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Ultra Trail Australia 2021 by Sarah Ludowici (3rd Place Female)

Last weekend the Ultra Trail Australia running festival saw many people flock to the Blue Mountains for the Australian leg of the world Ultra Trail series. We had several people from the FEAT community participate and a huge congratulations to them for their efforts. Here is a recount from Sarah Ludowici, one of Australia's top female ultra runners (& Barton's better half), of her experience racing over the weekend.

Choice. That is something we always have. The choice of how we hold something, what we think, who we want to be in the world, how we want to act. However, sometimes we choose the wrong thing. We, perhaps, make the choice that in hindsight does not live up to the person you chose you wanted to be in the world. The beauty of this is that you are left with another choice – to be angry and frustrated, or acknowledge that mistakes offer an opportunity to learn.

The Blue Mountains welcomed thousands of runners to Ultra-Trail Australia on Saturday. There is no one type of person at this event- tall, short, young, old, fun-size, king size. The common trait they all share is courage, persistence, and dedication. Each person out there had the courage to tackle an event that too most seem outrageous. They had the persistence to break up a seemingly unfinishable task to one step at a time. They had the dedication to step through the emotional, and physical discomfort and embrace their suffering. Here they chose to keep moving forward knowing that it was not going to be the easy option.

It is nice to sit here and write these words, as having run ultra-distances for eight years now, to me it seems normal. However, it is important to acknowledge that no matter what event you do, whether it be turning up to your weekly FEAT sessions, or running 100km it absolutely takes something. It takes courage, persistence, and dedication. More specifically it takes getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and for that you should be proud.

This year, most of the training for UTA100 was in my head. My legs and body can do it. They always can. But those legs won’t be able to go where my mind won’t take it. So this year there was a real focus for me on calm and community. I wanted my day out there to be “fun” and be embedded in the community spirit of ultra trail running. This I feel I succeeded in. It was the most calm I have been leading into and during a race. A daily meditation practice, bringing this calm to the forefront of my mind during training and choosing to remove triggers (pointing the finger at social media!) were all factors that made calm possible.

The start gun goes, and everyone is off. It’s always funny how the anticipation builds at the start line, knowing on the other side of the gun you have a day of running- where that emotion will go through many iterations before the finish line. There were moments of excitement, worry, frustration, nothingness, confidence, resignation.

The first third of the race was truly calm and fun. At this point, there is still a mighty long way to go, and I was happy to move back to third place. There was no point pushing now, and I just wanted to stay comfortable here. I told myself the longer I go the stronger I get.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap tap. A rhythmical, monotonous, unemotional inner sound. This was my anchor for the day, especially on the runnable sections, this is where I would guide my awareness too. When negative thoughts, comparisons, or worry began to creep into my awareness- Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap tap.

At checkpoints 45km, 56km, and 77km I was looking forward to seeing Barton and Bobby to replenish, salt, spirit, sugar, and water. Each of the aid stations was really rapid changeovers, with some social media questions to answer for the marketing team. I completely respect how difficult the balancing act of these few critical moments are. I, unfortunately, made a few key mistakes and left with not enough food to optimize my running until the next aid station, not just once but multiple times. I had surges of energy, but the food was not enough to keep me running at top speed. Fortunately, this is an easy mistake to learn from.

Running into the final aid station with 22km to go, I caught up to 2nd place female. I managed to peel ahead through the glorious Kedumba Valley and am very proud of how my glutes/legs had a second wind. Climbing out the other side was my next battle. I was aware food supplies were running low, and my potato mash was not as palatable as it had been in previous events. I had to hold on here. Fortunately given today was all about running my own race, I never felt pressured about being so close to another female at this stage of the race. It was dark, and all you could see were the reflections of the course markings, those few glorious meters in front of you, and the glow of other headlamps. 2km to go, with the last 1km up the Furber Steps, second place female ducked past. Here I had a choice. And in a split second that choice was resignation. Looking back now I can see it was more of a reaction, with little distance between the event, the emotion, and the action. I kept moving forward however was not pushing, leaving me 2mins behind the second place female. I am very proud of my run, that is certainly true. However, I can’t help but feel disappointed that I did not choose something different at this moment. Without this experience, being so close to another runner at the end of such a long run, and without making the wrong choice, I would not have this learning. So I am grateful for the mistake, and looking forward to cultivating a different experience for next time. The lessons on these ultra runs are lessons for life. Choose powerfully, embrace mistakes, and run your own race.

- Sarah Ludowici

Maroubra this morning