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Ultra-Trail Australia is considered by many to be Australia’s most challenging, stunning and prestigious 100km trail running event. 

Here Aussie Grit contributor Chris Ord takes a look back at the iconic event.

 When it comes to trail running, 100km is, it seems, king.

For a number of years now, running 100km has been regarded the ‘new marathon’. The quintessential 42.2km distance that was for so long the pinnacle achievement for any runner is now just a training run.

In Australia, the biggest trail running event on the calendar bears witness to this popularity: Ultra Trail Australia attracts up to 6000 participants across its 100km, 50km and 22km distance events, and is one of the biggest trail outings in the world, second only to Europe’s Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB).

Over its eleven years in existence, it has attracted the biggest names in trail running, including The Trail King himself, Kilian Jornet and an array of international endurance stars, including Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes, who is credited with popularising extreme distance running.

When event company AROC Sport searched the country for the best place to build what would be Australia’s most challenging, stunning and prestigious 100km trail running event, the Blue Mountains, two hours’ drive west of Sydney, was the obvious choice. Breathtaking trails located in a World Heritage listed National Park offered stunning views, diverse Australian bushland, lots of stairs and an elevation gain of 4,400 metres.

This year’s announcement that sporting event giant, IronMan, has taken over the event, will no doubt guarantee its growth.

On the week of the event’s eleventh outing, we thought it an ideal time to take a look back at some of the highlights of the event from its humble beginnings in 2008.

2008: the first year of what was then The North Face 100 is run with only 130 participants. The winner (10:22) is a man by the name of Andrew Kromar, a legend of the trail running scene in the nineties before it was a ‘scene’, and who still holds several trail run records in Australia, despite the boom in participation. Heather Logie – who went on to become an adventure racer and national level mountain biker – wins the inaugural women’s title.

2009: the first year we see the emergence of what will be an ongoing tussle between female stars, Beth Cardelli and Julie Quinn, Quinn the easy winner this year. Her time of 12.13.45 is the exact time of inaugural female winner Heather Logie the year prior.

2010: Australians, Stu Gibson and Andy Lee, finish in a dead heat (in a time of nine hours, 31 minutes and 11 seconds) after going toe-to-toe for the last 20km, including the punishing stair climb finish. They cross the line holding hands – something they are now teased about often! This is the first time the course has been run in under ten hours. Beth Cardelli wipes more than an hour and a quarter off her 2009 time to take first place ahead of rival Julie Quinn in second.

2011: the year of international superstar invasion with the powerhouse trio of Kilian Jornet Francois D’Haene, and Ryan Sandes (between them considered the world’s best ultra trail runners) recording a 1-2-3 on the podium. Julie Quinn returns to the top podium placing in a record time or 11.39.07, smashing the female record by more than half an hour.

2012: with his trail running star on the rise under the Red Bull banner, Ryan Sandes returns to take first place, leaving minor honours to be battled out between Kiwi Vajin Armstrong and Aussie Andrew Tuck. The battle between Beth Cardelli and Julie Quinn remains, with Cardelli recording a new course record 11:18:49 to edge out Julie Quinn in second.

2013: Beth Cardelli returns to shave another 17+ minutes off the course record for the win (11:01:08). Crowds erupt as Brendan Davies erupts onto the scene with a time of 9:16:12, breaking the time barrier set by Kilian Jornet two years earlier, one many thought wouldn’t be broken, placing Davies as a world class elite runner.

2014: in a remarkable repeat finish mirroring the 2010 result, Stu Gibson crosses the line in equal first for the second time, in this instance alongside Andrew Tuckey (rather than Andrew Lee). They make the decision not to hold hands.

2015: American Dylan Bowman, struggling with cramps and a body shutting down, crosses the line in an emotional finish to lower the bar again and grab the still standing course record of 8.50.13. In the women’s an international field pushes the boundaries with Spanish Skyrunner, Nuria Picas, winning in record time of 10:57:46, beating the 11-hour mark for the first time.

2016: Australian Ben Duffus looks to take the race title for local pride but is foiled by Pau Capell, a Spanish runner, who takes the win. Beth Cardelli takes her fourth win, making her the most successful UTA runner of all time.

2017: running on her 21st birthday, and having been barred from the 100km event previously due to her young age, Lucy Bartholomew fends off a persistent challenge from gun Tasmanian runner, Hanny Alston, to win in her first crack at UTA’s big distance, while also recording a female course record (10.52.35). Paralympian, Michael Milton, who competes in a range of pursuits despite an amputated leg, inspires all by completing the 50km course in just over 12 hours.

Check out Ultra Trail Australia at www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au

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