Last Sunday, I ran my first Buffalo Stampede marathon. I was aiming for a top 5 finish and came away with 2nd, so you could say I am pretty stoked!
If you aren’t familiar with the Stampede, it’s a mountain race. Technically the marathon is “downhill”, with 2,800m of descent and 1,800m of ascent. Starting at the top of Mount Buffalo, the route takes on the rocky Chalwell Galleries (including requirement to squeeze through a tight rock crevasse) before descending 1,100m down the mountain. Perfect way to smash the quads early on!
It then goes up and down Keating’s Ridge (+/-300m), before hitting Dingo Ridge. This is when the race really starts. A gruelling 800m climb spanning 6.5km on an exposed ridge line up to Clear Spot.
Now the final 10km of any marathon is always tough. Buffalo Stampede adds a cherry on top by making runners descend 550m in just 2.5km down to Bakers Gully; go up Mick’s Track – a 1km climb with average of grade of 42%; descend Mystic (1.8km long at -23% grade) then finally run 3km along the river to the finish line. Phew!
My primary training goal for this year is getting into tip top shape for running the Te Araroa in Nov. But I have thrown in a few races along the way to keep things interesting. If one of them was to be considered my “A” race, this was it.
Since kicking off training in February, I’ve been running 5 days a week, covering between 55 – 80kms. My week typically consists of:
- Long run
- Hill reps
- Easy/recovery x 2
This breakdown isn’t different from previously training blocks. However, my runs focused on time on feet, as opposed to distance covered. For example, my long run was anywhere between 2 – 4 hours long and my easy runs were 60 - 90 mins.
This change is important when running on trails as the terrain can impact your distance significantly. Whilst I may be able to run 10km on the flat comfortably in 50 mins, it could take 90 mins on the trail. However, the main reason I enjoy this new approach is it makes my easy runs much easier because regardless of my pace, I still have to run for X minutes, so may as well take it slow.
On the day following my long run, I usually had an easy 90 min scheduled in. However, these came with a twist – a 20 min fast finish. My legs were usually a little tired from the day prior and while the first 70 mins were easy, the final 20 mins forced me to dig a bit deeper. This bode me well on race day.
I tried to familiarise myself with the course as much as possible and, given I live in Bright, I didn’t really have an excuse not to! I ran all of the course with the exception of Keating’s Ridge and Chalwell Galleries.
I was also determined to take a similar approach as I did at Two Bays. Don’t go out too hard; stay positive and enjoy yourself – it’s only a race. I even wrote myself a little note to read on race morning to remind myself of this.
In the lead up to Stampede, I was pretty relaxed and felt more excited, then nervous, about running. I spent the day prior cheering on the 20km and 75km runners. I followed the same night time routine as Two Bays – spag bol and a glass of wine for dinner. In bed by 9:30pm.
Of course, when I woke up, my stomach was in knots. I forced myself to eat a bagel and a coffee, and was in the car by 5:45am en-route to Mount Buffalo. Whilst we huddled in the cold at the top, we witnessed a cracking sunset. Quick race briefing and we were off!
I purposely started at the front as I knew the route moved swiftly onto single track and I didn’t want to waste time or energy passing people. I got through the Chalwell Galleries loop sitting in 4th position, with 2nd and 3rd only a 100m or so ahead.
I took a gel and started descending Mt Buffalo. Suddenly the girls were out of sight. I kept telling myself it was early in the race and not to worry. But to be honest, I let it get to me and the first few kms down Buffalo sucked – I wasn’t focussed and found myself tripping and stumbling. I saw Tommy at Mackey’s Lookout, who assured me I had “loads of time”.
After that, the rest of the descent was better and I hit Eurobin feeling pretty good. Running through an aid station always gives you a boost. A quick cup of coke and off I went.
I felt strong as I went up Keating’s Ridge but, on the descent, the balls of my feet started hurting. It felt like the formation of blisters. I was wearing new shoes. Fail numero uno.
I normally wear Helios however given the rocky descent down Buffalo, I decided to give the Bushido's a go. I had only worn them four times and had been tossing up about wearing them or sticking with my old faithfuls. I went with the Bushido, as they have a rock plate and extra grip, but in hindsight I didn’t have enough time to wear them in and I should have stuck with what I knew.
I hit Buckland Valley, where the road is flat and long. I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind, which was annoying and comforting at the same time. I took my second gel. It was also starting to get hot and I knew there wasn’t going to be much coverage for the next 10km.
This is when I realised my second error. No hat. Another decision I had grappled with pre-race. Despite the fact I knew it was going to be sunny, I opted out. Fail numero due.
Everyone had warned me about Dingo Ridge. I had run it once during training and didn’t know what the fuss was about. Yes, it was hilly but it was only 6.5km, but I figured you just grind it out. But now I get it. Running it on a training run vs a day when you already have 28km of racing in your legs are two very different things.
When I crested the first of many fake summits, I saw a girl around 300m ahead. Joy! At the same time, I saw there was a girl about 300m behind and reeling me in. Crap! While I was bent over, pushing off my legs in an attempt to go faster, she was powering her way methodically with a set of poles.
About 3km into the climb, she passed me. At this point, I thought it meant I dropped to 5th as I didn’t know someone had pulled out. Regardless, I didn’t let it get to me. Despite being passed, I was slowly catching the other girl, who I could tell was struggling by her body language. I knew the next aid station wasn’t too far off, where Tommy had my other shoes and a hat. Plus, the final 10km of a marathon can make or break you.
Don’t let history repeat itself
When I ran the Gold Coast Marathon in 2018, the wheels fell off at the 32km mark. They fell off hard and it sucked. I was aiming for sub 3:10 but ran 3:15. I went out slightly too fast and paid the price.
But looking back, it isn’t my poor pacing that disappoints me the most. It’s my mental toughness. I was fit enough and could have held on. Instead, I let negative thoughts creep in and the opportunity slipped between my fingers.
Since then, while everyone else thinks of me as a super gritty runner, I've questioned whether I really am.
Shoes changed. Hat on. Bottles filled. It’s time to play.
It was action stations at the top of Clear Spot, thanks to my awesome crew who trekked up to see me come in. I swapped into my Helios, grabbed a hat and downed some coke.
I tore down the descent, overtaking 3rd place around halfway down. I could tell by her body language she was getting over it. I hit the bottom and kept pushing. There was a bend in the trail and I wanted to make sure I was out of sight by the time she got down, so she might totally give up. Oh, the mind games we play.
At the bottom of Mick's Track, I spotted second place. In what felt like a painfully slow and hot ascent, I gradually caught her up. When I hit the top, I was only 100m behind. I could tell by her gait she was getting tired and I knew I should be able to put some time on her descending Mystic.
We hit the top of Mystic neck and neck. I had my third and final gel, then put the foot down on the descent. My quads were inadvertently trying to slow me down but I ignored them. When I hit the bottom, I used the same tactic as I did on Clear Spot. Get out of sight so she thinks I’m way in front.
The final 3km follows the river to town and is a route I run regularly. Man, it felt long! I was only running 5:30 pace but it felt like 3:45 pace! Around 300m from the finish line, I spotted Tommy waiting for me on the trail.
“What place am I?” I shouted at him, thinking I might be in 3rd.
That was a bloody great feeling.
Unlike Two Bays, my legs felt wrecked immediately after. The balls of my feet were on fire. My quads and hammies were crazy tight. Standing in an ice-cold river for 15 mins definitely helped.
Thankfully, over the course of two days, they have improved remarkably. An easy 30 min jog felt surprisingly good two days later and I’m excited to kick back into training.
Lessons from the trail
- Regardless of how good they feel, don’t wear new shoes on race day.
- When in doubt, wear a hat.
- Stay positive. Not only will you enjoy the run more, you’ll perform a lot better too.