19 May 2018

By Dan Lewis
With an unbelievable finishing burst in his fifth go at Ultra-Trail Australia’s 50km race, Sam Burridge has claimed his first win and smashed his personal best time by nearly half an hour. The winning time was 4 hours 34 minutes 55 seconds. Burridge's previous best finish for the UTA50 was sixth. Second-place getter Michael Daly had led for much of the race but was utterly blitzed by Burridge in the last few kilometres.

At the 44km mark, Burridge was in third place and three minutes behind Daly but showed his strength by ultimately reaching the finish line at Katoomba’s Scenic World six minutes ahead of Daley. “Brilliant,” was how Burrdige described his run. “I know the course quite well so I knew where to push it and where to hold back a bit. It was a perfect day and I’m very happy.”

After passing Daly with three kilometres to go and determined to hold on to first place, Burridge absolutely blasted up the Furber Steps. “My strengths are in the hills,” he said. "I'm not that strong on the technical stuff. On the first 28km [to Queen Victoria Hospital at Wentworth Falls] I tried to be a bit conservative and I knew from there I could just bomb the downhill and try to push the hills as hard as I could."

The 34-year-old from Canberra is the proud father of an eight-month-old baby boy “and it’s been interesting trying to adapt my training around him. There’s been a bit of sleep deprivation.” The third-place male home was Ashley Hoffmann, producing a rare all-Australian podium for the UTA50.

The first woman to finish, and eighth overall, was New Zealand-based Italian Cecilia Flori in 5:00:22. Previously a rock climber, Flori only took up running seriously when she moved to New Zealand in 2016. "I got addicted. I completely ditched climbing and now I'm just running." The quantum physicist, aged 37, decided to run the UTA50 as the perfect lead-up event for her imminent crack at the famed Western States 100 miler in the US.

The 50km race sees the runners start at Katoomba’s Scenic World before dropping down into the Jamison Valley via the Giant Stairway. They take Dardanelles Pass to Leura Forest then climb back up to take the clifftop tracks to Wentworth Falls where they use the Kedumba Pass to descend into the eastern end of the Jamison Valley again. They then head west across the valley floor to climb back to the Scenic World finish line via the dreaded Furber Steps. Just like the men, the women were led for much of the race by ultimate second-place getter Stephanie Auston. Auston was a favourite heading into the race, having recently won another prestigious Blue Mountains trail running event, the Six Foot Track Marathon, plus she won the UTA22 in 2016. But Flori took the lead with eight kilometres to go and ultimately finished four minutes ahead of Auston, who needed medical assistance at the finish line.

The third placed woman was Victoria Beck from New Zealand in 5:10:03. Battling away at the back of the pack was Bert Sloan in bib 6991, the oldest person in the race just shy of his 80th birthday. He only took up running when he was 50, belongs to three running clubs, first entered the UTA50 in 2014 and had his plans to complete the UTA100 ruined by a broken fibula, so this year was a big comeback from injury. He had pre-race hopes of finishing in about 13 hours. Burridge says he will definitely be back to compete in more UTA50s. "It's a beautiful run that attracts some of the best runners around so it's a good gauge of where you are at."