Mt Mee Marathon 2017

by Shona Stephenson on October 16, 2017

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A Quick pic in between wreaks drift snorkel sessions

A Quick pic in between wreaks drift snorkel sessions

Mt Mee Marathon Off the Moreton Island Ferry after a much needed Island holiday with my girls, we dropped into Grill’d Burgers to load up for the Mt Mee Marathon the next day. The lead up was amazing a holiday with my beautiful girls, snorkelling, swimming and sun-baking. We still averaged 35000 steps a day together as we walked back and forth to The Wreaks for drift snorkelling sessions. It was just lovely pre-marathon taper and much needed rest and quality time spent with my girls over the Easter Holidays. The whole experience of racing the Mt Mee Marathon was fantastic. The drive down the from the foggy mountain house, through the Samford Valley, through Daybora, then climb up the scenic road, past Ocean View along the ridge line over looking the D’aguilar National Park, through the misty rolling hills of Mount Mee and then dropping into the national park where the race was to start. I had the Peking Duk song, “Take me Over,” playing on the stereo, drinking a double shot coco late’ and I was just loving life.

I did stop to take the photo

I did stop to take the photo

Man, I love trail running. I love that it gets you up in the morning at 4am to enjoy the sun rise over this stunning misty, lush green, rural country side, music playing and joining in the line with the other like minded trail runners on their way into the great unknown of racing. Yes, we can train all we want for an event but until you actually start you just don’t know what will unfold for you mentally and physically on the day. This is what the pre-race nerves are all about. The unknown, lack of control, this is where I find the excitement within the training, prep, recovery and race itself. I usually say to my clients, “I go into an event with one niggle and it usually leaves me while racing. This is the niggle I’m meant to have to make sure I have a proper taper.” What will go through my head when I’m racing? Will I have absolute control over my thoughts? Will I be able to hold those amazing positive thoughts for the entire 42.2km?  This is the biggest challenge. This is what keeps me pushing, meditating, following the process. I lined up on the start line and spotted Dahlia who wished me luck and gave me a few heads up on the other quick female. The course had changed so much from last year. It was 3 km shorter and to me the finish looked easier. I dislike racing an individual. I like just racing myself and see what I can do on the day. I just don’t get motivated by beating others as it feeds a negative thought process. Instead I love just to see what I can do on the day and wherever that takes me that is what I have to be content with. In the end I have to be bloody happy with the body I have and so thankful that it can achieve so much. The countdown went off and we all started running down the fire trail towards Mt Mee on the out and back course. I chose to wear the Inov8 Trail Talons after a test run on the trail via the pre-race toilet stop and decided that the Trail Talon was the shoe for the dry, well graded course today. This year it was up hill to Mt Mee and effectively down hill to the finish line with still a massive climb out at the end, but still I’d call a down hill finish, most of the climbing was done to the 1/2 way point and only one killer at the end. I ran along chatting away to Chris and a few other blokes and cruised along trying not to puff to much. Chris took off on the climb through the Pine Forest and I had to let him go. He’s always too strong on the climb compared to me. I just chilled and worked on my own rhythm, cadence and breathing. I felt good. The climb soon turned into a massive, rugged, descent and my legs took off ahead of me. I flew though the check point, turned left, passed through the gate and then started the climb up to Mt Mee.

Plant Base no inflammatory diet help e get back to my race weight and feeling racy.

Plant Base no inflammatory diet help e get back to my race weight and feeling racy.

My power the weight ratio was the best it had been for a long time. I was eating really well, mainly a low inflammation plant based diet, feeling really good and enjoying life. This then paid off in the climbing up to Mt Mee. I just turned my legs over along the fire trail, looked to the top of all the pretty eucalyptus forest climbs and knew that I had the climb covered, before focusing on the manageable patch of ground in front of my feet. This I knew I had control over. This was my focus. Nothing else mattered. I ran to the end of the national park, crossed through the gate and turned out onto the Road. This section is so pretty. I’d been running a fair amount of road with my marathon training clients and I found this section a great place to make up some time that I’d lost on the climb. My legs just took off and I was flying long through the cottage, spotted country side, with cows happily feeding on the rims of their fertile, knobbly paddocks. This 5km out and back along the Mt Mee Plateau was just stunning. I’d normally dislike such a big road section but today it was like taking a holiday in the country. I ran along with a massive smile on my face just enjoying the pretty view. I ran up the hill passing church goers to their Sunday Morning services and crossed the road and turned right and headed into the Tennis Courts. Here I quickly filled up with a Litre of water in my Inov8 HydroPak Bladder, caught up with Chris and asked him to run the last 21.1km in with me to the finish line. He needed a bit more time at the Check Point. Mt Mee Stunning Countryside I headed off on the descent. Yippee! This is what I love doing, descending fast on a beautiful gradient for 5 km that felt like it was made for my legs. A Perfect place to make good time and to stretch my legs. I enjoyed waving to all the other runners on the way to the Turn Around and was able to see the gap between myself and the ladies behind me. I worked out I was in about 4th or 5th place overall. I cruised along the road, turned right then a left onto the gravel section then hit the really fun part of the course. The massive descent where the song that I was singing in my head was by Thexx “I Dare You”. It takes a fair amount of balls to run down the descents like this one, rocky tire width, 4WD tracks with high grass on each side at such a steep gradient. The descent was so steep imagined I was on the Man from Snowy River Horse. I opened up my hips at the front and leant back, keeping my ears over my hips, chest up and open, kicking up legs out behind me, split leaping with every step as I controlled my fall down the mountain. This was so much fun. “Go on,  I dare you”. Playing in my head. I was daring to see what I could do down this descent. One dares to start, dares to dream, dares to push themselves and release control over every step and see where it takes them. You also have to Dare to Win. Even dare to love. Take the good with the bad and just dare to really live life and see where every dare can take you. With “I dare you” with that amazing heart beat drumming and Peking Duk “Take Me Over”, playing through my head telling me to “Chase the Moment”, I was having an absolute ball and going for this descent. I hit the bottom of the gully, ran along the flat section, crossed the creek, passed through the gates, swung around to the right, checked in and out of the check point whilst grabbing some 500ml of water and headed up the gruelling climb. Now the Marathon Relay runners were starting to catch me. I used them to try and pace off, stick with on slowly dying legs. My achilles were screaming at me. I’d been running barefoot on Moreton Island and I think they were telling me to “F-off,” as I gritted out the ascent to the finish line. Time to count. Find a happy place. I counted and counted over and over and over again. Focus on only the patch of ground in front of your feet. That’s all that matters, this hill is massive, focus. Every flying descent I’d made in the first section of the event which now turned into a killer climb. At the 40km mark I found the 3rd place male ahead of me looking dizzy and walking. I gave him my water, electrolytes and all the rest of my food. He was bonking hard. I was really worried about him. I told him to have an endurolyte and a gel then and there in front of me and I just hoped he wasn’t going to injury himself as he made his way back to the finish line. I ran onto the finish line now with more urgency as I was now out of food and water. My achilles were screaming, will you bloody stop? Just give me a few more ks and it will be all over, we can have a hot bath and a smokey black label whiskey, I promised myself as I ran along ahead of one of my UTA marathon relay clients John at 4:30 min pace, let’s just end this. John caught and soon passed me, I tried to stay with him but I just couldn’t my legs were trashed. One more climb, find a happy place, I then turned right and cruised into the finish line.

Shona Stephenson 1st Female Mt Mee Finish Line

 

The minute I crossed the line I kicked off my shoes my achilles were killing me! Back to taping my ankles again and no more beach running for a little while.

Another reason to race....a perfect way to catch up with mates

Another reason to race….a perfect way to catch up with mates

The course was new, the distance was shorter by 3k, my time is not comparable with the year before. I ran it in 3 Hours 51 Minutes with 1250m vert gain and loss. I was first female and 3rd place overall. I was stoked with my time, effort and my race to the end.

A massive Thank You to Barefoot Inc and inov8 Australia for my race Gear Set Up,  Hammer Nutrition for my Nutrition Plan and recovery for the event. Another special Thank You to the team at Body Leadership Physiotherapy for keeping me up and running through all my niggles and Karen at TailRunner for keeping my fury training partner Bubble kitted up beautifully.

Winning Female Race Kit from the Mt Mee Marathon

Inov8 Trail Talon 250

Inov8 Race Ultra Vest

Injini Socks Hammer Singlet

Hammer Visor

Running Bare Shorts

Hammer Nutrition

Hammer Endurolyte 1 every 30 min to 1 hour

Hammer Race Caps 3 before the race

Hammer Banana Gel every 30- 45 minutes watered down 50%

Hammer Vegan Recovery Bar

Hammer Tissue Rejuvenator

Mt Mee Race Kit Shona Stephenson

Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon 2017

by Shona Stephenson on August 9, 2017

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Shona Stephenson Running Into First Place at the Mt Glorious 1/2 Marathon

Shona Stephenson Running Into First Place at the Mt Glorious 1/2 Marathon

 

Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon 2017

 

I live up the mountains in the Brisbane Hinterland just 10 or so Ks from Mount Glorious so it seems crazy not to run this iconic climbing local Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon 2017. It was a great opportunity to shake out the cobwebs from the Christmas Summer Break and to really see how my pre-season training had made a difference to my racing ability.

 

In the past I had raced Tarawera Ultra in NZ instead of running The Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon. Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon does not suit my strengths at all. It has 1200m of climbing and only 650m descending. I’m a descender not a climber when the net gain is more than the net loss I am put at a disadvantage, my legs just love doing split leaps down mountains rather than a grind of a climb up. Climbing is always a focus in my training, it is my weakness and always the key area of my racing that I can improve on.

 

I really made the most of the hot conditions post Blackall 100 in Queensland. I love to train in the heat. It is where I feel comfortable. I purposely trained on hot 35 degree days having my own adventures just like when I started trail running. I went out with a map in my hands and got lost, stumbled, stacked, injured myself, almost lost my knee cap and eye training for long hard days in the Connonale National Park on the extremely untamed Great Walks 57km route. I also made sure I was running out the back from my house on my favourite Township Break and of course on the course from Red Cedar up to Northbrook Mountain and return. I also made an effort to get on my bike before the event. I now have a rule that if my car is in for a service (I use my car as a mobile PT/Coach a fair bit) I ride Mount Nebo Rd to my house. I have a pit stop then ride back down again. I have considerably noticed the strength develop in my legs and my power to weight ratio increase. I kept up my Bikram Yoga and I also added in Inferno Pilates too to keep the intensity high whilst training without so much stress on my body.

 

I’m so lucky that my job allows me to get extra ks on my legs while I work. My Marathon Running group was going strong over summer and I was banking easy flat ks for my leg speed with my running coaching clients. Most days I was averaging 35000 plus steps a day. I don’t count ks, I’ve never found it beneficial to me. I go for key, quality runs over the week and whatever else I do is a bonus.

 

I was single for the first time in almost 18 years and the amount of freedom I felt was amazing. I’d pushed through a fair amount of fear of dating and just got out there and started to really enjoy myself again. I was in control of my own life and the liberation I felt was outstanding. I could just run, train and race for myself and it felt so good.

 

I lined up on the start line feeling amazing. Light on my feet and ready to race. I knew I had to be smart from the start line if I had a chance of pulling this win off.

 

The count down went off and we were off and running. I decided that I had to run from the start all the way. It was how my legs are set up, it was my race plan. I find it less impact on my body to run than to walk up the steep climbs. Off we all went up the fire trail from the White Cedar Picnic Ground, I went out just chilling and seeing who else had decided to come to race. A few girls looked incredibly strong from the start. They raced ahead of me. I was blown away with how strong triathlete Emily Davis and Irish born, Kelly-Anne Speight were. Shit! Maybe all the sprinters are here today. It’s a 1/2 Marathon Shona, maybe you are too old and slow to win it today. Just run your own race and let them go and see what happens.

 

My watch battery went flat on the start line! I could not tell how fast I was running. I just had to run by feel and trust my body and the training I’d completed over the Christmas Break.

 

On the climb up to Northbrook Mountain, Emily was gone, never to me see again and I could just keep Kelly-Anne in my sights. I noticed she had to walk where I could run. I just kept my legs turning over, cadence high and slowly reeled her in. By the time I hit the first turn off I’d just managed to pass her. Cool, I’ve passed Kelly-Anne, now try and catch Emily. There is a descent, get her on this section down to the cabbage creek.

 

I pushed and pushed, flying along, split leaping down the descent with Emily nowhere in sight. Far out! She can descend as well as climb and I was equally impressed with Kelly-Anne too! She was not letting me out of her sight! I could here her chasing me down England Creek Track. With Kelly-Anne pushing me from behind and the thought of Emily ahead I hit the bottom creek and let my flat marathon training legs go. I pushed hard for 800m and lost Kelly-Anne. I turned left and started to head up the 9km climb on Joiners Rd. I caught a few of my friends Chris and Andrew, had a quick catch up chat and I marvelled at the strength of Emily who was ahead of me and nowhere to be seen. I’d basically decided to be content with being beaten by such an amazing athlete and decided to have a chat to these two trail buddies.

 

I cruised on up the climb, running all the way while Chris and Andrew ran and walked next to me, I looked to the left ad enjoyed the view back to Northbrook Mountain and just relished in the freedom I was feeling out racing on my own and not having to worry about a partner who was racing too. We spotted a pack of runners ahead of us and Chris took off. I did my best to stay with him but Chis is always stronger than me on the climbs.

 

Lee soon came up next to me, punching out a great pace. I decided that he had the best outfit on of all the trail runners for the day. We ran along encouraging each other for about 5ks, with Lee towards the top of the climb edging ahead of me by about 100m.  Slowly the trail foliage turned from Eucalypts to lush green palms of the Mount Glorious Rainforest, I could hear motorcycle traffic from the road. I new I was almost at the top of Mount Glorious, the hard part was almost over.

 

I looked up ahead, feeling tired, then suddenly very awake. I couldn’t believe my eyes. 500m ahead of me I spotted a purple outfit and a ponytail. Is that Emily? I picked up my pace. All of a sudden I was racing again. My legs took over like they had the will and the power all of their own and they (my legs)  started sprinting. I bounded up behind Lee, using him as a visual held between myself and Emily. I realised she was walking and cramping badly. I overtook Lee and just at the cameraman I over took Emily, asking her if she was okay and needed anything from me. She said she was fine, cramping badly.

 

I pushed onwards, turned left onto the stunning, fern lined single trail and power walked up the stairs. I then went to run after this walking and my calf began to spasm. SHIT! Not now, not so close to the finish line. I cracked a Hammer Endurolyte Cap into my mouth, hoping that the salt would take away the cramping for the next 800m until I crossed the finish line. I’d been without water for 5 ks now. I ran along, managing my calf, making sure I didn’t tear it, hoping that I’d done enough to stay ahead of Emily and Kelly-Anne. I pushed in around the last few turns, crossed the finish line and fell to my knees with my calves going crazy. FARK that hurt! Man it felt so good! What a way t spend a Sunday Morning.

 

I had no idea what time I’d raced it in or even if it was a good time as I am always a bit clueless about results , in the end what ever your body is capable of doing on the day is enough.  I checked the results and I race the 21.1km with 1600m vert gain and 650 loss in 2:17:24. I was 6th fastest time with only 4 women faster than me over the history of the event including the great Hubertein Wichers who has represented Australia for Mountain Running events. I was so pleased with myself as it really isn’t my distance or my kind of course.

The Mount Glorious Podium  Marathon Women's 2nd Emily, 1st Shona and 3rd Kelly-Anne

The Mount Glorious Podium
Marathon Women’s 2nd Emily, 1st Shona and 3rd Kelly-Anne

 

Inov8 Race Kit

Inov8 Trail Talon 250

Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest

Inov8 Aus Racing Singlet

Hammer Visor

 

 

Hammer Nutrition

Water 500ml every hour, 500ml more if I am suffering from asthma

2 Hammer gels every hour watered down 50% I like the Banana Gel the Most

Hammer Enduroyltes 1 cap every 30 minutes

Hammer Race Caps Supremes

 

 

I was also taking Tissue Rejuvenator, eating Vegan Recovery Bars post training sessions.

 

 

 

Blackall 100 2016 The Process

by Shona Stephenson on July 23, 2017

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Blackall 100 Start Line Shona Stephenson always on the front her left hand side.

Blackall 100 Start Line Shona Stephenson always on the front her left hand side.

Blackall 100 2016 The Process

 

Sometimes to get better at running, the answer cannot be found in running.

 

Sometimes we have to break outside out usual routine to heal our mind, body and souls to have real improvement with our performance.

 

It takes a lot of courage to try a new routine, exercise, way of thinking. If something in your training program is not working for you and the results are not coming your way, then there is something wrong with your body or health. It is time to look at your program.

 

Ask yourself the question. It is time to focus on your recovery?

 

I went off the asthma drugs at the start of 2016. No preventive. Just ventolin if needed. I then just struggled through 2016 with no training, just racing and resting. I put no pressure on myself. I still raced but I really did not train. My lungs just would not allow for it. I was so sick. I was also suffering mentally. I knew there was a link with my asthma drugs and my mental health. I just had to figure out what was really the underling cause.

 

I raced the Moonlight Shotover Marathon in early 2016 and had an asthma attack, cried for about 5ks then recovered, thinking of DNF’ing but decided that the depression from a DNF was way worse than just walking the last 21km of a marathon. I just had to take the pressure off, listen to my body and just enjoy the glorious Queenstown NZ scenery and take one step at a time to the finish. When I made it across the finish line, I then burst into tears swearing never to put myself in that situation again. I still managed a 4th place in the Skyrunning Aus/NZ event but it was far from what my mind and body was capable of if I was healthy. This is the frustrating part of having asthma, it really does feel like there is a miscommunication between the mind, lungs and the legs. My legs and mind want to go but an underlying fear holds my breathing back. I would then get sick post race and I knew it was going to take me 3 weeks for my lungs to recover from this event. So again, I couldn’t train. I had to rest.

 

In May, I raced “Up The Buff”, the South East Queensland Trail Championships off again no training and still sick with asthma after Moonlight Shotover Marathon and came 4th. I was just happy to be out running again and catching up with my friendly social trail running buddy network.

 

I was beaten by 3 women who were all bike riders. I knew I had to get back on the bike again and cross train more. I got back on my bike, first time on a mountain bike and it was my kids bike mountain bike, (probably not the best choice to start riding again, but when you race as much as I do you get kind of sick of always worrying about injury if you try something new, so stuff it! I was on my kids mountain bike while doing a reeky for a Ultra Training Australia Trail camp), having an absolute ball, flying down Lightline Break at Mount Nebo. I was having so much fun riding out the back of house in D’Aguilar National Park at Mt Nebo I totally lost track of time. I was also unskilled on a bike, any bike, usually described as a new born fawn or “Bambi”, on the bike, all legs and no control. On the way back after riding pretty much to Lake Manchester I then had a pretty serious stack, hitting a rock, while descending around a corner, where I came off the bike and rolled 3 times, I then had to ride back out with no food, water, first aid or mobile phone. I went straight to the hospital and was given 3 stitches. My knee hit a rock pretty badly, it felt like a knife had stabbed me straight through the knee cap. My knee was in pain every time I straightened it. Again I could not train with this injury.

 

In June I race Oxfam TW Brisbane and ended up pissing blood again for 50k. Our team placed 2nd overall in 12 Hours and won the mixed category but I was definitely the weakest person in the team and my current state of health was a real sign of where I was at mentally too. A week after Oxfam TW Brisbane I badly tore the ligaments in my “Good” ankle while coaching my daughters netball team. I was on crutches for a week and in a fair amount of pain. My friends could see that I was in a real state of depression. They knew what I needed and deep down I knew it too.

 

I needed to train again, race again and set goals again, start to care again. Care about myself and my happiness again.

 

Ask another question. Was my depression preventing me from setting goals and training?

 

Sure I had been sick, injured, but what was holding me back? I had depression. I don’t think anyone could have gone through a separation of a 16 year relationship without suffering from absolute sadness.

 

In trying to make myself happy again I drove into setting up a new life for my girls in a house I was renovating with the hope of a new life but it was too hard to do it all on my own. Yes, I had a partner at the time but he was not connected emotionally to me or to our future together.

 

I really was on my own. If I was on my own emotionally, then I had to look after myself emotionally and stop caring about everyone else before my own needs were being met. Why do I have to please everyone before myself?

 

My good friends and training partners Oxfam TW Brisbane Team Mates, Jess and Brad, encouraged me to race the River Run 50km in July, again off no training but just decided that I’d like to run a road event again for fun. I’d only managed one run before the event. The River Run 50k  is road event was something I hadn’t tried for about 4 years and the thought of a road event excited me. I was totally out of my league, in my trail running shoes and my calves were not conditioned to the hard concrete. I was in a world of pain not only in my body but in my inner thighs. I had the worst chafe of my life! So bad that a middle aged lady bystander stopped me at about the 40k mark and asked me it I had my period.  I quickly checked as I was due but, I let her know that “No it’s just bad chafe”. Oh Dear! This was turning out to be the road race from hell! I held first place until 42km, but was past. I managed a 2nd place and a first road Ultra Finish. I was super pleased with my effort and learnt so much from this event.

 

Okay, I tried something new, challenged myself and enjoyed it even with all the calf and chafe pain. What else needs to change?

 

Leading into September Coastal High 50, I’d by then taken a year off training. Meaning I’d taken a year off really looking after myself. I discovered I was missing out something. I was missing The Process. The Process of getting up for training, making time for training, looking after your diet, body well enough to get to training.

 

But how I was meant to do this if I was injured with an ankle and knee injury and forever sick with asthma?

 

I was so sick with exercise induced asthma that I was passing out when driving at altitude of only 1200m post UTMF event. This was crazy! I had to work out what was going wrong with my body and figure out a way to really heal it long term asthma drug free. I worked out for me, the asthma drugs were not the answer to helping me get over my breathing problems. I had to cut out the sugar from my diet. Really cut it out and find a better probiotic to heal my micro biome. After a few weeks I noticed a real improvement with my asthma and my mental health. I was not longer feeling so depressed. 80% of serotonin is made in the gut not the brain. I knew I had to fix my gut health to get results with my asthma and mental health.

 

Late August I went away to Binna Burra and met Ray from the Yoga Centre and did 2 yoga sessions with his guidance. He was an x-Personal Trainer and his body had been broken from heavy weight training. His story really resinated in me. After these 2 yoga classes I found I was running free and pain free. Wow! I’d been writing Yoga Recovery Sessions into my Running Coaching and Ultra Training Australia coaching clients programs for over 8 years but I was not practicing The Process properly myself.

 

Had I found the missing piece to My Process?

 

In September 2016 I discovered Hot or Bikram Yoga and it seriously changed my life. I found a way to train at a high intensity without the impact on my body. It became my new weekly rehab program.

 

Hot Yoga reset my strung out nervous system and hormones. It provided a safe place for me to breathe when I found it terrifying to breathe deeply. Breathing deeply for me would bring on an asthma attack if I was sick. The Bikram Yoga then became a safe place for me to engage with my true inner self and meditate throughout the 90 minutes of holding poses in isometric contractions in 40 degree heat. It is the same routine in every session so I didn’t have to think about the poses I could just focus and function. The hot room also meant that I could practice breathing deeply in the hot room, healing my lungs then go out and train with this new found diaphragm strength and confidence in my own body.

 

I started to retrain my mental processing from negative self doubt thoughts into beautiful, self loving thoughts. Some days I’d just go in there (The Hot Bikram Studio) and just tell myself how wonderful I was. Crazy that someone who is successful, with two beautiful loving children, with many friends still has to tell themselves that they are loved. I guess I was missing love from some of the key people in my life who being loved by really mattered.

 

I was given a mediation coherreramce device that read my levels of coherence and it suggested that I was in the best coherence when I was giving myself love. How crazy was this? I had to really love myself. Here was where I found true happiness and inner peace. Sounds simple. I had to learn how to truly love myself, connect with myself and tell myself that I was a good person.

 

Anyone who had been though trauma would understand that they need to be told it wasn’t their fault.  I know this sounds crazy. I was abused for so long, those words can really effect your sub-consciences. I had to counter act all that hurt with pure self love. In Bikram would cry when I thought no one was watching. It was raw, and it needed to come out. I found that that 90 minutes in that heat where I could only focus on me, my body and holding the poses was the perfect environment for my brain to be retrained and the depression to be defeated. I had to tell myself I was loved, I was beautiful and that I was going to be okay. I was going to be okay on my own and I was successful.

 

Wow! I look back on this a totally different person from that hurt girl back in September. The person seems so foreign to me now. Far out how quickly we can grow and heal ourselves.

 

The Process was set in stone. I was back at racing regularly again. In early September off no training I raced Coastal High 50 and managed a podium, 3rd place. Again I was beaten by 2 bike riders turned trail runners, the winner was racing my next event the Blackall 100. I had 7 weeks to train. I jumped on the wind trainer and started to build my leg strength again.

Shona Stephenson Inov8 Australia Athlete at Blackall 100 5km Mark

Shona Stephenson Inov8 Australia Athlete at Blackall 100 5km Mark

 

I became focused on the 3 from 3 wins at the Blackall 100k in October.

 

3 From 3 at Blackall 100. The pressure was incredible. The “hat trick”. I always have so much support when I race, friends wanting me to perform, to win. I have to be content with not winning. I was going to not even start. I didn’t want to do the event because the cause had changed and I was worried I was not racing for the love of it. I promised after my DNF in the UTMF (Ultra Trail Mt Fuji) that I would only run beautiful courses. When the course had changed due to a bush fire I was so upset as it took my most favourite part of the course out of it.

 

I had to be adaptable.

 

My x-partner talked me into starting on the morning of the race. I was petrified. Would I have an asthma attack again like last year? Another UTMF or Moonlight Shotover Marathon experience? I no longer wanted to torture my body like I had in the past. I didn’t want to have to suffer through another asthma attack for 50ks. It looked like I’d get 30 degree temperatures in the middle of the day to help with my breathing. I just had to be calm and wait for the weather to heat up, race my own race and just trust in my body.

 

My body knew what to do I had to switch off my mind and let my body take over. My effort was enough. I was good enough.

Shona Stephenson and Lou Betts at Blackall 100 Mapleton Road Section

Shona Stephenson and Lou Betts at Blackall 100 Mapleton Road Section

 

I ran out with the winner of Coastal High 50 Lou Betts, for the first 10k and noticed she was breathing harder than me, working harder than me. I let her go head on the start of the first climb, knowing that this was her strength. I decided that it was best for me to take the pressure off and run my own race. I really did give out love, compassion and good wishes to my fellow runners. If they past me then they deserved to be there as clearly their training and dedication was more consistent than mine and they deserved their results. When you can run like this then the racing mind set is easy. The correct focus is there. Just do the best you have on the day. Enough is good enough.

 

I struggled with my breathing in the cold conditions from the 28 to the 40km mark. I ran along having an asthma attack trying to warm up my airways using the deep Bikram Yoga, Pranayama breathing exercise while I was running along. It must have looked so funny, I was running along tilting my head all the way back and forth, as far as it could go, breathing using my throat muscles. It sounded terrible, one runner turned around and asked if I was okay. I just let her know that this is what asthma sounds like. I ran into the check point with my diaphragm cramping terribly. It was working so hard trying to get oxygen in and out of my lungs, diaphragm breathing so much that I was spasming in the very muscle I needed the most. I was close to tears. I wanted to pull the plug on the race. My friend Aaron, at the checkpoint gave me a stern look and said. “She’s just ahead. Go run her down.” (She was 7 minutes ahead of me).

My x behind me told me “Your okay and just keep going.”

 

Just take it one step at a time. One Checkpoint at a time. No DNF’s.

 

I just decided to make it to the next check point and see how my body was feeling. I ran out around the dam up the hills catching all the 50k runners, chatting to them and encouraging them as I ran past. The words you say to other competitors enter into your own psych. “Your doing so well, looking strong, well done”. I hear these words myself and I then start to believe this encouragement.

The temperature started to rise and my body started to relax. The positive energy I was running on was starting to kick in and I was starting to feel better. I was running my own race and I was content with the effort I was putting in to get the results I was getting. I usually find my strength after 50ks.

 

I ran into the 60k check point feeling really strong (Lou was 7 minutes ahead of me). I was going to make it to the end. No more asthma.  I was starting to have a bit of a party out there and really enjoy the experience. I rolled over the deceptively harsh rolling descents into Checkpoint 7 on top of the world and feeling so much better than the first lap of the altered Blackall 100 course. I checked in and out off the 70k Check point and was told I was gaining substantially on Lou. I did not really care, I never asked for the time difference, it wasn’t important to me. I just had to trust in my body and my own game plan and let my experience take over. I ran along well wishing, chatting, encouraging all the runners as I past them on my final loop of the dam and then turned left and ran into the out and back of the Checkpoint and spotted Lou. I realised that her quads were smashed and she was then only 500m ahead of me.

 

I stayed calm. There was no point blowing up here now with 20k to go. I was pretty sure I was low on calories as I seemed to forget to pack 1/2 my gels, I’d frozen some of watered down Hammer Gels. I’d left them in the hotel freezer. I was running on hammer bars, and my remaining gels, bananas and I picked up some sports drink at the Checkpoint. I cruised out of the Checkpoint, up the hill well wishing and passing 50k runners and setting my line of sight on Lou. I rolled down the hill and past her, asking her if she was okay. She said she was fine. To me her quads were smashed and she could no longer run the descents and barely the flats. I ran up the final massive 500m climb and close to the top I decided to walk and make sure I was fuelled correctly. There was no point running past Lou if I was then going to blow up after this climb. Lou, showing her true strength of character spotted me walking. She then started power hiking up behind me. Her hike was as fast as my run, her long legs matching my fast high turn over cadence run. I let her know I was impressed with her power hiking skills. I was blown away with the amount of courage and determination she showed to try and catch me.

 

With Lou on my heals, I made a promise to myself I had to run and not look back until I was hidden on the single trail at the 89km mark. I ran along, ahead of her, staying calm, listening to my footsteps stretching further, further ahead and only faintly able to hear her foot steps behind me. I hit the flattish section of the fire trail and stretched my lead from Lou. I could no longer hear her foot steps. I’d done it. My conservative race plan had worked.

 

I heard footsteps behind me. Shit! Don’t look back. Don’t show weakness. If it’s Lou you have this covered, you’ll beat her on the single trail. “Don’t worry, it’s me Paul”. My UTMB friend Paul gently informed me as he ran up behind me. “Wow, that was so impressive. It was a real gutsy fight for the lead, pretty inspirational”.

“Thanks Paul”. I replied. “I guess I’ve had to do a few of these fights at this same point in a race”. Remembering a fight for 3rd at UTA in 2012 and 2nd Place at the UTMF 2013.

I was relieved it was him, prepared if it was Lou. I’ve been in many races for places with 20ks to the finish and knew that no matter what happened I had to be happy with my effort. I was happy, content with how I’d raced the day.

 

Paul powered on ahead and I was safe, out of sight of Lou. I hopped onto the single trail and popped into the 92km mark making up 4 minutes on Lou. I got the hell out of there quick smart and pushed it to the end, now unable to consume any more food, only drinking sips of Hammer Gels only to spit them out but the taste of the gel alone was enough to spur me on through the stunning rainforest where my senses where heightened. I was smelling all the amazing nectars (as I must have been low on sugars) as I ran along, loving life, love, nature on a total runners high, pleased to not need a head torch and super amazed with my own ability. I was going to make it. Win 3 Blackall 100′s in a row.

 

I hopped out of the rainforest, called out to the owner of the last house on the street and let him know that he has the best fence I’d ever seen in all my racing. Stormed up onto the Mapleton Ridge and ran hard to the finish knowing that my friend and training partner Jess Schutler would also be on the hunt and had the ability to chase me down. My good friends Brad and Jess took me out on a training run before Blackall 100 for a Time Trail to get me back into shape. Jess beat me by 5 minutes up a 7km hill. My friends chose to lie to me and say she’d only beaten me by 2 minutes. It was their little secret to protect me, worrying that I would be upset knowing Jess was that much faster than me. They know I run on self belief and absolute confidence. I can’t say that if they told me the real time if it would have made a difference to my head space leading into the event.I know Jess is an amazing athlete,  I guess this just showed how much these two trail running buddies cared for me and my pre-event psyche. It also showed how much they believed my fitness had dropped off in a year or 2. They both knew I run on guts, heart, determination and I was no where near where I should be with my fitness.

 

I’m a racer not a trainer. It’s lucky I like to race. If you just tell Shona she can win, then she will do everything possible to win on race day. I know that if I just tell myself I am amazing then I will achieve amazing things. If you tell your friends they can do it then they will do it, just as Brad and Jess told me I could do it. If you tell your kids they are capable of anything then they will set their sights high. Achieving goals is all in the mind. This is not about pride or inflated egos. This is about setting goals and believing in yourself, letting only the good positive mind dialogue enter into your psyche and push out all negative thoughts as they are not helpful. Those negative thoughts won’t help you get to your goals so they are not useful.

 

Jess and Brad where there to get me up and running again when I was at my lowest. They helped me drag myself out of a hole and I am truely thankful to them.

Shona Stephenson and Jess Schulter Blackall 100 1st and 3rd Female Winers

Shona Stephenson and Jess Schulter Blackall 100 1st and 3rd Female Winers

 

I ran along past the farms loving every step of the final few kilometers. It had taken me a whole year to really understand that I am a racer. I’m not meant to retire from running, as I said I would do after the Blackall 100 in 2015. I need The Process. I need to life experience and keep developing as a person. I ran along the finish line with fists pumping, on a runners high, loving life, love, friends and trail running. I was so pleased I had fought through the fears on the start line, fears of my asthma at 40km and come out such a stronger person. I did it. In the end I had the right focus. The Process was put into place and I was good enough.

 

 

Inov8 Australia Race Kit

Inov8 Trail Talon 250

Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest

Inov8 Aus Racing Singlet

Hammer Visor

Inov8 Wragg

 

Hammer Nutrition Australia

Water 500ml every hour, 500ml more if I am suffering from asthma

2 Hammer gels every hour watered down 50% I like the Banana Gel the Most

Vegan Recovery Bar Almond 1/2 every 30km one on the start line.

Hammer Enduroyltes 1 cap every 30 minutes

Hammer Race Caps Supremes

I was also taking Tissue Rejuvenator, eating Vegan Recovery Bars post training sessions.

Shona Stephenson wins 3 Blackall 100 from 3 appearances. 2014, 2015 , 2016.

Shona Stephenson wins 3 Blackall 100 from 3 appearances. 2014, 2015 , 2016.

Blackall 100 Start Line Shona Stephenson always on the front her left hand side.

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.