We asked Pace22 winner and all round nice guy Dave Byrne to give us a quick insight as to what happened up front at this years event.
We didn't know what happened down in the valley until now, all we knew was that there were 700 broken runners that came back up the other side of it.
DB: Ultra-Trail Australia is undoubtedly my favourite annual event on the calendar. I’m lucky enough to not only be able to work at it for several days as a producer for the film crews covering the events, but on this occasion I could strap on a pair of kicks and have a race too!
The introduction of the Pace 22km was a brilliant addition to what was already a world-class event. It provided an opportunity for those not quite ready for the 50 or 100 to dip their toes in the water and see what trail and mountain running is all about. What’s more, the crews, family and friends of those doing the longer options have a chance to race the day before they carry out their support duties for those in the longer events.
The conditions for the Pace 22 were close to perfect. A cool morning and a cloudless sky greeted the close to 800 people toeing the line at Queen Victoria Hospital, and the atmosphere was full of energy and excitement. My mood was a tad relaxed. I didn’t have huge expectations from myself as I was by no means in top shape and there were several guys all capable of winning the race, including Brendan Davies, Matty Abel and Aaron Knight. My plan was simple, set sail with Brendan as best I could down the 8km descent to Kedumba Valley, then hope like hell I find some climbing legs to be in the mix!
As expected, Brendan bombed down the mountain and reaching the creek crossing at about 8km he was a couple minutes ahead. Close behind me was Matty and within a few hundred meters of the first climb he had passed me. However we swapped places again moments later as I began to settle into a rhythm. In a short conversation amidst grunts and puffing we encouraged each other to get after the leader. It was pretty cool to exchange a few words with a mate while duking it out on a mountain!
The race was relatively uneventful as I slowly got a gap on Matty and had no idea of just how far ahead Brendan was. I’d come close to accepting that 2nd place was the best I’d manage, until rounding a corner not far from the Emergency Aid station and with some 8km to go that I spotted Brendan up ahead. The gap was significant and you never know if the guy ahead is saving something for later, but seeing him relatively nearby fired me up. From here it was a grind up the mountain to the Sewerage Treatment works where he was still around 40 seconds in front. By now Matty had disappeared from view behind and there was one thing left to do, catch the great man out front.
I settled into a good tempo through the relatively flat but techy section of Leaura Forest and around the base of the Three Sisters. As I passed photographer Lyndon Marceau he gave me a few positive words including a subtle “He’s not far ahead.” I say subtle because Lyndon isn’t the type to provide false hope and I’m guessing he didn’t want me to think catching Bren would be easy. In the end, Lyndon was spot on and around 1km later and with 2.5km to go I had finally latched onto the heels of the race leader.
As soon as I caught Bren he suggested I go by, however I was feeling terrible and just wanted to hang in there for a while and gather myself. I tucked in and about 500m before the dreaded climb up Furber Steps I made a move to the front and established a small lead. It was my final throw of the dice and I hoped that I could hold him off during the haul to the finish. Hitting the stairs my lead quickly disappeared and Brendan was but a handful of steps behind. It was the worst scenario I could have hoped for. Now we had to battle it out to the end on a bloody monumental stair climb!
It was a quad burning and lung-busting grind to the end. I had to use every ounce of gas I had left and drag myself up with the handrails. At one point I even had my hands on the ground as I crawled the last of the steep metal stairs. The hard work was well worth it as emerging at the top to the sounds of cheers and ringing bells I had done just enough to skip away with a 15 second victory. I felt a mix of relief and joy, but most of all, exhaustion. I hadn’t suffered this much for a long time and it was somewhat rewarding to know I still had that capacity in me.
I can’t thank Brendan and Matty enough for making it such a great battle. It’s the hard fought wins that you remember most fondly. I’d also like to thank Pace Athletic, CamelBak and Nike for their ongoing support, as well as the awesome team of staff and volunteers from Ultra-Trail Australia for putting on what is the best trail running festival on the calendar.