Posts Tagged‘UTWT’

Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

TNF100 Aus

by Shona Stephenson on June 15, 2015

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Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

Shona Stephenson climbing up Narrow Neck at TNF100 Australia

TNF100 AUS

 

It was to be my 5th TNF100 Aus in a row. It would be the first TNF100 Aus where I was not going to be asked for a divorce before hand. In 2011, just 2 days before my first ever solo 100km, my ex asked me for a divorce. It was hard enough just trying to run TNF100 Aus, but I also had to deal with a marriage crisis on the sideline too. He continued to ask me for a divorce before every 100km event I ever did. On average I was asked for a divorce 5 times a year for the next 4 years. My running was always an issue for him. The anxiety that went with the constant unknown was insane. No wonder I was always busting out of the gates at the start line! I had so much built up tension to run out.

 

In 2015 I was so pleased that I would be leading into my 5th TNF100 with contentment, calmness, happiness, joy, love for life and grateful that I have the opportunity to use my body in such a joyous way. I was curious to see if I could run TNF100 Aus with happiness the entire way. In 2011 I meet my demons from my childhood and then current relationship out on Kedumba. I wonder if I was mentally strong enough to come back to where it all started and see how much I’d developed mentally.

 

I’ve learnt that mental toughness is not about being a hard arse, it is about controlling the mind to push out all negative thoughts and only allow positive thought processes guide you through life.

 

I was so lucky I was able to get out of an unhealthy relationship, where white ribbons and the 25th of November will always carry great significance to me. I have been able to forgive and love again. There is nothing harder than leaving your husband, no matter what your circumstances. A mother would never separate from her partner unless there is something truly unsalvageable in their relationship. The line had been crossed a week after my Blackall 100 Win in 2014 and I had to leave. I had to leave with my dignity intact, ignore the social pressure of the perfect 4 bedroom house with a pool, 2 dishwashers, double lock up garage, backing onto the creek in a leafy suburb,  to prove to my girls that I was a strong mother and role model for them to respect. They may not have understood at the time but what I was doing was for them. It was for their future and their choice in future partners. They needed to know how a mother and wife was meant to be treated.

 

My body and mind could withstand so much pain. Ultra Trail Running has taught me how to be mentally and physically strong. I learnt that I did not have to put up with it any more.

I was scared as anything when I left.

 

Leaving him opened up a whole new world of happiness and opportunity.

 

With this weighing on my mind I was coming back to where it all started. Unbeknown to my mate Brad, this was my stomping ground and I am one different lady from the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 runner that turned up for TNF Aus races. Brad and I have a healthy rivalry stemming back to 2012 where he beat me on a count back at TNF100 Aus and I smashed is butt at Blackall 100 in 2014. My partner Steve has also beaten me at every distance we’ve race together except for 100km. I let both of these blokes know that this was my training ground and I was coming home to the Blue Mountains in NSW stronger than ever, for the 1.5 point worth Ultra Trail World Tour TNF100 Aus.

 

I lined up on the start line behind Chineese Runner Dong Li, counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were all off and running to the sound of bells ringing.  The party had begun. I bounded out of the start line, jumping ahead of Dong Li and in front position. Whoops! I was even ahead of the blokes. Realising my mistake, I chilled out and waited for the group to catch me, and before long I settled in behind the lovely NZ zen runner Vajin Armstrong. I chilled, rested and watched. Cassandra Scallon from the US ran up next to me. We chatted and she indicated that she was scared of snakes. I let her know that she would probably see one out there. I always manage to see a Red Belly Black Snake at the now 50km point on the 6 Foot Track. It was kind of funny watching her reaction. She pushed onwards and upwards away from me, with Dong Li following her. Both of them were running for Salomon. I wonder if the US and Chinese runners will play it safe with each other or have a battle out there. It could be interesting later. I spotted US Runner Amy Sproston also on the road to the turn around. I cruised along the road with my Partner Steve next to me, chatting and getting into the action together. After the turn around I waved to Brad while Steve sped off ahead. I tried to stay with him, letting him pace me, past the Start/Finish Line, past the crowds and down the Furber Steps.

Here I jumped past Cassandra and Dong Li and Steve, asking the blokes to hurry up or move to the left as I bounded down the steps taking 2-3 at a time, catching my thermal glove on the wire fence railing. Fuck!  There’s something with me and losing something in the first 1km! Buffalo it was my ventolin and getting my hair caught in my visor, UTMF I lost my ventolin, Mt Blanc Marathon I lost a gel flask.

Cursing, staying calm, returning to grab my glove again I worried that if I did not have all my mandatory gear I could be penalised at the end of the event. I retrieved my glove, apologised to everyone who then had to move for me and then politely asked to pass everyone again. I know, embarrassing! How annoying I must have been. Sorry!

I pushed on, passing Cassandra and Dong Li again, suggesting that they could catch me on the next climb. When you have descending strength it is so important that you work with your ability and not get held up in sections like this. I cruised down the cliff cut Furber Steps, using my arms, taking 3-4 steps at a time, sliding down the railing, passing blokes all the way, enjoying the freedom and clean run that I was getting. This is my kind of trail running. Steep, technical, fun, with amazing views.

I hit the bottom of the steps, stretched my legs, past the Scenic Railways, merged to the right, and followed the Federal Pass to the Landslide. I passed through the landslide with ease, with my left quad feeling a bit stuffed. I decided that it was just bloody cold and I just needed to warm up more! Rubbing my left quad hoping that it would stop hurting.

I noticed that the track was a fair bit clearer this time compared to past years. I pushed onwards to the Golden Stairs in which I ran the first set then decided to power walk the next set, then walk and run between sets of stairs. I dragged myself up the side of the cliff face, using the wire fence to pull myself upwards and towards the top of the climb where I was caught by Cassandra. She wanted to chat but I really can’t talk climbing in cold conditions. My asthma is always shocking for TNF100 Aus. I let her past me at the top of the Golden Stairs and re-grouped my emotions on the fire trail. I ran my way up the steep concrete road and wished that the weather would warm up. I was on schedule with my time when I ran into the CP 1. 1 Hour and 5 Minutes for 10.8km.

 

I filled up a bottle with 500ml of Heed and pushed on along Narrow Neck up the steep ridge, past Cris Ord from Trail run magazine  sitting in the bushes on the left, ignoring that I was feeling a bit under attack from the gradient and elements. Narrow Neck always puts on a performance for TNF100 Aus. The views of the Megalong Valley are always spectacular. I ignored the cold I was feeling, asthma I was experiencing, relaxed and enjoyed the ride along the beautiful ridge, deep into the depths of the Blue Mountains National Park.

At Bushwalkers Hill I was caught and was passed within seconds by Amy. At Clear Hill I was caught and passed, with some tick tocking by Dong Li. I turned right and jumped down the single trail, letting the boys know I needed to pass to catch the chicks ahead. I flew down the first ladder, past Dong Li and was totally bummed to find a line up at Tarros Ladders.

“Come on Boys!” I yelled. Bugger. Now ground made on Dong Li before the ladder dissappeared. Shit.I dropped down the first set of metal cargo enclosed ladders 3-4 steps at a time, then did the same with the next set. I popped out onto the track behind a trail of boys. I took to making my own path on the right of the track, passing a group in one hit through Little Cedar Gap while enjoying the single trail running section of this course. On the climb I moved aside, waved the blokes and Dong Li through who wanted to pass, knowing they’d be stronger than me on the climb to the top of Mt Debert. I thought one of them was Steve, my partner. “Hey Babe, is that you? You’ve caught me.” I called out behind me.To my surprise it was some random bloke who replied. “No but if you think I look good now. I look even better after 100km.”

Help! Okay that shut me up! EKE! I felt a bit sick! Help!I regained my composure on the descent and I passed them all again with a few giggles, chit chats, well wishes and cruised into Medlow Gap. I did my usual vomit that I always do at this section and kept running along the fire trail. I rolled my legs over chatting to some of the guys around me. I was starting to warm up, relax and enjoy this race the more and more. I was past again by Dong Li who looked to be an amazing Fire Trail Runner and just started to count out my tempo. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, over and over and over again, up to Bellbird Ridge. I enjoyed the easy kms and beautifully graded surface. At the top of the ridge I spotted Kerry Sutter interviewing for IRUNFAR and I gave a running interview on the way into Dunphy’s Camp – CP2. Time: 2 Hours 57 Minutes.

 

I filled up with 750ml of water and pushed up the climb feeling amazing. I ran all the way up to the base of Iron Pot where I was caught by Brisbane local gun runner Tim Cole. We had a bit of a chit chat as he past me on the climb. I tucked in behind Jordan, an ex Gold Coast runner and pushed onwards and upwards with calves burning to the top. I willed myself to run, run, run, the body obeyed, hopping over the exposed rocky ridge line to the out and back junction, merging to the left and spotting Dong Li and Cassandra Scallon getting their race on during the out and back on Iron Pot Ridge. Wow, lets just see how this ends. I thought as I past the local Aboriginal Land owners playing their Didgeridoo and perfuming a smoke ceremony.

I pushed onwards to the out and back, spotting Amy then was scanned at the turn around. On the return I spotted Brad and then Steve about 300m behind me. I returned to the Aborigional Land Owners. I thanked them as I passed ad pushed on along the rocks, turned left ,Tim, Lachlan and the boys were nice enough to let me jump ahead of them and I was given a clean run down the steep descent into Green Gully. I can’t express how much a learnt about descending from racing Buffalo Stampede. I really did lean a new technique to save my quads on the descents and have them fresh for the climbs. Every descent after Buffalo just seems so much easier.

I pushed up the grassy mound, into the farm land and cruised along feeling great. I crossed the creeks, climbed the steep track with hands on quads, rounding the corner and rolling into the Green Gully Farm, spotting horses and thanking the farmer for letting me race through his land. I ran through the gate and readied myself for the Megalong Valley Road climb.

I pushed on, turning over my legs, checked back making sure there was no one in pursuit. I decided that no one would pass me on this climb. I’d only pass the boys. I ran my way to the top and was happy to pass under the power lines still feeling really fresh. I ran through the two gates and rolled my legs down the hard concrete road passing more guys, then turning left, hoping over the fence with a nice hamstring stretch. I chit chatted to a few of the guys around me. I was on top of the world with happiness, knowing that I was right on schedule. CP3 46km in 4 hours 40 minutes.

 

I quickly found my check point bag, swapped over my water bottles and gel flasks and got out of there, chasing down the guys ahead of me. I used them to pace me. I had to stay with them or catch them along the 6 Foot Track. I did my best to reel them in but could not manage it. My hamstring started to hurt, I told it to release and with the help of Panadol and Endurolytes it relaxed. I ran all the way to the start of the Steps at Nellies Glen and tucked in for the next 800m of stair climbing. I gave myself a rule that I had to take a breath with every step and stay in site of the guys ahead of me.

I also decided that for the first time in 5 years of racing TNF100 I would NOT drink out of the cute little, harmless looking stream at Nellies Glen. Nellies Glen was a kind of safe option for us ‘out of water’ trail runners whilst training on the 6 Foot Track. It has saved my butt many times in summer. Not anymore though. My trust in the cleanliness of the Katoomba residences came un-plugged last year when racing TNF100. I spent the last 20km of the 2014 TNF100 walking. If I ran I needed to go, if I drank water I needed to go, if I ate anything at all, I needed to go. It was the most humbling experience for the last 3 km of TNF100. There is really no where to hide. I did my best to camouflage myself in the bushes, doing my best to stay out of sight, out of ear shot and off the track. It’s pretty hard with all the reflective gear we have on with our Ay-Ups, packs and clothing. I was found by the most lovely 50km motherly back marker who, unlike me was prepared with toilet paper. She patted me on the shoulder, saying “ You poor thing”. As I squat in the bushes every few hundred meters to the finish line. I was lucky enough to run into 9th place. I lost 2 places in the last 20km. 3 Weeks after TNF100 I was still sick and I finally was diagnosed with a water born bacteria infection in my gut. I have since then learnt to be extremely vigilant with all water from creeks and tanks.

I past through Nellies Glen not drinking a drop, but gave thanks for the opportunity to run through the gorge still feeling fresh and on target. I pushed up the chasm, hands on quads, blowing hard, staying focused and in rhythm. I reached the top just behind the bloke I was chasing and was able to pass him on the stairs descending towards the Katoomba Aquatic Centre while catching the view of Mt Solitary. The track was in amazing condition. I’ve never seen it so clean and perfectly swept. It was much like running on the Japanese Trails. I passed another bloke and caught up with a Japanese runner and was soon caught by an old UTA client, Dave Graham. His quads and hamstrings were like tree trunks. He looked amazing! We pushed on as a group of three, Dave, myself and the Japanese runner, chit chatting, feeling strong and enjoying the race together. After a few turns we rolled into CP4 at 57km in 6 Hours 4 minutes.

 

I quickly swapped over my bottles, gel flasks and was out running again. The amount of happiness that I was feeling was just so amazing. I cruised past my mate Renae and let her know I was feeling great. I pushed up the climb, turning right, running through the Katoomba Falls Reserve, following the tape and enjoying the moment. I was loving life! Loving Trail Running. Loving Racing. I ran past Katoomba Oval, crossed the road and cruised along the Cliff Walk calling out to tourists to warn them of my presence. “Hi, How are you!”. I yelled out ahead of me. “Hello, how are you”. I find is the best, most polite and least offending way to ask tourists to move. I sped along the footpath, climbing up to the top of the 3 Sisters Lookout, turning left, throwing my rubbish out at the bins provided, climbing the stairs, calling again and again, “Hello”.

Hi Leigh! Bye Leigh!

Hi Leigh! Bye Leigh!

With fresh legs and a clean run I pushed on up the footpath, turning right and following the Prince Henry Cliff Walk to the Leura Cascades. Okay, I think I must have been scarred by stairs because later that night when I went to bed all I could see was stairs coming at me when I closed my eyes. The next 20km is just dropping 10 steps, climbing 10 steps, running 10 steps, dropping 50 steps, climbing 50 steps, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. I think I blocked out the amount of stairs I was climbing at the time. It was not important to me. I was in such a positive place mentally when I spotted my cousin Leigh sitting in the bushes above the track. He called out to me and I was so pleased to see him for all of 5 seconds as I ran past him at the 63km mark. What a cool boost! He’d come all the way from Camperdown to see me for 5 seconds, then leave to head back to Sydney for work!

I pushed on. I took in the magnificent cliff walk views and enjoyed chatting to Dave who caught up with me after the check point. We absorbed the beauty of the Leura Cascades and Gordon Falls. This was just a beautiful part of the world and I was so happy to be back. I let Dave go on ahead of me, he seemed to be way to strong. I was starting to struggle with my breathing more and more. My body felt great, my lungs were starting to show signs of inflammation in my trachea from the cold dry air of the Blue Mountains.

I filled up with water at the 66km check point and ran on down more stairs to the aqua Pool of Siloam, marvelling at how pristine it looked. I thought of how lovely a swim would be there on a hot Summers Day. I climbed more stairs up to the Golf Links Lookout and onto the Grand Cliff Top Track, up more stairs and onto the road. I was loving life, loving my new life. I thought about my friends, family and how lucky I was to have my health and close mates surrounding me with support, love and kindness. I gave thanks for how lucky I was. Gave thanks for how happy I was.

I compared how great I was feeling this year compared to last year and spotted a bloke to reel in ahead. I crossed the road, ran behind the Fairmont Resort, passing the Gold Course, descending more stairs and to my surprise I caught Cassandra. She was walking and was not well. I really felt empathy for her. That was me in 2014 and I know what a hard way to finish an event it is watching competitors race by feeling fresh when you are sick as anything. I wished her all the best and let her know it happens to everyone at sometime. She did well to stay in the race and finish in 8th place. There is something about racing for UTWT points.

Shona Stephenson running down Kings Tableland letting the TNF100 team know that Cassandra was not feeling too good.

Shona Stephenson running down Kings Tableland letting the TNF100 team know that Cassandra was not feeling too good.

I pushed on, passing more runners, catching now 50km runners, still calling out ahead to the tourists on my way to Lilian’s Bridge, climbing the stairs, running past Conservation Hut, descending more stairs to the Express Falls, climbing more stairs to the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area, running through the car park, descending more stairs, now floating over the stairs with perpetual forward motion down to Wentworth Falls, crossing the falls, avoiding the tourists, climbing more stairs, up, up, up along a single track, out onto a fire trail and started the 3km cruise mode, letting Jo Brischetto from TNF100 know that Cassandra was not well as I past the gate and powered up the hill, turning right and spotting my next guy to run down. I found one of the Japanese runners who I’d been chatting to earlier cramping and I offered him some Endurolytes. He seemed to have it covered. We ran on together, chatting and I let him know where the top of the climb was, under the communication tower. We passed the Tower and rolled down Kings Tableland Rd enjoying easy kms and cruised into CP 5 at 78km with a time of 8 Hours 48 Minutes.

 

I was met at the check point by Renae, my Sydney trail running buddy. I swapped water bottles, gel flasks, grabbed my AY-UP and stuffed it in the pocket of my Inov8 Elite Vest and got out of there with the knowledge that Amy was only 9 minutes ahead of me. This was enough for me to push hard down Kedumba, passing another Japanese runner while well wishing the 50km runners and loving the chance to stretch my legs and enjoy the free kms.

At the bottom I’d caught up with a runner I’d been following at about the 30km mark. I decided that I had to keep him in my sight. I did my best to run but the steepness of Sublime Ridge was too great for me. My lungs were feeling pretty stuffed now. I decided to play it safe and just do enough to cement my 3rd place. Every year after TNF100 I end up with a chronic chest infection. As it was, I knew I’d be sick but I might get away without needing antibiotics. I ran and walked, managing my breathing, looking after myself, keeping that runner in sight. I climbed and descended in and out of Sublime Ridge over Leura Creek into the water stop, grabbing 500ml of water and staying ever mindful that I will be hunted down if I was not careful. On the climb out of the drinks stop I was caught by a guy flying along. I used him as a warning of what could come my way from a female runner and I decided that it was my turn to start pushing again. I ran to Leura creek and decided to put on my Ay-Up. I ran and walked hands on quads up to the federal pass, crossing the bridge and entering the Leura Forest.

I ran along the Federal pass in bliss, cheering on all the 50km runners while letting them know that they were awesome and they were almost there. The party had begun at the start line and I was partying all the way to the finish. I pointed out the lights of Scenic World and started to reel it in. I kept telling myself that it was the last Hammer Banana Gel I was going to need to have when I secretly knew I was going to need more. Willing myself on to the finish line thinking what an amazing time I was having. I finally made it to the base of the stairs and began the 900m of ascending, first running, then pushing my hands into my quads, while being warned like every other year of TNF100 that there was a female runner about 5 minutes behind me. I dug deeper and dragged myself up the with fence of cliff cut stairs with my hands using my arms, relieving my legs of the task. Blowing out as much air as I could, dragging, pulling, pushing, crawling my way to the top, passing 50km runners and doing my best to stay in 3rd place, ignoring the lactic burning my quads and calves. Digging into my lungs one last time.

Whoop Whoop! My 3rd, 3rd! In TNF100 Aus

Whoop Whoop! My 3rd, 3rd! In TNF100 Aus

I finally turned left, ran up a few more steps onto the wooden decking, curving to the right and raced into the finishers shoot. I ran across the line and finished in 11 hours 47 minutes, almost an hour PB since 2014. I was ecstatic with my run and so happy to do well at TNF100 and receive my 5th Silver Buckle and earning an entry into the Hall of Fame with a podium position for the 3rd Time in 5 Years.

2011 6th Place (My first solo 100k)

2012 3rd Place

2013 3rd Place

2014 9th Place (Lucky to stay in the top 10)

2015 3rd Place

5 from 5! 5 Top 10 Finishes from 5 Attempts. Whoop, Whoop! I was stoked!

5 Top 10 Placings from 5 Attempts! I was stoked!

5 Top 10 Placings from 5 Attempts! I was stoked!

My Gear Set Up

Inov-8 X-Talon 200 

Inov-8 Calf Guards

Inov-8 Race Elite Ultra Shorts

Inov-8 Team Singlet

Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest

Inov-8 Race Ultra 1

Inov-8 Race Glove

Inov-8 Arm Warmers

Inov-8 Base Elite Merino LS

Thermal Pants

Inov-8 Race Elite 140 Stromshell

Ay-Up Run Kit

Nutrition Set Up for TNF100 Aus

2 Banana Gels before the start.

Hammer Heed 1/2 Scoop in 500ml of water.

Hammer Bar 1/3 every check point

Hammer Endurolytes 1-2 every 30 minutes.