Ben Hirst

If you ask someone why they started running there is one story you will hear time after time: “Running has helped me cope with my mental illness and getting through the tough times.” Many of the world best ultra trail runners have suffered from addiction and mental illness. I am one of these people. What puts me aside from others is my story is about how Ultra Trail Australia saved my life.

I struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my twenties and depended on alcohol to deal with all my problems and dull my feelings as I really felt like I had no one to talk to. I felt ashamed and didn’t want anyone to think that I had failed, also being stubborn, I just though I’d push through it and brush it off. In 2014 I was spending my usual Friday night at the pub and had overhead someone talking about a 100km race in the Blue Mountains, I thought he was joking as I didn’t think anyone ran anything further than a marathon. We got talking and he was wearing his belt buckle for getting under 20 hours and I just became fascinated and wanted to hear more. I eventually got home at around 3am and quite drunk and got on my computer and signed up for the waiting list, not expecting anything to come of it.

The run was one hell of a journey, I learnt a lot about myself, I had now learnt that I had so much more to give. After crossing the line after 22 hours of ups and many downs, I finally felt alive and for the first time in my life I started to gain my confidence back. Ultra trail Australia was the turning point for me. It was the challenge that has changed my life for the better. In the space of around 2 years I have now completed over a dozen ultras and most recently won a marathon and have started getting a few podium finishes. I now raise money and awareness for Mental Health and Suicide awareness, do public speaking and complete charity running challenges. Last year I ran 340kms from one end of the state of Tasmania to the other in 3 days raising over $10,000 and next year I plan to run 48 hours straight on a treadmill.
All of this would not have happened if it wasn’t for this event and it just proves how powerful this can be. This is why this is race is so special to me and for so many others.

Michael Milton

Michael Milton is not built to be a runner. Let’s start with the fact that he has one leg. “You can add mid 40s, a little overweight, a few recurring injuries and a two-time cancer survivor to the list,” Milto says with a laugh. Don’t be fooled; he has some cred. He’s won six Paralympic gold medals in ski racing, holds the Australian record for speed skiing at over 213km per hour, represented Australia at a summer Paralympic games in track cycling, has walked Kokoda twice, climbed Kilimanjaro, competed in two triathlon World Championships, and has run a marathon. In 2017 he completed the UTA50 and described it as one of his most epic challenges. In 2018 he will be back to do the UTA22 with his wife Penni.

Nicole Bunyon
Nicole Bunyon is a mother of three and Founder of Running Mums Australia, a nation wide running network for women and mums. Always a runner, she started focusing on endurance running after her first marathon in 2013 and has since ran numerous distance events from 5k up to 60kms (including 2016 UTA50). With a passion for ultra and trail running in particular, Nicole's vision is to inspire the everyday woman to have a go at things they never thought possible. Nicole's aim for 2017 was to complete the UTA100 but due to injury changed this to the UTA50. Nicole did however coplete her first 100km later in 2017 at the Surf coast Century. So 2018 will now be the year for Nicole's first UTA100 event and she is excited to share her journey along the way. Nicole's aim is to run well, stay injury free and enjoy the ride while sharing her passion to inspire others. You can find out more about Nicole and the women that form the RMA community at

You can follow Nicole's 2017 UTA100/UTA50 journey here:
Road to UTA100 Part 1
Road to UTA100 Part 2
Road to UTA100 Part 3
Road to UTA100 Part 4
Road to UTA100 Part 5

Pip Candrick

Almost 6 years ago Pip was diagnosed with a Brain Tumour. She underwent major brain surgery to have it removed but sadly suffered a brain haemorrhage a couple of weeks later placing her in a critical condition. Throughout her recovery Pip managed to regain strength and has slowly rebuilt her life from scratch. Pip's day to day life now brings many challenges and will never be the same as how it used to be. However during the time of her recovery Pip somehow found trail running and this has helped her heal on so many levels and has now given her a life she is so grateful to have. Pip completed the 50km Ultra-Trail Australia in 2015 and the 100km in 2017.

Frank Falappi

I didn't start Ultra Trail Running until age of 73yrs old, and since then have competed in various memorable events in both Australia and New Zealand. I have met so many runners who are like-minded in promoting Ultra Trail Running. I believe the friendship you acquire through the sport and the many lifelong friends you make, is why UTA is so unique.

The value I bring to Ultra Trail Australia now at the age of 80yrs is promoting runners and like minded runners to keep going and exercising to keep their minds and body fit and healthy. It truly is a lifestyle that by looking after yourself in your senior age you can achieve goals that you thought could not be attained.

I love the time around UTA and speaking to people and encouraging them to enter this event and enjoy the moment of the race regardless of which event you nominate for.
I would love to think that I can keep nominating and volunteering at UTA to encourage runners on their journey.

Zali Steggall

I started my love of trail running with the UTA50 in 2016.
After being a professional skier on the World Cup circuit for 13 years and representing Australia at 4 Winter Olympic Games, I retired in 2002 to have kids and start a new career in law. Life was very busy as a barrister and mum of 5 in a modern family. To stay fit, I needed regular goals and events to train for. Each year I participated in a number of events like ocean swims, road bike rides, half marathons and triathlons, until my husband and I discovered UTA and trail running. We haven’t looked back.

There is something very different about trail events. The atmosphere is supportive and friendly. Of course, for some it is highly competitive at the front of the pack, but for most of us, the challenge is the personal journey. The longer the event, the more you test yourself. The training can be hard to fit in but once you are out off the beaten track, you can feel the pressure and stresses of everyday life fade into the background for a few hours. You have to concentrate on the terrain and track ahead, plan your nutrition and hydration, focus on the elevation and course profile.

I call it active mindfulness and love it. I often laugh that I have gone from being one of the best in the World in an event that lasted 55sec to back of the pack for events that take hours and hours. And I love it. I love that it isn’t easy and challenges me. I love that I will hurt and feel low at some point in a race and have to plan and work out how to keep going. I love that every event will challenge me in new ways. I love that you can’t just turn up and hope to finish an ultra. It takes months of planning and training to get on the start line ready. And even then, there are no guarantees. Anything can happen during an ultra and it is how you meet and respond to challenges that matters.

I have stood on top of the podium at the World Skiing Championships. It was a great feeling to win but felt fleeting, as I moved on to chase the next win. In comparison, I have felt deeply satisfied doing ultras, and even sometimes emotional as you cross that finish line, as it is just such an amazing journey.

I have been lucky enough to do UTA50 in 2016, followed by UTA100 in 2017 and 2018. I missed UTA100 in 2019 to run for Federal Parliament. I am looking forward to being back in 2020.