How to run Buffalo Stampede
Buffalo Stampede is held yearly in the Alpine region of Victoria in and around the township of Bright. There are various distances to choose from ranging from the 75km Ultra SkyMarathon, 42km SkyMarathon, 20km SkyRun, 10km SkySprint and the mother of the weekend, Grand Slam | KOTM which incorporates over three days distances of 20km, 75km and 42km. All these runs have the commonality of unique scenery, gnarly ascents/descents and unpredictable weather. This race like most to the events Mountain Sports offer Buffalo Stampede is as brutal as it is beautiful.
The word Sky is not to be overlooked, all these races have you ascending and climbing mountains of up to 4654m and if you are game enough to attempt the Grand Slam you will have an ascent of 9329m. By no means is this race flat. If you haven’t trained on mountains then you are going to hurt, you are going to hurt real bad. My advice is, if you love mountains you are going to thrive in what ever distance you choose but if you are use to road runs and are intrigued by all the trail run hype and haven’t trained outside of the big city streets, you are going to wonder what the hell happened when you finish this race, well that’s if you make it to the finish line before the sweepers sweep you up!
This is not a race for the faint hearted; you need to befriend hurt and accept that come race day mother nature might have a different agenda to you. The rules of this race are; “don’t worry about the things you can’t control, focus on the things you can.”
2017 was the first year I ran this race and despite having trained in the Alpine region and surrounds, this race left me a little shell shocked. Despite the shock, I was still eager to sign up in 2018 as if you know anything about me by now, you know I like to hurt. As I put together my 2018 race calendar, Buffalo Stampede SkyMarathon was one of the first to be locked in, for me this is the perfect lead up race to UTA in May.
Each year the one thing you can guarantee is the unpredictability of the weather. The conditions this year couldn’t have been more different to last year; 2017 was hot, hot, hot and my major issue during the race was lack of water however fast forward a year and the major issues facing me were mud slides and hyperthermia. I had kept a keen eye on the weather during the week; Monday to Friday the weather hovered around 22 degrees with sunshine and blue skies but Saturday and Sunday read a very different picture. Grey clouds, frost, snow warnings and rain – we were not going to be as fortunate as the previous years but this was not to dampen the enthusiasm come race day.
Before the race had even begun we were sent various messages to prepare us for what was ahead:
“TRAFFIC WARNING There’s a lot of debris on the Mt Buffalo Road this morning, including small fallen rocks. Wildlife are also out. Take extreme care and be patient as you drive up. We all have the same goals today.”
“MANDATORY GEAR: definitely bad weather kit today”
“SAFETY THIS MORNING: Buffalo is a huge granite mountain. During the event you run over several large slabs of rock, especially around Mackeys. We advise runners to be extremely careful on Mt Buffalo today, choose right shoes and be very patient with the people around you.”
Then as the race was about to begin:
“Chilly marathon start: 3 degrees, rain and wind.” If you were a nervous runner then the nerves were peaking just about now and the mind was going into overdrive but what you needed to do at this time was keep calm, call upon all your confidence and trust yourself. This day was going to be a little unpredictable and although we safely made it to the start line, getting to the end was still very much the unknown.
The course had been changed slightly for safety reasons; the race organisers had our best interest at heart and they wanted to see 100% of the runners finish the race in good health and the way to do this is to modify the course to ensure this happens. The race was now 39km instead of the planned 42km. A massive thank you goes out to the team at Mountain Sports for always having our back. Its a tough job so thank you for taking the reigns and controlling the mothership.
Most memorable parts of the course
- Mt Buffalo down the Big Walk to Eurobin Creek picnic area
- Buckland Valley
- Mick’s Track
- The finish at Bright Brewery
- Mt Buffalo to Eurobin Creek picnic area is a steep 11.3km descent from top to bottom and oh what fun you can have running down here, well that is until you reach the slippery granite slate slabs near Mackeys Lookout. Despite being a little nervous around this point, thankfully I only had one ‘moment’ I loved flying down to the first checkpoint of the day. Yep it was wet, muddy and a little hairy but isn’t that what trail running is all about? This year I don’t think I was as fast as last year, I still felt like I had my superman cape on though but the only difference this year was; my legs didn’t buckle underneath me as I returned to flat ground.
- Buckland Valley, I love this part of the course; I good runable section, if only for a short time and this is where I had the biggest smile on my face mainly because as I ran past a farm house a cat came jumping out and scaled my legs! Trail running has you fearing wildlife such as snakes and kangaroos but cats are a first. Sweet little thing, he just wanted a game and me, well I had my game face on so no time for pats and cuddles, time to get running.
- Micks Track; I can only describe this ascent as ‘a bitch’. Well she’s a bitch in good weather so add two days of rain and she suddenly takes on a whole new persona. Thankfully for me there were a few footsteps in front of me who had kindly left indents in the climb but this still didn’t stop me from sliding down and hanging on for dear life. Two time during this climb I lost confidence and this meant, I lost my ability to climb – you cannot and should not stop on a climb like this. Head down, bum up and just keep going. Rookie error on my behalf, I doubted myself and this meant unscheduled ‘pull yourself together’ moments and a stern talking too. Despite being challenging, I love this climb.
- The finish. What sweeter way to make you run faster than a pint from the Bright Brewery. About 6km from the finish I came across a fellow female runner who unfortunately for her had taken a wrong turn and was making her way back up the road to find me at the intersection telling her the right way too run. I really felt for her, it sux taking a wrong turn but for me this meant a place I could not give up to another female runner. With a 3km technical descent to run, I noticed she was much better than me at the technical descents and with a fire in her belly due to needing to make up time, she was on a mission to get to that finish line. I saw her run away from me but as we got back onto the flats, I had her in my sights. With 3km to go, I passed her, I was hoping she was not looking at me as I had snot and spit connect due to pushing with all my might (running is not an attractive sport) and with 1km to go, I started to slow worried that I have pushed too early and suddenly felt like I couldn’t sustain the pace. Lucky for me I finished 20 seconds ahead of her but she pushed me the whole way. My reward; two beers from the brewery.
Thankfully I had trained in conditions just as horrid as race day, I am far from just a ‘fair weather runner’. I don’t mind braving the elements, if anything it gives me a special kind of race armour that makes me a stronger more determined runner. I started the race wearing and carrying:
Vegan Athletic Base Layer
Victorian Ultra Runners (VUR) T-shirt
Kathmandu Flinders Merino Top
Kathmandu Flinders Long Sleeve Hike Shirt
The North Face Trail Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Gloves
2XU MCS Run Compression Shorts
Injinji Mid-Crew socks
Salomon S-Lab Sense 5 Ultra Trail shoes
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta
Moxie Shin Gaiters (mainly for warmth)
Leki Micro Trail Pro poles
Very early into the race, about 4km I had removed my gloves despite it being around zero on the top of Mt Buffalo. After starting the race at pace, the first part of my body to start to over heat was my hands. From there around 11km into the race, after the descent from Mt Buffalo to Eurobin I had removed my rain jacket. The rain had eased and slowly I was self combusting from the inside out so layers had to be removed. Ideally I would have removed my merino top but at the time of derobing it all became too difficult to take one top off to remove another to put another back on….easier to leave on but that was a decision I regretted the remainder of the 39km race.
I also regretted carrying and trying to use my poles. In 2017 I ran the race just fine if not better than some of the runners who were using them but with the conditions a little muddy and wet underfoot I decided at the last minute to include my poles in my gear as I thought they might help give me traction up the muddy mountains. I removed them from the pack to use them on the first climb out of Eurobin. Regret number two. Anything that involves moving parts or some sort of construction can assist with derailing your race and my pole were the cause of about a good 10min delay. I couldn’t construct one of my poles, as much as I tried I just couldn’t get it to click into place, I slowed to a stop and then gave up. I used one pole for about 5 minutes before asking a fellow runner to tuck my poles into my pack, they were done for the day. Short and sweet. What a waste of time.
You can’t stew over things that don’t go to plan, you have to sit with it but only for a short time and then move it. Sit with it too long and this can really ruin your day. Yep I was pissed but I have changed up the problem so time to put the head down and continue the race. I know for 2019, poles are definitely not needed.
Not all races go to plan but when the plans don’t work out, you need to adapt and move on. Running teaches you many life lessons and if you pay attention, you will be an ‘A’ student at the end of the race if you listen, notice and move on. Trail running is definitely more complex than road running and when you add in Sky running the complexity reaches an all time high. This race is one to be experienced, if you love a challenge both physically and mentally then this race is a must for your race calendar.
2018 can only be summed up as ‘a race where no-one told you off for playing in the mud’.
To read more about Buffalo Stampede and to sign up to other Mountain Sports events click here.