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.

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