“If it’s hurting me it’s hurting them”..…argh….”If it’s hurting me it’s hurting them!”…. That was the chant that circled my brain for the last 15km of the “The Buffalo Stampede”.
The Stampede was Australia’s first official fully sanctioned Sky race. The race was held in the picturesque sporting hub of Bright in the Victorian high country and offered competitors the choice of a Sky marathon (42km-2500m v+), or a Sky Ultra (75km -4500m v+).
**Skyrunning®– The discipline of mountain running up to or exceeding 2000m, where the incline exceeds 30% and where the climbing difficulty does not exceed 11° grade.**
From the beginning this race was set to have a massive impact on Australia’s trail and ultra-running scene. Within weeks of opening it had scared the life out of anyone brave enough to glance at its elevation profile. Before long rumors had started of unclimbable accents, descents that needed to be taken backwards and some even some caving squeezes!
The Stampede offered the toughest course under 100km in the country and coupled that with the most attractive prize purse in Australian trail running to date. On offer for the fastest Australian/New Zealander was a return flight, accommodation and entry to the Sky Running World Championships in Chamonix coupled with $8200 worth of prize money for place getters in the ultra alone…this race was going to be HUGE!.
With this in mind it was no surprise that entries started to flow in, and before long a comprehensive list of Australia’s elite where knocking at the door to compete for their share of glory.
The Ultra line up was “star packed” and included a number of my running idols such as Brendan Davies, Andrew Tuckey, Andy Lee, Clarke McClymont , Grant Guise and Mick Donges, true legends in my book! Add to this a few more guys my age like Blake Hose and fellow KSR team mates Ben Duffus and Moritz Auf Der Heide and then of course the Mr Young Money himself Dakota Jones all the way from the USA. To say I was a little nervous about toeing the line with these guys was an understatement! I was both petrified of being left for dead and super excited about the competition at the same time….it lead to a restless pre-race night!
It was dark…but not cold…headlamps were shining and there I was, standing on the start line of the ultra, flanked by my KSR team mates, talking some last minute smack and shaking lots of hands as we nervously awaited the starting gun. Now running is a solo sport I get that… but there is something about being in a team, something that gives you strength and as we stood there surrounded by a sea of elevated VO2’s, ripped muscles and determined minds I felt united with the other boys and stronger than ever. I was ready to go.
In typical ultra fashion it was a subdued start and we all ran off into the darkness at an honest but not fast pace. There was some initial jostling until we cleared the caravan park and a small group of the above mentioned runners formed as we headed up the bitumen towards the first climb of the day.
Once we hit the dirt I made sure I found a good position in about 3/4th letting Mick Donges take the lead up the single trail and over Huggins lookout. At the top a group of Brendan, Clarke, Mick, Ben, Moritz, Dakota and a few others formed as we jogged up towards to entry to the MTB trail, talking smack as always it was a dream come true to just cruise along in such company!
Knowing the next section was tight and long I made sure I settled in 3rd behind Mick and Ben as we twisted and turned our way up the mystic mountain MTB trails. I had expected the pace to be much faster at this point so was pleasantly surprised when the tempo was relaxed and even included some walking. As we popped out onto the road for the final push to the mystic summit (the first in the King of the Mountain category) I noticed that everyone was content to hike…I was positive I wouldn’t get the chance to be first up a climb for the rest of the day so I took the oppourtiy and bounded away to claim the first summit.
Over the top, a quick stop to wait for Ben and the race was back on! Ben and I ran strongly down to the top of “Micks Hill” with Moritz catching up just as we hit the descent. I had run this decent before so had an Idea of what I was in for and had come prepared wearing the La Sportiva Anakonda’s with their gnarly fell running grip! Noticing we had a small gap on the field I bounded down the descent at a fast but comfortable pace gapping Ben and Moritz and hit the bottom fast before running the next section out to the check point at a more sensible pace.
I hit the Clear Spot climb in 1st with a small gap over Ben. As soon as I started hiking up hard I felt something that would haunt me for the rest of the day…my calves where unusually tight. Feeling this so early on I knew something wasn’t right but there was nothing I could do now so I backed the hiking pace off and decided then that today would be more about consistency than my speed.
Before long Ben passed me hiking strong as always and looking great….KSR 1,2,3….I let myself dream a little! Towards the top of the climb I looked back and saw some NUTTER running a steep section…was that Moritz?…..I promptly craped my pants and pushed the next 250m hard. It turned out to be Dakota and he caught me quick! We spoke a little and joked about his shoes before he pushed on. We crested Clear Spot Ben 1st, Dakota 2nd and me in 3rd with about 60sec separating us all.
By the time I had hit the top of Clear Spot Ben was in the distance smashing the decent fast. Dakota had also moved away and was about 150m down the trail. I pushed this section a bit faster than planned spurred on by the fact I was catching Dakota. I caught Dakota at the top of Warner’s Wall and ran right past him as I flew down the soft loose earth that covered the decent…..haha this was brilliant!
My lead on Dakota was short lived as he promptly caught me on the flat and we ran together for a while. It was here again I knew something wasn’t right, the flats should have been my greatest strength with my marathon speed however I found my legs didn’t want to run fast. Where I should have run 3.30-45 min/km on the gradual downhill I found myself stuck at 3:50min/k unable to go faster…..Dakota started to slip away into the distance.
Through Buckland’s and up Keating’s Ridge I ran with Dakota and Ben still visible in the distance. On Keating’s Blake pulled alongside, his cadence was slick, he was moving fast and I didn’t want a second of that pain train so let him pass without question. Running into Eurobin at the 24km mark I could see Blake just ahead of me. A quick bottle change and some Red Bull from my awesome crew including a quick kiss for my wife and daughter and I was off, headed for the big climb up Buffalo.
Back to hiking again as I wound my way up the Buffalo climb, this was really starting to hurt. Frustratingly my legs didn’t want to hear a word about running up hill so I was forced to hike way too much of the runnable climb. I started to get some doubts here, I was sure the “trail weapons” would start to pass me and with each switch back I started to look back to see if anyone was there. The view from the exposed granite trail was breath taking and I took a few opportunities to sneak a look as I was sure I was being caught anyway! As I neared to top of the climb I felt a “rumble in the jungle” and knew I needed to make an emergency pit stop…..I reluctantly sacrificed my favorite buff!
Over the top and another quick bottle change. Once on the loop atop the mountain I saw Dakota coming back fast towards me on the trail….he is pure poetry in motion! Not long afterwards I saw Ben leading Blake by about 60sec…GO KSR!
I came across the Cherwell galleries and missed the arrow saying down. As I climbed over the chock stone I thought….geez that’s a big drop…how the hell did Sean Greenhill pass that on his risk assessment? I started to Chimney climb down towards the yellow handles….calf’s cramping and quads screaming but thankfully Moritz arrived just in time and pointed out under not over! Dammit!
I ran back to the Buffalo checkpoint with Moritz. I was hurting ….suffering adductor cramps in both legs on every incline and random quad and calf cramps on the downs. Once at the checkpoint I unfortunately couldn’t convince Moritz to continue as his legs hadn’t fared well from Tarawera. More bottles, more Red Bull and then the descent.
I had spoken earlier to Brendan Davies and knew his plan was to pump the Buffalo descent so I knew he would be coming. I hit the descent with vigor, the cramps weren’t so bad on the down and I went as fast as I possibly could. I was still in 4th, I knew I would be walking back up Keating’s ridge with these cramps so had to make the most of the descent in a bid to maintain my position.
I got word that Andrew Tuckey and Grant Guise were mere minutes behind me. Dammit! Those boys are fast…I needed to get a move on. I pushed harder and rode the fine line between fast and cramp!
Entering Eurobin – again another bottle change and even more Red bull followed by an update that Andrew and Grant where closing in. I stole another fleeting kiss from my girls and hightailed it (loose use of the word) out of there.
My legs were completely shot and even the slightest uphill induced debilitating cramps. I hiked up Keating’s ridge and did the only thing I could do…pumped the downhill HARD! As I rolled into Buckland’s check point still in 4th I was greeted by KSR Team mate Dave Coombs (another unfortunate injury DNF) and an update that I was starting to reel in Ben Duffus.
Toying briefly with the idea of a podium spot I jogged out of the checkpoint and prepared for the unusually difficult slight uphill grind to the bottom of clear spot. I just wanted to hike! The gradual incline was just enough to cause serious pain and cramp but too flat to risk hiking with the likes of Andrew, Grant and Brendan close behind me. “If it’s hurting me it’s hurting them” the chant began!
Finally at the end of the road I rounded the corner and got a full frontal view of the Hurt locker I was about to enter….Warner’s wall! I noticed an out of place white dot in the distance, in the middle of the trail on the wall. I didn’t remember a sign there on the way down, I thought for a second it was Ben but hoped to god it wasn’t. As I got closer I saw it was Ben….face down arms and legs spread in the middle of trail…in the baking heat!
For sure he was dead I thought. I rushed as fast as I could to his side screaming…BEN!! BEN!! Thankfully he wasn’t dead and was responsive. I stopped by his side and prepared to call 000 but he was adamant he was OK and had already called his Dad and coach. I was reluctant to leave but he urged me on as the fate of KSR now rested with me. After a few more checks to make sure he was ok I pushed on as I could see Andrew, Grant and Brendan Rounding the corner.
The hike up Warner’s Wall was punishing and depressingly I was reduced to hands and knees crawling towards the top. The remaining hike up Clear Spot was agonizingly long and wrought with cramping quads and adductors. Towards the top I looked back and could see Andrew had dropped Grant and was closing fast no more than 300-400m behind. I was now in 3rd!
Cresting the summit of Clear Spot I knew what had to be done. Andrew was clearly catching me on the ups and the only chance I had left to fend him off was on the downhill. I rocketed down clear spot, it was now loose and muddy churned up from earlier in the day. Skidding and sliding out, jumping and twisting I did all I could to ignore the pain in my quads.
As I reached the bottom I was greeted by a very surprised Vajin Armstrong who informed me Blake Hose had cooked himself also and had pulled out at next checkpoint. I was now in 2nd.
Micks Hill Madness! That’s exactly what it was! My legs where so bad I now had permanent quad cramp and could no longer go straight up hill. Reduced to stepping up sideways and crawling hands and knees I was adamant Andrew would catch me. I begged for the top to come, Andrew was closing….50m,40m,20m behind. I hit the top of Mystic somehow still in 2nd and rallied what strength I had left for a 6km “sprint” to the finish!
I pushed HARD. Rocketing though the MTB trails I twisted and jumped just focusing on each second in time as it came. From this point I didn’t look back. Over Huggins lookout I burst out onto the road and was greeted by an enthusiastic but shocked group of spectators. Onto the road and the chant still going strong “If its hurting me it’s hurting them”. This was no time to relax and I painfully dropped a 4:12 km split and was joined by team mate Moritz for the final few hundred meters to finish.
I crossed the finish line 2nd in 8hrs 48min a full 60min behind the international star Dakota! Andrew finished a mere 60sec later with Grant another 30sec behind him….it was close.
Buffalo was dream come true!
Without a doubt Buffalo is the hardest race I have ever done and has reminded me to push the limits and that pain can indeed be endured. I couldn’t have gotten to the start line or finish line without a few key people but most importantly not without my lovely supportive wife who at times has had to sacrifice her own running and enjoyment to allow me to pursue this ridiculous sport. My coach Andy DuBois who’s patience with me and expert guidance has allowed my running to come leaps and bounds, and lastly without my KSR buddies who together we stand united and strong!
Gear used in race.
Shoes: La Sportiva Anakonda
Calf sleeves: Comrpessport R2
Shorts: Compressport Trail short (with power grip)
Shirt: Ron Hill Advance Tee (KSR Branded)
Watch: Soleus Tour
Jacket: Outdoor Research Helium 2
1x 500ml water + 1x 500ml Endura Electrolight swapped at each crew manned aid station.
½ Red Bull can at each crew manned checkpoint