Pomona King of the Mountain

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

Pomona King of the Mountain 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

1st Kim Beckinsale 31.11 Aus

2nd Leslie Saunders 31.39 Aus

3rd Shona Stephenson 33.37 Aus

Go the Aussie chicks!

Men

1st Ben Duffus – 23.47 Aus

2nd Lance Downie 26.16 NZ

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

Ultra Trail du Mt Blanc

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

The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shona Stephenson UTMB Bath

Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane

Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane

 

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

UTMF

UTMF 2014

 

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

Continue reading “UTMF”