Buffalo Stampede Sky Marathon 2016 Review
Well, day three sees the Sky Marathon take place.
It is the final event of the Buffalo Stampede and for me, it is a time to stretch my legs and get right in the pack.
It is always great to be supporting your fellow runners from the sidelines but nothing compares to actually participating in the event itself.
The buzz that you feel just before the race begins and the opportunity to run in the beautiful Alpine region is something I always look forward too.
So let’s look at the stats for the race.
It’s a demanding race course that takes on 4 major climbs along with challenging descents and breathtaking scenery.
As always the night before I lay out my gear, prepare my breakfast for the morning
(a simple breakfast of porridge, honey and a coffee) and try and get an early night.
I don’t want to be rushed at all in the morning so being able to set up the night before is something I highly recommend.
I also picture the race in my head and try and virtually run through the course in my mind before falling asleep.
The Start line
I and 210 other runners take the line on a fresh and beautiful autumn day is Bright.
The picture above is a great indication of the different types of emotions that go through a runners mind just before a big race.
Some close their eyes to centre and focus, others smile because they are just about to start a new adventure and of course some, if not all, are a bit nervous.
As any challenge in the mountains is just that .. a physical and mental challenge.
But as soon as the countdown finishes that tension is released with a huge rush of endorphins as you run through the start line with the cheers and bells ringing out in the early morning air.
Anyone that has run in any event will know the feeling about 5 mins into a race when you look down at your watch and see that your running. Way to fast!
This is because we have been totally taken up in the emotion of the moment.
And that is a really important thing to remember always…
Run your own race
That is true both of starting too fast but also you may have started in a slower group.
Your training will have given you a great indication of the pace you need to sustain the effort throughout the whole race.
I always go out reasonably conservative and see how I feel half way and push a bit harder on the second section.
I feel it is better to finish strong rather than potentially burn out too soon.
But today as I know the first 4 km is basically the flattest part of the race I head out at a moderately fast pace of around 4.30min/km.
Because as soon as I hit the first climb of Mystic I will be power walking rather than running and so will be able to catch my breath.
Well, that was the plan anyway.
Soon enough the flat track starts to edge up and the real race starts in earnest.
Mystic weaves you in and out of tight forest tracks and open red dust trails.
Its steep incline kicks the dust-up and gets the quads and calves engaged and the eyes focused.
As you can see the climb is constant and so are the views.
I feel it is very important to always enjoy where you are.
As my mum has always told me
“Remember the best views may be behind you”
And with my love of photography and the knowledge that I probably won’t be going for the course record today I took a few moments to enjoy the spectacular backdrop.
Once we reach the top of Mystic there is a real sense of satisfaction.
Knowing that you have now completed one of the climbs for the day and have a nice downhill for a while.
Well when I say a nice downhill, it is awesome but not easy.
You have this descent to Bakers Gully
You’re surrounded by the dust flying along with fellow runners laughing and showing off their different decent skills.
Some stay on one side of the track, others use their poles to almost downhill ski.
I like the slalom technique, zigzagging from side to side, always in a way sliding into the turn and then moving my weight to the other side.
This works well for me on dusty steep trails and allows for good speed, control and most of all a sense of adventure.
It steepens as you go and all the time the legs are getting smashed.
Downhill can be very hard on your legs and ankles and of course, you have to be careful not to fall.
As well as the expansive views ahead you can also see to the far right a section of the Clear Spot climb.
The next big challenge on our way to the top of Mt Buffalo.
Once we made it down from the decent it gave me a bit of time to shake the legs off on a relatively flat section leading up to the start of the next big climb.
It is exhilarating going between the extremes of steep climbs and technical descents.
Clear Spot Climb
Next came the unforgiving climb of Clear Spot.
It is around 518m of Ascent over 1.6km.
I usually can run 1.6km on flat around 6 – 7 mins.
It took me 39 min to get to the top of Clear Spot.
The pictures below will give you an indication why.
This is a really tough climb, it just keeps on going.
The gradients at some points are at a 45% grade and it is one of those climbs where you turn the corner hoping to see the top and all you see if another long stretch of steep unwavering hill!
It is tough on the body and on the mind, but we were all in it together and moral support was always on hand to get you through and keep you moving forward.
And that is exactly what you need to do… just keep moving forward!
And then finally you see this.
Ah the feeling when you go over the summit of Clear Spot.
Your legs always feel pretty heavy at the top of a long climb so It is great to get them moving again and even though it was a gruelling climb once I get on the downhill again I’m feeling pretty good.
I had a few moments of struggle on the first two climbs but hey that’s all part of it.
Once you get to open you stride the lungs start to settle and the mind starts to focus on the next challenge.
This is a beautiful descent down into the Buckland Valley.
You get some spectacular views of at Mt Buffalo in the distance with Keating Ridge in the foreground.
But before you get to enjoy the Aid station you need to tackle this little beauty.
It is actually really quite uneven and exceptional slippy underfoot.
The ground is more dust and loose soil than anything else and I may have slipped over once or twice but luckily I was able to grab onto some brambles to slow me down.
With my new friends embedded in my hand, I made my way down the first aid station, refilled my water bottles and was on my way.
On the way to Keating Ridge, you get a fantastic view of Mt Buffalo and you think to yourself.
(And I am pretty sure I am not the only one.)
“I’ve got to climb that !”
And it actually made me smile, is that strange?
Along this section, I got to speak to some of the other runners.
One was Simon Byrne, he was competing in the Grand Slam and was on his final day to complete the 3-day Ultra Ultra Marathon.
I asked him why he was doing it and in a typical northerner response, he said.
“Well if I’m paying for a ticket to fly down here, I may as well get my monies worth”
Well, he sure got his monies worth.
The Total Distance run for all Grand Slam finishers was:
143.7km with a total ascent of 9329m.
A bit of perspective: Mt Everest Elevation: 8,848 m
Yup, that is a huge effort!
Once you get to the top of Keating Ridge there is a wonderful long downhill section that is really fast.
It allows you to open up your legs and come into the Eurobin aid station at 24km feeling quite fresh and ready to refill, restock and get ready for … my nemesis.
The Big Walk!
Last Year the Big Walk nearly ended me, You can read all about it here
Let’s just say that it was as close to pulling out of an event as I have come.
So I was super excited about taking on this challenge this year.
I felt good.
The mind was strong, I was ready!
It is 1043m of Ascent over 10km
It just keeps on going. It winds its way up the mountainside, starting in dense woodland.
And It has some great moments where the path opens up and provides you with some amazing views out to the valley and the township of Bright below.
You are welcomed with a blast of cool air as you move higher and higher up.
At Mackies lookout the terrain changes from the trail to stoney tracks.
The forest changes from green to silver and with it we edge closer to the top of the Big Walk.
For me, the Big Walk was much much better this year.
Yes, it was a slog but I was ready for that.
I just smiled at the tough times, listened to some inspiring music and enjoyed the fantastic views.
The Big Walk section of 10km took me just over 2hours to complete.
And when I started to hear the cheers and cowbells of the Chalet aid station at the top of Mt. Buffalo I was pretty proud to have overcome this challenge and knew that the worst climbs were now behind me.
From there we headed down into the final 8km.
I must admit at this point the heart is pumping fast, you really feel you are on the home straight and whatever energy you have left seems to lift along with your anticipation of the finish.
It is a looped section via the underground river track over rocks and creeks up to Lake Catani.
And then to the Chalwells Galleries.
We are welcome by one of the volunteers whose job is to make sure we have actually completed the loop.
With a smile and some words of motivation, she directs us into the cramp fest, quad quivering section where you need to squeeze through two small gaps in the rock, lower our self down and squeeze between two rock faces.
Not an easy thing to do after running 4okm.
But it was great and I took a moment to enjoy the cool climate between the rocks.
Once clear of the Chattels Galleries It was 3-4 km back to the finish line and that beer that I had been thinking of for the last hour.
It is funny what gets stuck in your head, but anything that keeps you motivated while you are on the run is good, and for me and at that moment in time beer was on my mind.
The Finish in Sight
The heart starts to pump that little bit faster when you know you are close to the finish.
The hairs on your arms start to stand up and you get a huge rush of endorphins.
You’re exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
I can remember this feeling from all the long distance events that I have been lucky enough to participate in.
It is part of the reason I do it. You really feel alive.
During the last climb I looked up and thought to myself, this is it, the last push, enjoy it!
Once I climbed those steps I was on the final couple of hundred meters and I felt great.
And I wish that was the end of the story.
I wish I could say I crossed the line and grab my beer and enjoyed the spoils of completing this amazing event.
But as I looked up, just 20m from the finish line.
I tripped and fell upon a large sharp boulder.
I looked down at my arm and saw my muscle moving and the bone in clear view.
I thought to myself, ooh that’s not looking good!
The runner beside me was Jean-Charles Dumas (Thanks for stopping mate!)
Looked at me and said, “We need to get a doctor.”
I was like no, I’m not running 42km and then stopping here, I’m finishing =:0)
I pinch my arm together and ran the remaining section and crossed the finish line.
I was presented my medal then taken straight away to the medical tent.
Where Dr Jacinta and her amazing team took control, Cleaned me up and advised that I need to be taken to the hospital to check for fractures and potential surgery to clean out the wound.
I can not thank these guys enough for the care and humour they showed to me.
I was on my own and had no way to get to the hospital.
One of the race directors Mel soon turned up and advised she would take me to the hospital in Albury!
A 1hr 30min drive each way and would stay with me until I was seen.
Mel was an absolute star, she provided me a hoodie, food and water and stayed with me for 5 hours at the hospital until I was seen and then drove me back to Bright.
On a moment when she should be sitting back and celebrating after just organising a 3-day trail running extravaganza event, this was an amazingly kind and generous thing to do for me.
She even offered to drive me the next day as I needed to go back to Albury the following day for surgery.
Thank you, Mel for being so kind to me and also for a hilarious car ride to the hospital!
I also have to mention at this point that I was staying with a friend of mine in Bright. Macca!
As I had to have surgery and could not drive for a day. He organised for one of his friends Dad, a man named Vic, to pick me up from the hospital.
Even though I had never met Vic he put me up in his house for the night and even made me breakfast!
So thanks, Vic and Macca! You are both true gentlemen.
Here is the damage.
I am completely overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me by strangers.
From the race directors to the volunteers, the supporters and my fellow competitors
I and my family would like to extend our sincere thanks to you all.
I want to pass on huge congratulations to everyone that competed today and to all the 16 finishers in the Grand Slam.
The Podium places for the Sky Marathon are shown below.
1st: Vajin Armstrong in 4hrs 23min
2nd: Etienne Blumstein-Jones in 4hrs 49min
3rd: Sam Burridge in 4hrs 51min
1st: Kellie Emmerson in 5hrs 10min (7th overall)
2nd: Kylee Woods in 5hrs 31min
3rd: Gill Fowler in 5hrs 32min
And the Grand Slam Overall Podium
1st: Frank Bittner in 20hrs 27mins
2nd: Patrick Bowring in 20hrs 50mins
3rd: Christian Warren in 20hr 56mins
I finished the Sky Marathon in 90th position in a time of 6hrs 53min
I was really happy with the result but it showed me that I still have allot to learn about myself and the sport.
And that is what I love about trail running. We are always learning and developing.
I was stronger on the downhill but weaker on the ascents than last year.
Specific training is so important to get ready for an event and next year I’ll be back again to take on the might of the Buffalo Stampede.
I want to say thanks to everyone that took the time to chat with me over the weekend and to all the runners that took the start line over the last three days.
It doesn’t matter if you didn’t finish or if you came first.
We all should be proud to have worked towards a goal and to give it all that we could.
Be strong in defeat and humble in victory.
Look to your next event with dedication and strength and most of all enjoy the journey.
I have learned to allot about myself and the kindness of others at this year Buffalo Stampede and know that I am a better man for it.
I hope to see you all on the trails soon.
Thanks to everyone I met for sharing your stories and your passion.
Below is a video I made while following the 2016 Buffalo Stampede Ultra Marathon