First-time champions and gritty performances highlight UTA100

Breakthrough victories have highlighted a thrilling UTA100 race at the 2023 Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB in the Blue Mountains.

New Zealand’s George Murray and Sydney’s Emily Gilmour-Walsh claimed victory in the men’s and women’s races, with both standing on the top step of the podium at UTA for the first time.

Murray crossed the line in 9:32:59, almost 12 minutes clear of Canberra’s Mike Carroll with Tasmania-based Pole Piotr Babis third.

“Words can’t describe it, this is amazing, a dream come true,” said Murray. “I always wanted to do something like this but thought it would take a few years but to walk away with it today I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, it might take me a few days I think but it’s incredible.

“In my last couple of races I take off too quick at the start and crash towards the end so I thought I’d pace myself, let the guys take away,” he said. “I had this race plan that said when I would start running but the race plan went right out the window, I felt good, the flow was there, I didn’t feel like it was strenuous, I enjoyed myself and I don’t know, it all came together somehow. I had a lot of fun out there and kept the levels high I guess.

“I was reflecting upon my run on the way back and I think today the support from strangers really made today, everyone cheering me on, cheering everyone on, that’s what makes this sport pretty damn cool,” he said.

Murray’s victory is all the more impressive when factoring in that he only decided to take part in the event at the last minute.

“I had some changes with work, saw UTA and thought it would be cool to come back,” he said. “I did it last year and did the flatter course and it was my first 100km race and I wanted to come back and do the elevation, so it was good to come back and do the brutal track with the stairs at the end, to get to understand it.”

Canberra’s Mike Carroll claimed second place in his fifth start in the UTA100 event.

“It was a good day, it was good fun, I had a good battle with George, he ran so well up the hill and deserves the win definitely,” said Carroll. “All my family are here which is awesome, it’s my fifth UTA100 which is awesome, I love the event, I had a great day.

“I’ve been lucky to have consistent running over the last five years and I don’t think I’ve done much different in training over those five years, I’ve just had the consistency and the places have gradually gotten higher so it’s really nice to finish second and be on the podium,” he said.

Carroll said that the battle at the front of the field with Murray was a good one.

“It was really good, I think both of us were doing our thing, we just happened to be running a very similar pace and when it came to the hill, I had a bit of a rough patch and George was looking super strong and you can’t do anything then, but it was good fun,” he said.

Emily Gilmour-Walsh claimed the women’s title in 11:33:28, 19 minutes clear of former champion Lucy Bartholomew, with Lou Clifton rounding out the podium.

Gilmour-Walsh, from Winmalee, was impressive from start to finish across the 100km on some of the most scenic trails in the country.

“I’m overwhelmed, so overwhelmed, it’s like a dream, I never thought it would be a reality, so I’m absolutely stoked,” said Gilmour-Walsh. “I think I did my first 100 in 2017 so it’s taken quite a few years, third time lucky.

“I just tried to run my own race, there were so many people out there, great runners, it’s easy to get carried away but I just really knew that I had to hold my own pacing, take it easy on the downhills and I got to Nelly’s and I was like I think this is it, I went for it, went past a few people and that was it and then I was being chased,” she said.

Gilmour-Walsh knew that Bartholomew and Clifton were hot on her heels across the day, ensuring that she couldn’t let off until she crossed the finish line.

“I was looking over my shoulder a bit but for the most part I knew I just had to keep going at my own effort and hope for the best,” she said. “The support on course was incredible, athletes, crew, volunteers, just everyone out there was amazing, it’s always such a good feeling coming here, both spectating and competing.”

Lucy Bartholomew is no stranger to the podium at Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB, with the 2017 champion crossing the line in second position.

“I’m so glad that’s over, it was a really challenging day, I wanted to stop at 30km, I called my Dad but the volunteers and the people on course, and especially catching the sweeps for the 50km and having their enthusiasm and being able to share my enthusiasm with them just brought me to the finish line, it was a rollercoaster day, I’ve never been tested that much.

“I just felt like one kilometre was worth two kilometres out there, I was just taking really shallow breaths and wasn’t able to push, I just watched some phenomenal females come past me and I thought it was a good day to just be a part of it, but once I slowed down and just chilled out things came around but I can’t say I didn’t dig for that,” said Bartholomew.

Bartholomew has battled illness in recent weeks, with her position on the start line in Katoomba in jeopardy up until race day.

“I was so unsure about making the start line, let alone the finish line, and second place to me is first place today, it was a mammoth effort to get out there and I’m proud of myself and really grateful of everyone who kept me going,” she said.

The 26-year-old will now set her sights on two of the biggest challenges in world sport for the remainder of 2023, the 100-mile race at UTMB Mont Blanc in France in August and the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawai’i in October.

“Neither of them can be that bad, I feel like I’ve set a brand new ‘that was a real bad day’, I really thought about the IRONMAN out there and UTMB and thought if I walk it in today it’s time on feet and that’s something when training for those two events,” she said.

Finishers in the UTA100 at Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB will continue to cross the finish line in Katoomba until just before 12pm on Sunday morning.

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Header image: George Murray winning the UTA100. Credit: Tim Bardsley-Smith

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