Mt Mee Marathon 2017

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

UTA100

Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia
Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

UTA100

 

It was to be my 5th UTA100 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 UTA100 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 UTA100 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 UTA100 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 UTA100 races. Brad and I have a healthy rivalry stemming back to 2012 where he beat me on a count back at UTA100 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 UTA100.

 

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 UTA100 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 UTA100. I spent the last 20km of the 2014 UTA100 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 UTA100. 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 UTA100 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 UTA100 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 UTA100 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.

 

 

 

Trail Love Tongariro

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.

 

 

 

Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc

Inov-8 Trail Runner Shona Stephenson
Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc 2014 start line with Shona Stephenson Trail Runner

The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc

I was given a 2nd chance to race and try to finish the extremely difficult Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc 168km with over 9600m of elevation gain and loss hopefully finishing on my 36 year old birthday. I DNF (Did not finish) the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2013, this year there was no bloody way I was not finishing the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. In fact I DNF 5 Ultra’s in 2013 and I was keen to maintain my perfect finishing record in 2014.
I was coming down with a cold the week out from Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc I did not let it play on my mind, I fought it off and two days before the race I got it back again. Be it the flight or the fact that I got my period the minute I landed on the Tuesday before Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc and I was run down from racing 6 Ultra’s in 6 Months I decided that there was no way I was going to let this crappy virus hold be back. I was sick of DNF’s and I was not F’ing DNF’ing the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. I was bloody healthy, even with my period and a virus. I was stopping for nothing. Boys skip this paragraph.
For the first time in a long time I’ve been regular with my periods I put it down to racing once a month and following a high fat, low carb diet. I switch to carbs with fat two days before long runs and racing and I always eat oats for breakfast except for a recovery breakfast of eggs. I feel so much better, way more energy, powering on through every day like I have super human powers.
I’m not starving myself to maintain my low racing weight, I’m feeding myself with good fats, good proteins and starting every day with gluten free oats. I’ve gone totally Gluten Free, Dairy Free but I’ve allowed meat back into my diet this year after 18 years of being a vegetarian.

Shona Stephenson Inov-8 Race Kit
Shona Stephenson Inov-8 Race Kit

No DNF’s in 2014 was my long term goal. I would have to be choppered off the mountain with a broken leg to DNF the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc and I will be racing with this in mind. A top 10 finish was to be an ultimate goal, a goal I set myself 2 years ago when I started to get serious about Ultra Trail racing.
I packed my kit for the gear check at registration and waited in the line hoping that the doctors certificate that I obtained the day I flew to Geneva would be enough to get me my race bib number. Me being totally Me, too casual for my own Aussie good, totally forgot the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc process when it came to the doctors certificate’s, doctors clearance, I almost did not make it to the start line. I was happily surprised that instead of my exercise induced asthma being a problem I was invited to partake in drug testing for EPO and any other performance enhancing drugs in my system.
I was flattered that the Anti Doping Body even asked this mid thirty year old mother of two to be tested. I was a bit pissed that they were taking my precious blood out of me especially when I was bleeding with my period. Not ideal. But stuff it. That’s life shit happens. For the record my haemoglobin levels was at 45.8% meaning that I can gain an extra 4% before coming under scrutiny.
With my drug testing done, my exercise induced asthma felt like way less of an issue to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc race doctors. I really do have to jump through some hoops to be allowed to compete by my local doctors. I had to have a full medical with more blood taken from me top make sure I was fit enough to race. Some of local GP’s just don’t get ultra racing and look at me like I’m a freak. I especially hate telling them when I have a problem with my health knowing that it could be used as a reason not to allow me to race. I try not to remind them of any health problems that I have…..Sometimes I even have to switch doctors so I can race. Not ideal, bit naughty but I know how far I can push it. I hate being told I can’t do something, if I’d listen to all the doctors over the past 4 years I would not be here today.
With all the formalities done it was time to rest and eat. Sweet potatoes, potatoes were cooked up in the Team Inov-8 Apartment and I got my race kit organised.

After a training run to Le Brevent I decided poles were necessary for competing in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2014. I had not used poles since my DNF Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc in 2013 but I knew I was going to be strong enough to use them with all the lifting I do as a PT and manual labour I was doing renovating my house and landscaping my garden. Besides “F it”. I had 168ks to figure out how to use the bloody things again.
Europe had experienced higher than average rain falls, the ground was eroded, fits sized rocks were now exposed, the surface was loose and unstable and it was extremely muddy in some places. After the same training run and with the help of watching the conditions at Le Tour d France I also chose the Inov8 X-Talons 212 to race the 168km in. Grip was going to be essential for saving energy and preventing an injury. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc was going to be one hell of a muddy miler. Great I thought, make it tough. I’m like a big old fat race horse. I like a wet track. Make it tough and dreary. I’ll remain positive.
On race day with a bit of a sore throat, opted against any pain killers knowing that it could effect my kidneys. I sucked it up and made my way to the pumping start line, that was bursting from it’s seams in the Chamonix town centre. I was happy to find Andrew Tuckey in the crowd. We had a nice chat to each other and he looked so relaxed, I knew he was to have a great race.
This year the weather was a polar opposite to last year’s 26 degrees and sunshine. About 3 minutes before the start the heavens opened up and to started pouring with rain. At least the night won’t be so cold with all the cloud cover I thought and wet conditions are better for my asthma too. So with a much more somber atmosphere compared to 2013 the crowd counted runners down. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off with a massive cheers from the thousands of spectators and cruising along the streets of Chamonix.
After about 3ks I had the pleasure of running with Kiwi Runner Jean Beaumont and Northburn 100M winner for 2014. We chatted together and I suggested that we work together for as long as possible. What is it about Aussies and Kiwis when we get together? It’s like meeting a long lost friend, it’s like meeting the Irish. It was so nice to see a Kiwi and hear her ascent, something so warming, familiar with the Kiwi ascent, I just wanted to hear it all night long. I knew what I was in for and it was scaring me a bit. I wanted a top 10 finish and this is the toughest field I’d raced in thus far. I know the demons come out to play if the mind it not in the right place or if the body is exhausted of all it’s reserves. I’ve learnt to leave something in the tank for when it all goes wrong. With all this in mind we happily climbed and descended together, rolling along pacing each other making sure we could talk the whole time and when I reached the Les Houches and the first climb of the 100Miles .
At 8ks I dropped Jean on this climb and I lost a few places to other female runners but I could not care less. To finish Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc it takes mental toughness like nothing else I know. Last year I was not strong enough, to block out all the hype, expectations and just bloody do your best. That’s all that matters. For me it is tougher cardiovascular than the UTMF and with asthma it just gets to me.
In 2014 I was stronger and I was not going to make the same mistakes as 2013. I was pacing myself from the start line and I was just not going to blow up. Those girls can run ahead of me. Good luck to them. I’d like to see how many can stay ahead of me at the finish line. I just punched out my cadence, moved on my rhythm and enjoyed this run knowing I was going to kick butt and have the time of my life. The Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc is just beautiful. It is impossible to not to be totally inspiredly the pure  on beauty of the mountains . This part of the world is such a special place.
I chilled out and moved up the Col De Voza, though Le Delevret and happily crested the top of La Chame. I then rolled on down the other side of the mountain taking back most of the places that I’d lost on the climb. One by one I was able to run them down.
The conditions were horrendous, slippery, muddy, pouring with rain, the track narrowed and I avoided spraining my ankle like in 2013 and enjoyed some awesome forest single trail running. Relishing in the surroundings. I made the most of my strengths and ran into the check point at Saint Gervais feeling good. (Unknown to me I was in 23rd position).
I just grabbed some water just in case, quickly moved on and upwards towards the first support crew allowed check point Les Contamines for the next 9km over rolling hills, in and out of farm land, single trails, French Alpine Villages, fire trails, slowly climbing and finally entering the check point after 31km.
I yelled out for Glen my brother-in-law now my experienced support crew. I heard his Kiwi voice and I was ushered to my kit. Glen is just great, a positive force of nature and just a pleasure to work with. He had all my kit laid out for me on a towel so I could see what was needed for this next leg. I quickly swapped my Hammer Perpetuem Bottles, grabbed my trusty pop top bottles of Hammer Banana Gels, Choc Chip Hammer Bar and got the hell out of there again, thanking Glen and saying bye to Aussie Kellie Emmerson who was supporting Teygen Angel. I predicted that Tegyen would run me down at about 120km.
On leaving the check point I grabbed a 1/3 of a banana and ate it while arranging my kit walk running out of the check point and preparing for the next leg, putting on my trusty Ay-Up Head Torch. In 2013 I spotted the best public toilet I’d ever come across whilst trail running, it was just beautiful, clean like my own private toilet cabin set in the French Alps. It had been raining for over 30km of the 168km, I felt like a drowned rat, soaked through to the bone, I was not wearing a waterproof jacket yet and I was now starting to feel the cold. I knew that this had to be managed my core temperature to prevent hypothermia later on into the night or early hours of the morning. After spotting the playground I nicked away to the bonusFrench Alpine cabin toilet and arranged myself, swapping tops to a Inov-8 Base Layer SS and an  Inov-8 RaceShell 220.
After this quick pit stop I popped back out onto the track and just worked my tempo, cadence up this next climb to the Col du Bonhomme 2486m I pulled out my poles and tried to remind myself how to use them. It was a bit dangerous at first, bit like Bambi trying to learn how to walk, I almost tripped a couple of other runners over trying to eat food, drink water with the poles in my hand. I soon learned to tuck them under my armpits under one arm to drink and eat, before long they became my friends, pushing me along the wide fire trail towards La Balme. I ignored the females passing me and just concentrated on my own rhythm. It was one long race and I just had to stay cool and enjoy what the French Alps had on offer. I was just so grateful that I had another chance to finish the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.
This leg just sucks. The climbs are massive, repeating, relentless and hitting altitude. The climb up to the top of the Refuge de la Croix Bu Bonhomme was 10km long ascent and reach an altitude of 2486m above sea level. At the base of the climb I just used my pole to punch out a rhythm, counting my steps, monitoring my breathing, staying consistent with my pacing. I used my poles to literally drag myself up this mountain. Making the most of my arm power, saving my legs. I wanted to still be able to run at 168km.
I lost more places on this monster of a climb, staying focused and committed to what was important, moving forever forward, onwards and upwards, along the now single trail into the night forming the 10km ribbon of lights climbing up the mountain. This year I was no longer scared. My asthma was much better managed than 2013. I concentrated on blowing out with every breath and cruised up the mountain enjoying this climb, staying forever hopeful that the ascent would be over soon. Every time a negative thought cam into my head I pushed it out with my own positive reinforcements.
I hit the rocky outcrop signalling the top of the Col, knowing from my 2013 experience than I was close to the top. I rabbited along this boulder track, catching, passing runners and before long I was descending the mountain and running down more runners be it with my down hill running technical skills, blinding people with my Ay-Up, forcing them to give way to me in the never ending rain and mud.
It might sound weird but because the rocks on the top of the mountains were covered with dirt they had more traction than in 2013. They also seemed to be less sharp too due to the erosion. My Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s seemed to be the best shoe I could hope for thus far in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Last year my feet were killing me at this point, I had a septicaemia infection in my big toe and a severely sprained ankle, this year I was feeling no pain. I felt fresh and in control, picking of the runners one by one down this massive descent along an eroded delta of single trails, spotting the glowing beacons in the darkness, following head torches down, down, down, down almost a 1km vertical descent into Les Chapieux back down to 1549m and reaching a distance of 49km.
At the check point I was checked for a rain jacket, which I was wearing in the rain and my mobile phone, maps on my iPhone. I then filled up with water in my front Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest Bottles, grabbed a banana and started running out of there. I powered consistently up this long climb on a bitumen road towards the next mother of a climb Col de la Seigne.
Man, last year at this point I was struggling, loosing places hand over fist. This year I was feeling great and I felt like I was catching runners one by one. I was able to spot the blokes who were traveling faster than the rest of the group and paced myself off them. I could not give one shit about the position I was in. I put no pressure on myself when racing the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc to be at a certain pace at any time. I was just running within my own ability and I was having a ball doing it. I was out there to have fun and I was loving every part of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.
Col de la Seigne is just a brutal climb. It last for 9km and reaches an elevation of 2516 making it almost a vertical kilometre climb. The top of the Col is unsighted from the base, following the creek through to La Ville des Glaciers, climbing more steeply to Refuge des Mottets, then hurting you some more snaking up switch backs, past pretty cows, un-relentless on eroded single trails with fist size rocks, potentially, unbalancing every step, sapping all your energy. I kept pushing on forever wanting to make the turn before heading onwards into the rain clouds.
It seemed like I was going nowhere, when I looked back I was high up the mountain and catching runners like I was on a train. I focused on what was important, told myself I was kicking butt, worked my tempo, breathing, blowing out every breath, using my poles for stability and power, saving my quads and calves for the descents and just cruised up this climb, slightly hurting but in control, loosing places and the base but catching now hikers at the top. I even had the energy to chat to UK Runner Claire Price for a few ks before I moved on.
I felt great compared to last year, totally in control, well below my threshold. I don’t know if it is just experience, new asthma drugs, moving up to a warmer climate, cleaner air to Brisbane but my breathing was way better and more relaxed.
I made the turn and punched on up the mountain and before long after finding a few more UK males to chat to I made it to the top, into Italy and rolled on down the other side, chatting to my new found UK mate, pacing each other down the descent and into the first Italian Check Point of the day.
I almost laughed at the food on offer. We were in a remote part of Italy to say the least and I’m guessing bananas were not part of local diet. If you liked aged cheeses, wine and thick, white crusty bread you were onto a winner here. I lost my UK mate here while he had a pit stop. I guessed he was not allergic to dairy or gluten. I kept punching on and relished the descent into the 70km mark knowing this was where I had a vomit in 2013. I felt great and in control this year. I pushed my way up to the top of Arete du Mont-Favre, ran past the local search and rescue officers marshalling everyone over the peak and started to roll on down to Courmayeur. My UK mate caught up with me and we could descend together chatting away in the darkness. I was so happy my Ay-Up head torch was on full power down this rocky of a descent of a vertical kilometre, down switch backs. I reached the Col Checrouit drinks stop and refilled water and left my UK mate here again while he again tasted the local culinary delights.
I rolled down the combinations of mud and bull dust descent, catching runners one by one, passing women and men alike. This section is just brutal on your quads and extremely dangerous. I know runner’s have fallen off the cliffs in to the gully’s below and broken collar bones coming into Courmayeur. This descent seemed to have more grip and in 2013. Again I believe some the Bull-dust had been washed away.
I hit the streets at sunrise and turned off my light, pacing off a bloke as I made my way through the cobble stone streets of Courmayeur sitting at 1195m Elevation. I was racing at about the same pace as in 2013 but I felt fresh as can be.
At the check point I called out for Glen. He was nowhere to be seen, I’d run down into Courmayeur so fast that their communication had not caught up with my descending speed. After a few shouts with my Aussie Accent into the crowd the marshall’s finally let Glen through into the athlete Check Point area to help me out.
I quickly swapped over my water bottles with Hammer Perpetuem, gels, bars. I swapped over my top too and packed away my rain jacket. The rain had finally stopped after 80km of running so needed to adjust my kit and after a few minutes I got the hell out of there. I felt great! Just cruising along and ready for the next big climb. I was in 15th Position.
Okay, this climb to Refuge Bertone is a killer. Last year I was loosing it big time up this climb and I gave myself a conservative 90min to get up it. I ran and walked my way to the base just chilling out and looking after my breathing rate. A noticed that a female Ester Alves from Portugal who had past me back at 30km mark, who I must have past in the Courmayeur check point, re-caught me and headed up this climb like it was the first climb of the day. I watched her zip past me and in my head wished her all the best of luck. She looked like a machine.
The gradient steepened and I was reduced to a walk, using my poles to keep me up right and moving forward. On about the 3rd switch back I spotted Ester lying on her back just off the side of the track. I checked up on her to make sure she was okay.
“Too fast, too fast, I’m okay”. She said in English.
Man it just pays to be consistent. Far-out this altitude can flatten the best of the elites. She ascended too fast trying to get ahead of me and it bonked her.
I kept going, pushing on. Managing my cadence, counting out my rhythm all the way to the top and into the check point at Refuge Bertone where I grabbed some hot tea.
I quickly moved out of there, knowing that last year I spent too long at this check point and froze up and ended my running for the race. I watch the sun rise over the Italian side of Mt Blanc and enjoyed the best of what the European Alps had to offer. This side of Mt Blanc is beautiful, ruggered, isolated, with towering snow capped peaks, rolling lush farm land along the wondrous single trail, it really feels like heaven on earth. It is my favourite section of the course. Magical single trails along a steep mountain side through vintage farm yards, snaking its way through lush green fields, running all to the sound of cow bells ringing in my ears.
This section on the map looks flat, but to me it is a killer. Most of this leg is over 2000m. It’s hard to move up here after 80ks of running. My legs just won’t climb like they would at 1000m. Exhaustion, dehydration starts to creep in and just counted my way along the single trail to Refuge Bonatti. Here I filled up on sports drink and pushed on up the smallest of climb which felt like a massive mountain, then rolled down the mountain and into Arnuva 95km. This was where I pull out in 2013. I was so pleased to be feeling great and ready to kick on to the finish line.
I grabbed some bananas, sports drink and headed out of there up to the biggest climb of the day to Grand col Ferret. I was totally clueless of this section of the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc. I had no idea what I was in for. I asked the Search and Rescue Officers at the base of the climb which peak I would be climbing.
“The big one up there in the clouds”. He pointed to the far away biggest, snow capped triangular mountain top in the distance.

Shona Stephenson ascending a mountain in the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc 2014
Shona Stephenson ascending a mountain in the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc 2014

Of course it was I thought. Of course it would be the tallest one, the one in the clouds. It was a monster. I was ready for it. I was not fast, I was consistent and punch my way up towards the top. A short way up the climb I sported The North Face 100 Australia Race Director Tom Landon-Smith on the side of the mountain. He informed me that I was in about 15th position and that Aussie Andrew Tuckey was in the top 10 for the males. I was stoked with Andy’s performance and I was just happy with mine. It was a long race and anything could happen. I just had to focus on what was important, stay positive and keep bloody going.
I snaked my way up the monster Grand col Ferret and I was happy to see that Ester had recovered from her minor bonk and was back on track again. She caught me and soon past me. I pushed this out of my head and just managed, managed, managed. I had to take a few rest stops towards the top of the climb. I was starting to lose it a bit. I was breathing deeply, getting a bit asthma-ish and starting to feel a bit sick. I reached the cold, wet, windy, clouds and after a few hundred more meters of climbing through the fog I reached the peak of Grand col Ferret. I was now in Switzerland. Whoop, Whoop! I’ve made it to Switzerland!
Time to descend. I past the marshals at the peak and rolled my way down still more beautiful single trail, past gorgeous friendly looking cows with the most ornate bells around their necks. (Why do these cows look so friendly yet the Aussies ones look so menacing?) Through scree flows, creeks, snow patches, further down into forest, across creeks, mud, following a stream and into La Fouly 108km.
I’d totally F’d up my calculations. I thought the support crew check point would be here. Oh no!
That leg took way to long. I race it way too slow. I was running about 2 hours behind. I added it up in my head and I was totally out of whack, out of food, gels, etc.
I took on sports drink, water, bananas and hoped I would have enough reserves to get a further 14km to Champex-Lac and my support grew and much needed replenished supplies. I was feeling like shit now. Tired and a bit annoyed that I was totally behind in my splits.
Bugger it. I just pushed on. Time is not important in a race like this it’s just about getting to the bloody end. Yet it can still really up-set you. I pushed onto the road ignore a bloke taking a explosive nature stop in the bushes,( it happens to the best of us), and did my best to keep moving.
I was starting to lose it. The road was hard, painful under foot, the temperature was climbing and I was now getting stinking hot. I was dehydrated and my lungs were beginning to be clogged with asthmatic mucus. I was starting to feel asthma sick, tight chest, heavy lungs and limited lung capacity. The kilometers seemed to take forever. I was losing time fast and out on the road behind me I could see runners starting to run me down. I stopped in the Swisse Alps Village of Praz de Fort, filled up from a spring water fountain, soaked my visor, washed my face and freshened up. I stunk. I was covered in mud. I felt crap.
I rolled down the hill eating and trying looking after my hydration and nutrition. At the base of the climb I was caught by the UTMF Unofficial Argentinean 6th place runner who was later penalised for 2 hours. I don’t know why she was penalised. She suggested it was for getting lost. I wanted to show her that I was better than her fair and square no matter what excuse she gave me for her two hour penalty. I decided that I was not going to let this woman beat me. I just did not have the strength right at this time to fight her. My fight would come. I watched her and her running partner pass me up the mountain.
“Is it hot enough yet?” I heard a familiar Aussie Accent yell out to be from the stream below up to me.
“Teygen is that you? I wondered when you were going to catch me”. I yelled back
Spotting Teygen was great. I knew he’d get me at about 120km. He soon caught me up the climb and we chatted for some time together before I had to let him go on. I was feeling sick in my lungs and I was not going anywhere fast. Being dehydrated caught up with me and my mucous was thick and un-moveable off my chest. I trudged on forever onwards and upwards and eventually I hopped out onto the road, questioning what I was doing out there the now 36 year old mother of two from Australia, living at sea level, working hard at altitude with exercise educed asthma. Maybe I should stick to 50km races close to sea level? I questioned myself. I got myself into a really bad place mentally.

Man it was hot!
I turned left and followed the path up to the Champex-Lac Check Point 122km.
I was so happy to see Glen. I was crying now I felt so shit. My lungs were clogged and I was really struggling with my breathing. I’m no longer scared of my asthma. I know not to push it too much now. It just feels like you are sick, lack of energy, not being able to get enough air in or out of my lungs for the crappy amount of running you are managing at this late stage in the race.
Kellie, Teygen’s partner and support crew was there and helped me out too by getting me about 1L of water. I drank it and coughed my lungs up into the nearest bin. I coughed, wheezed, cried for a few minutes. I’d hit rock bottom, then realised that I had to take my asthma drugs. I pumped in my ventolin, serotide, coughed a whole lung up into the bin again, picked up my Hammer Heed, gels, choc chip bars, cried some more and got the hell out of there before I was caught by any more runners.
I made it out before the Argentinean’s and just tried to pump out a pace on that road. I took some more ventolin and just hoped my lungs would clear up. About 3 ks down the road I was caught by the Argentinean’s. They passed me without a word. I took a few walking steps and tried to regroup and just had to wait until I felt better.
I rolled my legs over, counted out my tempo, drank my Heed and started to recover. I was soon running down a UK Female runner who passed me at about the 20km mark. I chatted to her for a little while, happy to speak some English to another runner and suggested that she try and come with me up this next climb. She was spent and was doing all she could. I indicated to her I was going to try and run down the Argentinean’s. I was going to give it a crack.
I don’t know what happened to me but I was on fire. “I will get you”. I thought. I hit a rhythm up this climb, worked behind a Spanish guy who was moving fast, caught the Argentinean’s who were having trouble with the muddy terrain, passed the Argentinean’s, got in front of the Spanish male, powered with  him up the climb, refusing to look back until I’d made it to the top of the climb Le Glete over 2000m in elevation. I was suddenly feeling great, I had my second wind and I knew there was only about 30ks to go. I was doing it. I was going to finish it.
I rolled down the muddy, switch back descent catching Ester, Teygen and another female runner as I ran into Trient 139km. To Ester’s credit she was tough, fast as can be and powered straight out of the check point and up to Catogne another 700m climb around switchbacks, farming land, forest. Teygen blasted off sighting me, (It made me smile. Watching the fear in his eyes when I caught him at the Check point. Tegyen and I have a slight rivalry now;-)I did my best to try and stay with Ester but I really could not match her pace. I tried my hardest to keep her in sight but lost her in the forest below. I spotted another injured runner though and sadly it was my USA Inov8 Team Mate Leila Degrave who looked like she was carrying a calf injury. I wished her the best of luck when I past her on the rocky, muddy descent into Vallorcine 149km. I really felt for her. She stormed past me at the 8km mark like a Beth Cardelli would on any climb. She had great promise. I just hoped she could make it to the end. She finished in 14th Place.
I descended back into France, into Vallorcine feeling great and I desperately wanted more Heed but I had none in my drop bags. Bugger!!!! Having Heed made me feel like super woman coming up those climbs. Something about total hydration. I was just going to have to make do with what I had. I was starting to cramp a bit in my calves from the relentless climbing. It was starting to feel a bit like it could tear if I did not look after it.
At the check point I quickly found Glen, swapped my bottles over, grabbed my gels and got out of there . I tried to take a panadol for the pain. I had taken 2 at the 30k, 80k and I just wanted another two to relax my calf and get me home. I don’t know if it was the virus that I was coming down with or just plain dehydration but I could not swallow the tablets or any more Endurolyte Caps. My throat just would not allow in it and I gagged it all back up. Great no electrolyte tablets made it’s in to my body and I was cramping. This is not good. I just hope I was not starting to shut down.
I pulled out my Ay-Up Head Torch again and prepared fro another night run. I ran onwards and upwards, running totally on adrenalin, totally scared, fearing that I would be run down by other runners, knowing that it was so close to the end and I had no idea what position I was in. I crossed the road and hit the climb Col des Montets, trying to eat a gel or two knowing that I was starting to fade in energy reserves. I put my poles on the edge of each oversized “Bush Step”, or for a better phrase “Mountain Step”, in front of me and used my arms to crawl, drag my body up the vertical kilometre, again, again, again, running shit scared of who was able to catch me on these intense climb.
Finally I made it to the top and I was spent. My head spinning, feeling totally dizzy, totally exhausted. I did my best not to stubble and fall. My poles were the only reason why I could keep myself from falling off the mountain down the rocky scree slopes near Le Index. I was starting to black out, micro-sleep from absolute exhaustion, low glycogen, tiredness. I’d rock climbed Le Index ,along this section of the trail in 2013 and I was bloody happy I did. I remembered this flat stone pathway along the edge of the mountain, and assured myself that it was safe to keep moving at pace along this menacing rock trail. I stumbled, tripped, stepped, blacked-out my way across the mountain scree slope, slid down 6 foot rock slopes, over boulders, blacking out, micro-sleeping every few minutes, still running scared that I would be past by a female in the darkness.
At the top of the climb I caught UK runner Sarah Morwood. She was also blacking out but decided to stop and have a break. This was the moment that I unknowingly stumbled into 10th position because I was prepared to run falling asleep on my legs. I think an Aussie would truly understand what micro-sleeping is all about from driving long distances for a holiday or as a college student trying to get assignments done in time, slapping their face whilst driving to OfficeWorks for printing and photocopying in the wee hours of the night. I rolled down the mountain, micro sleeping, then up the steep ascent and entered into the final check point La Flegere 160km.
I entered the check point and immediately a lovely looking French Doctor came out to access me. I must have looked like crap. He suggested that I come with him for a few minutes and he’d wake me up. What the F? How on earth did he instead to wake me up? My mind was totally whacked out. Getting an offer from a French Doctor to come away with him so he could work his wondrous powers on me to wake me up was just too much for me to handle.  I don’t know what techniques they have to combat sleep deprivation in France. I did not intend to find out. I also did not know what far behind Sarah or any of the other runners were behind me. I was scared I was going to be passed in the final 8ks if I took 3 minutes away with this doctor. I decided to hit the coke and the broth and get the F down the mountain.
I rolled on down the fire trail, stumbling, twisting my ankle countless times on the fist size, ankle breaking rocks for the next 6 ks. This finish to the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc, was the cruellest descent I’d ever experienced. It was absolute agony. The trail narrowed and y right ankle was now totally loose and floppy. All the strapping tape had broken off from twisting my ankle so much. I used my poles to stop me from breaking it totally. I tried to make the motions of a run but could only manage a hobble, still micro-sleeping all the way to the bottom of the descent, frightened of being caught by a female.
I hit the road and did my best to pick up my pace. Males were able to catch me and keep me honest letting me know that I was slowing down. I started to cry, just wanting to finish line to come to me. I was totally spent, I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. I desperately did not want to lose a place in this final stage of the event. The suspense was killing me as I scrambled to the finish line.
It was dark and the streets of Chamonix were empty in comparison to the 30 hours earlier. A few spectators witnessed my pain and absolute desperation. I turned right, ran along the river, turned left, ran around the town centre, turned right and entered the finishing shoot towards the iconic cobble stone Chamonix town square and across the finish line.
I had done it. It has taken me 4 years of Ultra Trail Running to get here and I finally I did it. I was so happy. Bloody tied but happy. It’d been one tough road to travel but I made it. Now I could lay down and rest, cough up the crap that was in my lungs, have a bath and celebrate the few hours left of my 36th birthday asleep in the mud filled bath because I was too tired and sore to get out. Sunday I enjoyed Champagne.

Gear Set UP From the feet up
(I’m sponsored by Inov-8 and Descente+Inov-8).
Inov-8 X-Talons 212 Standard Fit.(Yes Inov-8 Now make shoes for us fat feet runners).
Injinji Socks
Inov-8 Race Ultra Calf Guards
Descente Thermal Arm Bands
Inov-8 Base Elite Merino SS
Inov-8 Base Elite 100 SSZ
Inov-8 Race Elite 125 Short W
Inov-8 RaceShell 220 (This is just awesome jacket for when you know it’s going to be torrential rain).
Inov-8 RaceShell Pants
Inov-8 Wrag 30 x2
Inov-8 Merino Wrag Tied to make the beanie.
Inov-8 Race Glove plus Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc Rubber Glove
Hammer Visor

Packs
Inov-8 Race Elite Vest
Inov-8 Race Ultra 1 (Running belt awesome for an extra few sets of pockets for easy access on the run).

Nutrition for the Race
(I’m sponsored by Hammer Nutrition).

Hammer Endurolytes every 30min
Hammer Perpetuem 1 scoop in 500ml 1.5L starting and coming out of each check point up to 80km
Pop Top Bottle Filled with 5 Servings of Hammer Banana gel. 1-2 Bottles coming out of each check point.
Heed 1 Scoop in 500ml of water after 80km. 1L at each check point. I wish I had more of this.
Hammer Choc Chip Bars x2

Sports Lollies.
Bananas 1/3 of a Banana at each aid station.
Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc Provided Sports drink and water when I ran out of the above supplies.

Celebrating my 10th place at the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc
Celebrating my 10th place at the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc 2014

Shona Stephenson UTMB Bath

Oxfam Trailwalker Teamwork Tips

Oxfam Trailwalker Teamwork Tips

I love racing Team events like Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane. I guess it is the only way an ultra trail runner can have that commradery that is experienced whilst representing a club or team. Racing Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane can be tricky. Oxfams are about getting ALL 4 Team members over the line together and still friends after the event. If your Oxfam Trailwalker team works together you will forge life long friendships. You will always have that 100km that your team shared together.

Here are my Top Tips in Keeping Everyone Happy for 100km
Continue reading “Oxfam Trailwalker Teamwork Tips”

Tarawera Ultra The Build Up

Tarawera Ultra The Build Up

 

I have unfinished business at Tarawera Ultra 100km. In 2013 I had to pull out of the event in the most gory circumstance. I was shitting blood from about 30km and after working myself back into the event at about 60-75km I then was pissing blood. It was extremely scary experience for me. I decided to pull out of the 100km event at the 85km check point. No one wants to damage their organs whilst racing or training for a an ultra. It’s just not worth it. I’m a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister and I have a family to care and provide for. I have to return home safe for them. I was given the 85km win however never felt like I deserved the award so I happily gave my medal to Jenni Hoogeveen who was the first female who entered and finished the 85km distance.

Continue reading “Tarawera Ultra The Build Up”

Interview with Ben Duffus Winner of Surf Coast Century 2013

Ben Duffus is a fresh talent breaking onto the Australian Ultra Running Circuit. He has just won 2 Australian Ultra’s the Surf Coast Century and he was on the winning team at the 96km Kokoda Challenge all this while studying physic’s uni. This 21 year old’s name is one to remember. He was kind enough to spare some of his time to chat with me about his trail running adventures so far.

 

Shona Stephenson: You have a few memorable wins under your belt – what was the hardest (and why) and do you have a favourite win?
Ben Duffus: It’s very difficult to quantify a “hardest win”. I would say that the races I DNFed were the hardest! Having said that, it is hard to go past Pomona King of the Mountain in terms of shear “pain per second”! It’s only 4.5km long but involves going up and back down the 439m high Mt Cooroora. The burn going up was incredible and while the downhill was an absolute blast, it left my quads feeling like they had just lost a fight with a meat tenderiser! That feeling was probably also partly due to having run the Kokoda Challenge two weeks beforehand. Sharing the Kokoda Challenge win with my Kokoda Spirit Racing team mates was very special so it would have to be my “favourite” win.

Continue reading “Interview with Ben Duffus Winner of Surf Coast Century 2013”

Shona Stephenson UTMB – Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Race Report

I had an awful lead up to the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc) Europe’s biggest Trail Ultra 100 mile event of the year. Like most people living in Sydney in winter with children I was sick with a virus. I was also still going through personal hell and bad asthma when I boarded the plane from Sydney to Geneva, stopping over in Singapore to re-fuel and then landing in London. I felt like I’d learned enough from my last trip the European Alps to get a good result at the UTMB (Ultra Trail Du Mount Blanc).
I arrived in the gorgeous Chamonix in France. Chamonix was alive and buzzing with trail running athletes everywhere. I just had to take a walk down the main street and I’d bump into some of my trail running mates. The atmosphere in Chamonix was electric. The place was pumping with anticipation of the events that were starting throughout the week.  This place was going off and we had not even started the first races of the Ultra Trail Festival yet.

Continue reading “Shona Stephenson UTMB – Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Race Report”

inov-8 f-LITE 185 Review

I just can’t go past the inov-8 f-LITE Range for my choice of good all round road running shoes. The inov-8 f-LITE 185 are the Precision Women’s Version of my favourite inov-8 f-LITE 195.
If you have a wide foot you may want to look at the inov-8 f-LITE 239. It is exactly the same shoe as the 185 but a wider fore foot fit.
The f-LITE range is traditionally a Cross Fit Shoe but I love wearing this range on the road, dirt, grass, treadmill. They are my Sydney City training shoes.
What makes the f-LITE 185 so special is that they only weigh 183 Grams on my kitchen scales yet they give my feet all the protection they need for the many kilometers I put into them a week racing around the streets of Sydney with my Personal Training Clients. I have had stress fractures in 2010 and since wearing inov-8 shoes I have not had any injuries. inov-8 shoes have taught me how to run lighter and more efficiently on my feet. Continue reading “inov-8 f-LITE 185 Review”

Gluten Free Lunch for Ultra Running

A tasty gluten free lunch, super low in calories for when you’re trying to get down to race weight.

Total Calories 464.6

1 Tsp of Olive Oil

3 Small Potatoes Cut into Quarters

7 Cherry Tomatoes

1cm of 1/2 a Pumpkin Diced

2 Eggs (Give one yoke to your dog)

1/2 Container of Spinach

1/4 Cup of Nuts or Seeds Sprinkled on top

Continue reading “Gluten Free Lunch for Ultra Running”

Northburn 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

Tarawera Ultra March 2013 was a total disaster. I just had the most public withdrawal from Tarawera 100km due to me pissing and shitting blood only 1 week before attempting Lisa Tamati’s, Northburn 100 mile. A week before Northburn 100 Miles, I was made to stay in hospital over night to re-hydrate and for monitoring and testing at Rotarura Hospital.

I was guttered because I also withdrew from Great North Walk 100 Mile in November 2012. Withdrawing from the 2 biggest and longest events in a row on my running calendar was not the way I wanted to start my 2013 Ultra Running Campaign.

My head told me to pull out of Northburn 100 Mile and just race the 50km and run some hill re-peats and look at it like well deserved training holiday. My heart said that I should race the 100 miler. I did not want to let race organizer of Northburn 100 Lisa Tamati down. Lisa is one of my heroes. She is one of the main reasons why I run ultras. I like most Ultra runners out there read “Running Hot”, and I was motivated to run Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney my first 100k in 2010. I wanted to support her event. Especially because she is a fellow female. “I support women in sport”. As the slogan goes. Continue reading “Northburn 100 Mile Ultra Marathon”

Sydney Trail Series Manly Dam 2012

I was knackered. I had been diagnosed with haemophilus influenza only 12 days earlier. 5 Days after my diagnosis I ran the 30/50 Challenge with my good friend and No Roads Team Mate Beth Cardelli in the 50km event. We won the female division and we came 3rd overall.

I was still really sick and lethargic. My goal for the Sydney Trail Series was to just win nothing more. Just do what you have to to win. There is always a doubt in your head. Is there going to be an amazing local 10k specialist who will turn up and blitz the field? This is always my thoughts when I enter an event.

After the safety brief we were off an running. My race plan was just to make it to the to the pipe line first at the 5km mark. If I could make it there then I could hold anyone off for another 5ks. I had to do this and not use up too much energy.

We all took off in Sydney Trail Series as a group. I was running fine. I tried to run without puffing, staying under my anaerobic threshold.

Continue reading “Sydney Trail Series Manly Dam 2012”