Buffalo Stampede Ultra Race Report

imagesBuffalo Stampede Race Report

In the first weekend of April this year the first ever official Sky Running race took place in Australia, with the running of the Buffalo Stampede in Bright, Victoria. Bright is a quaint little town on the Alpine Highway and the perfect setting for a gathering of odd balls that want to “run” a good distance with an honest amount of vertical. Bright has it all- a good café, in the form of Bright Velo, its own brewery, that also makes a good pizza and most importantly an abundance of hills and trails- both the New Zealand version of a trail- ie single track, and the Australian version, aka a fire road. And when there was neither version of a trail, Sean Greenhill, the race director, just bulldozed straight lines down the sides of needlessly steep hills.

Team NZ at the Buffalo!

Team NZ at the Buffalo!

It was a small but strong New Zealand contingent that made the trek to Bright- Chris Morrissey, Vajin Armstrong, Grant Guise, Matt Bixley and Australia/New Zealand Sky Running federation vice president Anna Frost.

Both Chris and Vajin have given excellent accounts of their marathon races and you can read them HERE-
Chris and HERE- Vajin

At 630am, in the centre of Bright, Matt and I (Grant) lined up for the 75km, 4500mD+ ultra. The course starts with 2 relatively short, but bloody steep climbs and descents. In the first 15km or so over 1300m of ups and downs are included before the fast running of Buckland Valley and Kenton Ridge. My race was ticking along nicely here- I was certain, as most were, that  Dakota Jones would be the one to beat and lead off the front. What I was not so certain of, but really hoped would happen, is he would be chased by the young

Spot the cool kid with his headlamp still turned on. Closest I got to That Dakota, with 2 of my favourite Australia's behind me.

Spot the cool kid with his headlamp still turned on. Closest I got to That Dakota, with 2 of my favourite Australia’s behind me.

pups. By Buckland this was how it was playing out, with Dakota and Ben Duffas leading, with  Blake Hose, Cain Warburton and Moritz Auf Der Heide chasing hard.  Meanwhile, what I am dubbing the “old man train” was forming. Mick Donges, Andrew Tuckey and I, all over 30, started up Keating Ridge together and rolled in to our scheduled stop at the Eurobin Creek aid station. We started up the “Big Walk” and were quickly joined by another old boy, the one and only Brendan Davis. Unfortunately we lost Mick during the climb as he dropped. To my surprise Andrew and I also got away from Brendan here as he was in a rough patch. The climb up Mt Buffalo was a real highlight, with nice single track down low and fun rocky trails over big granite slabs from about ½ way up. We had a fun 7km loop at the top of Mt Buffalo, which included a few tight squeezes and we go to get a good time check here on the fast guys, as we saw Dakota, Ben and Blake. Not seeing Mo and Cain meant they were pretty close and as we returned to the Chalet found out that Mo had dropped and Cain was less than 1min ahead. With around 35km to go, I figured time was on my side and continued on with my plan of keeping things really easy and steady, rather than trying to catch Cain as quickly as I could. After a brief time apart, Andrew and I reunited for the descent back to Eurobin Creek and walked back up Keating Ridge. Andrew questioned our walking here, but I reassured him that no one behind us will be going up this climb faster than us right now. Of course less than 1min later we looked back to see Brendan running up….. We all arrived at the top together the started the descent to Bucklands. We kept expecting to see Cain but he never came into sight until we saw a speck, about 4mins up on us, at the Buckland aid station. Brendan’s time with us was brief and he fell off the back here and it actually got pretty ugly as Andrew and I both had turns at walking the flat road. At this point I didn’t really care- I figured it would be nice if we picked off Cain and if I could hang with Andrew, but at best we where battling for 4-6th place. That was until we came over a rise on Warners Wall to see Ben laying face down. After he told us he was OK and to keep going, we moved on and I think both Andrew and I where a little confused at what we had just seen, but mostly I was just jealous that Ben got to lie down. I blew up here and Andrew finally had some time to himself. It was a pretty ugly, slow crawl up on to Clear Spot for the 2nd time. I was guessing that Dakota must have been finished or

Going up the Big Walk, with my new BFF Andrew leading the way.

Going up the Big Walk, with my new BFF Andrew leading the way.

about to and that Blake was around the top of Mystic, just an easy 20mins from booking his ticket to Europe (the first Australian or Kiwi would win a trip to the Sky Running World Champs in France!). I was just content that I could see no one behind me and started on down to Bakers, ready to drink some more coke and seeing my Ace Crew- Chris and Vajin. I was confused to say the least when I arrived and Chris told me I was now in 4th and Vajin saying I was 6mins off “the ticket”. Blake was still lying down at the Bakers aid station unable to stand and all of a sudden the “also runs” were racing for a fully paid spot at the sky running world champs. Well, at least Cain and Andrew would be. 6mins was never going happen for me, but I still left Bakers with some new found motivation. To my surprise I caught a glimpse of Andrew on the steep section down low and that was all I saw of him until we hit the road about 1.5km before the finish. Somehow I had managed to get within about 90sec of Cain, but it may as well have been 90mins as far as “The Ticket” was concerned.

Heading down the Big Walk. I have that look on my face because some one just called me a Smurf- "Do I really look like a Smurf". The question consumed me for the 35km....

Heading down the Big Walk. I have that look on my face because some one just called me a Smurf- “Do I really look like a Smurf?”. The question consumed me for the 35km….

I was stoked with my race. For the first time in a long, long, time, I feel like I can say I ran a race that I am really happy with, having had some pretty average outings the last 3 years. The weeks that have followed Buffalo I have been thinking a lot about why I managed to finally have a good run. A few reasons I guess- relieving myself of a lot of self imposed pressure, the move to Wanaka and having a race like Buffalo as the main focus in training have all contributed to me enjoying my running more than I have in the last 3 years. I know, it is crazy but there seems to be a direct correlation between enjoyment and results.

Massive thanks have to go to Sean and Mel for their support – it was a real honour to be an ambassador for the Buffalo Stampede. Also thanks to Vajin and Chris for crewing, Andrew for being such good company during most of the run (sorry I talked you into walking up Keaton’s mate…). La Sportiva for the support- these shoes dominated the top10 at Buffalo!

And congratulations to everyone that toed the line at Buffalo- hope to see you all next year!

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