If you’ve been to the Blue Mountains lately, whether to Katoomba Scenic World, Wentworth Falls, Mt Solitary or the Megalong Valley, you’ve likely seen an odd breed of human – not a hiker with poles and pack, and certainly not a family-snapping tourist, says trail runner Anne-Marie Cook. These people wear colourful socks, fancy vest-backpacks with tubes emanating and are generally in groups, though also solo … running. 

While most people are enjoying a stroll through the bush on a quiet track, you’ll see these folk bouncing along at double time. If not, they can be heard breathing heavily, tackling the most crazy steep ascent around, only to turn around, run down it and start over. Yes, these are the ultra runners and their prevalence in the Blueys continues to rise leading up to their annual festival in mid-May – Ultra-Trail Australia.

How do I know about this elusive and fleet-footed band? Because I am one of them. That is to say, I’ll become one on 20 May.

This time last year…

I was nervously preparing for my first foray into Ultra-Trail Australia (UTA) – the non-ultra ‘mini’ 22km version (see pics below). Back then I’d run a marathon or two on road, sure, but a half marathon on mountainous terrain culminating in a final 1km that included 951 stairs? It felt like lunacy … but not as mad as contemplating anything from five hours to a full day and night out on the trails attempting to run up to 100km. But then, there were a couple of thousand people doing just that. Could so many people be nuts?

While the ultras started their events at daybreak, I had a cruisy 9am race briefing plus a boisterous bus ride to the decommissioned Queen Victoria Hospital for a 10am start. Fewer than three hours later I was savouring a jelly snake at the finish line and contemplating what the real deal would be like. Yep, I wanted to do an ultra 100km, too!

From my baby steps…

…in trail running I set my sights on that long course, and committed to becoming one of those people who routinely spends the day, all day, running the trails, finding the steepest hills and stairs, and loving it. Sure, my ‘normal’ social life has suffered a little – ‘No, sorry, I can’t come to dinner on Friday. I’m getting up at 5am Saturday so I can run for 10 hours.’ – but I’ve more than made up for it in finding people who do the same. I’ve met runners in the mountains who’ve become good friends and regular running buddies, plus I’ve caught up in person with more than a few fellow trail-running Instagrammers.

So, 12 months after that 22km jaunt through the bush, I’m prepping to head out on almost five times that distance, taking more than five times that long. I can’t wait.

Next time you see a runner in the mountains, wish them happy ultra-ing. If they stop to chat, keep in mind they may convince you to try it yourself!

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Ultra-Trail Australia is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. Its 10th anniversary event is 18-21 May in the Blue Mountains, based at Scenic World in Katoomba, with distances of 22km, 50km and 100km. Or, if you don’t have the day to spare, try the Scenic World UTA951 Stair Race, a 1.2km time trial up the iconic Furber Steps.

You can follow Anne-Marie Cook’s trail running adventures at Runinspo on Instagram.

Have you tried ultra running? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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