next time. Most definitely. Those who have experienced UTA either love it or vow never to return.

Turns out I’m one of the ones that love it.