It was to be my 5th TNF100 Aus in a row. It would be the first TNF100 Aus where I was not going to be asked for a divorce before hand. In 2011, just 2 days before my first ever solo 100km, my ex asked me for a divorce. It was hard enough just trying to run TNF100 Aus, but I also had to deal with a marriage crisis on the sideline too. He continued to ask me for a divorce before every 100km event I ever did. On average I was asked for a divorce 5 times a year for the next 4 years. My running was always an issue for him. The anxiety that went with the constant unknown was insane. No wonder I was always busting out of the gates at the start line! I had so much built up tension to run out.
In 2015 I was so pleased that I would be leading into my 5th TNF100 with contentment, calmness, happiness, joy, love for life and grateful that I have the opportunity to use my body in such a joyous way. I was curious to see if I could run TNF100 Aus with happiness the entire way. In 2011 I meet my demons from my childhood and then current relationship out on Kedumba. I wonder if I was mentally strong enough to come back to where it all started and see how much I’d developed mentally.
I’ve learnt that mental toughness is not about being a hard arse, it is about controlling the mind to push out all negative thoughts and only allow positive thought processes guide you through life.
I was so lucky I was able to get out of an unhealthy relationship, where white ribbons and the 25th of November will always carry great significance to me. I have been able to forgive and love again. There is nothing harder than leaving your husband, no matter what your circumstances. A mother would never separate from her partner unless there is something truly unsalvageable in their relationship. The line had been crossed a week after my Blackall 100 Win in 2014 and I had to leave. I had to leave with my dignity intact, ignore the social pressure of the perfect 4 bedroom house with a pool, 2 dishwashers, double lock up garage, backing onto the creek in a leafy suburb, to prove to my girls that I was a strong mother and role model for them to respect. They may not have understood at the time but what I was doing was for them. It was for their future and their choice in future partners. They needed to know how a mother and wife was meant to be treated.
My body and mind could withstand so much pain. Ultra Trail Running has taught me how to be mentally and physically strong. I learnt that I did not have to put up with it any more.
I was scared as anything when I left.
Leaving him opened up a whole new world of happiness and opportunity.
With this weighing on my mind I was coming back to where it all started. Unbeknown to my mate Brad, this was my stomping ground and I am one different lady from the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 runner that turned up for TNF Aus races. Brad and I have a healthy rivalry stemming back to 2012 where he beat me on a count back at TNF100 Aus and I smashed is butt at Blackall 100 in 2014. My partner Steve has also beaten me at every distance we’ve race together except for 100km. I let both of these blokes know that this was my training ground and I was coming home to the Blue Mountains in NSW stronger than ever, for the 1.5 point worth Ultra Trail World Tour TNF100 Aus.
I lined up on the start line behind Chineese Runner Dong Li, counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were all off and running to the sound of bells ringing. The party had begun. I bounded out of the start line, jumping ahead of Dong Li and in front position. Whoops! I was even ahead of the blokes. Realising my mistake, I chilled out and waited for the group to catch me, and before long I settled in behind the lovely NZ zen runner Vajin Armstrong. I chilled, rested and watched. Cassandra Scallon from the US ran up next to me. We chatted and she indicated that she was scared of snakes. I let her know that she would probably see one out there. I always manage to see a Red Belly Black Snake at the now 50km point on the 6 Foot Track. It was kind of funny watching her reaction. She pushed onwards and upwards away from me, with Dong Li following her. Both of them were running for Salomon. I wonder if the US and Chinese runners will play it safe with each other or have a battle out there. It could be interesting later. I spotted US Runner Amy Sproston also on the road to the turn around. I cruised along the road with my Partner Steve next to me, chatting and getting into the action together. After the turn around I waved to Brad while Steve sped off ahead. I tried to stay with him, letting him pace me, past the Start/Finish Line, past the crowds and down the Furber Steps.
Here I jumped past Cassandra and Dong Li and Steve, asking the blokes to hurry up or move to the left as I bounded down the steps taking 2-3 at a time, catching my thermal glove on the wire fence railing. Fuck! There’s something with me and losing something in the first 1km! Buffalo it was my ventolin and getting my hair caught in my visor, UTMF I lost my ventolin, Mt Blanc Marathon I lost a gel flask.
Cursing, staying calm, returning to grab my glove again I worried that if I did not have all my mandatory gear I could be penalised at the end of the event. I retrieved my glove, apologised to everyone who then had to move for me and then politely asked to pass everyone again. I know, embarrassing! How annoying I must have been. Sorry!
I pushed on, passing Cassandra and Dong Li again, suggesting that they could catch me on the next climb. When you have descending strength it is so important that you work with your ability and not get held up in sections like this. I cruised down the cliff cut Furber Steps, using my arms, taking 3-4 steps at a time, sliding down the railing, passing blokes all the way, enjoying the freedom and clean run that I was getting. This is my kind of trail running. Steep, technical, fun, with amazing views.
I hit the bottom of the steps, stretched my legs, past the Scenic Railways, merged to the right, and followed the Federal Pass to the Landslide. I passed through the landslide with ease, with my left quad feeling a bit stuffed. I decided that it was just bloody cold and I just needed to warm up more! Rubbing my left quad hoping that it would stop hurting.
I noticed that the track was a fair bit clearer this time compared to past years. I pushed onwards to the Golden Stairs in which I ran the first set then decided to power walk the next set, then walk and run between sets of stairs. I dragged myself up the side of the cliff face, using the wire fence to pull myself upwards and towards the top of the climb where I was caught by Cassandra. She wanted to chat but I really can’t talk climbing in cold conditions. My asthma is always shocking for TNF100 Aus. I let her past me at the top of the Golden Stairs and re-grouped my emotions on the fire trail. I ran my way up the steep concrete road and wished that the weather would warm up. I was on schedule with my time when I ran into the CP 1. 1 Hour and 5 Minutes for 10.8km.
I filled up a bottle with 500ml of Heed and pushed on along Narrow Neck up the steep ridge, past Cris Ord from Trail run magazine sitting in the bushes on the left, ignoring that I was feeling a bit under attack from the gradient and elements. Narrow Neck always puts on a performance for TNF100 Aus. The views of the Megalong Valley are always spectacular. I ignored the cold I was feeling, asthma I was experiencing, relaxed and enjoyed the ride along the beautiful ridge, deep into the depths of the Blue Mountains National Park.
At Bushwalkers Hill I was caught and was passed within seconds by Amy. At Clear Hill I was caught and passed, with some tick tocking by Dong Li. I turned right and jumped down the single trail, letting the boys know I needed to pass to catch the chicks ahead. I flew down the first ladder, past Dong Li and was totally bummed to find a line up at Tarros Ladders.
“Come on Boys!” I yelled. Bugger. Now ground made on Dong Li before the ladder dissappeared. Shit.I dropped down the first set of metal cargo enclosed ladders 3-4 steps at a time, then did the same with the next set. I popped out onto the track behind a trail of boys. I took to making my own path on the right of the track, passing a group in one hit through Little Cedar Gap while enjoying the single trail running section of this course. On the climb I moved aside, waved the blokes and Dong Li through who wanted to pass, knowing they’d be stronger than me on the climb to the top of Mt Debert. I thought one of them was Steve, my partner. “Hey Babe, is that you? You’ve caught me.” I called out behind me.To my surprise it was some random bloke who replied. “No but if you think I look good now. I look even better after 100km.”
Help! Okay that shut me up! EKE! I felt a bit sick! Help!I regained my composure on the descent and I passed them all again with a few giggles, chit chats, well wishes and cruised into Medlow Gap. I did my usual vomit that I always do at this section and kept running along the fire trail. I rolled my legs over chatting to some of the guys around me. I was starting to warm up, relax and enjoy this race the more and more. I was past again by Dong Li who looked to be an amazing Fire Trail Runner and just started to count out my tempo. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, over and over and over again, up to Bellbird Ridge. I enjoyed the easy kms and beautifully graded surface. At the top of the ridge I spotted Kerry Sutter interviewing for IRUNFAR and I gave a running interview on the way into Dunphy’s Camp – CP2. Time: 2 Hours 57 Minutes.
I filled up with 750ml of water and pushed up the climb feeling amazing. I ran all the way up to the base of Iron Pot where I was caught by Brisbane local gun runner Tim Cole. We had a bit of a chit chat as he past me on the climb. I tucked in behind Jordan, an ex Gold Coast runner and pushed onwards and upwards with calves burning to the top. I willed myself to run, run, run, the body obeyed, hopping over the exposed rocky ridge line to the out and back junction, merging to the left and spotting Dong Li and Cassandra Scallon getting their race on during the out and back on Iron Pot Ridge. Wow, lets just see how this ends. I thought as I past the local Aboriginal Land owners playing their Didgeridoo and perfuming a smoke ceremony.
I pushed onwards to the out and back, spotting Amy then was scanned at the turn around. On the return I spotted Brad and then Steve about 300m behind me. I returned to the Aborigional Land Owners. I thanked them as I passed ad pushed on along the rocks, turned left ,Tim, Lachlan and the boys were nice enough to let me jump ahead of them and I was given a clean run down the steep descent into Green Gully. I can’t express how much a learnt about descending from racing Buffalo Stampede. I really did lean a new technique to save my quads on the descents and have them fresh for the climbs. Every descent after Buffalo just seems so much easier.
I pushed up the grassy mound, into the farm land and cruised along feeling great. I crossed the creeks, climbed the steep track with hands on quads, rounding the corner and rolling into the Green Gully Farm, spotting horses and thanking the farmer for letting me race through his land. I ran through the gate and readied myself for the Megalong Valley Road climb.
I pushed on, turning over my legs, checked back making sure there was no one in pursuit. I decided that no one would pass me on this climb. I’d only pass the boys. I ran my way to the top and was happy to pass under the power lines still feeling really fresh. I ran through the two gates and rolled my legs down the hard concrete road passing more guys, then turning left, hoping over the fence with a nice hamstring stretch. I chit chatted to a few of the guys around me. I was on top of the world with happiness, knowing that I was right on schedule. CP3 46km in 4 hours 40 minutes.
I quickly found my check point bag, swapped over my water bottles and gel flasks and got out of there, chasing down the guys ahead of me. I used them to pace me. I had to stay with them or catch them along the 6 Foot Track. I did my best to reel them in but could not manage it. My hamstring started to hurt, I told it to release and with the help of Panadol and Endurolytes it relaxed. I ran all the way to the start of the Steps at Nellies Glen and tucked in for the next 800m of stair climbing. I gave myself a rule that I had to take a breath with every step and stay in site of the guys ahead of me.
I also decided that for the first time in 5 years of racing TNF100 I would NOT drink out of the cute little, harmless looking stream at Nellies Glen. Nellies Glen was a kind of safe option for us ‘out of water’ trail runners whilst training on the 6 Foot Track. It has saved my butt many times in summer. Not anymore though. My trust in the cleanliness of the Katoomba residences came un-plugged last year when racing TNF100. I spent the last 20km of the 2014 TNF100 walking. If I ran I needed to go, if I drank water I needed to go, if I ate anything at all, I needed to go. It was the most humbling experience for the last 3 km of TNF100. There is really no where to hide. I did my best to camouflage myself in the bushes, doing my best to stay out of sight, out of ear shot and off the track. It’s pretty hard with all the reflective gear we have on with our Ay-Ups, packs and clothing. I was found by the most lovely 50km motherly back marker who, unlike me was prepared with toilet paper. She patted me on the shoulder, saying “ You poor thing”. As I squat in the bushes every few hundred meters to the finish line. I was lucky enough to run into 9th place. I lost 2 places in the last 20km. 3 Weeks after TNF100 I was still sick and I finally was diagnosed with a water born bacteria infection in my gut. I have since then learnt to be extremely vigilant with all water from creeks and tanks.
I past through Nellies Glen not drinking a drop, but gave thanks for the opportunity to run through the gorge still feeling fresh and on target. I pushed up the chasm, hands on quads, blowing hard, staying focused and in rhythm. I reached the top just behind the bloke I was chasing and was able to pass him on the stairs descending towards the Katoomba Aquatic Centre while catching the view of Mt Solitary. The track was in amazing condition. I’ve never seen it so clean and perfectly swept. It was much like running on the Japanese Trails. I passed another bloke and caught up with a Japanese runner and was soon caught by an old UTA client, Dave Graham. His quads and hamstrings were like tree trunks. He looked amazing! We pushed on as a group of three, Dave, myself and the Japanese runner, chit chatting, feeling strong and enjoying the race together. After a few turns we rolled into CP4 at 57km in 6 Hours 4 minutes.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gel flasks and was out running again. The amount of happiness that I was feeling was just so amazing. I cruised past my mate Renae and let her know I was feeling great. I pushed up the climb, turning right, running through the Katoomba Falls Reserve, following the tape and enjoying the moment. I was loving life! Loving Trail Running. Loving Racing. I ran past Katoomba Oval, crossed the road and cruised along the Cliff Walk calling out to tourists to warn them of my presence. “Hi, How are you!”. I yelled out ahead of me. “Hello, how are you”. I find is the best, most polite and least offending way to ask tourists to move. I sped along the footpath, climbing up to the top of the 3 Sisters Lookout, turning left, throwing my rubbish out at the bins provided, climbing the stairs, calling again and again, “Hello”.
With fresh legs and a clean run I pushed on up the footpath, turning right and following the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to the Leura Cascades. Okay, I think I must have been scarred by stairs because later that night when I went to bed all I could see was stairs coming at me when I closed my eyes. The next 20km is just dropping 10 steps, climbing 10 steps, running 10 steps, dropping 50 steps, climbing 50 steps, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. I think I blocked out the amount of stairs I was climbing at the time. It was not important to me. I was in such a positive place mentally when I spotted my cousin Leigh sitting in the bushes above the track. He called out to me and I was so pleased to see him for all of 5 seconds as I ran past him at the 63km mark. What a cool boost! He’d come all the way from Camperdown to see me for 5 seconds, then leave to head back to Sydney for work!
I pushed on. I took in the magnificent cliff walk views and enjoyed chatting to Dave who caught up with me after the check point. We absorbed the beauty of the Leura Cascades and Gordon Falls. This was just a beautiful part of the world and I was so happy to be back. I let Dave go on ahead of me, he seemed to be way to strong. I was starting to struggle with my breathing more and more. My body felt great, my lungs were starting to show signs of inflammation in my trachea from the cold dry air of the Blue Mountains.
I filled up with water at the 66km check point and ran on down more stairs to the aqua Pool of Siloam, marvelling at how pristine it looked. I thought of how lovely a swim would be there on a hot Summers Day. I climbed more stairs up to the Golf Links Lookout and onto the Grand Cliff Top Track, up more stairs and onto the road. I was loving life, loving my new life. I thought about my friends, family and how lucky I was to have my health and close mates surrounding me with support, love and kindness. I gave thanks for how lucky I was. Gave thanks for how happy I was.
I compared how great I was feeling this year compared to last year and spotted a bloke to reel in ahead. I crossed the road, ran behind the Fairmont Resort, passing the Gold Course, descending more stairs and to my surprise I caught Cassandra. She was walking and was not well. I really felt empathy for her. That was me in 2014 and I know what a hard way to finish an event it is watching competitors race by feeling fresh when you are sick as anything. I wished her all the best and let her know it happens to everyone at sometime. She did well to stay in the race and finish in 8th place. There is something about racing for UTWT points.
I pushed on, passing more runners, catching now 50km runners, still calling out ahead to the tourists on my way to Lilian’s Bridge, climbing the stairs, running past Conservation Hut, descending more stairs to the Express Falls, climbing more stairs to the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area, running through the car park, descending more stairs, now floating over the stairs with perpetual forward motion down to Wentworth Falls, crossing the falls, avoiding the tourists, climbing more stairs, up, up, up along a single track, out onto a fire trail and started the 3km cruise mode, letting Jo Brischetto from TNF100 know that Cassandra was not well as I past the gate and powered up the hill, turning right and spotting my next guy to run down. I found one of the Japanese runners who I’d been chatting to earlier cramping and I offered him some Endurolytes. He seemed to have it covered. We ran on together, chatting and I let him know where the top of the climb was, under the communication tower. We passed the Tower and rolled down Kings Tableland Rd enjoying easy kms and cruised into CP 5 at 78km with a time of 8 Hours 48 Minutes.
I was met at the check point by Renae, my Sydney trail running buddy. I swapped water bottles, gel flasks, grabbed my AY-UP and stuffed it in the pocket of my Inov8 Elite Vest and got out of there with the knowledge that Amy was only 9 minutes ahead of me. This was enough for me to push hard down Kedumba, passing another Japanese runner while well wishing the 50km runners and loving the chance to stretch my legs and enjoy the free kms.
At the bottom I’d caught up with a runner I’d been following at about the 30km mark. I decided that I had to keep him in my sight. I did my best to run but the steepness of Sublime Ridge was too great for me. My lungs were feeling pretty stuffed now. I decided to play it safe and just do enough to cement my 3rd place. Every year after TNF100 I end up with a chronic chest infection. As it was, I knew I’d be sick but I might get away without needing antibiotics. I ran and walked, managing my breathing, looking after myself, keeping that runner in sight. I climbed and descended in and out of Sublime Ridge over Leura Creek into the water stop, grabbing 500ml of water and staying ever mindful that I will be hunted down if I was not careful. On the climb out of the drinks stop I was caught by a guy flying along. I used him as a warning of what could come my way from a female runner and I decided that it was my turn to start pushing again. I ran to Leura creek and decided to put on my Ay-Up. I ran and walked hands on quads up to the federal pass, crossing the bridge and entering the Leura Forest.
I ran along the Federal pass in bliss, cheering on all the 50km runners while letting them know that they were awesome and they were almost there. The party had begun at the start line and I was partying all the way to the finish. I pointed out the lights of Scenic World and started to reel it in. I kept telling myself that it was the last Hammer Banana Gel I was going to need to have when I secretly knew I was going to need more. Willing myself on to the finish line thinking what an amazing time I was having. I finally made it to the base of the stairs and began the 900m of ascending, first running, then pushing my hands into my quads, while being warned like every other year of TNF100 that there was a female runner about 5 minutes behind me. I dug deeper and dragged myself up the with fence of cliff cut stairs with my hands using my arms, relieving my legs of the task. Blowing out as much air as I could, dragging, pulling, pushing, crawling my way to the top, passing 50km runners and doing my best to stay in 3rd place, ignoring the lactic burning my quads and calves. Digging into my lungs one last time.
I finally turned left, ran up a few more steps onto the wooden decking, curving to the right and raced into the finishers shoot. I ran across the line and finished in 11 hours 47 minutes, almost an hour PB since 2014. I was ecstatic with my run and so happy to do well at TNF100 and receive my 5th Silver Buckle and earning an entry into the Hall of Fame with a podium position for the 3rd Time in 5 Years.
2011 6th Place (My first solo 100k)
2012 3rd Place
2013 3rd Place
2014 9th Place (Lucky to stay in the top 10)
2015 3rd Place
5 from 5! 5 Top 10 Finishes from 5 Attempts. Whoop, Whoop! I was stoked!
My Gear Set Up
Inov-8 Team Singlet
Inov-8 Race Glove
Inov-8 Arm Warmers
Nutrition Set Up for TNF100 Aus
2 Banana Gels before the start.
Hammer Heed 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of water.
Hammer Bar 1/3 every check point
Hammer Endurolytes 1-2 every 30 minutes.
Up The Buff 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
The Blackall 100 was always going to be a race to test how smart a racer you are. How adaptable you can be in your lead up training sessions. The conditions were never going to be favourable. This is November in Queensland with temperatures regularly reaching plus 35 degrees. In some sections of the course the chance of the temperatures reaching higher is possible.
Heat Acclimatisation training consisted of the following;
Train PT Clients from 6am-11am. If it was a hot day, meaning over 32C I especially made sure I ran hill repeats in the heat of the day for about 1 hour.
Completed long runs in the heat of the day. I would run along in temperatures above 32 degrees with my heart beating out of my ears, feeling sick. I’d then come in from my heat session then jump in the shower and go back out and train more clients that afternoon and into the night.
Leading up to Blackall 100 I was averaging 7 PT sessions a day.
I would also lay pavers, move boulders, build retaining walls, dig holes or shovel gravel on my “rest days” in the baking sun to complete the landscaping in my new Brisbane house. I used every bit of heat that I could, worked my arse off in the sun.
Between PT session I’d make good use of my car. I’d wind-up the windows with NO air conditioning on and treat myself to a sauna sweat session, then jump out of the car and train PT clients or myself. (Yes my deodorant was handy). This was especially good on hot days of over 30 degrees. It would end up much hotter in my car.
I’d only turn the air-con on if I had a client in the car with me. My poor long suffering husband did complain a fair bit and in the end whenever he was in my car I eventually did let him have air conditioning on if I was driving him to see a client.
I just tried to make the most of my surroundings and my job being an outdoor PT.
With my heat acclimatisation done it was ready to race.
I turned up to the Blackall 100 and the race director Alun handed me Bib no 1 and informed me that I had not entered yet. Whoops! I totally forgot to enter. Wow to the race Bib number 1. I was blown away. It was a totally humbling experience. I could think of at least 6 males and a few females who should be able to beat me at Blackall 100 and felt like I did not deserve this honour. I have a bit of a habit of forgetting to enter events. I can get a bit distracted sometimes. Working mums would totally get this. Lucky for me it all worked out in the end and I was in contact with Alun, Brett, Megan and the team enough prior to the event that they knew I was going to be on the start line.
The Blackall 100 starts at Mapleton in the Glasshouse Mountains. The course stretches it’s way around the Blackall Ranges National Park in loops visiting all the best waterfalls, single tracks, switch backs, rainforest trails, fire trails in the area. We were lucky to only have a 27 Degree day forecast, some sections of the course will become much hotter, forming a heat sink in some of the gorges and on the ridge lines especially in the middle of the day. Staying in control of your hydration, core temperature, fuelling needs will be crucial to having an enjoyable race.
I lined up on the start line, happy to see thick cloud cover, mist and a bit of fog. At least for the first few hours of the race we will be protected from the sun I thought, as we counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off to the sound of the Blackall 100 Bell signalling the start of the race.
I cruised off with Kiwi Runner Shannon-Leigh Litt. We ran along chatting to each other along the streets, turning a few times and dropping down into a park, where I moved ahead of Shannon-Leigh before following the road up onto the main ridge line of Mapleton, rolling over the hills, being caught by and passed by Damon Goerke, Benjamin Gerhardy, Matt Judd and my mate Brad Bartsch before dropping into the Kondalilla Falls where I could pass Matt and Brad again.
In the morning the conditions were mild. I chose to go out moving fast, making the most of the easy ks and the cooler weather, wanting to get as many ks over and done with before the temperature climbed and I’ve have to put the breaks on. I was also mindful of some hotter sections on the track near Gheerulla Camping Area and CP3 and knew I had to get through that section before the real heat of the day set in.
I popped ahead of Brad and Matt and cruised across the creek, up a set of stairs through the beautiful rainforest, down the switch backs, down more stairs two at a time, across the lovely Kondalilla Falls. If you dared to look at the falls it was just magic waterfall with a large rock pool set high on the side of the cliff, with it’s wide sweeping views across the valley. I hopped up more stairs, around a cliff, descending into the valley though more stunning rainforest, along cute single trails, and switch backs and spotting the 100km runners on their loop run. I travelled up more stairs and completing the loop of Kondalilla Falls. We then popped out onto the road again and I informed Brad, my training partner who normally kicks my arse on all the climbs that I am not suffering from asthma today and I will have a good race.
I don’t think Brad quite understood what I was saying to him. Normally it is me who is puffing up the climbs, in these hot and humid conditions my asthma is significantly reduced and he should probably slow down because he was puffing more than me. He could not use me to pace him today. I let him write the splits for our end goal time of sub-11 Hours. 10 Hours 59 Minutes was the goal for both of us. I had not written splits for myself for a long, long time. I just was not well or fit enough to stick to them. There was no point setting unrealistic goals for myself and then get up-set whilst racing, when I totally blow out my split times by hours. The conditions would play into my pacing later in the race too. I have learnt to race to how I feel. Today at the Blackall 100 I was feeling good.
We cruised up the road with Matt just behind us, soon passing us on the climb. After a few ks on the road we ran along chatting like crazy, we then dropped back into the forest, down switch backs with sets of stairs on each turn of the switch back. After countless switch backs, descending into the valley, I commented to the boys that I can’t really turn right with my right foot , my right ankle is always a bit suspect and with the next switch back on the left hand turn I totally stacked it on the slippery stairs, whacking my left knee, my left foot slipping out from underneath me, landing on my left arm and ribs. I jumped up as quick as a cat, brushed myself off and decided to take the next few turns a bit slower. My knee instantly started to throb and swell. I just tried to run it out. Lifting my feet more stretching out my quad.
We hit the bottom of the gorge, crossed a creek and started to climb. More beautiful rainforest with single trails climbing up to the top of the ridge, with Brad, myself and Matt forming a train punching out a nice consistent rhythm.
We popped out onto Suses Pocket Road and I chilled out and let the boys run ahead of me. They were both better climbers than me and I was not going to blow myself up in the first 20ks. I cruised to the Top of Suses Pocket Rd and was surprised to see a Gate Keeper dressed like the grim reaper manning the gate, making sure it was closed after every runner that past through. I thanked the Gate Keeper for his assistance. Little things like this just make your day in a long ultra.
I cruised up the hill with the gap increasing from me and the boys to about 100m. I let them run ahead on the footpath. The incline soon flattened out and I rolled along Obi Obi Rd turned right, spotted my support crew, my Kokoda Challenge Team mates Levi and Dan and let them know what I needed for my return out of the CP2. I cruised up the drive, checked in and out, noted that I was running 15 minutes ahead of schedule and cruised back out onto the road, swapped my gel flask, frozen hydration bottles over and headed back up the street, still behind Brad.
I headed up the footpath spotting the Shannon-Leigh and Mandy within a kilometre of me and knew I had my work cut out for myself today. I wished them luck and powered on pacing myself. Matt soon past me and caught Brad and I thought that these two boys could fight it out for 3rd and 4th place if they liked. I’d just hang back and bide my time.
I soon reached the top of the ridge , crossed the road, crossed back again, ran through the car park, entered the National Park and descended into the rainforest again. This section of the Blackall 100 was just amazing. Beautiful moss cover trees lay on the forest floor, with vines, palms, lining the trail towards the turn off to Ubajee Walker camp and Mapleton Day Use Area. I turned left following the signs to CP3. Rolled over the fire trail, spotting Brad only 100m away and not looking so fresh. The temperature was starting to climb. The fog was lifting. It was humid and getting really hot. I cruised along the trail, just making the most of the easy running, before descending switch backs and a set of stairs hitting another intersection and followed the sign to CP3. I turned right and headed to Gheerulla Camping area. 35km in I’d worked out I had about 5ks to go, so decided to lighten my load, sipped and tipped out some Perpetuem. The temperature was climbing and I knew I would not be able to stomach much for of this type of fluid. I caught up with Brad and I could see Matt in the distance, and another guy, Yun Phua, behind me, was hunting me down. I decided that it was too early to care about position as of yet the race is too long and who knows what will come of a race like this. Who knows how hot it will really get?
Brad took off on the climb, the guy behind we soon caught up with me and past me. I let Yun lead for a few hundred meters but realised that he was not the best navigator. Whilst running behind him he almost turned down two wrong turns, not following the signs correctly. I think he was working way too hard and could not concentrate on the track ahead of him. I had to call out to him to steer him in the right direction. On the next descent I jumped ahead of him, taking control of the situation, fearing that if I followed him I’d get lost and end up running extra just like at Kokoda Challenge.
I cruised down the trail and popped out onto the rocky creek bed. I hopped along the smooth fist sized ankle breaking rocks, following the rocky foot trail through the creek bed, snaking its way through the gorge. The trail soon started to climb again, it became hot and exposed. I’d been without water now for about 4ks. I’d drunk all my fluid. I chose to have a watered down hammer gel and just hopped that I had enough water in my system to digest it. I was doing my best to get every drop out of my water bottles. Every drop counts. Even if it just relieved the dryness from my mouth for a minute.
I cruised along, managing my exertion, descended onto the hot fire trail, rolled along spotting Brad and Matt ahead of me. I ran into CP 3 with my support crew waiting for me with my much needed Frozen 500ml of Hammer Heed, Frozen 500ml of fresh clean water and my watered down Hammer gel flasks.
Now it was hot! The temperatures had climbed to over 33 degrees in this section of the track. I checked in and out of the CP3 and cruised up the single switch back track up the bluff in the heat of the day, sun belting in, my core temperature rising.
I used some of my fresh clean water to wet my head. It felt like gold. The chilled water on my head immediately made me feel cooler. I decided that after every 100 steps I’d give myself this treat. I punched out a fast tempo run up the bluff with the Taylor Swift “Shake it off”, tune in my head.
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
About 3/4 of the way up the climb I was overheating. I’d consumed all my fluid, I could hear my heart rate beating out of my ears. I took off my singlet to try and get more airflow onto my skin and I decided that I now had to power walk my way up the rest of the climb, conserve energy and look after myself.
I was now passing Blackall 50km Runners regularly. I had a good chit chat with them as I passed. I always love a course where I come in contact with other competitors. A little chat and some encouragement goes a long way with your moral. I chit chatted the rest of the way up to the top of the climb and knew that it was not far until the water tank.
Finally, with hands on quads, I hit the top of the bluff and tried to get my legs working again. I walked and ran, 20 steps running, 20 steps walking until the blood moved it’s way back into my running muscles and started the hunt for the water tank.
I was hot, mouth parched, spittle on my lips, heart beating out my ears. I desperately tried again and again to get more water from my bottles, only managing a few drops each optimistic time, while cruising along the now fire trail, chatting to 50km runners. After a few ks on the exposed fire trail I hopped back onto a single track and was pleased to spot a QLD Parks Ranger marshalling the area. She let me know that 7ks away there was water. The tank was here just to use to cool out bodies down.
I showered my visor in the tank water. I bent over and wet my neck and hair in the tank shower. I readied myself for 7 more ks without water. Cool. You can do this. You run around all day long without water. This is not different. I would just have to not push myself too much.
I cruised along the single trail that flowed down into the gorge, still chatting the to Blackall 50k runners as I passed them. I looked back and Yun who had been following me earlier in the race finally caught me again when I stopped for a tank shower. He must have skipped the tank. I chilled out and cruised along, down the descent, trying again and again to suck a drop of water from my bottles. I decided to have a watered down gel and wished the un-manned water stop would come sooner rather than later. I felt like begging the 50k runners for some water but I knew they’d also be suffering and in danger of dehydration too.
I popped out onto the road and was ecstatic to find the water stop. I filled up 1L of water. Knowing that I would be going through it one way or another. It was just amazing to have a drink. I found Brad at the water stop too enjoying the much needed fluid. He did not look good. Red faced, veins popping out of his head. I offered him more Endurolyte’s and he said he had enough on him. He was naughty! Not wearing a visor or cap. I told him to walk and he’ll “come good” sure enough.
I left Brad at the water stop, it looked like I’d dropped Yun on the descent.
I moved on tipping water over my head, lowering my core temperature, drinking small amounts of water regularly. Taking Endurolyte’s regularly, every 30-15 minutes knowing I was getting a bit sore and needed some extra help with my electrolyte balance. In these conditions hydration comes first, nutrition second.
I cruised along the trails noted a turn up the ridge to CP4 and followed it, completing the Ubajee Walkers Camp loop. Turning right up the stairs and hoping, hoping, hoping I made the correct decision. Spotting 100km runners descending on the trail, catching 50k runners on the climb. I was even told by mate concerned 50km Runner Tamyka to make sure I’d turned the right way. I let her know that I was positive all I had to do was follow the signs to CP4 and I would be following the right track. We had the order of CP’s printed on our Race Bib, so all I had to do was look at my Bib and check that I was following the sign to the correct CP number.
I climbed, running pumping to “Shake it off” all the way up the climb until again I could hear my heart beating out my ears then had to walk, hands on quads, motoring up the climb, managing, managing, managing.
I popped out onto the fire trail, cruised along trying to find some running legs and was surprised to spot Damon walking on the side of the fire trail. Damon has run a 9 hours 50 min Great Ocean Walk Trail Run. This guy is a machine. Here he was walking. I offered him some electrolytes and wished him the best of luck. I felt sorry for him. I know how good he can be on the right day. You just never know what injury or illness some one is carrying into an event. It was saddening to see him walking.
I cruised along, turned left, followed the narrow track up to Mapleton Day Use Area and into CP4. I quickly checked in and out and let Brad’s trail running legend of a wife Jude, know that Brad was suffering a bit. I had no idea how far behind he was and that I had not seen him for 7ks. I let her know he also had calf pain and I told him to walk to cool down a bit.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and got the hell out of there. Wanting to make up some time on this easy section of the course.
I think most of the runners like me totally underestimated how tough this 10km section was. I’d run around this area before but could not figure out the exact course in training. The profile between CP4-CP5 looked like beautiful easy rolling 10km descent that we should be able to knock out in under 1 hour. WRONG.
Yes, it was a descent. Man it had some ups, steep ups, steep painful descents that just hurt like hell on 60 plus km tired legs. The climbs were sharp, the descents jagged rocky, hardened clay fire trails. All I wished for was a creek to dunk my visor in because I was pretty sure that both of my bottles were Hammer Heed and I was tipping Heed all through my hair. Stuff it! I’d rather be cool than pretty! My hair began to have a crispness to it that indicated that yes, both bottles were full of Heed.
Finally, I found a creek, it felt like it was the first creek of the day that had enough water in it to dunk a visor into. I walked through the creek, enjoying a full leg dunking and decided that it was best to power walk up the climb with my hands on quads.
I pushed on, finding my running legs and came to a 3 way intersection. I ran along following the most used track but could not see a marker in the distance and could not see a marker close to the track head. I stopped and double back and checked again at the intersection. With my tired 65km brain and eyes I could not see a ribbon marker until the wind blew and moved it in the tree. Phew! I’m not lost. All the signage at the Blackall 100 had been really good, excellent in fact. I could not faulted it. That’s why at this point I had to stop and think. The Blackall 100 course markers put out cross marking for the wrong direction and pink ribbons marking the correct way, pink ribbon every 500m or so. If I could not see a marker I new to stop and check. There was also CP arrows directing us runners to the correct check points, signs for 100km and 50km runners to follow. The course was pretty easy to navigate.
After finding the marker I cruised on trying to be consistent, trying to make up time, knowing that I was losing time hand over fist on these sharp climbs. I checked my watch and decided to drink all my reserves and tip the rest of the Heed over my head and after a few more ks powered into the CP5.
I still felt pretty fresh. My nutrition plan was working for me. My support crew, Levi asked me if I wanted anything special at the next CP5 after the Dam Loop.
“Nah, it seems to be working for me so far”. Was all I replied.
“When are you going to start looking like you are hurting?” Levi asked
“Hopefully I won’t”. Today was my day and I felt great. No asthma but I still did not dare dif into my lungs.
With my frozen bottles changed,watered down gels re-stocked, I was out of there with the knowledge that Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me. Okay, in the past I would get lazy with this knowledge that I had 20 minutes of time my sleeve and I would just try and hold on. Whilst running the loop of the dam in the Blackall 100 I’ve learnt to use this knowledge to my advantage. If Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me, then it meant that she had to run the next leg 2 minutes faster/km than me to catch me. Off I went trying desperately to make sure Shannon-Leigh could not catch me. Every time I saw myself running a 6, 5, 4 min km it meant she had to be running a 4,3,2min km.
I cruised around Cooloolabin Dam, past the squashed black and white Bandy Bandy Snake, up, down the rolling hills along a wide blue stone crusher dust road and back to the CP5 to complete the loop.
Jude, Brad’s wife came out to meet me, asking me what I needed form my support crew. She sadly informed me that Brad had decided to stop at 70km. That leg from 60-70km really took a lot of runners by surprise. Even though he was in 3rd place he just could not finish the Blackall 100, he was toast.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and was running out of there. I pushed on, running the out and back section of the trail quickly and I was pleased to turn left without seeing Shannon-Leigh on the fire trail to the left. Now it was just me against the clock. I’d slowed down a bit in the heat of the day, now it was time to kick it on up this 10km climb back to Mapleton Day Use Area and back to CP4.
I’d run this section in training. I did not recognise any of the road though. I was trying to figure out when the section of the track was going to start that was eroded and a bit hairy. The road had been beautifully freshly graded with blue stone crusher dust and it was nice and fast to run on.
For the first time whilst racing I did not care how big the climb was or for how long it went. All I cared about was the patch of road in front of my feet. That was all that mattered. There was no point worrying or thinking of how big the climb was. It was not important. I just had to run, stay in the moment, keep my feet moving fast and make sure I was making good time up this climb.
Soon enough I was at the top of the climb and cruising into the CP4. I was really fast on this leg and my support crew only just made it to the CP4 in time to see me. I grabbed my bottles. Checked in and out of the CP4 and drank some cola. Checked my time and I was informed that I had about 8ks to go.
I looked at my watch and it still had a 10 in front of it. I was still in for a chance of making it under 11 hours. I took off down the walking track and stopped dead at the track interaction. There was not an arrow to the Finish. I knew I was on the right track, but with 92km of running in your brain I just second guessed myself. I pulled out my phone and called Mikey my husband. I could not get through to him so I kept moving in the direction of which I thought I should be going remembering that I’d seen a sign directing me to the finish earlier in the race on this out and back section. I decided to trust my gut and with about 1km of running I found the sign. I was on the right track. Phew. Mikey was then calling me back but I did not have enough reception to answer the call. I just wanted to let the Race Directors know that there could be a problem later in the night with tired 100km runners.
With 7km to go I started to lighten my load of fluid. I looked at my watch and thought that I would not make it Sub-11. I did not let this bother me. I just kept belting it out, chatting to the Blackall 50km runners as I zoomed past. My eyes were starting to get tired. It was still light but my eyes were playing tricks on me a bit, I had to focus with everything that I had to prevent a fall as I jumped over mossy logs, dodged beautiful rain forest trees and leaped over vines, winding up the track and popping out onto the car park, running up the hill, crossing the road and merging onto Obi Obi Road again.
I had no idea of the distance left to cover. My watch always loses 3km in a 100km event. I guessed 4ks to go. I spotted a local jogger on the footpath ahead of me. I decided to try and match this runner’s tempo. She soon turned right and I was at the top of the ridge, I crossed the road and started to wind it up. Trying to remember this section from earlier in the day.
I spotted the camp ground and Jude waiting at the gate for me. Man my eyes were going, I could barely recognise her. I was starting to feel fatigue with my mental function. I had 2min and about 500m to run to the finish line she informed me.
Game on. I lifted my knees and belted out the last 300m, making my last kilometre a 4:02min k for the end of a 100.3 km event. I still felt great. I ran across the line crying and totally spent collapsed across the finish line, laid on the ground.
“Ring the bell, Ring the bell”. The time keeper informed me.
I rang the bell, ding, ding, ding and recorded a time of 10 Hours 59 Min and 59 seconds.
Wow! I did it. I stuck to my splits. I took NO Painkillers! I mean that not even a panadol. I forgot to pack them in my race kit. I’m stoked to say I did not need them. My body felt great all day long. It’s the first time since starting ultra’s that I have not had to take a panadol to get me though an event. My stomach was just perfect too. I’ve really struggled in the past with gut issues. It was just a great race. It was my 7th Ultra of the year and to be able to finish 2014 with a win was just amazing to me. I nabbed a bonus 2nd place overall too. It just could not get any better. Shannon-Leigh Litt from NZ came in 3rd overall. It was a great day for the chicks out there. I feel Shannon-Leigh will be a name to watch in 2015. She’s a kiwi and dealt with these tough conditions beautifully. 3rd female Raelene Bendall also played it smart and nabbed a place in the overall top 10 too.
It was an awesome day for the girls in the 50km also. Local young gun Kirra Balmanno won and finished 3rd place overall with Kellie Emmerson coming in 2nd and 5th place overall Claire Lawson in 3rd.
1) Shona Stephenson 10:59:50 (2nd Overall)
2) Shannon-Leigh Litt 11:37:26 (3rd Overall) Kiwi-recently returned from Bolder Colorado
3) Raelene Bendall 13:11:05 (9th Overall)
1) Kirra Balmanno 5:20:33 (3rd Overall)
2) Kellie Emmerson 5:33:07 Victorian (5th Overall)
3) Claire Lawson 5:58:27 (12th Overall)
1) Matt Baker 4:43:06
2) Pete Lavery 5:56:59
3) Travis Bell 5:32:53
Race Set Up
Inov-8 X-Talon 212 P
Inov-8 Race-Elite 125 Ultra Shorts
Inov-8 FF Bra Top W
Inov-8 Race Singet
Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest
Snake Bite Bandage 10cm (10cm will actually help you if you or another runner is bitten by a snake)
Ay-Up Ultra Lite Head Torch Blue (not picked up, I ran the 100km in daylight)
High Visibility Vest (not picked up, I ran the 100km in daylight)
Nutrition and Hydration Program
500ml of Fluid and hour made up of 500ml of Frozen Plain Water and
From Start -CP3 3/4 Scoop of Hammer Perpetuem in 500ml of Frozen Water
From CP3-Finish 3/4 Scoop of Heed in 500ml of Frozen Water
1-2 Watered Down by 50% Hammer Banana or Apple Cinnamon Gel Every Hour depending on how I was feeling or if there was a climb. I reduced my gel intake later on in the event to 1 gel an hour
I alway’s made sure I had fresh chilled/melting frozen water handy in a water bottle to tip over my head to reduce my core temperature.
250ml of Cola at 92km CP4 Last Check Point.
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.
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.
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.
I have unfinished business at Tarawera Ultra 100km. In 2013 I had to pull out of the event in the most gory circumstance. I was shitting blood from about 30km and after working myself back into the event at about 60-75km I then was pissing blood. It was extremely scary experience for me. I decided to pull out of the 100km event at the 85km check point. No one wants to damage their organs whilst racing or training for a an ultra. It’s just not worth it. I’m a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister and I have a family to care and provide for. I have to return home safe for them. I was given the 85km win however never felt like I deserved the award so I happily gave my medal to Jenni Hoogeveen who was the first female who entered and finished the 85km distance.
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.
Two days before Skyrunning Ice Trail Tarentaise 65km I realize I had run out of my preventive asthma medication. I started to freak out. I was sent into absolute panic. It was the end of my European Adventure and I had planed out my spending to the last Euro. I also later found out the Hotel Double Charged my credit card by mistake. The Aussie dollar was plummeting whilst I was on holiday’s. The little Aussie battler had lost 13% Shit! I have 2 kids back in Sydney and a Sydney mortgage to go with it. I run my own business’s if I don’t work I don’t get paid and I have almost been away for 3 weeks. Adding a possible overseas doctors bill plus medication could be really expensive. I contacted the Skyrunning Race Director and told them about my problem.
It was a chance of a life time to represent inov8 in the Skyrunning 2013 Series in Mt Blanc Marathon, Europe. Who would have thought that anyone would want an Australian who has never run through snow before to represent them at a Skyrunning 2013 event? The Skyrunning 2013 Series is notorious for being extremely tough and technical events with massive elevation gains and sometime losses.
The Skyrunning 2013 Races are located all over the world first starting in Spain Zegama 42km, France Mt Blanc Marathon 42km, USA Pikes Peak 42km, Switzerland Matterhorn Ultra’s 46km, Italy Lissome Extreme Sky Race 23km.
There is an Ultra Series including Transvulcania Ultramarathon 83km Spain, Andorra Ronda dels Cims 170km, Ice Trail Tarentaise 65km France, Speed Goat 50km Utah, Ultra Race of Champions UROC USA. Plus there is Vertical Climbs in Russia, Spain, France, Greece and Italy.
Monday June Public Holiday was the perfect time to hit the tracks on my own. My achilles tendon was still a bit iffy after I tore it the day before The North Face 100km. I wanted to run on my own so I did not feel any pressure to keep up with a training partner. I also wanted to use the opportunity to build my own mental strength, gain some confidence in my body again and try a few new things.
It was only 3 weeks after tearing it and one week after a 20km Saturday, 20km Sunday Glow Worm Tunnel Ultra Training Australia Camp weekend. It was my last chance I could put in some big kilometers before I headed over to Europe to Race the Skyrunning Mt Blanc Marathon and the Ice Trail 65km in Val d’Isere. Continue Reading
The North Face 100 2013 Race Report by Shona Stephenson. I’ve had a massive year 50km Aura Australian Ultra Runner Trail Champs VIC Feb 2013, Coastrek 50km NSW March 2013, Tarawera 85km (retired sick at 85km) NZ March 2013, Northburn 100M 160km NZ (my debut 100M) March 2013, UTMF 160km Japan April 2013 my 2nd 100M only a month later, plus 4 Sydney Trail Series speedy 10km and now I was about to run the premier Australian Event of the calendar The North Face 100km May 2013. In a way it is the last BIG Ultra Race in NSW Calendar before we all get a bit of a rest over winter then head to Europe for the Skyrunning Series.
It was 2 Wednesdays before The North Face 100 after a 10km time trial on road that I felt my Achilles go. It was only one and a 1/2 weeks after UTMF so I was probably still in recovery mode. I thought nothing of it as I have had Achilles tendonitis before and I’ve had so many other tendonitis before.