Friday, 17 April 2015

Messed with the Buffalo and didn't get the horns.

A slight flashback to begin with. Despite my blog quietness, I've already raced a few times this year.  Here is a quick debrief on what I have been up to race wise. Firstly in January I raced Two Bays as a substitute for a cancelled Bogong to Hotham. I had a tummy bug that hit me at the 20km mark, so the race turned really crappy (quite literally). My first race of the year and a DNF, not a good start! The next step for 2015 was a trip to Hong Kong, with a fortunate opportunity to be invited to race at the Asian Sky Running Championships. The MSIG Sai Kung 50km was a great experience and Hong Kong is a wicked place. I had a reasonably good run which got me into 4th place on the day. This was a much needed little confidence boost over what was a deceptively hard course!

Onto the most recent of events though, the Buffalo Stampede. Last year I raced the Ultra and as many of you may know, I pushed too hard and found myself sitting in a creek at the bottom of Clearspot unable to walk. I was eager to test myself and didn’t respect the difficulty of the course and my own limitations. It was a real kick in the guts to be 8kms from the finish line in Bright and unable to reach it.  It was a massive learning experience for me!

With my sights on Transvulcania as my goal race for the first half of this year, I decided I would race the marathon as a perfect build up to get some good conditioning into my legs. It would've been nice to do the Ultra and actually finish it this year; however, I felt it would be too much of an effort to recover from. Being such an awesome event I am sure it will be around for many years to come. I look forward to tackling that beast soon! 

After the inaugural event last year, this race has already become a must-do race for die-hard trail runners around the globe. The quaint and beautiful little town of Bright is the perfect host to outdoor and adventure minded individuals. The surrounding terrain harbours some seriously wonderful and wild elements of nature. The social aspect of the weekend is looked forward to almost as much as the run itself. I was incredibly lucky to be sharing a house with the other Salomon athletes, some of which I know well, and others I had just met for the first time. Acting as a chaffeur for Stevie (US athlete) and Michel (French athlete) I had plenty of opportunities to annoy them with my Aussie accent. Unfortunately I failed in my role as ‘tour guide’ for Stevie as I wasn’t able to find her a koala, just some lousy kangaroos.

My weapons of choice.

Now on with the racing! Matt Coops and Lucy were kicking things off and both raced the 32km Sky Race on the Friday, both finishing 5th place on what some say, km for km, is the hardest course of the event. The big show was looming though, as Saturday's event laid claim to countless quads and toenails. Tom Owens was to step out of his comfort zone over the longer distance, whilst Landie was right in her element, traversing the gruelling 75km course, holding over 4500m+. Both endured the suffer fest and went on to take convincing wins. The post-race comments on how steep some sections of the course are was pretty comical, especially Landies descriptions of her crawl up Warner's Wall.

It was my first time following a full race that day, and I genuinely had a blast being able to watch the race unfold. Feeling those nerves as I waited at the checkpoints for Tom and Landie reminded me of how much a true fan I am of this sport, beyond purely racing myself. And what better inspiration than watching 2 friends win the day before your own run, too!

Nerves ensued as I began to prepare for the Sky Marathon the next day. Following the Ultra was a blessing in disguise, as it let my mind wander away from the usual pre-race jitters. I don't really understand why I get so nervous before races. I know it’s just a race and I also know that I had trained and prepared to the best of my ability. Being a very competitive little bastard though, I have a big fear of failure.

Descending Warner's Wall.
Sunday began at 5am, clothes went on, coffee and breakfast in, excess baggage out, and off to the start Stevie, Michel and I jogged. I always love the hive of activity that the race start area provides. There isn't much that can match the energy radiating from the runners, theirs friend and family in the minutes leading up to the gun going off, it's a huge melting pot of emotions. A vast contrast to what the little town of Bright is all about!

The race began fast. Michel, Samir and Marty were the first onto the introductory climb of the day, Mystic. Going up a trail specifically created for downhill mountain biking is generally somewhat painful…. and this was no exception. The pace being set by the front 3 guys was pretty hot, so Scotty Hawker and I just hung back in the distance ever so slightly to see how things would progress. At the Summit, Michel was off and blazing with Marty Dent in tow, Samir had drifted back a little, which saw himself, Scott and I pretty much hit Mick' track as a trio. Ahead there was a trail of dust as Michel gave us a lesson on how to go downhill, watching him descend ahead was completely ridiculous. There was none of this pansy side-to-side movement, it was just a full tilt B-line to the bottom of Micks track!

Beginning our ascent up Clearspot, we'd now caught up to Marty and so there was a train of 4 chasing the big Frenchman up ahead. I was feeling really good and very content with the situation, we had Michel in sight and I was climbing with 3 runners that I knew to be fit and in form. After the quad(?) burning lactic-bath to the summit, I'd moved ever so slightly ahead and was running in 2nd. Again, Michel went ballistic on the downs and I couldn't see him until I got to the top of Warner's Wall where I caught a glimpse of him already at the bottom and beginning his charge into the Buckland Valley.

On my way to the 15km checkpoint in Buckland Valley

 At this point although I was happy with how I was moving, I was also very concerned. Why? Well, Mr Dent behind me is an Olympic marathon runner with a PR of 2:12 and we were approaching the fastest section of the course.
My own speed on that specific type of terrain is the best its ever been, only a fool would back themselves against someone like Marty! So I ran like a scared little child through the whole valley in hope that the climbs had dulled his legs a little, and tried not to look behind too many times! I was still feeling great coming into Keating's Ridge and still had Michel in sight, ever so slightly. It was a huge boost that after 20kms of racing I hadn’t been caught by anyone. I tried to take this climb a little easier, as I knew that saving a little bit over that ridge would mean having a little extra in the tank for the Big Walk ascent on Mt Buffalo (I had learnt from last year!).

3 climbs down and 1 to go. The grand daddy of the course was sitting boldly in front of me as I coasted down into the Checkpoint at Eurobin. The huge granite face of the mountain is an imposing figure on a boy-like man with legs that are beginning to get a bit tired. Thankfully I knew the climb, and so there were to be no surprises lying on the trails in front of me. Cowbells and people screaming encouragement could be heard from afar as Michel made his way through the checkpoint. With course knowledge to my advantage I knew this meant Michel sat around 1 minute ahead of me. Generally, I'm not one to work off splits in a race, I always prefer to run to feel rather than be dictated by my watch. However, having ran the route before, I knew roughly what time I was expecting to be at certain points throughout the course, all things going well. My watch as I left the checkpoint read 2:06, which was a bit faster than I'd expected, so I was praying that my legs would hold up heading into the climb! Thankfully, they didn't let me down.

Leaving the Eurobin checkpoint at 25km with my good friend Mick Donges.

After 2 kilometers I could see Michel just ahead of me on the trail, as I clawed back a little time on the steep, lower slopes. Whilst it gave me a good kick of confidence, I couldn't help but be a little doubtful too and started to be concerned that I may have been climbing a little harder than what was sustainable. But I just rolled with it and kept moving forward at a rate that felt comfortable for me. By kilometer 3 I had moved past Michel and into the lead, I let him know that the climb is much easier after the first few km's and that the gradient tapers off for most parts.

With a myriad of runners now behind me, my race had really kicked into gear and I gave myself a kick in the arse. I sat at a tempo I was happy with, and my legs just kept ticking. At this point in the race I didn't expect to feel very good, but it turns out that the skinny little dude who won the 32km Sky Race, and ended up 2nd in the marathon, really knows how to get you fit. With Mr David Byrne as my running coach and receiving strength & conditioning training from Mathieu Dore my legs felt amazing. I had started a lap to track my progress up the climb, and at Mackey's I knew I was moving well. I figured that if I could run the ascent in around 70mins then I would maintain any distance I had on those behind me at the bottom by the time I reached the top, but in these races, you never really know.
 Approaching the top of the penultimate climb, The Big Walk, Mt Buffalo.

 I hit the Chalet in exactly 70mins and still felt like I had some good legs left. Whilst they were hurting, I still had energy to give and my nutrition and hydration was working perfectly. At this point I let myself have the thought of possibly winning the race. I downed a cup of coke (sorry Darryl and Steph) and carried on for the 7km loop at the top of the mountain. Whilst short, and the elevation gain isn't high, the trails up top are fairly technical. With a tired mind they can be a laborious task, especially having to climb through the Chalwell Galleries. For those that aren't aware, you actually climb through this section, and the hole in the rocks isn't very big at all. Even a midget like myself still has a hard time... I'd hate to be the size of Michel! 

Coming through the Galleries I saw fellow Salomon Australia runner and 2nd place in the Ultra, Beth Cardelli and her partner. They were great support out there when the going was tough! As you'd imagine, my legs were becoming pretty shot by this point. With only about 4km to go, and no other runners in sight, I was nervous without knowing how far ahead I was. If they were on the same little loop as me i'd never know, as the bush is dense and the trails are tight. However I knew that if I got off the loop and saw the runners there, that I probably had a big enough gap to hold on until the finish.

With 3 km left to run, I saw a friend out on the course and I  anxiously asked for a time gap to 2nd place, "14 minutes" he said..... Wait, 4 minutes? I replied, thinking that he surely couldn't be right! "No, 14 minutes when you hit the Chalet". My stomach went into knots, as I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. Rounding the next couple of bends, I came across 2nd place and all round good guy, David Byrne. Dave won Friday's 32km Sky Race and was backing up with a ridiculous run on the Sunday. He is a very incredibly fit and race smart individual. He is also the man that has been helping me for the last few months with my training, and it seems to be working well! Next I saw Michel, about 1min behind David, he was in great spirits but unfortunately had some stomach problems on the penultimate climb of the day...

About this point I realized that, barring disaster, I was on for the win. Possibly meeting the prediction of the 1st place runner going under the 4hr mark. I backed it off a bit and tried to relax as much as possible heading back to the finish, my legs were toasted but I had a smile from ear to ear approaching the Chalet for the last time. Emerging from the single track and onto the finishing shoot was the most amazing feeling ever. I probably looked like a bit of a douche because I got so ridiculously excited, but I don't win often, and so for me it was a very special moment. Lots and lots of training goes into being the best we can be in a demanding sport like trail running, and it's indescribable when it all pays off and you can enjoy the fruits of your labour. 
Sweet relief and satisfaction.

Our team of athletes for the weekend consisted of Michel Lanne, Stevie Kremer, Tom Owens, Landie Greyling, Matt Cooper, Gretel Fortman, Mick Donges, Beth Cardelli, Jarad Kohlar, Lucy Bartholomew and myself. Other than those of us running, we all owe a HUGE thank you to those that kept us clothed and fed for the weekend. Everybody at Salomon and Suunto Australia, plus our import for the weekend, Claire from Salomon France!

As always, thank you to all of my friends and family that make even participating in these events possible! Salomon, Suunto, Shotz Sports Nutrition & SwissEye, Mum & Dad, my brother & sister and the rest of the wonderful people that make this sport what it is! I look forward to running this event again as I truly think it will be bigger and better year after year. 

Next stop, La Palma! 
Tom very reluctantly hugging a sweaty, dirty me. 

Left to right, 2nd David Byrne, Myself, 3rd Michel Lanne.

For those of you that are interested in the data my Movescount is: