Chris Morrissey Buffalo Stampede Marathon Repot

Chris Morrissey ventured over to Victoria at the start of April to see what hills where on off at the Buffalo Stampede, the first ever Australia/New Zealand Sky Running Race.

imagesWhen I heard that the Sky Running circuit was coming to Australia, I jumped at the chance to have a crack at the Aussies on their home soil and on some big hills near the alpine village of Bright, 300km north of Melbourne.

With two races being run over the weekend the marathon competitors would get to watch the ultra marathon runners on the Saturday before racing on Sunday morning.

The marathon consisted of 4 major climbs and a few additional undulations at the end adding up to over 2900m of ascent and 1900 metres of descent. Essentially it was a point to point race with a 7 km out and back at the final summit. The Ultra course included a return  journey back to the start adding another 34km to the marathon and totalling over 4500m of ascent and descent.

The ultra had been a real eye opener. American Dakota Jones totally dominated the race winning by over an hour in 7:48:03. Behind him it was a race of attrition. 4 runners in the top ten pulled out of the race showing varying signs of fatigue. Top kiwi and possibly the fastest finishing was Grant Guise placing fourth within 2 minutes of 2nd.

With the luxury of not having to run with a light due to the daylight savings change over night we had the same 6:30 start time as the ultra but an hour later. An Australian friend who was racing informed me of the change. I did believe him, but I still googled it anyway and I did turn up at the start an hour early just in case. I was up anyway and only staying just down the road.

Big names on the start line were Vajin ( kind of like Madonna or Cher. No last name needed) and talented Aussie’s  Dave Byrne and John Winsbury. The initial approach to the first hill would reveal how many serious contenders there were. Quite a few as it turned out. Once we got going I settled in behind Dave and Vajin. Ten minutes later I had obviously made a subconscious decision to let them go as I drifted back a little. Gradually a little became a lot. They were out of sight as I hit the final pinch of the 700m climb up Mount Mystic and I had faded to 6th. Taking on a bit of food and a drink, 6th soon became 7th as we began to descend toward what was reported as the most technical descent in the race. The 4×4 track we had been running on took a sharp left turn down the side of the hill. In front of me was a track as steep as parts of Mount Edgecumbe, as slippery as a tough guy challenge and as loose as the Tongariro crossing. But more importantly there were 6 guys slowly weaving there way down. 7th became 6th became 5th became 4th (hi Vajin) became 3rd, then I took a spill. Back up with a bit of Mystic dirt in my elbow and a butt graze I continued down and into second not quite catching John Winsbury in first. Wondering if I was the only one who enjoyed that I cruised down the track, eating and drinking before refilling at the first aid station where I lost a couple of places.

Chris on the top of Clearspot. Photo- Philip Murphy

Chris on the top of Clearspot. Photo- Philip Murphy

My relaxed approach was due to the fact that we were only 6km in and just around the corner was a rather steep hands on knees fire break for 500 vertical metres to a summit named Clear Spot.  Still early in the race I paced myself off those in front of me. Vajin went by half way up, we exchanged a few words which was quite conversational for me mid race. I decided not to hang on too close and just make sure I was comfortable. His lead over me stretched out to about 40 metres by the summit with John pushing hard and out to over 100m. I was back in 3rd and feeling good.

Drinking and eating was the theme of the day. Rest on the downs, take in as much nutrition as I could, hopefully be strong on the final big climb with enough in reserve to hit the last 7km out and back section hard.

Coming down off Clear spot 3 guys went past. Another loose  steep fire break descent and they began to come back. I went past Dave again, grazed the other butt cheek and sat in 5th at the base before a rather long trek out to the second drink station at the 15km mark. Luke Preston in 4th was just in front of me and Vajin was about a minute up the road at the aid station. After the aid station we headed into the bush  for the smallest and most runnable climb of the day over Keatings Ridge. I made my way up into 4th but still a way behind Vajin in front of me. After the summit Dave Byrne went by with Luke Preston in tow. I didn’t chase  but heard the spectators ringing of the race pack cow bells in front of me as they both left the next drink station less than a minute ahead.

Chris starting up "The Big Walk". Photo- Grant Guise

Chris starting up “The Big Walk”. Photo- Grant Guise

Into the major climb of the day. At 10km long and with over 1100m of climb the “Big Walk” track would probably be the make or break of almost everyone’s race. Around a few corners I caught a glimpse of Dave and Luke just ahead. Shortly after I went by a casuality of the race due to injury so I was back in 5th. The next time I saw the two guys in front they had a split between them. By the time I finally caught Luke 30min later Dave was no where to be seen. I made my way past Luke but was suffering from a few cramps and was out of water. Fortunately we crossed a stream about 10 minute  from the summit. A big drink and a few electrolyte tabs later I hit the summit in 4th with no sign of Luke but more importantly I was told I was just 3 min behind John Winsbury in 3rd having made up 5 minutes on the climb.
The race was on. Hoping I still had enough in the tank I barreled down the hill to be told by a spectator that I was 2 minutes behind.  With some long straights around lake at the summit of Mount Buffalo I tried to catch a glimpse of John.  It wasn’t to be. With several over the shoulder glances nearing the finish, I crossed the line over 3 min behind John and more than 12 minutes behind 1st equal Vajin and Dave (They agreed to finish together after both getting caught up in pedestrian traffic through a cave/ squeeze section)

I am rapt with my result. The field was strong, these days I race a lot on muscle memory and a strong will, hoping to still race solidly on limited training.  A big congrats to Vajin and Dave for putting in such strong performances. To all those who finished, that was a tough race by anyone’s standards so well done.

Thanks to Karhu NZ. My Karhu Flow Trail with the perfect blend of grip comfort,cushioning and protection in a trail racer they were the perfect choice for the trails of the Buffalo Stampede. Hopefully we will Sky Running continue in Australia next year and even better it would be great to see it come to NZ. If it does be sure to have a go. They put on a great event.

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