Mt Mee Marathon Off the Moreton Island Ferry after a much needed Island holiday with my girls, we dropped into Grill’d Burgers to load up for the Mt Mee Marathon the next day. The lead up was amazing a holiday with my beautiful girls, snorkelling, swimming and sun-baking. We still averaged 35000 steps a day together as we walked back and forth to The Wreaks for drift snorkelling sessions. It was just lovely pre-marathon taper and much needed rest and quality time spent with my girls over the Easter Holidays. The whole experience of racing the Mt Mee Marathon was fantastic. The drive down the from the foggy mountain house, through the Samford Valley, through Daybora, then climb up the scenic road, past Ocean View along the ridge line over looking the D’aguilar National Park, through the misty rolling hills of Mount Mee and then dropping into the national park where the race was to start. I had the Peking Duk song, “Take me Over,” playing on the stereo, drinking a double shot coco late’ and I was just loving life.
Man, I love trail running. I love that it gets you up in the morning at 4am to enjoy the sun rise over this stunning misty, lush green, rural country side, music playing and joining in the line with the other like minded trail runners on their way into the great unknown of racing. Yes, we can train all we want for an event but until you actually start you just don’t know what will unfold for you mentally and physically on the day. This is what the pre-race nerves are all about. The unknown, lack of control, this is where I find the excitement within the training, prep, recovery and race itself. I usually say to my clients, “I go into an event with one niggle and it usually leaves me while racing. This is the niggle I’m meant to have to make sure I have a proper taper.” What will go through my head when I’m racing? Will I have absolute control over my thoughts? Will I be able to hold those amazing positive thoughts for the entire 42.2km? This is the biggest challenge. This is what keeps me pushing, meditating, following the process. I lined up on the start line and spotted Dahlia who wished me luck and gave me a few heads up on the other quick female. The course had changed so much from last year. It was 3 km shorter and to me the finish looked easier. I dislike racing an individual. I like just racing myself and see what I can do on the day. I just don’t get motivated by beating others as it feeds a negative thought process. Instead I love just to see what I can do on the day and wherever that takes me that is what I have to be content with. In the end I have to be bloody happy with the body I have and so thankful that it can achieve so much. The countdown went off and we all started running down the fire trail towards Mt Mee on the out and back course. I chose to wear the Inov8 Trail Talons after a test run on the trail via the pre-race toilet stop and decided that the Trail Talon was the shoe for the dry, well graded course today. This year it was up hill to Mt Mee and effectively down hill to the finish line with still a massive climb out at the end, but still I’d call a down hill finish, most of the climbing was done to the 1/2 way point and only one killer at the end. I ran along chatting away to Chris and a few other blokes and cruised along trying not to puff to much. Chris took off on the climb through the Pine Forest and I had to let him go. He’s always too strong on the climb compared to me. I just chilled and worked on my own rhythm, cadence and breathing. I felt good. The climb soon turned into a massive, rugged, descent and my legs took off ahead of me. I flew though the check point, turned left, passed through the gate and then started the climb up to Mt Mee.
My power the weight ratio was the best it had been for a long time. I was eating really well, mainly a low inflammation plant based diet, feeling really good and enjoying life. This then paid off in the climbing up to Mt Mee. I just turned my legs over along the fire trail, looked to the top of all the pretty eucalyptus forest climbs and knew that I had the climb covered, before focusing on the manageable patch of ground in front of my feet. This I knew I had control over. This was my focus. Nothing else mattered. I ran to the end of the national park, crossed through the gate and turned out onto the Road. This section is so pretty. I’d been running a fair amount of road with my marathon training clients and I found this section a great place to make up some time that I’d lost on the climb. My legs just took off and I was flying long through the cottage, spotted country side, with cows happily feeding on the rims of their fertile, knobbly paddocks. This 5km out and back along the Mt Mee Plateau was just stunning. I’d normally dislike such a big road section but today it was like taking a holiday in the country. I ran along with a massive smile on my face just enjoying the pretty view. I ran up the hill passing church goers to their Sunday Morning services and crossed the road and turned right and headed into the Tennis Courts. Here I quickly filled up with a Litre of water in my Inov8 HydroPak Bladder, caught up with Chris and asked him to run the last 21.1km in with me to the finish line. He needed a bit more time at the Check Point. I headed off on the descent. Yippee! This is what I love doing, descending fast on a beautiful gradient for 5 km that felt like it was made for my legs. A Perfect place to make good time and to stretch my legs. I enjoyed waving to all the other runners on the way to the Turn Around and was able to see the gap between myself and the ladies behind me. I worked out I was in about 4th or 5th place overall. I cruised along the road, turned right then a left onto the gravel section then hit the really fun part of the course. The massive descent where the song that I was singing in my head was by Thexx “I Dare You”. It takes a fair amount of balls to run down the descents like this one, rocky tire width, 4WD tracks with high grass on each side at such a steep gradient. The descent was so steep imagined I was on the Man from Snowy River Horse. I opened up my hips at the front and leant back, keeping my ears over my hips, chest up and open, kicking up legs out behind me, split leaping with every step as I controlled my fall down the mountain. This was so much fun. “Go on, I dare you”. Playing in my head. I was daring to see what I could do down this descent. One dares to start, dares to dream, dares to push themselves and release control over every step and see where it takes them. You also have to Dare to Win. Even dare to love. Take the good with the bad and just dare to really live life and see where every dare can take you. With “I dare you” with that amazing heart beat drumming and Peking Duk “Take Me Over”, playing through my head telling me to “Chase the Moment”, I was having an absolute ball and going for this descent. I hit the bottom of the gully, ran along the flat section, crossed the creek, passed through the gates, swung around to the right, checked in and out of the check point whilst grabbing some 500ml of water and headed up the gruelling climb. Now the Marathon Relay runners were starting to catch me. I used them to try and pace off, stick with on slowly dying legs. My achilles were screaming at me. I’d been running barefoot on Moreton Island and I think they were telling me to “F-off,” as I gritted out the ascent to the finish line. Time to count. Find a happy place. I counted and counted over and over and over again. Focus on only the patch of ground in front of your feet. That’s all that matters, this hill is massive, focus. Every flying descent I’d made in the first section of the event which now turned into a killer climb. At the 40km mark I found the 3rd place male ahead of me looking dizzy and walking. I gave him my water, electrolytes and all the rest of my food. He was bonking hard. I was really worried about him. I told him to have an endurolyte and a gel then and there in front of me and I just hoped he wasn’t going to injury himself as he made his way back to the finish line. I ran onto the finish line now with more urgency as I was now out of food and water. My achilles were screaming, will you bloody stop? Just give me a few more ks and it will be all over, we can have a hot bath and a smokey black label whiskey, I promised myself as I ran along ahead of one of my UTA marathon relay clients John at 4:30 min pace, let’s just end this. John caught and soon passed me, I tried to stay with him but I just couldn’t my legs were trashed. One more climb, find a happy place, I then turned right and cruised into the finish line.
The minute I crossed the line I kicked off my shoes my achilles were killing me! Back to taping my ankles again and no more beach running for a little while.
The course was new, the distance was shorter by 3k, my time is not comparable with the year before. I ran it in 3 Hours 51 Minutes with 1250m vert gain and loss. I was first female and 3rd place overall. I was stoked with my time, effort and my race to the end.
I live up the mountains in the Brisbane Hinterland just 10 or so Ks from Mount Glorious so it seems crazy not to run this iconic climbing local Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon 2017. It was a great opportunity to shake out the cobwebs from the Christmas Summer Break and to really see how my pre-season training had made a difference to my racing ability.
In the past I had raced Tarawera Ultra in NZ instead of running The Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon. Mount Glorious 1/2 Marathon does not suit my strengths at all. It has 1200m of climbing and only 650m descending. I’m a descender not a climber when the net gain is more than the net loss I am put at a disadvantage, my legs just love doing split leaps down mountains rather than a grind of a climb up. Climbing is always a focus in my training, it is my weakness and always the key area of my racing that I can improve on.
I really made the most of the hot conditions post Blackall 100 in Queensland. I love to train in the heat. It is where I feel comfortable. I purposely trained on hot 35 degree days having my own adventures just like when I started trail running. I went out with a map in my hands and got lost, stumbled, stacked, injured myself, almost lost my knee cap and eye training for long hard days in the Connonale National Park on the extremely untamed Great Walks 57km route. I also made sure I was running out the back from my house on my favourite Township Break and of course on the course from Red Cedar up to Northbrook Mountain and return. I also made an effort to get on my bike before the event. I now have a rule that if my car is in for a service (I use my car as a mobile PT/Coach a fair bit) I ride Mount Nebo Rd to my house. I have a pit stop then ride back down again. I have considerably noticed the strength develop in my legs and my power to weight ratio increase. I kept up my Bikram Yoga and I also added in Inferno Pilates too to keep the intensity high whilst training without so much stress on my body.
I’m so lucky that my job allows me to get extra ks on my legs while I work. My Marathon Running group was going strong over summer and I was banking easy flat ks for my leg speed with my running coaching clients. Most days I was averaging 35000 plus steps a day. I don’t count ks, I’ve never found it beneficial to me. I go for key, quality runs over the week and whatever else I do is a bonus.
I was single for the first time in almost 18 years and the amount of freedom I felt was amazing. I’d pushed through a fair amount of fear of dating and just got out there and started to really enjoy myself again. I was in control of my own life and the liberation I felt was outstanding. I could just run, train and race for myself and it felt so good.
I lined up on the start line feeling amazing. Light on my feet and ready to race. I knew I had to be smart from the start line if I had a chance of pulling this win off.
The count down went off and we were off and running. I decided that I had to run from the start all the way. It was how my legs are set up, it was my race plan. I find it less impact on my body to run than to walk up the steep climbs. Off we all went up the fire trail from the White Cedar Picnic Ground, I went out just chilling and seeing who else had decided to come to race. A few girls looked incredibly strong from the start. They raced ahead of me. I was blown away with how strong triathlete Emily Davis and Irish born, Kelly-Anne Speight were. Shit! Maybe all the sprinters are here today. It’s a 1/2 Marathon Shona, maybe you are too old and slow to win it today. Just run your own race and let them go and see what happens.
My watch battery went flat on the start line! I could not tell how fast I was running. I just had to run by feel and trust my body and the training I’d completed over the Christmas Break.
On the climb up to Northbrook Mountain, Emily was gone, never to me see again and I could just keep Kelly-Anne in my sights. I noticed she had to walk where I could run. I just kept my legs turning over, cadence high and slowly reeled her in. By the time I hit the first turn off I’d just managed to pass her. Cool, I’ve passed Kelly-Anne, now try and catch Emily. There is a descent, get her on this section down to the cabbage creek.
I pushed and pushed, flying along, split leaping down the descent with Emily nowhere in sight. Far out! She can descend as well as climb and I was equally impressed with Kelly-Anne too! She was not letting me out of her sight! I could here her chasing me down England Creek Track. With Kelly-Anne pushing me from behind and the thought of Emily ahead I hit the bottom creek and let my flat marathon training legs go. I pushed hard for 800m and lost Kelly-Anne. I turned left and started to head up the 9km climb on Joiners Rd. I caught a few of my friends Chris and Andrew, had a quick catch up chat and I marvelled at the strength of Emily who was ahead of me and nowhere to be seen. I’d basically decided to be content with being beaten by such an amazing athlete and decided to have a chat to these two trail buddies.
I cruised on up the climb, running all the way while Chris and Andrew ran and walked next to me, I looked to the left ad enjoyed the view back to Northbrook Mountain and just relished in the freedom I was feeling out racing on my own and not having to worry about a partner who was racing too. We spotted a pack of runners ahead of us and Chris took off. I did my best to stay with him but Chis is always stronger than me on the climbs.
Lee soon came up next to me, punching out a great pace. I decided that he had the best outfit on of all the trail runners for the day. We ran along encouraging each other for about 5ks, with Lee towards the top of the climb edging ahead of me by about 100m. Slowly the trail foliage turned from Eucalypts to lush green palms of the Mount Glorious Rainforest, I could hear motorcycle traffic from the road. I new I was almost at the top of Mount Glorious, the hard part was almost over.
I looked up ahead, feeling tired, then suddenly very awake. I couldn’t believe my eyes. 500m ahead of me I spotted a purple outfit and a ponytail. Is that Emily? I picked up my pace. All of a sudden I was racing again. My legs took over like they had the will and the power all of their own and they (my legs) started sprinting. I bounded up behind Lee, using him as a visual held between myself and Emily. I realised she was walking and cramping badly. I overtook Lee and just at the cameraman I over took Emily, asking her if she was okay and needed anything from me. She said she was fine, cramping badly.
I pushed onwards, turned left onto the stunning, fern lined single trail and power walked up the stairs. I then went to run after this walking and my calf began to spasm. SHIT! Not now, not so close to the finish line. I cracked a Hammer Endurolyte Cap into my mouth, hoping that the salt would take away the cramping for the next 800m until I crossed the finish line. I’d been without water for 5 ks now. I ran along, managing my calf, making sure I didn’t tear it, hoping that I’d done enough to stay ahead of Emily and Kelly-Anne. I pushed in around the last few turns, crossed the finish line and fell to my knees with my calves going crazy. FARK that hurt! Man it felt so good! What a way t spend a Sunday Morning.
I had no idea what time I’d raced it in or even if it was a good time as I am always a bit clueless about results , in the end what ever your body is capable of doing on the day is enough. I checked the results and I race the 21.1km with 1600m vert gain and 650 loss in 2:17:24. I was 6th fastest time with only 4 women faster than me over the history of the event including the great Hubertein Wichers who has represented Australia for Mountain Running events. I was so pleased with myself as it really isn’t my distance or my kind of course.
Sometimes to get better at running, the answer cannot be found in running.
Sometimes we have to break outside out usual routine to heal our mind, body and souls to have real improvement with our performance.
It takes a lot of courage to try a new routine, exercise, way of thinking. If something in your training program is not working for you and the results are not coming your way, then there is something wrong with your body or health. It is time to look at your program.
Ask yourself the question. It is time to focus on your recovery?
I went off the asthma drugs at the start of 2016. No preventive. Just ventolin if needed. I then just struggled through 2016 with no training, just racing and resting. I put no pressure on myself. I still raced but I really did not train. My lungs just would not allow for it. I was so sick. I was also suffering mentally. I knew there was a link with my asthma drugs and my mental health. I just had to figure out what was really the underling cause.
I raced the Moonlight Shotover Marathon in early 2016 and had an asthma attack, cried for about 5ks then recovered, thinking of DNF’ing but decided that the depression from a DNF was way worse than just walking the last 21km of a marathon. I just had to take the pressure off, listen to my body and just enjoy the glorious Queenstown NZ scenery and take one step at a time to the finish. When I made it across the finish line, I then burst into tears swearing never to put myself in that situation again. I still managed a 4th place in the Skyrunning Aus/NZ event but it was far from what my mind and body was capable of if I was healthy. This is the frustrating part of having asthma, it really does feel like there is a miscommunication between the mind, lungs and the legs. My legs and mind want to go but an underlying fear holds my breathing back. I would then get sick post race and I knew it was going to take me 3 weeks for my lungs to recover from this event. So again, I couldn’t train. I had to rest.
In May, I raced “Up The Buff”, the South East Queensland Trail Championships off again no training and still sick with asthma after Moonlight Shotover Marathon and came 4th. I was just happy to be out running again and catching up with my friendly social trail running buddy network.
I was beaten by 3 women who were all bike riders. I knew I had to get back on the bike again and cross train more. I got back on my bike, first time on a mountain bike and it was my kids bike mountain bike, (probably not the best choice to start riding again, but when you race as much as I do you get kind of sick of always worrying about injury if you try something new, so stuff it! I was on my kids mountain bike while doing a reeky for a Ultra Training Australia Trail camp), having an absolute ball, flying down Lightline Break at Mount Nebo. I was having so much fun riding out the back of house in D’Aguilar National Park at Mt Nebo I totally lost track of time. I was also unskilled on a bike, any bike, usually described as a new born fawn or “Bambi”, on the bike, all legs and no control. On the way back after riding pretty much to Lake Manchester I then had a pretty serious stack, hitting a rock, while descending around a corner, where I came off the bike and rolled 3 times, I then had to ride back out with no food, water, first aid or mobile phone. I went straight to the hospital and was given 3 stitches. My knee hit a rock pretty badly, it felt like a knife had stabbed me straight through the knee cap. My knee was in pain every time I straightened it. Again I could not train with this injury.
In June I race Oxfam TW Brisbane and ended up pissing blood again for 50k. Our team placed 2nd overall in 12 Hours and won the mixed category but I was definitely the weakest person in the team and my current state of health was a real sign of where I was at mentally too. A week after Oxfam TW Brisbane I badly tore the ligaments in my “Good” ankle while coaching my daughters netball team. I was on crutches for a week and in a fair amount of pain. My friends could see that I was in a real state of depression. They knew what I needed and deep down I knew it too.
I needed to train again, race again and set goals again, start to care again. Care about myself and my happiness again.
Ask another question. Was my depression preventing me from setting goals and training?
Sure I had been sick, injured, but what was holding me back? I had depression. I don’t think anyone could have gone through a separation of a 16 year relationship without suffering from absolute sadness.
In trying to make myself happy again I drove into setting up a new life for my girls in a house I was renovating with the hope of a new life but it was too hard to do it all on my own. Yes, I had a partner at the time but he was not connected emotionally to me or to our future together.
I really was on my own. If I was on my own emotionally, then I had to look after myself emotionally and stop caring about everyone else before my own needs were being met. Why do I have to please everyone before myself?
My good friends and training partners Oxfam TW Brisbane Team Mates, Jess and Brad, encouraged me to race the River Run 50km in July, again off no training but just decided that I’d like to run a road event again for fun. I’d only managed one run before the event. The River Run 50k is road event was something I hadn’t tried for about 4 years and the thought of a road event excited me. I was totally out of my league, in my trail running shoes and my calves were not conditioned to the hard concrete. I was in a world of pain not only in my body but in my inner thighs. I had the worst chafe of my life! So bad that a middle aged lady bystander stopped me at about the 40k mark and asked me it I had my period. I quickly checked as I was due but, I let her know that “No it’s just bad chafe”. Oh Dear! This was turning out to be the road race from hell! I held first place until 42km, but was past. I managed a 2nd place and a first road Ultra Finish. I was super pleased with my effort and learnt so much from this event.
Okay, I tried something new, challenged myself and enjoyed it even with all the calf and chafe pain. What else needs to change?
Leading into September Coastal High 50, I’d by then taken a year off training. Meaning I’d taken a year off really looking after myself. I discovered I was missing out something. I was missing The Process. The Process of getting up for training, making time for training, looking after your diet, body well enough to get to training.
But how I was meant to do this if I was injured with an ankle and knee injury and forever sick with asthma?
I was so sick with exercise induced asthma that I was passing out when driving at altitude of only 1200m post UTMF event. This was crazy! I had to work out what was going wrong with my body and figure out a way to really heal it long term asthma drug free. I worked out for me, the asthma drugs were not the answer to helping me get over my breathing problems. I had to cut out the sugar from my diet. Really cut it out and find a better probiotic to heal my micro biome. After a few weeks I noticed a real improvement with my asthma and my mental health. I was not longer feeling so depressed. 80% of serotonin is made in the gut not the brain. I knew I had to fix my gut health to get results with my asthma and mental health.
Late August I went away to Binna Burra and met Ray from the Yoga Centre and did 2 yoga sessions with his guidance. He was an x-Personal Trainer and his body had been broken from heavy weight training. His story really resinated in me. After these 2 yoga classes I found I was running free and pain free. Wow! I’d been writing Yoga Recovery Sessions into my Running Coaching and Ultra Training Australia coaching clients programs for over 8 years but I was not practicing The Process properly myself.
Had I found the missing piece to My Process?
In September 2016 I discovered Hot or Bikram Yoga and it seriously changed my life. I found a way to train at a high intensity without the impact on my body. It became my new weekly rehab program.
Hot Yoga reset my strung out nervous system and hormones. It provided a safe place for me to breathe when I found it terrifying to breathe deeply. Breathing deeply for me would bring on an asthma attack if I was sick. The Bikram Yoga then became a safe place for me to engage with my true inner self and meditate throughout the 90 minutes of holding poses in isometric contractions in 40 degree heat. It is the same routine in every session so I didn’t have to think about the poses I could just focus and function. The hot room also meant that I could practice breathing deeply in the hot room, healing my lungs then go out and train with this new found diaphragm strength and confidence in my own body.
I started to retrain my mental processing from negative self doubt thoughts into beautiful, self loving thoughts. Some days I’d just go in there (The Hot Bikram Studio) and just tell myself how wonderful I was. Crazy that someone who is successful, with two beautiful loving children, with many friends still has to tell themselves that they are loved. I guess I was missing love from some of the key people in my life who being loved by really mattered.
I was given a mediation coherreramce device that read my levels of coherence and it suggested that I was in the best coherence when I was giving myself love. How crazy was this? I had to really love myself. Here was where I found true happiness and inner peace. Sounds simple. I had to learn how to truly love myself, connect with myself and tell myself that I was a good person.
Anyone who had been though trauma would understand that they need to be told it wasn’t their fault. I know this sounds crazy. I was abused for so long, those words can really effect your sub-consciences. I had to counter act all that hurt with pure self love. In Bikram would cry when I thought no one was watching. It was raw, and it needed to come out. I found that that 90 minutes in that heat where I could only focus on me, my body and holding the poses was the perfect environment for my brain to be retrained and the depression to be defeated. I had to tell myself I was loved, I was beautiful and that I was going to be okay. I was going to be okay on my own and I was successful.
Wow! I look back on this a totally different person from that hurt girl back in September. The person seems so foreign to me now. Far out how quickly we can grow and heal ourselves.
The Process was set in stone. I was back at racing regularly again. In early September off no training I raced Coastal High 50 and managed a podium, 3rd place. Again I was beaten by 2 bike riders turned trail runners, the winner was racing my next event the Blackall 100. I had 7 weeks to train. I jumped on the wind trainer and started to build my leg strength again.
I became focused on the 3 from 3 wins at the Blackall 100k in October.
3 From 3 at Blackall 100. The pressure was incredible. The “hat trick”. I always have so much support when I race, friends wanting me to perform, to win. I have to be content with not winning. I was going to not even start. I didn’t want to do the event because the cause had changed and I was worried I was not racing for the love of it. I promised after my DNF in the UTMF (Ultra Trail Mt Fuji) that I would only run beautiful courses. When the course had changed due to a bush fire I was so upset as it took my most favourite part of the course out of it.
I had to be adaptable.
My x-partner talked me into starting on the morning of the race. I was petrified. Would I have an asthma attack again like last year? Another UTMF or Moonlight Shotover Marathon experience? I no longer wanted to torture my body like I had in the past. I didn’t want to have to suffer through another asthma attack for 50ks. It looked like I’d get 30 degree temperatures in the middle of the day to help with my breathing. I just had to be calm and wait for the weather to heat up, race my own race and just trust in my body.
My body knew what to do I had to switch off my mind and let my body take over. My effort was enough. I was good enough.
I ran out with the winner of Coastal High 50 Lou Betts, for the first 10k and noticed she was breathing harder than me, working harder than me. I let her go head on the start of the first climb, knowing that this was her strength. I decided that it was best for me to take the pressure off and run my own race. I really did give out love, compassion and good wishes to my fellow runners. If they past me then they deserved to be there as clearly their training and dedication was more consistent than mine and they deserved their results. When you can run like this then the racing mind set is easy. The correct focus is there. Just do the best you have on the day. Enough is good enough.
I struggled with my breathing in the cold conditions from the 28 to the 40km mark. I ran along having an asthma attack trying to warm up my airways using the deep Bikram Yoga, Pranayama breathing exercise while I was running along. It must have looked so funny, I was running along tilting my head all the way back and forth, as far as it could go, breathing using my throat muscles. It sounded terrible, one runner turned around and asked if I was okay. I just let her know that this is what asthma sounds like. I ran into the check point with my diaphragm cramping terribly. It was working so hard trying to get oxygen in and out of my lungs, diaphragm breathing so much that I was spasming in the very muscle I needed the most. I was close to tears. I wanted to pull the plug on the race. My friend Aaron, at the checkpoint gave me a stern look and said. “She’s just ahead. Go run her down.” (She was 7 minutes ahead of me).
My x behind me told me “Your okay and just keep going.”
Just take it one step at a time. One Checkpoint at a time. No DNF’s.
I just decided to make it to the next check point and see how my body was feeling. I ran out around the dam up the hills catching all the 50k runners, chatting to them and encouraging them as I ran past. The words you say to other competitors enter into your own psych. “Your doing so well, looking strong, well done”. I hear these words myself and I then start to believe this encouragement.
The temperature started to rise and my body started to relax. The positive energy I was running on was starting to kick in and I was starting to feel better. I was running my own race and I was content with the effort I was putting in to get the results I was getting. I usually find my strength after 50ks.
I ran into the 60k check point feeling really strong (Lou was 7 minutes ahead of me). I was going to make it to the end. No more asthma. I was starting to have a bit of a party out there and really enjoy the experience. I rolled over the deceptively harsh rolling descents into Checkpoint 7 on top of the world and feeling so much better than the first lap of the altered Blackall 100 course. I checked in and out off the 70k Check point and was told I was gaining substantially on Lou. I did not really care, I never asked for the time difference, it wasn’t important to me. I just had to trust in my body and my own game plan and let my experience take over. I ran along well wishing, chatting, encouraging all the runners as I past them on my final loop of the dam and then turned left and ran into the out and back of the Checkpoint and spotted Lou. I realised that her quads were smashed and she was then only 500m ahead of me.
I stayed calm. There was no point blowing up here now with 20k to go. I was pretty sure I was low on calories as I seemed to forget to pack 1/2 my gels, I’d frozen some of watered down Hammer Gels. I’d left them in the hotel freezer. I was running on hammer bars, and my remaining gels, bananas and I picked up some sports drink at the Checkpoint. I cruised out of the Checkpoint, up the hill well wishing and passing 50k runners and setting my line of sight on Lou. I rolled down the hill and past her, asking her if she was okay. She said she was fine. To me her quads were smashed and she could no longer run the descents and barely the flats. I ran up the final massive 500m climb and close to the top I decided to walk and make sure I was fuelled correctly. There was no point running past Lou if I was then going to blow up after this climb. Lou, showing her true strength of character spotted me walking. She then started power hiking up behind me. Her hike was as fast as my run, her long legs matching my fast high turn over cadence run. I let her know I was impressed with her power hiking skills. I was blown away with the amount of courage and determination she showed to try and catch me.
With Lou on my heals, I made a promise to myself I had to run and not look back until I was hidden on the single trail at the 89km mark. I ran along, ahead of her, staying calm, listening to my footsteps stretching further, further ahead and only faintly able to hear her foot steps behind me. I hit the flattish section of the fire trail and stretched my lead from Lou. I could no longer hear her foot steps. I’d done it. My conservative race plan had worked.
I heard footsteps behind me. Shit! Don’t look back. Don’t show weakness. If it’s Lou you have this covered, you’ll beat her on the single trail. “Don’t worry, it’s me Paul”. My UTMB friend Paul gently informed me as he ran up behind me. “Wow, that was so impressive. It was a real gutsy fight for the lead, pretty inspirational”.
“Thanks Paul”. I replied. “I guess I’ve had to do a few of these fights at this same point in a race”. Remembering a fight for 3rd at UTA in 2012 and 2nd Place at the UTMF 2013.
I was relieved it was him, prepared if it was Lou. I’ve been in many races for places with 20ks to the finish and knew that no matter what happened I had to be happy with my effort. I was happy, content with how I’d raced the day.
Paul powered on ahead and I was safe, out of sight of Lou. I hopped onto the single trail and popped into the 92km mark making up 4 minutes on Lou. I got the hell out of there quick smart and pushed it to the end, now unable to consume any more food, only drinking sips of Hammer Gels only to spit them out but the taste of the gel alone was enough to spur me on through the stunning rainforest where my senses where heightened. I was smelling all the amazing nectars (as I must have been low on sugars) as I ran along, loving life, love, nature on a total runners high, pleased to not need a head torch and super amazed with my own ability. I was going to make it. Win 3 Blackall 100’s in a row.
I hopped out of the rainforest, called out to the owner of the last house on the street and let him know that he has the best fence I’d ever seen in all my racing. Stormed up onto the Mapleton Ridge and ran hard to the finish knowing that my friend and training partner Jess Schutler would also be on the hunt and had the ability to chase me down. My good friends Brad and Jess took me out on a training run before Blackall 100 for a Time Trail to get me back into shape. Jess beat me by 5 minutes up a 7km hill. My friends chose to lie to me and say she’d only beaten me by 2 minutes. It was their little secret to protect me, worrying that I would be upset knowing Jess was that much faster than me. They know I run on self belief and absolute confidence. I can’t say that if they told me the real time if it would have made a difference to my head space leading into the event.I know Jess is an amazing athlete, I guess this just showed how much these two trail running buddies cared for me and my pre-event psyche. It also showed how much they believed my fitness had dropped off in a year or 2. They both knew I run on guts, heart, determination and I was no where near where I should be with my fitness.
I’m a racer not a trainer. It’s lucky I like to race. If you just tell Shona she can win, then she will do everything possible to win on race day. I know that if I just tell myself I am amazing then I will achieve amazing things. If you tell your friends they can do it then they will do it, just as Brad and Jess told me I could do it. If you tell your kids they are capable of anything then they will set their sights high. Achieving goals is all in the mind. This is not about pride or inflated egos. This is about setting goals and believing in yourself, letting only the good positive mind dialogue enter into your psyche and push out all negative thoughts as they are not helpful. Those negative thoughts won’t help you get to your goals so they are not useful.
Jess and Brad where there to get me up and running again when I was at my lowest. They helped me drag myself out of a hole and I am truely thankful to them.
I ran along past the farms loving every step of the final few kilometers. It had taken me a whole year to really understand that I am a racer. I’m not meant to retire from running, as I said I would do after the Blackall 100 in 2015. I need The Process. I need to life experience and keep developing as a person. I ran along the finish line with fists pumping, on a runners high, loving life, love, friends and trail running. I was so pleased I had fought through the fears on the start line, fears of my asthma at 40km and come out such a stronger person. I did it. In the end I had the right focus. The Process was put into place and I was good enough.
It has taken me over 18 months to write the blog for UTMF. I have been really dreading entering back into that head space that I was in at the time. I felt like the UTMF was the perfect representation of my depression all bundled into 130km of pain and anguish. Yes only 130km out of 172 or however long the race ended up being. It was my 3rd Ultra Trail Mount Fuji and I had hopes to revisit my favourite sections of the course. This year ignorance would be bliss as the course had changed considerably so my knowledge and expectations of what was once really added to my anguish whilst trying to make it around the 168 or more km circuit of Mt Fuji.
The other reason why I am I am writing this blog because so many people contact me about the race as it seems to be one of the most accessible Ultra Trail events to Aussies and Kiwis. Simple key tips like, get as much money out in Yen at the Airport as possible as it is impossible to get Yen out on your credit card or Visa Debit card at any ATM machine other than at the airport. I’ve been caught out 3 years in a row now. Also get your sim card at the Soft Bank booth at the airport too as it is impossible to get a pre-paid sim in Japan. It would be smart to get a global roaming package before landing in Narita Airport. You will need a car for support crew at Fuji for the race also as the bus is really meant for the back markers. Getting support crew service is the way to go as there is only 1 drop bag for 100 Miler which to us Aussies seems insane!
There are many reasons why I pulled out of the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, but in the end there was one that pushed me over the edge and scared the crap out of me enough to really make me rethink my Ultra Trail Running. Here is the race report.
I lined up with my then partner Steven in our first 100 Miler together. We jumped on the plane together with my house sale going unconditional, with then the Mount Nebo Cottage going unconditional at the same time. We did it. We’d made it though 3/4 of the year of pain of a separation and we were now flying to Japan with all the hope of our future together.
I guess I could say I was still recovering from Run Larapinta in my lungs. I was also exhausted mentally from the separation with my x-husband. I’d been through hell and I was drained mentally. I had to fight the whole year and I was not sure how much fight I had left in me.
I love Japan, I love my Japanese Sponsors Inov8 + Descente and I always love to run for them. They have such belief in their product, a deep history of champion athletes and they always make me feel like I am worthy of greatness even if I feel like I’m not. Their belief in their athletes is just amazing. I guess that is why I’ve always raced well in Japan. I also love the course of UTMF. It is ruggered, technical and extremely steep. This year we had the steep ups and the run-able descents. The next year the course will switch directions to steep descents and run-able ascents.
The count down went off with Steve by my side, rain starting to come down and before we could give each other a proper kiss goodbye we were off and running out of the race shoot, turning right and at the first corner my flashing light flew off my pack without me knowing. I ran on just trying to chill out, relax and just tuck into the group of female runners, Fernanda (Spain) , Amy (USA) Dong Lee (China). After about 3 ks Steve tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the flashing light back, worried that it was part of my mandatory gear. The poor guy had to sprint at sub- 4min ks for 3 ks to catch up with me. I gave him a big hug and kiss and thanked him for the light back and left him there, resting, trying to catch his breath back.
I pushed on up the hill and I knew at the first real climb that I was not well. It was cold, wet, miserable. I had a head wind pushing in my face and my asthma just started off right from the start. I was sick with asthma I just did not feel right in my lungs. I chose to not worry about this, I just pumped in the ventolin, and just waited for it all to kick in and for my lungs to relax. Something happens to me with a head wind. It is totally psychosomatic, I just freak out and go into a spasm in my lungs. I pull Wraggs over my face and just hope that the wind direction will change. I climbed up the first mountain with female after female passing me. I dropped to about 10th place and just waited for the descent to come so I could get them all back.
I finally made it to the top and rolled down the other side catching 3 females on the one descent. I cruised through the fairy forest with rain still falling, wind still blowing and just tried to stay calm. I hopped out onto the road and rolled down the hill across the bridge and turned right and started the next climb. My lungs started to warm up, maybe the wind direction had changed. I pumped up the hill and rolled down the other side securing my position in the field no longer loosing places by the fist full. I enjoyed the beautiful run-able switch backs into CP 2 and quickly checked in and out, started my run on the edge of Lake Motosu and found an English Runner to pace off up the road towards the next mountain climb. We chatted to each other, it is always nice to hear English being spoken. He asked why I was so far back and I just let him know that I was suffering from asthma and I just have to wait for better conditions, it may take until lunch time tomorrow for this to happen. He was also suffering, from the Flu and he was hoping just to survive the day. We worked out that we’d run a large section of the UTMB together and we hoped to help each other out at the UTMF too.
I pushed up the climb with him, we both sounded as bad as each other, at the top of the climb I popped away from him and cruised down the hill into the technical re-route as a section of the UTMF trail was closed due to excessive rainfall. I followed the trail and with a head wind I started to really suffer again. I pulled out my Ay-Up as it was getting dark already and regrouped as I was starting to drop back off the pace again but realised what was happening, I jumped onto the back of a Japanese Runner with a Rainbow Afro Wig on and wearing a white t-shirt. I followed this runner, staying in his heals for about 3 kms. I followed him blindly hoping he knew where to go. I followed him past a water tank and onto a really rough, technical trail, down a descent, over rocks through reeds, over tree routes and then into a wall of grassy reeds that were 8 foot tall. Oh know! We’ve gone the wrong way. You idiot! I thought to myself. I blindly followed a bloke wearing a Rainbow Afro. What did you expect would happen? We missed the turn at the water tank with the visibility being a bit hampered by the drizzle. His white shirt was the same colour as the white UTMF markers so I missed the markers in the rain and poor visibility. Shit!
I quickly back tracked and made my way back up the climb, not wanting to look at my watch to see how far extra I’d gone but I expect it would be 4 km plus the climb. I pushed hard back up the climb trying not to get upset but finding a real reason to run and right the wrong that I’d just done. I made it back to the water tank and turned left, being filtered back into the pack where female after female was again running past. Shit! I ran along trying not to push too hard but wanting so much to leap over all these runners and get back to where I’d started. I ran into the 3rd CP running almost 1 hour late. Shit! I looked around and there must have been about 20 females in the check point! Bloody hell, that detour really cost me time and places.
I quickly explained to my support crew the problem and let them know I’d make my position back. I changed over my nutrition and ran straight up Tenshi Mountains. I just wanted to get back into 7th place. That’s it just right the wrongs. I started to pull my way up the mountain using the ropes when a girl grabbed the rope I was using and shook me off it. Bloody hell! I did not realise trail running in just one year got so competitive, in just a year. LOLl! I let her have the rope and let her past me. I was not going to start a duel now so early in the 100 Miler or get upset. I climbed up Tenshi Mountains with the smell of Keytone wafting out of my pores. I’m in the fat burn now. At the bottom of the climb I am always passed by many runners, but as I near 1/2 way I start to catch them all back. I was pushing, maybe pushing too hard too early as I headed up the calf killing steep muddy slope, trying to right the wrongs of my mistake. The head wind I suffered from earlier in the race felt now like a tail wind now. I felt like I was being assisted up the mountain by mother nature. I felt great, strong and full of energy, passing runners with every metre. I watched as the vegetation around me started to become more alpine and 3/4 up I found my English mate again. He was really struggling. His breathing was laboured and he said he was going to pull out at the next CP. He looked slightly puzzled as to why I was behind him, I let him know I took a little detour. He sounded really sick and I was a bit worried about him. I gave him a few words of encouragement and then headed onwards and upwards, up the muddy single trail, through the forest, hopping over tree roots, rocks and power walking with hands on quads towards the top.
This year the race organisers took out 2 mountain Peaks which made the ascent much easier than last year. I reached the first of 3 peaks and caught up with Dong-Lee who was struggling in the mud. The ground was so slippery that using your butt as a form of movement forward seemed like the best option on some sections of the trail. I ran past Dong-Lee only to then slip and slide on my arse down a short slip, catching the branches next to me but not before my butt slid along the ground for a few meters. I jumped up back onto my feet, spotted ropes, reaching for them, grabbing them, regaining my footing before controlled falling down the steep wet trail in still rain.
I ran up and down the undulating narrow Ridgeline of the Tenshi Mountain, under a head torch happy that I could not see the sharp descents on either side of my footing, passing runners on the descent. I then power walked and paced off stronger runners on the climbs. After what seems to be an eternity I reached the top of the final Peak and I was on the descent.
This is a 1km descent over about 2km . It was made up of muddy, slippery, log stairs, sharp switch backs and more mud and rocks. I hopped down the stairs catching the girl who shook me off the ropes at the start of the climb. I had passed so many females and male runners on this one ascent I felt like I was back in my place before I’d had my extra adventure. I leaped from step to step and enjoyed the ankle killing descent that awoke old injuries and made me think of my then partner Steve, if I was suffering from the impact from this monster of descent he will be stuffed.
I reached the bottom of the mountain, hopped out onto the road and thought the CP 4 was just a few kilometers away. I drunk all my water and eaten all my food at the top of the 20 minute descent. I passed a Tarahumara Runner who was wearing his trademark sandals. I’d hate to think how he’s made it up or down the Tenshi Mountains wearing those sandals, this was X-Talon country. He was walking on the road section.
I pushed on feeling pretty good and looking forward to seeing my support crew in the position that I was in after CP2, I soon past the area that the CP was in the years past and realised that it had been moved and I was not going to see it for another 10km. Shit!
I was out of water and nutrition and I just had to do my best to take it easy until the CP4. I soon caught up with a male couple and one of the Japanese male runners decided that he would start to run with me as the other mal runner had slowed to a walk. I chatted to this new found friend in broken English and I realised that it was his first UTMF but he was an experience road marathon runner. He tucked in behind me and let me set the pace. We cruised past a grumpy French runner who was also caught out by the CP movement. It had been over 5 hours now between CP’s and water stops and it is almost impossible to gauge this distance and correctly estimate time by looking at the map.
I tried to push his negativity out of my head and continue on with Him and my new Japanese Friend to the check point. We followed the roads, taking turns though the village of rice paddy’s, creeks and grasses and eventually we climbed up the road and into the check point.
I was extremely dehydrated now. I grabbed my water bottles and nutrition and ran straight out of there and within about 2km I’d finished both bottles and needed to be replenished. This section of the trail is under high tension power lines, and on the map profile looks like a nice gradual ascent but in reality is undulating steep small hills up and down wooded log steps and small creek beds. It feels like you are getting no where. I was past by aJapanese Girl, and I wished her good luck. This place I feel like I never move fast, but it did not seem as bad as years past. There is more of a trail here now than in the past years I’d run this section but it is just so hard to break into a rhythm with all the sharp drops into creeks. I ran along on and off with my Japanese Friend and before long we were at another Drink Stop where I filled up on water and sports drink.
Almost immediately after the drink stop I felt sick after consuming the race sports drink. It just did not sit well in my guts. I decided not to let this worry me. I worked out that I only felt sick if I walked. I then started to run slowly up the mountain to the highest point on the course towards CP5 and the 1/2 way point. I ran along the forest trail pretty upset as where it use to be a lovely thick forest the tree had been logged. I was filled with sadness after seeing this destruction of what looked like a beautiful landscape. The CP seemed like it was further away that it was meant to be and a few runners were also commenting on this fact to as the course had changed slightly from the years past.
I kept pushing onwards up the fire trail, catching walkers as we made it higher and higher, closer to 2500m now, feeling sick either from not getting enough altitude exposure before I raced, lactic acid build up or that sports drink. The higher I went the harder it became for me to breathe too. My lungs were starting to clog up with dehydration and diminishing oxygen and exercised induced asthma. I ran into the CP 5 feeling relative good compared to past years. I quickly swapped over my nutrition, Ay-Up, water bottles and spotted Amy Spronston in the CP waking up from a sleep. Seeing her kind of reminded me that it was a race and I really did not want to race so early, I really could not have given a damn about my placing so soon in an event. I left the CP in front of her but she soon caught up with me and passed me on the out and back before the right hand turn to continue our push up Mount Fuji and into the Army Base.
This next section is just pure mud, steps, single track and mud for about 10 km before hopping out onto a spongey, grassy alpine marsh and running into the Army base CP where Amy kindly let me know on the Out and Back that the soup was good. I ran into the CP6 feeling okay, after doing lots of walking over the stair sections due to my asthma making me just feel sick and rubbish. I just had to walk as I would not make it to the end if I pushed too hard. I was feeling sick in my guts too now and finding it really hard to eat anything also. I wanted to try the soup but I was too scared to eat it was the CP Staff who mainly spoke Japanese could not guarantee that it was GF, DF, Sesame, Peanut and 220 free. (LOL).
I ran back up the spongey wet marsh and waved to the other females following me, now closer after my rough patch for that section. I started to pump in the ventolin, simbacort and hoped that the weather would improve and I would be able to breathe better. The ventolin made me feel even sicker. It just felt like it was going straight into my guts and not into my lungs. I was rejoined by my now guardian angle as we continued forever onwards and upwards towards the highest point of the UTMF.
We were warned at the race briefing that the next section of 20km was going to be a bit of orienteering. Cool, how bad could this be? In the years past we were blessed to follow a gorgeous single trail along a temple towards the summit of Fuji. This year were not blessed. Instead of some of the most beautiful trail running in the world we instead were to follow ribbons tied to trees were dotted through the forest and went in a line via the crow flies but through a chain of about what felt like 100 pumice sand creek beds that were up to 10 metres deep. We ran along literally falling down the side of the creek beds, sliding on our butts to the bottom of the dry creek bed then have to climb straight back out again, hands on quads, over and over and over again for 20km. This I could take. I knew that if this was hard for me I could only imagine how hard it must be for other runners.
The disheartening part of it was that with every creek bed we dropped into we had to climb back out again, and still continue up our ascent on the soft volcanic rock. I started to look for my positives. I felt like I’d entering my own personal hell. I was having problems with my breathing and I felt like I’d entered a cruel survival race with no real tangible beginning and end. The Cp’s seemed to be not where they were meant to be. CP4 and CP5 were a few kilometers past were they were meant to be and the next CP was due but it seemed that due to the new course we really were not to know how far we were going to run in the UTMF in 2015. I’d also been lost for an extra 4ks or so I was doing the sums and I think I was going to end up running 174kms or so.
Where is Fuji? Where is the God Fuji-san? The magnificent mountain that gives love, hope and energy with every view. Where are you? Why have you forsaken me? The weather was over cast. I was running though a closed in grey, dreary hell. The dirt was volcanic black, the sky now with sun rising was still a miserable grey. I’ve been spoilt by living in beautiful Queensland, the sunshine state and I was just not use to so much grey. This landscape just depressed me. I felt like I’d entered my own personal hell, pure depression, living mental depressive hell. It was like I was running my own personal torture session. Not being able to breathe properly, starved of Oxygen, dark cloud, black soil, exhausted, unable to really eat that much food. I was feeling really depressed. I started to cry. No. I started to ball and wail.
My Japanese Guardian angle, being the beautiful man that he was apologised for this country for not being sunny, or the trail not being as beautiful as the years past. He apologised for Fuji-san not being viewed whilst racing. He apologised for the pumice being soft and the trails not being marked. What a beautiful man he was. He was so considerate of me, a true man of a pure heart. I did not want to ruin his experience with my own personal problems. I told him to go on without me as I did not want to ruin his race with my depression. That was not fair on him.
I felt like the UTMF had all my favourite parts of the course taken out of it. When you are sick with asthma and your away from your family there has to be pay offs. The trails, well it seemed like all my favourite trails were removed from the UTMF this year or there was not trail at all.
The Views, the weather was crap. It was closed in with no visibility at all. I did not get a chance to view Fuji once. Usually with every mountain climb we are rewarded with views but there was no views. It was closed in grey fog.
Personal Achievement, I felt like I was really happy with what I’d achieved so far and wrecking my health and killing myself was really not seeming worth it. I was in a real depressed stated. I true representation of depression. I just was not enjoying this race.
I still continued onwards pushing up the soft volcanic soil with my guardian angle behind me. Still pacing off me. He’d been there for 40 km. He was still there with his smiling face. We push forever onwards, upwards on the soft volcanic pumice into the CP6 and the highest point in the race. I saw my support crew and they asked me how I was. I told him that I was not feeling very good and that I was not enjoying myself. In Australia due to snake threats we are taught to stick to the tracks. I contemplated how beneficial orienteering as part of my training. I would suggest this for next time as we really were not following marked tracks and it was extremely technical course.
I turned and pushed onwards and looked forward to my favourite sections that were coming ahead, yet I realised that we were not going to be following the same route. Instead we were sent down a massive pumice dune, then up scraggly switch backs and under a high tension power line, service track for the next 10km. With every time the track turned the wrong direction to what I was expecting from the years past I would stop and cry with my guardian angle feeling so sorry for me, patting me on the back. I would then have to ask him to go on his own, I was mindful that my mood might wreck his race and I wanted him to enjoy himself. I would send him on ahead, wail and cry to myself and I’d then catch up to him a few kilometers later when I was feeling more positive. It was not fair that I was so depressed and he was so happy and felt like it was his fault that his country was not putting on the usual impressive UTMF show for me. I think I must have pulled it together a nit not wanting to ruin his race and started to think more positively thinking I could pull out and end the torture at this next check point.
I’d recovered and started to move quickly as I then made it to the next water stop very fast, before the predicted time and I then and there decided to pull out but I’d made it to 115km before my support crew had arrived at the CP. I had no idea if they were coming to this CP or not. The CP staff convinced me that I was meant to go on as I was in 7th place. They asked me why I wanted to pull out and I told them that “I just was not enjoying myself”.
Maybe I was mentally exhausted from my year of break up? Maybe it was asthma, lack of food, depression, man the list can go on. I just was not mentally prepared for it. I did not leave enough in the tank for my mind to be able to think it’s way out of this depression. I wanted to stop but I had no one to pull out too.
My support crew was not there so I decided to go on another 15km to A7. Maybe it was a sign. A sign to teach me that I can’t have things my own way all the time. The course was changed but this is life. Life changes and we have to be prepared for these changes. I had to learn to be adaptable. This was my lesson here. I ran on quite happy. Laughing, happy that I was forced to go on. In the end I was doing really well it was just me, my head that was upsetting me. I could just choose to be happy and enjoy the race now.
I was then made so upset as I ran and walked up the next mountain of another one favourite forest had been logged. Bloody Hell! Again destruction. I had to do a “go slow” up the mountain as I was having problems breathing again. I was so sad. The roller coaster of emotions were insane now. I looked forward to the beautiful trail at the top of the mountain but we were again diverted down another creek bed with no trail.
My Guardian Angle was behind me again. Maybe now he was too strong for me and pushing me a bit quick down the descent with the track now using this mountain creek bed as a trail again following the white ribbons on trees as there was again no trail. I had to jump over rocks, tree roots and react quickly on smashed up quads and killing feet. I tripped over a tree root and totally twisted me knee. It was killing me. This race had become dangerous to me now. I’d really injured myself. I ran on to the bottom of the descent and let my Guardian Angle go on without me now for the last time. I’d had enough.
I tried to run down the road but my quads were smashed. I decided to take panadol but I could not swallow the tablets, my throat was so swollen. I felt like I had inflammation from my tonsils to my lungs. I drank some water and decided to walk. Maybe with the walking something happened in my lungs. I then started to vomit phlegm out of my lungs, kneeling on the side of the road puking up my lungs of white phlegm. I continued on walking trying to decide what to do next. I’d taken so much asthma medication my hands here now shaking. I was out on the road following the white ribbons along the side of the Lake into A7, I must have looked like crap, when a car stopped in front of me and offered me a lift. I waved them on and said no. About 200m later a truck pulled off the road and stopped literally 5m in front of me. The truck driver got out of the car and told me to get in Japanese to get in. I decided to take him up on his offer.
Never before had I been so relieved to pull out of an event. The mental and physical torture could stop.
My Race Set Up
Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest
Inov8 X-Talon 200 Shoes
Inov8 Compression Calf Guards
Descente Thermal Armbands
Inov8 Race Elite Wool Thermal Top
Inov8 Thermal Fleece
Inov8 Thermal Gloves
Inov8 Race Elite Water Proof Jacket
Inov8 Race Elite Water Proof Pants.
Hammer Banana Gel 50% Strength in Gel Flasks 1-2 gels per hour.
Hammer Heed 50% Strength 500ml Water every 2 hours (When possible)
Hammer Apple Cinnamon Bars x3
Bananas at every check point
Miso Soup at every check point throughout the night where possible.
Run Larapinta Stage 3 and 4 bought out the nerves in me. After the unpredictable Run Larapinta Stage 2, I was a bit nervous going into Stage 3 after running out of food and water for almost 2 hours the day before. I totally miscalculated the time it would take me to run 39 km, which was actually 41+ km over really technical terrain. John, the Rapid Ascent race director assured me that yesterday was the hardest and most unpredictable day. Today was going to be pretty easy predictable running. Phew! I was up through the night eating and drinking, making sure I was totally carbed up and hydrated after yesterday gruelling race. I was predicting that I would be running the 30 km in about 3 hours.
I warmed up my tired and sore legs and moved to the start line at the Ochre Pits where the Aboriginal Locals collect pigment for their body art. It was a pretty special place.
After a quick count down we were all off and running as a group. By now we had all started to get to know each other, build some friendships and offer help when needed. After the race yesterday I offered John, one of the runners some enduralytes magic pills to help with his cramps so he could get in a truck and drive to the hotel. It was a bit of a crack up. John really couldn’t bend his leg to get up into the truck seat, his body was stiff like a board. After the enduroyltes he stopped cramping, but still did not trust his body to be able to get in the truck fearing he would cramp up again. I had to give him the hard word to get him in the truck so the truck driver could continue on with his deliveries and his son could get out of Stanley Chasm and back to the hotel. He eventually listened and got in the truck and much to his delight, cramp free!
At the start of Stage 3, we all chit chatted and giggled in a group and before long stretched out over the spinafex grassy hill along the Arrernte Walk, along a beautiful single trail and then popped out into a creek. Noooooooo! Not another dry creek bed! FUCK!
I learnt my creek navigation lesson from the day before and went straight up the guts of it, over the boulders, under logs, between cracks and over soft sand, trying to keep Paul and Joe in sight but soon lost them behind boulders and I was on my own, navigating my own way up this new creek bed using their footprints as a guide. After about 3km of creek running the track veered to the right and I was greeted with the most stunning alpine valley I have encountered since running on the Italian side of Mt Blanc on the Ultra Trail Mt Blanc. I made it over the pass and the valley opened up and I could see mile after beautiful mile. I could see majestic, Mt Sonder in the distance. It was our reminder of what was to come tomorrow.
I ran along the trail, loving new alpine desert plants I was discovering. Fluro yellow what looked like fluffy bushes lined the trail yet on closer inspection I discovered they were spines instead of soft leaves. This is the desert. Defend yourself or be eaten! Every plant had it’s defence from the grasses, to palms, bushes and trees.
I ran along avoiding the spines, happy I had calf guards on and appreciating my surroundings. I soon dropped down a set of such stairs, looped around almost into what felt a full circle into another gorge, called Waterfall Gorge.
The gorge was dry, so I ran up the creek, this time the trail quickly cut off to the right and I was climbing up onto Heavitree Range. This climb was considerably easier than yesterdays, only a 300m climb zig-zagging up the ridge making use of the marked switchback tracks all the way to the top. The views were out of this world! Absolutely stunning! I could see for hundreds of kilometers in all direction and not a sign of civilisation could be found. With this amazing view being the perfect backdrop I decided to take a quick selfie for fun before starting the descent.
Different trails share a different type of “Trail Language”. I was trying to figure out what this “Trail Language,” was on the top of this ridge line with limited markers more designed for walkers rather than runners.
I followed the foot trail down the razor back ridge, spotting a nice lookout. I stopped to check it out and soon discovered it was a sheer cliff face. Holy cow! I almost went off the edge! I panicked. Then back tracked and headed straight down the opposite line to the cliff and head left after about 50 m, descending straight down the mountain through alpine scrub. I soon I discovered that I’d lost the track. I retraced my steps back towards the cliff and spotted the red dirt footprints on the ochre jagged rocks along the rocky out crop and decided that this was the trail. Phew. I was back on track again. I hopped along the ridge, loving the technicality of the descent and enjoying the focus I had to have to stay in touch with those red foot prints in the trail.
I hit the flat, curved around the hill with the temperature rising and cruised along the trail spotting a creek bed, crossing the creek bed, following foot prints towards the road. I then spotted a blue arrow on the other side of the creek. I back tracked, cursing my stupidity, thinking that I would have much preferred to stay in the cool of the shadow of the cliffs rather than run out in the open. These gorges become a bit of a heat sink and I’d just run out of water. The track narrowed and I spotted Running Mums Australia coming towards me in the opposite direction who were doing the Short Course. I asked them if I was going the right way. They assured me I was. I guess I was closer to my limit than I thought. I’ve been lost a few times whilst racing and it is such a sinking feeling. I was relieved to be close to the finish. I pushed on up the footpath through the tourist shelter and across the finish line.
Done. Now it was time to hop into the water hole at the jaw dropping Ormiston Gorge and start my recovery before the final day of 45km tomorrow. I jumped on the bus and we left for Glen Helen, a remote desert oasis. I was lucky enough to receive the full Outback Experience of sleeping in Safari Tent with Geckos on stretchers and swim in the Finke River at the Glen Helen Station.
Ice Bug Stage 4
Start Time 7:30am
Start Location Redbank Gorge
Finish Glen Helen
Water Stops-Redbank Gorge16km, Rocky Bar 28km
I woke up early at 4:30am freezing my tits off and ready to race. I was excited to finish my first ever stage event today and to also climb up to the summit of Mount Sonder. It was also my birthday. I was turning 37 and I just could not think of a better way to spend it than to race 45km with a mountain summit en-route! On second thought….Maybe I could be a little warmer and with my kids and partner Steve. To me racing is such a gift and I was so glad to have this chance to express how I feel on over these weathered trails. My rustic Outback Safari tent offered little insulation from the desert morning temperatures. I was so cold, shivering in my tent with all my clothes on. I was really worried that I would not be able to move, let alone race, if I did not get warm. I ate some Hammer bars for my pre-race breaky and decided to go to reception to tape my ankles, where I would be nice and warm rather than freezing over. I found that because the reception was connected to the Glen Helen Pub it was closed. Damn! I guess they would not want for any of the fluids to go missing over night. I spotted Paul filling up his water bottles in the communal open air kitchen and after seeing me shiver he offered to let me shelter in his dormitory before the race.
“Just walk through that gap, turn to the right and it is the 2nd door in”. He directed.
I followed his direction and I found not an empty room but a lit room with bloke 3 runners in it. Peter, (Sydney and now with a black eye and a swollen cheek after a massive stack on the razor yesterday), Hans (Canadian living in Vic) and Michelle (French living in Vic). I quickly closed the door and tried the next room.This time I looked into darkness, seeing silhouettes of unrecognisable males and I decided that I was better off jumping into the room with 3 guys who I could recognise than to keep trying for Paul’s room and maybe discovering something I really did not want to find.
I jumped in the room with a few giggles and started to tape my ankles in race mode. Hans then offered me a banana, I then started handing out endurolytes and then discovered that Laurent’s bladder was leaking, so I decided to go back up to my freezer box of a tent and grab him one of my Inov8 bladders for the race. I returned to the room and helped out Michelle and chatted and stayed warm until our bus arrived. We had really become all one big supportive family by stage 4. We were all in this together and we had only 45 km to run to finish off our epic adventure.
By day 4 the pain and fatigue had set in. I was not sure how much juice I had left in my legs. The conditions were freezing, so again I was going to suffer with asthma all the way up Mount Sonder. I was just going to have to wait for temperatures to warm up before I could really run.
On the bus on the way to Redbank Gorge there was an engaged local Alice Springs couple who were very much in love and were there to race and train for an Ironman event that was coming up in a few months. Damn, we all thought! Fresh legs when ours were all stuffed. The athletic couple assured us that they had had a massive Iron Man training weekend and were not fresh at all. Compared to us hagged desert runners, covered in black eyes, stitches, bruises, sun burn, cracked lips, they looked like new borns.
We hobbled out of the bus and walked down to the start line. After a countdown we all headed along the trail and straight up the steps of Mount Sonder. Fiona was powerful up the hill from all her Ironman bike training. I did my best to stay ahead of her but decided when the steps became steeper to let her take off ahead. I was struggling with asthma and my legs were not warmed up yet, they felt like dead weights. The 3 days of running had taken their toll. I was no match for her strength and I wanted her to run ahead of me so that I could concentrate on my own breathing and pacing. I knew I had to be kind to my quads and not smash them up so soon in the race. I was just going to chill and work my cadence climbing the 4th biggest mountain in the NT.
The views were amazing! The larapinta trail just kept giving stunning views, magical contrasts between the blue sky and the orange rocks and the remoteness is mind-blowing. As I climbed I could not see evidence of human life anywhere. The wilderness was exhilarating. I ran and walked up the jagged rocky path to the saddle, down the stairs and gave the next push towards the summit.
As I ran up the trail I caught some walkers.
“Hello.” I’d call out ahead. “Say Happy Birthday”. I would say jokingly.
“Happy Birthday”. The bemused walkers would reply.
“Thank You”. I fed off their energy, I fed off their well wishes, smiles, happiness and general willingness to wish me happy birthday as I climbed the mountain. This was trail running bliss.
With the “Happy Birthday’s” and well wishes I was running with absolute happiness in my heart and gratitude of my opportunity to be able to race Run Larapinta in 2015, UTMB in 2014, Oxfam 2012, 2011, 2010 all on my birthday.
Paul, Joe, and the ironman freshie were all on the descent. The earlier wave of runners were also on the descent. More happy birthday wishes, high fives returned and “looking strong,” between the other runners as we all marvelled at the stunning views on this ridge line.
About 200 m from the summit I spotted Fresh Fiona coming towards me on her descent of the out and back leg. I wished her well and tried to remain calm. Before long I was at the top of Mount Sonder with Fiona less than a kilometre ahead of me.
The boys from Rapid Ascent were there to great me with a Birthday Cup Cake. I posed for a shot, fake eating of the gluten treat with heaps of smiles and excitement. I jumped on top of the summit marker with hands in the air, I was so happy I’d bagged it on my birthday. I can now remember after seeing this photo of me on the summit marker, visiting this very same place on the first day of my honeymoon all those 13 years ago. Wow! How far I’d come. Wow. It’s been one amazing journey. There I was at 24 with all the hope and dreams for this relationship, kids, houses, adventures. Couples who play together, stay together. We had an amazing start. I guess it fell away when the adventure ceased happening together. Excuses can be made when the kids come along, things can be made out to be too hard. If you are fit nothing is hard. Everything is easy. My fitness level has allowed me to find life easy and see possibilities everywhere. To that young, energetic woman back there on the top of Mount Sonder at the age of 24, I hope you are happy with what you have accomplished. I think she would go to sleep with a smile on her face knowing that she will make the most of what the universe has given her. I can only smile and be happy to have found my true self, my pure freedom, pure friendships, pure love, untainted love. I have too much to give than to just stay at home and keep a house perfect. I must explore the world, share experiences with people. Far out I get a buzz trail running in my local patch and saying, “Hi” to other runners or walkers I meet. I will always stop for a chat and connect with those around me. It’s what I do. I love people.
I jumped down from the summit marker and the chase for Fiona was on! She would have been over 1 km away. I tried to stay as calm as possible, my legs needed to warm up, my lungs needed to warm up as the top of the summit was freezing. I hopped from jagged rock to jagged rock, down the mountain letting gravity do the work. I passed Fiona (WA), Peter and Mirjam (NZ) on their way up to the turn around. “It’s only just up ahead”. I encouraged.
I released the breaks, relaxing my sore and tired quads on every touch with my forefoot to the ground. I High fived my competitors and again rejoiced at what my body was capable of doing and with every step closed the gap to Fresh Fiona.
I hit the saddle of Mt Sonder and pushed my hands on my quads as I climbed up the bush stairs, my lungs screaming, trachea rasping in the cold, dry, desert air. It’s all down hill from here. I honed in on Fiona and followed the switch backs down the mountain. After about another Km of chasing I caught and passed Fiona on the narrow, rocky single goat like track, with the views of Redback Gorge to my left. I wished her safe travels, suggesting that she’d catch me on the next climb and pushed onwards and downwards, hopping over rocks, bounding from step to step, forever down, down, down the 7km descent and into the check point at Redbank Gorge Junction 16km down 29km to go.
I quickly took off my singlet and refilled my 500ml bottle. The temperature was rising quickly. It was going to be a hot one. At last I can finally race with the conditions on my side. In my head I knew Fiona would be strong. I hope I’d done enough on the descent to build a big enough gap to last me the finish. I counted, counted and counted to 100, over and over again, keeping my cadence high, knee drive forward and feet off the ground was all I could think of and marvel at the blue stones I was snaking by along the flat. What is with this light blue rock?
I ran into the Rocky Bar Gap 28km check point so happy that I had kept my lead. After chatting to the guys at the check point and really stopping to refill my bottles, have a think about taking a bottle to tip on my head to stay cool, grabbing some extra endurolytes fizz, preparing myself for rising temperatures into the mid 30s, I was caught by Fresh Fiona.
Shit! We said some well wishes to each other and with the new rocket up my butt I was off. The goal was to stay ahead of Fresh Fiona until the summit of Hilltop Lookout. If I could stay ahead of her until there then I had a chance to win.
Now I really kicked it, lifting my legs, turning my feet over, snaking past Rocky Bar and running as fast as I could until I could not run anymore, dropping into a hands on quads fast turn over power walk. Running 20 steps, walking 20 steps, pushing hard on my quads, panting, tipping water over my head, keeping my core temperature cool, passing short course runners now on the rocky trail and before long I was at summit of the 300 m climb. Now it was time to enjoy the view, company of short course and early wave runners and the descent.
I loved this next section. It was beautiful soft switch backing goat trail down the mountain passing all the way back into the Mereenie Valley. So pleased I was finishing up on the last day of the stage event. I hit the flats, turned on the pace, crossed the dry soft sand of Davenport Creek, dodging dry cow paddy’s with the heat starting to bite. I continued to tip water over my head. I was now dreaming of the swim in the Finke River with a glass of champagne in my hands.
I sped on, turned right and found the Finke River but this was not the finish line. I still had 4ks to run. I pushed on the wriggly sandy trail, edged with fluffy grasses, climbing up over the dunes onto a rocky out crop and to my absolute surprise the sandy trail lead me through a hole in the bright red rock. This was bloody awesome! How cool is this! I did not take a photo which I was a bit annoyed at myself for afterwards, I was too scared that Fresh Fiona would catch me if I stopped.
I hopped through the hole, then wished I had stopped , started to run and immediately wished taken a selfie but wanted to just finish the race before it gets really hot. I rolled down the hill, popped out onto the road and ran all the way to the top of the last climb, spotting the amazing Glen Helen Gorge, passing more well wishing short course runners, turned right and stretched out down the finial descent along the gravel driveway and into Glen Helen Resort. I turned left onto the soft sand and raced across the finish line. Whoop, whoop! I’d made it! Happy 37th Birthday Shona. Time to get into my bikini, grab a bottle of champagne and some hot chips, lie in the Glen Helen Gorge and watch the other runners come across the finish line.
Run Larapinta – Tackling My first Multi Stage Event
Run Larapinta excited me from the start. I will be amongst the first participants to complete in any event on the Larapinta Trail and I feel a huge amount of appreciation to Sam and Rapid Ascent to have the opportunity to race through this special place in the world. I’ve always want to do a multi day stage event, I always wanted to complete a desert run. Run Larapinta looked like a great beginners stage event for me to try and see what stage racing is all about. The Larapinta Trail is a 223km track that is broken up into 12 sections on the West MacDonald Ranges just outside of Alice Springs. Run Larapinta is about 100km short, due to logistics and competitor safety, and is broken up into 4 staged events. It takes in some truly magical scenery of the wondrous gorges, ridge tops and dry sandy desert creek beds. I can’t wait to start the first stage which is tomorrow night.
I am a bit nervous about my first stage event. I know I will be sore backing up day, after day, after day, after day. I strained my hamstring pretty badly about 10 days ago during a long jump competition with my kids and my partner of sand dunes on the gold coast. I pulled my hamstring right at the bone and had to hobble around like an old football player with my hand on my butt so I could walk. It hurt to sit on and I could not stretch it at all. Running hurt with every step the next day. I basically have rested for the last 2 weeks and looked at this injury as the injury I was meant to have to make sure I had a proper good taper.
Yes and like most people in the country I am also getting over that awful cold. I was pretty bad. I did not realise it at the time but my asthma drugs had finished and I was feeling so lethargic that I did not want to move. I was being measured with my talking and movement to prevent coughing fits from coming on. It’s pretty scary when I think about it. If I’m not talking there is a problem. My partner Steve was probably enjoying the peace and quiet. After 2 days of lying down, I decided that it was not sickness but my asthma that was holding me back and took my drugs and seemed to bust through to a massive recovery just before Run Larapinta.
I am also nervous about my nutrition plan for the 4 days of running too. I know how to fuel and hydrate for a 10-160km. But they have always been over 1 day. I’ve run Lamington Classic and SCC concrete boot but that is about the end of my stage experience. So I’m keen to see how my refuelling goes post, between and pre racing. I think this will be crucial to how well I perform out on the trail. There is always the danger of over eating too. I just have to listen to my body and trust that it knows what it wants.
Run Larapinta has 2 stage events. A long course The Malbunka and a short course named the Namatjira
I have chosen to run the long course called The Malbunka.
19km under the beautiful stars of the desert. I have heard there is nothing quite like the carpet of diamond sky that the desert becomes at night. It will be a cruisey first stage. Starting at the Chifley Alice Springs Resort and finishing at The Old Telegraph Station also situated in Alice Springs.
39km We will start at Simpsons Gap a 25 min shuttle bus from the Chifley Alice Springs Resort, through water holes of Simpsons Gap and up a rugged ridge line of the Chewings Range, through Fig Spring and into the valley of Stanley Chasm.
30.9km This day will be totally unsupported and I will have to take all my supplies with me for the 30.9km of remote desert running. I think this day will be the most exciting of all of the stages. We will be traveling through ochre pits, gorges lined with cycads. It will then open up into a wide valley with almost alpine like flora as we climb upon onto exposed ridge with views for hundreds of kilometers, down to Ormiston Gorge with views to Mt Sonder.
45km. This is the make or break stage. The last stage of the event. The longest and I believe we will all the the sorest. I can’t wait to see how my body will be reacting or adapting to this stage event. I’m hoping the amazing energy of the landscape will be pulsating through my muscles and I fly to the finish line pain free…..something to wish for.
On the final day we will be heading to the Summit of Mt Sonder the NT’s 4th tallest mountain reaching the heights to 1380. Lucky we will be starting at 700M! It is san out and back run to bag the summit and I am really looking forward to the stunning views the higher I go.
We will then head east towards Glen Helen the finish line and our accommodation for the final evening.
We will then aced to the top of Hilltop Lookout for more breath taking views and then roll down the hill on an extremely tough descent on tired sore legs. We will then have to sand run along the edges of the banks of the Finke River to the finish line at Glen Helen.
There race starts tonight, in only a few hours. I’m so excited I can’t wait to get going.
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.
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.
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.
Up The Buff SEQ Trail Running Festival Event of 25km just had way too much on offer to miss it. A trip to Queenstown Moonlight Shot Over Marathon was the winning prize for BOTH male and female! If I win I could have a chance to head back to NZ for another trail running adventure in Wanaka and Queenstown in the South Island of NZ. A trip to beautiful Queenstown was enough motivation for me to get up and racing again. Up The Buff is the South East Queensland Trail Running Champs (SEQ Trail Running Championships) and the crew from “Those Guys” Events was putting on an entire weekend of trail running with 25k, 16k Trail, 6k Road and the 1k Charity Fun Runs.
My back was still stuffed from the Bubble Accident. My ankle was still injured from the Mt Ngauruhoe sprain. I’d twisted it 4 times in 2 days in the week leading up to Up The Buff. I had to tape it up just to work as a PT. My ankle was about as lose as it can get. It was flipping out just walking around in my daily life. The entire right side of my body was in shut down mode, repairing my bruised pelvis. I swear you can train your body to repair and heal and my finely tuned repair mode was in action. My core was still a bit suspect from the Tarawera stack, my abs still weak, so I kept my taping going, which seemed to work for me on my NZ Holiday. I was not in very good shape at all, but I did not care. Sometimes enough is good enough. My brain was literally telling my body to heal. I was so stuffed but believed my mind was stronger.
I like to race myself back into form. It’s a long season and I never put too much pressure on myself to be at peak fitness at the start of the season. Just like a good football team there is no point smashing it out and being the leading team after just 3 games. The season is long and I still want to be running in November.
My partner Steve and I headed out to the course the week after our NZ holiday for a reccy along the quarantine fence at the Eco-Village. After the training run we both decided that this event would suit us both with enough ascent, descent, technical trails and a beautiful 4km descent to the finish line.
Up The Buff
After sticking together my dodgy ankles, abs, I warmed up listening to the race briefing and I was ready to race. I was prepared to hurt like hell to win a trip to NZ. The count down went off and I was off and running along the streets of the Eco-Village. Snaking up the tarmac, up the climb, onto the ridge, running without a lactic burn and feeling comfortable. I cruised along, allowing my body to tell me how fast I could run. I had not managed much training since NZ. I was too injured. I did not even know how long the race was before the start line. 20 or 25km? It did not seem to make a difference to me. The distance I had covered, I just did not know if I was going to be fast enough without doing any speed work for about 6 weeks. I watched Steve fly off up and down the ridge, along the road and off into the distance. He too wanted a free trip to his homeland.
Close to the top of the ridge I was caught by a local female runner. She soon past me. I tucked in behind her, watched her, listened to her and decided that I could take her on. I pushed ahead of her up the climb, turning left, running down the hill, past the houses, through the gate and into the first check point. I turned another left and hit the quarantine service trail between the road and the private farm property. I powered up the grassy trail, onto the ruggered clay track, descending at pace, nursing my right glute and hamstring all the way.
I pushed on, up the widening track, climbing a steep wide fire trail, rolling down the other side and cruising into the check point. Here I found Steve waiting for me. My honey asked me if he could pace me or if he could help in any way. I know pacing and mulling in an event like this would be illegal and I felt a bit uncomfortable with him offering it to me. I’ve never used a pacer, not even for my 100M events so it seemed a bit silly to have one for 25km. In UTMF and UTMB it is illegal to use one so I’ve never needed one. I think Steve just wanted to keep me company but I think he would be more of a hindrance than help. I’m used to racing and training on my own. So I suggested that he just get behind me, as you could imagine…out of sight out of mind. It’s hard racing with your loved one who is so evenly matched.
After a few hundred meters I spotted 2nd and 3rd females behind me and decided that I had to gun it to secure my place. I pushed on, driving with my hamstrings, moving ahead of some blokes and working as hard as I could.
After a few kilometers Steve past me and pushed on into the distance. I continued to cruise along. Managing, managing, passing a few more blokes up the steepest sections and ran in into the first Check Point on the return. Here I spotted Steve waiting for me again.
“I’m stuffed. I had a bad feeling about this race!” Was what Steve had to offer.
“You’ll be right, just don’t push so hard”. I encouraged back.
“My legs are stuffed.” He replied.
“Stop being so negative, harden up and fix your attitude.” I replied to my partner who was now starting to make me feel down. “You’re fine, you can still talk running up a hill”.
I was pushing as hard as I could, I felt fine but he was still faster than me. Him saying how stuffed he was made me feel like I was doing shit, when I knew I was really doing well. It’s amazing what words you hear can do to your mood. It is related to every aspect of your life. I was at my limits too, I did not have enough brain capacity to help him out too when I was racing for a trip to NZ.
“That’s another negative word”. I said. “You’re still able to talk running up the hill. There is nothing wrong with you mother fucker!”. Whoops! It was out! I can’t take it back. Shit! Control was lost. Fuck! Whoops I felt terrible.
Steve now had the shits too and he forgot about how stuffed he felt and decided to show me who was boss and rocketed up Strawberry Hill like a rabbit. It was pretty funny, a trail runners lovers tiff, on the run up Strawberry Hill. Goodness knows what the poor unsuspecting runner close to us was thinking with the two of us running up the hill having a minor quarrel about mental toughness and attitude up the biggest climb of the event.
I reached the top about 100m behind Steve, I then lost him on the next descent and cruised along with a smile on my face, happy that Steve had found his legs. I past Ben Duffas who was feeling sick from gastro that week and then spotted Steve on the out and back CP Turn around. Funny, this time he did not wait for me.
“Babe, I love you, sorry I swore at you. I’m so sorry”. I apologised as he ran past me on the return.
“I love you too babe”. He called back as we high fived each other.
Again, goodness knows what the poor runner sandwiched between us was thinking. I pushed on with renewed love in my heart and past the bloke in between Steve and myself, doing my best to catch Steve. I ran the whole way up the steepest trail of the day and gunned it down Strawberry Hill back to the check point where I spotted Steve out on the road cruising to the finish line. Steve had a point to prove.
I turned left again, powered onto the road as I did my best to catch Steve, but he was gone skis. I chatted to all the shorter distance runners along the rolling ridge, turned left again and rolled down the hill, quickly breaking, before almost missing the turn and falling over the crash barrier. Recovering my feet and speeding down the hill, passing more runners, crossing the bridge, running through the round about and racing into the finish line breaking the women’s record for the 25km distance with 2 Hours 24 Minutes and 10 Seconds. Steve beat me by 2 minutes with 2 Hours 22 Minutes and 51 seconds. I had won a trip to Moonlight Shot Over Marathon in Queenstown, NZ.
I was also crowned Buff Chick and was given a cape to wear for next few hours until presentations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Blackall 100 was always going to be a race to test how smart a racer you are. How adaptable you can be in your lead up training sessions. The conditions were never going to be favourable. This is November in Queensland with temperatures regularly reaching plus 35 degrees. In some sections of the course the chance of the temperatures reaching higher is possible.
Heat Acclimatisation training consisted of the following;
Train PT Clients from 6am-11am. If it was a hot day, meaning over 32C I especially made sure I ran hill repeats in the heat of the day for about 1 hour.
Completed long runs in the heat of the day. I would run along in temperatures above 32 degrees with my heart beating out of my ears, feeling sick. I’d then come in from my heat session then jump in the shower and go back out and train more clients that afternoon and into the night.
Leading up to Blackall 100 I was averaging 7 PT sessions a day.
I would also lay pavers, move boulders, build retaining walls, dig holes or shovel gravel on my “rest days” in the baking sun to complete the landscaping in my new Brisbane house. I used every bit of heat that I could, worked my arse off in the sun.
Between PT session I’d make good use of my car. I’d wind-up the windows with NO air conditioning on and treat myself to a sauna sweat session, then jump out of the car and train PT clients or myself. (Yes my deodorant was handy). This was especially good on hot days of over 30 degrees. It would end up much hotter in my car.
I’d only turn the air-con on if I had a client in the car with me. My poor long suffering husband did complain a fair bit and in the end whenever he was in my car I eventually did let him have air conditioning on if I was driving him to see a client.
I just tried to make the most of my surroundings and my job being an outdoor PT.
With my heat acclimatisation done it was ready to race.
I turned up to the Blackall 100 and the race director Alun handed me Bib no 1 and informed me that I had not entered yet. Whoops! I totally forgot to enter. Wow to the race Bib number 1. I was blown away. It was a totally humbling experience. I could think of at least 6 males and a few females who should be able to beat me at Blackall 100 and felt like I did not deserve this honour. I have a bit of a habit of forgetting to enter events. I can get a bit distracted sometimes. Working mums would totally get this. Lucky for me it all worked out in the end and I was in contact with Alun, Brett, Megan and the team enough prior to the event that they knew I was going to be on the start line.
The Blackall 100 starts at Mapleton in the Glasshouse Mountains. The course stretches it’s way around the Blackall Ranges National Park in loops visiting all the best waterfalls, single tracks, switch backs, rainforest trails, fire trails in the area. We were lucky to only have a 27 Degree day forecast, some sections of the course will become much hotter, forming a heat sink in some of the gorges and on the ridge lines especially in the middle of the day. Staying in control of your hydration, core temperature, fuelling needs will be crucial to having an enjoyable race.
I lined up on the start line, happy to see thick cloud cover, mist and a bit of fog. At least for the first few hours of the race we will be protected from the sun I thought, as we counted down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and we were off to the sound of the Blackall 100 Bell signalling the start of the race.
I cruised off with Kiwi Runner Shannon-Leigh Litt. We ran along chatting to each other along the streets, turning a few times and dropping down into a park, where I moved ahead of Shannon-Leigh before following the road up onto the main ridge line of Mapleton, rolling over the hills, being caught by and passed by Damon Goerke, Benjamin Gerhardy, Matt Judd and my mate Brad Bartsch before dropping into the Kondalilla Falls where I could pass Matt and Brad again.
In the morning the conditions were mild. I chose to go out moving fast, making the most of the easy ks and the cooler weather, wanting to get as many ks over and done with before the temperature climbed and I’ve have to put the breaks on. I was also mindful of some hotter sections on the track near Gheerulla Camping Area and CP3 and knew I had to get through that section before the real heat of the day set in.
I popped ahead of Brad and Matt and cruised across the creek, up a set of stairs through the beautiful rainforest, down the switch backs, down more stairs two at a time, across the lovely Kondalilla Falls. If you dared to look at the falls it was just magic waterfall with a large rock pool set high on the side of the cliff, with it’s wide sweeping views across the valley. I hopped up more stairs, around a cliff, descending into the valley though more stunning rainforest, along cute single trails, and switch backs and spotting the 100km runners on their loop run. I travelled up more stairs and completing the loop of Kondalilla Falls. We then popped out onto the road again and I informed Brad, my training partner who normally kicks my arse on all the climbs that I am not suffering from asthma today and I will have a good race.
I don’t think Brad quite understood what I was saying to him. Normally it is me who is puffing up the climbs, in these hot and humid conditions my asthma is significantly reduced and he should probably slow down because he was puffing more than me. He could not use me to pace him today. I let him write the splits for our end goal time of sub-11 Hours. 10 Hours 59 Minutes was the goal for both of us. I had not written splits for myself for a long, long time. I just was not well or fit enough to stick to them. There was no point setting unrealistic goals for myself and then get up-set whilst racing, when I totally blow out my split times by hours. The conditions would play into my pacing later in the race too. I have learnt to race to how I feel. Today at the Blackall 100 I was feeling good.
We cruised up the road with Matt just behind us, soon passing us on the climb. After a few ks on the road we ran along chatting like crazy, we then dropped back into the forest, down switch backs with sets of stairs on each turn of the switch back. After countless switch backs, descending into the valley, I commented to the boys that I can’t really turn right with my right foot , my right ankle is always a bit suspect and with the next switch back on the left hand turn I totally stacked it on the slippery stairs, whacking my left knee, my left foot slipping out from underneath me, landing on my left arm and ribs. I jumped up as quick as a cat, brushed myself off and decided to take the next few turns a bit slower. My knee instantly started to throb and swell. I just tried to run it out. Lifting my feet more stretching out my quad.
We hit the bottom of the gorge, crossed a creek and started to climb. More beautiful rainforest with single trails climbing up to the top of the ridge, with Brad, myself and Matt forming a train punching out a nice consistent rhythm.
We popped out onto Suses Pocket Road and I chilled out and let the boys run ahead of me. They were both better climbers than me and I was not going to blow myself up in the first 20ks. I cruised to the Top of Suses Pocket Rd and was surprised to see a Gate Keeper dressed like the grim reaper manning the gate, making sure it was closed after every runner that past through. I thanked the Gate Keeper for his assistance. Little things like this just make your day in a long ultra.
I cruised up the hill with the gap increasing from me and the boys to about 100m. I let them run ahead on the footpath. The incline soon flattened out and I rolled along Obi Obi Rd turned right, spotted my support crew, my Kokoda Challenge Team mates Levi and Dan and let them know what I needed for my return out of the CP2. I cruised up the drive, checked in and out, noted that I was running 15 minutes ahead of schedule and cruised back out onto the road, swapped my gel flask, frozen hydration bottles over and headed back up the street, still behind Brad.
I headed up the footpath spotting the Shannon-Leigh and Mandy within a kilometre of me and knew I had my work cut out for myself today. I wished them luck and powered on pacing myself. Matt soon past me and caught Brad and I thought that these two boys could fight it out for 3rd and 4th place if they liked. I’d just hang back and bide my time.
I soon reached the top of the ridge , crossed the road, crossed back again, ran through the car park, entered the National Park and descended into the rainforest again. This section of the Blackall 100 was just amazing. Beautiful moss cover trees lay on the forest floor, with vines, palms, lining the trail towards the turn off to Ubajee Walker camp and Mapleton Day Use Area. I turned left following the signs to CP3. Rolled over the fire trail, spotting Brad only 100m away and not looking so fresh. The temperature was starting to climb. The fog was lifting. It was humid and getting really hot. I cruised along the trail, just making the most of the easy running, before descending switch backs and a set of stairs hitting another intersection and followed the sign to CP3. I turned right and headed to Gheerulla Camping area. 35km in I’d worked out I had about 5ks to go, so decided to lighten my load, sipped and tipped out some Perpetuem. The temperature was climbing and I knew I would not be able to stomach much for of this type of fluid. I caught up with Brad and I could see Matt in the distance, and another guy, Yun Phua, behind me, was hunting me down. I decided that it was too early to care about position as of yet the race is too long and who knows what will come of a race like this. Who knows how hot it will really get?
Brad took off on the climb, the guy behind we soon caught up with me and past me. I let Yun lead for a few hundred meters but realised that he was not the best navigator. Whilst running behind him he almost turned down two wrong turns, not following the signs correctly. I think he was working way too hard and could not concentrate on the track ahead of him. I had to call out to him to steer him in the right direction. On the next descent I jumped ahead of him, taking control of the situation, fearing that if I followed him I’d get lost and end up running extra just like at Kokoda Challenge.
I cruised down the trail and popped out onto the rocky creek bed. I hopped along the smooth fist sized ankle breaking rocks, following the rocky foot trail through the creek bed, snaking its way through the gorge. The trail soon started to climb again, it became hot and exposed. I’d been without water now for about 4ks. I’d drunk all my fluid. I chose to have a watered down hammer gel and just hopped that I had enough water in my system to digest it. I was doing my best to get every drop out of my water bottles. Every drop counts. Even if it just relieved the dryness from my mouth for a minute.
I cruised along, managing my exertion, descended onto the hot fire trail, rolled along spotting Brad and Matt ahead of me. I ran into CP 3 with my support crew waiting for me with my much needed Frozen 500ml of Hammer Heed, Frozen 500ml of fresh clean water and my watered down Hammer gel flasks.
Now it was hot! The temperatures had climbed to over 33 degrees in this section of the track. I checked in and out of the CP3 and cruised up the single switch back track up the bluff in the heat of the day, sun belting in, my core temperature rising.
I used some of my fresh clean water to wet my head. It felt like gold. The chilled water on my head immediately made me feel cooler. I decided that after every 100 steps I’d give myself this treat. I punched out a fast tempo run up the bluff with the Taylor Swift “Shake it off”, tune in my head.
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
About 3/4 of the way up the climb I was overheating. I’d consumed all my fluid, I could hear my heart rate beating out of my ears. I took off my singlet to try and get more airflow onto my skin and I decided that I now had to power walk my way up the rest of the climb, conserve energy and look after myself.
I was now passing Blackall 50km Runners regularly. I had a good chit chat with them as I passed. I always love a course where I come in contact with other competitors. A little chat and some encouragement goes a long way with your moral. I chit chatted the rest of the way up to the top of the climb and knew that it was not far until the water tank.
Finally, with hands on quads, I hit the top of the bluff and tried to get my legs working again. I walked and ran, 20 steps running, 20 steps walking until the blood moved it’s way back into my running muscles and started the hunt for the water tank.
I was hot, mouth parched, spittle on my lips, heart beating out my ears. I desperately tried again and again to get more water from my bottles, only managing a few drops each optimistic time, while cruising along the now fire trail, chatting to 50km runners. After a few ks on the exposed fire trail I hopped back onto a single track and was pleased to spot a QLD Parks Ranger marshalling the area. She let me know that 7ks away there was water. The tank was here just to use to cool out bodies down.
I showered my visor in the tank water. I bent over and wet my neck and hair in the tank shower. I readied myself for 7 more ks without water. Cool. You can do this. You run around all day long without water. This is not different. I would just have to not push myself too much.
I cruised along the single trail that flowed down into the gorge, still chatting the to Blackall 50k runners as I passed them. I looked back and Yun who had been following me earlier in the race finally caught me again when I stopped for a tank shower. He must have skipped the tank. I chilled out and cruised along, down the descent, trying again and again to suck a drop of water from my bottles. I decided to have a watered down gel and wished the un-manned water stop would come sooner rather than later. I felt like begging the 50k runners for some water but I knew they’d also be suffering and in danger of dehydration too.
I popped out onto the road and was ecstatic to find the water stop. I filled up 1L of water. Knowing that I would be going through it one way or another. It was just amazing to have a drink. I found Brad at the water stop too enjoying the much needed fluid. He did not look good. Red faced, veins popping out of his head. I offered him more Endurolyte’s and he said he had enough on him. He was naughty! Not wearing a visor or cap. I told him to walk and he’ll “come good” sure enough.
I left Brad at the water stop, it looked like I’d dropped Yun on the descent.
I moved on tipping water over my head, lowering my core temperature, drinking small amounts of water regularly. Taking Endurolyte’s regularly, every 30-15 minutes knowing I was getting a bit sore and needed some extra help with my electrolyte balance. In these conditions hydration comes first, nutrition second.
I cruised along the trails noted a turn up the ridge to CP4 and followed it, completing the Ubajee Walkers Camp loop. Turning right up the stairs and hoping, hoping, hoping I made the correct decision. Spotting 100km runners descending on the trail, catching 50k runners on the climb. I was even told by mate concerned 50km Runner Tamyka to make sure I’d turned the right way. I let her know that I was positive all I had to do was follow the signs to CP4 and I would be following the right track. We had the order of CP’s printed on our Race Bib, so all I had to do was look at my Bib and check that I was following the sign to the correct CP number.
I climbed, running pumping to “Shake it off” all the way up the climb until again I could hear my heart beating out my ears then had to walk, hands on quads, motoring up the climb, managing, managing, managing.
I popped out onto the fire trail, cruised along trying to find some running legs and was surprised to spot Damon walking on the side of the fire trail. Damon has run a 9 hours 50 min Great Ocean Walk Trail Run. This guy is a machine. Here he was walking. I offered him some electrolytes and wished him the best of luck. I felt sorry for him. I know how good he can be on the right day. You just never know what injury or illness some one is carrying into an event. It was saddening to see him walking.
I cruised along, turned left, followed the narrow track up to Mapleton Day Use Area and into CP4. I quickly checked in and out and let Brad’s trail running legend of a wife Jude, know that Brad was suffering a bit. I had no idea how far behind he was and that I had not seen him for 7ks. I let her know he also had calf pain and I told him to walk to cool down a bit.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and got the hell out of there. Wanting to make up some time on this easy section of the course.
I think most of the runners like me totally underestimated how tough this 10km section was. I’d run around this area before but could not figure out the exact course in training. The profile between CP4-CP5 looked like beautiful easy rolling 10km descent that we should be able to knock out in under 1 hour. WRONG.
Yes, it was a descent. Man it had some ups, steep ups, steep painful descents that just hurt like hell on 60 plus km tired legs. The climbs were sharp, the descents jagged rocky, hardened clay fire trails. All I wished for was a creek to dunk my visor in because I was pretty sure that both of my bottles were Hammer Heed and I was tipping Heed all through my hair. Stuff it! I’d rather be cool than pretty! My hair began to have a crispness to it that indicated that yes, both bottles were full of Heed.
Finally, I found a creek, it felt like it was the first creek of the day that had enough water in it to dunk a visor into. I walked through the creek, enjoying a full leg dunking and decided that it was best to power walk up the climb with my hands on quads.
I pushed on, finding my running legs and came to a 3 way intersection. I ran along following the most used track but could not see a marker in the distance and could not see a marker close to the track head. I stopped and double back and checked again at the intersection. With my tired 65km brain and eyes I could not see a ribbon marker until the wind blew and moved it in the tree. Phew! I’m not lost. All the signage at the Blackall 100 had been really good, excellent in fact. I could not faulted it. That’s why at this point I had to stop and think. The Blackall 100 course markers put out cross marking for the wrong direction and pink ribbons marking the correct way, pink ribbon every 500m or so. If I could not see a marker I new to stop and check. There was also CP arrows directing us runners to the correct check points, signs for 100km and 50km runners to follow. The course was pretty easy to navigate.
After finding the marker I cruised on trying to be consistent, trying to make up time, knowing that I was losing time hand over fist on these sharp climbs. I checked my watch and decided to drink all my reserves and tip the rest of the Heed over my head and after a few more ks powered into the CP5.
I still felt pretty fresh. My nutrition plan was working for me. My support crew, Levi asked me if I wanted anything special at the next CP5 after the Dam Loop.
“Nah, it seems to be working for me so far”. Was all I replied.
“When are you going to start looking like you are hurting?” Levi asked
“Hopefully I won’t”. Today was my day and I felt great. No asthma but I still did not dare dif into my lungs.
With my frozen bottles changed,watered down gels re-stocked, I was out of there with the knowledge that Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me. Okay, in the past I would get lazy with this knowledge that I had 20 minutes of time my sleeve and I would just try and hold on. Whilst running the loop of the dam in the Blackall 100 I’ve learnt to use this knowledge to my advantage. If Shannon-Leigh was 20 minutes behind me, then it meant that she had to run the next leg 2 minutes faster/km than me to catch me. Off I went trying desperately to make sure Shannon-Leigh could not catch me. Every time I saw myself running a 6, 5, 4 min km it meant she had to be running a 4,3,2min km.
I cruised around Cooloolabin Dam, past the squashed black and white Bandy Bandy Snake, up, down the rolling hills along a wide blue stone crusher dust road and back to the CP5 to complete the loop.
Jude, Brad’s wife came out to meet me, asking me what I needed form my support crew. She sadly informed me that Brad had decided to stop at 70km. That leg from 60-70km really took a lot of runners by surprise. Even though he was in 3rd place he just could not finish the Blackall 100, he was toast.
I quickly swapped over my bottles, gels and was running out of there. I pushed on, running the out and back section of the trail quickly and I was pleased to turn left without seeing Shannon-Leigh on the fire trail to the left. Now it was just me against the clock. I’d slowed down a bit in the heat of the day, now it was time to kick it on up this 10km climb back to Mapleton Day Use Area and back to CP4.
I’d run this section in training. I did not recognise any of the road though. I was trying to figure out when the section of the track was going to start that was eroded and a bit hairy. The road had been beautifully freshly graded with blue stone crusher dust and it was nice and fast to run on.
For the first time whilst racing I did not care how big the climb was or for how long it went. All I cared about was the patch of road in front of my feet. That was all that mattered. There was no point worrying or thinking of how big the climb was. It was not important. I just had to run, stay in the moment, keep my feet moving fast and make sure I was making good time up this climb.
Soon enough I was at the top of the climb and cruising into the CP4. I was really fast on this leg and my support crew only just made it to the CP4 in time to see me. I grabbed my bottles. Checked in and out of the CP4 and drank some cola. Checked my time and I was informed that I had about 8ks to go.
I looked at my watch and it still had a 10 in front of it. I was still in for a chance of making it under 11 hours. I took off down the walking track and stopped dead at the track interaction. There was not an arrow to the Finish. I knew I was on the right track, but with 92km of running in your brain I just second guessed myself. I pulled out my phone and called Mikey my husband. I could not get through to him so I kept moving in the direction of which I thought I should be going remembering that I’d seen a sign directing me to the finish earlier in the race on this out and back section. I decided to trust my gut and with about 1km of running I found the sign. I was on the right track. Phew. Mikey was then calling me back but I did not have enough reception to answer the call. I just wanted to let the Race Directors know that there could be a problem later in the night with tired 100km runners.
With 7km to go I started to lighten my load of fluid. I looked at my watch and thought that I would not make it Sub-11. I did not let this bother me. I just kept belting it out, chatting to the Blackall 50km runners as I zoomed past. My eyes were starting to get tired. It was still light but my eyes were playing tricks on me a bit, I had to focus with everything that I had to prevent a fall as I jumped over mossy logs, dodged beautiful rain forest trees and leaped over vines, winding up the track and popping out onto the car park, running up the hill, crossing the road and merging onto Obi Obi Road again.
I had no idea of the distance left to cover. My watch always loses 3km in a 100km event. I guessed 4ks to go. I spotted a local jogger on the footpath ahead of me. I decided to try and match this runner’s tempo. She soon turned right and I was at the top of the ridge, I crossed the road and started to wind it up. Trying to remember this section from earlier in the day.
I spotted the camp ground and Jude waiting at the gate for me. Man my eyes were going, I could barely recognise her. I was starting to feel fatigue with my mental function. I had 2min and about 500m to run to the finish line she informed me.
Game on. I lifted my knees and belted out the last 300m, making my last kilometre a 4:02min k for the end of a 100.3 km event. I still felt great. I ran across the line crying and totally spent collapsed across the finish line, laid on the ground.
“Ring the bell, Ring the bell”. The time keeper informed me.
I rang the bell, ding, ding, ding and recorded a time of 10 Hours 59 Min and 59 seconds.
Wow! I did it. I stuck to my splits. I took NO Painkillers! I mean that not even a panadol. I forgot to pack them in my race kit. I’m stoked to say I did not need them. My body felt great all day long. It’s the first time since starting ultra’s that I have not had to take a panadol to get me though an event. My stomach was just perfect too. I’ve really struggled in the past with gut issues. It was just a great race. It was my 7th Ultra of the year and to be able to finish 2014 with a win was just amazing to me. I nabbed a bonus 2nd place overall too. It just could not get any better. Shannon-Leigh Litt from NZ came in 3rd overall. It was a great day for the chicks out there. I feel Shannon-Leigh will be a name to watch in 2015. She’s a kiwi and dealt with these tough conditions beautifully. 3rd female Raelene Bendall also played it smart and nabbed a place in the overall top 10 too.
It was an awesome day for the girls in the 50km also. Local young gun Kirra Balmanno won and finished 3rd place overall with Kellie Emmerson coming in 2nd and 5th place overall Claire Lawson in 3rd.
1) Shona Stephenson 10:59:50 (2nd Overall)
2) Shannon-Leigh Litt 11:37:26 (3rd Overall) Kiwi-recently returned from Bolder Colorado
3) Raelene Bendall 13:11:05 (9th Overall)
Benjamin Gerhardy 10:42:31 (1st Overall)
Andy Bowen 11:44:31 (4th Overall)
Steven Pemberton 11:45:01 (5th Overall ) Kiwi-living in Bris-vegas
Stephenson Inov-8 Trail Runner Winning the Lamington Classic
For about 15 years I’ve wanted to visit the Lamington World Heritage Listed National Park. It took a back to back event with 42km Saturday and a 21km Sunday race to give me enough motivation to finally get there. The Lamington Classic has a historic South East Queensland trail running event that has been around since 1970. It is said to be the oldest trail running event in Australia. The Lamington Classic has an amazing history of great runners who have run the 21km distance from Binna Burra to O’Reily’s for over the 30 years.
Initally the event ran one way only for example from O’Reilys to Binna Burra Lodge and then the following year the opposite way. Then the race was evolved into the 21km O’Reilys to Binna Burra on the Saturday then Binna Burra to O’Reily’s on the Sunday. Last year was the first year that the race ran as a 42.2km out and back from Binna Burra to O’Reily’s return on the Saturday. Is your head in a spin yet? Confusing? Yes. Heaps of fun? Yes.
My adrenalin was pumping on the drive into the Lamington Plateau. I love racing in new locations, it always brings a new adventure. I arrived at Binna Burra Grooms Cottage registration and I was introduced to the great Bruce Hargreaves AKA Digger. The Lamington Classic is his baby. Digger shook everyones hand, introduced himself as Digger as we all arrived in the Grooms Cottage at Binna Burra Lodge. What event does a race director take the time and effort to meet, greet and make every runner feel special? This race was small, relaxed, and a far cry from the Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc (UTMB) that I’d raced only 6 weeks before. I loved the relaxed atmosphere of the Lamington Classic. It reminded me of my first every trail event The Great Nosh in Sydney and the Deep Space Mountain Marathon in Canberra.
I believe that Digger has had to work tirelessly with Queensland Parks and Wildlife to get this race off the ground and to keep it running for 46 years. The course records are staggering. Some say the track is slower and more eroded now. What ever! I still am in total admiration of Nikki Carroll who managed to run the 21km course in 1 hour 35 minutes. Thats on the Long Course. If you want a shot at the record you have to run it on the Long Course which is about 800m further than the 21.1km course we will be running. It will take one special runner to beat some of the 21km records.
The logistics of the Lamington Classic are a bit crazy and difficult for me to get my head around at first. I even had to call up Digger and ask him where the start line was and if it was at the same place as when I’d be staying in the Bunks. Too funny, I was totally lost in the event notes. It’s weird to talk about logistics in an event. To be honest with you running the out and back marathon st Binna Burra seemed like the easiest option logistically wise.
Okay let’s talk logistics, to race the Lamington Classic it’s kind of essential I try and explain the logistics.The remoteness of both the start and end points really is what makes this event so special but a bit of a nightmare with your cars. I chose not to worry about the logistics until after I’d raced my marathon, mainly because I was so confused. Bruce Hargraves AKA Digger and his mates organise car shuffles, car pooling or people to drive your car from Binna Burra to O’Reily’s for all the 75 runners for the Sunday 21km run. Nuts! Yes your car can be delivered to you at the finish line. Yes! Amazing. Once you’ve driven these roads you can appreciate what lengths these guys go to to look after the runners. The roads are not for the faint hearted, the bends were narrow and in a fair amount of the mountain road only one car could fit. The Lamington Classic is such a chilled out low key event that handing your car keys over to these guys whom potentially you’ve only spoken a few words too seemed perfectly normal to all the other runners except for my mate Steven and myself who on Saturday afternoon after racing the 42km marathon still could not get our heads around the thought of depositing our car keys into a key box and trusting your car to makes it to the other range at O’Reily’s the next day. Are they joking? I think both Steven and I did not want to put anyone out and did not want to appear like we were totally clueless of the logistics. It seemed a bit weird, too good to be true. Totally unheard of. Instead Steven from NZ and me from Sydney, the two novice out of towners did a 3 hour car shuffle to get one of our cars to O’Reily’s for Sunday and then we had to pick up the other car after the race. DOH! Instead of just handling over our car keys to the spectators to drive over to the O’Reily’s Finish line. Total trust. This is Queensland. Things happen differently up here. On the plus side we did spend a few hours at O’Reily’s. There is an awesome suspension bridge rainforest walk and tree house to check out. The cafe is also has one of the best views of the ranges in the area. See not a total waste of time.
Accommodation could be obtained at either Binna Burra Lodge or O’Reily’s. Digger puts on a presentation dinner for everyone including friends and family on the Saturday Night. Breaky, lunches are organised too for all the racing periods. Presentation lunch on the Sunday after the 1/2 Marathon too. It all runs like a well oiled machine. A lovely social running weekend.
Okay with the logistics out of the way, hot chips eaten, coffee’s drunk it was time to race.
The Binna Burra 42.2 start like the rest of the Lamington Classic was totally relaxed. All the runners were called to the start line and whilst walking to the start line from the picnic area we were told we were running late and we had to run to the start line so their watches will synchronise with the timers at O’Reily’s. With a warm up trot to the start at the Lamingtion National Park sign post we counted down, said a few hello’s and we were off with little fuss.
I cruised off with a group of two guys and my mate Steven. I lead and was able to set the pace along the Boarder Track. We chilled out and paced ourselves in a group for the first 6km of lovely single trail, which soon turned to amazing single track of amazing untouched virgin rain forest, covered in ferns, lichen, lily’s, snaking its way across creek beds, climbing up for the first 13km to the top of the Lamingtion Plateau.
Wow! The views were amazing. Mountains in the mist for as far as the eye could glimpse between dangerous trail steps. We chatted as a group, really enjoying ourselves along some of the prettiest trails I’ve ever seen. I really mean that. I’ve race in France, Japan, New Zealand and the laming ton Classic is just beautiful. Our group chilled out and totally paced ourselves, this race felt more like a relaxed training run. The Lamingtion Classic trails are just magic, I kept reminding myself how lucky I was that I’d finally made it to this part of the world after 15 years of dreaming about it.
The Lamingtion Classic course followed the ridge between NSW and QLD along a narrow cliff track. The Queensland surveyor must have been a genius setting the boarder between NSW and QLD which we were now following. The track was tiny in sections. One slip and the drop would break bones. Deadly drop offs were frequent along the track and it took full concentration to stay on two feet. At the top of the Lamingtion Plateau the bloke behind me, Daniel Hooley slipped on a rock shelf and almost slid off the cliff into the valley below. We all stopped dead in our tracks and made sure he was safe, back on his feet and able to run. It gave us all a real dose of reality. At parts the track was only 40cm in width, slippery in the fog and heavily eroded in some places.
After 15ks the track started to descend and I opened up and started to kick it a bit, curving along the mist covered cliffs and turned a corner and my footing totally gave way. I slipped over and with adrenalin pumping thorough my body I jumped out of fear and landed in the ferns on the mountain slide of the cliff track, on my back with both feet in the air. Fuck. It must have been hilarious to watch. It scared the shit out of me and also the guys following me. They all checked that I was okay, being true gentlemen resisted the urge to over take me while I was flat on my back. I jumped up a bit embarrassed and we were off and running again. I think they got the stack on their Go Pro.
We opened up again, jumping, dodging, weaving our way down the rocky ridge and when the path widened we knew that O’Reily’s was about 2ks away.
We ran along the now bitumen trail, up a small rise and into O’Reily’s Boarder Track Start/End Point. I grabbed some supplies and thanked the organisers for their help and while my back was turned the guys were off, sprinting up the 7km climb. I totally lost them within a 30sec stop. 1 hour 57 min. It was game on and those boys had a plan and used their position at the back of the pack to their advantage. Steven was ahead of me and I tried my best to run him down but my legs felt like they were full of lead. Totally trashed quads.
I soon caught up with Steven while he took a nature stop and I told him not to wait for me because he was doing it so bloody easy. He is one of my Ultra Training Australia (UTA) clients and he was kicking my butt! I always knew he had it in him. “Go chase them down, don’t worry about me”. I instructed. He’d never been in a podium position before. Off he went to kick some butt and test himself.
About 3 ks in I spotted Jess another UTA client also looking fresh on the out and back. We high fived each other. I gave the next female a high five too. I did anything to take my mind off the pain I was feeling. I was stuffed. I love out and backs, they can really boost your morale if you cheer and wave to the other runners.
I did my best to just try and stay consistent, turning my legs over and focusing on what is important and before long I was at the top of the plateau and my legs were given some relief. The scenery was just amazing. The reverse of the track gave a totally different perspective of the terrain through ferns, creeks, mosses, lichen, lily’s, it was like a perfect enchanted fairy garden. I loved every inch of this part of the world. I spotted plants I’d never seen before and I was just enjoying the whole experience.
I snaked down the descent, across a dried creek, fixed my water bottle and totally stacked it, flat on my face, arms sprawled, rolling up onto my chest, face planted to the side, with my feet almost touching my head. I landed hard on a rock that gave my left quad a corky. Man it hurt. I jumped up, in pain, groaning, pulling my Inov8 compression shorts over my bruised quad and started running again.
Now my abbs were killing me with every breath, every step. I’d over stretched them in my arching chest roll stack. Ripping up my separation in my abs. Ouch. Sore, sore lower abbs. I focused on what was important. Knee drive forward, lifting my feel high enough off the ground, drinking, eating, and in the back of my mind knowing I was racing the 21ks the following day. I counted out my steps and raced with all my heart or as fast as my miler legs would take me down the plateau.
The path widened, I waved to the walkers and said hello to the Korean tourist, Aussie Tourist and about 1k from the end I looked up and waved to more Aussie tourist cheering for me, tripped, fell, rolling on my shoulder behind a tree, off the track and down the bank. Man that must of looked funny. One minute I was sprinting along the track totally in control, the next I was rolling down the side of the track. I jumped up like an embarrassed cat and started sprinting again. Desperately trying to get a good time for the marathon.
I sprinted into the finish line in 1st female place and 4th place overall 4 hours 05 minutes breaking the record by 22 minutes. (The Marathon Record was only 1 year old unlike the 1/2 marathon records). Steven managed a 3rd place behind the two blokes who only beat him by 17 seconds. He was then left to wonder what if he’d pushed harder from the start…….
Jess was 2nd female overall. It was a great result for our little training group.
So with the car shuffles done the runners were divided into waves, start times written on our recycled race bibs with a text-a. The slowest runners were to run off first and the fastest runners last. Meaning that at the finish line of O’Reily’s there was the least amount of waiting time for the runners. It was actually a really nice way to run it. A bit like the old days of the 6 Foot Track, when the veterans started first. Us younger faster runners are able to catch, chat and be inspired by the 66 year old female runner out on the track.
Steven and I left in the 8am wave, sore and stiff. Both of us seemed to be the only runners nutty enough to race the double of the Lamingtion Classic 42km Saturday and 21km on the Sunday. I guess we both have that ultra runner brain, if there is a race that will push us and our limits we will do it. Jess had to work on the Sunday so she was really missed, we were bummed we did not have enough runners to form a team. You need 3 runners on both days to form a team. Steven and I are both new comers to Brisbane area and don’t know too many runners yet.
With the count down on we were off and running. This time Steven only stayed behind me for about 3 minutes, learning from his experience from yesterday, he has become way more stronger than he once thought. He found his rhythm and cruised his Kiwi legs up the 13km climb and out of sight. I was shot to shit. Totally hurting with no bounce in my legs. I counted out my tempo and before long the track narrowed and I did my best to keep moving in the right direction. The track looked totally different from the day before. The later start and the sun shining meant that the light was different and it appeared to be a totally new trail I was running on.
I gave myself a goal to run the 21km in the same time as I ran it the day before with fresh legs. At the 1/2 way mark I was about 3 minutes behind on schedule after most of the climbing was done. I dug deep. Hopped across creeks, snaked up the mountain, crossed the rocky out crop dodging earlier wave runners who all kindly moved aside for me to pass and powered to the top of the plateau. I was really quietly frightened of the drop off I’d almost fallen down the day before. My imagination getting the best of me. After about 15ks I was pleased to have past my fall zone safely. Today it looked like a totally harmless drop off, yesterday in the mist it looked hairy. What a difference a day makes.
The climbing all done I rolled down the descent, twisting my ankles on day old strapping tape 3 times on the rocky trail. About 2 ks to go the track widened, flattened out and I dug deep, feeling great now, hit the bitumen, lifted my knees up the final climb and into the finish line in about the same time as I ran this section of the course the day before. 1 Hour 57 Minutes. Not that fast, still not a bad result on tired legs. I still managed to win the Sunday 1/2 marathon, Steven finished 4th overall. He beat me by more than 3 minutes. Nice one Steven.
Saturday Results 42.2km
Daniel Hooley 3:58:57
Justin Williams 3:58:58 Daniel and Justine crossed the finish line together as mates
Steven Pemberton 3:59:13
Shona Stephenson 4:05:21
Jessica Schluter 4:45:21
Jo Collins 5:13:25
There was a problem with the Sunday 21km Results.
They have not officially been released yet on paper so I can’t add them to this blog.
We were all given our awards at presentation with our lunch and have been told that Digger will fix them when he is back from the much deserved holidays in the States. Here is the Facebook page for Digger
I’m sponsored by Inov-8
Inov-8 Race Elite Shorts
Inov-8 Race Elite Tank
Inov-8 Fitness Bra
Inov-8 Race Elite Vest
I’m Sponsored by Hammer
Hammer Heed 500ml 1 scoop per hour
Hammer Banana Gels 1 gel every hour in a watered down Inov-8 Race Bottle