Run Larapinta Stage 3 and 4
Central Comms Stage 3
Start Time 8am
NO Water Stop – Totally Self Sufficient Day
Ochre Pits to Ormiston Gorge.
Run Larapinta Stage 3 and 4 bought out the nerves in me. After the unpredictable Run Larapinta Stage 2, I was a bit nervous going into Stage 3 after running out of food and water for almost 2 hours the day before. I totally miscalculated the time it would take me to run 39 km, which was actually 41+ km over really technical terrain. John, the Rapid Ascent race director assured me that yesterday was the hardest and most unpredictable day. Today was going to be pretty easy predictable running. Phew! I was up through the night eating and drinking, making sure I was totally carbed up and hydrated after yesterday gruelling race. I was predicting that I would be running the 30 km in about 3 hours.
I warmed up my tired and sore legs and moved to the start line at the Ochre Pits where the Aboriginal Locals collect pigment for their body art. It was a pretty special place.
After a quick count down we were all off and running as a group. By now we had all started to get to know each other, build some friendships and offer help when needed. After the race yesterday I offered John, one of the runners some enduralytes magic pills to help with his cramps so he could get in a truck and drive to the hotel. It was a bit of a crack up. John really couldn’t bend his leg to get up into the truck seat, his body was stiff like a board. After the enduroyltes he stopped cramping, but still did not trust his body to be able to get in the truck fearing he would cramp up again. I had to give him the hard word to get him in the truck so the truck driver could continue on with his deliveries and his son could get out of Stanley Chasm and back to the hotel. He eventually listened and got in the truck and much to his delight, cramp free!
At the start of Stage 3, we all chit chatted and giggled in a group and before long stretched out over the spinafex grassy hill along the Arrernte Walk, along a beautiful single trail and then popped out into a creek. Noooooooo! Not another dry creek bed! FUCK!
I learnt my creek navigation lesson from the day before and went straight up the guts of it, over the boulders, under logs, between cracks and over soft sand, trying to keep Paul and Joe in sight but soon lost them behind boulders and I was on my own, navigating my own way up this new creek bed using their footprints as a guide. After about 3km of creek running the track veered to the right and I was greeted with the most stunning alpine valley I have encountered since running on the Italian side of Mt Blanc on the Ultra Trail Mt Blanc. I made it over the pass and the valley opened up and I could see mile after beautiful mile. I could see majestic, Mt Sonder in the distance. It was our reminder of what was to come tomorrow.
I ran along the trail, loving new alpine desert plants I was discovering. Fluro yellow what looked like fluffy bushes lined the trail yet on closer inspection I discovered they were spines instead of soft leaves. This is the desert. Defend yourself or be eaten! Every plant had it’s defence from the grasses, to palms, bushes and trees.
I ran along avoiding the spines, happy I had calf guards on and appreciating my surroundings. I soon dropped down a set of such stairs, looped around almost into what felt a full circle into another gorge, called Waterfall Gorge.
The gorge was dry, so I ran up the creek, this time the trail quickly cut off to the right and I was climbing up onto Heavitree Range. This climb was considerably easier than yesterdays, only a 300m climb zig-zagging up the ridge making use of the marked switchback tracks all the way to the top. The views were out of this world! Absolutely stunning! I could see for hundreds of kilometers in all direction and not a sign of civilisation could be found. With this amazing view being the perfect backdrop I decided to take a quick selfie for fun before starting the descent.
Different trails share a different type of “Trail Language”. I was trying to figure out what this “Trail Language,” was on the top of this ridge line with limited markers more designed for walkers rather than runners.
I followed the foot trail down the razor back ridge, spotting a nice lookout. I stopped to check it out and soon discovered it was a sheer cliff face. Holy cow! I almost went off the edge! I panicked. Then back tracked and headed straight down the opposite line to the cliff and head left after about 50 m, descending straight down the mountain through alpine scrub. I soon I discovered that I’d lost the track. I retraced my steps back towards the cliff and spotted the red dirt footprints on the ochre jagged rocks along the rocky out crop and decided that this was the trail. Phew. I was back on track again. I hopped along the ridge, loving the technicality of the descent and enjoying the focus I had to have to stay in touch with those red foot prints in the trail.
I hit the flat, curved around the hill with the temperature rising and cruised along the trail spotting a creek bed, crossing the creek bed, following foot prints towards the road. I then spotted a blue arrow on the other side of the creek. I back tracked, cursing my stupidity, thinking that I would have much preferred to stay in the cool of the shadow of the cliffs rather than run out in the open. These gorges become a bit of a heat sink and I’d just run out of water. The track narrowed and I spotted Running Mums Australia coming towards me in the opposite direction who were doing the Short Course. I asked them if I was going the right way. They assured me I was. I guess I was closer to my limit than I thought. I’ve been lost a few times whilst racing and it is such a sinking feeling. I was relieved to be close to the finish. I pushed on up the footpath through the tourist shelter and across the finish line.
Done. Now it was time to hop into the water hole at the jaw dropping Ormiston Gorge and start my recovery before the final day of 45km tomorrow. I jumped on the bus and we left for Glen Helen, a remote desert oasis. I was lucky enough to receive the full Outback Experience of sleeping in Safari Tent with Geckos on stretchers and swim in the Finke River at the Glen Helen Station.
Ice Bug Stage 4
Start Time 7:30am
Start Location Redbank Gorge
Finish Glen Helen
Water Stops-Redbank Gorge16km, Rocky Bar 28km
I woke up early at 4:30am freezing my tits off and ready to race. I was excited to finish my first ever stage event today and to also climb up to the summit of Mount Sonder. It was also my birthday. I was turning 37 and I just could not think of a better way to spend it than to race 45km with a mountain summit en-route! On second thought….Maybe I could be a little warmer and with my kids and partner Steve. To me racing is such a gift and I was so glad to have this chance to express how I feel on over these weathered trails. My rustic Outback Safari tent offered little insulation from the desert morning temperatures. I was so cold, shivering in my tent with all my clothes on. I was really worried that I would not be able to move, let alone race, if I did not get warm. I ate some Hammer bars for my pre-race breaky and decided to go to reception to tape my ankles, where I would be nice and warm rather than freezing over. I found that because the reception was connected to the Glen Helen Pub it was closed. Damn! I guess they would not want for any of the fluids to go missing over night. I spotted Paul filling up his water bottles in the communal open air kitchen and after seeing me shiver he offered to let me shelter in his dormitory before the race.
“Just walk through that gap, turn to the right and it is the 2nd door in”. He directed.
I followed his direction and I found not an empty room but a lit room with bloke 3 runners in it. Peter, (Sydney and now with a black eye and a swollen cheek after a massive stack on the razor yesterday), Hans (Canadian living in Vic) and Michelle (French living in Vic). I quickly closed the door and tried the next room.This time I looked into darkness, seeing silhouettes of unrecognisable males and I decided that I was better off jumping into the room with 3 guys who I could recognise than to keep trying for Paul’s room and maybe discovering something I really did not want to find.
I jumped in the room with a few giggles and started to tape my ankles in race mode. Hans then offered me a banana, I then started handing out endurolytes and then discovered that Laurent’s bladder was leaking, so I decided to go back up to my freezer box of a tent and grab him one of my Inov8 bladders for the race. I returned to the room and helped out Michelle and chatted and stayed warm until our bus arrived. We had really become all one big supportive family by stage 4. We were all in this together and we had only 45 km to run to finish off our epic adventure.
By day 4 the pain and fatigue had set in. I was not sure how much juice I had left in my legs. The conditions were freezing, so again I was going to suffer with asthma all the way up Mount Sonder. I was just going to have to wait for temperatures to warm up before I could really run.
On the bus on the way to Redbank Gorge there was an engaged local Alice Springs couple who were very much in love and were there to race and train for an Ironman event that was coming up in a few months. Damn, we all thought! Fresh legs when ours were all stuffed. The athletic couple assured us that they had had a massive Iron Man training weekend and were not fresh at all. Compared to us hagged desert runners, covered in black eyes, stitches, bruises, sun burn, cracked lips, they looked like new borns.
We hobbled out of the bus and walked down to the start line. After a countdown we all headed along the trail and straight up the steps of Mount Sonder. Fiona was powerful up the hill from all her Ironman bike training. I did my best to stay ahead of her but decided when the steps became steeper to let her take off ahead. I was struggling with asthma and my legs were not warmed up yet, they felt like dead weights. The 3 days of running had taken their toll. I was no match for her strength and I wanted her to run ahead of me so that I could concentrate on my own breathing and pacing. I knew I had to be kind to my quads and not smash them up so soon in the race. I was just going to chill and work my cadence climbing the 4th biggest mountain in the NT.
The views were amazing! The larapinta trail just kept giving stunning views, magical contrasts between the blue sky and the orange rocks and the remoteness is mind-blowing. As I climbed I could not see evidence of human life anywhere. The wilderness was exhilarating. I ran and walked up the jagged rocky path to the saddle, down the stairs and gave the next push towards the summit.
As I ran up the trail I caught some walkers.
“Hello.” I’d call out ahead. “Say Happy Birthday”. I would say jokingly.
“Happy Birthday”. The bemused walkers would reply.
“Thank You”. I fed off their energy, I fed off their well wishes, smiles, happiness and general willingness to wish me happy birthday as I climbed the mountain. This was trail running bliss.
With the “Happy Birthday’s” and well wishes I was running with absolute happiness in my heart and gratitude of my opportunity to be able to race Run Larapinta in 2015, UTMB in 2014, Oxfam 2012, 2011, 2010 all on my birthday.
Paul, Joe, and the ironman freshie were all on the descent. The earlier wave of runners were also on the descent. More happy birthday wishes, high fives returned and “looking strong,” between the other runners as we all marvelled at the stunning views on this ridge line.
About 200 m from the summit I spotted Fresh Fiona coming towards me on her descent of the out and back leg. I wished her well and tried to remain calm. Before long I was at the top of Mount Sonder with Fiona less than a kilometre ahead of me.
The boys from Rapid Ascent were there to great me with a Birthday Cup Cake. I posed for a shot, fake eating of the gluten treat with heaps of smiles and excitement. I jumped on top of the summit marker with hands in the air, I was so happy I’d bagged it on my birthday. I can now remember after seeing this photo of me on the summit marker, visiting this very same place on the first day of my honeymoon all those 13 years ago. Wow! How far I’d come. Wow. It’s been one amazing journey. There I was at 24 with all the hope and dreams for this relationship, kids, houses, adventures. Couples who play together, stay together. We had an amazing start. I guess it fell away when the adventure ceased happening together. Excuses can be made when the kids come along, things can be made out to be too hard. If you are fit nothing is hard. Everything is easy. My fitness level has allowed me to find life easy and see possibilities everywhere. To that young, energetic woman back there on the top of Mount Sonder at the age of 24, I hope you are happy with what you have accomplished. I think she would go to sleep with a smile on her face knowing that she will make the most of what the universe has given her. I can only smile and be happy to have found my true self, my pure freedom, pure friendships, pure love, untainted love. I have too much to give than to just stay at home and keep a house perfect. I must explore the world, share experiences with people. Far out I get a buzz trail running in my local patch and saying, “Hi” to other runners or walkers I meet. I will always stop for a chat and connect with those around me. It’s what I do. I love people.
I jumped down from the summit marker and the chase for Fiona was on! She would have been over 1 km away. I tried to stay as calm as possible, my legs needed to warm up, my lungs needed to warm up as the top of the summit was freezing. I hopped from jagged rock to jagged rock, down the mountain letting gravity do the work. I passed Fiona (WA), Peter and Mirjam (NZ) on their way up to the turn around. “It’s only just up ahead”. I encouraged.
I released the breaks, relaxing my sore and tired quads on every touch with my forefoot to the ground. I High fived my competitors and again rejoiced at what my body was capable of doing and with every step closed the gap to Fresh Fiona.
I hit the saddle of Mt Sonder and pushed my hands on my quads as I climbed up the bush stairs, my lungs screaming, trachea rasping in the cold, dry, desert air. It’s all down hill from here. I honed in on Fiona and followed the switch backs down the mountain. After about another Km of chasing I caught and passed Fiona on the narrow, rocky single goat like track, with the views of Redback Gorge to my left. I wished her safe travels, suggesting that she’d catch me on the next climb and pushed onwards and downwards, hopping over rocks, bounding from step to step, forever down, down, down the 7km descent and into the check point at Redbank Gorge Junction 16km down 29km to go.
I quickly took off my singlet and refilled my 500ml bottle. The temperature was rising quickly. It was going to be a hot one. At last I can finally race with the conditions on my side. In my head I knew Fiona would be strong. I hope I’d done enough on the descent to build a big enough gap to last me the finish. I counted, counted and counted to 100, over and over again, keeping my cadence high, knee drive forward and feet off the ground was all I could think of and marvel at the blue stones I was snaking by along the flat. What is with this light blue rock?
I ran into the Rocky Bar Gap 28km check point so happy that I had kept my lead. After chatting to the guys at the check point and really stopping to refill my bottles, have a think about taking a bottle to tip on my head to stay cool, grabbing some extra endurolytes fizz, preparing myself for rising temperatures into the mid 30s, I was caught by Fresh Fiona.
Shit! We said some well wishes to each other and with the new rocket up my butt I was off. The goal was to stay ahead of Fresh Fiona until the summit of Hilltop Lookout. If I could stay ahead of her until there then I had a chance to win.
Now I really kicked it, lifting my legs, turning my feet over, snaking past Rocky Bar and running as fast as I could until I could not run anymore, dropping into a hands on quads fast turn over power walk. Running 20 steps, walking 20 steps, pushing hard on my quads, panting, tipping water over my head, keeping my core temperature cool, passing short course runners now on the rocky trail and before long I was at summit of the 300 m climb. Now it was time to enjoy the view, company of short course and early wave runners and the descent.
I loved this next section. It was beautiful soft switch backing goat trail down the mountain passing all the way back into the Mereenie Valley. So pleased I was finishing up on the last day of the stage event. I hit the flats, turned on the pace, crossed the dry soft sand of Davenport Creek, dodging dry cow paddy’s with the heat starting to bite. I continued to tip water over my head. I was now dreaming of the swim in the Finke River with a glass of champagne in my hands.
I sped on, turned right and found the Finke River but this was not the finish line. I still had 4ks to run. I pushed on the wriggly sandy trail, edged with fluffy grasses, climbing up over the dunes onto a rocky out crop and to my absolute surprise the sandy trail lead me through a hole in the bright red rock. This was bloody awesome! How cool is this! I did not take a photo which I was a bit annoyed at myself for afterwards, I was too scared that Fresh Fiona would catch me if I stopped.
I hopped through the hole, then wished I had stopped , started to run and immediately wished taken a selfie but wanted to just finish the race before it gets really hot. I rolled down the hill, popped out onto the road and ran all the way to the top of the last climb, spotting the amazing Glen Helen Gorge, passing more well wishing short course runners, turned right and stretched out down the finial descent along the gravel driveway and into Glen Helen Resort. I turned left onto the soft sand and raced across the finish line. Whoop, whoop! I’d made it! Happy 37th Birthday Shona. Time to get into my bikini, grab a bottle of champagne and some hot chips, lie in the Glen Helen Gorge and watch the other runners come across the finish line.
Paul MUNRO 13:20:17 Aus (VIC)
Joe FAGAN15:04:13 NZ
Peter HYND18:53:42 Aus
Shona STEPHENSON 16:41:15 Aus (QLD)
Fiona WHELAN 17:52:34 Aus (WA)
My Race Set Up
Inov8 X-Talon 200’s I wore the same pair of shoes, back to back over the 133km.
Inov8 Race Elite Calf Guards
Inov8 Race Elite Shorts
Inov8 Australia Representative Singlet
Hammer Sports Bra
Race Day Nutrition
500ml of fluid every hour breaking it down to 1L every 2 hours with 500ml fresh clean water and 500ml of 1 scoop of Hammer Heed
1 Banana Gel watered down to 50% in a gel hammer flask every 30mim to 1 hour depending on how I am feeling.
Endurolytes 1 every 30 minutes. If I’m sore with muscle tightness I will take 2.