Submit your race details

Tarawera Ultra

Inov8 Athlete Shona Stephenson
Inov8 Athlete Shona Stephenson running past the Blue Lake

Tarawera Ultra the race of two halves.

 

Tarawera Ultra is a race that can polarise the field. It is a race of two halves. It is well suited for the technical junkies and road speedsters. If the road runners can make it through the Spartan like obstacle course trails of around Okatainia Lodge and make it past the Tarawera Falls, all the magical lakes, pop out onto the fire trails, without smashing up their quads on the steep descents, log jumps and rock climbs of the first 60 km, all they have to do is turn their legs over for the last 30km of open fire trail running with just a few easy climbs, and cruise on into the finish line.

It would be my 3rd attempt to making it all the way to the end of the Tarawera Ultra. In 2013 and 2014 the course had been changed due to the threat of bush fires and a cyclone, I was determined that I was going to make it to the end no matter what. Let’s see who will be picked off in the last 5ks like a sitting duck on the wide open fire trail. I hoped that it would not be me…….

In 2012 I cut my race short due to pissing blood at 75km, I was shitting blood from 35km. I pulled out at 85km thinking I was doing damage to my body. Later found out that gluten and dairy were my problem. The only way I was pulling out of Tarawera Ultra was if I was going to be choppered off the course.

I had a terrible lead up before Tarawera Ultra. Let’s just say I was home-less, phone-less, and left with out coin, on a nebuliser with chronic asthma attacks after my Hares and Hounds 52km win, on antibiotics and just hoped I had enough time to get over my mental breakdown, chest infection and sort my head out before I raced.

I sorted out my shelter on Australia Day, grabbed a new iPhone after attempting to use a tiny drug dealer phone for 2 days but gave into the modern ease and got back on track with my communications and thank goodness I am employed, proud mother of two, I made some cash from running my own business and I was able claw my way back from rock bottom with the help of my awesome mates and just have enough time to taper before Tarawera Ultra. My mental state was still shit 2 weeks before Tarawera Ultra and the only thing that seemed to help me was exercise and staying strong for my girls and making sure I was not going to break.

I did break. I was in a real state, after being on the nebuliser with my asthma out of control I had a few more asthmas attacks as a result of the emotional stress I was under. I was so busy trying to get my personal life sorted out after separating from my husband,  working and looking after my girls that the thought of just being able to run for 30 minutes made me cry.

I still had my two beautiful girls, my friends, business and my running. I got out and started exercising again. Man, my training and listening to music in the car between PT session is what bought me back into a positive frame of mind. I pumped about a strong interval session, followed by Kettle Bells, Sumo Squats, Burpee’s with over-head shoulder press, two handed rows, released some healing endorphins and that night I did a speedy 10km up “My” Mt Coo-tha. Also known to me as my Mother Mt Coo-Tha. This is where I find strength, have a cry and resolved my problems.

About 1 week before Tarawera Ultra my asthma and chest infection seemed to clearing up and I was going to be well enough to race. I had a rough trot with my diet. I worked out that peanuts were in a store bought nut butter I’d been eating, which gave me asthma then lead into a chest infection, then worked out I could no longer tolerate sesame either. So with my airways under attack, stomach bloating, face swollen I had to clean out my diet and to reduce swelling throughout my entire body. I stuffed up on the plane and ate a non-gluten free cookie. I asked for a “Gluten Free Cookie”. But was given whatever was on the menu. FARK! The menu had changed from when I last flew. No more Gluten Free Byron bay Cookies available. FARK! After realising my mistake after tasting the cookie, it tasted way too good to be gluten free, I went straight into the toilets and consumed anti-histermines and I took some anti-imflamatories and just hoped it would not bloat my guts with a gluten baby for the race……..FARK! I can’t bloody win!

 

Life’s not perfect. Many a race lead up is not perfect. It is how your brain can handle the set backs that can give you your strength.

 

I arrived at the start line at 5am less than 12 hours after jumping on a flight from Brisbane. I did my usual warm up and snuck in behind the blokes on the start line and had a chat to 2013 UTA Clients Gemma and Scott who were running the 100km, before finding the who’s who of NZ running Ruby and Jo and gave them a big G’day.  I then spotted Spanish running legend Nurea and wished her good luck also. I started my watch 3 minutes early to make sure I could not get complaisant throughout the day and make sure I’d get my goal time of Sub 10 Hours.

I counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and I was off and running up the hill under the light of an Ay-Up Head Torch. Ruby flew out, so did Nurea and Jo. I chilled out behind Nurea for some time, then moved up on the right hand side, past her and then Ruby on a slight descent. Ruby hung behind me until the trail opened up and she soon past me never to be seen again……True class……..

 

I started the climb and was so surprised no to be mowed down by Nurea. I’m not sure if she was really well. She was sniffing a bit and just did not look like she was on fire as she normally does. Maybe she is a bit sick?  I’m not sure. Pre-race she had mentioned she was climbing over their off season and not running that much. Maybe with her sniffles me with no altitude would put us on an even playing field.

I decided to just chill out, run my own race and enjoy the some of the best trails that Rotavegas had to offer. I cruised up the switch backs, with my quads freezing, I was so bloody cold! It was almost a 25 degrees difference to the running in Brisbane. It was only 10 degrees and I’m use to 35 degrees.The air was cold and dry. Usually it is a bit wetter in the Red Wood forest and better for my breathing but this was a insanely dry year in NZ. I had to wear my Inov8 Wrag over my airways to warm up the air before it hit my lungs. I have exercise induced asthma set off by rapid breathing of cold dry air. Kind of funny that I like running mountain ultra’s so much.

My aim of the day was to not feel a lactic burn in my muscles, no pushing and to have legs for after 60km. I was so keen and ridiculously excited to get to the end of the 100km event.

I popped out onto the ridge and cruised down the hill past the head torch drop off, through the red wood forest and onto some amazing technical trails, rolling into the check point at 12.5km. I swapped my Heed water bottles and grabbed a gel flask and I was off and running again around the Blue Lake. I ran along estimating how much fluid I’d need for the next section and tipped out 1/2 of the fluid in each bottle. The conditions were cold for me, and I was fully hydrated and running along without a sweat. I was also about 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

I cruised along the soft, technical beech trails, not pushing it just letting my legs and the terrain dictate my pace and before long I popped out onto the road and I was rolling along into and through CP 2 Lake Okareka. I cruised up the hill, onto the steep fire trail with Nuera following me, catching me, soon passing me, before I turned my legs on a bit and soon caught her, chatted to her, and then past her again. I then stopped and filled up with 500ml of water at Miller Rd and she past me again before I cruised up and caught up to her staying calm and within my limits. She took a few steps walking up a steep section and my legs could handle the gradient running, so on the flat at the top I past her again, and just decided to use my own body to guide my exertion.

I enjoyed the amazing New Zealand country side and the pretty daisy’s lining the side of the track, the sweeping views across valley for the next 9km of climbing and really only worried about the 5 meters of ground in front of my feet. The height of the climb and the distance I had to go did not matter. My focus was on the 5m in front of my feet. I had this next 5m covered and that was all that mattered to me.

My asthma was pretty crap. I was coughing at the top of each climb and needed ventolin to keep my airways open. I was pretty clogged and it sucked a bit, so I sucked on ventolin. I knew my lungs were not at full force but hey, this is asthma and I chose not to let it bother me, get upset, freaked out or worried about my lungs. Every time I saw a stream of sunshine sneaking through the trees I tried to gulp in this warm air into my lungs. On every descent I blew out the air in my lungs and tried my hardest to breathe in through my nose when I was not on the climb. I’d been foam rolling my back and ribs hoping that I would not get the usual tight breathing muscles that I usually get at about 40km into an event.

Shona Stephenson wearing the Inov8 Wrag to protect her lungs from cold dry air
Shona Stephenson wearing the Inov8 Wrag trying to keep her lungs warm to help with her exercise induced asthma

I made it to the top of the climb, still freezing and wishing that the air temperature would warm up so I would not have to wear the Inov-8 wrag over my face any more. I cruised down the steep trail and into  Okataina Lodge surprised that I was able to lead Nuera over the biggest climb of the day and quickly swapped my water bottles over, grabbed a flask and got moving again. It was bloody cold! My lungs were not well and I suffered for the next 3ks and Nurea finally caught me on the next climb, past me with Ruth chasing her down. I had to suck on the ventolin again and again. I estimates that it would not be until after 50km that I would have relief and my lungs would feel better.

The trail followed the south side of the hills bordering the lakes with magic views. Enjoyed the trails, ferns, mosses, re-grouped, ate food, looked after my hydration. I was a bit freaked out every time I saw the branches of ferns lying on the ground, they reminded me of snakes and now living Queensland, snakes are everywhere and I am extremely cautious when trail running. It was a kind of love hate with these smooth black branches, they set of adrenalin dodge, hop and skip but I was also so happy to be able to along run without fear of a snake bite.

Whilst contemplating how the silver ferns were not so silver this year due to the dryness in the weather,I ate the dirt, smashed up both knees, landed on my ribs, winded myself, squishing all the air out of my lungs and felt the ache in my ribs. I got up. The pain in my ribs was pretty severe. I totally knocked the wind out of my lungs. Knees were swelling, ribs aching, elbow was scraped and I took about 10 steps walking re-filling the air in my lungs. I thought about pulling out. My ribs were pretty sore. I was sore in my abs too. I took a hit to the whole front of my body from my knees all to my mouth. Lucky I landed on soft dirt and not a rock. The fall upset my abdominal separation, with my feet flying almost over my head as I rolled up my face flat out on the ground. My abs had a feeling like it had been ripped a bit more. “It’ll only hurt for 5 minutes that’s the rules, just start running and take little steps”. I said to myself. Knees killing me, feeling the swelling building up. I took some panadol, some Endurolyte’s and pushed on.

I got moving again, focused again. I was still 15 minutes ahead of schedule and I was on my way to recovery. I ran in and out of Humphrey’s Bay, feeling fresh and focused, concentrating on the trail ahead of me and moving as fast as I could over the fallen logs, boulders, tree roots, twists and turns, over logs, under branches, tried to stay up and running.

I ran into Tarawera Outlet ahead of schedule and happy to see my support crew. I grabbed my Heed bottles, Hammer flasks and got out of there. Finally there was sun on the trail and my asthma was settling down. The air temperature was heating up and I was feeling stronger with every degree temperature increase.

I cruised along the river, wishing I was swimming in the beautiful blue creek of Tarawera Falls. I spotted bikini clad tourist and wished I was joining them for a swim. The temperature was rising and I was keen to finish this race and start a NZ holiday.

I ran through the 60km Check Point feeling on top of the world and looking forward to some easy Ks into the 100km. I turned off to the right and walked and ran up the pine needle trail through the Tarawera Forest. The trail then became a 4WD Track and I was climbing up the trail now being caught by Relay Runners leaving the 60km Check Point. I love events where there are races, within the race. I ran up the hill and only walked when I hit a lose pumice stone section of the trail. I was soon at the top of the climb and then rolled on down the other side managing my descent and enjoying the easy ks on the hard fire trail.

I cruised into the 70km Check Point and found my support crew. “Sorry Shona I’ve bought you the wrong check point bag.” Said Gary, my support crew.

Bugger! I thought. “No worries, I’ll just use what’s at this check point”. I replied careful not to get up-set. I know being support crew is the most unrewarding job in all of ultra racing. They wait for us at the check point for hours for us to see them for maybe 10 seconds if all goes well with only a quick thank you and see you soon. I filled up at the aid station on Heed and Coke. I kept the Banana Hammer gels on me that I had in my Inov8 Race Ultra Pack. I then saw Gary getting a bit freaked out and I made a special effort to assure him I would be just fine. I always carry enough Endurolytes to see me form the Start – Finish of the event plus all my essentials, asthma drugs, few extra gels, Hammer Bars, so I was going to be okay. I was still 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

I raced on out of there feeling fresh and about 2 ks down the road I felt a sugar low, sweating on my brow from drinking the Coke whilst climbing up the fire trail into the next check point. I broke my own cardinal rule of never have Coke until the last 10-18km. I had it with 30ks to go! Stupid I told myself. Suck it up. Burn that fat. I was still making good time and noticed a fellow runner was cramping so I handed him 4 Endurolyte’s in hope that he’s now make it to the end of the event. The heat was climbing and runners were starting to suffer.

I needed more ventolin now after chatting to the cramping runner whilst climbing and I was starting to hurt a bit. I did my best to just push on up the climb and into the check point smiling at the guy sitting in the camp chair with the binoculars yelling out the Bib numbers to his mum. “Muuuuuuum, Number 584, Muuuuuuuuuum Number 584”. It was hilarious, the tone of voice, picnic chair, binoculars and the fact that this check point was a family operation. I filled up with water, Heed, 1/3 Banana and kept pushing up the climb and watched the runners fly down the hill on the out and back loop.

Okay lets get through this section without seeing any other female runners on the out and back. That was my goal. I ran up the hot exposed fire trail turned right at the “Y” junction and found myself on a climb choosing to walk up the loose trail until I hit the top of the climb before forcing myself to run 20 steps only at a time, crossing the timing belt, running some more, hurting, then descending onto the fire trail.

I rolled down this hard fire trail and my lower abdomen started to kill me. I took a nature stop and checked my urine and noticed it was bright red. FUCK! I was pissing blood and there seemed to be a fair bit of it. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! What is with me and bloody Tarawera Ultra! Fuck. Okay this just messed with my head. I was 75km into the event at the exact same stage in the event as I was pissing blood in 2013 at Tarawera Ultra. FARK! Shit! I shed a few tears. This was so not fair! What’s with the water over here? I thought about the cookie I ate on the plane and how my stomach was now swollen with a gluten baby, I thought about the fall I’d had and maybe I had some minor internal bleeding in my bladder and it was only bleeding badly because I am running. I had a lot to think about now for the next 25km.

Pissing bright red blood is okay during an event. It will usually clear up 2-3 days afterwards, or even in just a few hours after you stop running. The mind is what takes the most hit though. The worry that you might be doing damage to your body, mistrust of your body, self belief suffers. My success comes from my mental strength and now it was going to be tested for the next 2.5 hours.

I rolled down the hill telling myself if was just a superficial bleed and it would clear up after I finished. Just make it to the end and the pain will stop. I was not Fucking DNF’ing the Tarawera Ultra again. I was not DNF’ing any event again unless I have to me taken off the course in a helicopter.

I ran the loop and well wished a UTA Client Steven on his way out of the Check Point. He was looking really fresh, while I was feeling like shit. I rolled into the 85km Check Point and filled up on Banana, Heed and Water. I tipped water over my head, drank some and did my best to stay as hydrated, cool as possible just incase there was a bit of a kidney issue going on.

I soon worked out every time I ate or drank I had killer cramps in my lower abdomen that was so painful it force me to walk, cry and scream for about 10 seconds until the spasm released. I told myself to relax and took more enduroyltes. I was hurting and just wanting to get to the finish.

I ran along the fire trail, concentrating on my line, cadence, run fast on tired legs. I had to shorten my stride. If I tried to run with my natural action my guts would cramp and spasm. I was in management mode, counting of the metres and hoped I was doing enough but knowing I had slowed down considerably. 25km is a long time to have to run feeling like crap. My mental state was not good either. I was so worried about myself and the pain associated with drinking and eating I limited my food and drinks and then I became hungry. I pee again at 85km and had another cheek and it was still bright red. I was okay, it was not a coke coloured but fuck this was not the way to finish of an event to say the least.

I was so relieved to make it to the Fisherman’s Bridge Check Point. I picked up my Heed and more water and got out of there, ran around the corner caught up with 85km runners, drank, walked screamed in pain, walked and then relaxed ran on.

I started the read the signage that had been placed on the trail since the 75km mark. I think they were Barry White quotes about can you hear the music yet…….I was hoping I could hear the music. I sang to myself “Straight Lines” by Silver Chair and concentrated on my line on the long fire straights. At 95km I started to relax. I think I am going to keep 4th place. I drank Ginger Beer at the check point worrying about my guts and while I was having a bit of a chat to the Pink Check Point Ladies a female runner flew past me with her pacer. Fuck! There goes 4th place I was passed by Fiona Hayvice and her pacer. Now get running before you lose 5th. Oh shit too late you’ve just lost 5th. I was then introduced to Kovo MacDonald by her friendly Pacer. FUCK! I want a pacer too! Dam should have organised one. Bugger! Oh well. Next year I’ll organise one.

I was a bit pissed off with myself for losing 2 places so close to the finish. Okay, let’s try and get 5th back. I tried to launch an attack and decided to try and use Kovo and her pacer to pace me back onto Fiona. I lifted my knees, and ignore the pain.

The trail became technical again and I became encouraged. If it stayed technical I could have a chance of running down the two strong females. The trail descended and I past Kovo and her pacer. I tried my best to encourage them to come with me and run down Fiona. I never feel good about passing runners in the last few ks and I wanted them to fight it out with me. She’d busted her butt to get me and I wanted her to give it a shot to see if she could get Fiona. I crossed the bridge and swore as I had to push up the hands on quads climb. I spotted Fiona again and tried to get her back. Kovo soon past me again on the flat and I did my best to stay with them but she was too strong for me on the open flat fire trails. I tied again but Kovo was flying with the taste of an Aussie Scalp she was bounding down the trail and I was not match for her. Her pacer was so kind to me when they ran past, he poured water of my neck and shoulders and wished me the best of luck. It was just a really cool experience, I love this kind of gutsy racing.  I just hoped there would be a technical descending finish but I think I was out of luck.

I climbed the stairs and a sweet older lady on a bike told me there was 1.5 ks to go. I ran across the bridge, down the stairs and onto the flat and my heart sank as I race along the edge of the golf  course, thinking how I hated golf courses because they were usually at the end of events, big, flat, open spaces that seem to continue on forever.

I checked my watch and realised that even thought I’d lost 2 places in the last 5 ks I was in chance of making it under the 10 hours for 100km for the first time in my life. I turned my tired legs over and started asking spectators how far it was to the finish. I could hear the MC on the load speaker and I check my watch again and realised that I was going to make it if I could sprint home. I lifted my legs again and check the over head finish line clock and sprinted across the finish line in 9 Hours 59 Minutes and 58 Seconds. I made it. Finally I made it to the finish of Tarawera Ultra 3rd time lucky and finally I’ve broken the 10 hour barrier for a 100km event. I lay down on the ground happy to finally rest my sore abdomen.

Tarawera Ultra Shona Stephenson
Shona Stephenson Happy to finally finish Tarawera Ultra after 3 attempts

After a quick chat with one of the Race Directors I informed the medic about my problem and drank electrolytes, congratulated Fiona and Kovo for their awesome effort and thanked them for making me work to the end meaning that I managed my sub-10 Hour 100km. Ruth was at the finish line too and we chatted also about her amazing time. I have a special spot for Kiwi Runners. They are just so friendly and humble. After watching a few Aussie blokes, Gregg and Paul,  come in after me who I’d never beaten before I decided it was time to sample the free Cider and give these boys  some shit about getting chicked and swap war stories.

The finishing tent was hilarious. We all had stories to tell. I found the Aussie, more Queenslander, or Kiwi Ex-pat section and we all chatted, offered lifts, drank cider and beer while we all waited for our mates and support crew to arrive and join us for more cider and beer. Tarawera Ultra put on an awesome finishing tent.

 

Women’s Results

 

1 Ruby Muir – 9:02:45

2 Ruth Croft (The North Face) – 9:14:36 

3 Núria Picas (Buff) – 9:40:49

4 Fiona Hayvice – 9:57:33

5 Kovo MacDonald – 9:57:45

6 Shona Stephenson (Inov-8) – 9:59:58

7 Jackie Holley – 10:15:54

8 Joelle Vaught (Montrail) – 10:24:57

9 Lucie Barney – 10:34:13

10 Jean Beaumont – 10:46:29

 

Mens Results

 

1 Dylan Bowman (The North Face) – 7:44:58

2 Jorge Maravilla (Hoka One One) – 8:01:45 

3 Yoshikazu Hara (Hoka One One) – 8:12:14

4 Vajin Armstrong (Macpac) – 8:26:50

5 Michael Wardian (Hoka One One) – 8:32:38

6 Pau Bartoló (Buff) – 8:42:46

7 Robbie Britton (Inov-8) –8:45:10

8 Chris Truscott (New Balance) – 8:58:17

9 Anthony Hancy (Hoka One One) – 9:08:26

10 Andrius Ramonas (Salomon) – 9:12:48

 

Hares and Hounds Ultra

Hares and Hounds Ultra Shona Stephenson
Shona Stephenson climbing up the final climb with 7 Ks to go at Hares and Hounds Ultra

Hares and Hounds Ultra

Hares and Hounds Ultra, Ouch! Man this race hurt. It was the first race of the South East Queensland Calendar and my first race after the off-season and only just over 1 week after New Years Eve. This event was never going to be an easy ultra. The Hares and Hounds Ultra and Relay chase was meant to be a bit of good old hunting fun. The aim was to send out the Ultra Runners AKA the Hares first  (53km) and an hour later send out the Hounds in a Relay leg of 25km/25km  (50KM) and see who can make it to the end first. The challenge had been set and the chase or the running scared will be on.

After Blackall 100km I really cut back on my Ks and just ran for 2 hours at a time, gave myself a rest and enjoyed some faster kilometers on my legs. I’ve leant from my past years to give myself an off-season and to enjoy myself socially, spend time with my daughters and discover new parts of this amazing world.

I spent New Years on the magic Moreton Island enjoying Queensland’s best kept secret holiday destination. The sand dune trails were tough, technical and beautiful. I used Mt Tempest as my hill repeat training ground, enjoying the lactic burn, lung busting climb and views of Moreton Island. I may have over done the soft sand running before Hares and Hounds Ultra. The week before Hares and Hounds Ultra I had pretty bad shin pain. It felt kind of like a shin splint. I knew that the lack of shoe rotation on Moreton Island was not the best training lead up for me. I only wore one pair for the 70km that I ran when on the Island. I would normally change my shoes every day. When I entered Hares and Hounds Ultra only 2 days before the event I was sore in my shin.

Stuff it.  I knew how to get over this injury. I started to switch up my shoes, self massage, wear compression socks, hit the Ultra Sound at Bodyleadership with Joel, massage therapist. As long as I could finish the week of PTing with no shin pain, stay off it, wear different shoes, change my technique slightly and find the sweet spot when running, I should not have a problem at Hares and Hounds Ultra.

Hares and Hounds Ultra started at a painful 3:30am. There will be many painful minutes in this ultra. I woke up at 12:15am so I could eat my coconut milk oats and banana, drive to Death Before Decaf in New Farm and grab a coffee and pick up a mate and still arrive at 2;45 am for registration, get weighed in which was an awful experience straight after the silly season.

After a shock weigh in and a warm up I was ready to race. 50km is always a funny distance for me. It’s a distance that I don’t like at all. I will be finishing right when I start to feel good in a 100km event. I knew going into Hares and Hounds Ultra that I was going to hurt like hell after 40km. This was the challenge for me. It will test me mentally and physically.

The race starts and thankfully finishes at the Woodford Pool as an out and back course, with a 50km relay, 35km, 10km, 5km distances to choose from. I will be looking forward to a post race shower and dip into the pool set in classic Aussie Bush Surroundings.

I lined up at the start line, said hello to a few runners and within no time the count down went off and we were off and running into the darkness. Starting under Ay-Ups was a fun and a bit of a novelty. It meant the conditions were cool and there’d be less dirt bike traffic on the State Trails in the Woodford Glasshouse Mountains Area.

Off we went along the slight descent down the road, continuing onto the muddy 4WD track, climbing slightly for about 300m, turning left, climbing a wider fire track forming a group with long legged Andy and Duathlon Australian Runner Matt, winner of Blackall 50km. We chatted away, enjoying the trails maybe a bit too much and missed the right turn by about 500m and had to leg it back, realising our mistake, swearing and cursing, flashes of Kokoda Challenge was coming back to me.

I’m new to trail running up in Queensland, I understand the races are smaller, but 250 runners is still a decent amount of runners to want to look after and a simple ribbon or marshall at key junctions would really go a long way to preventing runners from getting lost. Apparently later in the race on the return many runners followed the arrow and turned left and completed an extra loop in the last 1km of the event. Is this is trail running and getting lost is part of the adventure? Or should there have been a sweeper out on the course taking down the out and back markers to prevent confusion especially in the late stages of the event? Was athlete safety taken into full consideration?

Matt, Andy and I made a quick U-Turn realising our mistake and within a few hundred meters was back on the correct track, avoiding a massive short cut and followed the correct route, catching every 55km runner in our path. I let Matt set the tempo and I followed him, pacing off him, saying “Hi” and chatting to the runners, passing my UTA clients in the run of lost trail running shame.

Before long I was out in the lead again within my two new buddies, Matt and Andy cruising along the wide fire trails, being extremely careful at every intersection, checking for a white ribbon, red arrow or chalk arrow on the dirt track. We past through the first check point almost unnoticed and

After a few turns, more chatting we soon dropped Andy and it was just Matt and I running together out in front with no one to be seen behind us. We cruised long together chatting away, navigating together, swapping race stories and in general having a good old time. We past through the 2nd check point and I swapped water bottles with my support crew member UTA client and kept powering on with Matt.

Hares and Hounds 55km run in this fashion was way more like a training run than a race. Matt would run ahead when he needed to pee and be finished by the time I caught up with hi so our pacing could continue. When I needed to pee he eased off the pace a bit and allowed me to catch up. When do I get to race and pace off such a gentleman? This was awesome! Much like Lamington Classic Male Runners. The blokes up here are so polite when racing.

I soon caught up with Matt at 21km and looked down at my watch and it said 1:40 for 21km. Sweet. I’m on track for a nice tidy 55km here. We cruised on together down the big dipper and into the turn around. The scale monitor gave Matt a bit of grief with his weight loss. He was about to give me grief too. I’d lost 2 kilos on the scales, just pee’d plus all the other pee’s I’d done pre-race, sweating and energy consumption in my muscles so 1.5kgs loss did not seem that bad.

“Come on mate I weight 55kgs with my kit on at the start, I’ve drunk it all now it’s 53kgs. I’m only little let me go”. I instructed.

With this stated I was off and running chasing down Matt, spotting Andy and 2 of the pursuing males reeling me in the distance. I caught up with Matt but with the blokes spotted in the distance it was game on for him. He can run a 31min 10km off the bike in a Duathlon so I knew he was going to stretch his legs eventually.

I pushed on, feeling good, saying “Hi “to all the runners I could see and counting Time and Kilometers between myself and the next females chasing me down as I climbed steadily out of the valley. I don’t know what it was, maybe I’m so easily distracted but in this out and back section the wheels fell off a bit. I forgot about my electrolyte plan and I started to stiffen up. Realising my mistake I started to pump in the electrolytes, I’d run out of my usual trust Hammer Endurolyte’s and I was paying the price. I dig deep and push harder up out of the valley, trying hard to chase down Matt.

Around the 35km mark my right quad was killing me and I was past by two blokes like I was standing still. My lack of Ks and the increased red wine consumption over the Xmas break was catching up with me. At 40km I had to stop and walk for 10 steps, let out a cry, dig deep into my rib cage and try to pressure point release my abs, diaphragm muscles. I was working so hard through my ribs, breathing deeply, giving myself asthma, stressing out my obliques, cursing my running belt, wishing I had on my trusty Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest and hurting like hell. I did my best to try and relax and had to pull off the pace a bit because the pain I was feeling in my ribs was so intense and preventing me from breathing properly. I hit my electrolytes hard and decided to reduce the glucose consumption, give my stomach a rest and see if the less is more approach would help.

I rolled into the 47km check point in pain but oh so happy it was all going to be over soon enough. Right Shona, no more wine in the week. You are on the straight and narrow now and you have to drop 3 kilos before Tarawera. When will this period going to come too? Far out being a female sucks some time! I felt bloated at the start and my power to weight ratio was crap. I’m going to acupuncture the minute I’m back in Brisbane and get this all sorted out. Mental note tell the boys at Bodyleadership I need a rib session to help with my breathing. I had asthma, maybe I had a bit of a virus too and I had to work over time to get the air into my lungs and it was killing me. Maybe it’s all the grasses in seed at the moment? I don’t know what was setting my asthma off. Probably the white wine I was drinking. Maybe plain old exercise induced asthma? I was pushing it bloody hard now. (I worked out a few days later there was a product recall on a Almond Coconut Cocoa Spread I’d been eating, stating that it contained traces of peanuts. I’m bloody allergic to peanuts! The speed was oh so good….I ate the entire jar. Something was setting me off. I ended up with a rash on my face and s wheezy, swollen glands in my neck in the following days. Really sick with asthma, so sick I did not want to talk or even call out loudly to my kids.)

I spotted the 10km runners at the 5km turn around and decided to use them as pacers until the finish. One by one I reeled them in and just counted my steps and did my best to ignore the pain and fatigue I was feeling. I ran past my earlier navigational mistake and noticed there was still an arrow out from the start of the event and rolled into the finish line, turning right and running into the Woodford Pool in 4 hours 37 minutes or there about’s because I never turn off my watch in time and I started it 2 minutes early.

Done. Xmas Detox run completed. 53km 4 Hours 37 minutes and back on track for my Tarawera Ultra Training. Time to hit the shower and jump in that pool.

Blackall 100

Shona Stephenson after 92km of running
Trail Runner Shona Stephenson Inov8 Athlete wins Blackall 100

Blackall 100

 

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.

 

Blackall 100

 

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.

Shona Stephenson with pacing the Blackall 100 Gate Keeper at Suses Pocket
Shona Stephenson with pacing the Blackall 100 Gate Keeper at Suses Pocket

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.

Shona Stephenson Running into CP3 at the Blackall 100
Shona Stephenson Running into CP3 at the Blackall 100

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.

Shona Stephenson at CP 5 with her support crew Levi and Dan
Shona Stephenson at CP 5 with her support crew Levi and Dan

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.

 

100km Results

 

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. Benjamin Gerhardy 10:42:31 (1st Overall)
  2. Andy Bowen 11:44:31 (4th Overall)
  3. Steven Pemberton 11:45:01 (5th Overall ) Kiwi-living in Bris-vegas

 

50km

 

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

Injinji Socks

Inov-8 Race-Elite 125 Ultra Shorts

Inov-8 FF Bra Top W

Inov-8 Race Singet

Hammer Visor

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.

Blackall 100 winning 100km Female Cow Bell
Blackall 100 winning 100km Female Cow Bell

 

10 Tips for Running in the Heat

Shona Stephenson March 2014 - 005
Ultra Trail Runner Shona Stephenson 10 Tips for training in the heat.

10 Tips for Running in the Heat

70% of your power, strength and endurance can be lost if you are overheating. Your body will send blood to your skin to produce sweat for evaporation rather than to your muscles. Overheating and dehydrating can head to muscle melt down and even death. Here are my 10 Tips for Running the Heat.

  1. Wear a Singlet.

Air flow to your armpits  is essential to cooling your core temperature. Our armpits sweat and the evaporation from the sweat off our skin on our armpits cools our skin. Our armpits produce the most amount of sweat in our body. Keep this area free and exposed so air can flow over our armpits and cool your body down. Keeping your armpits exposed will also allow for your core temperature heat to escape.

2) Wear a VISOR  NOT a Cap. 

Wearing a visor will protect your forehead from direct sun light and heat. It will allow for heat to escape from the top of your head. Your visor will also keep your face shaded. A visor can also be dunked into steams, creeks, rivers, ocean whilst on the run and used as a cooling your head.

3) Stay Hydrated with Electrolytes.

Staying hydrated will prevent the body from over heating. If your body is over heating you will lose up to 70% of your power, strength and endurance. Being hydrated is one of the best ways to keep your core temperature under control. Drinking Plain Water can be extremely dangerous and can lead to Hyponatremia or death.  It is essential that electrolytes are consumed with or in your water. A good product is Hammer Endurolyte’s. Your electrolytes are important for your muscular and heart function. Magnesium help your muscles relax, calcium contract, potassium is for the communication between the nerve endings and your muscles including your heart and sodium is to help prevent muscular cramps.

Have  fresh clean water on hand for when I feel like my mouth needs some plain water when racing a marathon or ultra. Consume Electrolytes every 30-min to 1 hour when training or racing.

4) Drink Regularly and Check your Hydration

The best way to find out how much you should be consuming per hour is to perform a sweat test. As a general rule about 400ml-600ml can be consumed per hour during exercise. 500ml per hour is a good place to start. Drink to thirst.

Check your hydration by monitoring your urine.

Clear Urine No Odour- Too much water you are in need of electrolytes.

Light Urine Yellow No Odour- Perfect hydration.

Dark Urine Yellow Odour- Dehydrated Drink Fluids.

Brown Urine- Kidney Failure Go Straight to hospital.

Other Signs of Dehydration

Dry Mouth, Spittle on Lips, Headaches, “Heart beating out your ears”, Dizziness, Nausea, Lethargy, Cramps, Muscular Tears and Sore Muscles

5) Drink Chilled or Frozen Electrolytes

Fluid chilled to 4 degrees Celsius has the fastest absorbing rate into your stomach. When racing or training in hot conditions freeze hydration bottles in the freezer over night then wear them in a vest like the Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest. Cooling your body down from the outside with the frozen bottles and also internally by drinking the melted fluid from the frozen hydration bottles. Hydralyte Icy Poles are also great to have handy for during or post training or race. Whilst racing. Place the Icy Poles down your bra or in your hydration pack. Add ice to your bladder too.

6) Tip Water Over Your Head

As your arm pits work to sweat to keep your body cool, tipping water over your head, neck, chest will also cool your body down. The initial cold water on your skin will lower your skin surface temperature. The extra moisture on your skin will add to your sweat and increase the evaporation of water off your skin. Long hair will work as a wet brush on your shoulders and back constantly providing a cool wet surface on your skin.

7)Underdress not Over Heat.

Wearing the least amount of clothing is the best way to help your skin do it’s job by providing the most amount of surface area for sweat to evaporate from. Your clothing should look like this.

Visor

Singlet or crop top for women.

Above Thigh Shorts

Crew Socks

Shoes.

8) Wear Sunscreen.

Avoid getting sunburnt and wear a light sports sunscreen that allows your skin to breath but still protect you from getting sunburn, thus sun stroke. Wearing Sunscreen will also protect your skin from skin cancer.

9) Adjust Your Pace

Running at 32 degrees in over 75% Humidity is like running at altitude at 2500m. No wonder we all suffer in the heat. Just like if you were running at altitude you’d run slower and adjust your pace to accommodate the lack of oxygen in your muscles. You will also need to do this in the heat. As noted above, if your body is not fully acclimatised to running in the heat 70% of your blood flow will be in your skin and not your muscles, that’s why it’s so hard. Slow down. Monitor your vital signs. Check your hydration with a urine test, make sure you are not over heating, take Enduralytes, have a cold drink or an Icy Pole, Wet your Visor.

10) Acclimatise

Just as you would need to acclimatise to altitude you will need to acclimatise to racing and training in the heat. If you are planing on racing in hot conditions it will take at least two weeks to acclimatise to the hotter temperatures .

Your heart rate can be elevated to more than 10 beats a minute more than exercising in cooler temperatures. It takes 1 week for your heart rate to return back to normal BPM and the second week is for your sweat glands to acclimatise to the hot conditions.

 

10 Tips for Running in the Heat

10 Tips for Running in the Heat 10 Tips for Running in the Heat 10 Tips for Running in the Heat 10 Tips for Running in

Lamington Classic

 

Trail Runner Shona Stephenson winning the Lamington Classic
Stephenson Inov-8 Trail Runner Winning the Lamington Classic

Lamington Classic

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 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.

 

 

Day 2

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

 

Race Kit

I’m sponsored by Inov-8

Inov-8 X-Talons

Injinji Socks

Inov-8 Race Elite Shorts

Inov-8 Race Elite Tank

Inov-8 Fitness Bra

Inov-8 Race Elite Vest

Hammer Visor

Nutrition
I’m Sponsored by Hammer

Hammer Heed 500ml 1 scoop per hour

Hammer Banana Gels 1 gel every hour in a watered down Inov-8 Race Bottle

Hammer Endurolyte’s every 30 min.

 

 

Pomona King of the Mountain

Shona Stephenson at Pomona King of the Mountain 2014
Shona Stephenson at Pomona King of the Mountain 2014

Pomona King of the Mountain 2014

 

I was totally smashed in the quads from The Kokoda Challenge 98km, really 110km. Our team got horribly lost and ended up running an extra 12 ks, DOH! I ran the Kokoda Challenge only 1week earlier and still recovering from a health issue so I knew it was not going to be a pretty run for me at the 35th Pomona King of the Mountain.  It was going to hurt! Stuff it! I love racing and I really did not want to miss the Pomona King of the Mountain. If I listen to everyone who told me I should not do something I would not be here today. I would not have run past 10km after breaking both my feet in 2010.

This race sounded like way too much fun, it had it’s own legends, record holders Maree Stephensen who camped on the mountain to train and run it every day for a week. Pomona King of the Mountain race commands fear, respect and requires’ a whole heap of adrenalin and balls to make it to the top and back down the rocky mountain again. I’d read about Pomona King of the Mountain which is located in the Glass House Mountains, north west of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast in the book “Feet in the Clouds”. I don’t think there is an event quite like it in Australia.
Now living in Queensland, I really was so happy to get the chance to race iconic Pomona King of the Mountain. The Pomona Village really get involved in this event and put on a real country fair with stalls, rides, lollies, food, bands and run multiple races up the mountain so the whole family can have a chance to run up a section of the mountain. The atmosphere was electric with quirky country twang. I could not help but smile, relax and soak up the country hospitality.

The volcanic mountain in Pomona sticks out of the plains and rises to 439m high. It is easily spotted from the Bruce HWY. “Mum that’s the mountain I think your running up”. My kids said from the back of there car. Cool, this looks like it will be fun, scary but fun.It looked like an ankle  busting terrain, I was really excited my adrenaline was pumping. Sweet! Absolute smash and bash fest, the total opposite to what I’m use to.

The race has about a 600m elevation gain and loss in only 4.2km. The Aussies race the Kiwis and who ever wins the event, male or female will run the sister event in New Zealand.

I did not do any training on the mountain, not the best lead up. My friends said its a really good idea to train on the mountain. I just was not fit or well enough. Again life is not perfect. I was just there to give it a crack, have fun, test my cardio fitness, climbing skills and technical descending. Who cares if I’m not going to be at my best? I just wanted to race this event, enjoy the test because it looked like I was going to have a ball.

The Pomona King of the Mountain has a late 3pm start which was great because me kids could do their Sunday Activities have lunch, jump on the rides, eat lollies and run themselves ragged while I warmed up and got myself ready for the start line.

After registration in which every on of the 100 athlete’s names are called and handed their race Bib and goodie pack in the local Scout Hall, we all make our way down to the start line and again every runners name is called 100-1. From the hackers at the back of the pack 100 to the race favourites 1 was called out at the start line and asked to do a lap of honour in the main street of the town. I’m glad to say the runners were from all ages, shapes and sizes names were being called out and introduced to the crowd. This event is not just for the elites it is for everyone who is fit, agile, tough enough and who have the balls to take their life in their own hands on the descent. Programs were written and distributed to the crowd with every athletes name, occupation, suburb they lived in and bib number so spectators could yell your name as you ran past. It was pretty cool. There is no race quite like it. The crowd, town, local community, really got behind this event.

Thousands of spectators cram into the Pomona town square, streets, Bendigo Box (someone’s front deck of their house), Hecklers Hill (the rowdy hill at the start and finish at the end of the road, start of the bush full of locals enjoying a good laugh, picnic food and of course bevo’s) scream out the athletes name as they run past. The whole race is filmed by local TV channels and a chopper films the proceedings from the air so the crowd can watch the race from the town square on the big screen. The atmosphere is really fun and totally Australian,  real home town country hospitality, all the runners and their families are made to feel really special. After my lap of honour, which felt a bit weird, I lined up at the start line and prepared myself to hurt like hell.

10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off and starting the climb up the main street, past the “Bendigo Box”, turning left, then bending to the right descending down “Hecklers Hill”, crossing the creek then climbing up to the base of the mountain. I don’t normally run events this short, so from the get go it was all guns a blazing. I felt totally out of my depth, pushing my comfort zone, breathing hard and fast, trying to get enough O2 into my lungs. I was past straight away by local legend Leslie Saunders who’s long legs carried her swiftly to the base of the stairs. I wished for legs like that.

On the trail, Adventure Racing gun, Kim Beckinsale, jumped ahead of me with her legs cut from her winning a 2 hour adventure race that morning. Kim is a compact machine, all guts and determination. In her warm up lap I could see she was hurting in her quads, she was doing bloody well to be here at all. She moved ahead of me then slowed down a bit and I jumped ahead of her, she jumped ahead of me and a young 16 year Dominica Fitzaimon jumped ahead of me at the base of the stairs. The race to the top was on.

Before long I was on the bush stair climb and Kim just disappeared up the stairs picking the blokes off one by one. Man she was tough, a true weapon. I managed to get ahead of the Dominica and a few blokes and did my best to try and pass more but I was not strong enough to pass them on the stairs. The path was steep now switching from long steps to bare faced rock with chains.

My quads were killing me, I had nothing in them, they felt weak, my calves were burning, chest doing its best to get enough air into my lungs. The guys were slowing, they slowed me down but I really was not strong enough to get past. I counted my way up the mountain just focusing on my breathing, trying not to panic, the pain was so intense. I was totally maxed out just wishing the top to come sooner than physically possible.

I spotted Ben Duffus now on the descend, jumping, flying, bounding, literally getting air born as he manoeuvred himself down the dangerous rock face. I wished him good luck and pulled to the side on the out and back course.

Okay Hun, it’s time to move, I said to myself. I took a wide line and started passing some walkers, hands on quads, crawling, dragging myself up the mountain, on all fours, toes, fingers gripping desperately onto the rock face, doing my best not to fall or cause a fall on the staggering steep course while now dodging the descenders on the out and back course.

More hands on quads, more stairs, more chains to pull, more pain, more gasping, more wishing and I was finally at the top. Hobbling from the lactic build up in my legs. I checked in and out and started the descent down the steepest descent I ever experienced. My quads were stuffed and not functionally properly, I slid, jumped, fell, grabbed, bounded, caught trees, held chains for stability as I did my best to pass the blokes on the descent, trying to run down Kim and Leslie or at least pull back some time on the descent.

I bounded, grabbed, fell, slipped, slid, jumped over rocks, stairs, grates, for the next 300m of descent and was relieved to make it down the mountain with my heavily strapped ankles in one piece. I hit the bush stairs racing them 2 at a time, bounded on to the fire trail, sprinting with all my heart, working harder than I’ve worked in a long, long time. I’ve been too injured or sick to do any interval training so this was hurting! i tried to not lose any places to any males or females on the flat and did my best to real in a few.

I hit the creek, ascended Hecklers Hill, turned a right then a left onto the road, closed my eyes, and ignored all that my brain was telling me, telling it to shut up and it was not needed. I just needed to run. I rolled into the finish line a full 2 minutes behind Kim and Leslie, totally spent. I’d never worked that hard in an event. It was so tough. I worked so hard I was shaking, quads shattered, calves in a mess, lips dry and smackey. Dominica came in 4th and won her Junior Category. Australian women took out the top 4 places.

The minute I finished I had a camera in my face from one of the local TV stations and gave an interview for channel 7 or 9, Win or Prime, I really can’t remember. The whole event was covered by helicopters and ground journalist.
The Pomona King of the Mountain is such a special event. It has everything, ticks all the boxes. Awesome technical single trail,adrenaline rushing descent, VO2 MAX climbs,  family activities, food, wine, Hecklers Hills, Bendigo Bank Box, massive crowds to cheer you on and even a helicopter to film you on live TV up the Mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself as much in such a short event. This race has it all. The Aussies took out both of the awards at least we can beat the Kiwis at trail running on our own turf.

It was just a shame that at preso’s that I was called out as the “Open Winner” before Kim and Leslie had their veteran category presented. It caused a fair amount of confusion in the crowd because I clearly was not the winner. Maybe in the past the Open winner was the Overall winner so there was not a problem in the past? I don’t know.  A veteran won the event and came 2nd. The formalities were already given to the males and the crowd was expecting the same protocol for the women. I was even stopped by a female spectator in the crowd who was watching the presentations after I was on the stage and questioned me about wether I’d won the trip to New Zealand. Trust me, she let me know that I did not win and that it was not fair for me to receive the prize because I was not the overall winner. It was confusing. I was not awarded the prize trip to NZ and  I agreed with her. I can only do what the race director wants me to do with presentations. I clearly did not win and it was a bit of a shame that Kim and Leslie were called to the stage well after me. I guess what we all have to remember it’s not just the athletes who see the inequality it is also the mothers, sisters, daughters, female friends standing in the crowd who see it too. The men were given their own 1st, 2nd, 3rd Overall category win, plus age group awards for 1,2,3 but the women were not treated the same. It was a really awkward moment. The Pomona King of the Mountain were extremely generous with the prizes with giving out age category wins  1,2,3 and I am thankful for that, it goes above and beyond what is expected.  It appeared to the crowd that I was awarded the win before the true winner and it just did not seem right, it felt like I’d cheated Kim and Leslie. I also missed out on congratulating Kim and Leslie formally and have them stand ahead of me on the podium. I really respected these two women as athletes in their own right and they deserved to have the right treatment and have them stand ahead of me. In 2014 women should not have to ask for the same treatment as the men. I guess we can take equality for granted and expect that it just happens all on it’s own and us sisters don’t have to ask the questions. Nothing happens unless someone asks the question.

After The Pomona King of the Mountain I wrote to the race director explaining that it was a confusing awards presentation process, explaining how it did not seem fair that I was called to the stage awarded the open win before the female winner, 2nd Place was awarded their prize. It did not feel right. To The Pomona King of the Mountains credit he replied to me the very next day after having a meeting with their committee. The Pomona King of the Mountain committee decided that it was an out-dated awards process and that after 35 years the women in 2015 will have the same awards given to them as the men.

Well done Pomona King of the Mountain. This race has total thumbs up from me and I will be racing it again in 2015. It is a world class profession event.

Women

1st Kim Beckinsale 31.11 Aus

2nd Leslie Saunders 31.39 Aus

3rd Shona Stephenson 33.37 Aus

Go the Aussie chicks!

Men

1st Ben Duffus – 23.47 Aus

2nd Lance Downie 26.16 NZ

3rd Aaron Knight 26.26 ? (can anyone tell me. I’m new to Pomona King of the Mountain and Queensland).

Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc

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

The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shona Stephenson UTMB Bath

Kokoda Challenge

Kokoda Challenge

About 13 days before The Kokoda Challenge Gold Coast I pulled out of my team the Rocksolid Raiders. I had a serious medical problem and I was advised not to run or do any strenuous exercise until I was cleared by a doctor the Monday after The Kokoda Challenge.

Continue reading “Kokoda Challenge”

Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane

Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane

 

I was asked to join the Offroad Chinwaggers No1 team after one of their teammates broke their ankle whilst on a trail run about 3 weeks before the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane event on the 19th of June 2014. Judy the Chinwaggers Leader, a local Audlery physiotherapist called me up after chatting to my mate Trail Running Mandy-Lee Noble suggested that I joined one of her teams.
Continue reading “Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane”

UTMF

UTMF 2014

 

I love racing in Japan. I love the technical trails, the culture and the hospitality from the amazing Japanese people. Racing a Ultra Trail World Tour event around the only now listed World Heritage site Mt Fuji or Fuji-san is a real special experience of a lifetime. This year the world famous Cherry Blossoms were blooming at Kawaguchiko the town closest to the start of the UTMF with the best views of Fuji-san which in itself is extremely rare to catch, and It is a special treat to experience this world renowned event and the event of the Ultra Trail Mt Fuji UTMF 2014 had changed.

Continue reading “UTMF”

Oxfam Trailwalker Teamwork Tips

Oxfam Trailwalker Teamwork Tips

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

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

Tarawera Ultra 2014

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.

Continue reading “Tarawera Ultra 2014”