Jess Schluter is the first of our icons to have won the Blackall 100. In fact, she's won it twice, taking out the women's title in 2019, and again in 2020. She's also the only competitor, male or female, to have featured on all steps of the podium, taking out 2nd place in 2017, and 3rd place in 2016. Something of a smiling assassin, she's always sporting a smile that reflects her love of the sport and the event, even if it belies her competitive streak and impressive racing chops. Gracious both on and off the course, she was super generous in her contributions to this interview as we induct her as our latest Blackall Icon.
Jess, thanks so much for taking part! You're the only 100KM runner who has placed on every step of the podium (3rd, 2nd, 1st) over the various years, and claimed 2 wins in the process. Will we see you back at Blackall in 2023? Or sometime down the track?
I love Blackall and will definitely be back. I’m not sure if 2023 will be the year but I’ve always wanted to run the 50km, so if not this year then maybe next year!
What prompted you to sign up to Blackall originally in the first place? What brings you back?
Blackall 2014 was my first solo 100km event. I had just run Oxfam as a team and wanted to have a crack at doing it by myself. 2014 Blackall was probably one of my most memorable runs to be honest!
Image: The very first moments in Blackall history - Jess stepping on for her first solo 100km at inaugural race, 2014
You went back-to-back with your wins in 2019 and 2020... what was harder; getting the win the first time, or lining up again knowing how much was needed for the repeat the year after?
Good question….they were both a challenge but in different ways. Winning in 2019 is definitely a big highlight and I’d been working hard towards really nailing the 100km distance for so many years. I always felt like I had something to tweak to really get it right. I was shocked to cross the finish line in first place in 2019 because I never thought it was possible. Coming back in 2020 I felt pressure but not because I wanted to win – again I never thought it would be possible – but probably because I knew all the things I needed to get right in order to have a good day out there. I had the goal of giving it my all and having a solid day on the trails. I was nervous but then who isn’t before setting out on such a big adventure. And what do you know….it was another great day!
Image: Jess rings in her first of two 100km wins, 2019
You've had such a wide range of experience at Blackall, do you have an all-time favourite moment?
My favourite moment is definitely from 2019. I had just left the Coolalabin Dam checkpoint and was heading up to the Day Use Area. It was raining lightly but the clouds had sort of parted out to the west and there was this beautiful light coming through the trees. I was moving well and had just had a bottle of coke and put some tunes in my ears. I was singing out loud to my music and had this overwhelming sense of strength and gratitude. Even today it’s a vivid memory that brings me a lot of joy.
Image: Another joyous moment. Jess' 2nd win in-a-row takes a moment to sink in, 2020
Blackall is renowned for having a bit of everything in terms of terrain and scenery. Do you have a favourite section? Any sections that you particularly dread?
I love the dam loop. I’m not much of a technical runner so I really enjoy the smooth trails of the dam plus I enjoy knowing that you are heading for home. My least favourite section is probably the rocky creek bed coming into the bottom of the Bluff!
Image: Jess on the dam loop (her favourite section of the course), 2016
You're obviously a high profile champion of the race that many of the mere-mortals look up to - who do you look up to among the other icons/personalities of the race?
Haha that’s ridiculous! I look up to so many people but one person who is always at Blackall moving along like a diesel train is Andy Speakman [Andy is also a fellow icon]. He got me through my first Blackall in 2014 (he’s probably still scarred from the experience TBH!) and he just never stops. Anyone with his mental strength is a big inspiration to me. Oh and Shona Stephenson – she is the Blackall OG!
Image: Jess and Andy on their way to Kondalilla falls, 2014
What do you have in your drop bags for the checkpoints for a race like B100?
I am very lucky to always have my partner Azzie out on course to crew so never really need a drop bag. But Azzie always has Spring Energy gels, honey/peanut butter/banana sandwiches and potatoes ready to go. Plus the usually fizzy drinks to settle the tummy and release the burps – coke and ginger beer!
Image: Finish line embrace from Azzie, Jess' partner (and crewing extraordinaire), 2014
What's your post-B100 recovery routine? How long would you typically wait before attempting your next ultra race?
Pizza from the Mapleton pizza joint is always first up. Then recovery is usually getting moving with some easy walking for the next few days. Sometimes I wonder why I run because I really do love walking! In the past I think I’ve probably jumped from race to race a little too quickly at times – now I am realising that I not only need to make sure my body is physically recovered but my mind too. My body seems to bounce back quicker than the mind and so now I like to wait until I have a real itch to enter a race rather than just running it because I can.
Image: Trail running royalty - Jess and fellow icon Meagan Brown have a whopping 8 podium finishes between them (4 each to be precise). Jess describes Meagan as a "good friend and running inspiration". The pressure was on to capture this moment during the briefest of pauses on the Bluff climb, 2020
What does your peak training run look like in the leadup to a 100km trail race?
I think my long runs are about 5 hours – with a similar amount of elevation as the race I am training for.
Are you a headphones and music and/or podcast type runner? Or do you prefer natural?
I love music, I love podcasts, I love the sounds of nature! They all have their time and place.
Image: Taking in the sounds of nature, 2015
Any particular tech or kit or equipment that you can't live without on a long run?
My watch. I love downloading the run and looking at the elevation profile afterwards!
Do you have any pre-race rituals/superstitions or lucky charms that you rely on for race days?
I like to have a beer the day before to help my nerves.
How did you get into running in the first place? Were you always a competitive runner? Or discovered it in adulthood? When/how was the introduction to ultras?
I ran cross country at high school and enjoyed it but didn’t run for a few years during uni. I got back into it in my mid twenties when I realised the benefits it had for my mental health. And then we got a kelpie and that basically means you have to become ultra-runner or else they will destroy your house and yard!
Image: Jess getting some ultra-training in to keep up with her Kelpie, 2019
What lies ahead for you in the coming 12-18 months?
My big goal at the moment is my first miler at Brisbane Trail Ultra in July*. I have wanted to run a miler for so many years but never had the courage. Training is going well and my mindset is good too so I’m hopeful for a great day on the trails around home. After that….I am not sure. I’ll see how I bounce back after BTU and go from there….
[*We were putting this interview together in the weeks proceeding BTU, hence why Jess was talking in future tense when responding to this question. We're happy to report that Jess absolutely smashed it, finishing as the 2nd-placed female, and 7th overall in an incredible time of 23:30:04. In her words: "The miler was bloody fantastic! Everything I wanted it to be".]
Any trends in races or running that worry you, or you don't agree with?
Hmmmm I’m not sure. I don’t personally get caught up in trends and hope that if someone is doing something in the running scene that they are doing it for themselves and not because it’s a trend!
If you could choose anyone (living or dead) to go for a run with, who would it be with and where would you run?
I am told my great, great grandfather ran from Rockhampton to Brisbane. He sounds like my kind of guy and I’d love to know why he did it.
What's the best way for people to follow you?
Instagram is probably the best place @jessicamarlee
Thanks for being so generous with your time and insights Jess, and congrats on a stellar debut on the miler scene! We'll all be watching with interest to see what you turn your attention to next, but can't wait to see you back at Blackall one day soon!
Check out our other Blackall icons here.
Check out all our images of previous Blackall races on our Past Events page