Posts Tagged‘Ultra Training Australia’

Loving the summit of Mt Buffalo the reccy day before the big race.

Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra

by Shona Stephenson on June 16, 2015

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Loving the summit of Mt Buffalo the reccy day before the big race.

Loving the summit of Mt Buffalo the reccy day before the big race.

Buffalo Stampede 75km Skyrunning Oceanic Championships

 

Buffalo Stampede 75km Skyrunning Oceanic Championships was on in the Easter School Holidays in the quaint little town of Bright in the Victorian Alps. (My Kiwi partner was a bit let down after seeing our Australian Alps…..no snow on the peaks….no peaks at all really, eroded granite boulders for peaks instead!)

It was now 6 weeks after the Bubble Back Accident and my body was on the mend. I was not quite sure how it would hold up with all the quad smashing descents of the 5000m plus elevation again and loss of the Buffalo Stampede 75km ultra. The race kind of snuck up on me. I had not decided to enter it until just 1 month before, I was still in rehab mode after all my stacks, twists and falls. Buffalo Stampede 75km was part the Skyrunning Oceanic Series and I am careful not to race more than 1 race a month and not to make the same mistakes as I did in 2013 with 5 DNF’s. The Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra seemed to fit into my race/training schedule nicely. I just had to hope that what ever training I did manage to fit in was enough. As I am now separated from my husband I have to work all my training around the kids. I only have the opportunity to train every 2nd weekend. The kids are in my care every 2nd split week. My family is down in NSW, so I’m kind of up here in QLD on my own just making good of the spare time I have to train.

I kind of looked at the Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra as more of a build training session rather than an event. I had TNF100 which is part of the UTWT 6 weeks afterwards, so I was mindful of not smashing my body too much or to over extend myself at the Buffalo Stampede 75km. I look at the year as a season much like a football season. I try and build and improve with each event as the year goes on.

 

Mt Buffalo boulder hopping with  Inov8 athlete Shona Stephenson

Mt Buffalo boulder hopping with Inov8 athlete Shona Stephenson

Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra

I lined up on the stellar startling line of stacked female runners at the Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra Skyrunning Championships. The best from Australia made the trip to Bright. Beth Cardelli, Gill Fowler, Julie Quinn, and New Zealand’s Jo Johansen, Whitney Dagg, Fiona Hayvice, Kate Mac and South African Runner gun runner Landie Greyling. Mountain Sports, always try and get the best runners going around and support athletes like no other event company I know of in Australia.

The count down started and we were off and running along the river path, past the slides turning right, passing the camp ground, following the creek, chilling out, dropping my ventolin, running back for my ventolin, passed by Whitney, running along chatting to SCC race director Sam Moffatt, continuing up the path, crossing the road, finding the single track and settling into a tempo up the first major climb of the day, Mystic Mountain.

After a few hundred meters, I was boiling hot. I cursed myself thinking I’d totally over dress for the start. I stopped and attempted to pull off my Hammer T-shirt but was unable too because my hair was caught in my Hammer Visor. My hair was so stuck I had to beg for help from a passing bloke to help me untangle my forming dreadlocks from the visor velcro.

While this happened I was past my Beth (giggling her arse off ;) Gill, Julie, Jo, Sarah and another female QLD female runner, plus a whole heap of blokes too including Steve. Oh well, forced recovery up the first climb of the day may come in handy later. I just chilled out and accepted my fate, laughed at my situation and saw it as the trail running gods slowing me down and looking after me.

I pushed on with my poles up the climb and I was now in chase mode. Myself and the QLD chick worked together up the mountain, passing a few blokes together. We pushed on and finally made it to the summit of Mystic Mountain I rolled down the fire trail, passing the QLD chick and a few blokes, turned left and found myself sliding my my butt on the rocky open fire trail in the loose scree. I regained my footing, jumped over a clay mound and began my contrail scree, ski down Mystic Mountain passing, Gill, Julie, Fiona, Jo, my partner Steve and a whole heap of blokes. This section of the course was just thrilling! Crazy fun, totally cool, uncontrolled  much like running down the side of Mt Ngauruhoe in NZ.

I called out ahead and did my best not to disturb rocks above other runners as I fell past them. I giggled and enjoyed the moment and just hoped I did not bust a quad or twist an ankle in the scree debris.

I hit the bottom and cruised along the fire trail in the state forest, turned to the right, enjoyed stretching out my legs through Bakers Gully. Before long I was climbing up to Clear Spot. I chilled out pumped out my tempo but was passed by Gill. I was then joined by Jo and we had a good old chit chat up the mountain while she swore like a trucker at the steepness of the terrain. I suggested that it was a Skyrunning Event and this was what was to be expected.

“Did you think it was going to be flat? This is Skyrunning, we have mountains over here too.” I jokingly informed her while she continued to swear up the exposed granite out crop of a ridge in the state forest. She swears more than me! It was hilarious to listen too. It made the climb so much more fun. We totally caught up like we were long lost friends up this climb together. We’d never really chatted before, by the end of the climb I knew that I’d like to spend more time with Jo. She is one cool chick.

After the chit chat we made it to the top of the never ending Clear Spot climb, ran past the paragliders and took in the sweeping views of the Bright Valley below. I followed the fire trail down the valley enjoying the ride, enjoying the flat ground more at Buckland, stretching my legs, rolling into the check point, quickly picking up my bottle with 500ml and getting the hell out of there. I pushed on up the road and was caught by Jo, then I was caught by my Partner Steve who was flying along. We ran together for about 1km then he was way too strong for me up Keating’s Ridge and I lost sight of him around a corner.

I tucked in to my tempo and just counted, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, 10 over and over and over again until I hit the top and rolled down the hill, doing my best to catch any blokes ahead of me. Steve was long gone. I rolled down the fire trail into Eurobin Creek, dropped off my poles, grabbed my Hammer Nutrition off Connie my support crew and knuckled into the 9km of climbing.

Thanks Connie. A bottle of Heed and some Banana Gels and my spuds

Thanks Connie. A bottle of Heed and some Banana Gels and my spuds. Thanks Connie, Bye

This is where the trail turned from open exposed, jagged fire trail into stunning single trail, I was hurting already, my quads were trashed from the bone jarring descents of the first 15km. I chucked in a 100 walking steps and hoped my jelly legs would recover. I was passed by Julie Quinn, who was in amazing form, and knuckled into the 9km slog of a climb. I walked, then ran my way up to the “Big Walk” and just marvelled at how beautiful this piece of Australian Trail Running was. Fluffy grasses lined the side of the magical single track. I thought about my Dad here. The type of fluffy grass that was framing the trail was his favourite type of grass. I ran along smiling thinking of how much I loved my Dad and how much he sacrificed for me to get me to all those Rep-Netball games and Elite Gymnastic Training Sessions. I would meet him at his clients work and he would drive me to training sessions between courier runs. He always supported me and said that I could do what ever I dreamed of doing in life as long as I worked hard enough for it. Wow. What more could you want from a Dad. So with those fluffy grasses showing me the way up to the summit of Buffalo with total joy and happiness in my heart, I popped out onto the exposed boulders and started to rock hop up the mountain with my mate Jono Worswick close behind.

Jono and I ran along together chatting, he seemed to be suffering a bit and needed some distractions. We had a good old chin wag about our partners and before long we’d made it to the Chalet Check Point. I quickly ran in swapped my bottles over, but totally forgot to get rid of my old bottles, I gave them to the ever so kind Lucy Bartholomew who was standing at the exit of the check point. She was so nice she even re-filled them for my return. Thanks Lucy.

I pushed onwards, feeling bloody amazing, catching blokes suffering with the technical stairs of the Under Ground River Track, through the Haunted Gorge, up a set of bush stairs, where I pointed out Steve, my partner to Jono. I think the bait of my partner was enough to spur Jono onwards and upwards. He pushed ahead of me and caught up with Steve and said a few words to him implying that he was soft and I was going to kick his butt.

Towards the top of the stairs I caught up with Steve and we had a nice chit chat. It was just so lovely to have the opportunity to be able to race with your lover, share the amazing scenery, encourage each other and experience the same adventure which is both of our passions. Our race together at Buffalo Stampede was very different from Up The Buff. I was just so grateful to have  him there, just around the corner, knowing he was just up ahead was just so lovely. We cherished every part of the weekend away together.

Steve was hurting a bit. He stuffed up his race nutrition and was suffering because of it. He’s only been racing for a year so he is still a bit new to ultra racing and is still learning what works best for him. He tucked in behind me and we pushed on together, chatting away, enjoying the encounter.

We soon popped out onto the fire trail, speed past Lake Catani, passing Landie and Beth on the out and back, turned left and hit the single track again. Steve suffered a bit behind me, I turned on my legs for the out and back loop making sure that I made it into the Chalwell Galleries without seeing any more female runners. Steve not understanding what I was doing fell off the back. He wanted me to go on but I told him I was only running fast because of the Loop Section. He started to feel better and we hopped along the breathtaking single trail, dropping down the rock hole, onto climbing spikes, sliding our way between the granite rock walls, hoping out the bottom, following the trail to another set of rocks that needed to be thread like a needle, following the serpentine trail back onto the fire trail, past the Lake Catani Camp Ground, retracing our steps.

I was in such a good mood I “Whooped, Whooped”. I said hello to all the out and back runners that were climbing the stairs that I’d just climbed on my return. I spotted so many of my old Sydney UTA clients out there, it was like running a positive trail reunion.

I climbed the stairs of the Haunted Gorge, ran up the trail and back into the Chalet Check Point where I found all my bottles fully filled and ready to go by the amazing check point volunteers. Within seconds I was off and running again, down the mountain with Steve close behind me. He had fully recovered and was feeling much better. We speed along together, chatting away, enjoying the beauty of the “Big Walk”. Man I loved those fluffy grasses, the boulders, sweeping views of the valley, rocks, mosses, gums. I marvelled how the Gums made a cathedral like structure framing the trail.

We crossed the road and Steve took off but not before he stopped and said goodbye, saying that he needed to go to the bathroom, but really I was running too slow for him. Awwww, too nice. I cruised onwards, nursing my body back into form down the mountains and soon enough I was at the Eurobin Creek Check Point. I spotted Connie, grabbed my poles, swapped my bottles of Heed and gels over and got out of there, steeling myself for the climb up Keatings Ridge.

It sounds weird but this little section was so tough for me. The fire trail climb of only 333m just hurt. I walked and ran my way back into running and after some contemplation of why I was even running anymore, thinking I was too old and too fat. I finally made it to the top of the ridge and was able to roll on down into the Bluckland Valley, out onto the road, up past the farms and up to the check point. I grabbed 500ml of water and continued up the fire trail, chasing down Steve and 2 other blokes I could see 3km ahead of me. I had my target and I wanted to catch up with him before the end. Knowing that if I caught up with him then I probably would not be passed by anyone in the last 15km.

I ran my way up the fire trail, reeling them in. By the time I hit the base of the steep ascent to Clear Spot Steve was only 200m ahead of me. I could see that he was at his limits like most of the other blokes ahead of me, swaying around on the ascent. Out came my poles and I knuckled into the climb, smashing out a tempo that I could maintain until the top of the climb where I started to pass more blokes but could not catch up with Steve.

I pursued him down towards Bakers Gully, attempting to run, managing to fall, slide, trip, slide on my arse down exposed rock faces, catching another bloke, falling, sliding, laughing. Man I was so bloody happy I was flexible in my quads. I can’t count the amount of times I lost balance, being saved by my Inov8 X-Talons griping the rocks, stopping my feet in my tracks, with the force of my body still falling down and my butt smashing into my heals, in a total extension squat position. I was so lucky my quads were that flexible.

By the time I was at the bottom of Bakers Gully, Steve was only 20m ahead. I quickly filled up with coke and ran down the hill further more, stretching my legs and enjoying the freedom in my quads. It was just blissful running on the flat compared to the gully butt slide I’d just performed. I still have marks from where there rocks caught with my butt 2 months later!

At the switch back Steve called out to me asking me if I’d like him to slow down and run it in together. I was worried that if he’d slowed down to run next to me then I’d slow down to and get complacent and lose a place to a female chasing me.

“Stay out ahead. I’ll try and chase you down”. I called out across the stream.

We moved up the Mystic Mountain climb about 20m apart, no matter what I did I could not bridge that 20m gap to him. We past more runners together, struggling on the final ascent of the gruelling 75km. I think Steve could taste blood, towards the top of the climb he took off, chasing down 3 males. I did my best to stay with him but he was long gone. I’d lost sight of him on the final descent of Mystic Mountain. I then decided to cruise on home on jelly, mashed up quads and call it a successful day. My back had held up nicely, my ankle was great, only my quads were brutalised. That’s just conditioning, specific training so I was happy with how I performed. I cruised down the bull dust trail with pain in my quads with every step, popped out onto the bike track, ran along side the creek, past the camp ground turning right, running past the Brew House and across the finish line. 10 hours 45 Something Minutes…I can’t remember. I always forget to turn my watch off at the finish of an event. All I knew was that at the finish line I felt amazing and I was a bit up-set that it was all over. I had such a ball and wished that it was a 100 mile event. It is comparable in difficulty to that of Ultra Trail Mt Fuji in technicality, ascent and descent and steepness, profile. It really was a great 75km training session for me and the perfect lead up to TNF100.

Gear Set Up

Inov8  X-Talons 212

Inov8 Race Elite Ultra Shorts

Inov8 Race Australia Team Singlet (not handy when being chased by Jo Johansen, Whitney Dagg, Fiona Hayvice ;)

Inov8  Race Elite Bra Top

Hammer Visor

Inov8 Ultra Shell

 

Nutrition Set Up

1/2 Scoop of Heed in 500ml of water

1/2 Scoop of Perpetuem in 500ml of water after 3 hours of running

50% Water 50% Gel Banana Hammer Gel in Flask

Spuds 1 small spud every check point

Endurolytes 1-2 caps every 30 minutes depending on my muscular pain.

 

We found our strength together out on the mountain  Bring on the couples category

We found our strength together out on the mountain
Bring on the couples category

 

Shona Stephenson descending the saddle of the  Red Crater.

Trail Love Tongariro

by Shona Stephenson on June 11, 2015

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Trail Love TongariroShona Stephenson descending the saddle of the  Red Crater.

Shona Stephenson descending the saddle of the Red Crater.

Trail Love Tongariro- My Tongariro Holiday Training Blog

 

6 Days after racing Tarawera Ultra 2015 I found 2 ticks on my neck and wondered why I was feeling so tired and lethargic…..racing Tarawera Ultra 100km or being poisoned? The poison that having 2 ticks on me for about 3 days did to my body totally wiped me out. Ahhhhhh more joys of living in QLD. Snakes, green ants, ticks, mosquitos, leeches…..

 

10 days after racing Tarawera Ultra I was out training a Outdoor PT Brisbane and Ultra Training Australia Client, Jess Schluter. Running with our Kelpies on Mt Coo-tha, my Black Kelpie “Bubble”, who has been clocked at 45km an hour whilst chasing cars in The Gap, took my feet out from underneath me. It was like getting hit by a car. Bubble ran underneath my feet, my feet flew up into the air above my shoulders and I landed smack, flat on my back on hard clay. I landed so forcefully that I winded myself and embedded stones into my butt through my Inov8 Race Pants.

The look of horror on Jess’ face told me that my fall was pretty bad and I probably wouldn’t be running for a while. It’s usually 2-6 weeks for a bone/impact injury. She was worried I had a spinal injury. I was with the right client, Jess is an emergency nurse and gave me the check over, making sure I did not have a spinal injury or broken pelvis. I got up and could barely hold my own body weight on my legs. The pain across the back of my pelvis was insane. I tried to run but my legs just would not work. Sharp, stabbing pain shot into my pelvis, lower back  -  so scary. All I could think about was my NZ Tongariro holiday that I had coming up in only 4 days.

 

I sent Jess off with her Kelpie, Siddy, to do her 5 reps of Cockatoo track as part of her 6 Foot Track UTA Program and I hobbled back to the car and called my physio Paul at Bodyleadership for some help. I drove home, iced my butt/pelvis which made my legs give way. I had bruised the bone……I had been waiting to travel to Mt Ruapehu (AKA Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings), run around the Tongaririo Northern Circuit for about 16 years. I was not going to miss the chance of this trail running experience and much needed RNR. I did not care how injured I was.

 

I iced my pelvis, took a few pain killers and was back out training The Gap State School Kids and by lunchtime I was up and running in 60 sec intervals with Outdoor PT Brisbane Clients. I could not believe that I could go from crippled to be running small intervals of 60 secs. As long as I ran on my toes and lifted my legs instead of pushing, I was pain free. By the afternoon I was running 1-2km at a time. I could run without pelvis pain as long as I held perfect form. Man, I was so happy I had a strong butt. My glutes took the impact of the fall. The pain was intense at the start of each session  but I became more free with my action the warmer my muscles became instead of doing more damage. The Tongariro trip was looking more promising. By the end of the week I was running more freely. I hit my core and stretched out my back. I worked my glutes with strength exercises. They were my armour and were going to protect my pelvis while it healed for the next 2-6 weeks. I then was into epsom salt baths and foam rolled, self massaged, reversed crunched my way back to running again. Bodyleadership Physio also helped me a lot with massage and Ultra Sound. I was still in pain but man I’d come a long way from that Tuesday, when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to run for 2-6 weeks. I hopped on the plane knowing that I would be able to run, it was just a matter of how far and whether I could back up for 5 days.

 

Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge was where I was lucky enough to stay at 1600m right on Mt Ruaphu

Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge was where I was lucky enough to stay at 1600m right on Mt Ruaphu

Trail Love Tongariro
After Arriving at the Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge at 1600m elevation at 10pm at night, Steve my partner discovered that the key to enter the Lodge had not been left for us, so had to bunk in the storm shelter of the Lodge. It was pretty chilly…….. but we had our trail kit on us, red wine, chocolate, air mattress and sleeping bags, so we were happy to snuggle into the surroundings and enjoy the rugged experience.

 

Day 1 Easy Taranaki Falls Walking Track 6km

We grabbed the keys for the lodge and drove down the mountain to the Whakapapa Village and ran the easy 6km loop of the Taranaki Falls Walking Track which left from the Grand Chateau, dropping into the soft track of the beech forest and climbed slowly up to the top of the rocky Taranaki Falls, following a gravel trail across the top of the ridge which is part of the Northern Circuit Great Walk Track, which then descended back to The Grand Chateau.

I used this Easy Scenic Trail Circuit to warm up, flush out my flight legs and increase my range of motion in my hips, glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Each session I did I seemed to get better rather than worse and range of motion improved, so I was happy to try for the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp 44km the following day, only 1 week after injuring my pelvis.

That night I hit the sauna, foam rolled and stretched and engaged my core again.

Ay-Ups on, Inov8 Kit, Hammer Nutrition Ready packed for the 44km Tongariro Northern Circ

Ay-Ups on, Inov8 Kit, Hammer Nutrition Ready packed for the 44km Tongariro Northern Circ

 

Day 2 Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp 44km

We woke up at 4am, ate our oats with coconut milk, cacao, drank coffee, drove down Mt Ruapehu and into Whakapapa Village and parked at the track head of the World Heritage Listed Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp.

This circuit is so special that it is part of New Zealands Great Walks and attracts a crowd to experience the active Volcano Mt Ngauruhoe, South Crater, Red Crater, Central Crater, Emerald Lakes and views to the Blue Lake. The Alpine Crossing links up with part of the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp  and much like Uluru in Australia, is a sacred place with its beauty and draws a crowd of over 10 thousand travellers from all over the world some days.

To beat the crowds we started with Ay-Up head torches at about 5:45am. We decided it was the best idea to start early under lights and avoid the bus tours bringing in walkers to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which follows the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp for a few kilometers.

Steve was pretty keen to have a crack at the Fastest Known Time (FKT) which was about 5 and 1/2 hours. I was not sure where my mind was. I was still pretty sore, tight from my “Bubble Fall” only 1 week before. We were in two minds about how to attack the day. Go for the time or just enjoy it and take the pics and make the most of the scenery as it happens. I’m not sure if both Steve and I totally decided how to handle the day. Steve had completed the circuit before in about 8 hours with an ITB injury, so he’s done it slow and seen the sights. Me on the other hand, coming from Australia, I was totally blown away with the scenery. We left the Taranaki Falls track, crossed the bridge, following the single track through the beech forest, then popping out onto the alpine marsh land with sweeping views of the valley between Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, rolling along the track, dropping down to cross creeks, climbing back up on the the plane, stopping to take pics and enjoy the scenery. I was slow. I was so tight in my glutes and hamstrings, it was taking me some time to warm up. It was also a bit of a shock to my system after coming from Queensland 32 degree day every day to now 5 degrees. My asthma was shit to to say the least.

Wow! What a morning. The best conditions for mountain running the Tongariro Northern Circ

Wow! What a morning. The best conditions for mountain running the Tongariro Northern Circ

The cold dry conditions was sending my lungs into a spasm. I was freezing in my legs too. I let Steve lead and I just did my best to stick with him. Before long the track widened and we hit the fork in the track where the Tongariro Alpine Crossing connects with the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk Tramp. Even at 6:30am, just after sunrise there were a few Trampers spread out on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We continued up the valley, following the mountain stream that was nestled at the foot of Pukekaikiore 1692M, Mt Ngauruhoe 2287 and Mt Tongariro 1967M above sea level. The trail narrowed and started the snake it’s way up towards the saddle between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, becoming stairs named the Devils Staircase.

We ran and walked up the stairs. I was again slow. I felt like I was under attack from the elements. It was freezing to me and I was having problems catching my breath. I was in a total panic stations with my asthma and the cold dry air just freaked my lungs out. The wind was sweeping though this valley and taking my O2 with it. I put on more clothes and pumped in some ventolin and hoped that the weather would warm up soon enough.

What an amazing place! Surrounded in mountains with Crater Lakes nestled in the distance.

What an amazing place! Surrounded in mountains with Crater Lakes nestled in the distance.

I soon made it to the top of the saddle and was astounded to see the big wide, flat expanse of the South Crater that sat at between Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro. We cruised along the South Crater then climbed up the stairs and single track onto the Red Crater that is active with smouldering steam and sulphur fumes. There were breath taking views down the ridge to the east. Wow! This place was just so remarkable. I’ve never experienced so many spectacular formations in one kilometre of trail running. Mt Ngauruhoe is a perfect conical Volcano, The South Crater is unique, and a contrast in texture and shape to the mountain ranges that it sits between. The Emerald Lakes are an incredible milky green, The Red Crater is like what I can imagine Mars would be like. We stopped and took in the views of Mt Tongariro, North Crater, Central Crater and Blue Lake. Out came the camera. I totally forgot we were pushing for time and Steve and I happily snapped and appreciated our partnership together. Our life is so easy together. We share the same ethos, work ethic, positive outlook on life and how we are in control of our own destiny. There are so many possibilities in life and I finally have made it to this region of the world and I have Steve to thank for bringing me here.

We cruised down the Red Crater and stopped 1/2 way down to take more pics and just enjoyed the stunning views. This is some of the best scenery I’ve every seen. Every step I was filled with excitement. I was blow away by the all engaging scope of this place. No wonder the Tongariro Alpine Crossing has over 10 thousand people walking this section of the track at times.

We cruised past the Emerald Lakes, descended the rocky, volcanic, space like single track, jumped a few streams and ran to Oturere Hut, filled up with water and pushed on.

Steve was keen for the FKT. I was not in any shape to do it. I was in a fair amount of pain. I did not let him know that I was hurting. He offered many times to run next to me but I much preferred that he ran out about 20m-100m  ahead, pacing me and giving me something to focus on. I could not talk, if I did talk to him it mean that I was going to have to slow down. My asthma was crap, I still felt like my whole body was under attack. I was tight in my leg muscles and tight in my chest.

We pushed on through the Mars like landscape, climbed up a ridge and entered the Beech forest again, before descending into Waihohonu Hut. I decided not to fill up water here. Thinking we’d made it most of the way around the mountain now and we should not have much further to go. The Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk is well sign posted but the signs only have the estimated time it will take to walk between each section, not the amount of kilometers which threw off our calculations a bit on how much further we had to go over the last section of the 44km Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk.

The track widened and we swung around the south side of Mt Ngauruhoe in to what is known as the savannah. Steve kept checking up on me, waiting for me, looking after me. I asked him to pace from ahead of me, knowing that we were close to making the FKT for the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk.

We hopped in and out of steams, we decided to use one to fill up as we’d miscalculated the distance form Waihohonu Hut and were both out of water and thinking that we were still about 1 hour from the finish. We past the dried Lake Lower Tama and started the climb up the Tama Lakes Walking Track, along the stony trail and stairs onto the plateau where we met the Taranaki Falls Walking Track. Here Steve decided that he’d try and go for the FKT. I was way to sore to try and chase him. I was tight all through my right leg and just doing what I needed to do to get back as close to the FKT of the Tongariro  Northern Circuit Great Walk as possible.

I cruised along the track, trying to go as fast as my injury would allow, dropping into the beech forest, crossing creeks, climbing up some stairs and back out onto the gravel path and descending into the car park where we’d left the car.

I knew I’d missed the FKT by a few minutes. I was hoping Steve got it though. He sadly informed me that he’d missed it by about 90 seconds. I felt pretty bad, because we took a fair amount of photos along the way and if Steve was on his own he would have been so much faster that waiting for injured old me. I guess we will have to come back again to go for the record. I finished and I pissed blood again…….my core was still weakened. Time to hit some exercises and I decided to tape my abs up for any more running that I will do on the holiday.

Mt Ruapehu Snow Covered Summit

Mt Ruapehu Snow Covered Summit

 

Day 3 Mt Ruapehu Summit 2751m

Mountains are dangerous places, storms can roll in from any direction and at this elevation we could have snow at any time of the year.  On the Wednesday morning after eating Cacao Oats with coconut milk and drinking a coffee, Steve and I looked up at the Summit of Mt Ruapehu and saw that it was a beautiful clear day and decided to go for the Summit then and there.

We grabbed Hammer gels, hydration drinks, endurolytes, bars and headed out from the Ngauruhoe Ski Lodge at 1600m and straight up the snowless ski fields under the Rock Garden Chair Lifts. With Steve guiding me through all his old favourite ski runs, the Waterfall Express, Waterfall T-Bar and Knoll Ridge T-bar. We picked out a bit of a track following the white posts, then it was Steve’s navigation through the snow fields up over the Whakapapa Glacier between the Dome shelter 2672m and Paretetaitonga 2751m.

We explored the Summit Plateau, had a picnic and caught glimpses of the etherial Crater Lake. through clouds below us. Recent eruptions have lead to a weakened rim on the Crater Lake, which sometimes releases lahars with masses of water and volcanic debris into the valley below leading to flooding. It was kind of scary standing on the top of an active volcano. So wild, untamed and thrilling.

We checked out the Dome shelter, chatted to other tourists about how amazing this volcano summit was with the glimpses of the Crater Lake between the clouds.

Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake was a real treat to discover.

Mt Ruapehu Crater Lake was a real treat to discover.

Our bellies decided that they wanted more food so we followed the ridge line back down to the Glacier, running, sliding, gliding, bum sliding on the snow down towards food. When the snow ran out we walked down the rocky summer ski fields and decided to grab a coffee at the stunning Knoll Ridge Cafe.

After a coffee we hit the trails again and descended back to the lodge.

 

Day 4 Mt Ngauruhoe 2287M and Mt Tongariro Summit 1967M

We woke again at 5am to drive to the Mangatepopo Car Park again and the start of the Alpine Crossing. We thought we were in luck seeing the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe that we were about to climb was clear. So we pushed on to the base of the mountain after retracing the same track of the Tongariro Northern Cuircuit, up the Devils Stair Case, through the South Crater and following the poles to the summit trail of Mt Ngauruhoe.

Mt Ngauruhoe clear sunrise.

Mt Ngauruhoe clear sunrise.

The climb to the summit scared the pants off me. It was steep, slippery scree and I put absolute trust in Steve to show me the right path along the rocky ridge line to the top without falling backwards down the volcanic cone shaped mountain. I was on all fours, rock scrambling, digging into the scree, not daring to look down because it was not helpful as the slope was intense. I was freaking out, hoping my quads and glutes would hold true and prevent me from falling.

About 100m from the summit, clouds blew in and we were in a total white out, unable to see the summit. I followed Steve who had climbed the mountain before to the summit. We ate some food, took some snaps and enjoyed the foggy volcanic scenery, a bit bummed that we’d missed the clear skies by about 30 minutes. Ahhhhh, well just have to come back.

Ahhhhhh! Well have to come back next year earlier! to bag  a clear summit of Mt Ngauruhoe

Ahhhhhh! Well have to come back next year earlier! to bag a clear summit of Mt Ngauruhoe

We started to freeze, with this we decided to head back to the warmth of the South Crater. We picked out the track, not following the ridge line that we ascended hoping that we could run down the scree. Finding that the scree was not safe to run on in the white out we were then forced to return to the rocky ridge for navigation and safety for a few hundred meters before switching back to the scree run.

Running down the scree from 2000M down to around 1600M was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. I had to put absolute trust in my Inov8 X-Talons 212s to get me down that mountain safely. Bounding, sliding, jumping, bum sliding. I caught a rock hidden in the scree and totally right angled my dodgy right ankle. I heard a crack. Lucky my ankles were taped. I continued on and cruised down to the base of the scree and waited for Steve to catchup. My back injury was feeling so much better with foam rolling, saunas and massage. I think Steve’s ankle was starting to give him grief on the soft, steep, scree descent of Mt Ngauruhoe.

We regrouped at the bottom and Steve decided to rest his ankle and not to run to the Summit of Mt Tongariro. I was a bit upset that he was not going to join me. I decided to push on. I knew I was not going to miss the opportunity to bag another summit and I was so close to Mt Tongariro I had to push on and make the most of the trail running location.

I cruised along the crater, up the Red Crater Nearing the top I heard Steve’s voice calling out to me. He decided to run on and share the experience with me. His ankle hurt on the flats and on the descents but he could climb just fine. We pushed on together along the ridge line between South Crater and Central Crater, dodging walkers towards the foggy summit of Mt Tongariro rock hopping along to the peak.

After a few snaps we rock hopped, then rolled along the scree trail over a few rocks, again dodging walkers and descending back to the Red Crater and rolling back down to the South Crater. Here we regrouped after being separated in a school group and rolled along the flat expanse together, following the stream of walkers to the Devils Stair case and flying down the stairs, along the creek and back to the car. We then hit the Turangi Hot Pools for a stretch and recovery session.

 

 

Day 5 Rest Day and Travel to the Coromandels Via Taupo Burger Fuel for some Kumura Fries.

We stopped off at Rotopounamu Walking Track for a easy 6km walk around the pretty lake in the beech forest on our way to Steve’s sister Janice’s Beach bach at Koautunu.

 

Day 6 Fishing, Wake Boarding, Swimming, Eating, Drinking.

We awoke early and hooked up the boat to the tractor for a beach launch and headed out towards Great Mercury Island for fishing. I did not mange to catch any fish in the mouth, however I somehow caught them by stabbing them in the eye, gills, stomach. Antwhere, you name it! I manage to catch them in the most distressing way for both the fish and myself and I was not feeling proud of my method. I’m such a novice. We then did some wake boarding until we were sore and the sea waved up to big for us to ride before heading back for wine and lunch.

 

 

Day 7 Sea Kayak to the cafe from the batch return. Drive back to Auckland and Fly back to New Zealand.

On the final day of my trip to New Zealand we paddled Janice’s kayaks along the beach to Koautunu beach cafe for a couple coffees. After a warming shower, we took off to Auckland Airport and back to the warmth of Queensland.

My Mountain Running Kit

Inov-8 X-Talons 212

Inov8 Elite Calf Guards

Inov-8 Race Elite Race Shell

Inov-8 Race Elite Ultra Short

Inov-8 Singlet

Inov-8 Base Elite Long Sleeve Merino

Inov-8 Race Glove

Inov-8 Arm Warmers

Hammer Visor.

Nutrition for the Training Holiday

Hammer Perpetuem Coffee 1/2 scoop in 500ml of Water

Hammer Heed Mandarin 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of Water

50% Water 50% Hammer Banana Gel in Hammer Flasks

Endurolytes every 30min of exercise.

Daily Nutrition Program in a nut shell

Breaky

Oats for Breaky chocolate, pecans  and coconut milk!

Lunch

Salmon, avocado and salad for lunch with sweet potato

Dinner

Warm chicken sweet potato soup with heaps of veges ;-D

Snacks

Nuts, Avocados, Coconut Oil Fried Banana’s with shaved chocolate and almonds.

 

 

 

Inov8 Trail Runner Shona Stephenson

Tarawera Ultra

by Shona Stephenson on April 13, 2015

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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

 

Blackall 100

by Shona Stephenson on November 20, 2014

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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

 

Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc

by Shona Stephenson on October 17, 2014

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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

Shona Stephenson First Mixed Team Medal Kokoda Challenge

Kokoda Challenge

by Shona Stephenson on October 2, 2014

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.

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Japanese Style Dinner

UTMF

by Shona Stephenson on June 26, 2014

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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.

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Trail-Runner-With-Dog

Tarawera Ultra The Build Up

by Shona Stephenson on March 13, 2014

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Tarawera Ultra The Build Up

 

I have unfinished business at Tarawera Ultra 100km. In 2013 I had to pull out of the event in the most gory circumstance. I was shitting blood from about 30km and after working myself back into the event at about 60-75km I then was pissing blood. It was extremely scary experience for me. I decided to pull out of the 100km event at the 85km check point. No one wants to damage their organs whilst racing or training for a an ultra. It’s just not worth it. I’m a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister and I have a family to care and provide for. I have to return home safe for them. I was given the 85km win however never felt like I deserved the award so I happily gave my medal to Jenni Hoogeveen who was the first female who entered and finished the 85km distance.

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