How to run the Buffalo Stampede Marathon
The sentence I used to describe the Buffalo Stampede Marathon course was ‘ignorance is bliss’. Some people agreed with me, others said you always better know what you are getting yourself in for. For me, ignorance and knowing the course didn’t take away the pain nor the pleasure of this race.
2017 was the first year I participated in the Buffalo Stampede three-day festival. When I signed up to the marathon early February I was just getting back into running after a few months off to settle a grumpy SIJ (Sacrolialic Joint). I was also a week into training with my new coach; Kellie Emmerson, UP Coaching so wasn’t too sure how this coaching relationship was going to work and grow.
Connect with a coach
After being “off program” since September and tragically losing my coach of 3+ years Craig Percival (No Limits Endurance) in December starting with Kellie was bitter sweet and a decision that took months to come too. Working with a coach is more than receiving a program each week; it’s about both participants understanding how each other works and what drives them. Lucky for me, this understanding was there right from the word go and continues to develop with each week’s training session and race goals.
- Distance: 42.2km
- Ascent: 2003m
- Descent: 3033m
The course descriptions were just as humbling:
- Unique rock scrambling…squeeze through monumental rock formations
- 10km and descends 1126m with little gain
- Formidable challenge
Names such as Chalwells Galleries, Duffus Drop, Clearspot, Mick’s track and Mystic Hill are more than just places they are now embedded deep into my soul with part of me being left out on those tracks…more than just a bit of skin and blood! You can read the course notes all you like but you need to experience these notes to gain a true understanding and I am so glad I got to experience them on such a picture perfect, if not a little warm day.
I was very nervous in the car on the way up to the Buffalo Chalet start, I guess this showed this race meant something to me. Coming off the back of the 21km Sharpy’s beer run the weekend before where I placed 3rd female I had secretly set a bit of a bench mark for myself – I wanted to continue to do well not only for me but for Kellie, I wanted to show her I could back up my training success in a race. I want to be a racer and I’m working hard to feel comfortable in this thought process and the feeling that comes with it (i.e. hurt).
There were three wave starts for the marathon:
- Wave 1: Gun runner (aiming to win overall or want to win or place in your age group)
- Wave 2: Those who have some game but are not racing
- Wave 3: People who are in the event for participation
I was more worried about which wave to start in than the mountains I faced but this is when I needed to trust myself so I started in wave 1. As it turns out, it was one of the best calls of the day.
The race started well, I felt good I had some strong runners around me but was not intimidated; I accepted my position within this group and literally ran with it. Then the fun began, the Chalwells Galleries. No amount of You Tube and friends videos could prepare me for this but all that went through my mind was ‘trust’. Before long, I was down, through and out the monumental rock formations – I’m no contortionist but I have learnt to manipulate my body over the past few months and although challenging I said to myself when I was out of it ‘you bloody did it, now head down and run’.
Its all about the flow
I had a good flow in this race, I have been learning some key meditation techniques, which I now bring into my running, and they worked like a treat for this race. Before I knew it I was back at the Buffalo Chalet and descending the Big Walk – only 86m ascent and 1126m descent, this was a true test of the quads. When I ran into the Eurobin aid station my knees almost buckled on me but a quick swig of black gold (coke) and away I went.
Swear like a mother….
I worked to my strengths over the next 24km – mountain hiking. I am very clear about what my strengths and weakness are and I had some good uphills to power up and loved every minute of it. It’s always comforting when people comment on how strong you are, I thanked them for their observations and digested the positivity. I swore like a mother when I saw some of the mountains – Keatings Ridge, Duffus Drop and Clearspot but like a moment in time, that negativity was soon replaced with trust. A smile then formed on my face as sweat dripped down my face as I put face to knee and powered up what was ahead of me.
Rise to the challenge
This challenge was not too big for me, I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually the top would come to me…. eventually. The good thing was, I had no idea what the names of the mountains I was climbing were or really how many were left – all I knew was there were two BIG mountains but in the end, they all seemed massive so to know the names was just irrelevant.
Downhills are my weakness but I kept telling myself once again to ‘trust’ and some of the downhills were done sliding down in crouched position – find the fasted way down without injuring yourself and its going to make for a more pleasant journey. So with that, my feet acted as my ski board and I was sliding down those mountains – this was fun.
After Clear spot it seemed to be all downhill to the finish line, all 1066m of it. All I was looking for was the river and then I knew I wasn’t far from home. Throughout the race, I felt the best I have in a long time – I felt upbeat, happy, well fuelled, a little dehydrated, positive, content and strong. My mind was free of monkey brain, I had only taken a wrong turn twice and I was running with fellow runners who like me, just loved what we were doing. Sure I passed a few people who were not in a good way; stomach cramps, gut issues, really dehydrated, cramping and negative but I was not one of them. I offered pain relief, electrolytes and a positive mindset. I told them to dig deep to find that something that was going to get them to the end – it was there they just needed to search for it. No doubt more than one person wanted to push me off a mountain for being so positive and feeling so good but my race plan was coming together and it showed.
Train your race fuel
I have had many races where I have struggled, both in body and mind but this race, my first Buffalo Stampede was not one of them. I had a slightly different race strategy to what I usually follow; I started with only 1L of fluid – 500ml water and 500ml nuun electrolytes + 8 gels (a combination of Shotz and VFuel) to fuel me for the race. I also had an At One bar just in case I needed something of substance and in case my body rejected the numerous gels each hour.
I am very upfront in saying I don’t like the hot weather, I need lots of fluid and I need to consume real foods but I am also open to challenging even my well thought out plans to try something different. Summer proved a good time to start training without relying too heavily on fluids and I finally listened to Craig’s advice and gave gels a go 100% of the time. Gels are far from real foods but are compact, easy to carry and provide a solid amount of carbohydrates (between 23g – 29g) to help make up my 60g intake per hour.
I ran with a smaller pack this time, the new Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 5 Set which is still big enough to carry the mandatory gear but small enough to not feel like I was carrying anything. With this choice, it paved the way to supporting my new race strategy, less fluid and less real food. It worked. My official timings:
- Finish time: 6:22:19
- Overall: 53/179
- Gender: 10/57
- Age Category (40-49): 1/13
Execute the plan
I achieved what I set out to do, to place but by no means was this race easy, actually it was one of the toughest races I have done but something was different this race. I can’t quite put my finger on it but what I planned and executed on the day just came together. Maybe it has something to do with my training, thanks Kellie.
As I crossed the finish line my husband Zac, coach Kellie, friend Kate and the Bright Brewery were there to welcome me with open arms. I couldn’t take the smile off my face. I realised right there and then that I had worked to my strengths and now what I needed to do was work further on my weakness but for the moment, I was going to enjoy a well earned beer whilst soaking in the Ovens River to aid recovery.
Lastly, to the organisers of the Buffalo Stampede, Mountain Sports I will see you on the start line in 2018 for this race had the right mix of pleasure and pain…maybe more pain but that’s almost forgotten now (except when I go to walk up and down a set of stairs).