Run Larapinta Stage 1 and 2
Run Larapinta excited me to race it the minute I heard about it. I had been to the Larapinta Trail about 14 years ago for my honeymoon which was a real coincidence that I was coming back and completing the circle at the end of my relationship with my husband. I’d closed a chapter of my life with him, mediation was 6 weeks before and I was now free to plan my own adventures. I was so keen to explore more of the trail 14 years ago but lack the confidence to venture past the tourist sections of the Larapinta trail. It was time to reflect, be positive and rejoice for the life that I’ve lived over the past 14 years and see how far I’ve come as an athlete and as a human.
I’d already ticked off the stunning, jaw dropping highlights of the Larapinta Trail including Stanley Chasm, Telegraph Station, Ormiston Gorge, Mt Sonder, Ochre Pits, on the 223km Long Trail and I was so thrilled to have the chance to come back and join all the highlights together. Run Larapinta will cover 133km of the Larapinta Trail. It is still a 100km short of the full distance due to athlete and event crew/volunteer safety. The desert is not flat out here, it consists of many mountain ranges and jagged gorges, so vehicle access can be limited. Rapid Ascent decided to pick the best trail running sections and the sections with the best vehicle access for water stops or in a case of an emergency. I was delighted to stay in hotels with swimming pools between stages. This was what got me really hooked, I was keen to have a soak and chill after the event with like minded ultra runners. I looked at Run Larapinta as a real adventure running holiday, a reward for getting through a tough year of separation, I’d come so far and it was time to celebrate, have a 133km party and express my happiness with every step I took.
I always get asked when talking to people about my Ultra Trail running and the first question they usually ask is. “ Is what you do like that event where that woman was horrible burnt in the desert?”
I think it is important to say that I only race events where reputable Trail Running Companies are organising the event. Competitor safely comes first for me that’s why I was comfortable with racing through the desert with Rapid Ascent. Rapid Ascent is a great events company, they put on the amazing Surf Coast Century, Trail Running Series in Victoria and many other Mountain Bike and Adventure Racing Events. I knew these guys would look after me and all other runners whilst out competing in the desert which was another reason why I chose to race Run Larapinta. They held a mountain bike stage event the week earlier, which they’d organised few years now, they have experience with holding events in Alice Springs and I think was the main reason why they were the first event company to have the privilege to organise an event on the wondrous Larapinta Trail.
The conditions looked amazing for the runners for the next 4 days (except me). 20 degrees Thursday, 21 Degrees Friday, 24 Degrees Saturday and 28 Degrees Sunday. We were even treated with a desert thunder storm on arrival into the Alice. The sand was just a bit damp, air temperature was cool, making it a perfect racing surface and air temperature for trail running.
Chifley Alice Springs Resort Stage 1
Alice Springs Resort to Telegraph Station
Start Time 5:30pm.
Water Stop 14km.
Before the start, we were lucky enough to have a welcoming speech from the Local Aboriginal Elder, inviting us into his land and wishing us all safe travels. He told us not to move any of the stones that we will see out on the track. They were all placed there for a reason. He wanted us to respect his peoples country and look after one another. It was a great honour to have him give us his blessing for the event.
John the race director for Run Larapinta also gave us a briefing. The emphasis was placed on us to look after ourselves and each other. The access is not the best, especially on days 2-4. If we fall over or injure ourselves we may be waiting a long time for help due to the remoteness of the trails that we will be covering. In some cases the best option may well be to, “Eat a few concrete pills, get up, harden up, and continue and finish the stage because there is not way to get vehicle to the trails where we are going. So be careful and look after each other.”
We all left the Alice Springs Resort as a group of nervous Long Course Malbunka Runners, camera men, race officials, supports crews, friends and family across the main road and set up under the Rapid Ascent Flags with the Trail Run Magazine, quad chopper filming the historic start of the first ever event on the Larapinta Trail.
After the countdown we were all off the running off on a dirt track along the side of the road before quickly ducking away from the main road and into the desert. Paul (VIC), Joe (NZ) and Craig (VIC) setting the pace early. After a few hundred meters, the boys were way too fast for me so I pulled up and eased off the pace. I was a bit nervous about how to approach a stage event. I chilled out and started to enjoy the view. I turned the corner, crossed the road and headed up the dirt path and I was caught by a little local aboriginal boy on his miniature motor bike. He sped along next to me giving me words of encouragement, “Go go go!” Before, accelerating and doing a big fat donut about 100 m ahead of me with a massive grin on his face, he then returned to me, flying along to give me a high five with some more cheers. I could hear him doing the same this for the other runners behind me. Seeing and hearing him having so much pure fun bought a smile to my face.
I turned right and headed up the first hill and I was caught by Fiona (WA), who was then caught by Anthony (QLD). We all cruised along together enjoying the moon and the rainbow coloured sunset over the West MacDonald Ranges. Wow! What a way to start this race. This was mint trail running country. The tracks were beautifully kept. Not a stick or stone was out of place. The soil was like running on velvet. I gave it a nick name of “Outback Velvet.” The Elders walk these trails at night cleaning them, maintaining them and keeping them in the pristine condition we were enjoying tonight. I was blown away at how stunning they were. The trails were “Japan Clean.” Now I understand why the elder expressed that we were not to move a stone. Every stone had a purpose and this trail running garden he created was spectacular.
Fiona, Anthony and I snaked around in a group over rolling hills, down and up the desert twilight switch backs, swapping places a few times marvelling at just how stunning the scenery was. We then popped out onto 800M of road and my legs took off like I had no control over their speed, sprinting down the slight decline, turning right, back onto the track, trying my hardest not to run too fast on the 1st Stage.
I somehow managed to create a gap between myself, Fiona and Anthony. I cruised up the hills and was caught by Anthony who then passed me before the 14km water stop. I decided to run straight through the water stop, not needing to refill and turned on my Ay-Up on in the darkness under the clear desert star lit sky.
I rolled onwards and upwards chasing Anthony and now catching the short course runners for a few more kilometers enjoying this whole experience. I then heard the music, spotted the pink, blue, white neon lights of the big rig trucks of the homestead. I followed the sounds of disco beats and fairy lights to the finish line and was so happy to finish in 1st place and 5th place overall in the long course with Fiona only 1 minute behind after the first stage. My time was 1 Hour 42 minutes for the 19km.
I then met up with local Australian Mountain Running representative couple Emma Kraft and Brad White after they both won the first stage of the short course in their last hit out before they headed off to Wales for the World Trail Running Championships. We had a great chat about all things trail running while they gave me a lift back to the hotel because I was so busy chatting to them that I missed the first shuttle bus.
Time to hydrate, eat, recover, foam roll, self massage and get some sleep before tomorrow’s 41km event.
Lasseters Stage 2
Simpsons Gap to Stanley Chasm
Start Time 8am
Water Stops 14km and 25km
We were all dropped off the shuttle bus at 7:30am at Simpsons Gap awaiting the start of stage 2. Not many of the runners slept the night before and we were all wondering what the 2nd stage had to offer us. It was pretty cold at the start, maybe only 10 degrees and predicted temps would only reach about 21 degrees.
After a stiff, shuffle of a warm up and chit chats we walked to the start line in the creek bed in front of Simpsons Gap between the Rapid Ascent Flags. At 8am we were off and running, all a little bit slower than the night before. It was a fast turn around from only finishing racing 11 hours earlier. I woke up many times and ate through the night, making sure I would have enough energy for not just today but for 3 more days. I thought of the first day instead of just running 19km it was like running 60km. Adding the two days back to back together.
We were all called to a startling at Simpsons Gap, between the flags and the count down went off and we were all off and running along the trail that snaked along a narrow single track lined with fluffy grasses, slightly climbing and forever rolling over small hills. My legs were tired from the night before and my left strained hamstring that I injured competing in a family and friends sand dune long jump competition was not responding properly which then meant I was not lifting my feet and in the race to stay ahead of Fiona I left foot kept tripping over small grasses, hiding rocks and landing foot out on my front, face first in the bushes at full hamstring and arm extension. Ouch!!!!!! Ouch Ouch! Ouch! I fell over 4 times in the first 17km. Each time expecting Fiona to catch me totally out of sorts on my stomach, with a hamstring that is barely hanging onto my bone, face first in the sharp spinafex grass. I was lucky that I had just enough gap to fall over and recover before anyone witnessed my clumsy mistakes. Each time I fell I cursed myself for being stupid, thinking about racing rather than being in the moment, not having the correct focus. I learnt that fluffy grasses meant danger. Shame it took me 17km to work this out.
The trail was like a twisted snake, curving along the the land past Bond Gap, Arenge Bluff, and into the water stop at Mulga Camp. I pulled my head in and decided that it was best to stay out of tripping trouble and in the moment. I counted, blew out my air in my lungs. I was struggling a bit with my breathing too. It was really cold and my lungs were having a bit of a spasm, I was having trouble breathing. I was just waiting for the air temperature to rise so I would feel better. My asthma was shocking. (When I am having an attack my trachea goes from 3.5cm in diameter down to 2.6cm. No wonder I have problem breathing. It usually take me a few hours in every race to warm my lungs up in cold conditions.)
Soon enough I warmed up, climbed up over the ridge line at Half gap and Spring Gap. I tripped again in front of Chris Ord from Trail Run Mag. It was weird seeing someone else on the trails. I really was isolated, totally out on my own with no one with me. So seeing Chris pop up at Spring Gap startled me a bit. After regaining my composure after pulling my hamstring yet again, I was happy to see Chris there. I was getting complacent before he popped up and started running fartlek intervals to get ahead of me and take a shot before sprinting off again. We sped off together chit chatting, and I was happy to having someone else to focus on, pace off, run with for a while before he soon dropped off the back of me on a descent just before the 2nd Water Stop.
At the 2nd water stop at the 25km we had an out and back section, I found the volunteer enjoying some zzz’s, and had to wake him up before turning back the way I came from and I spotted Fiona only 200m behind. We said some hello’s and I knew it was time to push. I execrated on up the sandy trail, spotting a big Brown Snake crossing the path into the grassy bushes. Great! Now brown snakes in the bushes, what fun. Shit! Don’t trip over again and fall on one.
I followed the pink ribbons and blue arrows up a creek bed and swore I was lost many times. Out here the creek beds are used as tracks. Following creek beds seems so foreign to me and just prayed that I was going in the right direction especially with Fiona so close behind. I followed foot prints in the sand and I just hoped that it was not the cow prints that I saw the dung from that I was following. We do anything to avoid creek beds in Sydney, Brisbane, Japan, Europe, but here in the desert they are dry and the best path to follow. I followed the foot prints and looked hard for shoe prints of the boys ahead of me. Just when I was about to turn back and retrace my steps I’d push on for 5m and spotted a blue Larapinta Trail Arrow. I also spotted a trusty Inov8 Roclite Tread in the sand. I knew I was following the right route, I just was not sure who I was following. I pushed on rock hopping, scrambling, acknowledging that my left hamstring was not flexible at all when clambering over creek boulders towards Fish Hole and I just hoped it would last the full 4 days.
I found a trail and followed my nose as instructed by race Director John at the race briefing that morning, forever climbing slightly until I saw Craig the marshal at the Tangentyere Junction. I veered to the right and started the climb up the “Alternative High Route,” towards Millers Flat.
Who said Run Larapinta will be flat? FAR OUT! This climb was straight out of only something that I had experienced in Japan or Europe. It was a steep, rocky, hot, rugged, scramble. There was no point trying to run it. It was pure hands on quads, hands on rock, hamstring pulling, mountain hiking, rock climbing, scrabbles, pulls up the 700m climb in only 2km. I was climbing up a jagged ridge, worried about hand placement on the rocky ledges knowing that a snake could just be sunning itself on the ledge. In the past I’ve disturbed snakes on rock ledges before while trail running with PT clients. I scared a snake off the ledge and it got such a scare that it jumped off the rock ledge and over my poor unsuspecting PT clients head to my horror! My past experience has made me pretty nervous climbing this rocky out crop especially after just seeing a big fat brown snake.
My right hamstring started the cramp up under the extra strain it was under due to my left hamstring’s lack of range and power. I had to keep an eye on the trail, as it disappeared as I climbed up the mountain, behind loose rocks and alpine shrubs. I was out of breath and out of water, thinking that this last 8km would not be that hard. The temperature was rising and this ridge was dam hot. I decided to break a Hammer Endurolyte cap into my mouth and lick the last remaining drops on the inside of my water bottles to help the electrolyte dissolve. My cramp disappeared straight away. Phew! Bloody lucky!
I finally reached the top and marvelled at the view. It was stunning! I could see for hundreds of kilometers 360 degrees in every direction. Wow! The clearness of the view is totally unlike anything I’ve seen for about 14 years. There is no moisture in the air, no clouds, no pollution so I could see what seemed like forever. Beautiful, ochre landscape of the legendary West MacDonald Ranges and the Outback Desert stretched out into infinity. Not a trace of human population could be seen. This place is pure wilderness.
Whoop, whoop! I’m at the top. It’s all down hill from here with a bit of a gradual climb then a little hill and then the finish. Easy I thought. Wrong!
I ran along the “Alternative High Route”, ridge line just loving the scenery. I was totally blown away by the colour, clearness, plant scenery, bird life. I spotted some short course, fluro runners up ahead and used them and a homing beacon, guiding me the correct way. I soon caught up with them, smiled as they took many photos of their adventure together.
The trail followed the ridge line down with rugged, loose boulders and bush stairs. I soon switch from two limb running into all four downward scramble, catching and chatting to short course runners who were kind enough to step aside for me. This type of descending was so much fun, my legs and arms were going everywhere, it was more of a controlled fall rather than a walk or run down the mountain. The trail followed the boulder creek through the middle of a gorge, that resembles a lost world lined with cycads. I lost the track a few times following my natural instinct to always look for a trail out of the creek bed. My previous experience was not helping me get through these sandy gorges. After about 50 m I soon discovered that I was just to move though the guts of the gorge.
The creek bed was a mixture of soft sand and massive boulders. I was either sand running or boulder hopping, forever worried that I was following the wrong line and missing the route out of the gorge. Different landscaped have a different trail running language to tell. I had to learn this new language quickly. I track read, follow warn paths, a slight change in colour of the rocks can indicate where the path more traveled, meaning the correct path to follow. I had to stop countless times and check my course, fearing that I was lost in the desert, I still had not learnt this language properly yet. My lips were now parched and I was licking the inside of my empty water bottled now for over an hour. I was becoming de-hydrated, if I was not already dehydrated. I was still trying to eat a gel a hammer in every hour but without water it was making me feel a bit sick. I was also getting concerned about my race tomorrow and the following day. I was careful not to burn up out here. I was happy to slow down and stop to checked for foot prints ahead of me and looked for a marker up ahead I was always reassured of my course.
I popped out onto Millers Flat and totally took the wrong turn, following the first blue Larapinta Trail marker that I discovered. I came to a group of walkers.
“You’re going the wrong way”. One walker informed me.
“I’m following the markers”. I said now pretty exhausted and a bit delirious.
“There are markers for the Larapinta Trail going both ways”. The guide enlightened me. “Where are you going?”
I was so stuffed and at my limit that I could not remember. “What’s that way.” I asked pointing towards Stanley Chasm.
“Stanley Chasm”. The guide said.
“How far away is that and what’s that way?” I asked pointing in the opposite direction.
“4ks away and Jay Creek is that way. Four Runners have gone that way and it’s the wrong way.” The guide warned me.
“Fuck! Okay I’ll head to Stanley Chasm. That’s the finish line. Thanks heaps.” I thanked them counting my lucky stars that I’d run into this group of walkers at the junction. I felt instantly guilty that I was going the right way when 4 other runners went the wrong way. I was so worried about them. I was so hoping that the boys Paul and Joe were okay and that they were following the right course.
The guide was kind enough to walk me back 50 m to the junction and point me in the right direction. I thanked him for his kindness and I then ran through Fig Spring and looked at the puddle of water and wished that I had water purifier tablets on me or a filter. I was pretty close to drinking the water straight from the puddle I was that thirsty.
I had only 3 ks to go and I just imagined I was running up Mt Coo-tha with Bubble my trusty Kelpie and Steve my love of my life and gorgeous partner. The car is just up ahead I imagined. Steve is there waiting for you. Bubble is just ahead clearing the track of snakes for you. There is a cold drink in the car. It’s all so close. I climbed the fittingly named Gastrolobium Saddle, now in shut down mode, run, walk, run, walk. I was conserving my legs for the next few days careful not to use up all my glycogen in my muscles .
I made it to the top of the ridge only to face another descent straight down another water course into a gorge. I again hoping to see a route out of the creek bed but soon accepted my fate of more boulder hopping, rock scrambling, soft sand running through the hot heat sink of a creek then straight up a step of orange ruff cut stairs which indicated to me that I was getting closer to the finish line. The walls of the gorge shot up vertically into the blue sky above, like shards of towering opaque, glossy, ochre crystals. The trail sent me up and over the red cliffs on my hands and knees crawling, up the stairs.
I’d been without water for almost 2 hours now. I was feeling the effects of hydration lack of food. Use the fat, burn that fat. I thought to myself. Bloody hell! If the finish line is not in exactly 1.5km I think I am going to scream. Where is the finish line? The trail was so technical that it was adding minutes, hours on my predicted time faster than anything I’d run before. My watch indicates that is it just here, yet I’m in this maze of red mars like rock and could not see a way out. I descend a step of orange bush stairs, hoping that I was getting closer. I spotted a walker watching me hop down the rocks.
“How far to Stanley Chasm?” I ask.
“About 1km.” He informs me with a smile.
FARK! I say in my head!!!! I thought the end was flat! I don’t remember seeing all these ups and downs bush stairs on the profile map. I then think back to my trip 14 years ago and tried to remember what Stanley Chasm looked like. I think my brain was so stuffed from dehydration that I could not focus or remember anything.
I ran on searching for the finish. Searching for my way out of this maze. I pushed on up the cliff with my hands on quads, cursing the race director, I swear these cliffs were not in the profile. But when I thought back to my trip I do remember this area being extremely jagged with a massive vertical gain over a short distance.
I spot some well fed middle age grey nomads at the bottom of the stairs. Sweet! I must be close to the main tourist attraction in the area. I descended the stairs, turned to the left, ran along the creek bed, pulled myself up over a railing and around some boulders and I spotted the Run Larapinta Flags and ran across the finish line. Wow, what a stage! This was my kind of racing, pure toughness, adventure, amazing trails and, world class views.
“Bloody hell that was hard. I’ve been without water for almost 2 hours. I hope everyone else is okay. John, is tomorrow easier?” I asked as I sat down and drank 2L of water in about 15 min adding in enduroyltes. My body just lapped it up. I was relieved to hear that tomorrow will be easier and more predictable with food and water consumption. The stage 2, 41km took me 5 hours 30 min.
Race Set Up
Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Calf Guards
Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Shorts
Inov8 Race Singlet
Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest
Hammer Head Sweats Visor
Hammer Heed 3/4 scoop in 500ml….I usually aim for 500ml every 2 hours
500ml water with Hammer Every 2 hours, meaning with the Heed I am drinking 500ml every hour.
Hammer Endurolytes 1 cap every 30 min
1 Banana Hammer Gel every 30-1 hour depending on how I am feeling.
1 Hammer Bar for Breaky Apple Cinnamon.
Up The Buff SEQ Trail Running Festival.
Up The Buff SEQ Trail Running Festival Event of 25km just had way too much on offer to miss it. A trip to Queenstown Moonlight Shot Over Marathon was the winning prize for BOTH male and female! If I win I could have a chance to head back to NZ for another trail running adventure in Wanaka and Queenstown in the South Island of NZ. A trip to beautiful Queenstown was enough motivation for me to get up and racing again. Up The Buff is the South East Queensland Trail Running Champs (SEQ Trail Running Championships) and the crew from “Those Guys” Events was putting on an entire weekend of trail running with 25k, 16k Trail, 6k Road and the 1k Charity Fun Runs.
My back was still stuffed from the Bubble Accident. My ankle was still injured from the Mt Ngauruhoe sprain. I’d twisted it 4 times in 2 days in the week leading up to Up The Buff. I had to tape it up just to work as a PT. My ankle was about as lose as it can get. It was flipping out just walking around in my daily life. The entire right side of my body was in shut down mode, repairing my bruised pelvis. I swear you can train your body to repair and heal and my finely tuned repair mode was in action. My core was still a bit suspect from the Tarawera stack, my abs still weak, so I kept my taping going, which seemed to work for me on my NZ Holiday. I was not in very good shape at all, but I did not care. Sometimes enough is good enough. My brain was literally telling my body to heal. I was so stuffed but believed my mind was stronger.
I like to race myself back into form. It’s a long season and I never put too much pressure on myself to be at peak fitness at the start of the season. Just like a good football team there is no point smashing it out and being the leading team after just 3 games. The season is long and I still want to be running in November.
My partner Steve and I headed out to the course the week after our NZ holiday for a reccy along the quarantine fence at the Eco-Village. After the training run we both decided that this event would suit us both with enough ascent, descent, technical trails and a beautiful 4km descent to the finish line.
Up The Buff
After sticking together my dodgy ankles, abs, I warmed up listening to the race briefing and I was ready to race. I was prepared to hurt like hell to win a trip to NZ. The count down went off and I was off and running along the streets of the Eco-Village. Snaking up the tarmac, up the climb, onto the ridge, running without a lactic burn and feeling comfortable. I cruised along, allowing my body to tell me how fast I could run. I had not managed much training since NZ. I was too injured. I did not even know how long the race was before the start line. 20 or 25km? It did not seem to make a difference to me. The distance I had covered, I just did not know if I was going to be fast enough without doing any speed work for about 6 weeks. I watched Steve fly off up and down the ridge, along the road and off into the distance. He too wanted a free trip to his homeland.
Close to the top of the ridge I was caught by a local female runner. She soon past me. I tucked in behind her, watched her, listened to her and decided that I could take her on. I pushed ahead of her up the climb, turning left, running down the hill, past the houses, through the gate and into the first check point. I turned another left and hit the quarantine service trail between the road and the private farm property. I powered up the grassy trail, onto the ruggered clay track, descending at pace, nursing my right glute and hamstring all the way.
I pushed on, up the widening track, climbing a steep wide fire trail, rolling down the other side and cruising into the check point. Here I found Steve waiting for me. My honey asked me if he could pace me or if he could help in any way. I know pacing and mulling in an event like this would be illegal and I felt a bit uncomfortable with him offering it to me. I’ve never used a pacer, not even for my 100M events so it seemed a bit silly to have one for 25km. In UTMF and UTMB it is illegal to use one so I’ve never needed one. I think Steve just wanted to keep me company but I think he would be more of a hindrance than help. I’m used to racing and training on my own. So I suggested that he just get behind me, as you could imagine…out of sight out of mind. It’s hard racing with your loved one who is so evenly matched.
After a few hundred meters I spotted 2nd and 3rd females behind me and decided that I had to gun it to secure my place. I pushed on, driving with my hamstrings, moving ahead of some blokes and working as hard as I could.
After a few kilometers Steve past me and pushed on into the distance. I continued to cruise along. Managing, managing, passing a few more blokes up the steepest sections and ran in into the first Check Point on the return. Here I spotted Steve waiting for me again.
“I’m stuffed. I had a bad feeling about this race!” Was what Steve had to offer.
“You’ll be right, just don’t push so hard”. I encouraged back.
“My legs are stuffed.” He replied.
“Stop being so negative, harden up and fix your attitude.” I replied to my partner who was now starting to make me feel down. “You’re fine, you can still talk running up a hill”.
I was pushing as hard as I could, I felt fine but he was still faster than me. Him saying how stuffed he was made me feel like I was doing shit, when I knew I was really doing well. It’s amazing what words you hear can do to your mood. It is related to every aspect of your life. I was at my limits too, I did not have enough brain capacity to help him out too when I was racing for a trip to NZ.
“That’s another negative word”. I said. “You’re still able to talk running up the hill. There is nothing wrong with you mother fucker!”. Whoops! It was out! I can’t take it back. Shit! Control was lost. Fuck! Whoops I felt terrible.
Steve now had the shits too and he forgot about how stuffed he felt and decided to show me who was boss and rocketed up Strawberry Hill like a rabbit. It was pretty funny, a trail runners lovers tiff, on the run up Strawberry Hill. Goodness knows what the poor unsuspecting runner close to us was thinking with the two of us running up the hill having a minor quarrel about mental toughness and attitude up the biggest climb of the event.
I reached the top about 100m behind Steve, I then lost him on the next descent and cruised along with a smile on my face, happy that Steve had found his legs. I past Ben Duffas who was feeling sick from gastro that week and then spotted Steve on the out and back CP Turn around. Funny, this time he did not wait for me.
“Babe, I love you, sorry I swore at you. I’m so sorry”. I apologised as he ran past me on the return.
“I love you too babe”. He called back as we high fived each other.
Again, goodness knows what the poor runner sandwiched between us was thinking. I pushed on with renewed love in my heart and past the bloke in between Steve and myself, doing my best to catch Steve. I ran the whole way up the steepest trail of the day and gunned it down Strawberry Hill back to the check point where I spotted Steve out on the road cruising to the finish line. Steve had a point to prove.
I turned left again, powered onto the road as I did my best to catch Steve, but he was gone skis. I chatted to all the shorter distance runners along the rolling ridge, turned left again and rolled down the hill, quickly breaking, before almost missing the turn and falling over the crash barrier. Recovering my feet and speeding down the hill, passing more runners, crossing the bridge, running through the round about and racing into the finish line breaking the women’s record for the 25km distance with 2 Hours 24 Minutes and 10 Seconds. Steve beat me by 2 minutes with 2 Hours 22 Minutes and 51 seconds. I had won a trip to Moonlight Shot Over Marathon in Queenstown, NZ.
I was also crowned Buff Chick and was given a cape to wear for next few hours until presentations.
Hammer Heed 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of water
Hammer Banana Gel 50/50 Water Gel
Hares and Hounds Ultra
Hares and Hounds Ultra, Ouch! Man this race hurt. It was the first race of the South East Queensland Calendar and my first race after the off-season and only just over 1 week after New Years Eve. This event was never going to be an easy ultra. The Hares and Hounds Ultra and Relay chase was meant to be a bit of good old hunting fun. The aim was to send out the Ultra Runners AKA the Hares first (53km) and an hour later send out the Hounds in a Relay leg of 25km/25km (50KM) and see who can make it to the end first. The challenge had been set and the chase or the running scared will be on.
After Blackall 100km I really cut back on my Ks and just ran for 2 hours at a time, gave myself a rest and enjoyed some faster kilometers on my legs. I’ve leant from my past years to give myself an off-season and to enjoy myself socially, spend time with my daughters and discover new parts of this amazing world.
I spent New Years on the magic Moreton Island enjoying Queensland’s best kept secret holiday destination. The sand dune trails were tough, technical and beautiful. I used Mt Tempest as my hill repeat training ground, enjoying the lactic burn, lung busting climb and views of Moreton Island. I may have over done the soft sand running before Hares and Hounds Ultra. The week before Hares and Hounds Ultra I had pretty bad shin pain. It felt kind of like a shin splint. I knew that the lack of shoe rotation on Moreton Island was not the best training lead up for me. I only wore one pair for the 70km that I ran when on the Island. I would normally change my shoes every day. When I entered Hares and Hounds Ultra only 2 days before the event I was sore in my shin.
Stuff it. I knew how to get over this injury. I started to switch up my shoes, self massage, wear compression socks, hit the Ultra Sound at Bodyleadership with Joel, massage therapist. As long as I could finish the week of PTing with no shin pain, stay off it, wear different shoes, change my technique slightly and find the sweet spot when running, I should not have a problem at Hares and Hounds Ultra.
Hares and Hounds Ultra started at a painful 3:30am. There will be many painful minutes in this ultra. I woke up at 12:15am so I could eat my coconut milk oats and banana, drive to Death Before Decaf in New Farm and grab a coffee and pick up a mate and still arrive at 2;45 am for registration, get weighed in which was an awful experience straight after the silly season.
After a shock weigh in and a warm up I was ready to race. 50km is always a funny distance for me. It’s a distance that I don’t like at all. I will be finishing right when I start to feel good in a 100km event. I knew going into Hares and Hounds Ultra that I was going to hurt like hell after 40km. This was the challenge for me. It will test me mentally and physically.
The race starts and thankfully finishes at the Woodford Pool as an out and back course, with a 50km relay, 35km, 10km, 5km distances to choose from. I will be looking forward to a post race shower and dip into the pool set in classic Aussie Bush Surroundings.
I lined up at the start line, said hello to a few runners and within no time the count down went off and we were off and running into the darkness. Starting under Ay-Ups was a fun and a bit of a novelty. It meant the conditions were cool and there’d be less dirt bike traffic on the State Trails in the Woodford Glasshouse Mountains Area.
Off we went along the slight descent down the road, continuing onto the muddy 4WD track, climbing slightly for about 300m, turning left, climbing a wider fire track forming a group with long legged Andy and Duathlon Australian Runner Matt, winner of Blackall 50km. We chatted away, enjoying the trails maybe a bit too much and missed the right turn by about 500m and had to leg it back, realising our mistake, swearing and cursing, flashes of Kokoda Challenge was coming back to me.
I’m new to trail running up in Queensland, I understand the races are smaller, but 250 runners is still a decent amount of runners to want to look after and a simple ribbon or marshall at key junctions would really go a long way to preventing runners from getting lost. Apparently later in the race on the return many runners followed the arrow and turned left and completed an extra loop in the last 1km of the event. Is this is trail running and getting lost is part of the adventure? Or should there have been a sweeper out on the course taking down the out and back markers to prevent confusion especially in the late stages of the event? Was athlete safety taken into full consideration?
Matt, Andy and I made a quick U-Turn realising our mistake and within a few hundred meters was back on the correct track, avoiding a massive short cut and followed the correct route, catching every 55km runner in our path. I let Matt set the tempo and I followed him, pacing off him, saying “Hi” and chatting to the runners, passing my UTA clients in the run of lost trail running shame.
Before long I was out in the lead again within my two new buddies, Matt and Andy cruising along the wide fire trails, being extremely careful at every intersection, checking for a white ribbon, red arrow or chalk arrow on the dirt track. We past through the first check point almost unnoticed and
After a few turns, more chatting we soon dropped Andy and it was just Matt and I running together out in front with no one to be seen behind us. We cruised long together chatting away, navigating together, swapping race stories and in general having a good old time. We past through the 2nd check point and I swapped water bottles with my support crew member UTA client and kept powering on with Matt.
Hares and Hounds 55km run in this fashion was way more like a training run than a race. Matt would run ahead when he needed to pee and be finished by the time I caught up with hi so our pacing could continue. When I needed to pee he eased off the pace a bit and allowed me to catch up. When do I get to race and pace off such a gentleman? This was awesome! Much like Lamington Classic Male Runners. The blokes up here are so polite when racing.
I soon caught up with Matt at 21km and looked down at my watch and it said 1:40 for 21km. Sweet. I’m on track for a nice tidy 55km here. We cruised on together down the big dipper and into the turn around. The scale monitor gave Matt a bit of grief with his weight loss. He was about to give me grief too. I’d lost 2 kilos on the scales, just pee’d plus all the other pee’s I’d done pre-race, sweating and energy consumption in my muscles so 1.5kgs loss did not seem that bad.
“Come on mate I weight 55kgs with my kit on at the start, I’ve drunk it all now it’s 53kgs. I’m only little let me go”. I instructed.
With this stated I was off and running chasing down Matt, spotting Andy and 2 of the pursuing males reeling me in the distance. I caught up with Matt but with the blokes spotted in the distance it was game on for him. He can run a 31min 10km off the bike in a Duathlon so I knew he was going to stretch his legs eventually.
I pushed on, feeling good, saying “Hi “to all the runners I could see and counting Time and Kilometers between myself and the next females chasing me down as I climbed steadily out of the valley. I don’t know what it was, maybe I’m so easily distracted but in this out and back section the wheels fell off a bit. I forgot about my electrolyte plan and I started to stiffen up. Realising my mistake I started to pump in the electrolytes, I’d run out of my usual trust Hammer Endurolyte’s and I was paying the price. I dig deep and push harder up out of the valley, trying hard to chase down Matt.
Around the 35km mark my right quad was killing me and I was past by two blokes like I was standing still. My lack of Ks and the increased red wine consumption over the Xmas break was catching up with me. At 40km I had to stop and walk for 10 steps, let out a cry, dig deep into my rib cage and try to pressure point release my abs, diaphragm muscles. I was working so hard through my ribs, breathing deeply, giving myself asthma, stressing out my obliques, cursing my running belt, wishing I had on my trusty Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest and hurting like hell. I did my best to try and relax and had to pull off the pace a bit because the pain I was feeling in my ribs was so intense and preventing me from breathing properly. I hit my electrolytes hard and decided to reduce the glucose consumption, give my stomach a rest and see if the less is more approach would help.
I rolled into the 47km check point in pain but oh so happy it was all going to be over soon enough. Right Shona, no more wine in the week. You are on the straight and narrow now and you have to drop 3 kilos before Tarawera. When will this period going to come too? Far out being a female sucks some time! I felt bloated at the start and my power to weight ratio was crap. I’m going to acupuncture the minute I’m back in Brisbane and get this all sorted out. Mental note tell the boys at Bodyleadership I need a rib session to help with my breathing. I had asthma, maybe I had a bit of a virus too and I had to work over time to get the air into my lungs and it was killing me. Maybe it’s all the grasses in seed at the moment? I don’t know what was setting my asthma off. Probably the white wine I was drinking. Maybe plain old exercise induced asthma? I was pushing it bloody hard now. (I worked out a few days later there was a product recall on a Almond Coconut Cocoa Spread I’d been eating, stating that it contained traces of peanuts. I’m bloody allergic to peanuts! The speed was oh so good….I ate the entire jar. Something was setting me off. I ended up with a rash on my face and s wheezy, swollen glands in my neck in the following days. Really sick with asthma, so sick I did not want to talk or even call out loudly to my kids.)
I spotted the 10km runners at the 5km turn around and decided to use them as pacers until the finish. One by one I reeled them in and just counted my steps and did my best to ignore the pain and fatigue I was feeling. I ran past my earlier navigational mistake and noticed there was still an arrow out from the start of the event and rolled into the finish line, turning right and running into the Woodford Pool in 4 hours 37 minutes or there about’s because I never turn off my watch in time and I started it 2 minutes early.
Done. Xmas Detox run completed. 53km 4 Hours 37 minutes and back on track for my Tarawera Ultra Training. Time to hit the shower and jump in that pool.
For about 15 years I’ve wanted to visit the Lamington World Heritage Listed National Park. It took a back to back event with 42km Saturday and a 21km Sunday race to give me enough motivation to finally get there. The Lamington Classic has a historic South East Queensland trail running event that has been around since 1970. It is said to be the oldest trail running event in Australia. The Lamington Classic has an amazing history of great runners who have run the 21km distance from Binna Burra to O’Reily’s for over the 30 years.
Initally the event ran one way only for example from O’Reilys to Binna Burra Lodge and then the following year the opposite way. Then the race was evolved into the 21km O’Reilys to Binna Burra on the Saturday then Binna Burra to O’Reily’s on the Sunday. Last year was the first year that the race ran as a 42.2km out and back from Binna Burra to O’Reily’s return on the Saturday. Is your head in a spin yet? Confusing? Yes. Heaps of fun? Yes.
My adrenalin was pumping on the drive into the Lamington Plateau. I love racing in new locations, it always brings a new adventure. I arrived at Binna Burra Grooms Cottage registration and I was introduced to the great Bruce Hargreaves AKA Digger. The Lamington Classic is his baby. Digger shook everyones hand, introduced himself as Digger as we all arrived in the Grooms Cottage at Binna Burra Lodge. What event does a race director take the time and effort to meet, greet and make every runner feel special? This race was small, relaxed, and a far cry from the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc (UTMB) that I’d raced only 6 weeks before. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of the Lamington Classic. It reminded me of my first every trail event The Great Nosh in Sydney and the Deep Space Mountain Marathon in Canberra.
I believe that Digger has had to work tirelessly with Queensland Parks and Wildlife to get this race off the ground and to keep it running for 46 years. The course records are staggering. Some say the track is slower and more eroded now. What ever! I still am in total admiration of Nikki Carroll who managed to run the 21km course in 1 hour 35 minutes. Thats on the Long Course. If you want a shot at the record you have to run it on the Long Course which is about 800m further than the 21.1km course we will be running. It will take one special runner to beat some of the 21km records.
The logistics of the Lamington Classic are a bit crazy and difficult for me to get my head around at first. I even had to call up Digger and ask him where the start line was and if it was at the same place as when I’d be staying in the Bunks. Too funny, I was totally lost in the event notes. It’s weird to talk about logistics in an event. To be honest with you running the out and back marathon st Binna Burra seemed like the easiest option logistically wise.
Okay let’s talk logistics, to race the Lamington Classic it’s kind of essential I try and explain the logistics.The remoteness of both the start and end points really is what makes this event so special but a bit of a nightmare with your cars. I chose not to worry about the logistics until after I’d raced my marathon, mainly because I was so confused. Bruce Hargraves AKA Digger and his mates organise car shuffles, car pooling or people to drive your car from Binna Burra to O’Reily’s for all the 75 runners for the Sunday 21km run. Nuts! Yes your car can be delivered to you at the finish line. Yes! Amazing. Once you’ve driven these roads you can appreciate what lengths these guys go to to look after the runners. The roads are not for the faint hearted, the bends were narrow and in a fair amount of the mountain road only one car could fit. The Lamington Classic is such a chilled out low key event that handing your car keys over to these guys whom potentially you’ve only spoken a few words too seemed perfectly normal to all the other runners except for my mate Steven and myself who on Saturday afternoon after racing the 42km marathon still could not get our heads around the thought of depositing our car keys into a key box and trusting your car to makes it to the other range at O’Reily’s the next day. Are they joking? I think both Steven and I did not want to put anyone out and did not want to appear like we were totally clueless of the logistics. It seemed a bit weird, too good to be true. Totally unheard of. Instead Steven from NZ and me from Sydney, the two novice out of towners did a 3 hour car shuffle to get one of our cars to O’Reily’s for Sunday and then we had to pick up the other car after the race. DOH! Instead of just handling over our car keys to the spectators to drive over to the O’Reily’s Finish line. Total trust. This is Queensland. Things happen differently up here. On the plus side we did spend a few hours at O’Reily’s. There is an awesome suspension bridge rainforest walk and tree house to check out. The cafe is also has one of the best views of the ranges in the area. See not a total waste of time.
Accommodation could be obtained at either Binna Burra Lodge or O’Reily’s. Digger puts on a presentation dinner for everyone including friends and family on the Saturday Night. Breaky, lunches are organised too for all the racing periods. Presentation lunch on the Sunday after the 1/2 Marathon too. It all runs like a well oiled machine. A lovely social running weekend.
Okay with the logistics out of the way, hot chips eaten, coffee’s drunk it was time to race.
The Binna Burra 42.2 start like the rest of the Lamington Classic was totally relaxed. All the runners were called to the start line and whilst walking to the start line from the picnic area we were told we were running late and we had to run to the start line so their watches will synchronise with the timers at O’Reily’s. With a warm up trot to the start at the Lamingtion National Park sign post we counted down, said a few hello’s and we were off with little fuss.
I cruised off with a group of two guys and my mate Steven. I lead and was able to set the pace along the Boarder Track. We chilled out and paced ourselves in a group for the first 6km of lovely single trail, which soon turned to amazing single track of amazing untouched virgin rain forest, covered in ferns, lichen, lily’s, snaking its way across creek beds, climbing up for the first 13km to the top of the Lamingtion Plateau.
Wow! The views were amazing. Mountains in the mist for as far as the eye could glimpse between dangerous trail steps. We chatted as a group, really enjoying ourselves along some of the prettiest trails I’ve ever seen. I really mean that. I’ve race in France, Japan, New Zealand and the laming ton Classic is just beautiful. Our group chilled out and totally paced ourselves, this race felt more like a relaxed training run. The Lamingtion Classic trails are just magic, I kept reminding myself how lucky I was that I’d finally made it to this part of the world after 15 years of dreaming about it.
The Lamingtion Classic course followed the ridge between NSW and QLD along a narrow cliff track. The Queensland surveyor must have been a genius setting the boarder between NSW and QLD which we were now following. The track was tiny in sections. One slip and the drop would break bones. Deadly drop offs were frequent along the track and it took full concentration to stay on two feet. At the top of the Lamingtion Plateau the bloke behind me, Daniel Hooley slipped on a rock shelf and almost slid off the cliff into the valley below. We all stopped dead in our tracks and made sure he was safe, back on his feet and able to run. It gave us all a real dose of reality. At parts the track was only 40cm in width, slippery in the fog and heavily eroded in some places.
After 15ks the track started to descend and I opened up and started to kick it a bit, curving along the mist covered cliffs and turned a corner and my footing totally gave way. I slipped over and with adrenalin pumping thorough my body I jumped out of fear and landed in the ferns on the mountain slide of the cliff track, on my back with both feet in the air. Fuck. It must have been hilarious to watch. It scared the shit out of me and also the guys following me. They all checked that I was okay, being true gentlemen resisted the urge to over take me while I was flat on my back. I jumped up a bit embarrassed and we were off and running again. I think they got the stack on their Go Pro.
We opened up again, jumping, dodging, weaving our way down the rocky ridge and when the path widened we knew that O’Reily’s was about 2ks away.
We ran along the now bitumen trail, up a small rise and into O’Reily’s Boarder Track Start/End Point. I grabbed some supplies and thanked the organisers for their help and while my back was turned the guys were off, sprinting up the 7km climb. I totally lost them within a 30sec stop. 1 hour 57 min. It was game on and those boys had a plan and used their position at the back of the pack to their advantage. Steven was ahead of me and I tried my best to run him down but my legs felt like they were full of lead. Totally trashed quads.
I soon caught up with Steven while he took a nature stop and I told him not to wait for me because he was doing it so bloody easy. He is one of my Ultra Training Australia (UTA) clients and he was kicking my butt! I always knew he had it in him. “Go chase them down, don’t worry about me”. I instructed. He’d never been in a podium position before. Off he went to kick some butt and test himself.
About 3 ks in I spotted Jess another UTA client also looking fresh on the out and back. We high fived each other. I gave the next female a high five too. I did anything to take my mind off the pain I was feeling. I was stuffed. I love out and backs, they can really boost your morale if you cheer and wave to the other runners.
I did my best to just try and stay consistent, turning my legs over and focusing on what is important and before long I was at the top of the plateau and my legs were given some relief. The scenery was just amazing. The reverse of the track gave a totally different perspective of the terrain through ferns, creeks, mosses, lichen, lily’s, it was like a perfect enchanted fairy garden. I loved every inch of this part of the world. I spotted plants I’d never seen before and I was just enjoying the whole experience.
I snaked down the descent, across a dried creek, fixed my water bottle and totally stacked it, flat on my face, arms sprawled, rolling up onto my chest, face planted to the side, with my feet almost touching my head. I landed hard on a rock that gave my left quad a corky. Man it hurt. I jumped up, in pain, groaning, pulling my Inov8 compression shorts over my bruised quad and started running again.
Now my abbs were killing me with every breath, every step. I’d over stretched them in my arching chest roll stack. Ripping up my separation in my abs. Ouch. Sore, sore lower abbs. I focused on what was important. Knee drive forward, lifting my feel high enough off the ground, drinking, eating, and in the back of my mind knowing I was racing the 21ks the following day. I counted out my steps and raced with all my heart or as fast as my miler legs would take me down the plateau.
The path widened, I waved to the walkers and said hello to the Korean tourist, Aussie Tourist and about 1k from the end I looked up and waved to more Aussie tourist cheering for me, tripped, fell, rolling on my shoulder behind a tree, off the track and down the bank. Man that must of looked funny. One minute I was sprinting along the track totally in control, the next I was rolling down the side of the track. I jumped up like an embarrassed cat and started sprinting again. Desperately trying to get a good time for the marathon.
I sprinted into the finish line in 1st female place and 4th place overall 4 hours 05 minutes breaking the record by 22 minutes. (The Marathon Record was only 1 year old unlike the 1/2 marathon records). Steven managed a 3rd place behind the two blokes who only beat him by 17 seconds. He was then left to wonder what if he’d pushed harder from the start…….
Jess was 2nd female overall. It was a great result for our little training group.
So with the car shuffles done the runners were divided into waves, start times written on our recycled race bibs with a text-a. The slowest runners were to run off first and the fastest runners last. Meaning that at the finish line of O’Reily’s there was the least amount of waiting time for the runners. It was actually a really nice way to run it. A bit like the old days of the 6 Foot Track, when the veterans started first. Us younger faster runners are able to catch, chat and be inspired by the 66 year old female runner out on the track.
Steven and I left in the 8am wave, sore and stiff. Both of us seemed to be the only runners nutty enough to race the double of the Lamingtion Classic 42km Saturday and 21km on the Sunday. I guess we both have that ultra runner brain, if there is a race that will push us and our limits we will do it. Jess had to work on the Sunday so she was really missed, we were bummed we did not have enough runners to form a team. You need 3 runners on both days to form a team. Steven and I are both new comers to Brisbane area and don’t know too many runners yet.
With the count down on we were off and running. This time Steven only stayed behind me for about 3 minutes, learning from his experience from yesterday, he has become way more stronger than he once thought. He found his rhythm and cruised his Kiwi legs up the 13km climb and out of sight. I was shot to shit. Totally hurting with no bounce in my legs. I counted out my tempo and before long the track narrowed and I did my best to keep moving in the right direction. The track looked totally different from the day before. The later start and the sun shining meant that the light was different and it appeared to be a totally new trail I was running on.
I gave myself a goal to run the 21km in the same time as I ran it the day before with fresh legs. At the 1/2 way mark I was about 3 minutes behind on schedule after most of the climbing was done. I dug deep. Hopped across creeks, snaked up the mountain, crossed the rocky out crop dodging earlier wave runners who all kindly moved aside for me to pass and powered to the top of the plateau. I was really quietly frightened of the drop off I’d almost fallen down the day before. My imagination getting the best of me. After about 15ks I was pleased to have past my fall zone safely. Today it looked like a totally harmless drop off, yesterday in the mist it looked hairy. What a difference a day makes.
The climbing all done I rolled down the descent, twisting my ankles on day old strapping tape 3 times on the rocky trail. About 2 ks to go the track widened, flattened out and I dug deep, feeling great now, hit the bitumen, lifted my knees up the final climb and into the finish line in about the same time as I ran this section of the course the day before. 1 Hour 57 Minutes. Not that fast, still not a bad result on tired legs. I still managed to win the Sunday 1/2 marathon, Steven finished 4th overall. He beat me by more than 3 minutes. Nice one Steven.
Saturday Results 42.2km
Daniel Hooley 3:58:57
Justin Williams 3:58:58 Daniel and Justine crossed the finish line together as mates
Steven Pemberton 3:59:13
Shona Stephenson 4:05:21
Jessica Schluter 4:45:21
Jo Collins 5:13:25
There was a problem with the Sunday 21km Results.
They have not officially been released yet on paper so I can’t add them to this blog.
We were all given our awards at presentation with our lunch and have been told that Digger will fix them when he is back from the much deserved holidays in the States. Here is the Facebook page for Digger
Inov-8 Race Elite Shorts
Inov-8 Race Elite Tank
Inov-8 Fitness Bra
Inov-8 Race Elite Vest
Hammer Heed 500ml 1 scoop per hour
Hammer Banana Gels 1 gel every hour in a watered down Inov-8 Race Bottle
Hammer Endurolyte’s every 30 min.
Pomona King of the Mountain 2014
I was totally smashed in the quads from The Kokoda Challenge 98km, really 110km. Our team got horribly lost and ended up running an extra 12 ks, DOH! I ran the Kokoda Challenge only 1week earlier and still recovering from a health issue so I knew it was not going to be a pretty run for me at the 35th Pomona King of the Mountain. It was going to hurt! Stuff it! I love racing and I really did not want to miss the Pomona King of the Mountain. If I listen to everyone who told me I should not do something I would not be here today. I would not have run past 10km after breaking both my feet in 2010.
This race sounded like way too much fun, it had it’s own legends, record holders Maree Stephensen who camped on the mountain to train and run it every day for a week. Pomona King of the Mountain race commands fear, respect and requires’ a whole heap of adrenalin and balls to make it to the top and back down the rocky mountain again. I’d read about Pomona King of the Mountain which is located in the Glass House Mountains, north west of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in the book “Feet in the Clouds”. I don’t think there is an event quite like it in Australia.
Now living in Queensland, I really was so happy to get the chance to race iconic Pomona King of the Mountain. The Pomona Village really get involved in this event and put on a real country fair with stalls, rides, lollies, food, bands and run multiple races up the mountain so the whole family can have a chance to run up a section of the mountain. The atmosphere was electric with quirky country twang. I could not help but smile, relax and soak up the country hospitality.
The volcanic mountain in Pomona sticks out of the plains and rises to 439m high. It is easily spotted from the Bruce HWY. “Mum that’s the mountain I think your running up”. My kids said from the back of there car. Cool, this looks like it will be fun, scary but fun.It looked like an ankle busting terrain, I was really excited my adrenaline was pumping. Sweet! Absolute smash and bash fest, the total opposite to what I’m use to.
The race has about a 600m elevation gain and loss in only 4.2km. The Aussies race the Kiwis and who ever wins the event, male or female will run the sister event in New Zealand.
I did not do any training on the mountain, not the best lead up. My friends said its a really good idea to train on the mountain. I just was not fit or well enough. Again life is not perfect. I was just there to give it a crack, have fun, test my cardio fitness, climbing skills and technical descending. Who cares if I’m not going to be at my best? I just wanted to race this event, enjoy the test because it looked like I was going to have a ball.
The Pomona King of the Mountain has a late 3pm start which was great because me kids could do their Sunday Activities have lunch, jump on the rides, eat lollies and run themselves ragged while I warmed up and got myself ready for the start line.
After registration in which every on of the 100 athlete’s names are called and handed their race Bib and goodie pack in the local Scout Hall, we all make our way down to the start line and again every runners name is called 100-1. From the hackers at the back of the pack 100 to the race favourites 1 was called out at the start line and asked to do a lap of honour in the main street of the town. I’m glad to say the runners were from all ages, shapes and sizes names were being called out and introduced to the crowd. This event is not just for the elites it is for everyone who is fit, agile, tough enough and who have the balls to take their life in their own hands on the descent. Programs were written and distributed to the crowd with every athletes name, occupation, suburb they lived in and bib number so spectators could yell your name as you ran past. It was pretty cool. There is no race quite like it. The crowd, town, local community, really got behind this event.
Thousands of spectators cram into the Pomona town square, streets, Bendigo Box (someone’s front deck of their house), Hecklers Hill (the rowdy hill at the start and finish at the end of the road, start of the bush full of locals enjoying a good laugh, picnic food and of course bevo’s) scream out the athletes name as they run past. The whole race is filmed by local TV channels and a chopper films the proceedings from the air so the crowd can watch the race from the town square on the big screen. The atmosphere is really fun and totally Australian, real home town country hospitality, all the runners and their families are made to feel really special. After my lap of honour, which felt a bit weird, I lined up at the start line and prepared myself to hurt like hell.
10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off and starting the climb up the main street, past the “Bendigo Box”, turning left, then bending to the right descending down “Hecklers Hill”, crossing the creek then climbing up to the base of the mountain. I don’t normally run events this short, so from the get go it was all guns a blazing. I felt totally out of my depth, pushing my comfort zone, breathing hard and fast, trying to get enough O2 into my lungs. I was past straight away by local legend Leslie Saunders who’s long legs carried her swiftly to the base of the stairs. I wished for legs like that.
On the trail, Adventure Racing gun, Kim Beckinsale, jumped ahead of me with her legs cut from her winning a 2 hour adventure race that morning. Kim is a compact machine, all guts and determination. In her warm up lap I could see she was hurting in her quads, she was doing bloody well to be here at all. She moved ahead of me then slowed down a bit and I jumped ahead of her, she jumped ahead of me and a young 16 year Dominica Fitzaimon jumped ahead of me at the base of the stairs. The race to the top was on.
Before long I was on the bush stair climb and Kim just disappeared up the stairs picking the blokes off one by one. Man she was tough, a true weapon. I managed to get ahead of the Dominica and a few blokes and did my best to try and pass more but I was not strong enough to pass them on the stairs. The path was steep now switching from long steps to bare faced rock with chains.
My quads were killing me, I had nothing in them, they felt weak, my calves were burning, chest doing its best to get enough air into my lungs. The guys were slowing, they slowed me down but I really was not strong enough to get past. I counted my way up the mountain just focusing on my breathing, trying not to panic, the pain was so intense. I was totally maxed out just wishing the top to come sooner than physically possible.
I spotted Ben Duffus now on the descend, jumping, flying, bounding, literally getting air born as he manoeuvred himself down the dangerous rock face. I wished him good luck and pulled to the side on the out and back course.
Okay Hun, it’s time to move, I said to myself. I took a wide line and started passing some walkers, hands on quads, crawling, dragging myself up the mountain, on all fours, toes, fingers gripping desperately onto the rock face, doing my best not to fall or cause a fall on the staggering steep course while now dodging the descenders on the out and back course.
More hands on quads, more stairs, more chains to pull, more pain, more gasping, more wishing and I was finally at the top. Hobbling from the lactic build up in my legs. I checked in and out and started the descent down the steepest descent I ever experienced. My quads were stuffed and not functionally properly, I slid, jumped, fell, grabbed, bounded, caught trees, held chains for stability as I did my best to pass the blokes on the descent, trying to run down Kim and Leslie or at least pull back some time on the descent.
I bounded, grabbed, fell, slipped, slid, jumped over rocks, stairs, grates, for the next 300m of descent and was relieved to make it down the mountain with my heavily strapped ankles in one piece. I hit the bush stairs racing them 2 at a time, bounded on to the fire trail, sprinting with all my heart, working harder than I’ve worked in a long, long time. I’ve been too injured or sick to do any interval training so this was hurting! i tried to not lose any places to any males or females on the flat and did my best to real in a few.
I hit the creek, ascended Hecklers Hill, turned a right then a left onto the road, closed my eyes, and ignored all that my brain was telling me, telling it to shut up and it was not needed. I just needed to run. I rolled into the finish line a full 2 minutes behind Kim and Leslie, totally spent. I’d never worked that hard in an event. It was so tough. I worked so hard I was shaking, quads shattered, calves in a mess, lips dry and smackey. Dominica came in 4th and won her Junior Category. Australian women took out the top 4 places.
The minute I finished I had a camera in my face from one of the local TV stations and gave an interview for channel 7 or 9, Win or Prime, I really can’t remember. The whole event was covered by helicopters and ground journalist.
The Pomona King of the Mountain is such a special event. It has everything, ticks all the boxes. Awesome technical single trail,adrenaline rushing descent, VO2 MAX climbs, family activities, food, wine, Hecklers Hills, Bendigo Bank Box, massive crowds to cheer you on and even a helicopter to film you on live TV up the Mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself as much in such a short event. This race has it all. The Aussies took out both of the awards at least we can beat the Kiwis at trail running on our own turf.
It was just a shame that at preso’s that I was called out as the “Open Winner” before Kim and Leslie had their veteran category presented. It caused a fair amount of confusion in the crowd because I clearly was not the winner. Maybe in the past the Open winner was the Overall winner so there was not a problem in the past? I don’t know. A veteran won the event and came 2nd. The formalities were already given to the males and the crowd was expecting the same protocol for the women. I was even stopped by a female spectator in the crowd who was watching the presentations after I was on the stage and questioned me about wether I’d won the trip to New Zealand. Trust me, she let me know that I did not win and that it was not fair for me to receive the prize because I was not the overall winner. It was confusing. I was not awarded the prize trip to NZ and I agreed with her. I can only do what the race director wants me to do with presentations. I clearly did not win and it was a bit of a shame that Kim and Leslie were called to the stage well after me. I guess what we all have to remember it’s not just the athletes who see the inequality it is also the mothers, sisters, daughters, female friends standing in the crowd who see it too. The men were given their own 1st, 2nd, 3rd Overall category win, plus age group awards for 1,2,3 but the women were not treated the same. It was a really awkward moment. The Pomona King of the Mountain were extremely generous with the prizes with giving out age category wins 1,2,3 and I am thankful for that, it goes above and beyond what is expected. It appeared to the crowd that I was awarded the win before the true winner and it just did not seem right, it felt like I’d cheated Kim and Leslie. I also missed out on congratulating Kim and Leslie formally and have them stand ahead of me on the podium. I really respected these two women as athletes in their own right and they deserved to have the right treatment and have them stand ahead of me. In 2014 women should not have to ask for the same treatment as the men. I guess we can take equality for granted and expect that it just happens all on it’s own and us sisters don’t have to ask the questions. Nothing happens unless someone asks the question.
After The Pomona King of the Mountain I wrote to the race director explaining that it was a confusing awards presentation process, explaining how it did not seem fair that I was called to the stage awarded the open win before the female winner, 2nd Place was awarded their prize. It did not feel right. To The Pomona King of the Mountains credit he replied to me the very next day after having a meeting with their committee. The Pomona King of the Mountain committee decided that it was an out-dated awards process and that after 35 years the women in 2015 will have the same awards given to them as the men.
Well done Pomona King of the Mountain. This race has total thumbs up from me and I will be racing it again in 2015. It is a world class profession event.
1st Kim Beckinsale 31.11 Aus
2nd Leslie Saunders 31.39 Aus
3rd Shona Stephenson 33.37 Aus
Go the Aussie chicks!
1st Ben Duffus – 23.47 Aus
2nd Lance Downie 26.16 NZ
3rd Aaron Knight 26.26 ? (can anyone tell me. I’m new to Pomona King of the Mountain and Queensland).
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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.
About 13 days before The Kokoda Challenge Gold Coast I pulled out of my team the Rocksolid Raiders. I had a serious medical problem and I was advised not to run or do any strenuous exercise until I was cleared by a doctor the Monday after The Kokoda Challenge.
I love racing in Japan. I love the technical trails, the culture and the hospitality from the amazing Japanese people. Racing a Ultra Trail World Tour event around the only now listed World Heritage site Mt Fuji or Fuji-san is a real special experience of a lifetime. This year the world famous Cherry Blossoms were blooming at Kawaguchiko the town closest to the start of the UTMF with the best views of Fuji-san which in itself is extremely rare to catch, and It is a special treat to experience this world renowned event and the event of the Ultra Trail Mt Fuji UTMF 2014 had changed.
Tarawera Ultra 2014 World Trail Ultra Tour WTUT
I had unfinished business at Tarawera Ultra 2014 part of the World Trail Ultra Tour. I DNF’d the event in 2013 due to a heamatura so I was keen to cross the finish line of the 100km 2014. I arrived in Rotarura at the buzzing Holiday Inn where the Tarawera Trail Expo. I spotted My Inov8 Team Mate Brendan and we were soon whisked away in a van to the amazing Red Wood forest by my mate and BreafootInc Team Mate James Kuegler (AKA Kugs) the Director of Cadence Coaching. He has set up a really cool running coaching group and about 10 of his clients who were racing part of Tarawera Running Festival. Tarawera Ultra 2014 has 4 events. The 60k, 85k, 100km and the Team Relay that start in the breath taking Red Wood Forest in Rotarura.
My First Spartan Race
I drove out to the Spartan Race at the Mt Ivory Conference Centre bitting my nails. I was totally unprepared for the Spartan Race Sprint 7km Brisbane Obstacle Course Race in Ipswich on Saturday. I’d forgotten to cut my nails before the drive out to Ivory Rock Conference. I figured I’d lose a few nails if they were not short.
I had not trained for the Spartan Race Sprint Brisbane apart from gardening in my new massive Brisbane backyard in The Gap, doing 3 sets of 10 burpees in between some running drills and core exercises the day before. That should do it I naively thought. I was hoping that my personal training conditioning, trail running agility and my childhood gymnastics skills would get me to the finish line. Technically I had not even entered it yet. I was about 50/50 whether to do it or not that week. I have Tarawera Ultra 100km on a week later and I did not want to risk injuring myself. I’d been wanting to do one for about a year but the timing always seemed to not be right. 3 days before the event, after a bit of persuading from my Aussie Inov8 Team contacts and Paul my Physio at Body Leadership who had me do a Video Blog for Obstacal Course Australia I decided to enter the race. Besides, it would be a nice way to start the year by doing something totally out of my comfort zone.
Hakuba International Trail 2013
After the UTMB (Ultra Trail Mount Blanc 2013) withdrawal I was physically, mentally and emotionally broken. I questioned why I was running. I was absolutely exhausted from my 2013 Trail Running season. I missed my family and kids dearly. What hurt more was that I was to have less than two weeks on the ground in Sydney with my family and beautiful girls before I was back on another plane to Tokyo.
At the start of 2013 I thought I was totally invincible. At the end of 2013 I had a suspected stress fracture in my Medial Malleolus and a tendonitis in my Tibialis Posterior. I’d made a commitment to Inov8 x Descente Japan to race Hakuba International Trails 2013 and I was not going to let my sponsors down.
On top of my ankle injuries had an extremely inflamed and painful left big toe. After the long haul flight from Geneva via London, stopping over in Singapore and landing in Sydney in 24 hours my toe felt like it was broken. It was a painful throbbing mess. When I touched down in Sydney I could not bare weight on it at all. On the Tuesday morning after the UTMB , I checked in with my family then I headed straight to RPA emergency to get both my big toe and my ankle looked at. The ankle was easy to clear from a regular fracture with a few test and manual manipulation. It still needed an MRI though to rule out a “stressy” and to see what had been giving me such grief over the past 1.5 years. My big toe was x-rayed and was also cleared of a fracture. Phew! I could let my Inov8 x Descente Japan Sponsors know I could race Hakuba International Trails 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.