You know a bloke has run an exceptional race when everybody at the finish line gets caught by surprise when he turns up so astonishingly early.
That was the case at Katoomba’s Scenic World this morning when proud Blue Mountains boy Ben St Lawrence smashed the race record for the Ultra-Trail Australia 22km race.
Previous times suggested St Lawrence still had hundreds of steps to climb to haul himself out of the Jamison Valley via the Furber Steps when he instead crossed the finish line before an amazed crowd in 1 hour 35 minutes 23 seconds – seven minutes faster than the previous male record.
The 36-year-old Olympic 10,000m runner, who grew up in Bullaburra and these days owns a house in Katoomba, was being cheered on by his parents, Pat and Garry, at the finish.
Not to be outdone was Lucy Bartholomew, who also calls the Blue Mountains home for much of the time these says. With her time of 1:49:54, the 21-year-old was not only the first woman home and sixth in the race overall, she smashed the female race record by 14 minutes and became the first woman to run the PACE UTA22 in less than two hours.
Bartholomew’s body was covered in mud at the finish line but her face was covered by a massive grin. She had gone into the race a hot favourite having won UTA’s 100km event last year. “Is there nothing this woman can’t do?” asked the race commentator. “Domination is, I think, the appropriate term.”
Bartholomew had given herself a special present ahead of her 22nd birthday this Sunday and was delighted to win in front of the Blue Mountains community she now calls home, couch surfing for much of the year when she trains here.
“This is my family,” she said of the Blue Mountains trail running fraternity. “I can’t miss this event. It’s my birthday weekend and I can’t think of a better way to spend it.”
Though much shorter than the 100km race she ran last year, Bartholomew didn’t find the 22km easy. “I think I’d rather run 100km any day after that,” she said. “It was pretty hard out there. I had dreamt of [breaking] two hours but I hadn’t told anyone I wanted to do it. To run 1:49 is just unbelievable. I’ve really just been focusing on getting stronger on the hills and it really paid off today.”
This was also St Lawrence’s second time on the top of a UTA podium. In 2017 he claimed the Furber951 time trial up the Furber Stairs and agreed that experience certainly helped his amazing performance this year.
It was the men’s UTA22 field that really had trail running fans salivating this year because of its hot field of elite contenders led by St Lawrence and Vlad Shatrov. Shatrov won last year’s UTA22 in a then record time of 1 hour and 42 minutes – more than three minutes ahead of second place. Earlier this year he also made it back-to-back wins in the Blue Mountains’ other elite trail running event, the Six Foot Track Marathon. And he won the UTA50 in 2013. Another fancied male runner was Olympic triathlete Courtney Atkinson.
In the end it was Atkinson second in 1:43:11 followed by Shatrov third in 1:44:13.
Now in its third year, the PACE UTA22 starts at the old Queen Victoria Hospital on Kings Tableland in Wentworth Falls. From there, the runners drop steeply down the Kedumba Pass before taking the fire trail across the bottom of the Jamison Valley to Leura Forest.
Then the runners join the Federal Pass, following it around the base of the Three Sisters until they come to the Furber Steps, where they have a thigh-burning climb out of the valley to the finish line at Katoomba’s Scenic World.
There’s 1335m of elevation gain over the 22km.
The run got underway in glorious autumn weather, perfect for fast times, with about 2200 runners entered in the race.
St Lawrence pushed the pace over the first two kilometres and led the race early before being passed by Atkinson and Shatrov on the steep run down Kedumba Pass. Atkinson then led to Jamison Creek but St Lawrence regained the lead on the next climb and never surrendered it.
“I think I exerted myself to just the right level,” St Lawrence said of his win.
But his UTA weekend is far from over “I coach a lot of people as well with Run Crew. We’ve got 25 people racing over this weekend so a lot of them are going to be racing tomorrow [in the 50km and 100km events] so they were out here supporting me today and I’ll come and crew for them tomorrow.”
St Lawrence says the 50km race will be his next UTA goal.