Surely this is the last hill?……, wait… one more hill……okay now THIS MUST be the last hill……. frigging hell another hill….!!
That was the internal (and sometimes external) thought process for many competitors in the brand new Buffalo Stampede 26er Skyrace.
The Buffalo Stampede event started in 2014 as Australia’s first sanctioned sky race toting the most brutal courses and most competitive fields Australian Ultra running had ever seen. However not content with the overwhelming success of 2014 (judged by the amount of tears on course) race director Sean Greenhill (aka the madman) spent months trawling the beautiful mountain side of Bright for something new, something shorter….something HARDER! THE BUFFALO 26er!
Now my race at the Buffalo 26er was far from spectacular, but I had expected that. Injury and sickness had plagued the start to my year and my original plans to race the ultra where scrapped as I was reduced to rehab running. Never the less I couldn’t go all that way to the beautiful mountains and not run in something. The Dr and Physio had advised strongly against racing and up until 2min before the start the plan had always been to have a jog around the course and enjoy the atmosphere. YEAH RIGHT!
As soon as the gun fired things changed, excitement rose, ego kicked in and my “jog” quickly turned into “Stick it to ’em until you blow”. There was some serious competition too (David Byrne, Brendan Davies, Jarard Kholar, etc) so it was no easy task. The first 2km of the course ambles its way along the stunning Owens river on some nice smooth walking paths, quickly a lead pack of about 5-6 formed and we charged along. I moved to the front and led us towards the first climb of the day. Once on the first big climb of the day my lack of training became evident as Jarad, David and two others shot by and it began….the hike fest!
Up the climb, along the ridge and down the descent on the other side it was a game of leapfrog until we hit the 2km of road before the big haul up Mt Porepunkah. Once on the road David showed his road running prowess and disappeared in a fury of very low 3min kms. I hit the big climb up Mt Porepunkah in 4th, feeling pretty rubbish already but prepared to settle in for a slog.
The climb itself is long and quite varied in its gradient between super steep and almost flat running. For the majority of the climb I could see the 3 others up in front but knew I didn’t have the legs to go after them. About halfway up Aaron Knight (ex MTB pro and rising Mountain runner) came charging past, he was on a mission to catch the leaders and he shortly would. The rest of the climb up Mt Porepunkah was pretty uneventful but thoroughly enjoyable as I relaxed and soaked up the views and atmosphere.
Once at the top and through the checkpoint I saw Brendan Davies was right behind me. I knew that my uphill running was over today but figured I would still give them a bit of stick on the down hills and make Brendan work for it. I hit the long fire road descent and turned the legs over fast pounding down the long non technical descent catching back up to 4th position (in hindsight probably not the best thing for the injuries).
Once at the bottom the course follows a ridge line which, although net down hill, has a number of decent hills to really turn the screws in. Now walking everything with an uphill gradient I was begging for more down hill as 4th dropped me on the rollers and Brendan was closing fast. Before long he came past, typically running everything ….. I was back to 6th.
The rolling hills seemed to go on forever and their unrelenting punishment laid waste to many a pair of quads! I just kept doing what I do best, suffering!! I kept trudging through doing the best I could (which wasn’t great) with what I had (which wasn’t much). Before long I reeled in 5th place (again) and then shortly after that 4th Aaron Knight who was cramping bad and paying the price for the hot pace up Porepunkah.
Cresting over the Apex lookout was awesome, I could see Bright and the finish line down in the valley, close enough that I could smell the coffee! “Surely this must be the last hill” I thought as I grabbed some coke and plunged down into the single track excited by the thought it was all pure downhill to the finish line. I really opened up here on the twisting technical single track, It always seems no matter how thrashed my legs are I can still run fast on technical downhills.
My elation however was short lived! I burst out from the bottom of the single track onto the road only to see the course markers heading up another short but very steep hill….What the Hell!!! (I am sure this was a thought shared by many 26ers on the day) I stopped, checked just to be sure it WAS up the hill and then got stuck back into the climb. From here the final 3km are pretty brutal consisting of 3 steep little climbs each tempting you as being the last (but its not) as your skirt around the ridge before plunging back down into bright.
Somehow, and I am not really sure how, I did manage to hold it together (kind of) to finish 4th overall which given the preparation I am very happy with. . The course is an absolute brute and the final totals where 2000m vert in 32km. Kilometre for Kilometre I think this is harder than the Buffalo Ultra and if you want to sink your teeth in to a serious Skyrace….sign up next year!!
Kit Used. LaSportiva Helios shoes
Compressport Compression shorts/Sleeves
Suunto Ambit 3 (to remind me how slow I was going)
Endura Sports Nutrition gels every 20min.
Ryders Tempo Sunnies to hide the tears!