Saturday, October 18, 2014

Shona Stephenson Delivers Again With 6500-Word Race Report

Ultra Endurance Blogger Shona Stephenson has once gain confirmed her status as the doyenne of the First Person Race Report (FPRR), recently unleashing another of her trademark dissertations, this one a thorough exposition of the Kokoda Challenge Gold Coast off road ultra marathon.

All the familiar themes are there: poor course markings; rising up against the odds; expert motivational advice; critical race analysis & strategy; organiser controversy; shameless sponsor plugs; and some excellent insights in to sports science and physiology.

Shona’s literary exploits inspired the “Motivational Role Models” series of articles that can be read here:
Part 1 – Shona Stephenson 
Part 2 – Richard Bowles
It’s been over two months since Shona’s last race report (a rather paltry 5,909-word entry on the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane) that I breezed through during a 3-hour wait for a replacement bus service on the consistently-troubled Werribee train line. She wastes no time stamping her captivating wordsmithiness on this beautifully crafted piece of FPRR prose with the very first sentence setting up a gripping cliffhanger:
“About 13 days before The Kokoda Challenge Gold Coast I pulled out of my team the Rocksolid Raiders. I had a serious medical problem and I was advised not to run or do any strenuous exercise until I was cleared by a doctor the Monday after The Kokoda Challenge.” 
To the uninitiated reader, this might have seemed like the introduction to a brief and fairly straightforward post about an athlete grappling with the disappointment of having to miss an event on doctor’s orders. But if you know Shona Stephenson, then you won’t be surprised to learn that this was merely a tasty entrĂ©e to a 6,689-word 12-course degustation of suspense, high-drama, physical, mental and grammatical anguish.

As always, it’s all beautifully conveyed in Shona’s fantastic original style, complete with creative spelling, imaginative punctuation and almost non-existent sentence structure:
“So Judy the Physio with her trusty placebo effect taping in place, more mash potato in Dan, I started to get edgy.”
Like many athletes, Shona is keenly in-tune with her body and health. She once self-diagnosed bacterially-induced lung cancer (that later turned out to be asthma) and it looked like something equally as ominous was brewing this time around…
“I have never been so concerned about my health before an event.”
…although unfortunately the self-diagnosis was a little non-specific:
“I was totally flattened, drained of all my iron reserves.”
But despite all this, she still managed to summon up the courage to compete—something we should all be thankful for, seeing as how it provided all the wonderful material for this moving story that was already shaping up to be a classic battle against the odds in the face of adversity.
“It took so much mental toughness to start The Kokoda Challenge. I had to put absolute trust in my own intuition, believe in my own body.”
Thankfully I’d been alerted to this new post earlier in the day, allowing sufficient time to prepare. Clearing out the snack section at my local Aldi supermarket I spent a solid two hours in the kitchen getting ready. Gingerly balancing my laptop, I carefully lowered myself in to the bathtub, now full to the brim with piping hot Chazoos® buttered microwave popcorn, vowing not to leave until I’d either finished Shona’s article or eaten my way down to the porcelain. I imagine it looked something like this—minus the naked woman.

All of the Shona hallmarks were there, her riveting story delicately conveyed in excruciating (and sometimes confusing) detail:
“Far out it was going to be a tough 110k event if this was what every climb would in tale.”
She had overcome so much by just starting this race, a point that apparently needed to be driven home to one of the check point volunteers:
“ ‘Hold Up. Hey, I’m tough’. I said in my defence, if only she knew what I went through to get to this start line.”
And the St John Ambulance paramedics on hand are also given a good shake-up with these scathing remarks:
“Okay, never in my racing experience have St Johns Ambulance ever had anything in their first aid kit that would ever help a runner…They only had band aids.”
St John Ambulance—expert Band-Aid suppliers to ultra trail runners. 

Despite team morale starting off on a high, things quickly (and literally) took a turn for the worse:
“…maybe some of my stories distracted my team mates a bit as I enjoyed my coffee hit and talked poor Dan’s ear off so much that we missed the turn off after only about 8ks. We missed it so badly that we had run an extra 3ks before realising our mistake…”
The obligatory condemnation of the race organisers’ poor track marking featured heavily after this point as Shona’s team was forced to cover an additional 12km of race distance:
“Apparently some race directors don’t believe in providing maps, detailed course descriptions and adequate race markers. I felt like the athletes safety was not adequately looked after.” 
“We stopped in our tracks, re-traced our steps and found that we’d run another 2ks off course.”
But the controversy didn’t end there with her team mistakenly being entered in the Male rather than Mixed category:
“This is not the first nor will it be the last event that I will enter when a female is discriminated against.”
As the heat from the microwave popcorn’s slowly congealing “natural butter flavouring” began to fade, I was thankful for the comforting warmth of Shona’s familiar evocative prose, which more than accounted for this thermal deficit.

Unabashed sponsor plugs were littered throughout the piece like gel wrappers amongst pristine bushland:

“a high cadence and excellent grip on my X-Talons 212 helped my all the way to the top” 
“…grabbed my new Perpetuem, Hammer Gels and was ready to go.” 
“ Only good things happen when you take one of these’. I’d say as I handed them a Hammer Endurolyte Cap.” 
“We just have to watch and look after the boys, they were not on Hammer Endurolytes before the race but they are all on them now and it seems to be working for us.”
At one point she even managed to invent a new and exciting flavour for her sponsor, Hammer Nutrition:
“After a high carb meals of spuds, hammer choc ship bars and gluten free cookies I was feeling slightly ‘Racy’. ”
Hammer Nutrition’s new range of Nautical-themed sports nutrition.

Despite being fiercely competitive, Shona always makes time to encourage and support the other teams out on course, ever-vigilant of the trail running gods whose wrath is poised to reign down on less altruistic athletes—including one of her own teammates, Dan:
“Dan was wondering what I was doing and suggested that I did not help the other teams, he could not sniff a win.” 
“ ‘Nah, this is trail running, there are trail running gods and it is best to keep them happy by looking after other competitors as we past them. We are kicking butt, moving way faster than them anyway they won’t catch us again. We are too strong. Besides, this is called Karma’. I assured Dan.”
In this particular race, Shona was afforded many opportunities to demonstrate her incredible inspirational gifts, employing tools as diverse as cold truisms…
“I have a perfect record of finishing in a Team of 4 for all my team events and I did not intend to break my record today. Basically I told him to harden up a bit.”
…and passionate, unwavering self-belief:
“ ‘There is always hope, we just have to hope the top is just there, and believe it the rest your legs will do, every step you take you will be closer’. I said in the darkness.”
And one lucky teammate even got a special personal anecdote recital which, if anything like her blog posts, would have served as a very effective anaesthesia to whatever pain he was struggling through:
“I told him stories of all my adventures in Japan, New Zealand, New South Wales and France and every now and again we were able to run a bit together.”
Some of Shona’s choicest insights are those related to sports science, physiology and nutrition—“Man I had that fat burn Keytone smell about me.”—and while she’s quick to give one teammate the all-clear—“I looked at him and said. ‘You’ll be okay now. You’ve recovered. We are all going to make it to the finish.’ ”—others get a more serious diagnosis—“I started to worry about Brad, he busted through his anaerobic threshold, veins popping out of his scull up that last ascent...”

At times she struggles to even explain her own findings:
“The gels just spiked him, and the electrolytes were not sufficient and made him sweat more than necessary. Maybe even giving him a glucose low??? Weird.”
But thankfully, when her own ailments surface, she always knows exactly what to do:
“I suddenly after 80ks felt shit, had asthma , took some drugs, ate a gel and told myself it was just the 80km low that I always get. Man I had to dig deep to get to the top.”
I always enjoy it when athletes openly admit to taking drugs (even if they are the non-prohibited variety) and while Shona might have been “digging deep,” the same could not be said for me—nearing the end of the article, there was barely a handful’s worth of cold, soggy popcorn to be scrounged from the bottom of the bathtub, and most of that no longer appeared fit for human consumption.

I think next time I’ll try something less absorbent like pistachios or unshelled peanuts. Hopefully there won’t be another excruciating two month wait until Shona’s next enthralling entry.


  1. Would love to hear your thoughts on her chronically low iron vs her 45.xx "woohoo I can increase it another 4 points" Drug Tested value from her equally EPIC Mt Blanc report.

  2. A few readers have noted this apparent discrepancy between Shona's very high haemoglobin levels (45.8%) and her chronically low (and self-diagnosed) iron levels. It would seem that Science is not as simple as just making sensational claims that are not backed up by any evidence.

    "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."

  3. Just to labour the point somewhat. Females typically have a Haemocrit 4-5% lower than men, 45.8% for a female is above the normal range. But regardless of all that, Haematocrit levels are not on the WADA list, the 50% is only a UCI figure for "safety". So pump it up Shona.

  4. I'm so glad I found this site! Hours of entertaining reading.
    Some more canon fodder for you:

  5. Thanks for the kind words and tip-off. Andrew Hedgman looks like an equally inspiring role model given that his meeting with "life long idol Arnold Schwarzenegger" led to the revelation that Arnie would "be playing the Terminator in T5...[and the] news made headlines all over the world." Truly impressive stuff.