WAC’S SPONTANEOUS ULTRA
Quick background on me. My name is William Austin-Cray, most people call me WAC. I’m a middle distance track runner, I’ve been a member of UTS Northern Suburbs Athletic Club for close to 10 years now. I competitively race the 800m and 1500m at State and National level, and still have aspirations to one day make the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. I work in store for Pace Athletic at both the Crows Nest and Mosman stores. I am also an accredited Athletics Australia Running Coach. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a brilliant, fun, youthful team in the running community. In 3 words: I love running.
I really enjoy meeting people every day, of all ages and hearing their running stories, adventures and challenges that they take on. Here is mine.
Ultra-Trail Australia (UTA) is the most challenging, stunning and prestigious 100km trail running event Australia has to offer. The breathtaking trails are located in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park. This year, 2016, offered four events at UTA: 100km and the 50km as well as the introduction of our very own Pace Athletic 22km and the Scenic World 951 race of the Furber Steps.
Having heard all kinds of stories and experiences from customers, other staff members and runners, for the best part of a year I contemplated entering in the UTA. Having never done a trail race before, I wasn’t entirely certain how I would cope with a 50km or 100km event. But after hearing some of the times people were running I thought to myself, it can’t honestly be THAT hard. Mike (Crow’s Nest Store Manager) continued to tell me in the months leading up that I should be able to do quite well, based solely on my speed. Being obnoxious and in my early twenties, I too thought I would be able to crush either race with a decent level of fitness.
Having finished my own athletics season in early April, I was up for a new challenge. And after foolishly declaring at our Pace Athletic Staff Christmas Dinner “I could beat all of you at UTA”, the odd thought of picking up an entry for the 100km was still on the cards. Keep in mind at this stage I don’t own any trail shoes and I don’t own a running pack.
Brendan (Mosman Store Manager), tells me shortly after returning from his Tasmanian adventure holiday that he feels sore and isn’t sure if he will do UTA100, offering me his entry. This planted the seed in my mind, I should do this. I didn’t think on it for too long. Consulting with customers and other race entrants during gear checks at both the Mosman and Crow’s Nest store about my dilemma. Although most people probably thought I was crazy, almost everyone I spoke was encouraging and wished me luck on my optimistic endeavour of trying to take on 100km only a few weeks before the race. I haven’t got anything to lose, or any races planned for the next few months. Why not???
I took Brendan’s entry and entered the race on the 27th April (17 days before the UTA 100km) the next day I bought a running pack. Working in a running specialty store, and having all the access to all the latest and greatest trail and road shoes, packs, socks and nutrition was a huge luxury. I was able to bring in some “mandatory gear” and fill all the different packs and try them out on the treadmills in store. Personally I found the new Ultimate Direction Signature Series AK 3.0 pack fitted me better than anything else and didn’t move at all when I was running. I think it helped that the Ultimate Direction packs come in Pace blue as well…
The same went with shoes. I tossed up which shoes I would be wearing in the race plenty of times. I can honestly say that I tried on every trail shoe that we have in our shops. Coming from a track and road background I just felt at home in my road shoes. And I wasn’t too inclined to go buy a brand new pair of shoes before taking on the biggest run of my life. I primarily wanted to be comfortable and confident in my shoes all day. So I stuck with my well-worn Nike Zoom Vomero’s that had logged plenty of kilometres. An ultra-trail race, in road shoes…..I’m sure I’m not the first or last.
You don’t often hear of people training up for an event 16 days before the race, but that’s when I took myself and my pack for my first training run for the UTA 100. Stuffing a change of clothes and a towel into my pack, filling up some water and grabbing a muesli bar and some gels, I was off. I ran for 2.5 hours, it felt easy but wasn’t on challenging terrain. I was mainly trying to slow myself down. Considering I usually do my long runs around 4min/km pace, I wanted to slow myself down to 6min/km pace so that I could get a feel for what I thought I would be running during the race. To be honest, it felt easy, but carrying the pack for the first time was a totally different feeling. How am I going to carry this thing, full of junk, for a whole day??
Working in the shop I was playing around with nutrition. I started eating Hammer products and getting used to them. I found gels that I liked and stuck with them. Personally I am not a fan of bars. I have found them very dry and hard to eat during runs. I also tried and tested the Clif Shot Bloks and Tailwind and became very fond of them as well. Stocking up and eating these products throughout the day. I tried a few low calorie days, when I just ate nutrition I wanted to use on race day. Sipping on Tailwind and having gels and a few bars here and there. That might sound insane and not very appealing to a lot of people, but I had to familiarise myself with lasting the day with a similar diet to when I would be running. I guess it was like training my body to suffice off very simple energy.
To say I was doing everything last minute was a bit of an understatement. Fortunately, working at Pace Athletic was an awesome bonus. I was able to receive unlimited advice from Olly, Brendan and Mike, as well as Pace friends Scotty Hawker, Matty Abel, Dave Byrne. Almost everyone I met that came in to the shops for a gear check, had something positive to say and assisted me with some advice of their own experiences and training (for which I am forever thankful).
I attended the Pace UTA “Taper” Info night down at Brookvale on the Sunday before the race and found it incredibly helpful. That night I was all ears. Listening to the interviews of the elite runners and hearing how they were approaching the race gave me more confidence and filled me with more ultra-trail running knowledge than I ever thought possible. The most important things I took out of the evening were: Run all day like it’s easy, don’t eat too much, always keep drinking water, don’t go off to hard at the start. I found all of these little tips so incredibly helpful. And I was quite overcome with knowledge and helpful tips from everyone that I spoke to. It was great to see and meet a lot of friendly runners from the Sydney area who were keen to listen to the elite runners as well as other people they would be taking on the trails with the following weekend.
Day by day we got closer to the event, I got more and more excited. I had now done a grand total of 5 runs with my new pack and nutrition, and was feeling quietly confident about the race until…….
Everyone gets some pre-race nerves. The week leading into the race, I was questioning myself. Why am I doing this?? You don’t have to prove anything to anyone!! I started getting aches and pains all over, even when I was resting. I think my body was sending me a warning. Am I actually doing this??? How am I going to do to run 100km off basically no training??? I was about to find out.