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

 

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