Not many septuagenarians have it in them to complete 100 kilometres.
But Alf Johnston is a different breed.
The 75-year-old from Miranda will again take part in Ultra-Trail Australia, the southern hemisphere’s biggest trail running event next weekend. Now in its 11th year, 6000 athletes will take on the stunning yet challenging Blue Mountains terrain.
Runners from all over the world will descend on Katoomba for the four-day event to test their stamina and strength across the event’s various trails that traverse the peaks and valleys of the Great Dividing Range from sea level to an elevation of 1100 metres.
The pinnacle races are the grueling ultra-marathons, the 100km UTA100 and the 50km UTA50.
Johnston will again take on the UTA100. He started walking in 2009 at the age of 67 when he walked the Kokoda Track with his son. After beginning training six months prior to the trek Johnston said he was bitten by the “walking bug”.
Two years later he acted as support crew for his son, Craig, at the Ultra-Trail Australia. After being caught up in the hype he decided to give it a go and entered his first event as a 70-year-old in 2012 and completed the 100kms.
“Since that time I have competed each year in the 100km. In 2013 I did not finish, I pulled out at 75kms and was devastated. Afterwards I vowed that I would compete again and my motto from then on has been never give up,” Johnston said.
“Each year since then I have competed and finished the 100km in my not-so stylish walking gear, which always consists of a flannelette shirt. What makes me proud is that I’m 75 and for the past four years have been the oldest to compete. I’m still doing what I love and my family appreciate my efforts although it takes me a long time and I come in just before cut off time.
“I hope to continue walking while ever my skinny legs let me.”
Other races include the 21.6km trail run Pace Athletic UTA22, the burning 1.2km stair climb Scenic World UTA95 and the free Injinji 1km-4-kids trail run, which parents can register their children for on the morning of the race.
Notable Australians participating this year include Winter Olympic medallist Zali Steggall taking on the UTA100, Olympic triathlete Courtney Atkinson hitting the Pace Athletic UTA22 and renowned adventurer James Castrission, aka Cas from Cas and Jonesy, tackling the UTA50.
Returning this year is 21-year-old 2017 UTA100 winner Lucy Bartholomew and six-time Winter and Summer Paralympic gold medalist Michael Milton. Milton became the first person with one leg to complete the UTA50 last year and this year will take on the UTA22.
International runners taking part include the reigning UTA50 champion from Nepal, Samir Tamang, who is looking to reclaim his title and Benoit Girondel from France and Gerard Morales from Spain who are both competing for the UTA100 title.