Northburn 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

Northburn 100

Tarawera Ultra March 2013 was a total disaster. I just had the most public withdrawal from Tarawera 100km due to me pissing and shitting blood only 1 week before attempting Lisa Tamati’s, Northburn 100 mile. A week before Northburn 100 Miles, I was made to stay in hospital over night to re-hydrate and for monitoring and testing at Rotarura Hospital.

I was guttered because I also withdrew from Great North Walk 100 Mile in November 2012. Withdrawing from the 2 biggest and longest events in a row on my running calendar was not the way I wanted to start my 2013 Ultra Running Campaign.

My head told me to pull out of Northburn 100 Mile and just race the 50km and run some hill re-peats and look at it like well deserved training holiday. My heart said that I should race the 100 miler. I did not want to let race organizer of Northburn 100 Lisa Tamati down. Lisa is one of my heroes. She is one of the main reasons why I run ultras. I like most Ultra runners out there read “Running Hot”, and I was motivated to run Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney my first 100k in 2010. I wanted to support her event. Especially because she is a fellow female. “I support women in sport”. As the slogan goes.

Yet I also did not want to become a possible liability for the race organizers either. I really did think of pulling out of Northburn completely. I told everyone at Tarawera Ultra I was pulling out completely. Terry Davis the passionate and quirky the race director of Northburn 100 even emailed me suggesting that I drop down to the 50km, knowing that I may not be up to running my first miler in such poor condition. I think he was also rubbing salt into my Aussie wounds. I’d failed at Tarawera Ultra, how on earth was I going to back up and completed your first 100 miler on a notoriously unforgiving Northburn Station Course with 8000m of elevation gain and descent?

My husband, Mikey looked into my symptoms too. He knows me and by body and what I am capable of better than anyone. He believed that I was still in good enough shape to take on the Northburn 100 Mile. He urged me to race the Miler, believing that I would be able to achieve my goal of finishing my first 100 Mile event and put me in perfect mental and physical condition for racing UTMF (Ultra Trail Mount Fuji) in a months time.

I pulled out of the Great North Walk 100 Miler at 110km with Heamouphous Influenza, a nasty super bug on my lungs. I pulled the pug at 85km at Tarawera because I was pissing blood. Both of these reasons of withdrawing were for health reasons, and I did the right thing. This still did not stop me from feeling like I had failed in some way.

After Tarawera Ultra, I hopped off the plane in Sydney Australia and went straight to the doctors. I had to get myself checked out. I had to make sure there was no chance of any organ damage. Pissing blood can be an early indicator of kidney failure. Test had shown that my liver was not functioning properly too.

After numerous testing over the next 4 days I was deemed to have nothing obvious wrong with me. The liver function test looked like a false positive, as the test was taken within 7 days of strenuous exercise. My body had recovered from the battering I had dealt it. I actually felt pretty good. I’d run all my personal training sessions as usual. I ran 1k intervals nice and quick and I lead into a nice taper for Northburn 100. Due to me being sick whilst running Tarawera Ultra I had to take it easy whilst racing, so my reserves were in good shape and I felt fresh enough to run Northburn 100 Mile. The test showed that my body was functioning normally.

At Tarawera Ultra, I felt like I failed my body. I did not look after it correctly. I was doing something wrong. What ever I was doing was not working for me and I had to change my nutrition and hydration strategy. Hydration and Nutrition is such a personal thing. Everyone’s body reacts differently to exercise. Our bodies are also constantly adapting too. What use to work for me no longer works, and it seems that my body needed a new carb loading, fueling and hydration plan.

In the days before Northburn 100 Mile I knew everyone would think I was crazy if I told them I was racing the Miler, especially since I’d just been in Rotarura Hospital. So I kept it close to my chest. I had the support of my husband Mikey who knows me better than everyone and that was all the support I needed. I did let a few people know that if I ran past 50km (it’s funny, it was only my running female mates that I shared this with) If I made it past 50km it meant I was not sick. I would be fit, hydrated and fueled enough to run the full 100 miles. If I listen to everyone who said that I could not or should not run then I would have never gotten to where I am today.

Mikey and I sat down together and worked out a Hydration and Nutrition plan. I am a Sport Nutritionist, but as any good specialist would say is that you can’t self-diagnose or self prescribe, your too attached and your insecurities will lead you down the wrong path.

I had Mikey (who know’s correct sports nutrition inside out from listening to me) over see my Nutrition Plan and I just had to approved it.

The plan started straight after Tarawera. I went totally gluten free just in case I had become gluten intolerant. I had to replenish my glycogen stores. I ate quinoa for breakfast, Choc Chip Hammer Bars, Bananas and berries with nuts for snacks. Gluten Free Vego Burgers and Chips, Spinach, Ice Cream, Lindt 70% Chocolate, Gluten Free Cookies. I was running around with PT clients with 3 Gluten Free Cookies in my hands eating them on the run. I had to make sure I was not loosing any stores whilst working as a PT or with my own training. I ate gluten free burgers and chips I swear every day for my lunch and dinner. I was insane how much food I was putting into my system. The above diet is what I DON’T recommend people eat leading up to an ultra. But hey, this is what worked for me for that week. It was what my body needed to be able to back up, and race 85km the 160km and Northburn 100 Miles only a week later.

I was hydrating all week also by drinking plenty of fluids and by taking Hammer Endutolytes Capsules. The day before Northburn 100 Mile I found Tegan Angle a great running mate of mine and he had a permeant marker. We wrote a few key motivational slogans on my arms and hands for the Northburn 100 Mile. Matty Able Suggested that I get them tattooed on permanently……

Go Get Them Tiger”. Brendan Davis my close friend, Inov8 Teammate and mentor said those words to me.

This Is Tough But I Am Tougher”. This is our Ultra Training Australia catch cry that we teach our clients.

Finishing is the only option”. These words are direct and a promise that I made to myself. “Fix Your Head And Your Body Will Follow”.  I wrote this on my arm when I ran my first solo 100km The North Face 100 in 2011. It got me to the end of an epic mental and physical journey. I will need to stay positive, and focused for the entire 160km to be successful at Northburn 100 Miles.

The night before Northburn Ultra my pre-race meal was thick cut potato wedges, sour cream and sweet chili sauce plus a couple of pieces of Lisa’s Tamati’s mum’s gluten free pizza.

I went to bed at around 10:30pm and I actually had a pretty good night sleep. On Northburn 100 Race Day I woke up at 4:30am got dressed.

My Northburn 100 Mile Race Kit that I used.

  • (I had thermal pants and montane water proof jacket also packed in my bag);
  • inov8 Trailroc 245 (I only wore one pair for the entire 160km)
  • injinji socks mid weight crew
  • BSc Compression Shorts
  • BSc Sports Bra
  • Hammer Singlet
  • Hammer Visor
  • Hammer Thermal Arm Warmers
  • Inov8 Bluff
  • inov8 Race Elite 130 Base Layer
  • inov8 Race Elite Thermoshell I used both sides (one side is 10% warmer than the reverse side it was my saviour late in the race when the temperatures dropped to 1 degree with 100km gale forced winds).
  • UltrAspire Omega Pack with Hydrapak Bladder
  • Ay-Up Ultra-lite All Rounder Head Torch with Epic 12 Hour Battery.


For breakfast before the Northburn 100 Mile I had an expresso and a Hammer Choc Chip Bar for breaky. I taped my feet and I was picked up by Lisa and her mum. The race organizers put me in an amazing mansion with Ray Sanchez, 5 time Badwater Finisher who was one of the race favorites for the miler, Quentin race film-maker and Photographer Lyndon Marceau.

When I arrived at the start line I quickly went to the bathroom and I then took two gastro stops. Just to make sure I was not going to have any problems out on the track. At Tarawera Ultra I had gastro symptoms from 30-60km. This then lead to be becoming de-hydrated, which lead to me pissing blood. I was not going to have the same problems again.

I lined up for the Northburn 100 Mile and I thought that I’d just wear my light head torch fort he first 50km.  But on the start line the batteries that I bought from the dodgy guy at the airport in Sydney totally failed and I quickly swapped my head torch over to my trusted Ay-Up with a 12 hour Battery and a 6 Hour Back Up Battery. That would be enough to get me through the race.

At 6am we all counted down and were off and running. I took my time and chilled out and just ran out like I was running a warm up. It was freezing cold and pitch black and I followed the boys, the glow sticks and head torches through a 5km loop of the vineyards of Northburn Station.

After the loop Ray and I started to work together as a team. Pacing each other up the climb. I did not want to be dropped by him. I was thinking that I may need a friend in the dark after 100km of running. We ran and walked our way up the climb for the next 10 ks or so until we reached a single man track. Here on the single man track just when the sun was rising over the mountain. I was made familiar with the introduced plants the Spaniards and the native Matagouri or Mountain Holly. At first I thought they were both beautiful plants. But I soon realized that they were shin rippers. Both plants have sharp like leaves or branches. These spear like foliage’s pierced and cut into my calves, shins, knees. I now know why Ray had his compression socks on.

I chilled out on the climb and just tried to keep my feet amongst the rugged ankle killing single man track. I managed to get away from Ray on the technical trail every now and again. But we stuck together and helped each other out. We chatted about goal times and I told him “I want a sub-25 hour time for the Miler”.

“I’ll push you so you’ll get it”. He replied.”Can you turn on my Go Pro?”.

I did my best to turn the Go Pro, but the next day we worked out that I should never be trusted with an electronic devise. I tried to explain this to him when we were running up the Spaniard cutting climb.

We ran along together enjoying each other’s company. We soon hit the spongy alpine ankle spraining mosses and I took care. The lumps and bumps of the mosses just seemed to be slightly out of whack with my natural stride. I did my best to pick a path and followed the white markers up to the top of the climb.

Close to the top of the climb I was hit with the Northburn Station gale forced winds that I’d heard so much about. I’d been warned about the cold and that I needed to be careful. My asthma plays up in the cold. I was already running with a bluff over my face to heat and moisten the air into my lungs. The wind ripped through my body to my bones and I could feel my trachea and lungs tightening. I stopped and put on my new inov8 Base Elite 130 Thermal Top, I was in danger of having an asthma attack or becoming hyperthermic.

Sky Runner Shona Stephenson Winner of Northburn 100 Mile
Shona Stephenson at the Northburn 100 Mile

I scooted along the top of the mountain at an elevation of 1638 m and I soon lost Ray while he had a nature stop.

I ran to the check point rummaged through their food supplies hoping to find a bar of some sort. I was a bit bummed when after reading the packages they only had snacks containing peanuts. Peanuts even though I am not allergic to them do set of my asthma. Bugger. (I’ve worked really hard over the past few months since GNW to figure out what makes me sick or brings on my asthma. Gluten, Dairy and Peanuts seem to give me breathing difficulties). I was going to be a bit hungry later in this leg. This first 50km was taking longer than I had estimated the 25km of climbing to over 1600m of elevation took it’s toll on the time.

I took off out of the Northburn 100 Mile check point and ran off the top of the mountain along the single man track and down the ridge line. The track passed over a few farm wire fences. I’d seen a few of these in the video of last years event and I was wondering how my legs were going to clear the fences later after 160km.

The scenery on Northburn Station was as breath taking as was the climbing. I was just having a ball in a totally different terrain, enjoying the views. This landscape was totally different from what I was use to. Barren, exposed, alpine and I just loved it.

The track soon widened and became a fire trail or farm trail. I hooned down the descent and enjoyed the 15km of perfect mountain descending. I took my eyes of the track to glimpse the view and I clipped a rock and tripped and skidded on my chest, with my hands stretched out in front of me I hit the ground with such force that I rolled up onto my chest, and my back arched in a semi circle, with my feet almost touching my head.

I jumped up like an embarrassed cat and inspected the damage. I hit my knee on a rock and it was already starting to swell. I was lucky that where I fell was a mix of dust and soft clay. I dusted myself off and I was soon joined by another runner and Ray.

We ran along together for a few ks and at about the 40km mark I started to get really hungry. Being hungry whilst running made me realize that my gut was going to accept food. Good! I’ve never felt sooooooo hungry whilst racing! Great! But I was totally out of Hammer Gels, Bars and Perpetuem. I spotted a check point vehicle and I filled up my 750ml bottle with water and I rummaged around their car and found a Juicy Red Otago Apple.

I’ve never eaten an apple whilst on the run or racing before. I heard that James Kuegler AKA Kugs, from Barefoot Inc does it. So instead of starving and running low on fuel I ate an amazing fresh apple and continued on running towards Northburn 100 Station Base Camp Check Point.

About 5 ks later I was still hungry. I was lucky enough to chat a bloke and I scabbed a delicious muesli bar of him. I promised I’d only eat 1/2 of it, but about 5 minutes after demolishing the first 1/2 I lightened his load and ate the 2nd half. Yummy! White Chocolate, oats and berries. Just what I needed.

I soon dropped the nice guy and completed the tour of the vineyards of Northburn Station and ran into the 50km Tent for the first time. I was to return to this point after 100km and finally 160km the finish.

I ran into the Northburn 100 Mile checkpoint and grabbed my check point bag. I swapped over the following;

  • Hydrapak Bladder filled with 1.5L plain water
  • 750ml Water Bottle with Endurolyte Fizz, 1 Tablet
  • 1x 250ml of Hammer Perpetuem 1/2 Scoop
  • 2 Gel Flasks x4 Part Gels 1 part Water Hammer Tropical Gel.
  • 1 Hammer Choc Chip Bar.

I was then off and running back up the mountain. In the first 50km I did not use any caffeine in my Hammer Gels. I used Raspberry and Apple Cinnamon Flavors for the first 50km, 1/2 a Scoop Perpetuem and Hammer Choc Chip bar x1. In this second 50km I was introducing caffeine by using Hammer Tropical Gel in gel flasks. (Again this is what worked for me, it may be different for you).


My Nutrition Plan

1st 50km

  • Eat Hammer Bar 1/2 every 30 minutes.
  • Drink Perpetuem every 10 minutes
  • Eat a Caffeine Free Hammer gel Every 45 Minutes
  • Scabbed food off anyone I could find after 40km. He, he, he!


Nutrition Plan for 50-160km

  • Eat Hammer Tropical Gel Every 30 minutes
  • Drink Hammer Perpetuem every 10-15 minutes
  • Eat Hammer Bar 1 per 2 hours
  • Eat 1/2 Potato at TW and Northburn Check Points.


Hydration Plan

  • 750ml Water Bottle at Northburn and TW with 1 Tablet of Hammer Fizz
  • 1x Endurolyte Hammer Capsule Per Hour


After about 6ks I was starting to catch the front running guys. There was group of three in a line and I looked at them as my next victims and started to pick them off one by one.

“Your running strong on the hills Shona”. One of the guys said to me.

“On the up’s or the down’s?” I asked not quite knowing what he meant.

“Both”. He replied.

By the time I hit the Northburn 100 Mile Loop of Despair I’d run past them on a descent. I thought this was a bit weird. I don’t usually catch guys on a climb, especially since I’d just filled up with water and I was running heavy. This gave me confidence. I drove on and I hit a bit of a bad patch on the Loop of Despair. I guess it is called that for a reason. The climbs are so steep they killed my calves and quads. I did not have a clue when I’d reach it to the top. My guts felt just a bit crampy, so I decided to have 1 gastro stop just to calm it all down and hope that this would make me feel better.

By chance I looked up and I must have spotted Matty Able leading male in the 100k or Marty Lukes Leading male in the 100M in the distance up at Leaning Rock at the top of the climb. Even though that figure was about 3ks in the distance it gave me a point to focus on. I dug deep and before I knew it I was reaching the top of the climb.

Every time I hit the top of the range, I was hit with strong 100k or more freezing gale forced winds. I quickly dressed in my inov8 Elite 130 Base layer to protect my lungs. I made sure I also kept my mouth and nose exposed to the winds to a minimum too by keeping my airways covered with my inov8 bluff as much as possible.

When I reached TW, which was the name of the mountain top check point I called out to have some food. I was out of Hammer Bars, and I wanted to leave my last bar for my last loop of the Mountain.

“Hi Guys it’s Shona Stephenson coming where is my check point bag. What food do you have?” I asked “I’m out of solid food”.

“A-F is over there F-Z id over here. What are you?” The marshall replied.”We have nut  bars”.

“What the hell?” Was my reply. I was amused. It just came out of my mouth. I was hyped up and full of energy. I’d run 80km or so and I was a bit out of it and it just seemed so surreal. I’m so use to my bag being laid out for me and the marshals know who I was. I was in New Zealand and no one knew me here up on this ruggered mountain 25km away from any town.

Yeah Shona! This is New Zealand if you left the drop bags all lined up on top of the mountain they’s blow away you STUPID IDIOT I cursed myself! In a way I guess I got what I deserved.

“Where’s my bag? It is a blue bag with a bright orange square label on it. My Name is Shona Stephenson. I can’t eat those bars they have peanuts in them, do you have any solid food without peanuts in it?” I asked.

“We have potatoes, I can get you a potato if you like.” He offered.”Your bag is in this horse float”.

“Cool, that sound nice. I’ll have one please”. I asked as I ran and changed over my hydration and fuel in the horse float. Only in New Zealand would a horse float be used for a check point tent! A tent would have blown off the mountain.

With that I was trying my first potato whilst running. The potatoes were cut in half so a nice and warm to hold in my hand and eat whilst on the run. Before the race I planned on taking on about 100 calories of warm solid food at the check points to heat my core form the inside. The potato was warm. Ahhhhhh. It heated my body and my lungs. This was great! Starch, warmth and hydration at the same time. The Potato had been dipped in salt, and because it had been boiled it was really hydrating. I just loved it. Gluten Free! I kindly thanked the marshals. “Thank you, you guys are the best”. I really appreciated what they were doing for us on top of that wind raped mountain.

I headed off up towards Leaning Rock. The winds at this part of Northburn Station were fierce. I tried to hug the side of the mountain, hoping that the ridge would shelter me from the winds. I was being blown around like a rag doll. I had to lean into the wind, push on my knees, all the while trying to keep my chest up nice and high so I could breathe. Every now and then a big gust would come and through me over to the opposite side of the track. I’d run along the trail and have to stick my leg out to prevent me from ending up being flung off the mountain or into the dreaded Spaniards.

I spotted Lyndon Marceau the event photographer, and friend of mine at the top of the climb, and I watched him struggle to move. Even he was having problems to say the least. I push my way up to Leaning Rock and I was then hit with the full force of the roaring forties winds. I was almost blown backwards as I tried to move past Lyndon who was somehow managing to take photos.

When do they call this event off? I thought. These winds are insane. They aren’t calling it off. This is New Zealand. This is what it is like up here. Last year it was also snowing. I guess I was getting off lightly. This is normal for this part of the world. Just like us Aussies running Ultra’s in hot conditions with bush fires just over 20ks away.

With every head wind there is the possibility of a tail wind with a change of direction. I took some relief of a change of direction of the track and I made my along Dunstan Mountain to the telecommunications tower. Here is was struck with the wind chill and my lungs started to close up. I was freezing. I stopped and pulled out my inov8 Race Elite 180 Thermoshell, which is much like a fleece. One side is 10% warmer than the other side. I put it on the cooler Turquoise side and continued on towards the next check point only a few ks away.

I hit the top of Mt Dunstan and thanked the marshall, filled up my 750ml water bottle and rolled down the descent.

On the way to the check point I stopped to take a pee. In doing so I sat on a Spaniard spike and it pierced my privates. OUUUUUCHHHHHH. I dare not move until I finished as I feared straining a hamstring. Far out man that was bad luck! It was bound to happen over the course of 160km. I recovered and ran on hitting a nice rhythm and I cruised onto the Northburn Station Tent at the 100km mark. I was feeling fresh as can be and I was on course to break a record for the 100 Miler.

In the tent, I again swapped over my bladder, Perpetuem, Hammer Gel Flasks, Hammer Choc Chip Bar, 750ml Endurolyte Fizz Water Bottle. I was using the exact same hydration and nutrition plan for the final 60km that I’d used for the 2nd 50km. I was feeling fresh and I was going to make it to the end. This was such a great feeling. My Hydration and Nutrition Plan was working for me.

“How far back is the nearest female? Tracy how is she going?” I asked Lisa Tamati at the communications desk.

“She was about 7ks behind you at the last check point, she may only be 5ks behind you now”. Lisa replied.

“I like running 60ks.” I said and I was off and out of the main check point and racing my final lap.

Shit she is only 5ks behind you Shona. Who know’s how she is going to finish. She may be a better finisher than you. I knew there was an “Out and Back” coming on the course. My goal was then to get in and out of that “Out and Back” before she could see me on the return.

After getting slightly lost and having to ask spectators for some directions. I pushed hard up the climbs. It was dark now, I had to wear my Ay-Up All Rounder Ultra Lite Head torch. I chose to wear the 12 hour batter torch and not have to worry about swapping batteries for the night.

On the climb to Fairfax Spur, I turned onto a section of the Loop of Despair for the final time. I started to catch up with some of the other 100 Miler runners. This made me feel safe. I could hide amongst their head torches. If Tracey was following me she would not know which head torch was mine.

I pushed up the climb chatting to the other runners and spotting a possum, heaps of rabbits and a few ks later I spotted a ferret .I used all my leg power. I could feel the winds start to take action on my sweat on my skin, and before long I was again putting on my inov8 Elite Base Layer and a few ks later my inov8 Thermoshell on the turquoise side.

On the steep calf killing climb I was forced to run close to a heard of cows. It scared the shit out of me in the darkness. Their  illuminated eyes followed me as I tried to give a wide berth around their herd. I’m prettified of cows. They mooo’d, and groooooowned in the darkness and followed me and my light. I dared not take my eyes off them until I’d turned a corner and I was out of sight. I soon reached the top of the climb and I spotted the lights of the TW check point on Dunstan Range.

“Potatoes”. I boomed ahead of me as I ran towards the check point. ”Potatoes. I need Potatoes!”. I found this really funny. I was in the best mood. I was having a ball and I was really enjoying the Northburn 100 Mile. I knew the marshals at the check point at TW could not hear me coming due to the winds being so strong. The wind was ripping across the top of the mountain. Lyndon was still up on the ridge at TW freezing his balls off patiently waiting for a lift down the mountain. He was a nice friendly encouraging face to see and it lifted my mood some more.

At the TW Check point on the ride and I swapped my water bottle, gel flask, perpetuem and I grabbed a potato. The guys at the TW check point must have been freezing. They were doing well cooking food at all in the 1 degree temperature and the 100km gale forces chilling winds.I thanked them for their help.  I really understood what they were going through. I was freezing! They must have been so cold sitting up there waiting us runners to pass them in the night.

I ran off and I bit into the potato. To my disappointment the potato was not warm, but it was cold. When I ate it it chilled me from the inside.

“Fucking Cold Potato!!!” I yelled as I flung it to the feral animals.

I started to dread what was up ahead. I miler the course was about to get a whole lot more rugged, steep, loose and hard underfoot. I steered into the gale forced wind and pushed onto my quads for the next few ks until I got to leaning rock. I just tried my hardest to get out of the wind as fast as possible. At Leaning Rock Let’s face it it is leaning for a reason! I asked where the “Out and Back was?”.

“You have 2ks until you reach the Out and back.” The marshall said. ”Good Luck”.

With this thought in mind I ran down the descent, down Fairfax Spur, down the loose baby granite sculls. Shit, fuck, man be careful this is ankle breaking, knee busting terrain. I leaned back trying to get my center of gravity behind me. This was tough as every now and then a huge gust of 100 km wind would push me off balance. I was tentative, careful. My next event , UTMF was on my mind and I did not want to hurt myself. The exposed rock surface was so hard under foot. Every step was felt though my entire body. This was then exaggerated by the added degree of difficulty of the wild wind pushing, pulling, flinging and throwing my in all directions.

I soon made it to the bottom of the spur and I filled up with water at the Northburn 100 Mile check point.

“You have a 4km descent to McCarther”. The female marshal said.

“This is the out and back?” I asked.

“Yes you are at 122km, by the time you return you will have completed 130km”. The marshall kindly added. “You are doing so well.”

With this information I was off and running. My Sunnto Watch packed it in at the 50km mark. It was showing that I had been running for over 200km. I had no idea how many ks I had run, or how fast I was running. It just kept playing up on me. I was having to ask the distances off other runners or at the check points.

I ran along and I spotted a cute little hedge hog running across the track. A few ks later I decided to stop and have a pee. I’d been peeing regularly. Checking to see the colour of the pee, making sure it was nice and clear. This pee however, scared the shit out of me it looked bright luminous green, like some weird alien acid. Fuck Shona! WTF! What have you done to yourself now? No gels for a while. I ate a Hammer bar, but it was dry in my mouth, I added water to bar in my mouth and it made it more palatable and easier to digest.

I turned back and I spotted a runner coming up behind me. Shit, Shona it is Tracey. Focus and get your head together. I pushed on and I was soon caught by a 4WD Farm ute.

“Hi Mate, who is that following? Is that a bloke? Or Tracey?” I enquired.

“It’s a bloke, about 10 minutes back. Tracey is no where near you.” Replied the super supportive and ever so accommodating Tom Northburn Station Property Owner.

Phew, you can relax for a bit. Your safe for a bit longer. I pushed on to the turn around and returned back up the climb. I spotted Kieron Coulter about 100m from the turn around. I wished him luck. I pushed on up the climb and I soon spotted Glenn Sutton, last years winner. Come on Shona, don’t let them get you.

I kicked it as much as I could without burning up and I moved back up the ridge line. I stopped to piss again and I was relieved to discover that my pee was clear, it was just that my urine made the alpine grasses turn to a stunning emerald green with it’s contact. Phew, you can have a gel.

I soon reached the marshall at the out and back and I was pleased that I extended my lead on Tracey to at least 8km. Good, relax. Your job is done.

“Now this is when the track get really gnarly.” The Marshall said.

In my head I was getting worried, it was getting worse than what I’d already just controlled fallen down? I thought but I did not want to express my fear. That would make it real.

“Just follow the track down there and there are two marshals waiting for you at the bottom of the hill”. She said. “Your doing so well. Good Luck”.

Stop with the good lucks. Man what the fuck was coming up?

I rolled down the hill and about 100m from the marshals I stopped to pee again. I wanted to be totally pee free before I hit the most wild part of the track. When I reached the marshals I think I took them by surprise, they thought I fell over while I was peeing and were about to come to my aid. Too Funny. What a site that would have been.

Kerion and Glenn soon caught up with me and we decided to enter the “Water Race” together as a group as we had been warned that it could be dangerous.

The “Water Race” was a weird experience.  It was totally surreal. I felt like I was stuck in someone’s idea of a trail running ultra marathon joke. After 132km lets send all the runners into a 30cm wide wet, watery, mosey, muddy, trench with parts covered in black plastic to make it look like a nice path, but if you stepped on the plastic you’d find yourself knee deep in a hidden hole. To top all this off, you could follow the trench line for about 5m or so then you will enter a gallente of Matagouri. I now knew why the boys behind me where wearing long plastic pants. My legs, arms, shoulders were getting ripped to shreds by the foliage of the native New Zealand Plants.

Running through the Water race was like running through an darkened obstacle course. I’d jump up onto a raised ridge-line that ran next to the trench. This narrow ridge-line was no more than 30 cm wide and the drop off to the gully below looked like rocky way to break some bones. I tried to keep my feet as I jumped from trench to ridge line along the water race. At times the path was just spectacular. The Toi Toi grass was just stunning when lit up by my head torch. I looked behind me and I noticed that the boys were having troubles floundering amongst the technical single man track.

I pushed on and I was soon greeted with a blue thin rope. Coooooooool. What fun. You have not had an adventure in a race until a rope appears. I held onto the rope and balanced on the narrow track of only 30cm wide that lead me across the deep gully,  I power walked forward and I was greeted with another rope and another. What fun. It was the middle of the night and I was trusting my life to a thin blue line. I’d made great time through here compared to the boys and I felt confident I could hold my 2nd position.

I exited the Water Race and I headed up towards Fairfax Spur. Coming up this spur was when I felt the full force of the Northburn Roaring Forties Winds. I was pushing hard on my quads, leaning into the merciless winds and I felt like I was going no where.

Soon Kerion caught up with me and then Glenn. Far out. Just like that. I lost two spots because I was not strong enough to fight the monstrous head winds. Bugger.

I must have looked so bad and I was moving so slow that Glenn one of the marshals (every 2nd guy is named Glenn in New Zealand) drove down on his quad bike to try and find me. He later told me he was concerned that I was de-hydrated and I was swaying around so much. The wind was so strong that I was being flung sideways across the track, and backwards down the climb. He drove his bike next to me. I clung to it for a few seconds trying to re-gain my balance.

“How far to the top?” I asked.

“About 2ks”. He replied. “Are you okay?”

“FARK, 2ks. Yeah, I’m okay. FUCK”.

I push on and just tried to get the climb over and done with. I even crawled a few steps, trying to get some traction up the climb. Come on. This was hell, and I was freezing. I was starting to get really cold. My breathing was labored. It was so windy that even the native Weta’s insects were getting blown off the track and rolling like tumble weeds to their death.

I hit the top of the climb and I spotted Daniel and Malcolm. I was bent over with my hands on my quads trying to reduce the drag from my body into the wind. We said “Hello’s” and wished each other the best of luck. I pushed on trying to get shelter from the land, hoping that the ridge line would protect me.

Finally I made it to TW, for the last time.

“Where arrrrrrre yoooooou sennnnnnding me nexxxxxxxt?” I stuttered to the marshals. My teeth were chattering and I was freezing. ”Can I pleeeeeease have some potatooooooes. Arrrrre theeeeey warrrrrrm? Are you sennnnnnding me back towards Leannnnnnning Rockkkkkk or off the Mounnnnnntain? I neeeeeed to know. I’m freezzzzzzing and I need to know where I’m goooooooing next”. I was planning on putting my never before worn thermal plants on if I was being sent back to the top of the mountain.

“Your heading down the mountain. The next check point is 5ks away, it will be warmer down there.” One of the marshals explained.

I hid in the corner of the check point horse float, coughing, gasping for air, wheezing and shivering, sobbing, almost crying. I was having an asthma attack. I took 4 puffs of my ventolin and I coughed my lungs out. I was so cold.

I was soon handed some potatoes and soup but with no spoon. I used one of my old water bottles to scoop the contents out and before long I was heading out of the horse float and back onto the mountain.

“Let’s get the fuuuuuuuuuuck out of herrrrrrre.” I yelled. “Fooooooocus Shona Fooooooooocus”.

I ran out of the horse float and about 10 seconds later I ran straight back into the horse  float. I was freezing. Sooooooo cold. I switched my inov8 Race Elite Thermoshell inside out so it was 10% warmer and cut out the windchill.

“Fuuuuuuck, fuuuuuuuuck, fuuuuuuck. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”I yelled.

“It’s only 21ks to go”. A marshall said.

“I like running 21ks”. I replied and I was off and running off the mountain.

As I descended I soon warmed up. The wind was so strong that I dared not take my fleece off. I was being flung around on the track like a cork in the sea. The wind was in my back and I had to control it’s force as I descended the hard, exposed, granite mountain.  Again I had to stick my leg out to prevent me from flying into the bushes. Sometimes it worked other times I ended up in the heather and the Spaniards.

Give me some gravel. I just wanted some nice soft gravel. Never had I ever wished for some nice soft gravel before when I was running. It’s not normally a word you’d associate with gravel.

I surveyed the track and I noticed that the side farthest away from the mountain did not have so many large toe breaking rocks on it, but then I’d be in danger of being blown off the mountain. The side closest to the mountain was more ruggered but safer. I then noticed that he sheep had made tacks on the ridge line. They had cleared a safe passage. I picked my path down the mountain following the droppings of sheep.

After about 5 kilometers Kerion soon caught up with me. I must have lost in at the TW check point. Kerion looked very much like the guy who gave me the muesli bar at the 40km mark. I decided that I would not race Kerion. We chatted for a little while and I then decided that I needed to pee. I let him go on ahead.

I had 15ks to go and I just wanted to conserve my energy. My foot had been hurting me for a little while and I soon worked out that I had taped it too tight. I ripped the strapping tape off my right ankle. I pushed on and I cursed the race directors for sending me through a steep power line management track.

“This is not a fucking track for running. It’s a bloody management track for the power lines. Curse you Terry Davis. Curse You”. I said to the herd of sheep huddle together on the hill. The ground was hard. So hard. My feet ached. My quads ached. I started to hate running down hills and I love running down hills. This course was brutal to its finish. The last 60km was making the first 100km look like a picnic!

I went into management mode. You’ve won the female race, you’ve broken the record by about 2 hours. Your going to come in sub-25 hours just as you wanted when you started the race chill out conserve your energy. Your a PT and you have UTMF coming up in a months time. I switched off a bit and I rolled on through the final 15ks of rolling hills, creek crossings on a dusty farm track. The ground was nice and soft gravel, ahhhhhhh soft gravel. It felt soft compared to what I’d already run over.

“Okay I’ve seen enough of this bloody property! I don’t need to see any more”. I again cursed the race organizers. I felt like I was running in circles. I even checked back a few times to make sure I was on the right path. On checking behind me I swear I spotted a head torch. “Shona you may have lost 2nd position but you are not loosing 3rd”. I said to myself. Now let’s end this. I felt pretty fresh for running for 24 hours. I really could not believe I’d run for long long. I was really happy and proud of myself.

I pushed on up a climb and I spotted the finish line. I worked out there was about 5ks to go. Come on. Enough already. Focus. I ran on and I spotted Matt Bixley who was volunteering after running 50km. He met me on his mountain bike. We ran and chatted together for about 2ks.
“When is there a descent?” I asked hoping I could just roll to the finish line.

“No descent, it’s an an up-hill steady climb all the way to the finish line”. Matt reluctantly informed me.

“Fuck!” I replied.

Ah well, I accepted my fate and I took a few looks behind me, expecting Glenn to be on my tail.

“What are you looking back for there is no one there they are about an hour behind you, you. You’ve killed it.” Matt excitedly explained.

Matt soon pulled away to tell the race organizers that I was on my way. I was left on my own and I took a few steps walking to catch my breath and organize myself. I then ran on down into the creek bed and up to the Northburn 100 Mile finish line with my hands in the air. 24 Hours 46 Minutes breaking the female record and completing my first 100 miler on a notoriously tough course.

“Thank fuck that’s over! Job done.” I said as I crossed the line and ran straight into the warm sheltered tent to grab fluid and a bar to and start my recovery. I was so relieved that I had finally finished my first 100 mile event. I was ecstatic. I was also so relieved that I had finally achieved my goal of finishing a 100 mile. That win had been a long campaign for me and I was so happy I finally completed my goal.

Shona Stephenson Trail Runner Winner of Northburn 100 Mile
Shona Stephenson Finishing the Northburn 100 Mile


Entering and training for Northburn 100 Miles was like a stepping stone to me. Knowing that I could comfortably do the distance. Knowing I could do the distance on ruggered steep terrain. Knowing that I could back up from being totally wreaked in hospital only 1 week ago and go on turn a disastrous race experience into a positive out come. I was over the moon. Mentally I have push through some barriers that needed to be pushed through. I was so, so, so happy. I fixed my race diet and hydration and I have proved to myself that I can run without gut issues.

I was weighed at the finish line, 51.6 kilos. The day before I weighed 52.9 kilos. I’d only lost 1.3 kilos. I looked after myself out there for the whole 100 miles. I respected my body and I gave it what it needed, when it needed it. I felt like I put a few things right with my body. I’ve leant now how MY body needs to be fuel for an Ultra.


Northburn 100 Results

  • Martin Lukes 22:09
  • Kerion Coulter 24:32
  • Shona Stephenson 24:46


Northburn 100 Female Results

  • Shona Stephenson 24:46
  • Tracey Woodford 26:30
  • Johanna Kruk 30:47


Northburn 100 Male Results

  • Martin Lukes 22:09
  • Kerion Coulter 24:32
  • Glenn Sutton 25:52