The Blackall 100 was always going to be a race to test how smart a racer you are. How adaptable you can be in your lead up training sessions. The conditions were never going to be favourable. This is November in Queensland with temperatures regularly reaching plus 35 degrees. In some sections of the course the chance of the temperatures reaching higher is possible.
Heat Acclimatisation training consisted of the following;
Train PT Clients from 6am-11am. If it was a hot day, meaning over 32C I especially made sure I ran hill repeats in the heat of the day for about 1 hour.
Completed long runs in the heat of the day. I would run along in temperatures above 32 degrees with my heart beating out of my ears, feeling sick. I’d then come in from my heat session then jump in the shower and go back out and train more clients that afternoon and into the night.
Leading up to Blackall 100 I was averaging 7 PT sessions a day.
I would also lay pavers, move boulders, build retaining walls, dig holes or shovel gravel on my “rest days” in the baking sun to complete the landscaping in my new Brisbane house. I used every bit of heat that I could, worked my arse off in the sun.
Between PT session I’d make good use of my car. I’d wind-up the windows with NO air conditioning on and treat myself to a sauna sweat session, then jump out of the car and train PT clients or myself. (Yes my deodorant was handy). This was especially good on hot days of over 30 degrees. It would end up much hotter in my car.
I’d only turn the air-con on if I had a client in the car with me. My poor long suffering husband did complain a fair bit and in the end whenever he was in my car I eventually did let him have air conditioning on if I was driving him to see a client.
I just tried to make the most of my surroundings and my job being an outdoor PT.
With my heat acclimatisation done it was ready to race.
I turned up to the Blackall 100 and the race director Alun handed me Bib no 1 and informed me that I had not entered yet. Whoops! I totally forgot to enter. Wow to the race Bib number 1. I was blown away. It was a totally humbling experience. I could think of at least 6 males and a few females who should be able to beat me at Blackall 100 and felt like I did not deserve this honour. I have a bit of a habit of forgetting to enter events. I can get a bit distracted sometimes. Working mums would totally get this. Lucky for me it all worked out in the end and I was in contact with Alun, Brett, Megan and the team enough prior to the event that they knew I was going to be on the start line.
The Blackall 100 starts at Mapleton in the Glasshouse Mountains. The course stretches it’s way around the Blackall Ranges National Park in loops visiting all the best waterfalls, single tracks, switch backs, rainforest trails, fire trails in the area. We were lucky to only have a 27 Degree day forecast, some sections of the course will become much hotter, forming a heat sink in some of the gorges and on the ridge lines especially in the middle of the day. Staying in control of your hydration, core temperature, fuelling needs will be crucial to having an enjoyable race.
I lined up on the start line, happy to see thick cloud cover, mist and a bit of fog. At least for the first few hours of the race we will be protected from the sun I thought, as we counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off to the sound of the Blackall 100 Bell signalling the start of the race.
I cruised off with Kiwi Runner Shannon-Leigh Litt. We ran along chatting to each other along the streets, turning a few times and dropping down into a park, where I moved ahead of Shannon-Leigh before following the road up onto the main ridge line of Mapleton, rolling over the hills, being caught by and passed by Damon Goerke, Benjamin Gerhardy, Matt Judd and my mate Brad Bartsch before dropping into the Kondalilla Falls where I could pass Matt and Brad again.
In the morning the conditions were mild. I chose to go out moving fast, making the most of the easy ks and the cooler weather, wanting to get as many ks over and done with before the temperature climbed and I’ve have to put the breaks on. I was also mindful of some hotter sections on the track near Gheerulla Camping Area and CP3 and knew I had to get through that section before the real heat of the day set in.
I popped ahead of Brad and Matt and cruised across the creek, up a set of stairs through the beautiful rainforest, down the switch backs, down more stairs two at a time, across the lovely Kondalilla Falls. If you dared to look at the falls it was just magic waterfall with a large rock pool set high on the side of the cliff, with it’s wide sweeping views across the valley. I hopped up more stairs, around a cliff, descending into the valley though more stunning rainforest, along cute single trails, and switch backs and spotting the 100km runners on their loop run. I travelled up more stairs and completing the loop of Kondalilla Falls. We then popped out onto the road again and I informed Brad, my training partner who normally kicks my arse on all the climbs that I am not suffering from asthma today and I will have a good race.
I don’t think Brad quite understood what I was saying to him. Normally it is me who is puffing up the climbs, in these hot and humid conditions my asthma is significantly reduced and he should probably slow down because he was puffing more than me. He could not use me to pace him today. I let him write the splits for our end goal time of sub-11 Hours. 10 Hours 59 Minutes was the goal for both of us. I had not written splits for myself for a long, long time. I just was not well or fit enough to stick to them. There was no point setting unrealistic goals for myself and then get up-set whilst racing, when I totally blow out my split times by hours. The conditions would play into my pacing later in the race too. I have learnt to race to how I feel. Today at the Blackall 100 I was feeling good.
We cruised up the road with Matt just behind us, soon passing us on the climb. After a few ks on the road we ran along chatting like crazy, we then dropped back into the forest, down switch backs with sets of stairs on each turn of the switch back. After countless switch backs, descending into the valley, I commented to the boys that I can’t really turn right with my right foot , my right ankle is always a bit suspect and with the next switch back on the left hand turn I totally stacked it on the slippery stairs, whacking my left knee, my left foot slipping out from underneath me, landing on my left arm and ribs. I jumped up as quick as a cat, brushed myself off and decided to take the next few turns a bit slower. My knee instantly started to throb and swell. I just tried to run it out. Lifting my feet more stretching out my quad.
We hit the bottom of the gorge, crossed a creek and started to climb. More beautiful rainforest with single trails climbing up to the top of the ridge, with Brad, myself and Matt forming a train punching out a nice consistent rhythm.
We popped out onto Suses Pocket Road and I chilled out and let the boys run ahead of me. They were both better climbers than me and I was not going to blow myself up in the first 20ks. I cruised to the Top of Suses Pocket Rd and was surprised to see a Gate Keeper dressed like the grim reaper manning the gate, making sure it was closed after every runner that past through. I thanked the Gate Keeper for his assistance. Little things like this just make your day in a long ultra.
I cruised up the hill with the gap increasing from me and the boys to about 100m. I let them run ahead on the footpath. The incline soon flattened out and I rolled along Obi Obi Rd turned right, spotted my support crew, my Kokoda Challenge Team mates Levi and Dan and let them know what I needed for my return out of the CP2. I cruised up the drive, checked in and out, noted that I was running 15 minutes ahead of schedule and cruised back out onto the road, swapped my gel flask, frozen hydration bottles over and headed back up the street, still behind Brad.
I headed up the footpath spotting the Shannon-Leigh and Mandy within a kilometre of me and knew I had my work cut out for myself today. I wished them luck and powered on pacing myself. Matt soon past me and caught Brad and I thought that these two boys could fight it out for 3rd and 4th place if they liked. I’d just hang back and bide my time.
I soon reached the top of the ridge , crossed the road, crossed back again, ran through the car park, entered the National Park and descended into the rainforest again. This section of the Blackall 100 was just amazing. Beautiful moss cover trees lay on the forest floor, with vines, palms, lining the trail towards the turn off to Ubajee Walker camp and Mapleton Day Use Area. I turned left following the signs to CP3. Rolled over the fire trail, spotting Brad only 100m away and not looking so fresh. The temperature was starting to climb. The fog was lifting. It was humid and getting really hot. I cruised along the trail, just making the most of the easy running, before descending switch backs and a set of stairs hitting another intersection and followed the sign to CP3. I turned right and headed to Gheerulla Camping area. 35km in I’d worked out I had about 5ks to go, so decided to lighten my load, sipped and tipped out some Perpetuem. The temperature was climbing and I knew I would not be able to stomach much for of this type of fluid. I caught up with Brad and I could see Matt in the distance, and another guy, Yun Phua, behind me, was hunting me down. I decided that it was too early to care about position as of yet the race is too long and who knows what will come of a race like this. Who knows how hot it will really get?
Brad took off on the climb, the guy behind we soon caught up with me and past me. I let Yun lead for a few hundred meters but realised that he was not the best navigator. Whilst running behind him he almost turned down two wrong turns, not following the signs correctly. I think he was working way too hard and could not concentrate on the track ahead of him. I had to call out to him to steer him in the right direction. On the next descent I jumped ahead of him, taking control of the situation, fearing that if I followed him I’d get lost and end up running extra just like at Kokoda Challenge.
I cruised down the trail and popped out onto the rocky creek bed. I hopped along the smooth fist sized ankle breaking rocks, following the rocky foot trail through the creek bed, snaking its way through the gorge. The trail soon started to climb again, it became hot and exposed. I’d been without water now for about 4ks. I’d drunk all my fluid. I chose to have a watered down hammer gel and just hopped that I had enough water in my system to digest it. I was doing my best to get every drop out of my water bottles. Every drop counts. Even if it just relieved the dryness from my mouth for a minute.
I cruised along, managing my exertion, descended onto the hot fire trail, rolled along spotting Brad and Matt ahead of me. I ran into CP 3 with my support crew waiting for me with my much needed Frozen 500ml of Hammer Heed, Frozen 500ml of fresh clean water and my watered down Hammer gel flasks.
Now it was hot! The temperatures had climbed to over 33 degrees in this section of the track. I checked in and out of the CP3 and cruised up the single switch back track up the bluff in the heat of the day, sun belting in, my core temperature rising.
I used some of my fresh clean water to wet my head. It felt like gold. The chilled water on my head immediately made me feel cooler. I decided that after every 100 steps I’d give myself this treat. I punched out a fast tempo run up the bluff with the Taylor Swift “Shake it off”, tune in my head.
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
About 3/4 of the way up the climb I was overheating. I’d consumed all my fluid, I could hear my heart rate beating out of my ears. I took off my singlet to try and get more airflow onto my skin and I decided that I now had to power walk my way up the rest of the climb, conserve energy and look after myself.
I was now passing Blackall 50km Runners regularly. I had a good chit chat with them as I passed. I always love a course where I come in contact with other competitors. A little chat and some encouragement goes a long way with your moral. I chit chatted the rest of the way up to the top of the climb and knew that it was not far until the water tank.
Finally, with hands on quads, I hit the top of the bluff and tried to get my legs working again. I walked and ran, 20 steps running, 20 steps walking until the blood moved it’s way back into my running muscles and started the hunt for the water tank.
I was hot, mouth parched, spittle on my lips, heart beating out my ears. I desperately tried again and again to get more water from my bottles, only managing a few drops each optimistic time, while cruising along the now fire trail, chatting to 50km runners. After a few ks on the exposed fire trail I hopped back onto a single track and was pleased to spot a QLD Parks Ranger marshalling the area. She let me know that 7ks away there was water. The tank was here just to use to cool out bodies down.
I showered my visor in the tank water. I bent over and wet my neck and hair in the tank shower. I readied myself for 7 more ks without water. Cool. You can do this. You run around all day long without water. This is not different. I would just have to not push myself too much.
I cruised along the single trail that flowed down into the gorge, still chatting the to Blackall 50k runners as I passed them. I looked back and Yun who had been following me earlier in the race finally caught me again when I stopped for a tank shower. He must have skipped the tank. I chilled out and cruised along, down the descent, trying again and again to suck a drop of water from my bottles. I decided to have a watered down gel and wished the un-manned water stop would come sooner rather than later. I felt like begging the 50k runners for some water but I knew they’d also be suffering and in danger of dehydration too.
I popped out onto the road and was ecstatic to find the water stop. I filled up 1L of water. Knowing that I would be going through it one way or another. It was just amazing to have a drink. I found Brad at the water stop too enjoying the much needed fluid. He did not look good. Red faced, veins popping out of his head. I offered him more Endurolyte’s and he said he had enough on him. He was naughty! Not wearing a visor or cap. I told him to walk and he’ll “come good” sure enough.
I left Brad at the water stop, it looked like I’d dropped Yun on the descent.
I moved on tipping water over my head, lowering my core temperature, drinking small amounts of water regularly. Taking Endurolyte’s regularly, every 30-15 minutes knowing I was getting a bit sore and needed some extra help with my electrolyte balance. In these conditions hydration comes first, nutrition second.
I cruised along the trails noted a turn up the ridge to CP4 and followed it, completing the Ubajee Walkers Camp loop. Turning right up the stairs and hoping, hoping, hoping I made the correct decision. Spotting 100km runners descending on the trail, catching 50k runners on the climb. I was even told by mate concerned 50km Runner Tamyka to make sure I’d turned the right way. I let her know that I was positive all I had to do was follow the signs to CP4 and I would be following the right track. We had the order of CP’s printed on our Race Bib, so all I had to do was look at my Bib and check that I was following the sign to the correct CP number.
I climbed, running pumping to “Shake it off” all the way up the climb until again I could hear my heart beating out my ears then had to walk, hands on quads, motoring up the climb, managing, managing, managing.
I popped out onto the fire trail, cruised along trying to find some running legs and was surprised to spot Damon walking on the side of the fire trail. Damon has run a 9 hours 50 min Great Ocean Walk Trail Run. This guy is a machine. Here he was walking. I offered him some electrolytes and wished him the best of luck. I felt sorry for him. I know how good he can be on the right day. You just never know what injury or illness some one is carrying into an event. It was saddening to see him walking.
I cruised along, turned left, followed the narrow track up to Mapleton Day Use Area and into CP4. I quickly checked in and out and let Brad’s trail running legend of a wife Jude, know that Brad was suffering a bit. I had no idea how far behind he was and that I had not seen him for 7ks. I let her know he also had calf pain and I told him to walk to cool down a bit.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and got the hell out of there. Wanting to make up some time on this easy section of the course.
I think most of the runners like me totally underestimated how tough this 10km section was. I’d run around this area before but could not figure out the exact course in training. The profile between CP4-CP5 looked like beautiful easy rolling 10km descent that we should be able to knock out in under 1 hour. WRONG.
Yes, it was a descent. Man it had some ups, steep ups, steep painful descents that just hurt like hell on 60 plus km tired legs. The climbs were sharp, the descents jagged rocky, hardened clay fire trails. All I wished for was a creek to dunk my visor in because I was pretty sure that both of my bottles were Hammer Heed and I was tipping Heed all through my hair. Stuff it! I’d rather be cool than pretty! My hair began to have a crispness to it that indicated that yes, both bottles were full of Heed.
Finally, I found a creek, it felt like it was the first creek of the day that had enough water in it to dunk a visor into. I walked through the creek, enjoying a full leg dunking and decided that it was best to power walk up the climb with my hands on quads.
I pushed on, finding my running legs and came to a 3 way intersection. I ran along following the most used track but could not see a marker in the distance and could not see a marker close to the track head. I stopped and double back and checked again at the intersection. With my tired 65km brain and eyes I could not see a ribbon marker until the wind blew and moved it in the tree. Phew! I’m not lost. All the signage at the Blackall 100 had been really good, excellent in fact. I could not faulted it. That’s why at this point I had to stop and think. The Blackall 100 course markers put out cross marking for the wrong direction and pink ribbons marking the correct way, pink ribbon every 500m or so. If I could not see a marker I new to stop and check. There was also CP arrows directing us runners to the correct check points, signs for 100km and 50km runners to follow. The course was pretty easy to navigate.
After finding the marker I cruised on trying to be consistent, trying to make up time, knowing that I was losing time hand over fist on these sharp climbs. I checked my watch and decided to drink all my reserves and tip the rest of the Heed over my head and after a few more ks powered into the CP5.
I still felt pretty fresh. My nutrition plan was working for me. My support crew, Levi asked me if I wanted anything special at the next CP5 after the Dam Loop.
“Nah, it seems to be working for me so far”. Was all I replied.
“When are you going to start looking like you are hurting?” Levi asked
“Hopefully I won’t”. Today was my day and I felt great. No asthma but I still did not dare dif into my lungs.
With my frozen bottles changed,watered down gels re-stocked, I was out of there with the knowledge that Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me. Okay, in the past I would get lazy with this knowledge that I had 20 minutes of time my sleeve and I would just try and hold on. Whilst running the loop of the dam in the Blackall 100 I’ve learnt to use this knowledge to my advantage. If Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me, then it meant that she had to run the next leg 2 minutes faster/km than me to catch me. Off I went trying desperately to make sure Shannon-Leigh could not catch me. Every time I saw myself running a 6, 5, 4 min km it meant she had to be running a 4,3,2min km.
I cruised around Cooloolabin Dam, past the squashed black and white Bandy Bandy Snake, up, down the rolling hills along a wide blue stone crusher dust road and back to the CP5 to complete the loop.
Jude, Brad’s wife came out to meet me, asking me what I needed form my support crew. She sadly informed me that Brad had decided to stop at 70km. That leg from 60-70km really took a lot of runners by surprise. Even though he was in 3rd place he just could not finish the Blackall 100, he was toast.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and was running out of there. I pushed on, running the out and back section of the trail quickly and I was pleased to turn left without seeing Shannon-Leigh on the fire trail to the left. Now it was just me against the clock. I’d slowed down a bit in the heat of the day, now it was time to kick it on up this 10km climb back to Mapleton Day Use Area and back to CP4.
I’d run this section in training. I did not recognise any of the road though. I was trying to figure out when the section of the track was going to start that was eroded and a bit hairy. The road had been beautifully freshly graded with blue stone crusher dust and it was nice and fast to run on.
For the first time whilst racing I did not care how big the climb was or for how long it went. All I cared about was the patch of road in front of my feet. That was all that mattered. There was no point worrying or thinking of how big the climb was. It was not important. I just had to run, stay in the moment, keep my feet moving fast and make sure I was making good time up this climb.
Soon enough I was at the top of the climb and cruising into the CP4. I was really fast on this leg and my support crew only just made it to the CP4 in time to see me. I grabbed my bottles. Checked in and out of the CP4 and drank some cola. Checked my time and I was informed that I had about 8ks to go.
I looked at my watch and it still had a 10 in front of it. I was still in for a chance of making it under 11 hours. I took off down the walking track and stopped dead at the track interaction. There was not an arrow to the Finish. I knew I was on the right track, but with 92km of running in your brain I just second guessed myself. I pulled out my phone and called Mikey my husband. I could not get through to him so I kept moving in the direction of which I thought I should be going remembering that I’d seen a sign directing me to the finish earlier in the race on this out and back section. I decided to trust my gut and with about 1km of running I found the sign. I was on the right track. Phew. Mikey was then calling me back but I did not have enough reception to answer the call. I just wanted to let the Race Directors know that there could be a problem later in the night with tired 100km runners.
With 7km to go I started to lighten my load of fluid. I looked at my watch and thought that I would not make it Sub-11. I did not let this bother me. I just kept belting it out, chatting to the Blackall 50km runners as I zoomed past. My eyes were starting to get tired. It was still light but my eyes were playing tricks on me a bit, I had to focus with everything that I had to prevent a fall as I jumped over mossy logs, dodged beautiful rain forest trees and leaped over vines, winding up the track and popping out onto the car park, running up the hill, crossing the road and merging onto Obi Obi Road again.
I had no idea of the distance left to cover. My watch always loses 3km in a 100km event. I guessed 4ks to go. I spotted a local jogger on the footpath ahead of me. I decided to try and match this runner’s tempo. She soon turned right and I was at the top of the ridge, I crossed the road and started to wind it up. Trying to remember this section from earlier in the day.
I spotted the camp ground and Jude waiting at the gate for me. Man my eyes were going, I could barely recognise her. I was starting to feel fatigue with my mental function. I had 2min and about 500m to run to the finish line she informed me.
Game on. I lifted my knees and belted out the last 300m, making my last kilometre a 4:02min k for the end of a 100.3 km event. I still felt great. I ran across the line crying and totally spent collapsed across the finish line, laid on the ground.
“Ring the bell, Ring the bell”. The time keeper informed me.
I rang the bell, ding, ding, ding and recorded a time of 10 Hours 59 Min and 59 seconds.
Wow! I did it. I stuck to my splits. I took NO Painkillers! I mean that not even a panadol. I forgot to pack them in my race kit. I’m stoked to say I did not need them. My body felt great all day long. It’s the first time since starting ultra’s that I have not had to take a panadol to get me though an event. My stomach was just perfect too. I’ve really struggled in the past with gut issues. It was just a great race. It was my 7th Ultra of the year and to be able to finish 2014 with a win was just amazing to me. I nabbed a bonus 2nd place overall too. It just could not get any better. Shannon-Leigh Litt from NZ came in 3rd overall. It was a great day for the chicks out there. I feel Shannon-Leigh will be a name to watch in 2015. She’s a kiwi and dealt with these tough conditions beautifully. 3rd female Raelene Bendall also played it smart and nabbed a place in the overall top 10 too.
It was an awesome day for the girls in the 50km also. Local young gun Kirra Balmanno won and finished 3rd place overall with Kellie Emmerson coming in 2nd and 5th place overall Claire Lawson in 3rd.
1) Shona Stephenson 10:59:50 (2nd Overall)
2) Shannon-Leigh Litt 11:37:26 (3rd Overall) Kiwi-recently returned from Bolder Colorado
3) Raelene Bendall 13:11:05 (9th Overall)
1) Kirra Balmanno 5:20:33 (3rd Overall)
2) Kellie Emmerson 5:33:07 Victorian (5th Overall)
3) Claire Lawson 5:58:27 (12th Overall)
1) Matt Baker 4:43:06
2) Pete Lavery 5:56:59
3) Travis Bell 5:32:53
Race Set Up
Inov-8 X-Talon 212 P
Inov-8 Race-Elite 125 Ultra Shorts
Inov-8 FF Bra Top W
Inov-8 Race Singet
Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest
Snake Bite Bandage 10cm (10cm will actually help you if you or another runner is bitten by a snake)
Ay-Up Ultra Lite Head Torch Blue (not picked up, I ran the 100km in daylight)
High Visibility Vest (not picked up, I ran the 100km in daylight)
Nutrition and Hydration Program
500ml of Fluid and hour made up of 500ml of Frozen Plain Water and
From Start -CP3 3/4 Scoop of Hammer Perpetuem in 500ml of Frozen Water
From CP3-Finish 3/4 Scoop of Heed in 500ml of Frozen Water
1-2 Watered Down by 50% Hammer Banana or Apple Cinnamon Gel Every Hour depending on how I was feeling or if there was a climb. I reduced my gel intake later on in the event to 1 gel an hour
I alway’s made sure I had fresh chilled/melting frozen water handy in a water bottle to tip over my head to reduce my core temperature.
250ml of Cola at 92km CP4 Last Check Point.