Blackall 100 2015

by Shona Stephenson on March 15, 2017

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Women's Podium Blackall 100 2015

Women’s Podium Blackall 100 2015

Blackall 100 2015

 

I wanted to pull out of the Blackall 100 2015 only 4 days before the race was to start. I was so sick with asthma from the UTMF and I just could not get the inflammation out of my trachea that all I could do was lie down between PT sessions. Exercise induced asthma effect me when I am out racing but also for about 1 month post event I will have problems breathing. It was only 3 weeks after the UTMF that I pulled out of after vomiting up phlegm at 130km with pretty bad asthma symptoms. I was re-entering into that hell again and it was scaring the crap out of me.

My trachea shrinks from 3.5cm in diameter to 2.6cm only after 6 minutes of exercise if I have asthma triggers. Put it this way, after the UTMF I was so sick with asthma I was not able to move, talk, when driving in a car through Stanthorpe I was close to passing out. This was really scary, I knew I was not in control of it and putting myself back through self torture again for 100km was frightening me.

I decided to run the Blackall 100 because I had DNF the UTMF and I did not want my last race of the year to be a DNF. I made a promise to myself that I would finish the Blackall 100 no matter what even though I felt totally over raced and over trained. I was really considering giving up racing in cold conditions because it does make me so sick. The depression post race was insane. Not only did I have the let down depression of the DNF I had asthma which just flattens you for weeks.

I lined up on the start line and chatted to Shannon-Leigh Walker (NZ) and wished her the best of luck. I got the feeing from her that she too was not feeling so fresh. She’s also raced in the past month and needed more recovery. The temperature was to me freezing (21 degrees, apologies this is Queensland and I love 32-25 degrees for running) , misty with a light drizzle. Dam! I wanted a hot race so my body could relax and my asthma symptoms would lesson. I was in for no such treat.

We counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, and we were off and running. Shannon-Leigh and I took off together, mirroring last years start and cruised along the footpath, then roads around the quaint town of Mapleton. The boys soon caught up and I chatted to everyone around me, trying to relax, take it easy and not push too hard. Shannon-Leigh legged it down a descent, surprising me with her speed. I had to release the breaks to catch up with her and I was soon able to over take her. With this move I realised it was game on.

I dug deep and started to work my tempo with the boys catching me again on the first climb of the day. 3 of them past me, and I was happy to see them push on ahead chasing down the prize money and the bonus record breaking cash. All I cared about today was finishing.

I turned right and released the breaks again and rolled down to Kondalilla Falls, happy to see the technical trail and cruised across the bridge, through the palms, down the stairs, across the waterfall, up the stairs, down the stairs and along the descending single trail to the bottom of the falls where I spotted the 3 boys coming up on their out and back section.

I quickly descended the small, slippery, stone stairs, edged with lush green foliage and meet with the officials at the u-turn point and headed straight back up the small stairs. On the climb back up I noticed I’d managed a 200m gap between Shannon-Leigh and myself. I pushed on, forever lifting my legs, turning them over, and over again and I then spotted Steve my partner about 500m from the u-turn point. We gave each other a big hug and a kiss and wished each other the best of luck. I kicked on, passing all my friends on the way out, with big “Whoop, Whoops!” trying to stay out of their way on the single trail, climbing, climbing, up the stairs, across the waterfall, up more stairs, back through the palms, up more stairs and back onto the road, all the way back up to the top of the ridge line, turning left and following the signs to the next trail section of the first leg.

Inov8 Athlete Shona Stephenson Racing the Blackall 100

Inov8 Athlete Shona Stephenson Racing the Blackall 100

I was a full 5 minutes slower than the year before after only 10km. Oh Dear. From this early time difference on effectively a descent,  knew I was going to have a tough day at the office. I descended the fire trail, descended more bush stairs, just trying hard to breathe through my nose and calm down my asthma. I hit the bottom in tears not able to breathe properly. I looked at my watch at it said 17km out of 100km I still had 83ks to run. Man I just wanted to pull out. I remembered the promise I gave myself pre-event was not to DNF because I would suffer incredible depression afterwards. This thought of depression was worse than the asthma I was feeling. I had to honour this promise to myself and push on and not DNF again.

I did my best to recover and just put one foot in front of the other, trying not to burn any of my muscles up on the small climb that was feeling like one of the biggest mountains I’d ever climbed on the return to Check point 2.

I counted, counted, counted. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 2,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, 32,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,4,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,52,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,6,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,7,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,8,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,9,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,10,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10

I must have been doing okay, no one was really catching me. I sucked on ventolin, sinbacort and just hoped that eventually the drugs would kick in. I made it to the top of the trail climb only to be greeted with another steep climb on bitumen, up to the gate keeper and past my mate Marty. I turned right and ran along the road, knowing my time was much slower than the year before. No PB’s today Shona, I thought. This is a day of survival.

I ran into the check point with my support crew a bit concerned, knowing that I was doing it tough, being much slower than the previous years splits. I quickly checked in and out and I was off and running trying to get out of the CP area before I spotted any other females. I’d managed to clear the CP area with Shannon-Leigh now about 800m behind me. Cool. A bit of a gap but I was going to have to work to get more breathing space.

I ran off, up the road of Mapleton, crossing over, then heading down into the rainforest again, happy to be back on the technical trail, so I could hide from Shannon-Leigh for a little bit longer. Here as I was descending the stairs and switch backs I had really bad asthma. The conditions were terrible for me. The cold chilly head wind just set off alarm bells in my nervous system. I did my best to get through it.

I started to cry. I started to hold my breath. I started to blow the air out of my lungs, breathing through my nose and just trying to get my head right. I did every trick I knew to try and reset the spasms that were firing in my chest.

I hit the bottom of the trail contemplating wether or not I should pull out at the next check point. I felt like I was being tortured. I am really not surprised that I had such bad asthma. I was going through the end of a separation. All our joint assist had been split, the house sold and I’d bought another house. The settlement date was to be on the old date of the 2014 Blackall 100. I really did not want to race the Blackall 100 because I felt like I was not where I wanted to be after 1 year of leaving my x-husband. Then Blackall 100 also marked an anniversary of when the DV incident happened and I was reminded of all the crap I’d put up with over the past 16 years. I was no longer the victim. I’d moved on. I really wanted to start the next stage of my life with Steve in our new house but it was not to come soon enough for this race. I really believe that your personal life influences your performance on the trail. In a “Spirit Healing” book that I’d read asthma or anything around your throat was described with not speaking your mind, not having your feelings expressed, your throat closes over, like you are being choked of your verbal power. I still now have problems expressing myself verbally. I will write letters instead of speaking my mind. I guess writing blogs is another way to express myself. I had just gotten out of another relationship where my interaction on FB or with my blogs was not encouraged either, being mistaken for an ego of pride. I had done so much soul searching in 2016, almost shut off from the world and racing. I’ve really had to ask questions of my character and I hope that in 2017 I can really express authentically. I believe I have always spoken from my heart. This I have to be happy with.

With the feeling of still being trapped I ran the Blackall 100km.

I put my head down and ran over the undulating fire trails, in an anti-clockwise direction to the single trail, hopping over the rock creek beds and being caught by two male runners. The check point seemed like it was ages away. I trudged on with the boys behind me in a running train, working together to get ourselves out of this self inflicted hell. We were catching Blackall 50K runners all along the trail now which boosted my spirits. I always love having a chat with the runners I meet on the trail.

We all ran into the check point together, and I split from the train and found Brad, Bev, Aron and my then Partner Steve, who pulled out with a pre-existing ankle injury.

“What took you so long?” Brad asked. I was almost an hour behind schedule now.

“F#ck off Brad. I was going to pullout at 30km with an asthma attack.” I said now a bit disappointed at myself for losing control of my emotions. Poor form really on my behalf.

Bev was awesome. She pulled me back together, sorted out my drinks and I was off and running up the biggest climb of the day. I knew this climb well. I knew I could do it. I just had to be smart about my asthma. I ran and walked, ran and walked. Then just walked, trying to run whenever I could. I was struggling. The boys soon caught me and we formed a train again but I always run faster if I have people behind me I had to pull aside and let the boys go through and drop back to 6th place overall.  I did not want to repeat my mistake of the UTMF. I took more ventolin and sinbocort, hoping they would start working. I just could not get enough air into my lungs to power my legs. The weather was still freezing (21 degrees, freezing to Queenslanders like me) . The head wind ripped though my lungs and I was in a world of misery.  Again I was in my own world of torture.

I went through all different types of breathing patterns hoping that I could stop my asthma attack as I tried to stay ahead of Shannon-Leigh. I hit the top of the climb and waved ahead another male runner. I dropped down into 7th place.

I walked and ran out to the water tank now with tears rolling down my face. I was really distressed. I filled up with water with Sara asking me if I was okay. I dare not tell anyone what was going on with my body, fearing I’d be pulled from the event. I held my breath and ran and did my best with tears streaming down my face, in a world of torment, crying out load, some would say wailing or howling. It must have been totally hilarious to other runners around me…or maybe a bit disturbing.

I then ran on with an absolute miscommunication between my lungs and my body. My legs want to fly by my chest said no. It was like I was totally disconnect from my legs. They ran on bounding away underneath me. Maybe out of terror or pure “flight” response. Damn. Fucking hell body will you just behave! I started to wail, ball. I was so loud 50k runners moved aside and let me pass as I sobbed as I ran over taking runner after runner. I don’t know what happened but the crying helped relax my body and I started to recover. I ran along crying, wailing, cursing my body, just wanting to be normal and not have to be so scared.

I dropped down the switch backs and caught one of the blokes who had passed me earlier on the climb. I ran along looking up in to the universe making promises to Mother Nature about what I would do in 2016. I ran along asking for help. If this is your last race then what are you going to do with yourself? My mind and body had had enough. I did not want to race again it was like self inflicted torture to me.

I powered up the stairs, catching more 50k runners and I picked up Ando and Chris who had passed me earlier in the day.

I’d recovered and the temperature was starting to climb so I was running into my strength. I just had to manage my lungs and not blow up. I ran into the 60km Check Point so far behind on my schedule but I did not care, I knew I was going to make it to the end and my last event was not going to be a DNF. My then partner Steve was at the Check Point, he held me from behind and gave me the biggest hug.  Again this relaxed my body more and I felt so good just from that small amount of physical touch. My support crew was a bit more subtle at this check point and understood that no PB’s or records would be broken, I was just there for the finish and hopefully get a first place win.

I pushed on thanking everyone and feeling better. I rolled down the fire trail, over countless rolling hills, dropped into the creek and pushed my hands on my quads and powered up over the steep climb, out on to open fie trail and into Check Point 5 feeling better with my asthma under control.

I quickly swapped my bottles and gels over and powered out of there spotting 3 guys ahead of me slowing down when I was finding my legs. I ran past them within about 1k from the Check Point and then unknown to me ran into 3rd place overall. I was slow, so slow for me around the Dam, but I did not care. I checked my watch and realised that Sharon Leigh-Walker must also be having a tough day at the office too. We were both over raced and suffered under the new timing of the event.

I ran into the 80km CP feeling great. I was almost there. I’d almost done it.

I powered up the fire trail mindful to get out of the fast so Shannon could not see me and I would remain in a strong psychological position in the event. In doing this little push I caught another male runner and then to my astonishment found myself in 2nd Place overall. Wow, for such a crap day I must be doing something right. I guess there are many times in a race or even in life when we think we are doing so bad but really when we put it into perspective we are actually kicking some serious butt.

I said a big, “Good bye” to the guy who past me way back at the 40km mark when I was having an asthma attack, I wished him luck as he informed me that for the 2nd year in a row I would be 1st Female and 2nd place overall. I was blown away. Wow! I’ve almost done it. I’ve almost done it even though I wanted to pull out at 17k.

I ran all the way up the climb from the dam and powered into the final CP. I was in absolute survival mode. I could barely think straight. All I knew was that I wanted to get the hell out of there and finish the torture and this race. I had 8k to go and I would run through the rainforest without a head torch so I had to move it fast. I grabbed a much deserved coke and got the hell out of there running as fast as I could to beat the darkness along the light fading trails, following the silver leaf trails and using more instinct that my eyes to get to back to the road.

I pushed with my legs and gasped with my lungs, running along so pleased with myself that I pushed through and not DNF’d my last trail running event of 2015. I ran along enjoying the rainforest and chatting to the 50k runners who I was still catching to the finish line. I popped out onto the road, charged up the steep hill. I waved to the man standing behind my favourite fence, in all of Australia and I again let him know how beautiful his stone fence was.

I crossed the road, passing the farms and climbed the last hill of the event and then rolled my legs over to the finish line. This year I was not going for a stellar time. I was just going for a finish. I turned right and ran up the drive of the QCCC and crossed over the finish line, ringing the Blackall 100 Bell,  so proud of myself for not giving up and racing smart right to the end. The minute I stopped I started coughing, asthma kicked in and the lungs needed to be cleared. I was sick as I’d been before and I was so happy to not be racing anytime soon.

 

Gear Set Up

Inov8 X-Talon 200

Inov8 Race Elite Shorts

Inov8 Race Singlet

Injinji Socks

Inov8 Race Ultra Vest

Hammer Visor

 

Nutrition Set Up

Hammer Heed 50% Strength

Hammer Banana gels Waterd Down 50%

Hammer Apple Cinnamon Bars x3

Potatoes and Bananas at the CP

Coke at the Final Check Point

1-2 Endurolytes Per Hour

500ml of Fluid per hour (I weight just over 50 Kilos)

Shona Stephenson Blackall 100 2014, 2015 Women's Winner

Shona Stephenson Blackall 100 2014, 2015 Women’s Winner

 

UTMF 2015 my last DNF

by Shona Stephenson on March 15, 2017

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Japanese Style Dinner

I love the UTMF Japanese Hospitality

Ultra Trail Mount Fuji (UTMF)

 

It has taken me over 18 months to write the blog for UTMF. I have been really dreading entering back into that head space that I was in at the time. I felt like the UTMF was the perfect representation of my depression all bundled into 130km of pain and anguish. Yes only 130km out of 172 or however long the race ended up being.  It was my 3rd Ultra Trail Mount Fuji and I had hopes to revisit my favourite sections of the course. This year ignorance would be bliss as the course had changed considerably so my knowledge and expectations of what was once really added to my anguish whilst trying to make it around the 168 or more km circuit of Mt Fuji.

The other reason why I am I am writing this blog because so many people contact me about the race as it seems to be one of the most accessible Ultra Trail events to Aussies and Kiwis. Simple key tips like, get as much money out in Yen at the Airport as possible as it is impossible to get Yen out on your credit card or Visa Debit card at any ATM machine other than at the airport. I’ve been caught out 3 years in a row now. Also get your sim card at the Soft Bank booth at the airport too as it is impossible to get a pre-paid sim in Japan. It would be smart to get a global roaming package before landing in Narita Airport. You will need a car for support crew at Fuji for the race also as the bus is really meant for the back markers. Getting support crew service is the way to go as there is only 1 drop bag for 100 Miler which to us Aussies seems insane!

There are many reasons why I pulled out of the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, but in the end there was one that pushed me over the edge and scared the crap out of me enough to really make me rethink my Ultra Trail Running. Here is the race report.

I lined up with my then partner Steven in our first 100 Miler together. We jumped on the plane together with my house sale going unconditional, with then the Mount Nebo Cottage going unconditional at the same time. We did it. We’d made it though 3/4 of the year of pain of a separation and we were now flying to Japan with all the hope of our future together.

I guess I could say I was still recovering from Run Larapinta in my lungs. I was also exhausted mentally from the separation with my x-husband. I’d been through hell and I was drained mentally. I had to fight the whole year and I was not sure how much fight I had left in me.

I love Japan, I love my Japanese Sponsors Inov8 + Descente and I always love to run for them. They have such belief in their product, a deep history of champion athletes and they always make me feel like I am worthy of greatness even if I feel like I’m not. Their belief in their athletes is just amazing. I guess that is why I’ve always raced well in Japan. I also love the course of UTMF. It is ruggered, technical and extremely steep. This year we had the steep ups and the run-able descents. The next year the course will switch directions to steep descents and run-able ascents.

The count down went off with Steve by my side, rain starting to come down and before we could give each other a proper kiss goodbye we were off and running out of the race shoot, turning right and at the first corner my flashing light flew off my pack without me knowing. I ran on just trying to chill out, relax and just tuck into the group of female runners, Fernanda (Spain) , Amy (USA)  Dong Lee (China). After about 3 ks Steve tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the flashing light back, worried that it was part of my mandatory gear. The poor guy had to sprint at sub- 4min ks for 3 ks to catch up with me. I gave him a big hug and kiss and thanked him for the light back and left him there, resting, trying to catch his breath back.

I pushed on up the hill and I knew at the first real climb that I was not well. It was cold, wet, miserable. I had a head wind pushing in my face and my asthma just started off right from the start.  I was sick with asthma I just did not feel right in my lungs. I chose to not worry about this, I just pumped in the ventolin, and just waited for it all to kick in and for my lungs to relax. Something happens to me with a head wind. It is totally psychosomatic, I just freak out and go into a spasm in my lungs. I pull Wraggs over my face and just hope that the wind direction will change. I climbed up the first mountain with female after female passing me. I dropped to about 10th place and just waited for the descent to come so I could get them all back.

I finally made it to the top and rolled down the other side catching 3 females on the one descent. I cruised through the fairy forest with rain still falling, wind still blowing and just tried to stay calm. I hopped out onto the road and rolled down the hill across the bridge and turned right and started the next climb. My lungs started to warm up, maybe the wind direction had changed. I pumped up the hill and rolled down the other side securing my position in the field no longer loosing places by the fist full. I enjoyed the beautiful run-able switch backs into CP 2 and quickly checked in and out, started my run on the edge of Lake Motosu and found an English Runner to pace off up the road towards the next mountain climb. We chatted to each other, it is always nice to hear English being spoken. He asked why I was so far back and I just let him know that I was suffering from asthma and I just have to wait for better conditions, it may take until lunch time tomorrow for this to happen. He was also suffering, from the Flu and he was hoping just to survive the day. We worked out that we’d run a large section of the UTMB together and we hoped to help each other out at the UTMF too.

I pushed up the climb with him, we both sounded as bad as each other, at the top of the climb I popped away from him and cruised down the hill into the technical re-route as a section of the UTMF trail was closed due to excessive rainfall. I followed the trail and with a head wind I started to really suffer again. I pulled out my Ay-Up as it was getting dark already and regrouped as I was starting to drop back off the pace again but realised what was happening, I jumped onto the back of a Japanese Runner with a Rainbow Afro Wig on and wearing a white t-shirt. I followed this runner, staying in his heals for about 3 kms. I followed him blindly hoping he knew where to go. I followed him past a water tank and onto a really rough, technical trail, down a descent, over rocks through reeds, over tree routes and then into a wall of grassy reeds that were 8 foot tall. Oh know! We’ve gone the wrong way. You idiot! I thought to myself. I blindly followed a bloke wearing a Rainbow Afro. What did you expect would happen? We missed the turn at the water tank with the visibility being a bit hampered by the drizzle. His white shirt was the same colour as the white UTMF markers so I missed the markers in the rain and poor visibility. Shit!

I quickly back tracked and made my way back up the climb, not wanting to look at my watch to see how far extra I’d gone but I expect it would be 4 km plus the climb. I pushed hard back up the climb trying not to get upset but finding a real reason to run and right the wrong that I’d just done. I made it back to the water tank and turned left, being filtered back into the pack where female after female was again running past. Shit! I ran along trying not to push too hard but wanting so much to leap over all these runners and get back to where I’d started. I ran into the 3rd CP running almost 1 hour late. Shit! I looked around and there must have been about 20 females in the check point! Bloody hell, that detour really cost me time and places.

I quickly explained to my support crew the problem and let them know I’d make my position back. I changed over my nutrition and ran straight up Tenshi Mountains. I just wanted to get back into 7th place. That’s it just right the wrongs. I started to pull my way up the mountain using the ropes when  a girl grabbed the rope I was using and shook me off it. Bloody hell! I did not realise trail running in just one year got so competitive, in just a year. LOLl! I let her have the rope and let her past me. I was not going to start a duel now so early in the 100 Miler or get upset. I climbed up Tenshi Mountains with the smell of Keytone wafting out of my pores. I’m in the fat burn now. At the bottom of the climb I am always passed by many runners, but as I near 1/2 way I start to catch them all back. I was pushing, maybe pushing too hard too early as I headed up the calf killing steep muddy slope, trying to right the wrongs of my mistake. The head wind I suffered from earlier in the race felt now like a tail wind now. I felt like I was being assisted up the mountain by mother nature. I felt great, strong and full of energy, passing runners with every metre. I watched as the vegetation around me started to become more alpine and 3/4 up I found my English mate again. He was really struggling. His breathing was laboured and he said he was going to pull out at the next CP. He looked slightly puzzled as to why I was behind him, I let him know I took a little detour. He sounded really sick and I was a bit worried about him. I gave him a few words of encouragement and then headed onwards and upwards, up the muddy single trail, through the forest, hopping over tree roots, rocks and power walking with hands on quads towards the top.

This year the race organisers took out 2 mountain Peaks which made the ascent much easier than last year. I reached the first of 3 peaks and caught up with Dong-Lee who was struggling in the mud. The ground was so slippery that using your butt as a form of movement forward seemed like the best option on some sections of the trail. I ran past Dong-Lee only to then slip and slide on my arse down a short slip, catching the branches next to me but not before my butt slid along the ground for a few meters. I jumped up back onto my feet, spotted ropes, reaching for them, grabbing them, regaining my footing before controlled falling down the steep wet trail in still rain.

I ran up and down the undulating narrow Ridgeline of the Tenshi Mountain, under a head torch happy that I could not see the sharp descents on either side of my footing, passing runners on the descent. I then power walked and paced off stronger runners on the climbs. After what seems to be an eternity I reached the top of the final Peak and I was on the descent.

This is a 1km descent over about 2km . It was made up of muddy, slippery, log stairs, sharp switch backs and more mud and rocks. I hopped down the stairs catching the girl who shook me off the ropes at the start of the climb. I had passed so many females and male runners on this one ascent I felt like I was back in my place before I’d had my extra adventure. I leaped from step to step and enjoyed the ankle killing descent that awoke old injuries and made me think of my then partner Steve, if I was suffering from the impact from this monster of descent he will be stuffed.

I reached the bottom of the mountain, hopped out onto the road and thought the CP 4 was just a few kilometers away. I drunk all my water and eaten all my food at the top of the 20 minute descent. I passed a Tarahumara Runner who was wearing his trademark sandals. I’d hate to think how he’s made it up or down the Tenshi Mountains wearing those sandals, this was X-Talon country. He was walking on the road section.

I pushed on feeling pretty good and looking forward to seeing my support crew in the position that I was in after CP2, I soon past the area that the CP was in the years past and realised that it had been moved and I was not going to see it for another 10km. Shit!

I was out of water and nutrition and I just had to do my best to take it easy until the CP4. I soon caught up with a male couple and one of the Japanese male runners decided that he would start to run with me as the other mal runner had slowed to a walk. I chatted to this new found friend in broken English and I realised that it was his first UTMF but he was an experience road marathon runner. He tucked in behind me and let me set the pace. We cruised past a grumpy French runner who was also caught out by the CP movement. It had been over 5 hours now between CP’s and water stops and it is almost impossible to gauge this distance and correctly estimate time by looking at the map.

I tried to push his negativity out of my head and continue on with Him and my new Japanese Friend to the check point. We followed the roads, taking turns though the village of rice paddy’s, creeks and grasses and eventually we climbed up the road and into the check point.

I was extremely dehydrated now. I grabbed my water bottles and nutrition and ran straight out of there and within about 2km I’d finished both bottles and needed to be replenished. This section of the trail is under high tension power lines, and on the map profile looks like a nice gradual ascent but in reality is undulating steep small hills up and down wooded log steps and small creek beds. It feels like you are getting no where. I was past by aJapanese Girl, and I wished her good luck. This place I feel like I never move fast, but it did not seem as bad as years past. There is more of a trail here now than in the past years I’d run this section but it is just so hard to break into a rhythm with all the sharp drops into creeks. I ran along on and off with my Japanese Friend and before long we were at another Drink Stop where I filled up on water and sports drink.

Almost immediately after the drink stop I felt sick after consuming the race sports drink. It just did not sit well in my guts. I decided not to let this worry me. I worked out that I only felt sick if I walked. I then started to run slowly up the mountain to the highest point on the course towards CP5 and the 1/2 way point. I ran along the forest trail pretty upset as where it use to be a lovely thick forest the tree had been logged. I was filled with sadness after seeing this destruction of what looked like a beautiful landscape. The CP seemed like it was further away that it was meant to be and a few runners were also commenting on this fact to as the course had changed slightly from the years past.

I kept pushing onwards up the fire trail, catching walkers as we made it higher and higher, closer to 2500m now, feeling sick either from not getting enough altitude exposure before I raced, lactic acid build up or that sports drink. The higher I went the harder it became for me to breathe too. My lungs were starting to clog up with dehydration and diminishing oxygen and exercised induced asthma. I ran into the CP 5 feeling relative good compared to past years. I quickly swapped over my nutrition, Ay-Up, water bottles and spotted Amy Spronston in the CP waking up from a sleep. Seeing her kind of reminded me that it was a race and I really did not want to race so early, I really could not have given a damn about my placing so soon in an event. I left the CP in front of her but she soon caught up with me and passed me on the out and back before the right hand turn to continue our push up Mount Fuji and into the Army Base.

This next section is just pure mud, steps, single track and mud for about 10 km before hopping out onto a spongey, grassy alpine marsh and running into the Army base CP where Amy kindly let me know on the Out and Back that the soup was good. I ran into the CP6 feeling okay, after doing lots of walking over the stair sections due to my asthma making me just feel sick and rubbish. I just had to walk as I would not make it to the end if I pushed too hard. I was feeling sick in my guts too now and finding it really hard to eat anything also. I wanted to try the soup but I was too scared to eat it was the CP Staff who mainly spoke Japanese could not guarantee that it was GF, DF, Sesame, Peanut and 220 free. (LOL).

I ran back up the spongey wet marsh and waved to the other females following me, now closer after my rough patch for that section. I started to pump in the ventolin, simbacort and hoped that the weather would improve and I would be able to breathe better.  The ventolin made me feel even sicker. It just felt like it was going straight into my guts and not into my lungs. I was rejoined by my now guardian angle as we continued forever onwards and upwards towards the highest point of the UTMF.

We were warned at the race briefing that the next section of 20km was going to be a bit of orienteering. Cool, how bad could this be? In the years past we were blessed to follow a gorgeous single trail along a temple towards the summit of Fuji. This year were not blessed. Instead of some of the most beautiful trail running in the world we instead were to follow ribbons tied to trees were dotted through the forest and went in a line via the crow flies but through a chain of about what felt like 100 pumice sand creek beds that were up to 10 metres deep. We ran along literally falling down the side of the creek beds, sliding on our butts to the bottom of the dry creek bed then have to climb straight back out again, hands on quads, over and over and over again for 20km. This I could take. I knew that if this was hard for me I could only imagine how hard it must be for other runners.

The disheartening part of it was that with every creek bed we dropped into we had to climb back out again, and still continue up our ascent on the soft volcanic rock. I started to look for my positives. I felt like I’d entering my own personal hell. I was having problems with my breathing and I felt like I’d entered a cruel survival race with no real tangible beginning and end. The Cp’s seemed to be not where they were meant to be. CP4 and CP5 were a few kilometers past were they were meant to be and the next CP was due but it seemed that due to the new course we really were not to know how far we were going to run in the UTMF in 2015. I’d also been lost for an extra 4ks or so I was doing the sums and I think I was going to end up running 174kms or so.

Where is Fuji? Where is the God Fuji-san? The magnificent mountain that gives love, hope and energy with every view. Where are you? Why have you forsaken me? The weather was over cast. I was running though a closed in grey, dreary hell. The dirt was volcanic black, the sky now with sun rising was still a miserable grey. I’ve been spoilt by living in beautiful Queensland, the sunshine state and I was just not use to so much grey. This landscape just depressed me. I felt like I’d entered my own personal hell, pure depression, living mental depressive hell. It was like I was running my own personal torture session. Not being able to breathe properly, starved of Oxygen, dark cloud, black soil, exhausted, unable to really eat that much food. I was feeling really depressed. I started to cry. No. I started to ball and wail.

My Japanese Guardian angle, being the beautiful man that he was apologised for this country for not being sunny, or the trail not being as beautiful as the years past. He apologised for Fuji-san not being viewed whilst racing. He apologised for the pumice being soft and the trails not being marked. What a beautiful man he was. He was so considerate of me, a true man of a pure heart. I did not want to ruin his experience with my own personal problems. I told him to go on without me as I did not want to ruin his race with my depression. That was not fair on him.

I felt like the UTMF had all my favourite parts of the course taken out of it. When you are sick with asthma and your away from your family there has to be pay offs. The trails, well it seemed like all my favourite trails were removed from the UTMF this year or there was not trail at all.

The Views, the weather was crap. It was closed in with no visibility at all. I did not get a chance to view Fuji once. Usually with every mountain climb we are rewarded with views but there was no views. It was closed in grey fog.

Personal Achievement, I felt like I was really happy with what I’d achieved so far and wrecking my health and killing myself was really not seeming worth it. I was in a real depressed stated. I true representation of depression. I just was not enjoying this race.

I still continued onwards pushing up the soft volcanic soil with my guardian angle behind me. Still pacing off me. He’d been there for 40 km. He was still there with his smiling face. We push forever onwards, upwards on the soft volcanic pumice into the CP6 and the highest point in the race. I saw my support crew and they asked me how I was. I told him that I was not feeling very good and that I was not enjoying myself. In Australia due to snake threats we are taught to stick to the tracks. I contemplated how beneficial orienteering as part of my training. I would suggest this for next time as we really were not following marked tracks and it was extremely technical course.

I turned and pushed onwards and looked forward to my favourite sections that were coming ahead, yet I realised that we were not going to be following the same route. Instead we were sent down a massive pumice dune, then up scraggly switch backs and under a high tension power line, service track for the next 10km. With every time the track turned the wrong direction to what I was expecting from the years past I would stop and cry with my guardian angle feeling so sorry for me, patting me on the back. I would then have to ask him to go on his own, I was mindful that my mood might wreck his race and I wanted him to enjoy himself. I would send him on ahead, wail and cry to myself and I’d then catch up to him a few kilometers later when I was feeling more positive. It was not fair that I was so depressed and he was so happy and felt like it was his fault that his country was not putting on the usual impressive UTMF show for me. I think I must have pulled it together a nit not wanting to ruin his race and started to think more positively thinking I could pull out and end the torture at this next check point.

I’d recovered and started to move quickly as I then made it to the next water stop very fast, before the predicted time and I then and there decided to pull out but I’d made it to 115km before my support crew had arrived at the CP. I had no idea if they were coming to this CP or not. The CP staff convinced me that I was meant to go on as I was in 7th place. They asked me why I wanted to pull out and I told them that “I just was not enjoying myself”.

Maybe I was mentally exhausted from my year of break up? Maybe it was asthma, lack of food, depression, man the list can go on. I just was not mentally prepared for it. I did not leave enough in the tank for my mind to be able to think it’s way out of this depression. I wanted to stop but I had no one to pull out too.

My support crew was not there so I decided to go on another 15km to A7. Maybe it was a sign. A sign to teach me that I can’t have things my own way all the time. The course was changed but this is life. Life changes and we have to be prepared for these changes. I had to learn to be adaptable. This was my lesson here. I ran on quite happy. Laughing, happy that I was forced to go on. In the end I was doing really well it was just me, my head that was upsetting me. I could just choose to be happy and enjoy the race now.

I was then made so upset as I ran and walked up the next mountain of another one favourite forest had been logged. Bloody Hell! Again destruction. I had to do a “go slow” up the mountain as I was having problems breathing again. I was so sad. The roller coaster of emotions were insane now. I looked forward to the beautiful trail at the top of the mountain but we were again diverted down another creek bed with no trail.

My Guardian Angle was behind me again. Maybe now he was too strong for me and pushing me a bit quick down the descent with the track now using this mountain creek bed as a trail again following the white ribbons on trees as there was again no trail. I had to jump over rocks, tree roots and react quickly on smashed up quads and killing feet. I tripped over a tree root and totally twisted me knee. It was killing me. This race had become dangerous to me now. I’d really injured myself. I ran on to the bottom of the descent and let my Guardian Angle go on without me now for the last time. I’d had enough.

I tried to run down the road but my quads were smashed. I decided to take panadol but I could not swallow the tablets, my throat was so swollen. I felt like I had inflammation from my tonsils to my lungs. I drank some water and decided to walk. Maybe with the walking something happened in my lungs. I then started to vomit phlegm out of my lungs, kneeling on the side of the road puking up my lungs of white phlegm. I continued on walking trying to decide what to do next. I’d taken so much asthma medication my hands here now shaking. I was out on the road following the white ribbons along the side of the Lake into A7, I must have looked like crap, when a car stopped in front of me and offered me a lift. I waved them on and said no. About 200m later a truck pulled off the road and stopped literally 5m in front of me. The truck driver got out of the car and told me to get in Japanese to get in. I decided to take him up on his offer.

Never before had I been so relieved to pull out of an event. The mental and physical torture could stop.

 

My Race Set Up

 

Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest

Inov8 X-Talon 200 Shoes

Inov8 Compression Calf Guards

Descente Thermal Armbands

Inov8 Race Elite Wool Thermal Top

Inov8 Thermal Fleece

Inov8 Wragg

Inov8 Thermal Gloves

Inov8 Race Elite Water Proof Jacket

Inov8 Race Elite Water Proof Pants.

Hammer Visor

 

Nutrition

 

Hammer Banana Gel 50% Strength in Gel Flasks 1-2 gels per hour.

Hammer Heed 50% Strength 500ml Water every 2 hours (When possible)

Hammer Apple Cinnamon Bars x3

Bananas at every check point

Miso Soup at every check point throughout the night where possible.

Hammer Endurolytes 1-2 every hour.

500ml Water Every Hour when possible

Japanese Style Dinner

Shona Stephenson Run Larapinta

Run Larapinta Stage 3 and 4

by Shona Stephenson on January 11, 2016

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Summit of Heavitree Range with Shona Stephenson

The Summit of Heavitree Range with Shona Stephenson

Run Larapinta Stage 3 and 4

 

Central Comms Stage 3

30km

Start Time 8am

NO Water Stop – Totally Self Sufficient Day

Ochre Pits to Ormiston Gorge.

 

Run Larapinta Stage 3 and 4 bought out the nerves in me. After the unpredictable Run Larapinta Stage 2, I was a bit nervous going into Stage 3 after running out of food and water for almost 2 hours the day before. I totally miscalculated the time it would take me to run 39 km, which was actually 41+ km over really technical terrain. John, the Rapid Ascent race director assured me that yesterday was the hardest and most unpredictable day. Today was going to be pretty easy predictable running. Phew! I was up through the night eating and drinking, making sure I was totally carbed up and hydrated after yesterday gruelling race. I was predicting that I would be running the 30 km in about 3 hours.

I warmed up my tired and sore legs and moved to the start line at the Ochre Pits where the Aboriginal Locals collect pigment for their body art. It was a pretty special place.

After a quick count down we were all off and running as a group. By now we had all started to get to know each other, build some friendships and offer help when needed. After the race yesterday I offered John, one of the runners some enduralytes magic pills to help with his cramps so he could get in a truck and drive to the hotel. It was a bit of a crack up. John really couldn’t bend his leg to get up into the truck seat, his body was stiff like a board. After the enduroyltes he stopped cramping, but still did not trust his body to be able to get in the truck fearing he would cramp up again. I had to give him the hard word to get him in the truck so the truck driver could continue on with his deliveries and his son could get out of Stanley Chasm and back to the hotel. He eventually listened and got in the truck and much to his delight, cramp free!

At the start of Stage 3, we all chit chatted and giggled in a group and before long stretched out over the spinafex grassy hill along the Arrernte Walk, along a beautiful single trail and then popped out into a creek. Noooooooo! Not another dry creek bed! FUCK!

I learnt my creek navigation lesson from the day before and went straight up the guts of it, over the boulders, under logs, between cracks and over soft sand, trying to keep Paul and Joe in sight but soon lost them behind boulders and I was on my own, navigating my own way up this new creek bed using their footprints as a guide. After about 3km of creek running the track veered to the right and I was greeted with the most stunning alpine valley I have encountered since running on the Italian side of Mt Blanc on the Ultra Trail Mt Blanc. I made it over the pass and the valley opened up and I could see mile after beautiful mile. I could see majestic, Mt Sonder in the distance. It was our reminder of what was to come tomorrow.

I ran along the trail, loving new alpine desert plants I was discovering. Fluro yellow what looked like fluffy bushes lined the trail yet on closer inspection I discovered they were spines instead of soft leaves. This is the desert. Defend yourself or be eaten! Every plant had it’s defence from the grasses, to palms, bushes and trees.

I ran along avoiding the spines, happy I had calf guards on and appreciating my surroundings. I soon dropped down a set of such stairs, looped around almost into what felt a full circle into another gorge, called Waterfall Gorge.

The gorge was dry, so I ran up the creek, this time the trail quickly cut off to the right and I was climbing up onto Heavitree Range. This climb was considerably easier than yesterdays, only a 300m climb zig-zagging up the ridge making use of the marked switchback tracks all the way to the top. The views were out of this world! Absolutely stunning! I could see for hundreds of kilometers in all direction and not a sign of civilisation could be found. With this amazing view being the perfect backdrop I decided to take a quick selfie for fun before starting the descent.

Shona Stephenson during Run Larapinta

Wow! What a view from the top of Heavitree Range stage 3 Run Larapinta.

Different trails share a different type of “Trail Language”. I was trying to figure out what this “Trail Language,” was on the top of this ridge line with limited markers more designed for walkers rather than runners.

I followed the foot trail down the razor back ridge, spotting a nice lookout. I stopped to check it out and soon discovered it was a sheer cliff face. Holy cow! I almost went off the edge! I panicked. Then back tracked and headed straight down the opposite line to the cliff and head left after about 50 m, descending straight down the mountain through alpine scrub. I soon I discovered that I’d lost the track. I retraced my steps back towards the cliff and spotted the red dirt footprints on the ochre jagged rocks along the rocky out crop and decided that this was the trail. Phew. I was back on track again. I hopped along the ridge, loving the technicality of the descent and enjoying the focus I had to have to stay in touch with those red foot prints in the trail.

I hit the flat, curved around the hill with the temperature rising and cruised along the trail spotting a creek bed, crossing the creek bed, following foot prints towards the road. I then spotted a blue arrow on the other side of the creek. I back tracked, cursing my stupidity, thinking that I would have much preferred to stay in the cool of the shadow of the cliffs rather than run out in the open. These gorges become a bit of a heat sink and I’d just run out of water. The track narrowed and I spotted Running Mums Australia coming towards me in the opposite direction who were doing the Short Course. I asked them if I was going the right way. They assured me I was. I guess I was closer to my limit than I thought. I’ve been lost a few times whilst racing and it is such a sinking feeling. I was relieved to be close to the finish. I pushed on up the footpath through the tourist shelter and across the finish line.

Shona Stephenson Ormiston Gorge

Shona Stephenson enjoying a recovery run at Ormiston Gorge

Done. Now it was time to hop into the water hole at the jaw dropping Ormiston Gorge and start my recovery before the final day of 45km tomorrow. I jumped on the bus and we left for Glen Helen, a remote desert oasis. I was lucky enough to receive the full Outback Experience of sleeping in Safari Tent with Geckos on stretchers and swim in the Finke River at the Glen Helen Station.

Glen Helen Gorge stage 4 Run Larapinta

Glen Helen Gorge the finish line of Run Larapinta

 

Ice Bug Stage 4

45km

Start Time 7:30am

Start Location Redbank Gorge

Finish Glen Helen

Water Stops-Redbank Gorge16km, Rocky Bar 28km

My Dusty outback safari tent

My dusty Outback Safari Tent

 

I woke up early at 4:30am freezing my tits off and ready to race. I was excited to finish my first ever stage event today and to also climb up to the summit of Mount Sonder. It was also my birthday. I was turning 37 and I just could not think of a better way to spend it than to race 45km with a mountain summit en-route! On second thought….Maybe I could be a little warmer and with my kids and partner Steve. To me racing is such a gift and I was so glad to have this chance to express how I feel on over these weathered trails.  My rustic Outback Safari tent offered little insulation from the desert morning temperatures. I was so cold, shivering in my tent with all my clothes on. I was really worried that I would not be able to move, let alone race, if I did not get warm. I ate some Hammer bars for my pre-race breaky and decided to go to reception to tape my ankles, where I would be nice and warm rather than freezing over. I found that because the reception was connected to the Glen Helen Pub it was closed. Damn! I guess they would not want for any of the fluids to go missing over night. I spotted Paul filling up his water bottles in the communal open air kitchen and after seeing me shiver he offered to let me shelter in his dormitory before the race.

“Just walk through that gap, turn to the right and it is the 2nd door in”. He directed.

I followed his direction and I found not an empty room but a lit room with bloke 3 runners in it. Peter, (Sydney and now with a black eye and a swollen cheek after a massive stack on the razor yesterday), Hans (Canadian living in Vic) and Michelle (French living in Vic). I quickly closed the door and tried the next room.This time I looked into darkness, seeing silhouettes of unrecognisable males and I decided that I was better off jumping into the room with 3 guys who I could recognise than to keep trying for Paul’s room and maybe discovering something I really did not want to find.

I jumped in the room with a few giggles and started to tape my ankles in race mode. Hans then offered me a banana, I then started handing out endurolytes and then discovered that Laurent’s bladder was leaking, so I decided to go back up to my freezer box of a tent and grab him one of my Inov8 bladders for the race. I returned to the room and helped out Michelle and chatted and stayed warm until our bus arrived. We had really become all one big supportive family by stage 4. We were all in this together and we had only 45 km to run to finish off our epic adventure.

By day 4 the pain and fatigue had set in. I was not sure how much juice I had left in my legs. The conditions were freezing, so again I was going to suffer with asthma all the way up Mount Sonder. I was just going to have to wait for temperatures to warm up before I could really run.

On the bus on the way to Redbank Gorge there was an engaged local Alice Springs couple who were very much in love and were there to race and train for an Ironman event that was coming up in a few months. Damn, we all thought! Fresh legs when ours were all stuffed. The athletic couple assured us that they had had a massive Iron Man training weekend and were not fresh at all. Compared to us hagged desert runners, covered in black eyes, stitches, bruises, sun burn, cracked lips, they looked like new borns.

We hobbled out of the bus and walked down to the start line. After a countdown we all headed along the trail and straight up the steps of Mount Sonder. Fiona was powerful up the hill from all her Ironman bike training. I did my best to stay ahead of her but decided when the steps became steeper to let her take off ahead. I was struggling with asthma and my legs were not warmed up yet, they felt like dead weights. The 3 days of running had taken their toll. I was no match for her strength and I wanted her to run ahead of me so that I could concentrate on my own breathing and pacing. I knew I had to be kind to my quads and not smash them up so soon in the race. I was just going to chill and work my cadence climbing the 4th biggest mountain in the NT.

The views were amazing! The larapinta trail just kept giving stunning views, magical contrasts between the blue sky and the orange rocks and the remoteness is mind-blowing. As I climbed I could not see evidence of human life anywhere. The wilderness was exhilarating. I ran and walked up the jagged rocky path to the saddle, down the stairs and gave the next push towards the summit.

As I ran up the trail I caught some walkers.

“Hello.” I’d call out ahead. “Say Happy Birthday”. I would say jokingly.

“Happy Birthday”. The bemused walkers would reply.

“Thank You”. I fed off their energy, I fed off their well wishes, smiles, happiness and general willingness to wish me happy birthday as I climbed the mountain. This was trail running bliss.

With the “Happy Birthday’s” and well wishes I was running with absolute happiness in my heart and gratitude of my opportunity to be able to race Run Larapinta in 2015, UTMB in 2014, Oxfam 2012, 2011, 2010 all on my birthday.

Paul, Joe, and the ironman freshie were all on the descent. The earlier wave of runners were also on the descent. More happy birthday wishes, high fives returned  and “looking strong,” between the other runners as we all marvelled at the stunning views on this ridge line.

About 200 m from the summit I spotted Fresh Fiona coming towards me on her descent of the out and back leg. I wished her well and tried to remain calm. Before long I was at the top of Mount Sonder with Fiona less than a kilometre ahead of me.

The boys from Rapid Ascent were there to great me with a Birthday Cup Cake. I posed for a shot, fake eating of the gluten treat with heaps of smiles and excitement. I jumped on top of the summit marker with hands in the air, I was so happy I’d bagged it on my birthday. I can now remember after seeing this photo of me on the summit marker, visiting this very same place on the first day of my honeymoon all those 13 years ago. Wow! How far I’d come. Wow. It’s been one amazing journey. There I was at 24 with all the hope and dreams for this relationship, kids, houses, adventures. Couples who play together, stay together. We had an amazing start. I guess it fell away when the adventure ceased happening together. Excuses can be made when the kids come along, things can be made out to be too hard. If you are fit nothing is hard. Everything is easy. My fitness level has allowed me to find life easy and see possibilities everywhere. To that young, energetic woman back there on the top of Mount Sonder at the age of 24, I hope you are happy with what you have accomplished. I think she would go to sleep with a smile on her face knowing that she will make the most of what the universe has given her. I can only smile and be happy to have found my true self, my pure freedom, pure friendships, pure love, untainted love. I have too much to give than to just stay at home and keep a house perfect. I must explore the world, share experiences with people. Far out I get a buzz trail running in my local patch and saying, “Hi” to other runners or walkers I meet. I will always stop for a chat and connect with those around me. It’s what I do. I love people.

Happy Birthday Shona Stephenson

Happy Birthday to me!

I jumped down from the summit marker and the chase for Fiona was on! She would have been over 1 km away. I tried to stay as calm as possible, my legs needed to warm up, my lungs needed to warm up as the top of the summit was freezing. I hopped from jagged rock to jagged rock, down the mountain letting gravity do the work. I passed Fiona (WA), Peter and Mirjam (NZ) on their way up to the turn around. “It’s only just up ahead”. I encouraged.

I released the breaks, relaxing my sore and tired quads on every touch with my forefoot to the ground. I High fived my competitors and again rejoiced at what my body was capable of doing and with every step closed the gap to Fresh Fiona.

I hit the saddle of Mt Sonder and pushed my hands on my quads as I climbed up the bush stairs, my lungs screaming, trachea rasping in the cold, dry, desert air. It’s all down hill from here. I honed in on Fiona and followed the switch backs down the mountain. After about another Km of chasing I caught and passed Fiona on the narrow, rocky single goat like track, with the views of Redback Gorge to my left. I wished her safe travels, suggesting that she’d catch me on the next climb and pushed onwards and downwards, hopping over rocks, bounding from step to step, forever down, down, down the 7km descent and into the check point at Redbank Gorge Junction 16km down 29km to go.

I quickly took off my singlet and refilled my 500ml bottle. The temperature was rising quickly. It was going to be a hot one. At last I can finally race with the conditions on my side. In my head I knew Fiona would be strong. I hope I’d done enough on the descent to build a big enough gap to last me the finish. I counted, counted and counted to 100, over and over again, keeping my cadence high, knee drive forward and feet off the ground was all I could think of and marvel at the blue stones I was snaking by along the flat. What is with this light blue rock?

I ran into the Rocky Bar Gap 28km check point so happy that I had kept my lead. After chatting to the guys at the check point and really stopping to refill my bottles, have a think about taking a bottle to tip on my head to stay cool, grabbing some extra endurolytes fizz, preparing myself for rising temperatures into the mid 30s, I was caught by Fresh Fiona.

Shit! We said some well wishes to each other and with the new rocket up my butt I was off. The goal was to stay ahead of Fresh Fiona until the summit of Hilltop Lookout. If I could stay ahead of her until there then I had a chance to win.

Now I really kicked it, lifting my legs, turning my feet over, snaking past Rocky Bar and running as fast as I could until I could not run anymore, dropping into a hands on quads fast turn over power walk. Running 20 steps, walking 20 steps, pushing hard on my quads, panting, tipping water over my head, keeping my core temperature cool, passing short course runners now on the rocky trail and before long I was at summit of the 300 m climb. Now it was time to enjoy the view, company of short course and early wave runners and the descent.

I loved this next section. It was beautiful soft switch backing goat trail down the mountain passing all the way back into the Mereenie Valley. So pleased I was finishing up on the last day of the stage event. I hit the flats, turned on the pace, crossed the dry soft sand of Davenport Creek, dodging dry cow paddy’s with the heat starting to bite. I continued to tip water over my head. I was now dreaming of the swim in the Finke River with a glass of champagne in my hands.

I sped on, turned right and found the Finke River but this was not the finish line. I still had 4ks to run. I pushed on the wriggly sandy trail,  edged with fluffy grasses, climbing up over the dunes onto a rocky out crop and to my absolute surprise the sandy trail lead me through a hole in the bright red rock. This was bloody awesome! How cool is this! I did not take a photo which I was a bit annoyed at myself for afterwards, I was too scared that Fresh Fiona would catch me if I stopped.

I hopped through the hole, then wished I had stopped , started to run and immediately wished taken a selfie but wanted to just finish the race before it gets really hot. I rolled down the hill, popped out onto the road and ran all the way to the top of the last climb, spotting the amazing Glen Helen Gorge, passing more well wishing short course runners, turned right and stretched out down the finial descent along the gravel driveway and into Glen Helen Resort. I turned left onto the soft sand and raced across the finish line. Whoop, whoop! I’d made it! Happy 37th Birthday Shona. Time to get into my bikini, grab a bottle of champagne and some hot chips, lie in the Glen Helen Gorge and watch the other runners come across the finish line.

 

Shona Stephenson Run Larapinta

Shona Stephenson wins Run Larapinta Long course and places 3rd overall.

 

Overall Results

 

Paul MUNRO 13:20:17 Aus (VIC)

Joe FAGAN15:04:13 NZ

Peter HYND18:53:42 Aus

 

 

 

 

Shona STEPHENSON 16:41:15 Aus (QLD)

Fiona WHELAN 17:52:34 Aus (WA)

Mirjam VAN DEN BOOM NZ

 

My Race Set Up

Inov8 X-Talon 200′s I wore the same pair of shoes, back to back over the 133km.

Inov8 Race Elite Calf Guards

Inov8 Race Elite Shorts

Inov8 Australia Representative Singlet

Hammer Sports Bra

Hammer Visor

Race Day Nutrition

500ml of fluid every hour breaking it down to 1L every 2 hours with 500ml fresh clean water and 500ml of 1 scoop of Hammer Heed

1 Banana Gel watered down to 50% in a gel hammer flask every 30mim to 1 hour depending on how I am feeling.

Endurolytes 1 every 30 minutes. If I’m sore with muscle tightness I will take 2.

 

Glen Helen Broken Larapinta Trail Shoes Glamping Tent Fan Run Larapinta

My Moon Tent at Glen Helen Gorge

It does not get any cuter than my little Moon Tent

Glen Helen Run Larapinta

Glen Helen Gorge stage 4 Run Larapinta

Glen Helen Gorge the finish line of Run Larapinta

 

Run Larapinta Stage 2 Finish Line Shona Stephenson

Run Larapinta Stage 1 and 2

by Shona Stephenson on January 7, 2016

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Shona Stephenson enjoying the soft technical trails of Run Larapinta

Shona Stephenson enjoying the soft technical trails of Run Larapinta

 

 

Run Larapinta Stage 1 and 2

Run Larapinta excited me to race it the minute I heard about it. I had been to the Larapinta Trail about 14 years ago for my honeymoon which was a real coincidence that I was coming back and completing the circle at the end of my relationship with my husband. I’d closed a chapter of my life with him, mediation was 6 weeks before and I was now free to plan my own adventures. I was so keen to explore more of the trail 14 years ago but lack the confidence to venture past the tourist sections of the Larapinta trail. It was time to reflect, be positive and rejoice for the life that I’ve lived over the past 14 years and see how far I’ve come as an athlete and as a human.

 

I’d already ticked off the stunning, jaw dropping highlights of the Larapinta Trail including Stanley Chasm, Telegraph Station, Ormiston Gorge, Mt Sonder, Ochre Pits, on the 223km Long Trail and I was so thrilled to have the chance to come back and join all the highlights together. Run Larapinta will cover 133km of the Larapinta Trail. It is still a 100km short of the full distance due to athlete and event crew/volunteer safety. The desert is not flat out here, it consists of many mountain ranges and jagged gorges, so vehicle access can be limited. Rapid Ascent decided to pick the best trail running sections and the sections with the best vehicle access for water stops or in a case of an emergency. I was delighted to stay in hotels with swimming pools between stages. This was what got me really hooked, I was keen to have a soak and chill after the event with like minded ultra runners. I looked at Run Larapinta as a real adventure running holiday, a reward for getting through a tough year of separation, I’d come so far and it was time to celebrate, have a 133km party and express my happiness with every step I took.

 

I always get asked when talking to people about my Ultra Trail running and the first question they usually ask is. “ Is what you do like that event where that woman was horrible burnt in the desert?”

I think it is important to say that I only race events where reputable Trail Running Companies are organising the event. Competitor safely comes first for me that’s why I was comfortable with racing through the desert with Rapid Ascent. Rapid Ascent is a great events company, they put on the amazing Surf Coast Century, Trail Running Series in Victoria and many other Mountain Bike and Adventure Racing Events. I knew these guys would look after me and all other runners whilst out competing in the desert which was another reason why I chose to race Run Larapinta. They held a mountain bike stage event the week earlier, which they’d organised few years now, they have experience with holding events in Alice Springs and I think was the main reason why they were the first event company to have the privilege to organise an event on the wondrous Larapinta Trail.

 

The conditions looked amazing for the runners for the next 4 days (except me). 20 degrees Thursday, 21 Degrees Friday, 24 Degrees Saturday and 28 Degrees Sunday. We were even treated with a desert thunder storm on arrival into the Alice. The sand was just a bit damp, air temperature was cool, making it a perfect racing surface and air temperature for trail running.

 

Wow what a finish line!

 

Chifley Alice Springs Resort Stage 1

Alice Springs Resort to Telegraph Station

19km.

Start Time 5:30pm.

Water Stop 14km.

 

Before the start, we were lucky enough to have a welcoming speech from the Local Aboriginal Elder, inviting us into his land and wishing us all safe travels. He told us not to move any of the stones that we will see out on the track. They were all placed there for a reason. He wanted us to respect his peoples country and look after one another. It was a great honour to have him give us his blessing for the event.

 

John the race director for Run Larapinta also gave us a briefing. The emphasis was placed on us to look after ourselves and each other. The access is not the best, especially on days 2-4. If we fall over or injure ourselves we may be waiting a long time for help due to the remoteness of the trails that we will be covering. In some cases the best option may well be to, “Eat a few concrete pills, get up, harden up, and continue and finish the stage because there is not way to get vehicle to the trails where we are going. So be careful and look after each other.”

 

We all left the Alice Springs Resort as a group of nervous Long Course Malbunka Runners, camera men, race officials, supports crews, friends and family across the main road and set up under the Rapid Ascent Flags with the Trail Run Magazine, quad chopper filming the historic start of the first ever event on the Larapinta Trail.

 

After the countdown we were all off the running off on a dirt track along the side of the road before quickly ducking away from the main road and into the desert. Paul (VIC), Joe (NZ) and Craig (VIC) setting the pace early. After a few hundred meters, the boys were way too fast for me so I pulled up and eased off the pace. I was a bit nervous about how to approach a stage event. I chilled out and started to enjoy the view. I turned the corner, crossed the road and headed up the dirt path and I was caught by a little local aboriginal boy on his miniature motor bike. He sped along next to me giving me words of encouragement, “Go go go!” Before, accelerating and doing a big fat donut about 100 m ahead of me with a massive grin on his face, he then returned to me, flying along to give me a high five with some more cheers. I could hear him doing the same this for the other runners behind me. Seeing and hearing him having so much pure fun bought a smile to my face.

I turned right and headed up the first hill and I was caught by Fiona (WA), who was then caught by Anthony (QLD). We all cruised along together enjoying the moon and the rainbow coloured sunset over the West MacDonald Ranges. Wow! What a way to start this race. This was mint trail running country. The tracks were beautifully kept. Not a stick or stone was out of place. The soil was like running on velvet. I gave it a nick name of “Outback Velvet.” The Elders walk these trails at night cleaning them, maintaining them and keeping them in the pristine condition we were enjoying tonight. I was blown away at how stunning they were. The trails were “Japan Clean.” Now I understand why the elder expressed that we were not to move a stone. Every stone had a purpose and this trail running garden he created was spectacular.

 

Fiona, Anthony and I snaked around in a group over rolling hills, down and up the desert twilight switch backs, swapping places a few times marvelling at just how stunning the scenery was. We then popped out onto 800M of road and my legs took off like I had no control over their speed, sprinting down the slight decline, turning right, back onto the track, trying my hardest not to run too fast on the 1st Stage.

I somehow managed to create a gap between myself, Fiona and Anthony. I cruised up the hills and was caught by Anthony who then passed me before the 14km water stop. I decided to run straight through the water stop, not needing to refill and turned on my Ay-Up on in the darkness under the clear desert star lit sky.

I rolled onwards and upwards chasing Anthony and now catching the short course runners for a few more kilometers enjoying this whole experience. I then heard the music, spotted the pink, blue, white neon lights of the big rig trucks of the homestead. I followed the sounds of disco beats and fairy lights to the finish line and was so happy to finish in 1st place and 5th place overall in the long course with Fiona only 1 minute behind after the first stage. My time was 1 Hour 42 minutes for the 19km.

 

I then met up with local Australian Mountain Running representative couple Emma Kraft and Brad White after they both won the first stage of the short course in their last hit out before they headed off to Wales for the World Trail Running Championships. We had a great chat about all things trail running while they gave me a lift back to the hotel because I was so busy chatting to them that I missed the first shuttle bus.

 

Time to hydrate, eat, recover, foam roll, self massage and get some sleep before tomorrow’s 41km event.

Run Larapinta Stage 2 Start Line Simpsons Gap

Run Larapinta Stage 2 Start line at Simpsons Gap

 

Lasseters Stage 2

Simpsons Gap to Stanley Chasm

39km

Start Time 8am

Water Stops 14km and 25km

 

We were all dropped off the shuttle bus at 7:30am at Simpsons Gap awaiting the start of stage 2. Not many of the runners slept the night before and we were all wondering what the 2nd stage had to offer us. It was pretty cold at the start, maybe only 10 degrees and predicted temps would only reach about 21 degrees.

 

After a stiff, shuffle of a warm up and chit chats we walked to the start line in the creek bed in front of Simpsons Gap between the Rapid Ascent Flags. At 8am we were off and running, all a little bit slower than the night before. It was a fast turn around from only finishing racing 11 hours earlier. I woke up many times and ate through the night, making sure I would have enough energy for not just today but for 3 more days. I thought of the first day instead of just running 19km it was like running 60km. Adding the two days back to back together.

 

We were all called to a startling at Simpsons Gap, between the flags and the count down went off and we were all off and running along the trail that snaked along a narrow single track lined with fluffy grasses, slightly climbing and forever rolling over small hills. My legs were tired from the night before and my left strained hamstring that I injured competing in a family and friends sand dune long jump competition was not responding properly which then meant I was not lifting my feet and in the race to stay ahead of Fiona I left foot kept tripping over small grasses, hiding rocks and landing foot out on my front, face first in the bushes at full hamstring and arm extension. Ouch!!!!!! Ouch Ouch! Ouch! I fell over 4 times in the first 17km. Each time expecting Fiona to catch me totally out of sorts on my stomach, with a hamstring that is barely hanging onto my bone, face first in the sharp spinafex grass. I was lucky that I had just enough gap to fall over and recover before anyone witnessed my clumsy mistakes. Each time I fell I cursed myself for being stupid, thinking about racing rather than being in the moment, not having the correct focus. I learnt that fluffy grasses meant danger. Shame it took me 17km to work this out.

 

The trail was like a twisted snake, curving along the the land past Bond Gap, Arenge Bluff, and into the water stop at Mulga Camp. I pulled my head in and decided that it was best to stay out of tripping trouble and in the moment. I counted, blew out my air in my lungs. I was struggling a bit with my breathing too. It was really cold and my lungs were having a bit of a spasm, I was having trouble breathing. I was just waiting for the air temperature to rise so I would feel better. My asthma was shocking. (When I am having an attack my trachea goes from 3.5cm in diameter down to 2.6cm. No wonder I have problem breathing. It usually take me a few hours in every race to warm my lungs up in cold conditions.)

 

Soon enough I warmed up, climbed up over the ridge line at Half gap and Spring Gap. I tripped again in front of Chris Ord from Trail Run Mag. It was weird seeing someone else on the trails. I really was isolated, totally out on my own with no one with me. So seeing Chris pop up at Spring Gap startled me a bit. After regaining my composure after pulling my hamstring yet again, I was happy to see Chris there. I was getting complacent before he popped up and started running fartlek intervals to get ahead of me and take a shot before sprinting off again. We sped off together chit chatting, and I was happy to having someone else to focus on, pace off, run with for a while before he soon dropped off the back of me on a descent just before the 2nd Water Stop.

 

At the 2nd water stop at the 25km we had an out and back section, I found the volunteer enjoying some zzz’s, and had to wake him up before turning back the way I came from and I spotted Fiona only 200m behind. We said some hello’s and I knew it was time to push. I execrated on up the sandy trail, spotting a big Brown Snake crossing the path into the grassy bushes. Great! Now brown snakes in the bushes, what fun. Shit! Don’t trip over again and fall on one.

 

I followed the pink ribbons and blue arrows up a creek bed and swore I was lost many times. Out here the creek beds are used as tracks. Following creek beds seems so foreign to me and just prayed that I was going in the right direction especially with Fiona so close behind. I followed foot prints in the sand and I just hoped that it was not the cow prints that I saw the dung from that I was following. We do anything to avoid creek beds in Sydney, Brisbane, Japan, Europe, but here in the desert they are dry and the best path to follow. I followed the foot prints and looked hard for shoe prints of the boys ahead of me. Just when I was about to turn back and retrace my steps I’d push on for 5m and spotted a blue Larapinta Trail Arrow. I also spotted a trusty Inov8 Roclite Tread in the sand. I knew I was following the right route, I just was not sure who I was following. I pushed on rock hopping, scrambling, acknowledging that my left hamstring was not flexible at all when clambering over creek boulders towards Fish Hole and I just hoped it would last the full 4 days.

 

I found a trail and followed my nose as instructed by race Director John at the race briefing that morning, forever climbing slightly until I saw Craig the marshal at the Tangentyere Junction. I veered to the right and started the climb up the “Alternative High Route,” towards Millers Flat.

 

Who said Run Larapinta will be flat? FAR OUT! This climb was straight out of only something that I had experienced in Japan or Europe. It was a steep, rocky, hot, rugged, scramble. There was no point trying to run it. It was pure hands on quads, hands on rock, hamstring pulling, mountain hiking, rock climbing, scrabbles, pulls up the 700m climb in only 2km. I was climbing up a jagged ridge, worried about hand placement on the rocky ledges knowing that a snake could just be sunning itself on the ledge. In the past I’ve disturbed snakes on rock ledges before while trail running with PT clients. I scared a snake off the ledge and it got such a scare that it jumped off the rock ledge and over my poor unsuspecting PT clients head to my horror! My past experience has made me pretty nervous climbing this rocky out crop especially after just seeing a big fat brown snake.

My right hamstring started the cramp up under the extra strain it was under due to my left hamstring’s lack of range and power. I had to keep an eye on the trail, as it disappeared as I climbed up the mountain, behind loose rocks and alpine shrubs. I was out of breath and out of water, thinking that this last 8km would not be that hard. The temperature was rising and this ridge was dam hot. I decided to break a Hammer Endurolyte cap into my mouth and lick the last remaining drops on the inside of my water bottles to help the electrolyte dissolve. My cramp disappeared straight away. Phew! Bloody lucky!

I finally reached the top and marvelled at the view. It was stunning! I could see for hundreds of kilometers 360 degrees in every direction. Wow! The clearness of the view is totally unlike anything I’ve seen for about 14 years. There is no moisture in the air, no clouds, no pollution so I could see what seemed like forever. Beautiful, ochre landscape of the legendary West MacDonald Ranges and the Outback Desert stretched out into infinity. Not a trace of human population could be seen. This place is pure wilderness.

Whoop, whoop! I’m at the top. It’s all down hill from here with a bit of a gradual climb then a little hill and then the finish. Easy I thought. Wrong!

I ran along the “Alternative High Route”, ridge line just loving the scenery. I was totally blown away by the colour, clearness, plant scenery, bird life. I spotted some short course, fluro runners up ahead and used them and a homing beacon, guiding me the correct way. I soon caught up with them, smiled as they took many photos of their adventure together.

The trail followed the ridge line down with rugged, loose boulders and bush stairs. I soon switch from two limb running into all four downward scramble, catching and chatting to short course runners who were kind enough to step aside for me. This type of descending was so much fun, my legs and arms were going everywhere, it was more of a controlled fall rather than a walk or run down the mountain. The trail followed the boulder creek through the middle of a gorge, that resembles a lost world lined with cycads. I lost the track a few times following my natural instinct to always look for a trail out of the creek bed. My previous experience was not helping me get through these sandy gorges. After about 50 m I soon discovered that I was just to move though the guts of the gorge.

The creek bed was a mixture of soft sand and massive boulders. I was either sand running or boulder hopping, forever worried that I was following the wrong line and missing the route out of the gorge. Different landscaped have a different trail running language to tell. I had to learn this new language quickly. I track read, follow warn paths, a slight change in colour of the rocks can indicate where the path more traveled, meaning the correct path to follow. I had to stop countless times and check my course, fearing that I was lost in the desert, I still had not learnt this language properly yet. My lips were now parched and I was licking the inside of my empty water bottled now for over an hour. I was becoming de-hydrated, if I was not already dehydrated. I was still trying to eat a gel a hammer in every hour but without water it was making me feel a bit sick. I was also getting concerned about my race tomorrow and the following day. I was careful not to burn up out here. I was happy to slow down and stop to checked for foot prints ahead of me and looked for a marker up ahead I was always reassured of my course.

I popped out onto Millers Flat and totally took the wrong turn, following the first blue Larapinta Trail marker that I discovered. I came to a group of walkers.

“You’re going the wrong way”. One walker informed me.

“I’m following the markers”. I said now pretty exhausted and a bit delirious.

“There are markers for the Larapinta Trail going both ways”. The guide enlightened me. “Where are you going?”

I was so stuffed and at my limit that I could not remember. “What’s that way.” I asked pointing towards Stanley Chasm.

“Stanley Chasm”. The guide said.

“How far away is that and what’s that way?” I asked pointing in the opposite direction.

“4ks away and Jay Creek is that way. Four Runners have gone that way and it’s the wrong way.” The guide warned me.

“Fuck! Okay I’ll head to Stanley Chasm. That’s the finish line. Thanks heaps.” I thanked them counting my lucky stars that I’d run into this group of walkers at the junction. I felt instantly guilty that I was going the right way when 4 other runners went the wrong way. I was so worried about them. I was so hoping that the boys Paul and Joe were okay and that they were following the right course.

The guide was kind enough to walk me back 50 m to the junction and point me in the right direction. I thanked him for his kindness and I then ran through Fig Spring and looked at the puddle of water and wished that I had water purifier tablets on me or a filter. I was pretty close to drinking the water straight from the puddle I was that thirsty.

I had only 3 ks to go and I just imagined I was running up Mt Coo-tha with Bubble my trusty Kelpie and Steve my love of my life and gorgeous partner. The car is just up ahead I imagined. Steve is there waiting for you. Bubble is just ahead clearing the track of snakes for you. There is a cold drink in the car. It’s all so close. I climbed the fittingly named Gastrolobium Saddle, now in shut down mode, run, walk, run, walk. I was conserving my legs for the next few days careful not to use up all my glycogen in my muscles .

I made it to the top of the ridge only to face another descent straight down another water course into a gorge. I again hoping to see a route out of the creek bed but soon accepted my fate of more boulder hopping, rock scrambling, soft sand running through the hot heat sink of a creek then straight up a step of orange ruff cut stairs which indicated to me that I was getting closer to the finish line. The walls of the gorge shot up vertically into the blue sky above, like shards of towering opaque, glossy, ochre crystals. The trail sent me up and over the red cliffs on my hands and knees crawling, up the stairs.

I’d been without water for almost 2 hours now. I was feeling the effects of hydration lack of food. Use the fat, burn that fat. I thought to myself. Bloody hell! If the finish line is not in exactly 1.5km I think I am going to scream.  Where is the finish line? The trail was so technical that it was adding minutes, hours on my predicted time faster than anything I’d run before. My watch indicates that is it just here, yet I’m in this maze of red mars like rock and could not see a way out. I descend a step of orange bush stairs, hoping that I was getting closer. I spotted  a walker watching me hop down the rocks.

“How far to Stanley Chasm?” I ask.

“About 1km.” He informs me with a smile.

FARK! I say in my head!!!! I thought the end was flat! I don’t remember seeing all these ups and downs bush stairs on the profile map. I then think back to my trip 14 years ago and tried to remember what Stanley Chasm looked like. I think my brain was so stuffed from dehydration that I could not focus or remember anything.

I ran on searching for the finish. Searching for my way out of this maze. I pushed on up the cliff with my hands on quads, cursing the race director, I swear these cliffs were not in the profile. But when I thought back to my trip I do remember this area being extremely jagged with a massive vertical gain over a short distance.

I spot some well fed middle age grey nomads at the bottom of the stairs. Sweet! I must be close to the main tourist attraction in the area. I descended the stairs, turned to the left, ran along the creek bed, pulled myself up over a railing and around some boulders and I spotted the Run Larapinta Flags and ran across the finish line. Wow, what a stage! This was my kind of racing, pure toughness, adventure, amazing trails and, world class views.

“Bloody hell that was hard. I’ve been without water for almost 2 hours. I hope everyone else is okay. John, is tomorrow easier?” I asked as I sat down and drank 2L of water in about 15 min adding in enduroyltes. My body just lapped it up. I was relieved to hear that tomorrow will be easier and more predictable with food and water consumption. The stage 2, 41km took me 5 hours 30 min.

Race Set Up

Inov8 X-Talon 200

Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Calf Guards

Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Shorts

Inov8 Race Singlet

Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest

Hammer Head Sweats Visor

Nutrition

Hammer Heed 3/4 scoop in 500ml….I usually aim for 500ml every 2 hours

500ml water with Hammer Every 2 hours, meaning with the Heed I am drinking 500ml every hour.

Hammer Endurolytes 1 cap every 30 min

1 Banana Hammer Gel every 30-1 hour depending on how I am feeling.

1 Hammer Bar for Breaky Apple Cinnamon.

 

Run Larapinta Stage 2 Finish Line Shona Stephenson

Wow what a finish line!

Enjoying a peak at of the trails before tonights first stage of Run Larapinta

Run Larapinta

by Shona Stephenson on August 27, 2015

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Enjoying a peak at of the trails before tonights first stage of Run Larapinta

Enjoying a peak at of the trails before tonights first stage of Run Larapinta

Run Larapinta – Tackling My first Multi Stage Event

 

Run Larapinta excited me from the start. I will be amongst the first participants to complete in any event on the Larapinta Trail and I feel a huge amount of appreciation to Sam and Rapid Ascent to have the opportunity to race through this special place in the world. I’ve always want to do a multi day stage event, I always wanted to complete a desert run. Run Larapinta looked like a great beginners stage event for me to try and see what stage racing is all about.  The Larapinta Trail is a 223km track that is broken up into 12 sections on the West MacDonald Ranges just outside of Alice Springs. Run Larapinta is about 100km short, due to logistics and competitor safety,  and is broken up into 4 staged events. It takes in some truly magical scenery of the wondrous gorges, ridge tops and dry sandy desert creek beds. I can’t wait to start the first stage which is tomorrow night.

 

I am a bit nervous about my first stage event. I know I will be sore backing up day, after day, after day, after day. I strained my hamstring pretty badly about 10 days ago during a long jump competition with my kids and my partner of sand dunes on the gold coast. I pulled my hamstring right at the bone and had to hobble around like an old football player with my hand on my butt so I could walk. It hurt to sit on and I could not stretch it at all. Running hurt with every step the next day. I basically have rested for the last 2 weeks and looked at this injury as the injury I was meant to have to make sure I had a proper good taper.

 

Yes and like most people in the country I am also getting over that awful cold. I was pretty bad. I did not realise it at the time but my asthma drugs had finished and I was feeling so lethargic that I did not want to move. I was being measured with my talking and movement to prevent coughing fits from coming on. It’s pretty scary when I think about it. If I’m not talking there is a problem. My partner Steve was probably enjoying the peace and quiet. After 2 days of lying down, I decided that it was not sickness but my asthma that was holding me back and took my drugs and seemed to bust through to a massive recovery just before Run Larapinta.

 

I am also nervous about my nutrition plan for the 4 days of running too. I know how to fuel and hydrate for a 10-160km. But they have always been over 1 day. I’ve run Lamington Classic and SCC concrete boot but that is about the end of my stage experience. So I’m keen to see how my refuelling goes post, between and pre racing. I think this will be crucial to how well I perform out on the trail. There is always the danger of over eating too. I just have to listen to my body and trust that it knows what it wants.

Shona Stephenson enjoying the soft technical trails of Run Larapinta

Shona Stephenson enjoying the soft technical trails of Run Larapinta

 

Run Larapinta has 2 stage events. A long course The Malbunka and a short course named the Namatjira

 

I have chosen to run the long course called The Malbunka.

 

Stage 1

5:30pm

 

19km under the beautiful stars of the desert. I have heard there is nothing quite like the carpet of diamond sky that the desert becomes at night. It will be a cruisey first stage. Starting at the Chifley Alice Springs Resort and finishing at The Old Telegraph Station also situated in Alice Springs.

 

 

Stage 2

8:00am

39km  We will start at Simpsons Gap a 25 min shuttle bus from the Chifley Alice Springs Resort, through water holes of Simpsons Gap and up a rugged ridge line of the Chewings Range, through Fig Spring and into the valley of Stanley Chasm.

 

Stage 3

8:00am

30.9km This day will be totally unsupported and I will have to take all my supplies with me for the 30.9km of remote desert running. I think this day will be the most exciting of all of the stages. We will be traveling through ochre pits, gorges lined with cycads. It will then open up into a wide valley with almost alpine like flora as we climb upon onto exposed ridge with views for hundreds of kilometers, down to Ormiston Gorge with views to Mt Sonder.

 

Stage 4

7:30am

45km. This is the make or break stage. The last stage of the event. The longest and I believe we will all the the sorest. I can’t wait to see how my body will be reacting or adapting to this stage event. I’m hoping the amazing energy of the landscape will be pulsating through my muscles and I fly to the finish line pain free…..something to wish for.

On the final day we will be heading to the Summit of Mt Sonder the NT’s 4th tallest mountain reaching the heights to 1380. Lucky we will be starting at 700M! It is san out and back run to bag the  summit and I am really looking forward to the stunning views the higher I go.

We will then head east towards Glen Helen the finish line and our accommodation for the final evening.

We will then aced to the top of Hilltop Lookout for more breath taking views and then roll down the hill on an extremely tough descent on tired sore legs. We will then have to sand run along the edges of the banks of the Finke River to the finish line at Glen Helen.

There race starts tonight, in only a few hours. I’m so excited I can’t wait to get going.

 

Loving the summit of Mt Buffalo the reccy day before the big race.

Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra

by Shona Stephenson on June 16, 2015

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Loving the summit of Mt Buffalo the reccy day before the big race.

Loving the summit of Mt Buffalo the reccy day before the big race.

Buffalo Stampede 75km Skyrunning Oceanic Championships

 

Buffalo Stampede 75km Skyrunning Oceanic Championships was on in the Easter School Holidays in the quaint little town of Bright in the Victorian Alps. (My Kiwi partner was a bit let down after seeing our Australian Alps…..no snow on the peaks….no peaks at all really, eroded granite boulders for peaks instead!)

It was now 6 weeks after the Bubble Back Accident and my body was on the mend. I was not quite sure how it would hold up with all the quad smashing descents of the 5000m plus elevation again and loss of the Buffalo Stampede 75km ultra. The race kind of snuck up on me. I had not decided to enter it until just 1 month before, I was still in rehab mode after all my stacks, twists and falls. Buffalo Stampede 75km was part the Skyrunning Oceanic Series and I am careful not to race more than 1 race a month and not to make the same mistakes as I did in 2013 with 5 DNF’s. The Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra seemed to fit into my race/training schedule nicely. I just had to hope that what ever training I did manage to fit in was enough. As I am now separated from my husband I have to work all my training around the kids. I only have the opportunity to train every 2nd weekend. The kids are in my care every 2nd split week. My family is down in NSW, so I’m kind of up here in QLD on my own just making good of the spare time I have to train.

I kind of looked at the Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra as more of a build training session rather than an event. I had TNF100 which is part of the UTWT 6 weeks afterwards, so I was mindful of not smashing my body too much or to over extend myself at the Buffalo Stampede 75km. I look at the year as a season much like a football season. I try and build and improve with each event as the year goes on.

 

Mt Buffalo boulder hopping with  Inov8 athlete Shona Stephenson

Mt Buffalo boulder hopping with Inov8 athlete Shona Stephenson

Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra

I lined up on the stellar startling line of stacked female runners at the Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra Skyrunning Championships. The best from Australia made the trip to Bright. Beth Cardelli, Gill Fowler, Julie Quinn, and New Zealand’s Jo Johansen, Whitney Dagg, Fiona Hayvice, Kate Mac and South African Runner gun runner Landie Greyling. Mountain Sports, always try and get the best runners going around and support athletes like no other event company I know of in Australia.

The count down started and we were off and running along the river path, past the slides turning right, passing the camp ground, following the creek, chilling out, dropping my ventolin, running back for my ventolin, passed by Whitney, running along chatting to SCC race director Sam Moffatt, continuing up the path, crossing the road, finding the single track and settling into a tempo up the first major climb of the day, Mystic Mountain.

After a few hundred meters, I was boiling hot. I cursed myself thinking I’d totally over dress for the start. I stopped and attempted to pull off my Hammer T-shirt but was unable too because my hair was caught in my Hammer Visor. My hair was so stuck I had to beg for help from a passing bloke to help me untangle my forming dreadlocks from the visor velcro.

While this happened I was past my Beth (giggling her arse off ;) Gill, Julie, Jo, Sarah and another female QLD female runner, plus a whole heap of blokes too including Steve. Oh well, forced recovery up the first climb of the day may come in handy later. I just chilled out and accepted my fate, laughed at my situation and saw it as the trail running gods slowing me down and looking after me.

I pushed on with my poles up the climb and I was now in chase mode. Myself and the QLD chick worked together up the mountain, passing a few blokes together. We pushed on and finally made it to the summit of Mystic Mountain I rolled down the fire trail, passing the QLD chick and a few blokes, turned left and found myself sliding my my butt on the rocky open fire trail in the loose scree. I regained my footing, jumped over a clay mound and began my contrail scree, ski down Mystic Mountain passing, Gill, Julie, Fiona, Jo, my partner Steve and a whole heap of blokes. This section of the course was just thrilling! Crazy fun, totally cool, uncontrolled  much like running down the side of Mt Ngauruhoe in NZ.

I called out ahead and did my best not to disturb rocks above other runners as I fell past them. I giggled and enjoyed the moment and just hoped I did not bust a quad or twist an ankle in the scree debris.

I hit the bottom and cruised along the fire trail in the state forest, turned to the right, enjoyed stretching out my legs through Bakers Gully. Before long I was climbing up to Clear Spot. I chilled out pumped out my tempo but was passed by Gill. I was then joined by Jo and we had a good old chit chat up the mountain while she swore like a trucker at the steepness of the terrain. I suggested that it was a Skyrunning Event and this was what was to be expected.

“Did you think it was going to be flat? This is Skyrunning, we have mountains over here too.” I jokingly informed her while she continued to swear up the exposed granite out crop of a ridge in the state forest. She swears more than me! It was hilarious to listen too. It made the climb so much more fun. We totally caught up like we were long lost friends up this climb together. We’d never really chatted before, by the end of the climb I knew that I’d like to spend more time with Jo. She is one cool chick.

After the chit chat we made it to the top of the never ending Clear Spot climb, ran past the paragliders and took in the sweeping views of the Bright Valley below. I followed the fire trail down the valley enjoying the ride, enjoying the flat ground more at Buckland, stretching my legs, rolling into the check point, quickly picking up my bottle with 500ml and getting the hell out of there. I pushed on up the road and was caught by Jo, then I was caught by my Partner Steve who was flying along. We ran together for about 1km then he was way too strong for me up Keating’s Ridge and I lost sight of him around a corner.

I tucked in to my tempo and just counted, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, 10 over and over and over again until I hit the top and rolled down the hill, doing my best to catch any blokes ahead of me. Steve was long gone. I rolled down the fire trail into Eurobin Creek, dropped off my poles, grabbed my Hammer Nutrition off Connie my support crew and knuckled into the 9km of climbing.

Thanks Connie. A bottle of Heed and some Banana Gels and my spuds

Thanks Connie. A bottle of Heed and some Banana Gels and my spuds. Thanks Connie, Bye

This is where the trail turned from open exposed, jagged fire trail into stunning single trail, I was hurting already, my quads were trashed from the bone jarring descents of the first 15km. I chucked in a 100 walking steps and hoped my jelly legs would recover. I was passed by Julie Quinn, who was in amazing form, and knuckled into the 9km slog of a climb. I walked, then ran my way up to the “Big Walk” and just marvelled at how beautiful this piece of Australian Trail Running was. Fluffy grasses lined the side of the magical single track. I thought about my Dad here. The type of fluffy grass that was framing the trail was his favourite type of grass. I ran along smiling thinking of how much I loved my Dad and how much he sacrificed for me to get me to all those Rep-Netball games and Elite Gymnastic Training Sessions. I would meet him at his clients work and he would drive me to training sessions between courier runs. He always supported me and said that I could do what ever I dreamed of doing in life as long as I worked hard enough for it. Wow. What more could you want from a Dad. So with those fluffy grasses showing me the way up to the summit of Buffalo with total joy and happiness in my heart, I popped out onto the exposed boulders and started to rock hop up the mountain with my mate Jono Worswick close behind.

Jono and I ran along together chatting, he seemed to be suffering a bit and needed some distractions. We had a good old chin wag about our partners and before long we’d made it to the Chalet Check Point. I quickly ran in swapped my bottles over, but totally forgot to get rid of my old bottles, I gave them to the ever so kind Lucy Bartholomew who was standing at the exit of the check point. She was so nice she even re-filled them for my return. Thanks Lucy.

I pushed onwards, feeling bloody amazing, catching blokes suffering with the technical stairs of the Under Ground River Track, through the Haunted Gorge, up a set of bush stairs, where I pointed out Steve, my partner to Jono. I think the bait of my partner was enough to spur Jono onwards and upwards. He pushed ahead of me and caught up with Steve and said a few words to him implying that he was soft and I was going to kick his butt.

Towards the top of the stairs I caught up with Steve and we had a nice chit chat. It was just so lovely to have the opportunity to be able to race with your lover, share the amazing scenery, encourage each other and experience the same adventure which is both of our passions. Our race together at Buffalo Stampede was very different from Up The Buff. I was just so grateful to have  him there, just around the corner, knowing he was just up ahead was just so lovely. We cherished every part of the weekend away together.

Steve was hurting a bit. He stuffed up his race nutrition and was suffering because of it. He’s only been racing for a year so he is still a bit new to ultra racing and is still learning what works best for him. He tucked in behind me and we pushed on together, chatting away, enjoying the encounter.

We soon popped out onto the fire trail, speed past Lake Catani, passing Landie and Beth on the out and back, turned left and hit the single track again. Steve suffered a bit behind me, I turned on my legs for the out and back loop making sure that I made it into the Chalwell Galleries without seeing any more female runners. Steve not understanding what I was doing fell off the back. He wanted me to go on but I told him I was only running fast because of the Loop Section. He started to feel better and we hopped along the breathtaking single trail, dropping down the rock hole, onto climbing spikes, sliding our way between the granite rock walls, hoping out the bottom, following the trail to another set of rocks that needed to be thread like a needle, following the serpentine trail back onto the fire trail, past the Lake Catani Camp Ground, retracing our steps.

I was in such a good mood I “Whooped, Whooped”. I said hello to all the out and back runners that were climbing the stairs that I’d just climbed on my return. I spotted so many of my old Sydney UTA clients out there, it was like running a positive trail reunion.

I climbed the stairs of the Haunted Gorge, ran up the trail and back into the Chalet Check Point where I found all my bottles fully filled and ready to go by the amazing check point volunteers. Within seconds I was off and running again, down the mountain with Steve close behind me. He had fully recovered and was feeling much better. We speed along together, chatting away, enjoying the beauty of the “Big Walk”. Man I loved those fluffy grasses, the boulders, sweeping views of the valley, rocks, mosses, gums. I marvelled how the Gums made a cathedral like structure framing the trail.

We crossed the road and Steve took off but not before he stopped and said goodbye, saying that he needed to go to the bathroom, but really I was running too slow for him. Awwww, too nice. I cruised onwards, nursing my body back into form down the mountains and soon enough I was at the Eurobin Creek Check Point. I spotted Connie, grabbed my poles, swapped my bottles of Heed and gels over and got out of there, steeling myself for the climb up Keatings Ridge.

It sounds weird but this little section was so tough for me. The fire trail climb of only 333m just hurt. I walked and ran my way back into running and after some contemplation of why I was even running anymore, thinking I was too old and too fat. I finally made it to the top of the ridge and was able to roll on down into the Bluckland Valley, out onto the road, up past the farms and up to the check point. I grabbed 500ml of water and continued up the fire trail, chasing down Steve and 2 other blokes I could see 3km ahead of me. I had my target and I wanted to catch up with him before the end. Knowing that if I caught up with him then I probably would not be passed by anyone in the last 15km.

I ran my way up the fire trail, reeling them in. By the time I hit the base of the steep ascent to Clear Spot Steve was only 200m ahead of me. I could see that he was at his limits like most of the other blokes ahead of me, swaying around on the ascent. Out came my poles and I knuckled into the climb, smashing out a tempo that I could maintain until the top of the climb where I started to pass more blokes but could not catch up with Steve.

I pursued him down towards Bakers Gully, attempting to run, managing to fall, slide, trip, slide on my arse down exposed rock faces, catching another bloke, falling, sliding, laughing. Man I was so bloody happy I was flexible in my quads. I can’t count the amount of times I lost balance, being saved by my Inov8 X-Talons griping the rocks, stopping my feet in my tracks, with the force of my body still falling down and my butt smashing into my heals, in a total extension squat position. I was so lucky my quads were that flexible.

By the time I was at the bottom of Bakers Gully, Steve was only 20m ahead. I quickly filled up with coke and ran down the hill further more, stretching my legs and enjoying the freedom in my quads. It was just blissful running on the flat compared to the gully butt slide I’d just performed. I still have marks from where there rocks caught with my butt 2 months later!

At the switch back Steve called out to me asking me if I’d like him to slow down and run it in together. I was worried that if he’d slowed down to run next to me then I’d slow down to and get complacent and lose a place to a female chasing me.

“Stay out ahead. I’ll try and chase you down”. I called out across the stream.

We moved up the Mystic Mountain climb about 20m apart, no matter what I did I could not bridge that 20m gap to him. We past more runners together, struggling on the final ascent of the gruelling 75km. I think Steve could taste blood, towards the top of the climb he took off, chasing down 3 males. I did my best to stay with him but he was long gone. I’d lost sight of him on the final descent of Mystic Mountain. I then decided to cruise on home on jelly, mashed up quads and call it a successful day. My back had held up nicely, my ankle was great, only my quads were brutalised. That’s just conditioning, specific training so I was happy with how I performed. I cruised down the bull dust trail with pain in my quads with every step, popped out onto the bike track, ran along side the creek, past the camp ground turning right, running past the Brew House and across the finish line. 10 hours 45 Something Minutes…I can’t remember. I always forget to turn my watch off at the finish of an event. All I knew was that at the finish line I felt amazing and I was a bit up-set that it was all over. I had such a ball and wished that it was a 100 mile event. It is comparable in difficulty to that of Ultra Trail Mt Fuji in technicality, ascent and descent and steepness, profile. It really was a great 75km training session for me and the perfect lead up to TNF100.

Gear Set Up

Inov8  X-Talons 212

Inov8 Race Elite Ultra Shorts

Inov8 Race Australia Team Singlet (not handy when being chased by Jo Johansen, Whitney Dagg, Fiona Hayvice ;)

Inov8  Race Elite Bra Top

Hammer Visor

Inov8 Ultra Shell

 

Nutrition Set Up

1/2 Scoop of Heed in 500ml of water

1/2 Scoop of Perpetuem in 500ml of water after 3 hours of running

50% Water 50% Gel Banana Hammer Gel in Flask

Spuds 1 small spud every check point

Endurolytes 1-2 caps every 30 minutes depending on my muscular pain.

 

We found our strength together out on the mountain  Bring on the couples category

We found our strength together out on the mountain
Bring on the couples category

 

Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

TNF100 Aus

by Shona Stephenson on June 15, 2015

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Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

TNF100 AUS

 

It was to be my 5th TNF100 Aus in a row. It would be the first TNF100 Aus where I was not going to be asked for a divorce before hand. In 2011, just 2 days before my first ever solo 100km, my ex asked me for a divorce. It was hard enough just trying to run TNF100 Aus, but I also had to deal with a marriage crisis on the sideline too. He continued to ask me for a divorce before every 100km event I ever did. On average I was asked for a divorce 5 times a year for the next 4 years. My running was always an issue for him. The anxiety that went with the constant unknown was insane. No wonder I was always busting out of the gates at the start line! I had so much built up tension to run out.

 

In 2015 I was so pleased that I would be leading into my 5th TNF100 with contentment, calmness, happiness, joy, love for life and grateful that I have the opportunity to use my body in such a joyous way. I was curious to see if I could run TNF100 Aus with happiness the entire way. In 2011 I meet my demons from my childhood and then current relationship out on Kedumba. I wonder if I was mentally strong enough to come back to where it all started and see how much I’d developed mentally.

 

I’ve learnt that mental toughness is not about being a hard arse, it is about controlling the mind to push out all negative thoughts and only allow positive thought processes guide you through life.

 

I was so lucky I was able to get out of an unhealthy relationship, where white ribbons and the 25th of November will always carry great significance to me. I have been able to forgive and love again. There is nothing harder than leaving your husband, no matter what your circumstances. A mother would never separate from her partner unless there is something truly unsalvageable in their relationship. The line had been crossed a week after my Blackall 100 Win in 2014 and I had to leave. I had to leave with my dignity intact, ignore the social pressure of the perfect 4 bedroom house with a pool, 2 dishwashers, double lock up garage, backing onto the creek in a leafy suburb,  to prove to my girls that I was a strong mother and role model for them to respect. They may not have understood at the time but what I was doing was for them. It was for their future and their choice in future partners. They needed to know how a mother and wife was meant to be treated.

 

My body and mind could withstand so much pain. Ultra Trail Running has taught me how to be mentally and physically strong. I learnt that I did not have to put up with it any more.

I was scared as anything when I left.

 

Leaving him opened up a whole new world of happiness and opportunity.

 

With this weighing on my mind I was coming back to where it all started. Unbeknown to my mate Brad, this was my stomping ground and I am one different lady from the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 runner that turned up for TNF Aus races. Brad and I have a healthy rivalry stemming back to 2012 where he beat me on a count back at TNF100 Aus and I smashed is butt at Blackall 100 in 2014. My partner Steve has also beaten me at every distance we’ve race together except for 100km. I let both of these blokes know that this was my training ground and I was coming home to the Blue Mountains in NSW stronger than ever, for the 1.5 point worth Ultra Trail World Tour TNF100 Aus.

 

I lined up on the start line behind Chineese Runner Dong Li, counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were all off and running to the sound of bells ringing.  The party had begun. I bounded out of the start line, jumping ahead of Dong Li and in front position. Whoops! I was even ahead of the blokes. Realising my mistake, I chilled out and waited for the group to catch me, and before long I settled in behind the lovely NZ zen runner Vajin Armstrong. I chilled, rested and watched. Cassandra Scallon from the US ran up next to me. We chatted and she indicated that she was scared of snakes. I let her know that she would probably see one out there. I always manage to see a Red Belly Black Snake at the now 50km point on the 6 Foot Track. It was kind of funny watching her reaction. She pushed onwards and upwards away from me, with Dong Li following her. Both of them were running for Salomon. I wonder if the US and Chinese runners will play it safe with each other or have a battle out there. It could be interesting later. I spotted US Runner Amy Sproston also on the road to the turn around. I cruised along the road with my Partner Steve next to me, chatting and getting into the action together. After the turn around I waved to Brad while Steve sped off ahead. I tried to stay with him, letting him pace me, past the Start/Finish Line, past the crowds and down the Furber Steps.

Here I jumped past Cassandra and Dong Li and Steve, asking the blokes to hurry up or move to the left as I bounded down the steps taking 2-3 at a time, catching my thermal glove on the wire fence railing. Fuck!  There’s something with me and losing something in the first 1km! Buffalo it was my ventolin and getting my hair caught in my visor, UTMF I lost my ventolin, Mt Blanc Marathon I lost a gel flask.

Cursing, staying calm, returning to grab my glove again I worried that if I did not have all my mandatory gear I could be penalised at the end of the event. I retrieved my glove, apologised to everyone who then had to move for me and then politely asked to pass everyone again. I know, embarrassing! How annoying I must have been. Sorry!

I pushed on, passing Cassandra and Dong Li again, suggesting that they could catch me on the next climb. When you have descending strength it is so important that you work with your ability and not get held up in sections like this. I cruised down the cliff cut Furber Steps, using my arms, taking 3-4 steps at a time, sliding down the railing, passing blokes all the way, enjoying the freedom and clean run that I was getting. This is my kind of trail running. Steep, technical, fun, with amazing views.

I hit the bottom of the steps, stretched my legs, past the Scenic Railways, merged to the right, and followed the Federal Pass to the Landslide. I passed through the landslide with ease, with my left quad feeling a bit stuffed. I decided that it was just bloody cold and I just needed to warm up more! Rubbing my left quad hoping that it would stop hurting.

I noticed that the track was a fair bit clearer this time compared to past years. I pushed onwards to the Golden Stairs in which I ran the first set then decided to power walk the next set, then walk and run between sets of stairs. I dragged myself up the side of the cliff face, using the wire fence to pull myself upwards and towards the top of the climb where I was caught by Cassandra. She wanted to chat but I really can’t talk climbing in cold conditions. My asthma is always shocking for TNF100 Aus. I let her past me at the top of the Golden Stairs and re-grouped my emotions on the fire trail. I ran my way up the steep concrete road and wished that the weather would warm up. I was on schedule with my time when I ran into the CP 1. 1 Hour and 5 Minutes for 10.8km.

 

I filled up a bottle with 500ml of Heed and pushed on along Narrow Neck up the steep ridge, past Cris Ord from Trail run magazine  sitting in the bushes on the left, ignoring that I was feeling a bit under attack from the gradient and elements. Narrow Neck always puts on a performance for TNF100 Aus. The views of the Megalong Valley are always spectacular. I ignored the cold I was feeling, asthma I was experiencing, relaxed and enjoyed the ride along the beautiful ridge, deep into the depths of the Blue Mountains National Park.

At Bushwalkers Hill I was caught and was passed within seconds by Amy. At Clear Hill I was caught and passed, with some tick tocking by Dong Li. I turned right and jumped down the single trail, letting the boys know I needed to pass to catch the chicks ahead. I flew down the first ladder, past Dong Li and was totally bummed to find a line up at Tarros Ladders.

“Come on Boys!” I yelled. Bugger. Now ground made on Dong Li before the ladder dissappeared. Shit.I dropped down the first set of metal cargo enclosed ladders 3-4 steps at a time, then did the same with the next set. I popped out onto the track behind a trail of boys. I took to making my own path on the right of the track, passing a group in one hit through Little Cedar Gap while enjoying the single trail running section of this course. On the climb I moved aside, waved the blokes and Dong Li through who wanted to pass, knowing they’d be stronger than me on the climb to the top of Mt Debert. I thought one of them was Steve, my partner. “Hey Babe, is that you? You’ve caught me.” I called out behind me.To my surprise it was some random bloke who replied. “No but if you think I look good now. I look even better after 100km.”

Help! Okay that shut me up! EKE! I felt a bit sick! Help!I regained my composure on the descent and I passed them all again with a few giggles, chit chats, well wishes and cruised into Medlow Gap. I did my usual vomit that I always do at this section and kept running along the fire trail. I rolled my legs over chatting to some of the guys around me. I was starting to warm up, relax and enjoy this race the more and more. I was past again by Dong Li who looked to be an amazing Fire Trail Runner and just started to count out my tempo. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, over and over and over again, up to Bellbird Ridge. I enjoyed the easy kms and beautifully graded surface. At the top of the ridge I spotted Kerry Sutter interviewing for IRUNFAR and I gave a running interview on the way into Dunphy’s Camp – CP2. Time: 2 Hours 57 Minutes.

 

I filled up with 750ml of water and pushed up the climb feeling amazing. I ran all the way up to the base of Iron Pot where I was caught by Brisbane local gun runner Tim Cole. We had a bit of a chit chat as he past me on the climb. I tucked in behind Jordan, an ex Gold Coast runner and pushed onwards and upwards with calves burning to the top. I willed myself to run, run, run, the body obeyed, hopping over the exposed rocky ridge line to the out and back junction, merging to the left and spotting Dong Li and Cassandra Scallon getting their race on during the out and back on Iron Pot Ridge. Wow, lets just see how this ends. I thought as I past the local Aboriginal Land owners playing their Didgeridoo and perfuming a smoke ceremony.

I pushed onwards to the out and back, spotting Amy then was scanned at the turn around. On the return I spotted Brad and then Steve about 300m behind me. I returned to the Aborigional Land Owners. I thanked them as I passed ad pushed on along the rocks, turned left ,Tim, Lachlan and the boys were nice enough to let me jump ahead of them and I was given a clean run down the steep descent into Green Gully. I can’t express how much a learnt about descending from racing Buffalo Stampede. I really did lean a new technique to save my quads on the descents and have them fresh for the climbs. Every descent after Buffalo just seems so much easier.

I pushed up the grassy mound, into the farm land and cruised along feeling great. I crossed the creeks, climbed the steep track with hands on quads, rounding the corner and rolling into the Green Gully Farm, spotting horses and thanking the farmer for letting me race through his land. I ran through the gate and readied myself for the Megalong Valley Road climb.

I pushed on, turning over my legs, checked back making sure there was no one in pursuit. I decided that no one would pass me on this climb. I’d only pass the boys. I ran my way to the top and was happy to pass under the power lines still feeling really fresh. I ran through the two gates and rolled my legs down the hard concrete road passing more guys, then turning left, hoping over the fence with a nice hamstring stretch. I chit chatted to a few of the guys around me. I was on top of the world with happiness, knowing that I was right on schedule. CP3 46km in 4 hours 40 minutes.

 

I quickly found my check point bag, swapped over my water bottles and gel flasks and got out of there, chasing down the guys ahead of me. I used them to pace me. I had to stay with them or catch them along the 6 Foot Track. I did my best to reel them in but could not manage it. My hamstring started to hurt, I told it to release and with the help of Panadol and Endurolytes it relaxed. I ran all the way to the start of the Steps at Nellies Glen and tucked in for the next 800m of stair climbing. I gave myself a rule that I had to take a breath with every step and stay in site of the guys ahead of me.

I also decided that for the first time in 5 years of racing TNF100 I would NOT drink out of the cute little, harmless looking stream at Nellies Glen. Nellies Glen was a kind of safe option for us ‘out of water’ trail runners whilst training on the 6 Foot Track. It has saved my butt many times in summer. Not anymore though. My trust in the cleanliness of the Katoomba residences came un-plugged last year when racing TNF100. I spent the last 20km of the 2014 TNF100 walking. If I ran I needed to go, if I drank water I needed to go, if I ate anything at all, I needed to go. It was the most humbling experience for the last 3 km of TNF100. There is really no where to hide. I did my best to camouflage myself in the bushes, doing my best to stay out of sight, out of ear shot and off the track. It’s pretty hard with all the reflective gear we have on with our Ay-Ups, packs and clothing. I was found by the most lovely 50km motherly back marker who, unlike me was prepared with toilet paper. She patted me on the shoulder, saying “ You poor thing”. As I squat in the bushes every few hundred meters to the finish line. I was lucky enough to run into 9th place. I lost 2 places in the last 20km. 3 Weeks after TNF100 I was still sick and I finally was diagnosed with a water born bacteria infection in my gut. I have since then learnt to be extremely vigilant with all water from creeks and tanks.

I past through Nellies Glen not drinking a drop, but gave thanks for the opportunity to run through the gorge still feeling fresh and on target. I pushed up the chasm, hands on quads, blowing hard, staying focused and in rhythm. I reached the top just behind the bloke I was chasing and was able to pass him on the stairs descending towards the Katoomba Aquatic Centre while catching the view of Mt Solitary. The track was in amazing condition. I’ve never seen it so clean and perfectly swept. It was much like running on the Japanese Trails. I passed another bloke and caught up with a Japanese runner and was soon caught by an old UTA client, Dave Graham. His quads and hamstrings were like tree trunks. He looked amazing! We pushed on as a group of three, Dave, myself and the Japanese runner, chit chatting, feeling strong and enjoying the race together. After a few turns we rolled into CP4 at 57km in 6 Hours 4 minutes.

 

I quickly swapped over my bottles, gel flasks and was out running again. The amount of happiness that I was feeling was just so amazing. I cruised past my mate Renae and let her know I was feeling great. I pushed up the climb, turning right, running through the Katoomba Falls Reserve, following the tape and enjoying the moment. I was loving life! Loving Trail Running. Loving Racing. I ran past Katoomba Oval, crossed the road and cruised along the Cliff Walk calling out to tourists to warn them of my presence. “Hi, How are you!”. I yelled out ahead of me. “Hello, how are you”. I find is the best, most polite and least offending way to ask tourists to move. I sped along the footpath, climbing up to the top of the 3 Sisters Lookout, turning left, throwing my rubbish out at the bins provided, climbing the stairs, calling again and again, “Hello”.

Hi Leigh! Bye Leigh!

Hi Leigh! Bye Leigh!

With fresh legs and a clean run I pushed on up the footpath, turning right and following the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to the Leura Cascades. Okay, I think I must have been scarred by stairs because later that night when I went to bed all I could see was stairs coming at me when I closed my eyes. The next 20km is just dropping 10 steps, climbing 10 steps, running 10 steps, dropping 50 steps, climbing 50 steps, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. I think I blocked out the amount of stairs I was climbing at the time. It was not important to me. I was in such a positive place mentally when I spotted my cousin Leigh sitting in the bushes above the track. He called out to me and I was so pleased to see him for all of 5 seconds as I ran past him at the 63km mark. What a cool boost! He’d come all the way from Camperdown to see me for 5 seconds, then leave to head back to Sydney for work!

I pushed on. I took in the magnificent cliff walk views and enjoyed chatting to Dave who caught up with me after the check point. We absorbed the beauty of the Leura Cascades and Gordon Falls. This was just a beautiful part of the world and I was so happy to be back. I let Dave go on ahead of me, he seemed to be way to strong. I was starting to struggle with my breathing more and more. My body felt great, my lungs were starting to show signs of inflammation in my trachea from the cold dry air of the Blue Mountains.

I filled up with water at the 66km check point and ran on down more stairs to the aqua Pool of Siloam, marvelling at how pristine it looked. I thought of how lovely a swim would be there on a hot Summers Day. I climbed more stairs up to the Golf Links Lookout and onto the Grand Cliff Top Track, up more stairs and onto the road. I was loving life, loving my new life. I thought about my friends, family and how lucky I was to have my health and close mates surrounding me with support, love and kindness. I gave thanks for how lucky I was. Gave thanks for how happy I was.

I compared how great I was feeling this year compared to last year and spotted a bloke to reel in ahead. I crossed the road, ran behind the Fairmont Resort, passing the Gold Course, descending more stairs and to my surprise I caught Cassandra. She was walking and was not well. I really felt empathy for her. That was me in 2014 and I know what a hard way to finish an event it is watching competitors race by feeling fresh when you are sick as anything. I wished her all the best and let her know it happens to everyone at sometime. She did well to stay in the race and finish in 8th place. There is something about racing for UTWT points.

Shona Stephenson running down Kings Tableland letting the TNF100 team know that Cassandra was not feeling too good.

Shona Stephenson running down Kings Tableland letting the TNF100 team know that Cassandra was not feeling too good.

I pushed on, passing more runners, catching now 50km runners, still calling out ahead to the tourists on my way to Lilian’s Bridge, climbing the stairs, running past Conservation Hut, descending more stairs to the Express Falls, climbing more stairs to the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area, running through the car park, descending more stairs, now floating over the stairs with perpetual forward motion down to Wentworth Falls, crossing the falls, avoiding the tourists, climbing more stairs, up, up, up along a single track, out onto a fire trail and started the 3km cruise mode, letting Jo Brischetto from TNF100 know that Cassandra was not well as I past the gate and powered up the hill, turning right and spotting my next guy to run down. I found one of the Japanese runners who I’d been chatting to earlier cramping and I offered him some Endurolytes. He seemed to have it covered. We ran on together, chatting and I let him know where the top of the climb was, under the communication tower. We passed the Tower and rolled down Kings Tableland Rd enjoying easy kms and cruised into CP 5 at 78km with a time of 8 Hours 48 Minutes.

 

I was met at the check point by Renae, my Sydney trail running buddy. I swapped water bottles, gel flasks, grabbed my AY-UP and stuffed it in the pocket of my Inov8 Elite Vest and got out of there with the knowledge that Amy was only 9 minutes ahead of me. This was enough for me to push hard down Kedumba, passing another Japanese runner while well wishing the 50km runners and loving the chance to stretch my legs and enjoy the free kms.

At the bottom I’d caught up with a runner I’d been following at about the 30km mark. I decided that I had to keep him in my sight. I did my best to run but the steepness of Sublime Ridge was too great for me. My lungs were feeling pretty stuffed now. I decided to play it safe and just do enough to cement my 3rd place. Every year after TNF100 I end up with a chronic chest infection. As it was, I knew I’d be sick but I might get away without needing antibiotics. I ran and walked, managing my breathing, looking after myself, keeping that runner in sight. I climbed and descended in and out of Sublime Ridge over Leura Creek into the water stop, grabbing 500ml of water and staying ever mindful that I will be hunted down if I was not careful. On the climb out of the drinks stop I was caught by a guy flying along. I used him as a warning of what could come my way from a female runner and I decided that it was my turn to start pushing again. I ran to Leura creek and decided to put on my Ay-Up. I ran and walked hands on quads up to the federal pass, crossing the bridge and entering the Leura Forest.

I ran along the Federal pass in bliss, cheering on all the 50km runners while letting them know that they were awesome and they were almost there. The party had begun at the start line and I was partying all the way to the finish. I pointed out the lights of Scenic World and started to reel it in. I kept telling myself that it was the last Hammer Banana Gel I was going to need to have when I secretly knew I was going to need more. Willing myself on to the finish line thinking what an amazing time I was having. I finally made it to the base of the stairs and began the 900m of ascending, first running, then pushing my hands into my quads, while being warned like every other year of TNF100 that there was a female runner about 5 minutes behind me. I dug deeper and dragged myself up the with fence of cliff cut stairs with my hands using my arms, relieving my legs of the task. Blowing out as much air as I could, dragging, pulling, pushing, crawling my way to the top, passing 50km runners and doing my best to stay in 3rd place, ignoring the lactic burning my quads and calves. Digging into my lungs one last time.

Whoop Whoop! My 3rd, 3rd! In TNF100 Aus

Whoop Whoop! My 3rd, 3rd! In TNF100 Aus

I finally turned left, ran up a few more steps onto the wooden decking, curving to the right and raced into the finishers shoot. I ran across the line and finished in 11 hours 47 minutes, almost an hour PB since 2014. I was ecstatic with my run and so happy to do well at TNF100 and receive my 5th Silver Buckle and earning an entry into the Hall of Fame with a podium position for the 3rd Time in 5 Years.

2011 6th Place (My first solo 100k)

2012 3rd Place

2013 3rd Place

2014 9th Place (Lucky to stay in the top 10)

2015 3rd Place

5 from 5! 5 Top 10 Finishes from 5 Attempts. Whoop, Whoop! I was stoked!

5 Top 10 Placings from 5 Attempts! I was stoked!

5 Top 10 Placings from 5 Attempts! I was stoked!

My Gear Set Up

Inov-8 X-Talon 200 

Inov-8 Calf Guards

Inov-8 Race Elite Ultra Shorts

Inov-8 Team Singlet

Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

Inov-8 Race Ultra 1

Inov-8 Race Glove

Inov-8 Arm Warmers

Inov-8 Base Elite Merino LS

Thermal Pants

Inov-8 Race Elite 140 Stromshell

Ay-Up Run Kit

Nutrition Set Up for TNF100 Aus

2 Banana Gels before the start.

Hammer Heed 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of water.

Hammer Bar 1/3 every check point

Hammer Endurolytes 1-2 every 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Up The Buff Podium. It's like winning a trip to NZ bought out a few elites to the event.

Up The Buff

by Shona Stephenson on June 12, 2015

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Whoop Whoop! I've won a trip to Queenstown to race the Moonlight Shot Over Marathon

Whoop Whoop! I’ve won a trip to Queenstown to race the Moonlight Shot Over Marathon

Up The Buff SEQ Trail Running Festival.

 

Up The Buff SEQ Trail Running Festival Event of 25km just had way too much on offer to miss it. A trip to Queenstown Moonlight Shot Over Marathon was the winning prize for BOTH male and female! If I win I could have a chance to head back to NZ for another trail running adventure in Wanaka and Queenstown in the South Island of NZ. A trip to beautiful Queenstown was enough motivation for me to get up and racing again. Up The Buff is the South East Queensland Trail Running Champs (SEQ Trail Running Championships) and the crew from “Those Guys” Events was putting on an entire weekend of trail running with 25k, 16k Trail, 6k Road and the 1k Charity Fun Runs.

 

My back was still stuffed from the Bubble Accident. My ankle was still injured from the Mt Ngauruhoe  sprain. I’d twisted it 4 times in 2 days in the week leading up to Up The Buff. I had to tape it up just to work as a PT. My ankle was about as lose as it can get. It was flipping out just walking around in my daily life. The entire right side of my body was in shut down mode, repairing my bruised pelvis. I swear you can train your body to repair and heal and my finely tuned repair mode was in action. My core was still a bit suspect from the Tarawera stack, my abs still weak, so I kept my taping going, which seemed to work for me on my NZ Holiday. I was not in very good shape at all, but I did not care. Sometimes enough is good enough. My brain was literally telling my body to heal. I was so stuffed but believed my mind was stronger.

I like to race myself back into form. It’s a long season and I never put too much pressure on myself to be at peak fitness at the start of the season. Just like a good football team there is no point smashing it out and being the leading team after just 3 games. The season is long and I still want to be running in November.

 

My partner Steve and I headed out to the course the week after our NZ holiday for a reccy along the quarantine fence at the Eco-Village. After the training run we both decided that this event would suit us both with enough ascent, descent, technical trails and a beautiful 4km descent to the finish line.

 

Up The Buff

 

After sticking together my dodgy ankles, abs, I warmed up listening to the race briefing and I was ready to race. I was prepared to hurt like hell to win a trip to NZ. The count down went off and I was off and running along the streets of the Eco-Village. Snaking up the tarmac, up the climb, onto the ridge, running without a lactic burn and feeling comfortable. I cruised along, allowing my body to tell me how fast I could run. I had not managed much training since NZ. I was too injured. I did not even know how long the race was before the start line. 20 or 25km? It did not seem to make a difference to me. The distance I had covered, I just did not know if I was going to be fast enough without doing any speed work for about 6 weeks. I watched Steve fly off up and down the ridge, along the road and off into the distance. He too wanted a free trip to his homeland.

Close to the top of the ridge I was caught by a local female runner. She soon past me. I tucked in behind her, watched her, listened to her and decided that I could take her on. I pushed ahead of her up the climb, turning left, running down the hill, past the houses, through the gate and into the first check point. I turned another left and hit the quarantine service trail between the road and the private farm property. I powered up the grassy trail, onto the ruggered clay track, descending at pace, nursing my right glute and hamstring all the way.

I pushed on, up the widening track, climbing a steep wide fire trail, rolling down the other side and cruising into the check point. Here I found Steve waiting for me. My honey asked me if he could pace me or if he could help in any way. I know pacing and mulling in an event like this would be illegal and I felt a bit uncomfortable with him offering it to me. I’ve never used a pacer, not even for my 100M events so it seemed a bit silly to have one for 25km. In UTMF and UTMB it is illegal to use one so I’ve never needed one. I think Steve just wanted to keep me company but I think he would be more of a hindrance than help. I’m used to racing and training on my own. So I suggested that he just get behind me, as you could imagine…out of sight out of mind. It’s hard racing with your loved one who is so evenly matched.

After a few hundred meters I spotted 2nd and 3rd females behind me and decided that I had to gun it to secure my place. I pushed on, driving with my hamstrings, moving ahead of some blokes and working as hard as I could.

Man I worked it for that trip back to New Zealand!

Man I worked it for that trip back to New Zealand!

After a few kilometers Steve past me and pushed on into the distance. I continued to cruise along. Managing, managing, passing a few more blokes up the steepest sections and ran in into the first Check Point on the return. Here I spotted Steve waiting for me again.

“I’m stuffed. I had a bad feeling about this race!” Was what Steve had to offer.

“You’ll be right, just don’t push so hard”. I encouraged back.

“My legs are stuffed.” He replied.

“Stop being so negative, harden up and fix your attitude.” I replied to my partner who was now starting to make me feel down. “You’re fine, you can still talk running up a hill”.

I was pushing as hard as I could, I felt fine but he was still faster than me. Him saying how stuffed he was made me feel like I was doing shit, when I knew I was really doing well. It’s amazing what words you hear can do to your mood. It is related to every aspect of your life. I was at my limits too, I did not have enough brain capacity to help him out too when I was racing for a trip to NZ.

“That’s another negative word”. I said. “You’re still able to talk running up the hill. There is nothing wrong with you mother fucker!”. Whoops! It was out! I can’t take it back. Shit! Control was lost. Fuck! Whoops I felt terrible.

Steve now had the shits too and he forgot about how stuffed he felt and decided to show me who was boss and rocketed up Strawberry Hill like a rabbit. It was pretty funny, a trail runners lovers tiff, on the run up Strawberry Hill. Goodness knows what the poor unsuspecting runner close to us was thinking with the two of us running up the hill having a minor quarrel about mental toughness and attitude up the biggest climb of the event.

I reached the top about 100m behind Steve, I then lost him on the next descent and cruised along with a smile on my face, happy that Steve had found his legs. I past Ben Duffas who was feeling sick from gastro that week and then spotted Steve on the out and back CP Turn around. Funny, this time he did not wait for me.

“Babe, I love you, sorry I swore at you. I’m so sorry”. I apologised as he ran past me on the return.

“I love you too babe”. He called back as we high fived each other.

Again, goodness knows what the poor runner sandwiched between us was thinking. I pushed on with renewed love in my heart and past the bloke in between Steve and myself, doing my best to catch Steve. I ran the whole way up the steepest trail of the day and gunned it down Strawberry Hill back to the check point where I spotted Steve out on the road cruising to the finish line. Steve had a point to prove.

I turned left again, powered onto the road as I did my best to catch Steve, but he was gone skis. I chatted to all the shorter distance runners along the rolling ridge, turned left again and rolled down the hill, quickly breaking, before almost missing the turn and falling over the crash barrier.  Recovering my feet and speeding down the hill, passing more runners, crossing the bridge, running through the round about and racing into the finish line breaking the women’s record for the 25km distance with 2 Hours 24 Minutes and 10 Seconds. Steve beat me by 2 minutes with 2 Hours 22 Minutes and 51 seconds. I had won a trip to Moonlight Shot Over Marathon in Queenstown, NZ.

I was also  crowned Buff Chick and was given a cape to wear for next few hours until presentations.

Race Kit

Inov-8 X Talon 212

Inov-8 Race Elite Ultra Short

Inov-8 Race Elite Bra

Inov-8 Race Ultra Belt

Nutrition

Hammer Heed 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of water

Hammer Banana Gel 50/50 Water Gel

Hammer Endurolytes

 

Shona Stephenson descending the saddle of the  Red Crater.

Trail Love Tongariro

by Shona Stephenson on June 11, 2015

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Trail Love TongariroShona Stephenson descending the saddle of the  Red Crater.

Shona Stephenson descending the saddle of the Red Crater.

Trail Love Tongariro- My Tongariro Holiday Training Blog

 

6 Days after racing Tarawera Ultra 2015 I found 2 ticks on my neck and wondered why I was feeling so tired and lethargic…..racing Tarawera Ultra 100km or being poisoned? The poison that having 2 ticks on me for about 3 days did to my body totally wiped me out. Ahhhhhh more joys of living in QLD. Snakes, green ants, ticks, mosquitos, leeches…..

 

10 days after racing Tarawera Ultra I was out training a Outdoor PT Brisbane and Ultra Training Australia Client, Jess Schluter. Running with our Kelpies on Mt Coo-tha, my Black Kelpie “Bubble”, who has been clocked at 45km an hour whilst chasing cars in The Gap, took my feet out from underneath me. It was like getting hit by a car. Bubble ran underneath my feet, my feet flew up into the air above my shoulders and I landed smack, flat on my back on hard clay. I landed so forcefully that I winded myself and embedded stones into my butt through my Inov8 Race Pants.

The look of horror on Jess’ face told me that my fall was pretty bad and I probably wouldn’t be running for a while. It’s usually 2-6 weeks for a bone/impact injury. She was worried I had a spinal injury. I was with the right client, Jess is an emergency nurse and gave me the check over, making sure I did not have a spinal injury or broken pelvis. I got up and could barely hold my own body weight on my legs. The pain across the back of my pelvis was insane. I tried to run but my legs just would not work. Sharp, stabbing pain shot into my pelvis, lower back  -  so scary. All I could think about was my NZ Tongariro holiday that I had coming up in only 4 days.

 

I sent Jess off with her Kelpie, Siddy, to do her 5 reps of Cockatoo track as part of her 6 Foot Track UTA Program and I hobbled back to the car and called my physio Paul at Bodyleadership for some help. I drove home, iced my butt/pelvis which made my legs give way. I had bruised the bone……I had been waiting to travel to Mt Ruapehu (AKA Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings), run around the Tongaririo Northern Circuit for about 16 years. I was not going to miss the chance of this trail running experience and much needed RNR. I did not care how injured I was.

 

I iced my pelvis, took a few pain killers and was back out training The Gap State School Kids and by lunchtime I was up and running in 60 sec intervals with Outdoor PT Brisbane Clients. I could not believe that I could go from crippled to be running small intervals of 60 secs. As long as I ran on my toes and lifted my legs instead of pushing, I was pain free. By the afternoon I was running 1-2km at a time. I could run without pelvis pain as long as I held perfect form. Man, I was so happy I had a strong butt. My glutes took the impact of the fall. The pain was intense at the start of each session  but I became more free with my action the warmer my muscles became instead of doing more damage. The Tongariro trip was looking more promising. By the end of the week I was running more freely. I hit my core and stretched out my back. I worked my glutes with strength exercises. They were my armour and were going to protect my pelvis while it healed for the next 2-6 weeks. I then was into epsom salt baths and foam rolled, self massaged, reversed crunched my way back to running again. Bodyleadership Physio also helped me a lot with massage and Ultra Sound. I was still in pain but man I’d come a long way from that Tuesday, when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to run for 2-6 weeks. I hopped on the plane knowing that I would be able to run, it was just a matter of how far and whether I could back up for 5 days.

 

Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge was where I was lucky enough to stay at 1600m right on Mt Ruaphu

Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge was where I was lucky enough to stay at 1600m right on Mt Ruaphu

Trail Love Tongariro
After Arriving at the Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge at 1600m elevation at 10pm at night, Steve my partner discovered that the key to enter the Lodge had not been left for us, so had to bunk in the storm shelter of the Lodge. It was pretty chilly…….. but we had our trail kit on us, red wine, chocolate, air mattress and sleeping bags, so we were happy to snuggle into the surroundings and enjoy the rugged experience.

 

Day 1 Easy Taranaki Falls Walking Track 6km

We grabbed the keys for the lodge and drove down the mountain to the Whakapapa Village and ran the easy 6km loop of the Taranaki Falls Walking Track which left from the Grand Chateau, dropping into the soft track of the beech forest and climbed slowly up to the top of the rocky Taranaki Falls, following a gravel trail across the top of the ridge which is part of the Northern Circuit Great Walk Track, which then descended back to The Grand Chateau.

I used this Easy Scenic Trail Circuit to warm up, flush out my flight legs and increase my range of motion in my hips, glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Each session I did I seemed to get better rather than worse and range of motion improved, so I was happy to try for the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp 44km the following day, only 1 week after injuring my pelvis.

That night I hit the sauna, foam rolled and stretched and engaged my core again.

Ay-Ups on, Inov8 Kit, Hammer Nutrition Ready packed for the 44km Tongariro Northern Circ

Ay-Ups on, Inov8 Kit, Hammer Nutrition Ready packed for the 44km Tongariro Northern Circ

 

Day 2 Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp 44km

We woke up at 4am, ate our oats with coconut milk, cacao, drank coffee, drove down Mt Ruapehu and into Whakapapa Village and parked at the track head of the World Heritage Listed Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp.

This circuit is so special that it is part of New Zealands Great Walks and attracts a crowd to experience the active Volcano Mt Ngauruhoe, South Crater, Red Crater, Central Crater, Emerald Lakes and views to the Blue Lake. The Alpine Crossing links up with part of the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp  and much like Uluru in Australia, is a sacred place with its beauty and draws a crowd of over 10 thousand travellers from all over the world some days.

To beat the crowds we started with Ay-Up head torches at about 5:45am. We decided it was the best idea to start early under lights and avoid the bus tours bringing in walkers to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which follows the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp for a few kilometers.

Steve was pretty keen to have a crack at the Fastest Known Time (FKT) which was about 5 and 1/2 hours. I was not sure where my mind was. I was still pretty sore, tight from my “Bubble Fall” only 1 week before. We were in two minds about how to attack the day. Go for the time or just enjoy it and take the pics and make the most of the scenery as it happens. I’m not sure if both Steve and I totally decided how to handle the day. Steve had completed the circuit before in about 8 hours with an ITB injury, so he’s done it slow and seen the sights. Me on the other hand, coming from Australia, I was totally blown away with the scenery. We left the Taranaki Falls track, crossed the bridge, following the single track through the beech forest, then popping out onto the alpine marsh land with sweeping views of the valley between Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, rolling along the track, dropping down to cross creeks, climbing back up on the the plane, stopping to take pics and enjoy the scenery. I was slow. I was so tight in my glutes and hamstrings, it was taking me some time to warm up. It was also a bit of a shock to my system after coming from Queensland 32 degree day every day to now 5 degrees. My asthma was shit to to say the least.

Wow! What a morning. The best conditions for mountain running the Tongariro Northern Circ

Wow! What a morning. The best conditions for mountain running the Tongariro Northern Circ

The cold dry conditions was sending my lungs into a spasm. I was freezing in my legs too. I let Steve lead and I just did my best to stick with him. Before long the track widened and we hit the fork in the track where the Tongariro Alpine Crossing connects with the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp. Even at 6:30am, just after sunrise there were a few Trampers spread out on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We continued up the valley, following the mountain stream that was nestled at the foot of Pukekaikiore 1692M, Mt Ngauruhoe 2287 and Mt Tongariro 1967M above sea level. The trail narrowed and started the snake it’s way up towards the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, becoming stairs named the Devils Staircase.

We ran and walked up the stairs. I was again slow. I felt like I was under attack from the elements. It was freezing to me and I was having problems catching my breath. I was in a total panic stations with my asthma and the cold dry air just freaked my lungs out. The wind was sweeping though this valley and taking my O2 with it. I put on more clothes and pumped in some ventolin and hoped that the weather would warm up soon enough.

What an amazing place! Surrounded in mountains with Crater Lakes nestled in the distance.

What an amazing place! Surrounded in mountains with Crater Lakes nestled in the distance.

I soon made it to the top of the saddle and was astounded to see the big wide, flat expanse of the South Crater that sat at between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. We cruised along the South Crater then climbed up the stairs and single track onto the Red Crater that is active with smouldering steam and sulphur fumes. There were breath taking views down the ridge to the east. Wow! This place was just so remarkable. I’ve never experienced so many spectacular formations in one kilometre of trail running. Mt Ngauruhoe is a perfect conical Volcano, The South Crater is unique, and a contrast in texture and shape to the mountain ranges that it sits between. The Emerald Lakes are an incredible milky green, The Red Crater is like what I can imagine Mars would be like. We stopped and took in the views of Mt Tongariro, North Crater, Central Crater and Blue Lake. Out came the camera. I totally forgot we were pushing for time and Steve and I happily snapped and appreciated our partnership together. Our life is so easy together. We share the same ethos, work ethic, positive outlook on life and how we are in control of our own destiny. There are so many possibilities in life and I finally have made it to this region of the world and I have Steve to thank for bringing me here.

We cruised down the Red Crater and stopped 1/2 way down to take more pics and just enjoyed the stunning views. This is some of the best scenery I’ve every seen. Every step I was filled with excitement. I was blow away by the all engaging scope of this place. No wonder the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has over 10 thousand people walking this section of the track at times.

We cruised past the Emerald Lakes, descended the rocky, volcanic, space like single track, jumped a few streams and ran to Oturere Hut, filled up with water and pushed on.

Steve was keen for the FKT. I was not in any shape to do it. I was in a fair amount of pain. I did not let him know that I was hurting. He offered many times to run next to me but I much preferred that he ran out about 20m-100m  ahead, pacing me and giving me something to focus on. I could not talk, if I did talk to him it mean that I was going to have to slow down. My asthma was crap, I still felt like my whole body was under attack. I was tight in my leg muscles and tight in my chest.

We pushed on through the Mars like landscape, climbed up a ridge and entered the Beech forest again, before descending into Waihohonu Hut. I decided not to fill up water here. Thinking we’d made it most of the way around the mountain now and we should not have much further to go. The Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk is well sign posted but the signs only have the estimated time it will take to walk between each section, not the amount of kilometers which threw off our calculations a bit on how much further we had to go over the last section of the 44km Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk.

The track widened and we swung around the south side of Mt Ngauruhoe in to what is known as the savannah. Steve kept checking up on me, waiting for me, looking after me. I asked him to pace from ahead of me, knowing that we were close to making the FKT for the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk.

We hopped in and out of steams, we decided to use one to fill up as we’d miscalculated the distance form Waihohonu Hut and were both out of water and thinking that we were still about 1 hour from the finish. We past the dried Lake Lower Tama and started the climb up the Tama Lakes Walking Track, along the stony trail and stairs onto the plateau where we met the Taranaki Falls Walking Track. Here Steve decided that he’d try and go for the FKT. I was way to sore to try and chase him. I was tight all through my right leg and just doing what I needed to do to get back as close to the FKT of the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk as possible.

I cruised along the track, trying to go as fast as my injury would allow, dropping into the beech forest, crossing creeks, climbing up some stairs and back out onto the gravel path and descending into the car park where we’d left the car.

I knew I’d missed the FKT by a few minutes. I was hoping Steve got it though. He sadly informed me that he’d missed it by about 90 seconds. I felt pretty bad, because we took a fair amount of photos along the way and if Steve was on his own he would have been so much faster that waiting for injured old me. I guess we will have to come back again to go for the record. I finished and I pissed blood again…….my core was still weakened. Time to hit some exercises and I decided to tape my abs up for any more running that I will do on the holiday.

Mt Ruapehu Snow Covered Summit

Mt Ruapehu Snow Covered Summit

 

Day 3 Mt Ruapehu Summit 2751m

Mountains are dangerous places, storms can roll in from any direction and at this elevation we could have snow at any time of the year.  On the Wednesday morning after eating Cacao Oats with coconut milk and drinking a coffee, Steve and I looked up at the Summit of Mt Ruapehu and saw that it was a beautiful clear day and decided to go for the Summit then and there.

We grabbed Hammer gels, hydration drinks, endurolytes, bars and headed out from the Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge at 1600m and straight up the snowless ski fields under the Rock Garden Chair Lifts. With Steve guiding me through all his old favourite ski runs, the Waterfall Express, Waterfall T-Bar and Knoll Ridge T-bar. We picked out a bit of a track following the white posts, then it was Steve’s navigation through the snow fields up over the Whakapapa Glacier between the Dome shelter 2672m and Paretetaitonga 2751m.

We explored the Summit Plateau, had a picnic and caught glimpses of the etherial Crater Lake. through clouds below us. Recent eruptions have lead to a weakened rim on the Crater Lake, which sometimes releases lahars with masses of water and volcanic debris into the valley below leading to flooding. It was kind of scary standing on the top of an active volcano. So wild, untamed and thrilling.

We checked out the Dome shelter, chatted to other tourists about how amazing this volcano summit was with the glimpses of the Crater Lake between the clouds.

Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake was a real treat to discover.

Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake was a real treat to discover.

Our bellies decided that they wanted more food so we followed the ridge line back down to the Glacier, running, sliding, gliding, bum sliding on the snow down towards food. When the snow ran out we walked down the rocky summer ski fields and decided to grab a coffee at the stunning Knoll Ridge Cafe.

After a coffee we hit the trails again and descended back to the lodge.

 

Day 4 Mt Ngauruhoe 2287M and Mt Tongariro Summit 1967M

We woke again at 5am to drive to the Mangatepopo Car Park again and the start of the Alpine Crossing. We thought we were in luck seeing the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe that we were about to climb was clear. So we pushed on to the base of the mountain after retracing the same track of the Tongariro Northern Cuircuit, up the Devils Stair Case, through the South Crater and following the poles to the summit trail of Mt Ngauruhoe.

Mt Ngauruhoe clear sunrise.

Mt Ngauruhoe clear sunrise.

The climb to the summit scared the pants off me. It was steep, slippery scree and I put absolute trust in Steve to show me the right path along the rocky ridge line to the top without falling backwards down the volcanic cone shaped mountain. I was on all fours, rock scrambling, digging into the scree, not daring to look down because it was not helpful as the slope was intense. I was freaking out, hoping my quads and glutes would hold true and prevent me from falling.

About 100m from the summit, clouds blew in and we were in a total white out, unable to see the summit. I followed Steve who had climbed the mountain before to the summit. We ate some food, took some snaps and enjoyed the foggy volcanic scenery, a bit bummed that we’d missed the clear skies by about 30 minutes. Ahhhhh, well just have to come back.

Ahhhhhh! Well have to come back next year earlier! to bag  a clear summit of Mt Ngauruhoe

Ahhhhhh! Well have to come back next year earlier! to bag a clear summit of Mt Ngauruhoe

We started to freeze, with this we decided to head back to the warmth of the South Crater. We picked out the track, not following the ridge line that we ascended hoping that we could run down the scree. Finding that the scree was not safe to run on in the white out we were then forced to return to the rocky ridge for navigation and safety for a few hundred meters before switching back to the scree run.

Running down the scree from 2000M down to around 1600M was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. I had to put absolute trust in my Inov8 X-Talons 212s to get me down that mountain safely. Bounding, sliding, jumping, bum sliding. I caught a rock hidden in the scree and totally right angled my dodgy right ankle. I heard a crack. Lucky my ankles were taped. I continued on and cruised down to the base of the scree and waited for Steve to catchup. My back injury was feeling so much better with foam rolling, saunas and massage. I think Steve’s ankle was starting to give him grief on the soft, steep, scree descent of Mt Ngauruhoe.

We regrouped at the bottom and Steve decided to rest his ankle and not to run to the Summit of Mt Tongariro. I was a bit upset that he was not going to join me. I decided to push on. I knew I was not going to miss the opportunity to bag another summit and I was so close to Mt Tongariro I had to push on and make the most of the trail running location.

I cruised along the crater, up the Red Crater Nearing the top I heard Steve’s voice calling out to me. He decided to run on and share the experience with me. His ankle hurt on the flats and on the descents but he could climb just fine. We pushed on together along the ridge line between South Crater and Central Crater, dodging walkers towards the foggy summit of Mt Tongariro rock hopping along to the peak.

After a few snaps we rock hopped, then rolled along the scree trail over a few rocks, again dodging walkers and descending back to the Red Crater and rolling back down to the South Crater. Here we regrouped after being separated in a school group and rolled along the flat expanse together, following the stream of walkers to the Devils Stair case and flying down the stairs, along the creek and back to the car. We then hit the Turangi Hot Pools for a stretch and recovery session.

 

 

Day 5 Rest Day and Travel to the Coromandels Via Taupo Burger Fuel for some Kumura Fries.

We stopped off at Rotopounamu Walking Track for a easy 6km walk around the pretty lake in the beech forest on our way to Steve’s sister Janice’s Beach bach at Koautunu.

 

Day 6 Fishing, Wake Boarding, Swimming, Eating, Drinking.

We awoke early and hooked up the boat to the tractor for a beach launch and headed out towards Great Mercury Island for fishing. I did not mange to catch any fish in the mouth, however I somehow caught them by stabbing them in the eye, gills, stomach. Antwhere, you name it! I manage to catch them in the most distressing way for both the fish and myself and I was not feeling proud of my method. I’m such a novice. We then did some wake boarding until we were sore and the sea waved up to big for us to ride before heading back for wine and lunch.

 

 

Day 7 Sea Kayak to the cafe from the batch return. Drive back to Auckland and Fly back to New Zealand.

On the final day of my trip to New Zealand we paddled Janice’s kayaks along the beach to Koautunu beach cafe for a couple coffees. After a warming shower, we took off to Auckland Airport and back to the warmth of Queensland.

My Mountain Running Kit

Inov-8 X-Talons 212

Inov8 Elite Calf Guards

Inov-8 Race Elite Race Shell

Inov-8 Race Elite Ultra Short

Inov-8 Singlet

Inov-8 Base Elite Long Sleeve Merino

Inov-8 Race Glove

Inov-8 Arm Warmers

Hammer Visor.

Nutrition for the Training Holiday

Hammer Perpetuem Coffee 1/2 scoop in 500ml of Water

Hammer Heed Mandarin 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of Water

50% Water 50% Hammer Banana Gel in Hammer Flasks

Endurolytes every 30min of exercise.

Daily Nutrition Program in a nut shell

Breaky

Oats for Breaky chocolate, pecans  and coconut milk!

Lunch

Salmon, avocado and salad for lunch with sweet potato

Dinner

Warm chicken sweet potato soup with heaps of veges ;-D

Snacks

Nuts, Avocados, Coconut Oil Fried Banana’s with shaved chocolate and almonds.

 

 

 

Inov8 Trail Runner Shona Stephenson

Tarawera Ultra

by Shona Stephenson on April 13, 2015

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Inov8 Athlete Shona Stephenson

Inov8 Athlete Shona Stephenson running past the Blue Lake

Tarawera Ultra the race of two halves.

 

Tarawera Ultra is a race that can polarise the field. It is a race of two halves. It is well suited for the technical junkies and road speedsters. If the road runners can make it through the Spartan like obstacle course trails of around Okatainia Lodge and make it past the Tarawera Falls, all the magical lakes, pop out onto the fire trails, without smashing up their quads on the steep descents, log jumps and rock climbs of the first 60 km, all they have to do is turn their legs over for the last 30km of open fire trail running with just a few easy climbs, and cruise on into the finish line.

It would be my 3rd attempt to making it all the way to the end of the Tarawera Ultra. In 2013 and 2014 the course had been changed due to the threat of bush fires and a cyclone, I was determined that I was going to make it to the end no matter what. Let’s see who will be picked off in the last 5ks like a sitting duck on the wide open fire trail. I hoped that it would not be me…….

In 2012 I cut my race short due to pissing blood at 75km, I was shitting blood from 35km. I pulled out at 85km thinking I was doing damage to my body. Later found out that gluten and dairy were my problem. The only way I was pulling out of Tarawera Ultra was if I was going to be choppered off the course.

I had a terrible lead up before Tarawera Ultra. Let’s just say I was home-less, phone-less, and left with out coin, on a nebuliser with chronic asthma attacks after my Hares and Hounds 52km win, on antibiotics and just hoped I had enough time to get over my mental breakdown, chest infection and sort my head out before I raced.

I sorted out my shelter on Australia Day, grabbed a new iPhone after attempting to use a tiny drug dealer phone for 2 days but gave into the modern ease and got back on track with my communications and thank goodness I am employed, proud mother of two, I made some cash from running my own business and I was able claw my way back from rock bottom with the help of my awesome mates and just have enough time to taper before Tarawera Ultra. My mental state was still shit 2 weeks before Tarawera Ultra and the only thing that seemed to help me was exercise and staying strong for my girls and making sure I was not going to break.

I did break. I was in a real state, after being on the nebuliser with my asthma out of control I had a few more asthmas attacks as a result of the emotional stress I was under. I was so busy trying to get my personal life sorted out after separating from my husband,  working and looking after my girls that the thought of just being able to run for 30 minutes made me cry.

I still had my two beautiful girls, my friends, business and my running. I got out and started exercising again. Man, my training and listening to music in the car between PT session is what bought me back into a positive frame of mind. I pumped about a strong interval session, followed by Kettle Bells, Sumo Squats, Burpee’s with over-head shoulder press, two handed rows, released some healing endorphins and that night I did a speedy 10km up “My” Mt Coo-tha. Also known to me as my Mother Mt Coo-Tha. This is where I find strength, have a cry and resolved my problems.

About 1 week before Tarawera Ultra my asthma and chest infection seemed to clearing up and I was going to be well enough to race. I had a rough trot with my diet. I worked out that peanuts were in a store bought nut butter I’d been eating, which gave me asthma then lead into a chest infection, then worked out I could no longer tolerate sesame either. So with my airways under attack, stomach bloating, face swollen I had to clean out my diet and to reduce swelling throughout my entire body. I stuffed up on the plane and ate a non-gluten free cookie. I asked for a “Gluten Free Cookie”. But was given whatever was on the menu. FARK! The menu had changed from when I last flew. No more Gluten Free Byron bay Cookies available. FARK! After realising my mistake after tasting the cookie, it tasted way too good to be gluten free, I went straight into the toilets and consumed anti-histermines and I took some anti-imflamatories and just hoped it would not bloat my guts with a gluten baby for the race……..FARK! I can’t bloody win!

 

Life’s not perfect. Many a race lead up is not perfect. It is how your brain can handle the set backs that can give you your strength.

 

I arrived at the start line at 5am less than 12 hours after jumping on a flight from Brisbane. I did my usual warm up and snuck in behind the blokes on the start line and had a chat to 2013 UTA Clients Gemma and Scott who were running the 100km, before finding the who’s who of NZ running Ruby and Jo and gave them a big G’day.  I then spotted Spanish running legend Nurea and wished her good luck also. I started my watch 3 minutes early to make sure I could not get complaisant throughout the day and make sure I’d get my goal time of Sub 10 Hours.

I counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and I was off and running up the hill under the light of an Ay-Up Head Torch. Ruby flew out, so did Nurea and Jo. I chilled out behind Nurea for some time, then moved up on the right hand side, past her and then Ruby on a slight descent. Ruby hung behind me until the trail opened up and she soon past me never to be seen again……True class……..

 

I started the climb and was so surprised no to be mowed down by Nurea. I’m not sure if she was really well. She was sniffing a bit and just did not look like she was on fire as she normally does. Maybe she is a bit sick?  I’m not sure. Pre-race she had mentioned she was climbing over their off season and not running that much. Maybe with her sniffles me with no altitude would put us on an even playing field.

I decided to just chill out, run my own race and enjoy the some of the best trails that Rotavegas had to offer. I cruised up the switch backs, with my quads freezing, I was so bloody cold! It was almost a 25 degrees difference to the running in Brisbane. It was only 10 degrees and I’m use to 35 degrees.The air was cold and dry. Usually it is a bit wetter in the Red Wood forest and better for my breathing but this was a insanely dry year in NZ. I had to wear my Inov8 Wrag over my airways to warm up the air before it hit my lungs. I have exercise induced asthma set off by rapid breathing of cold dry air. Kind of funny that I like running mountain ultra’s so much.

My aim of the day was to not feel a lactic burn in my muscles, no pushing and to have legs for after 60km. I was so keen and ridiculously excited to get to the end of the 100km event.

I popped out onto the ridge and cruised down the hill past the head torch drop off, through the red wood forest and onto some amazing technical trails, rolling into the check point at 12.5km. I swapped my Heed water bottles and grabbed a gel flask and I was off and running again around the Blue Lake. I ran along estimating how much fluid I’d need for the next section and tipped out 1/2 of the fluid in each bottle. The conditions were cold for me, and I was fully hydrated and running along without a sweat. I was also about 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

I cruised along the soft, technical beech trails, not pushing it just letting my legs and the terrain dictate my pace and before long I popped out onto the road and I was rolling along into and through CP 2 Lake Okareka. I cruised up the hill, onto the steep fire trail with Nuera following me, catching me, soon passing me, before I turned my legs on a bit and soon caught her, chatted to her, and then past her again. I then stopped and filled up with 500ml of water at Miller Rd and she past me again before I cruised up and caught up to her staying calm and within my limits. She took a few steps walking up a steep section and my legs could handle the gradient running, so on the flat at the top I past her again, and just decided to use my own body to guide my exertion.

I enjoyed the amazing New Zealand country side and the pretty daisy’s lining the side of the track, the sweeping views across valley for the next 9km of climbing and really only worried about the 5 meters of ground in front of my feet. The height of the climb and the distance I had to go did not matter. My focus was on the 5m in front of my feet. I had this next 5m covered and that was all that mattered to me.

My asthma was pretty crap. I was coughing at the top of each climb and needed ventolin to keep my airways open. I was pretty clogged and it sucked a bit, so I sucked on ventolin. I knew my lungs were not at full force but hey, this is asthma and I chose not to let it bother me, get upset, freaked out or worried about my lungs. Every time I saw a stream of sunshine sneaking through the trees I tried to gulp in this warm air into my lungs. On every descent I blew out the air in my lungs and tried my hardest to breathe in through my nose when I was not on the climb. I’d been foam rolling my back and ribs hoping that I would not get the usual tight breathing muscles that I usually get at about 40km into an event.

Shona Stephenson wearing the Inov8 Wrag to protect her lungs from cold dry air

Shona Stephenson wearing the Inov8 Wrag trying to keep her lungs warm to help with her exercise induced asthma

I made it to the top of the climb, still freezing and wishing that the air temperature would warm up so I would not have to wear the Inov-8 wrag over my face any more. I cruised down the steep trail and into  Okataina Lodge surprised that I was able to lead Nuera over the biggest climb of the day and quickly swapped my water bottles over, grabbed a flask and got moving again. It was bloody cold! My lungs were not well and I suffered for the next 3ks and Nurea finally caught me on the next climb, past me with Ruth chasing her down. I had to suck on the ventolin again and again. I estimates that it would not be until after 50km that I would have relief and my lungs would feel better.

The trail followed the south side of the hills bordering the lakes with magic views. Enjoyed the trails, ferns, mosses, re-grouped, ate food, looked after my hydration. I was a bit freaked out every time I saw the branches of ferns lying on the ground, they reminded me of snakes and now living Queensland, snakes are everywhere and I am extremely cautious when trail running. It was a kind of love hate with these smooth black branches, they set of adrenalin dodge, hop and skip but I was also so happy to be able to along run without fear of a snake bite.

Whilst contemplating how the silver ferns were not so silver this year due to the dryness in the weather,I ate the dirt, smashed up both knees, landed on my ribs, winded myself, squishing all the air out of my lungs and felt the ache in my ribs. I got up. The pain in my ribs was pretty severe. I totally knocked the wind out of my lungs. Knees were swelling, ribs aching, elbow was scraped and I took about 10 steps walking re-filling the air in my lungs. I thought about pulling out. My ribs were pretty sore. I was sore in my abs too. I took a hit to the whole front of my body from my knees all to my mouth. Lucky I landed on soft dirt and not a rock. The fall upset my abdominal separation, with my feet flying almost over my head as I rolled up my face flat out on the ground. My abs had a feeling like it had been ripped a bit more. “It’ll only hurt for 5 minutes that’s the rules, just start running and take little steps”. I said to myself. Knees killing me, feeling the swelling building up. I took some panadol, some Endurolyte’s and pushed on.

I got moving again, focused again. I was still 15 minutes ahead of schedule and I was on my way to recovery. I ran in and out of Humphrey’s Bay, feeling fresh and focused, concentrating on the trail ahead of me and moving as fast as I could over the fallen logs, boulders, tree roots, twists and turns, over logs, under branches, tried to stay up and running.

I ran into Tarawera Outlet ahead of schedule and happy to see my support crew. I grabbed my Heed bottles, Hammer flasks and got out of there. Finally there was sun on the trail and my asthma was settling down. The air temperature was heating up and I was feeling stronger with every degree temperature increase.

I cruised along the river, wishing I was swimming in the beautiful blue creek of Tarawera Falls. I spotted bikini clad tourist and wished I was joining them for a swim. The temperature was rising and I was keen to finish this race and start a NZ holiday.

I ran through the 60km Check Point feeling on top of the world and looking forward to some easy Ks into the 100km. I turned off to the right and walked and ran up the pine needle trail through the Tarawera Forest. The trail then became a 4WD Track and I was climbing up the trail now being caught by Relay Runners leaving the 60km Check Point. I love events where there are races, within the race. I ran up the hill and only walked when I hit a lose pumice stone section of the trail. I was soon at the top of the climb and then rolled on down the other side managing my descent and enjoying the easy ks on the hard fire trail.

I cruised into the 70km Check Point and found my support crew. “Sorry Shona I’ve bought you the wrong check point bag.” Said Gary, my support crew.

Bugger! I thought. “No worries, I’ll just use what’s at this check point”. I replied careful not to get up-set. I know being support crew is the most unrewarding job in all of ultra racing. They wait for us at the check point for hours for us to see them for maybe 10 seconds if all goes well with only a quick thank you and see you soon. I filled up at the aid station on Heed and Coke. I kept the Banana Hammer gels on me that I had in my Inov8 Race Ultra Pack. I then saw Gary getting a bit freaked out and I made a special effort to assure him I would be just fine. I always carry enough Endurolytes to see me form the Start – Finish of the event plus all my essentials, asthma drugs, few extra gels, Hammer Bars, so I was going to be okay. I was still 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

I raced on out of there feeling fresh and about 2 ks down the road I felt a sugar low, sweating on my brow from drinking the Coke whilst climbing up the fire trail into the next check point. I broke my own cardinal rule of never have Coke until the last 10-18km. I had it with 30ks to go! Stupid I told myself. Suck it up. Burn that fat. I was still making good time and noticed a fellow runner was cramping so I handed him 4 Endurolyte’s in hope that he’s now make it to the end of the event. The heat was climbing and runners were starting to suffer.

I needed more ventolin now after chatting to the cramping runner whilst climbing and I was starting to hurt a bit. I did my best to just push on up the climb and into the check point smiling at the guy sitting in the camp chair with the binoculars yelling out the Bib numbers to his mum. “Muuuuuuum, Number 584, Muuuuuuuuuum Number 584”. It was hilarious, the tone of voice, picnic chair, binoculars and the fact that this check point was a family operation. I filled up with water, Heed, 1/3 Banana and kept pushing up the climb and watched the runners fly down the hill on the out and back loop.

Okay lets get through this section without seeing any other female runners on the out and back. That was my goal. I ran up the hot exposed fire trail turned right at the “Y” junction and found myself on a climb choosing to walk up the loose trail until I hit the top of the climb before forcing myself to run 20 steps only at a time, crossing the timing belt, running some more, hurting, then descending onto the fire trail.

I rolled down this hard fire trail and my lower abdomen started to kill me. I took a nature stop and checked my urine and noticed it was bright red. FUCK! I was pissing blood and there seemed to be a fair bit of it. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! What is with me and bloody Tarawera Ultra! Fuck. Okay this just messed with my head. I was 75km into the event at the exact same stage in the event as I was pissing blood in 2013 at Tarawera Ultra. FARK! Shit! I shed a few tears. This was so not fair! What’s with the water over here? I thought about the cookie I ate on the plane and how my stomach was now swollen with a gluten baby, I thought about the fall I’d had and maybe I had some minor internal bleeding in my bladder and it was only bleeding badly because I am running. I had a lot to think about now for the next 25km.

Pissing bright red blood is okay during an event. It will usually clear up 2-3 days afterwards, or even in just a few hours after you stop running. The mind is what takes the most hit though. The worry that you might be doing damage to your body, mistrust of your body, self belief suffers. My success comes from my mental strength and now it was going to be tested for the next 2.5 hours.

I rolled down the hill telling myself if was just a superficial bleed and it would clear up after I finished. Just make it to the end and the pain will stop. I was not Fucking DNF’ing the Tarawera Ultra again. I was not DNF’ing any event again unless I have to me taken off the course in a helicopter.

I ran the loop and well wished a UTA Client Steven on his way out of the Check Point. He was looking really fresh, while I was feeling like shit. I rolled into the 85km Check Point and filled up on Banana, Heed and Water. I tipped water over my head, drank some and did my best to stay as hydrated, cool as possible just incase there was a bit of a kidney issue going on.

I soon worked out every time I ate or drank I had killer cramps in my lower abdomen that was so painful it force me to walk, cry and scream for about 10 seconds until the spasm released. I told myself to relax and took more enduroyltes. I was hurting and just wanting to get to the finish.

I ran along the fire trail, concentrating on my line, cadence, run fast on tired legs. I had to shorten my stride. If I tried to run with my natural action my guts would cramp and spasm. I was in management mode, counting of the metres and hoped I was doing enough but knowing I had slowed down considerably. 25km is a long time to have to run feeling like crap. My mental state was not good either. I was so worried about myself and the pain associated with drinking and eating I limited my food and drinks and then I became hungry. I pee again at 85km and had another cheek and it was still bright red. I was okay, it was not a coke coloured but fuck this was not the way to finish of an event to say the least.

I was so relieved to make it to the Fisherman’s Bridge Check Point. I picked up my Heed and more water and got out of there, ran around the corner caught up with 85km runners, drank, walked screamed in pain, walked and then relaxed ran on.

I started the read the signage that had been placed on the trail since the 75km mark. I think they were Barry White quotes about can you hear the music yet…….I was hoping I could hear the music. I sang to myself “Straight Lines” by Silver Chair and concentrated on my line on the long fire straights. At 95km I started to relax. I think I am going to keep 4th place. I drank Ginger Beer at the check point worrying about my guts and while I was having a bit of a chat to the Pink Check Point Ladies a female runner flew past me with her pacer. Fuck! There goes 4th place I was passed by Fiona Hayvice and her pacer. Now get running before you lose 5th. Oh shit too late you’ve just lost 5th. I was then introduced to Kovo MacDonald by her friendly Pacer. FUCK! I want a pacer too! Dam should have organised one. Bugger! Oh well. Next year I’ll organise one.

I was a bit pissed off with myself for losing 2 places so close to the finish. Okay, let’s try and get 5th back. I tried to launch an attack and decided to try and use Kovo and her pacer to pace me back onto Fiona. I lifted my knees, and ignore the pain.

The trail became technical again and I became encouraged. If it stayed technical I could have a chance of running down the two strong females. The trail descended and I past Kovo and her pacer. I tried my best to encourage them to come with me and run down Fiona. I never feel good about passing runners in the last few ks and I wanted them to fight it out with me. She’d busted her butt to get me and I wanted her to give it a shot to see if she could get Fiona. I crossed the bridge and swore as I had to push up the hands on quads climb. I spotted Fiona again and tried to get her back. Kovo soon past me again on the flat and I did my best to stay with them but she was too strong for me on the open flat fire trails. I tied again but Kovo was flying with the taste of an Aussie Scalp she was bounding down the trail and I was not match for her. Her pacer was so kind to me when they ran past, he poured water of my neck and shoulders and wished me the best of luck. It was just a really cool experience, I love this kind of gutsy racing.  I just hoped there would be a technical descending finish but I think I was out of luck.

I climbed the stairs and a sweet older lady on a bike told me there was 1.5 ks to go. I ran across the bridge, down the stairs and onto the flat and my heart sank as I race along the edge of the golf  course, thinking how I hated golf courses because they were usually at the end of events, big, flat, open spaces that seem to continue on forever.

I checked my watch and realised that even thought I’d lost 2 places in the last 5 ks I was in chance of making it under the 10 hours for 100km for the first time in my life. I turned my tired legs over and started asking spectators how far it was to the finish. I could hear the MC on the load speaker and I check my watch again and realised that I was going to make it if I could sprint home. I lifted my legs again and check the over head finish line clock and sprinted across the finish line in 9 Hours 59 Minutes and 58 Seconds. I made it. Finally I made it to the finish of Tarawera Ultra 3rd time lucky and finally I’ve broken the 10 hour barrier for a 100km event. I lay down on the ground happy to finally rest my sore abdomen.

Tarawera Ultra Shona Stephenson

Shona Stephenson Happy to finally finish Tarawera Ultra after 3 attempts

After a quick chat with one of the Race Directors I informed the medic about my problem and drank electrolytes, congratulated Fiona and Kovo for their awesome effort and thanked them for making me work to the end meaning that I managed my sub-10 Hour 100km. Ruth was at the finish line too and we chatted also about her amazing time. I have a special spot for Kiwi Runners. They are just so friendly and humble. After watching a few Aussie blokes, Gregg and Paul,  come in after me who I’d never beaten before I decided it was time to sample the free Cider and give these boys  some shit about getting chicked and swap war stories.

The finishing tent was hilarious. We all had stories to tell. I found the Aussie, more Queenslander, or Kiwi Ex-pat section and we all chatted, offered lifts, drank cider and beer while we all waited for our mates and support crew to arrive and join us for more cider and beer. Tarawera Ultra put on an awesome finishing tent.

 

Women’s Results

 

1 Ruby Muir – 9:02:45

2 Ruth Croft (The North Face) – 9:14:36 

3 Núria Picas (Buff) – 9:40:49

4 Fiona Hayvice – 9:57:33

5 Kovo MacDonald – 9:57:45

6 Shona Stephenson (Inov-8) – 9:59:58

7 Jackie Holley – 10:15:54

8 Joelle Vaught (Montrail) – 10:24:57

9 Lucie Barney – 10:34:13

10 Jean Beaumont – 10:46:29

 

Mens Results

 

1 Dylan Bowman (The North Face) – 7:44:58

2 Jorge Maravilla (Hoka One One) – 8:01:45 

3 Yoshikazu Hara (Hoka One One) – 8:12:14

4 Vajin Armstrong (Macpac) – 8:26:50

5 Michael Wardian (Hoka One One) – 8:32:38

6 Pau Bartoló (Buff) – 8:42:46

7 Robbie Britton (Inov-8) –8:45:10

8 Chris Truscott (New Balance) – 8:58:17

9 Anthony Hancy (Hoka One One) – 9:08:26

10 Andrius Ramonas (Salomon) – 9:12:48

 

Hares and Hounds Ultra

by Shona Stephenson on January 15, 2015

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Hares and Hounds Ultra Shona Stephenson

Shona Stephenson climbing up the final climb with 7 Ks to go at Hares and Hounds Ultra

Hares and Hounds Ultra

Hares and Hounds Ultra, Ouch! Man this race hurt. It was the first race of the South East Queensland Calendar and my first race after the off-season and only just over 1 week after New Years Eve. This event was never going to be an easy ultra. The Hares and Hounds Ultra and Relay chase was meant to be a bit of good old hunting fun. The aim was to send out the Ultra Runners AKA the Hares first  (53km) and an hour later send out the Hounds in a Relay leg of 25km/25km  (50KM) and see who can make it to the end first. The challenge had been set and the chase or the running scared will be on.

After Blackall 100km I really cut back on my Ks and just ran for 2 hours at a time, gave myself a rest and enjoyed some faster kilometers on my legs. I’ve leant from my past years to give myself an off-season and to enjoy myself socially, spend time with my daughters and discover new parts of this amazing world.

I spent New Years on the magic Moreton Island enjoying Queensland’s best kept secret holiday destination. The sand dune trails were tough, technical and beautiful. I used Mt Tempest as my hill repeat training ground, enjoying the lactic burn, lung busting climb and views of Moreton Island. I may have over done the soft sand running before Hares and Hounds Ultra. The week before Hares and Hounds Ultra I had pretty bad shin pain. It felt kind of like a shin splint. I knew that the lack of shoe rotation on Moreton Island was not the best training lead up for me. I only wore one pair for the 70km that I ran when on the Island. I would normally change my shoes every day. When I entered Hares and Hounds Ultra only 2 days before the event I was sore in my shin.

Stuff it.  I knew how to get over this injury. I started to switch up my shoes, self massage, wear compression socks, hit the Ultra Sound at Bodyleadership with Joel, massage therapist. As long as I could finish the week of PTing with no shin pain, stay off it, wear different shoes, change my technique slightly and find the sweet spot when running, I should not have a problem at Hares and Hounds Ultra.

Hares and Hounds Ultra started at a painful 3:30am. There will be many painful minutes in this ultra. I woke up at 12:15am so I could eat my coconut milk oats and banana, drive to Death Before Decaf in New Farm and grab a coffee and pick up a mate and still arrive at 2;45 am for registration, get weighed in which was an awful experience straight after the silly season.

After a shock weigh in and a warm up I was ready to race. 50km is always a funny distance for me. It’s a distance that I don’t like at all. I will be finishing right when I start to feel good in a 100km event. I knew going into Hares and Hounds Ultra that I was going to hurt like hell after 40km. This was the challenge for me. It will test me mentally and physically.

The race starts and thankfully finishes at the Woodford Pool as an out and back course, with a 50km relay, 35km, 10km, 5km distances to choose from. I will be looking forward to a post race shower and dip into the pool set in classic Aussie Bush Surroundings.

I lined up at the start line, said hello to a few runners and within no time the count down went off and we were off and running into the darkness. Starting under Ay-Ups was a fun and a bit of a novelty. It meant the conditions were cool and there’d be less dirt bike traffic on the State Trails in the Woodford Glasshouse Mountains Area.

Off we went along the slight descent down the road, continuing onto the muddy 4WD track, climbing slightly for about 300m, turning left, climbing a wider fire track forming a group with long legged Andy and Duathlon Australian Runner Matt, winner of Blackall 50km. We chatted away, enjoying the trails maybe a bit too much and missed the right turn by about 500m and had to leg it back, realising our mistake, swearing and cursing, flashes of Kokoda Challenge was coming back to me.

I’m new to trail running up in Queensland, I understand the races are smaller, but 250 runners is still a decent amount of runners to want to look after and a simple ribbon or marshall at key junctions would really go a long way to preventing runners from getting lost. Apparently later in the race on the return many runners followed the arrow and turned left and completed an extra loop in the last 1km of the event. Is this is trail running and getting lost is part of the adventure? Or should there have been a sweeper out on the course taking down the out and back markers to prevent confusion especially in the late stages of the event? Was athlete safety taken into full consideration?

Matt, Andy and I made a quick U-Turn realising our mistake and within a few hundred meters was back on the correct track, avoiding a massive short cut and followed the correct route, catching every 55km runner in our path. I let Matt set the tempo and I followed him, pacing off him, saying “Hi” and chatting to the runners, passing my UTA clients in the run of lost trail running shame.

Before long I was out in the lead again within my two new buddies, Matt and Andy cruising along the wide fire trails, being extremely careful at every intersection, checking for a white ribbon, red arrow or chalk arrow on the dirt track. We past through the first check point almost unnoticed and

After a few turns, more chatting we soon dropped Andy and it was just Matt and I running together out in front with no one to be seen behind us. We cruised long together chatting away, navigating together, swapping race stories and in general having a good old time. We past through the 2nd check point and I swapped water bottles with my support crew member UTA client and kept powering on with Matt.

Hares and Hounds 55km run in this fashion was way more like a training run than a race. Matt would run ahead when he needed to pee and be finished by the time I caught up with hi so our pacing could continue. When I needed to pee he eased off the pace a bit and allowed me to catch up. When do I get to race and pace off such a gentleman? This was awesome! Much like Lamington Classic Male Runners. The blokes up here are so polite when racing.

I soon caught up with Matt at 21km and looked down at my watch and it said 1:40 for 21km. Sweet. I’m on track for a nice tidy 55km here. We cruised on together down the big dipper and into the turn around. The scale monitor gave Matt a bit of grief with his weight loss. He was about to give me grief too. I’d lost 2 kilos on the scales, just pee’d plus all the other pee’s I’d done pre-race, sweating and energy consumption in my muscles so 1.5kgs loss did not seem that bad.

“Come on mate I weight 55kgs with my kit on at the start, I’ve drunk it all now it’s 53kgs. I’m only little let me go”. I instructed.

With this stated I was off and running chasing down Matt, spotting Andy and 2 of the pursuing males reeling me in the distance. I caught up with Matt but with the blokes spotted in the distance it was game on for him. He can run a 31min 10km off the bike in a Duathlon so I knew he was going to stretch his legs eventually.

I pushed on, feeling good, saying “Hi “to all the runners I could see and counting Time and Kilometers between myself and the next females chasing me down as I climbed steadily out of the valley. I don’t know what it was, maybe I’m so easily distracted but in this out and back section the wheels fell off a bit. I forgot about my electrolyte plan and I started to stiffen up. Realising my mistake I started to pump in the electrolytes, I’d run out of my usual trust Hammer Endurolyte’s and I was paying the price. I dig deep and push harder up out of the valley, trying hard to chase down Matt.

Around the 35km mark my right quad was killing me and I was past by two blokes like I was standing still. My lack of Ks and the increased red wine consumption over the Xmas break was catching up with me. At 40km I had to stop and walk for 10 steps, let out a cry, dig deep into my rib cage and try to pressure point release my abs, diaphragm muscles. I was working so hard through my ribs, breathing deeply, giving myself asthma, stressing out my obliques, cursing my running belt, wishing I had on my trusty Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest and hurting like hell. I did my best to try and relax and had to pull off the pace a bit because the pain I was feeling in my ribs was so intense and preventing me from breathing properly. I hit my electrolytes hard and decided to reduce the glucose consumption, give my stomach a rest and see if the less is more approach would help.

I rolled into the 47km check point in pain but oh so happy it was all going to be over soon enough. Right Shona, no more wine in the week. You are on the straight and narrow now and you have to drop 3 kilos before Tarawera. When will this period going to come too? Far out being a female sucks some time! I felt bloated at the start and my power to weight ratio was crap. I’m going to acupuncture the minute I’m back in Brisbane and get this all sorted out. Mental note tell the boys at Bodyleadership I need a rib session to help with my breathing. I had asthma, maybe I had a bit of a virus too and I had to work over time to get the air into my lungs and it was killing me. Maybe it’s all the grasses in seed at the moment? I don’t know what was setting my asthma off. Probably the white wine I was drinking. Maybe plain old exercise induced asthma? I was pushing it bloody hard now. (I worked out a few days later there was a product recall on a Almond Coconut Cocoa Spread I’d been eating, stating that it contained traces of peanuts. I’m bloody allergic to peanuts! The speed was oh so good….I ate the entire jar. Something was setting me off. I ended up with a rash on my face and s wheezy, swollen glands in my neck in the following days. Really sick with asthma, so sick I did not want to talk or even call out loudly to my kids.)

I spotted the 10km runners at the 5km turn around and decided to use them as pacers until the finish. One by one I reeled them in and just counted my steps and did my best to ignore the pain and fatigue I was feeling. I ran past my earlier navigational mistake and noticed there was still an arrow out from the start of the event and rolled into the finish line, turning right and running into the Woodford Pool in 4 hours 37 minutes or there about’s because I never turn off my watch in time and I started it 2 minutes early.

Done. Xmas Detox run completed. 53km 4 Hours 37 minutes and back on track for my Tarawera Ultra Training. Time to hit the shower and jump in that pool.

Blackall 100

by Shona Stephenson on November 20, 2014

4 Comments

Shona Stephenson after 92km of running

Trail Runner Shona Stephenson Inov8 Athlete wins Blackall 100

Blackall 100

 

The Blackall 100 was always going to be a race to test how smart a racer you are. How adaptable you can be in your lead up training sessions. The conditions were never going to be favourable. This is November in Queensland with temperatures regularly reaching plus 35 degrees. In some sections of the course the chance of the temperatures reaching higher is possible.

 

Heat Acclimatisation training consisted of the following;

 

Train PT Clients from 6am-11am. If it was a hot day, meaning over 32C I especially made sure I ran hill repeats in the heat of the day for about 1 hour.

Completed long runs in the heat of the day. I would run along in temperatures above 32 degrees with my heart beating out of my ears, feeling sick. I’d then come in from my heat session then jump in the shower and go back out and train more clients that afternoon and into the night.

 

Leading up to Blackall 100 I was averaging 7 PT sessions a day.

 

I would also lay pavers, move boulders, build retaining walls, dig holes or shovel gravel on my “rest days” in the baking sun to complete the landscaping in my new Brisbane house. I used every bit of heat that I could, worked my arse off in the sun.

 

Between PT session I’d make good use of my car. I’d wind-up the windows with NO air conditioning on and treat myself to a sauna sweat session, then jump out of the car and train PT clients or myself. (Yes my deodorant was handy). This was especially good on hot days of over 30 degrees. It would end up much hotter in my car.

 

I’d only turn the air-con on if I had a client in the car with me. My poor long suffering husband did complain a fair bit and in the end whenever he was in my car I eventually did let him have air conditioning on if I was driving him to see a client.

 

I just tried to make the most of my surroundings and my job being an outdoor PT.

With my heat acclimatisation done it was ready to race.

 

Blackall 100

 

I turned up to the Blackall 100 and the race director Alun handed me Bib no 1 and informed me that I had not entered yet. Whoops! I totally forgot to enter. Wow to the race Bib number 1. I was blown away. It was a totally humbling experience. I could think of at least 6 males and a few females who should be able to beat me at Blackall 100 and felt like I did not deserve this honour. I have a bit of a habit of forgetting to enter events. I can get a bit distracted sometimes. Working mums would totally get this. Lucky for me it all worked out in the end and I was in contact with Alun, Brett, Megan and the team enough prior to the event that they knew I was going to be on the start line.

The Blackall 100 starts at Mapleton in the Glasshouse Mountains. The course stretches it’s way around the Blackall Ranges National Park in loops visiting all the best waterfalls, single tracks, switch backs, rainforest trails, fire trails in the area. We were lucky to only have a 27 Degree day forecast, some sections of the course will become much hotter, forming a heat sink in some of the gorges and on the ridge lines especially in the middle of the day. Staying in control of your hydration, core temperature, fuelling needs will be crucial to having an enjoyable race.

I lined up on the start line, happy to see thick cloud cover, mist and a bit of fog. At least for the first few hours of the race we will be protected from the sun I thought, as we counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off to the sound of the Blackall 100 Bell signalling the start of the race.

I cruised off with Kiwi Runner Shannon-Leigh Litt. We ran along chatting to each other along the streets, turning a few times and dropping down into a park, where I moved ahead of Shannon-Leigh before following the road up onto the main ridge line of Mapleton, rolling over the hills, being caught by and passed by Damon Goerke, Benjamin Gerhardy, Matt Judd and my mate Brad Bartsch before dropping into the Kondalilla Falls where I could pass Matt and Brad again.

In the morning the conditions were mild. I chose to go out moving fast, making the most of the easy ks and the cooler weather, wanting to get as many ks over and done with before the temperature climbed and I’ve have to put the breaks on. I was also mindful of some hotter sections on the track near Gheerulla Camping Area and CP3 and knew I had to get through that section before the real heat of the day set in.

I popped ahead of Brad and Matt and cruised across the creek, up a set of stairs through the beautiful rainforest, down the switch backs, down more stairs two at a time, across the lovely Kondalilla Falls. If you dared to look at the falls it was just magic waterfall with a large rock pool set high on the side of the cliff, with it’s wide sweeping views across the valley. I hopped up more stairs, around a cliff, descending into the valley though more stunning rainforest, along cute single trails, and switch backs and spotting the 100km runners on their loop run. I travelled up more stairs and completing the loop of Kondalilla Falls. We then popped out onto the road again and I informed Brad, my training partner who normally kicks my arse on all the climbs that I am not suffering from asthma today and I will have a good race.

I don’t think Brad quite understood what I was saying to him. Normally it is me who is puffing up the climbs, in these hot and humid conditions my asthma is significantly reduced and he should probably slow down because he was puffing more than me. He could not use me to pace him today. I let him write the splits for our end goal time of sub-11 Hours. 10 Hours 59 Minutes was the goal for both of us. I had not written splits for myself for a long, long time. I just was not well or fit enough to stick to them. There was no point setting unrealistic goals for myself and then get up-set whilst racing, when I totally blow out my split times by hours. The conditions would play into my pacing later in the race too. I have learnt to race to how I feel. Today at the Blackall 100 I was feeling good.

We cruised up the road with Matt just behind us, soon passing us on the climb. After a few ks on the road we ran along chatting like crazy, we then dropped back into the forest, down switch backs with sets of stairs on each turn of the switch back. After countless switch backs, descending into the valley, I commented to the boys that I can’t really turn right with my right foot , my right ankle is always a bit suspect and with the next switch back on the left hand turn I totally stacked it on the slippery stairs, whacking my left knee, my left foot slipping out from underneath me, landing on my left arm and ribs. I jumped up as quick as a cat, brushed myself off and decided to take the next few turns a bit slower. My knee instantly started to throb and swell. I just tried to run it out. Lifting my feet more stretching out my quad.

We hit the bottom of the gorge, crossed a creek and started to climb. More beautiful rainforest with single trails climbing up to the top of the ridge, with Brad, myself and Matt forming a train punching out a nice consistent rhythm.

Shona Stephenson with pacing the Blackall 100 Gate Keeper at Suses Pocket

Shona Stephenson with pacing the Blackall 100 Gate Keeper at Suses Pocket

We popped out onto Suses Pocket Road and I chilled out and let the boys run ahead of me. They were both better climbers than me and I was not going to blow myself up in the first 20ks. I cruised to the Top of Suses Pocket Rd and was surprised to see a Gate Keeper dressed like the grim reaper manning the gate, making sure it was closed after every runner that past through. I thanked the Gate Keeper for his assistance. Little things like this just make your day in a long ultra.

I cruised up the hill with the gap increasing from me and the boys to about 100m. I let them run ahead on the footpath. The incline soon flattened out and I rolled along Obi Obi Rd turned right, spotted my support crew, my Kokoda Challenge Team mates Levi and Dan and let them know what I needed for my return out of the CP2. I cruised up the drive, checked in and out, noted that I was running 15 minutes ahead of schedule and cruised back out onto the road, swapped my gel flask, frozen hydration bottles over and headed back up the street, still behind Brad.

I headed up the footpath spotting the Shannon-Leigh and Mandy within a kilometre of me and knew I had my work cut out for myself today. I wished them luck and powered on pacing myself. Matt soon past me and caught Brad and I thought that these two boys could fight it out for 3rd and 4th place if they liked. I’d just hang back and bide my time.

I soon reached the top of the ridge , crossed the road, crossed back again, ran through the car park, entered the National Park and descended into the rainforest again. This section of the Blackall 100 was just amazing. Beautiful moss cover trees lay on the forest floor, with vines, palms, lining the trail towards the turn off to Ubajee Walker camp and Mapleton Day Use Area. I turned left following the signs to CP3. Rolled over the fire trail, spotting Brad only 100m away and not looking so fresh. The temperature was starting to climb. The fog was lifting. It was humid and getting really hot. I cruised along the trail, just making the most of the easy running, before descending switch backs and a set of stairs hitting another intersection and followed the sign to CP3. I turned right and headed to Gheerulla Camping area. 35km in I’d worked out I had about 5ks to go, so decided to lighten my load, sipped and tipped out some Perpetuem. The temperature was climbing and I knew I would not be able to stomach much for of this type of fluid. I caught up with Brad and I could see Matt in the distance, and another guy, Yun Phua, behind me, was hunting me down. I decided that it was too early to care about position as of yet the race is too long and who knows what will come of a race like this. Who knows how hot it will really get?

Brad took off on the climb, the guy behind we soon caught up with me and past me. I let Yun lead for a few hundred meters but realised that he was not the best navigator. Whilst running behind him he almost turned down two wrong turns, not following the signs correctly. I think he was working way too hard and could not concentrate on the track ahead of him. I had to call out to him to steer him in the right direction. On the next descent I jumped ahead of him, taking control of the situation, fearing that if I followed him I’d get lost and end up running extra just like at Kokoda Challenge.

I cruised down the trail and popped out onto the rocky creek bed. I hopped along the smooth fist sized ankle breaking rocks, following the rocky foot trail through the creek bed, snaking its way through the gorge. The trail soon started to climb again, it became hot and exposed. I’d been without water now for about 4ks. I’d drunk all my fluid. I chose to have a watered down hammer gel and just hopped that I had enough water in my system to digest it. I was doing my best to get every drop out of my water bottles. Every drop counts. Even if it just relieved the dryness from my mouth for a minute.

Shona Stephenson Running into CP3 at the Blackall 100

Shona Stephenson Running into CP3 at the Blackall 100

I cruised along, managing my exertion, descended onto the hot fire trail, rolled along spotting Brad and Matt ahead of me. I ran into CP 3 with my support crew waiting for me with my much needed Frozen 500ml of Hammer Heed, Frozen 500ml of fresh clean water and my watered down Hammer gel flasks.

Now it was hot! The temperatures had climbed to over 33 degrees in this section of the track. I checked in and out of the CP3 and cruised up the single switch back track up the bluff in the heat of the day, sun belting in, my core temperature rising.

I used some of my fresh clean water to wet my head. It felt like gold. The chilled water on my head immediately made me feel cooler. I decided that after every 100 steps I’d give myself this treat. I punched out a fast tempo run up the bluff with the Taylor Swift “Shake it off”, tune in my head.

 

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off

Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break

And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake

Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off

 

About 3/4 of the way up the climb I was overheating. I’d consumed all my fluid, I could hear my heart rate beating out of my ears. I took off my singlet to try and get more airflow onto my skin and I decided that I now had to power walk my way up the rest of the climb, conserve energy and look after myself.

I was now passing Blackall 50km Runners regularly. I had a good chit chat with them as I passed. I always love a course where I come in contact with other competitors. A little chat and some encouragement goes a long way with your moral. I chit chatted the rest of the way up to the top of the climb and knew that it was not far until the water tank.

Finally, with hands on quads, I hit the top of the bluff and tried to get my legs working again. I walked and ran, 20 steps running, 20 steps walking until the blood moved it’s way back into my running muscles and started the hunt for the water tank.

I was hot, mouth parched, spittle on my lips, heart beating out my ears. I desperately tried again and again to get more water from my bottles, only managing a few drops each optimistic time, while cruising along the now fire trail, chatting to 50km runners. After a few ks on the exposed fire trail I hopped back onto a single track and was pleased to spot a QLD Parks Ranger marshalling the area. She let me know that 7ks away there was water. The tank was here just to use to cool out bodies down.

I showered my visor in the tank water. I bent over and wet my neck and hair in the tank shower. I readied myself for 7 more ks without water. Cool. You can do this. You run around all day long without water. This is not different. I would just have to not push myself too much.

I cruised along the single trail that flowed down into the gorge, still chatting the to Blackall 50k runners as I passed them. I looked back and Yun who had been following me earlier in the race finally caught me again when I stopped for a tank shower. He must have skipped the tank. I chilled out and cruised along, down the descent, trying again and again to suck a drop of water from my bottles. I decided to have a watered down gel and wished the un-manned water stop would come sooner rather than later.  I felt like begging the 50k runners for some water but I knew they’d also be suffering and in danger of dehydration too.

I popped out onto the road and was ecstatic to find the water stop. I filled up 1L of water. Knowing that I would be going through it one way or another. It was just amazing to have a drink. I found Brad at the water stop too enjoying the much needed fluid. He did not look good. Red faced, veins popping out of his head. I offered him more Endurolyte’s and he said he had enough on him. He was naughty! Not wearing a visor or cap. I told him to walk and he’ll “come good” sure enough.

I left Brad at the water stop, it looked like I’d dropped Yun on the descent.

I moved on tipping water over my head, lowering my core temperature, drinking small amounts of water regularly. Taking Endurolyte’s regularly, every 30-15 minutes knowing I was getting a bit sore and needed some extra help with my electrolyte balance. In these conditions hydration comes first, nutrition second.

I cruised along the trails noted a turn up the ridge to CP4 and followed it, completing the Ubajee Walkers Camp loop. Turning right up the stairs and hoping, hoping, hoping I made the correct decision. Spotting 100km runners descending on the trail, catching 50k runners on the climb. I was even told by mate concerned 50km Runner Tamyka to make sure I’d turned the right way. I let her know that I was positive all I had to do was follow the signs to CP4 and I would be following the right track. We had the order of CP’s printed on our Race Bib, so all I had to do was look at my Bib and check that I was following the sign to the correct CP number.

I climbed, running pumping to “Shake it off” all the way up the climb until again I could hear my heart beating out my ears then had to walk, hands on quads, motoring up the climb, managing, managing, managing.

I popped out onto the fire trail, cruised along trying to find some running legs and was surprised to spot Damon walking on the side of the fire trail. Damon has run a 9 hours 50 min Great Ocean Walk Trail Run. This guy is a machine. Here he was walking. I offered him some electrolytes and wished him the best of luck. I felt sorry for him. I know how good he can be on the right day. You just never know what injury or illness some one is carrying into an event. It was saddening to see him walking.

I cruised along, turned left, followed the narrow track up to Mapleton Day Use Area and into CP4. I quickly checked in and out and let Brad’s trail running legend of a wife Jude, know that Brad was suffering a bit. I had no idea how far behind he was and that I had not seen him for 7ks. I let her know he also had calf pain and I told him to walk to cool down a bit.

I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and got the hell out of there. Wanting to make up some time on this easy section of the course.

I think most of the runners like me totally underestimated how tough this 10km section was. I’d run around this area before but could not figure out the exact course in training. The profile between CP4-CP5 looked like beautiful easy rolling 10km descent that we should be able to knock out in under 1 hour. WRONG.

Yes, it was a descent. Man it had some ups, steep ups, steep painful descents that just hurt like hell on 60 plus km tired legs. The climbs were sharp, the descents jagged rocky, hardened clay fire trails. All I wished for was a creek to dunk my visor in because I was pretty sure that both of my bottles were Hammer Heed and I was tipping Heed all through my hair. Stuff it! I’d rather be cool than pretty! My hair began to have a crispness to it that indicated that yes, both bottles were full of Heed.

Finally, I found a creek, it felt like it was the first creek of the day that had enough water in it to dunk a visor into. I walked through the creek, enjoying a full leg dunking and decided that it was best to power walk up the climb with my hands on quads.

I pushed on, finding my running legs and came to a 3 way intersection. I ran along following the most used track but could not see a marker in the distance and could not see a marker close to the track head. I stopped and double back and checked again at the intersection. With my tired 65km brain and eyes I could not see a ribbon marker until the wind blew and moved it in the tree. Phew! I’m not lost. All the signage at the Blackall 100 had been really good, excellent in fact. I could not faulted it.  That’s why at this point I had to stop and think. The Blackall 100 course markers put out  cross marking for the wrong direction and pink ribbons marking the correct way, pink ribbon every 500m or so. If I could not see a marker I new to stop and check. There was also CP arrows directing us runners to the correct check points, signs for 100km and 50km runners to follow. The course was pretty easy to navigate.

After finding the marker I cruised on trying to be consistent, trying to make up time, knowing that I was losing time hand over fist on these sharp climbs. I checked my watch and decided to drink all my reserves and tip the rest of the Heed over my head and after a few more ks powered into the CP5.

Shona Stephenson at CP 5 with her support crew Levi and Dan

Shona Stephenson at CP 5 with her support crew Levi and Dan

I still felt pretty fresh. My nutrition plan was working for me. My support crew, Levi asked me if I wanted anything special at the next CP5 after the Dam Loop.

“Nah, it seems to be working for me so far”. Was all I replied.

“When are you going to start looking like you are hurting?” Levi asked

“Hopefully I won’t”. Today was my day and I felt great. No asthma but I still did not dare dif into my lungs.

With my frozen bottles changed,watered down gels re-stocked, I was out of there with the knowledge that Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me. Okay, in the past I would get lazy with this knowledge that I had 20 minutes of time my sleeve and I would just try and hold on. Whilst running the loop of the dam in the Blackall 100 I’ve learnt to use this knowledge to my advantage. If Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me, then it meant that she had to run the next leg 2 minutes faster/km than me to catch me. Off I went trying desperately to make sure Shannon-Leigh could not catch me. Every time I saw myself running a 6, 5, 4 min km it meant she had to be running a 4,3,2min km.

I cruised around Cooloolabin Dam, past the squashed black and white Bandy Bandy Snake, up, down the rolling hills along a wide blue stone crusher dust road and back to the CP5 to complete the loop.

Jude, Brad’s wife came out to meet me, asking me what I needed form my support crew. She sadly informed me that Brad had decided to stop at 70km. That leg from 60-70km really took a lot of runners by surprise. Even though he was in 3rd place he just could not finish the Blackall 100, he was toast.

I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and was running out of there. I pushed on, running the out and back section of the trail quickly and I was pleased to turn left without seeing Shannon-Leigh on the fire trail to the left. Now it was just me against the clock. I’d slowed down a bit in the heat of the day, now it was time to kick it on up this 10km climb back to Mapleton Day Use Area and back to CP4.

I’d run this section in training. I did not recognise any of the road though. I was trying to figure out when the section of the track was going to start that was eroded and a bit hairy. The road had been beautifully freshly graded with blue stone crusher dust and it was nice and fast to run on.

For the first time whilst racing I did not care how big the climb was or for how long it went. All I cared about was the patch of road in front of my feet. That was all that mattered. There was no point worrying or thinking of how big the climb was. It was not important. I just had to run, stay in the moment, keep my feet moving fast and make sure I was making good time up this climb.

Soon enough I was at the top of the climb and cruising into the CP4. I was really fast on this leg and my support crew only just made it to the CP4 in time to see me. I grabbed my bottles. Checked in and out of the CP4 and drank some cola. Checked my time and I was informed that I had about 8ks to go.

I looked at my watch and it still had a 10 in front of it. I was still in for a chance of making it under 11 hours. I took off down the walking track and stopped dead at the track interaction. There was not an arrow to the Finish. I knew I was on the right track, but with 92km of running in your brain I just second guessed myself. I pulled out my phone and called Mikey my husband. I could not get through to him so I kept moving in the direction of which I thought I should be going remembering that I’d seen a sign directing me to the finish earlier in the race on this out and back section. I decided to trust my gut and with about 1km of running I found the sign. I was on the right track. Phew. Mikey was then calling me back but I did not have enough reception to answer the call. I just wanted to let the Race Directors know that there could be a problem later in the night with tired 100km runners.

With 7km to go I started to lighten my load of fluid. I looked at my watch and thought that I would not make it Sub-11. I did not let this bother me. I just kept belting it out, chatting to the Blackall 50km runners as I zoomed past. My eyes were starting to get tired. It was still light but my eyes were playing tricks on me a bit, I had to focus with everything that I had to prevent a fall as I jumped over mossy logs, dodged beautiful rain forest trees and leaped over vines, winding up the track and popping out onto the car park, running up the hill, crossing the road and merging onto Obi Obi Road again.

I had no idea of the distance left to cover. My watch always loses 3km in a 100km event. I guessed 4ks to go. I spotted a local jogger on the footpath ahead of me. I decided to try and match this runner’s tempo. She soon turned right and I was at the top of the ridge, I crossed the road and started to wind it up. Trying to remember this section from earlier in the day.

I spotted the camp ground and Jude waiting at the gate for me. Man my eyes were going, I could barely recognise her.  I was starting to feel fatigue with my mental function. I had 2min and about 500m to run to the finish line she informed me.

Game on. I lifted my knees and belted out the last 300m, making my last kilometre a 4:02min k for the end of a 100.3 km event. I still felt great. I ran across the line crying and totally spent collapsed across the finish line, laid on the ground.
“Ring the bell, Ring the bell”. The time keeper informed me.

I rang the bell, ding, ding, ding and recorded a time of 10 Hours 59 Min and 59 seconds.

Wow! I did it. I stuck to my splits. I took NO Painkillers! I mean that not even a panadol. I forgot to pack them in my race kit. I’m stoked to say I did not need them. My body felt great all day long. It’s the first time since starting ultra’s that I have not had to take a panadol to get me though an event. My stomach was just perfect too. I’ve really struggled in the past with gut issues. It was just a great race. It was my 7th Ultra of the year and to be able to finish 2014 with a win was just amazing to me. I nabbed a bonus 2nd place overall too. It just could not get any better. Shannon-Leigh Litt  from NZ came in 3rd overall. It was a great day for the chicks out there. I feel Shannon-Leigh will be a name to watch in 2015. She’s a kiwi and dealt with these tough conditions beautifully. 3rd female Raelene Bendall also played it smart and nabbed a place in the overall top 10 too.

It was an awesome day for the girls in the 50km also. Local young gun Kirra Balmanno won and finished 3rd place overall with Kellie Emmerson coming in 2nd and 5th place overall Claire Lawson in 3rd.

 

100km Results

 

1) Shona Stephenson 10:59:50 (2nd Overall)

2) Shannon-Leigh Litt 11:37:26 (3rd Overall) Kiwi-recently returned from Bolder Colorado

3) Raelene Bendall 13:11:05 (9th Overall)

 

 

  1. Benjamin Gerhardy 10:42:31 (1st Overall)
  2. Andy Bowen 11:44:31 (4th Overall)
  3. Steven Pemberton 11:45:01 (5th Overall ) Kiwi-living in Bris-vegas

 

50km

 

1) Kirra Balmanno 5:20:33 (3rd Overall)

2) Kellie Emmerson 5:33:07 Victorian (5th Overall)

3) Claire Lawson 5:58:27 (12th Overall)

 

1) Matt Baker 4:43:06

2) Pete Lavery 5:56:59

3) Travis Bell 5:32:53

 

 

Race Set Up

 

Inov-8 X-Talon 212 P

Injinji Socks

Inov-8 Race-Elite 125 Ultra Shorts

Inov-8 FF Bra Top W

Inov-8 Race Singet

Hammer Visor

Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

Snake Bite Bandage 10cm (10cm will actually help you if you or another runner is bitten by a snake)

Ay-Up Ultra Lite Head Torch Blue (not picked up, I ran the 100km in daylight)

High Visibility Vest (not picked up, I ran the 100km in daylight)

 

Nutrition and Hydration Program

 

500ml of Fluid and hour made up of 500ml of Frozen Plain Water and

From Start -CP3 3/4 Scoop of Hammer Perpetuem in 500ml of Frozen Water

From CP3-Finish 3/4 Scoop of Heed in 500ml of Frozen Water

 

1-2 Watered Down by 50% Hammer Banana or Apple Cinnamon Gel Every Hour depending on how I was feeling or if there was a climb. I reduced my gel intake later on in the event to 1 gel an hour

I alway’s made sure I had fresh chilled/melting frozen water handy in a water bottle to tip over my head to reduce my core temperature.

 

250ml of Cola at 92km CP4 Last Check Point.

Blackall 100 winning 100km Female Cow Bell

Blackall 100 winning 100km Female Cow Bell