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The Insanity of the Buffalo Stampede Ultra

Date:
By  Melissa Robertson

I’d raced the Buffalo Stampede Marathon last year and it was a seriously challenging race, so this year I was back and racing the Buffalo Stampede Ultra Marathon, 75kms and over 4500m of elevation gain; hills, a mountain, rock climbing, more hills, crazy steep ascents and descents all along the way. Guaranteed to be a challenge!

The Ultra was on the second day of the three day running festival with the 26er (now 32er) being held the day before. I’d heard the stories of the 26er runners and how hard their race was, much harder then any of them seemed to expect which I found cute. They only ran 32kms through the mountainous terrain around Bright, now it was time to let the big kids really run in the mountains ;)

Pre-Race

The Ultra started from the very pretty but freezing cold town of Bright, Victoria not too far from the base of Mt Buffalo. I got down to the park early, and watched in the cold as the other runners slowly began to appear. There were lots of nervous looking people shuffling around the start line. I got to catch up with my various running buddies, Ryan who was more nervous then I was, Matt who was busy being a TV star for Search4Hurt, A couple of Trotters & other Central Coast locals. Shona, one of the top female runners told me I needed to drop some of the water from my pack and 1.5ltrs was too much to carry. It was good advice so a few minutes before we started I emptied a bit out of the bladder and joined everyone else at the start line. The safety instructions were given (I was too nervous to remember them) and then the countdown began and we were off.

The race started with about 3kms of flat running alongside the river which was quite a pleasant warmup, Matt & Ryan’s plan of running together immediately fell apart as Matt stuck with the lead group and Ryan came back to join me somewhere in the middle of the bunch. I found out later that at this stage he was also busy sending snapchats... Because that’s what you do in a 75km race?!? We wound our way out of town and towards the first hill of Mystic. This hill is the second smallest one, but no less steep. The course uses the mountain bike paths that wind their way up the side. Think like the mountain bike course down from The Tower at Ourimbah State Forest, sections of it were runnable, but most of it was just some serious hiking. The Mystic hike was a good warmup for what was to come and I was taking it very easy. We got to run across the fake grass which covers a large section of the top of Mystic used by the paragliders as a launch site, then it was some easy downhill followed by some crazy “is this even a path” downhill as we left the nice forest road and barrelled full speed down the side of the mountain through a gap in the pine forest plantation. I am terrible at downhill, so I fell down twice, then just stayed down and started sliding down the hill which seemed to work much better, by the time I was at the bottom of Mystic I was filthy, my shorts were covered in dirt, my face, arms, legs and even my new shiny running poles, were no longer new & shiny.

Running Time

The next climb up Clear Spot is much steeper than Mystic and just keeps on going. It was a matter of putting the running poles to work and keep moving. Not too fast, just a steady pace that would get me to the top without destroying my legs. Once at the top the view is spectacular, overlooking Bright and to all the surrounding mountains. The next day we were up there spectating and cheering people on in the marathon and once the lead group went past a lot of the runners were stopping to take photos and selfies with the view in the background.

The view at Clear Spot continues as the course follows some steep, and not so crazy downhill paths along one of the mountain spurs before it makes a sharp left and drops off the side of the mountain. This time it was down an already logged mountainside consisting of red dirt with trenches worn into it. I slid past a couple of other runners as I gave up on my whole trying to stay on my feet thing. I even slid over a Funnel Web at one point, but he got buried in the mini-avalanche that I was creating. Once at the bottom it’s the flattest section of the day as I raced along a slightly downhill dirt road and out of the logging forest towards the town of Buckland.

Buckland

I quite enjoy this part of the run, the forest on either side turns into paddocks with cows and the running is nice and easy, a steady comfortable pace, then there’s the looming view of Mt Buffalo that can be seen the entire time, normally I would think it looks scenic but today it’s more ominous. The dirt road eventually turns to bitumen and the cow bells of the Buckland drink station can be heard as I raced in to grab a drink of Coke & Heed. Their aid station volunteers were fantastic the whole race and it was all “What do you want?” “Do you want me to fill those up?” “Is there anything I can get you?” plus all the encouragement. Past the drink station the road undulates through the other side of Buckland past more farms, including chickens who were out with some very late season chicks. Past the Llama farm and back into the bush, this time not pine forest but actual bush as we followed the path winding up the side of Keating Ridge. This section goes for a few kilometres and is about as steep as the hill out at Dubbo Gully, last year I ran the whole thing, but this year I needed to save more for the return journey so I ran/walked it. One of the other female runners came past me at this point running the entire hill, so I was very curious how it would pan out later on and whether my conservation would pay off.

Buffalo

At the top of the hill it rounds the corner then it’s an easy downhill dash down the other side of the ridge and onto the road leading to the bottom. I hit Eurobin Creek Picnic Area to the sound of cow bells and mum trying to get my attention as I switched out my empty Tailwind soft flasks for filled ones and grabbed my next bag of supplies (Nutella sandwiches, pretzels, chips, Gu gels & salt tablets). I was 13th female through at that stage but I wasn’t yet racing, then it was onto The Big Walk and the long 10km hike to the top of the mountain. 

The mountain is spectacular to climb once you hit the Granite sections and the switchbacks offer views back to Bright and the surrounding mountains, by the top of the mountain I’d overtaken Darren McClellan (who was moving well and also sticking to his race plan of conserving plenty for the return journey), run past a guy sitting across the track glassy eyed and eating jelly beans and moved into 10th place female overtaking the woman who’d run Keating Ridge. Hitting the drink station at the top I refilled my water bladder, Tailwind flasks & grabbed a fresh food bag it was now time to start racing.

Refuel

The top of Buffalo is my favourite part of the race, lots of technical sections interspersed with easy running legs, glimpses from the tops of lookouts and the adventurous Chalwell Galleries where you get to slow down and do some bouldering between the giant rocks. I’d heard reports that Ryan was only a few hundred metres in front of me at this stage so I was hoping to catch him soon, Matt meanwhile was a long way in front and going surprisingly well for someone who’d only switched from the Marathon to the Ultra the day before. I came across Mark Lee who’d pulled the pin on the race at the top of Buffalo but had been heckled into at least doing the 7k loop around the top, it was disappointing to see him have to pull out, but if it’s not in your legs that day, then that’s just the way it is.

Down Buffalo

Passing back through the checkpoint at the top of Buffalo I’d moved into 8th position as I started on the long descent down the mountain and was delighted to find Ryan just in front of me running along while talking on the phone?!? He was going really well for someone with so many injuries and we managed to do most of the 10k descent together with him putting a bit of distance into me at the more technical sections and me catching up or overtaking him on the easier running bits. It was good to have someone to talk to and distract me on the way down, We hit Eurobin Creek Picnic Area together and I ran over to pick up my supplies while he went to get a quick massage and get some help from Charlie to fix his pack.

Out of Eurobin it was a run/hike back up and over Keating Ridge. I was moving fine, and had maintained my position of 8th female. I figured by this stage I had Ryan, we had a long run leg through Buckland and I knew he wouldn’t be able to match me on that. I stepped up the pace through Buckland and saw one of the other female runners had pulled out putting me into 7th position. Hitting Buckland drink station I was told that Shona in 6th place wasn’t too far in front of me, so I took off, running the false flat up out of Buckland and towards the pine forest and Clear Spot in the distance.

From the bottom of Clear Spot I could see Shona about a third of the way up so I got my poles ready and started to climb, this hill was insane, it was only borderline walkable and in sections it was more like climbing up a giant mound of shifting and sliding dirt where I’d dig the poles in just to gain enough traction to pull myself up. My calves were screaming, but I’d maintained the distance between Shona and myself and the guys behind me that I’d overtaken coming through Buckland. Reaching the top of the first climb I started to hike up the side of the Clear Spot spur, my legs were screaming at me, but they weren’t cramping which meant that I could go on. Finally getting to the top of Clear Spot was a huge relief and just as I started on the downhill I heard someone coming up behind me and turned around to see Ryan! I had easily put a couple of K’s into him coming through Buckland, but he had completely monstered that Clear Spot climb (clearly all the secret Crackneck training was paying off). He smashed me on the downhill and disappeared flying recklessly towards the bottom. Meanwhile I was struggling on the steep descent, my quads were smashed so every heavy footfall was taking it’s toll and I’d lost site of Shona which was disappointing, but hey I was still in 7th!

Bakers Gully

It was as much a relief to reach the bottom of Clear Spot as it was to reach the top. The last aid station for the day was at Bakers Gully, where I switched out my Tailwind bottles and headed off for Mystic, the final hill and the last 7kms. The climb up Mystic was nowhere near as bad as Clear Spot, all I had to do was keep moving, my whole body was tired and hurting, but I had to keep moving. Over the fake grass and onto the mountain bike trails on the other side. I fell over a few times coming down these trails, I think my legs were trying to make me stop moving, but I had to keep moving, my watch battery had run out and it was just starting to get dark, so I knew I was going to come close to 11 hours, I couldn’t quite tell how close, fortunately I was informed towards the bottom by a spectator that I had 18 minutes to cover 3 kms if I wanted to break 11 hours. This was when I took off, everything I had left went into that last 3kms as I hit the bottom of the mountain and followed the trail beside the river heading for downtown Bright.

Finish

I didn’t know how far in front Ryan was but I knew he’d also be putting in everything he had left, that last 3k’s was as mentally hard as running along Yarramalong Road, I kept pushing with the 11 hour goal & Ryan in mind, hitting the Caravan Park right near the end I sprinted through it, attempted to get lost in the park near the finish line with people pointing and directing me, then it was into the finishers shoot and across the line in a time of 11:01:05 7th place female and 35th overall. I found Ryan in the first aid tent learning that he’d sprinted across the line and kept going before collapsing on the grass. I was very impressed, he’d managed to finish in 10:47:43 and 30th overall.

Overall it was a fantastic race, great volunteers, well marked course and insane mountains. I’ll be coming back next year…. I’m thinking Grand Slam.

 

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