With over 6,000 runners competing across a 951-stair climbing challenge, 22km, 50km, and 100km in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park 2 hours west of Sydney, Ultra-Trail Australia is the 3rd largest trail and ultra running festival in the world and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Held over the weekend, the crowning event in this Ultra-Trail World Tour member race was dominated by HOKA ONE ONE athletes.
In the men’s race, Ben Duffus (HOKA ONE ONE) chased veteran and previous champion Brendan Davies (Inov8) all day without either runner making a mistake. Davies has previously crushed this race, taking an earlier course record from Kilian Jornet, and the way he ran at his threshold throughout the day was a performance of virtuosity and grit. Duffus ran his way through the field from 10th place to 2nd, closing within 5 minutes of Davies but even with his strong climbing and characteristic fast finishing he could not reel first place back. Duffus’ fifteen minute PB and apparently fresh legs, his 9:24 2nd place just back from Davies’ 9:18 victory signals a performance to watch for at TDS in Chamonix later this year.
Both men chased and were ultimately chased by Welshman and HOKA ONE ONE athlete Harry Jones. Now based in Thailand, Jones characterised the course as incredibly fast and the front end of the field as no place for mistakes. His t3rd placed 9:36 achieved while competing against athletes returning for their 3rd, 4th, and even 11th time racing here was a strong performance.
But the crowning glory of the day was Kellie Emmerson’s to claim. The HOKA ONE ONE/2XU athlete fought with everything she had to take an absolutely remarkable win. After placing 5th at UTMB in 2017 Emmerson had been hoping to race Western States in 2018. Missing out on the entry lottery she changed her plans for this year. Competing just 3 weeks ago at the brutal Madeira Island Ultra-Trail she took 4th place on a 115km course with over 7200m of vert.
This weekend, racing on an even steeper UTA100 course than the one dominated by Tim Tollefson in 2017, Emmerson battled a determined Jess Carroll (NZ athlete, winner of Northern 100). When the gap narrowed to just 45 seconds at the 78km mark, Emmerson ran past saying “she’s found me”. Carroll came through next, looking strong and asking “where is she?”. Emmerson managed to rally and break away from Carroll over the final 10km for an outstanding win by the Aussie favourite in 11:05. Emmerson recorded the 3rd fastest ever female time on the course, behind Nuria Picas and Lucy Bartholomew (modified course).
Emmerson was particularly happy, “So so stoked to finally take an Ultra-Trail World Tour win, and it’s even more special to do it in my own country.”