From his colourful gaiters, to his whooping cheers to announce his progress across the course, Stewy's hard to miss. With 25 years-worth of trail running under his belt, there's not many races he hasn't conquered and the Blackall 100 is no exception. He was there in 2014 to take part in the inaugural race, and has 8 finishes from 8 attempts. The only year he didn't compete was in 2022, but Stewy still made the annual pilgrimage to Mapleton to help out as a volunteer at the great race. He's been there to take part in every single event in some way, he's a genuine institution on the ultra scene, and he's our latest Blackall Icon.
Stewy, great of you to chat with me and share some reflections. First things first - will you be back for Blackall 2023?
Yes, Yes, Yes! All going well!
What initially drew you to the event, and what brings you back each year?
It was a new event and I thought "lets give it a go". Every year is different. I like to catch up with people you don't see at other races; new faces doing their first Blackall and you never know what the weather is going to be like. I have met some pretty special runners at this event.
Image: Stewy giving the bell a ring after lining up for the inaugural Blackall 100 and "giving it a go", 2014
You're right in the mix for being the 1st to achieve the coveted "1000 Club". Do you think about that in your planning and prep and does it motivate you at all?
I have only ever had one "first" in 25 years of running! Haha! But that is not important to me, as there are a couple of other runners there in the mix also who are great people and great friends.
I do think about it, but you just do your best at training and prep and hope you have a great run on the day.
Image: Stewy and fellow 800-club member Andy Speakman, pre-race 2021
Blackall offers up a pretty wide selection of everything in terms of terrain and scenery. Do you have a favourite section? (What is it, and why). Any sections that you particularly dread?
I like all the sections. Each one is different; just get it done and get to each checkpoint and thank all the people who help out there.
Image: Stewy enjoying the Kondalilla Falls section, 2018
Thinking back over the years, do you have a favourite all-time moment at Blackall?
I have had lots of special moments at Blackall but one that is at the top is in 2019 I got to run and chat with Dean Karnazes. He was not feeling too well and he said, 'you go Stewy, don't wait for me'. I took off and thought, WOW! I am in front of Dean Karnazes. I will leave it up to you to guess who got to the finish line first....
Image: Stewy meeting Dean Karnazes at the race briefing, 2019
As one of the most capped Blackall runners, do you have any advice for a first timer who is planning their B100 debut this October?
Make sure you do the training, hills, stairs, and plenty of kms. On race day, don't go too hard at the start, back off a little in the middle of the day and you will have fuel in the tank to finish off the last part of the race. Try not to think about the distance; just get from checkpoint to checkpoint. Good luck!
Image: Backing off the pace a bit in the midday heat, 2014
What's your post-B100 recovery routine?
I usually stay around for a while and chat to other finishers; a couple of nice cold beers to celebrate and try to get the legs in cold water. I always come back for the breakfast the next morning and listen to other runners stories.
Image: Crafting his own story; the year Stewy broke the bell, 2017
What does your peak training run look like in the leadup to a 100km trail race?
Do the kms on the trails, hills and stairs. I try to do back to back long runs and usually don't do too many kms the week before the run.
Are you a headphones and music and/or podcast type runner? Or do you prefer to go a la natural?
No headphones. I nearly got run over a few years ago wearing headphones.
Any particular tech or equipment that you can't live without on a long run?
Gherkin juice (in case I get cramps). I like to wear bright coloured clothes and my bright coloured gators. It makes people smile!
Image: The infamous gaiters, 2020
Do you have any pre-race rituals/superstitions or lucky charms that you rely on for race days?
For 25 years I have always eaten the same food 2 hours before a run (1 banana, 2 vitabrits with milk & honey and a coffee). My wife Jenny always prints out a couple of special verses for me which go in my pack. I must always tie my left shoe lace first.
Jenny is someone I rely on - she has been my crew (rain, hail, snow, wind and sunshine!) She has been at almost every race I have done for 25 years.
Image: Post-Vitabrits, pre-race. 2014
You're 8 finishes from 8 attempts at Blackall and never looked at risk of a DNF, I think most people view you as a very safe bet when it comes to getting a race finished... do you have a philosophy when it comes to racing?
No, I don't really have a philosophy. Every race is different. You try to have a bit of a plan but it doesn't always work. Mostly run, walk at times, crawl if you have to but never give up. The mind can play lots of tricks on you during a race.
I never really go into a race thinking about where I am going to finish. I just do my best and over the years I have helped a lot of people (who were going to pull out) get to the finish line. I go to races to have a bit of fun. I call out YOW! YOW! YOW! when I see people I know and going into a checkpoint.
Image: Stewy having a bit of fun at the Bluff, 2018.
Moments after the first image was taken, Stewy dropped his bottle of Coke and it rolled down the rock face and off the bluff. Incredibly, he scampered down the rock and managed to retrieve it. The photo doesn't do the slope or the perilous rescue justice; don't try this at home.
What is running for you and what place does it hold in your life? (Is it a form of release? A kind of meditation? Some sort of self-validation process? Main social outlet? Or just a fulfilling way to stay fit?)
I would probably say yes to all of these questions but mainly a way to stay fit.
What lies ahead for you in the coming 12-18 months? (this is mostly aimed at any big race plans, but could be other life events too!!)
I had a health issue 12 months ago so I am building my way back again. I have been back out training on the trails and last month I completed the 50km at the 'Gone Nuts' run in Tasmania. A couple more 50km runs to be ready for Blackall 100km 2023.
Any trends in races or running that worry you, or you don't agree with?
No I don't have any problems with any races. Nobody is perfect. The organizers and volunteers do a great job.
Image: Stewy doing a great job as a volunteer in the only year he hasn't run, 2022
If you could choose anyone (living or dead) to go for a run with, who would it be with and where would you run?
There are plenty of runners I could choose but firstly I would choose Mat - our son. We have trained and run together for years and I have crewed and run with him on most of his bigger runs.
A lot of younger runners have probably never heard of this fellow but I would have loved to have met and run with Cliffy Young.
Also another one would be Kilian Jornet. I met him at North Face (now UTA) in 2011. It is incredible what this guy does.
It wouldn't matter where I ran with them; I prefer trails but anywhere would be special.
Image: Stewy and son Mat (a fellow-B100 finisher), 2019
What's the best way for people to follow you on social media or Strava etc?)
If they want to follow me they'll have to get out to the trails and find me as I don't do strava or social media! haha!
Thanks for sharing your stories Stewy, all the best for the year ahead, and best of luck for Blackall #9 in October!
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