My one word summary of Skyrunning: WOW
WARNING :: THIS POST IS EPIC LENGTH TO MATCH THE EPIC WEEKEND THAT IS THE BUFFALO STAMPEDE.
The Buffalo Stampede is one event I have been anticipating for a long time. I really wanted to do the first event last year but my commitment to IMOZ meant it wasn’t going to happen. Buffalo Stampede has all the great hallmarks of an epic physical challenge, with Skyrunning having the potential to become a brand akin to Ironman. It’s based in a great town, offering a whole long weekend of entertainment, and most importantly the challenge is real and big. Buffalo Stampede is part of the Oceania Championships, giving runners the chance to earn points in the World Championship Series as well as the ANZ Championship. It offers three quality courses over three days and all three had fields that were stacked with elites.
I guess there isn’t really an easy way to get to the top of Mt Buffalo from Bright, but the Skymarathon course has to be the hardest possible. The climbs at Six Foot are mere anthills by comparison and no amount of Bantry Bay repeats can compete. Here’s what I think of the course…
As per my usual race reports, I have broken up the course into distinctive parts that make sense to me. They don’t exactly match official descriptions. For me, there are five stages in the Buffalo Stampede Skymarathon (the Ultra is 75k and simply runs the course in reverse once the Mt Buffalo loop is completed).
Stage 1: The Easy Bit (0km-3km)
Three easy kilometres out of forty-three… and it’s all at the start. Sure there are easy bits later on, but by then your legs are tender and your mind rattled so this really is the only easy bit. The start in Bright is perfect, right beside the river and behind the brewery. It’s as if Bright had been planned to host this race from day one. The connection through town and to the first climb of the day is ideal. A false sense of security is definitely in abundance.
And then they smack you in the face with back to back climbs and descents of Mystic and Clear Spot. This is 10k of pure torture. The climbs are as steep as a black diamond ski slope. The descents are even steeper. The guys running the Ultra tackle these late in the day, in reverse, and possibly in the dark… it’s insane. There are a few km off the back of Clear Spot that offer some of the most amazing ridgeline descending you can imagine, but before long the trail again drops off the side of the mountain. This is Skyrunning!
Stage 3: Buckland Valley and the Forgotten Hill (13k-25k)
Buckland Valley offers some respite and a bit of sealed road as well as an aid station. With the Buffalo snorting in the distance its easy to get ahead of yourself on paper, and on course, and miss the fact that there is one more hill between you and the queen climb of the day. It’s not as big as the other three climbs on the course, but it has to be tackled. Arrival at Eurobin Picnic ground is a good feeling.
Stage 4: The Big Walk (25k-35k)
Eurobin Picnic Ground aid station may be more than halfway through the race but the day certainly isn’t half done. Yes the Big Walk is runnable. Good runners might go hard from the bottom, but it’s 10k in total with 1126m of climbing. The top half is definitely easier than the bottom so save yourself… and your water. Every bit of the ascent is spectacular with constantly changing ecology, rocky outcrops and million dollar views.
Stage 5: The Top Bit (35k-42ish k)
How hard can 7k on the top of a mountain be? Another easy to overlook section that is much, much tougher than the course profile would suggest. There are stairs, scrambling and even a bit of caving with a total ascent/descent of 430m. It will take you 50% longer than you imagine. The finish line is so sweet.
I am a bit of a gearhead and love thinking about my gear strategy in a race, maybe too much. For the Skymarathon I was débuting a few things, breaking the golden rule of nothing new on race day. New gear included my Compressport Trail Tights, Compressport Trail Socks and Hammer Nutrition (Chocolate Gel in flasks, Sustained Energy drink and Pepetuum Solids just-in-case). I was wearing my Hoka Challenger ATRs, Compressport calf guards, UD AK pack and lucky red Inov8 cap. Read on to see how it all held up.
My Race went something like this:
Stage 1: OK
Stage 2, 3, 4, 5: Pain, pain, pain and more pain… good pain of course.
Stage 1: I seeded myself near to the front but behind the elites and headed off. The first 3k is only very slightly uphill and wiggles its way perfectly out of Bright. I realised early on my watch was in bike mode which was annoying but decided it didn’t matter too much and would just have to settle with getting my splits every 5k. I certainly felt the impending doom as 2k, 2.5k, 3k ticked off knowing the top of Mystic was at 5k. Of course I just had to look up to see it looming directly above.
Stage 2: My calves are on fire. Almost as soon at things turned skywards, it was like someone lit a fire in the lower sections of both my calves. I tried not to let it bother me and pushed on, holding my position in the group I was in. I wasn’t prepared for how steep Mystic was going to be, and that was just the start. The first summit of the day eventually came and it was time to head down. Straight down. If I wasn’t prepared for the steep sections going up, the steep sections going down were another level; Mad.
I know some people used poles going up, but I really wanted a couple of short ski’s to strap on to my feet go down. That would have been the fast way to do it! At the very least I would recommend MTB gloves.
As soon as you are down, you are heading back up. Clear Spot is higher and steeper again both up and down. I must admit I stopped a couple of times heading up on the few tiny flat spots as my legs just needed to feel flat ground beneath them!
The descent from Clear Spot does have some of the most magnificent ridgeline running I have experienced before once again plummeting to earth.
In terms of my gear, I kind of felt I would have been better off in my Salomon Sense 3 SG’s. I noticed the thickness of the Hoka’s going up despite the rocker profile and missed the grip going down. I also felt something sharp puncture the sole at one point and make it through to the footbed. I’m not sure what it was but it could have hurt if it was 5mm longer! My gel flasks mounted in the top pockets of my AK vest also caused heaps of pain on my collar bones. Descending the ridge off Clear Spot I tried holding the flasks but realised I would need my hands again so stuffed one in my pack and eventually figured out the other fit neatly in the lower pockets. The Hammer nutrition was working well so far. My new Compressport tights I noticed on the descents had slipped down and I was copping a bit of chafing downstairs. A quick on the fly adjustment seemed to get the compression bands high enough up my quads and everything was then fine for the rest of the race. My Compressport socks however seemed to be too loose. I have gotten pretty loyal to Compressport socks since IMWA so this was a bit of a worry. The trail socks also have a very loose weave above and below the ankle and heaps of dirt seems to get in. Kind of doesn’t make sense for a dedicated trail sock!
Stage 3: Buckland Valley is nice enough. I lost a bit of rhythm passing through the aid station at the bottom of Buckland Valley. I had also mentally overlooked the smallish (in relative terms) climb that must be passed prior to descending to Eurobin Picnic Ground. I knew it was there but just didn’t think it would drag on for so long. Every runner can make up good time on this stage and I know I left plenty of time out on the course through here.
Stage 4: My family met me at Eurobin to switch bottles and cheer me on. I spent plenty of time thinking on the way in what I would do in terms of nutrition at this point. I think I should have slowed down properly and made a more rational decision but in the rush I decided on a single bottle of electrolyte and an extra flask of gel. I left the mostly empty bottle of Sustained Energy and the full bottle behind.
This was a huge mistake.
In every race I use stupid maths to rationalise bad decisions and in this case I used it to decide I could slam down my full electrolyte bottle in the first 2k of a 10k climb. I had decided the climb could not possibly be 10k so using all my water early was fine. I thought I had read there was water every km. I thought there would be something to drink somewhere. As I passed supporters I hoped one of them would have spare water. As runners passed me I hoped they had spare water. I was wrong on all counts. Once I managed to think rationally again, I focused on keeping things in control and not going into the bonk zone. I could see Mr Bonk motoring up the trail right behind me and I needed to keep ahead of him but not too far. 8k with nothing but Gel is tough, but at least it was something. The Hammer Gel worked nicely although I think in this instance my trusty Hi-5 gel might have been better. By the top my mouth, and face, was caked with chocolate gel!
Seeing my family and the many, many cups of Coke were a great comfort, and once again with minimal stop I was out of there. Looking at the results my KOM time was about 43rd compared to my overall placing of 41st and I had only lost one position on the climb, so as bad as things were I managed myself really well once I got my head together. Lesson learnt… for now.
Stage 5: This is the real sting. I had expected a cruisy run around the lake, 7k in 45mins and job done. What I got was a truely Skyrunning-worthy final test. I certainly hadn’t expected to descend stairs straight out of the aid station, or the climb back up to the lake. I knew about the Challwell Galleries, a chimney/cave experience right at the top of the course but I completely missed how much gradient there really was out there on this sector. Finishing was sweet.
My time was 6:21. Longer than I expected but 41/160 turned out to be a great placing for me especially given the stacked elite field accounting for the top 15 places.
I think I am well and truly hooked… although I do miss a good 180k TT (Ironman) on closed roads 😉
- The course, the challenge. Possibly as good as can be offered in Aus and right now my favourite.
- The course marking. Pretty much nailed it, I almost never felt lost out on the course.
- The location, host town.
- The overall program and surrounding events. It makes the whole weekend an event. I hope they keep building this aspect because Bright is such a perfect place for this event.
- The Thursday Run.
- The Bright Brewery! (and the Icecreamery prize for the Kids!)
- The social media coverage of the race.
- The Pros, catching up with Marty Dent, getting cheered on by Tom Owens heading up Clear Spot, getting cheered by Hanny Alston leaving the Chalet for the top loop. These guys get it!
- The organisers were stretched to within an inch of their lives, an extra resource would have made things even better. The important bits, the races, ran to schedule and smoothly, some of the other stuff was a bit all over the place but the concept is brilliant. An event MC separate to the RD would make a world of difference. It would be Ironman beating good.
- Communication was at times inconsistent, some of the social media was as good as it gets, especially the finish line interviews and photos, but other times it just didn’t happen unless absolutely necessary.
- I know its Skyrunning but an entry level event that isn’t the hardest course of the weekend would be good! In my case perfect for partners.
- But seriously, really not much and nothing that impacted the main part of the event.
The Rest of The Trip (boring stuff for my benefit, feel free to stop reading now!)
Our trip started with a 7hr drive on Thursday from Sydney. We got our tent up in Porepunkah quick smart and headed into Bright, 5mins down the road. After a quick food shop and the kids being reunite with their favourite park on earth, I joined the first event of the weekend, a social run with the pros.
Its these touches that make the event. So awesome to do a short run around with some of the worlds elite trail runners. One thing Skyrunning can (or has!) learnt from Ironman is accessibility to the Pros for the average participant. Without the main field, the Pros simply wouldn’t have events like this to run. Salomon wouldn’t have 1000’s of people toeing the start line with at least one piece of their gear on and there wouldn’t be any sponsorship.
The race, and kids park, is also right next to the Bright Brewery. A perfect combo!
Friday, we headed to Myrtleford and hired some bikes to check out the Rail Trail, we managed a 30k round trip which was a big effort for the kids, and Kira who was towing Isla on a tag-a-long bike.
Post ride we headed back to Bright to catch the runners finishing the 26er, which because of fire became a 32k run and prep the kids for the Kids race. As we waited we bumped into one of Kira’s school friends who Kira hadn’t seen for nearly 15 years. She had just placed 5th in the 26er and was about to push her daughter at the tail of the kids race. Amazing! Her husband was running the Skymarathon… I jokingly predicted he would beat me by 2hrs which was pretty much spot on!
Saturday morning I caught the start of the Ultra, did some other stuff I can’t remember and popped back into town to check in. We walked the Bright Gorge track and a bit of the rail trail back into town. We also found a geocache which was a bit of fun.
And before long it was Sunday morning and race day but you have read all that!
We stayed at Mt Buffalo Caravan Park in Porepunkah which was great, they even had built a decent course in the river to Lilo which kept the kids entertained for hours. The whole weekend was just fantastic and highly recommended.