Melbourne’s Reece Edward and Queensland’s Anna McKenna have claimed top honours at the 2022 Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB, winning the men’s and women’s UTA100 titles on day three.
Reece Edward stormed around the UTA100 course to claim his maiden Ultra-Trail Australia title on debut in 8:10:11.
At the final checkpoint at Fairmont Resort it seemed as though the 32-year-old was struggling, but he was able to hang tough to finish over eight minutes ahead of New Zealand’s Scotty Hawker. Another Kiwi, Sam McCutcheon rounded out the podium, finishing in 8:28:08.
It was an impressive performance from Edward, an athlete that specialises in road racing, having recently posted a 2:14 time at the Melbourne Marathon.
“I didn’t think I’d win it, I thought Tyler Andrews – a last minute entry – way in front and Scotty as well, so it’s quite a big surprise,” said Edward.
“I followed Sam McCutcheon to about 40 kilometres and then he kind of started to slow a bit. I’m from a marathon background so I didn’t know how to pace it, because four-minute k’s feels quite easy so from 40k’s I ended up in front solo, and I ran well from 40 to 70 but then from 70 kilometres onwards I was just survival. I was hearing splits of Scotty getting closer and closer and I was just hiking every stairs, just trying to survive.”
After making his successful UTA debut, Edward already has his sights set on the KosciMiler in December at the inaugural Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko by UTMB and is keen to return to UTA next year to prove himself a force to be reckoned with once again.
“First time at UTA, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, it’s the best trail race in Australia so I was kind of thankful that the course changed,” he said. “I want to do the original course, I know a lot of people will say Scotty would have smoked me on the original course, and they’re probably right, so I’d like to prove myself on the stairs over the original course.”
New Zealand’s Scotty Hawker was the top ranked male heading into this year’s UTA100 but didn’t quite have fast enough legs to carry him to victory.
“It was obviously going to be fast with the new course. It was just a race of patience, it always is with UTA, even the normal course is runnable but with 2,000 metres less vert it was always going to be runnable so yeah, just being patient early and not getting too carried away on the long downhills and the normal stuff, focus on fuelling and when you got to the point where you knew everyone was hurting just digging in and trying to get on best you can,” said Hawker.
“I knew I didn’t have the leg speed to match it with those guys early on, and I knew they were going to go out hard. Those guys have got 2:14, 2:15 marathon PBs so for them, 3:20s down at Gravel Road is barely a strain for them whereas I’m more of a mountain guy so I just had to play to my strengths. I knew I had to utilise the trail sections and the stairs.
“I think from me being patient early on, I was able to make up the ground on the back half of the course and just hung on in there for second. It’s always nice to be on the podium, would’ve been nice to get first but Reece was just too fast today, and no one was going to catch him. He definitely deserves it,” he said.
Despite a successful season, with five race wins and four course records to his name, Hawker’s main ambition for this year’s UTA100 was to race well and put the disappointment of not being able to finish UTMB in August behind him.
“It was just about getting back on the horse. UTMB I got a virus or something beforehand, it was just really disappointing because I put a lot of work into it and it felt like I didn’t get to show what I’d been working on. So today, obviously I’m competitive and want to do the best I can, but I just wanted to finish today firstly, and top ten was definitely a goal and then anything more than that was going to be a bonus,” said Hawker.
“To get second on a course like that with some pretty speedy dudes around just lets me know I’m on the right track with one race left to go of the season, heading to Doi Inthanon Thailand by UTMB which is more my forte with 100km with 6,500 metres climbing, so it’s definitely one I’ll try to train specifically for me. It seems to be courses like that suit me a lot more with the climbing.”
Fellow Kiwi Sam McCutcheon was making his UTA debut and was delighted to make the podium.
“It was super tough but stoked to get third,” he said. “We went out pretty quick, I think it was expected, but once we got on that downhill Reece and I were rolling for 40 odd k, and then he pulled away and I just tried to not get too far behind, and then it was a grind up the hill. Scotty came powering through about 70 odd k looking super strong and then it was just through the bushes to the finish just trying to hold on,” said McCutcheon.
“First time here, we lived in New Zealand until 2018 then we moved overseas, and I never ran UTA before I went overseas so now that we’re back it was the first race on the list.”
Anna McKenna, from Noosa Heads, blitzed the competition on her way to winning the women’s race, and finished 12th overall, in a time of 9:15:23.
The battle for second behind her came down to just 10 seconds. Perth’s Erika Lori held onto her position over the last few kilometres with the fast-finishing South Africa Naomi Brand not quite fast enough to catch her, having to settle for third.
McKenna was the top seeded female in the UTA100 race and lived up her to her billing.
“I am so happy, I think more so because two days ago I was trying to pull the pin and not compete, but coach was like just start and if you get to Tablelands Road and don’t feel great, pull pin. I did get to Tablelands Road and thought ‘I don’t feel amazing’ but then I started feeling better about the 35, 40k mark, so it was good,” said McKenna.
“The first bit I was with Erika, and she’s done Tarawera she was telling me, she’s an amazing runner and we were running together, and I was honestly thinking ‘this girl’s got me’, but then once we did the out and back on Andersons I kind of dropped her there and I was able to keep just pushing and started to feel better and better, and that’s where I was able to get away.
“The last 10k was pretty hard, lots of stairs but when you know you’re finishing it just makes it that little bit easier,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure, when you turn around on the out and backs and you see the girls, you can’t really figure out how far behind they are, so I was pretty much running scared until like the last 3k. You can never be too sure.”
The Queenslander was making her return to UTA after finishing third in the women’s 50km last year, and says the longer distances suit her and aided her ascent to the top of the podium.
“Next year I really want to be able to do 100 miles, I think the longer the better for me. I’ve done a few shorter distances, especially over in Europe I was doing like 40, 50k but I just think longer the better for me,” said McKenna.
At the final checkpoint, 87.7km into the race, Erika Lori had a 10-minute lead over third-placed Naomi Brand, and it seemed as though she had second place sewn up until the South African put the pedal down over the last few kilometres to leave her just 10 seconds behind Lori as she crossed the line.
“It was something else really, it gave you a little bit of everything, the out and backs were really hot and hilly and then 20k of stairs and beautiful trails and waterfalls at the end, it was really nice but very tough. And a cracking pace by Anna at the beginning.
“We went out really, really fast and then after about 40k’s just turned it back a bit and just kind of cruised. Then I had no idea where Naomi was until the last 500 metres and to the end and someone said she’s less than 200 metres behind you,” she said. “I nearly stopped and took photos of the waterfall so I’m glad someone told me.”
Brand, who is based in Otago, New Zealand, was making her UTA debut this weekend and was able to put a season of bad luck behind her to take third in the UTA100 – and came agonisingly close to finishing second.
“The end felt very sore because I was trying to sprint up to Erika and catch her. It was a lot of running today, usually there’s more climbs where you walk, there was a lot of running so it hurt a lot, and I feel like it’s going to hurt even more tomorrow,” said Brand.
“I had no idea where she was, what happened was my GPX lied to me and said I was at the finish and so I started sprinting to finish and the end just never came. That was probably why I caught up to her a little bit. I could see her at one kilometre, but I just wasn’t quick enough, I tried my best.”
Brand says she was feeling sore from her UTMB attempt earlier this year and it caught up with her out on course as she took a couple of tumbles.
“I have a bit of sore glute from UTMB, I had to pull out of the race and my glute is very tight, so I probably don’t lift my leg up high enough and I rolled my ankle and fell on my knee, got up very quickly so that no one saw, and then fell on my knee later again, and then kept on tripping over things. I felt like a newbie today,” she said.
Cecilia Mattas, the 2021 UTA100 winner, finished fourth in 10:10:50.
UTA100 is a UTMB World Series 100K event, with the top three male and female runners earning direct entry into the CCC race of the UTMB Mont-Blanc in 2023.
All UTA100 finishers receive three running stones – the only way to enter the lottery for the first-ever UTMB World Series Finals, which will take place in the UTMB, CCC and OCC races of the UTMB Mont-Blanc in 2023.
UTA100 – MEN’S TOP THREE
- Reece Edward (Melbourne VIC), AUS, 08:10:11
- Scotty Hawker (Christchurch CAN), NZL, 08:18:28
- Sam McCutcheon (Wellington WGN), NZL, 08:28:08
UTA100 – WOMEN’S TOP THREE
- Anna McKenna (Watson ACT), AUS, 09:15:23
- Erika Lori (Perth WA), AUS, 09:41:02
- Naomi Brand (Cromwell OTA), ZAF, 09:41:50
For more information visit www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au
Header image: Reece Edward claimed the UTA100 title at the 2022 Ultra-Trail Australia by UMTB. Credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith