You can save yourself a LOT of time at the checkpoints in the UTA, and perhaps even score yourself a PB in the process. All it takes is some careful planning and a lot of determination on race day.
Spending too much time at checkpoints will actually make race day harder, not easier, because you’ll be out there for longer. In some cases you might have to wait at a checkpoint. The doctors might need to assess you, you might have an extremely bad case of blisters which require some medical attention, you might need some strapping on a rolled ankle or a sore knee. For the most part though, runners spend too long at checkpoints because they are tired and feel like they deserve a bit of a rest.
You may indeed deserve a rest, but you’d be much better saving it for the finish line when you can REALLY enjoy it. Every minute you spend sitting in a checkpoint adds a minute to your finishing time.
If you watch the top runners come through a checkpoint, most of them are in and out in under a minute. If you spend 5 minutes at every checkpoint that is 25 minutes you are adding to your total race time. If you spend 10 minutes at each checkpoint it is costing you nearly an hour!
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SAVE YOURSELF TIME?
- Plan the checkpoints in advance so that you know exactly what food and drink you will need to restock. Write the plan down and give it to your support crew if you have one. If you are using drop bags, have a piece of paper with your instructions for that checkpoint in the bag. It is easy to forget your plan in the heat of the moment when you are flustered and fatigued. Having written instructions will prevent any mistakes.
- Create a timeline plan and work out the approximate amount of time it is going to take you to get from one checkpoint to the next. This will help you to plan your nutrition and hydration between each checkpoint. Always allow some room for error, but runners often end up carrying a lot more than they need to between checkpoints due mainly to poor planning.
- Consider using soft flasks as much as possible rather than relying too much on the bladder in your race vest. Bladders take a lot longer to refill than soft flasks. You could, for example, carry two extra soft flasks with only powder in them, and fill one at each checkpoint.
- Drink while you are moving – don’t stand or sit at the checkpoint drinking. Use an extra soft flask, carry it in your hand for the first 1 or 2 km after a checkpoint and drink it while you walk. You’ll be 2km closer to the finish line if you do it that way!
PREPARE YOUR BRAIN
Perhaps the biggest limiting factor, and the most important thing to prepare for your race day checkpoints is your brain.
The UTA courses are tough. There will be times when your body hurts and your brain are screaming at you to stop. This is especially true at at checkpoints. It is very easy to justify sitting in a chair, changing your shoes, eating some noodles and chatting to your support crew about how your race is shaping up. 30 minutes can feel like 30 seconds at a checkpoint, and 30 seconds often feels like 30 minutes out on the course.
To avoid chewing up 30 minutes you need to talk to yourself as you approach each checkpoint. Tell yourself you’d rather suck it up now and be finished 30 minutes earlier.
Resting for 30 minutes isn’t going to make the last 20km any easier, that last section of the race is always going to hurt. You just have to decide how soon you want to the pain to be over and done with!
WHAT IS THE HARDEST CHECKPOINT TO MANAGE IN THE UTA100?
In my opinion it is Checkpoint 4 (CP4), at the Katoomba Aquatic Centre. You will have just come up arguably the hardest climb of the whole race and you are “only” 57km in. It is good to have 57km under your belt, but another 43km will seem extremely daunting when your legs and body are already feeling completely knackered.
CP4 is the point on the UTA100 course where the biggest number of runners pull out. They pull out voluntarily, as opposed to being told by one of the on-course doctors that they are not allowed to continue. It might be blisters, dehydration, fatigue. knee pain, any number of reasons, but the biggest reason is being 57km in, completely exhausted, and unwilling to suffer for another 43km!
The main reason that CP4 feels so rough is the climb up Megalong Valley and Nellies Glen. The Nellies Glen are so steep that they will suck the life out of any runners legs, and you reach CP4 before you’ve had time to recover.
As you enter CP4, no matter how bad you are feeling, you need to tell yourself that you are over the worst of it. Have a quick bite to eat, replenish your food and drink supplies, be nice to your support crew, and get yourself back out the door before you can dwell on things for too long. With some sugar and fluid on board, I can almost guarantee that you will start feeling better within the next 15 minutes. Before long you’ll be approaching the Giant Stairs – once you’ve got to them, there isn’t much point in pulling out because you have broken the back of it.
Managing your checkpoints properly can make the difference between a good UTA and a bad UTA, it can also make the difference between a good UTA and a PB!
Plan now and don’t let the checkpoints slow you down!