Monday, 14 April 2014

When you mess with the Buffalo, you get the horns….

Before the racing had begun this weekend was already going great guns and the vibe surrounding the race was electric. The Athlete’s forum, gear checks and start line were all a hive of excited, nervous energy, people were smiling and ready to run, whilst quietly I think a little s*#t scared of what was ahead, too. As I would discover late in the race, this fear was valid. Being Australia and New Zealand’s first fully sanctioned SkyRunning event, the field was stacked with names that were possible contenders to stand on the podium after traversing the brutal 75km course that Mr Greenhill of Mountain Sports had put in front of us. The simple point to point marathon is tough in itself, letalone wrapping your head around the sufferfest that awaits when you begin the journey back to Bright for the ultra…

I came into this race feeling pretty good, although I hadn’t simply smashed hill after hill for the months leading in, I was really happy with the foundations I’d laid down and the balanced approach my coach Matt Cooper had set out, starting with the training I did prior to the Bogong to Hotham. A Couple of Mountain Marathons in the form of New Zealand’s Shotover Moonlight Marathon and the  Mt Baw Baw Trail Festival, I felt had put me in a good place and my legs and head were ready to go.

Race morning rolled around and so did the nerves, as I knew they would. Gladly though, I had some great people alongside me and they helped calm the jitters! Not having had experience on a course like this, I’d taken some advice on board from a few more experienced folk in my coach Coops, Frosty and Wighty on how to approach the race, all three of them had pretty much said the exact same thing, “be patient”. (I'm not that good at being patient)

As we took off in the dark, I never had any intention of trying to race with Dakota, just so that’s clear. I was under no grandeur of thought that I would be running alongside him, I was just out there to race myself and the other Oceanic lads. My objective was to have a tonne of fun whilst running off my own energy and ultimately wait to begin 'racing' on the return leg home. I was happy with how proceedings went, Mystic was a cruisy climb for the front of the field and some friendly banter was exchanged all the way to the summit. At this point I was tapping away with Mick Donges having a great old time as the Kokoda Spirit boys in Moritz, Caine and Ben moved on ahead by a minute or two.

Ascending on the wall that is Clearspot, I kept it pretty calm as Dakota came hiking past me like I was barely moving, he then went on to round up all of the Kokoda boys before the top of the climb… it was pretty damn impressive to watch! At the summit I still felt great and tried to momentarily enjoy the amazing view through the cloud shrouded valleys all around me before descending the other side. It wasn’t long before I was alongside Moritz and we continued to run together until the Buckland Aid station - This was the first time i'd seen 'Warner's Wall'.... Yeeeeaahhh it's a bit steep, coming home? ouch. 

Nearing Keating's Ridge, I could see Caine Warburton, the eventual highest placed Aussie/New Zealander and knew that I was slowly gaining back time. Just ahead of him I could also see Ben and Dakota motoring along at a pretty damn swift rate together! I knew it wouldn't be an easy task to catch any of those fellas.

Having passed Caine on Keatings, I’d reached the Eurobin aid station in 2:20 and 3rd place, this was also the first chance to get a bit of assistance from my Super crew the Coopers… They did an absolutely incredible job all day (especially Harlow) and I can’t thank them enough for the awesome help they gave me. Especially when I was buckled and sitting in a creek bed in Bakers Gully, but we’ll get to that later.

                                                  My Super Crew Harlow And Matt

Beginning the ascent on the Big Walk I felt good, I settled into a rhythm early and pretty much held it the whole way to the Chalet.  I ran with Ben for a short period heading up before he again gapped me nearer to the top, but I remained happy to be so close and the views from Buffalo were breathtaking. It was happy days!  

The top loop through the galleries was pretty wicked, it mixed things up nicely and was great fun to see all the other runners as you came back past. It was a bit scary too when I saw who was chasing me! I'd managed to make contact with Ben on the Big walk Eurobin-bound, right before I got caught out taking in the amazing views and slipped on one of the Granite Slabs, hitting the deck like an absolute muppet who’d never run in their lives! A few brief moments of pain and embarrassment passed though and my lovely friend adrenaline kicked my ass back into gear, let's try that again. Ben can attest to the countless time checks to Dakota we got on our way down, all of which were different, but we were assured they were all correct, ha.  As nice as it was, I had no intentions of trying to run down Mr Jones out front, who was showing me a thing or two about how to run mountains.

Coming through Eurobin for the second time, this time with Ben, and the quads were starting to feel it a bit. With 50km+ and some serious ascending and descending already in the legs it was time to tough it out and begin the race home. All of this talk and advice about being  patient? Well, I felt that I’d been patient and paced myself well up until this point, and it was about time I really “put my balls in the vice” as Mr Matt Bixley might put it. I began to make more of a push here and really committed to running my Softground’s off the whole way back to Bright, I knew the course was punishing, but I was stupidly eager enough to try anyway. Ben wasn’t far behind me on Keating’s not to mention the likes of Guise, Tuckey, Warburton, Davies and McClymont all chasing a little further back. My motivation was a combination of running scared from those guys, and that I really, really wanted to be the first Aussie/New Zealander home!

The Buckland Aid station was in sight once again - I could no longer see anyone behind me and I tried to put my speed work to good use on the flatter road section. It’s fair to say that Flat roads hurt a lot when they’re in-between mountains… And Warner’s wall was looking ominous as the final two climbs were about to stamp their authority. I knew these ones would sting like a bitch – but it wasn’t far home once I’d gotten over Clearspot for the second time, right?

That climb was tough, It was hot, my quads, calves, back, arms and lungs all burnt as I really started to dig into my reserves. Rather than my hands being on my quads I found myself digging them in the mud to haul myself to the top, this wasn't what i'd anticipated! In moments like these you can often doubt things, and often it's nutrition, but for me on the day that had all gone well and i'd consistently eaten and drank enough. I was backing myself to be able to maintain my effort until I was back in Bright, I was incorrect. I kept marching to the summit, not always in a straight line, and my quads were feeling pretty darn trashed, but my motivation was still as high as ever. Everything was hurting by this point, and the course was hard as hell, but I could smell the barbecue and see the smiling faces at the finish! 

After briefly enjoying the Clearspot view again, the descent was gnarly, my muscles had gone into unchartered territory covering this much ascent/descent, and they were letting me know about it. I ran down this hill like a rag doll, it was far from impressive but at least I didn't fall... Nope, I was saving that. Getting back into Baker’s Gully was a huge relief, knowing I had just one more ascent towards town had me excited amongst all the agony. This is where it got ugly. Approaching the aid station I was feeling rough, and I knew I’d really turned the screws on myself to move quickly, but I was convinced I had just enough in me and I was ready to tackle Mystic. My body on the other hand, had other ideas not remotely close to the ones in my head. 

Just like that, shit hit the fan, really, really fast. I was out if it, from nowhere I’d been reduced to a heap sitting in a deckchair unable to stand. From there I was moved to a creek to keep cool, and from there to lying flat on my back under some trees, eventually with a blood pressure gauge wrapped around my arm, a blood glucose monitor at my fingertip and a temperature gauge in my ear.

                                                  Not quite going to make it over Mystic....

My Day was done. Just like that, over. 68.2km and that was all I had. I’d taken my body to the edge and it was telling me in no uncertain manner it'd had enough punishment for the day. I'd been my own worst enemy really and the Buffalo course made me pay and beat me into submission... It was obviously a bit disappointing, to come so close to my goal and to literally fall at the last hurdle. But it’s also what is so beautiful about this sport. You can plan what you deem is perfectly for an ultra, but something nearly always goes wrong. Nutrition, hydration, or pacing, take your pick. It's a very hard art to master. 

I'd wanted to run really well at this race, to have some cracking fun and hoped to get a good result. And, well, that didn't quite work out. I still feel that I ran well, I just didn't give the absolute beast of a course enough respect on the day,  a bit of youthful exuberance and inexperience came back to bite me in the end, but it’s an experience that I’m glad to have had. Of course I wish it had gone differently and I’d ran with a bit more brains (maybe even exercised some more patience?) but it was a hell of a fun day on the trails, and I’m still extremely happy with the way everything turned out, I sure as hell won't die wondering what could have been. 

I got to enjoy some absolutely awesome mountain running against some world class athletes, and once some vitality had been regained I downed several Pizzas, beers and coffees with some incredible new and old friends over the course of the weekend, so what more could I ask for!? It's not all about where you finish in these races, results are nice, but the people you get to be around will ensure the smile never leaves your face. Mine certainly didn't. 

I’ll be back in 2015 to give it another shot, and I fully intend on going 7km further!

A Special thanks to Matt, Leeah and Harlow Cooper for being my awesome crew all day, and for looking after me when I was utterly trashed, I’m extremely grateful! Also to Mick Donges and Steve for my wicked Accommodation. Sorry I couldn't bring it home for "Team Smoko".

Gear List;
-          Top and shorts: Salomon S-lab Sense Tank & S-lab Sense short
-          Shoes & Socks: Salomon Sense Ultra Softground 3’s & Salomon Sense S-lab socks
-          Pack: Salomon Advanced Skin Hydro 12 set w/ Salomon Soft Flasks
-          Watch: Suunto Ambit 2
   Nutrition: Shotz Gels (15) and Electrolyte Tablets (8-10)