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Race Report - Lisa Thompson - Buffalo Stampede 42km - One of the hardest trail marathons in the world
Race Report - Lisa Thompson - Bufallo Stampede 42km Mt. Bufalo, you fickle mistress...
Mount Buffalo, you fickle mistress. This was a race that certainly deserved notating so here I am, writing my first ever race report.
We thought this would be a good test in the lead up to UTA100 and after musing over the 75km distance (no, no, no) we landed on the 42km. It looked like a challenge on paper but these things are a bit tricky to visualize – the website even had encouraging terms like “we have allowed for generous cut off times” which perhaps made me feel like it would be totally tolerable.
So backtracking a little. The week before the race was far more lazy than it should have been. I was giving myself an extremely lax taper (think 1x half hour walk/run and a yoga session) and had a last minute panic that I had ruined all my hard work and would have zero fitness for the weekend. In hindsight I was lacking motivation for the training side of things and was just keen to get amongst it. We left the day before the race, the flight down was uneventful and we emerged from the 3.5 hour drive to Bright a bit stiff in the legs. Never mind. Straight to check in. I was handed my race pack with an XL singlet in it, I was told cheerily that they had lost the box full of smalls and I would probably be thankful for the bigger fit (raging confidence boost right there – it was the perfect size for a baby elephant). While this was happening, the chap signing in next to me was deep in conversation with a volunteer about his need for a knife at the checkpoint. It went something like this:
(Euro accent) “Will there definitely be a knife at the checkpoint?”
(Kindly volunteer) “To open your food drop bag? Maybe just don’t tie it up so tight”
(Escalating Euro) “No, no it’s not for that”
(Confused volunteer) “So…”
(Irate Euro) “I need one to cut my lemons”
(Lisa) “Chortle. Wait. Is that the secret? Do I need a lemon? Is he rubbing it on his legs? In his eyes? He’s probably putting it in some water Lisa”. Makes sense…
We ate some pizza and watched the winners of the 75km come through the finish line, still gliding along like damn gazelles. Followed the pizza with an ice cream (XL singlet looking more apt) then headed home to put Teddy to bed. I spent a little while getting all my gear ready for the next day, calculating carbs/hour so I didn’t melt into a puddle of misery (the nutrition side of racing is wild and a whole different story) and went through the checkpoints on the map with Rich so we knew vaguely where to look for each other. Asleep fast and awake before the alarm.
Race morning was chilly, around 6 degrees. I stuck myself towards the back of the start group and headed off when the hooter type thing sounded. The first 3km were delightful, meandering single track, I ate a muesli bar knowing the initial ascent was around the corner. Getting up Mystic (2km in length at 22.5% average gradient) was not bad, steep but manageable and everyone was pretty much still nose to tail at this point. Quick photo at the top and then a mighty technical descent. I’m a terrible descender at the best of times – cautious and clumsy – the dry shale and dirt was slippery. A lady in front of me fell and somehow catapulted over a log, landing square on her face. Yikes. People were flying down around me (how do they do that?!). I heard the voice of Coach Scotty in my head saying “just take it easy”. Wise words. I took it so easy that after falling on my bum 4 times in about as many minutes, I eventually made it to the bottom in a cracking pace of 22.5 minutes/km. Not dissimilar to the time it took me to go up the mountain. So. Cautious. Said a quick hello to Rich and Teddy (who had appeared on some ridge that they probably weren’t supposed to be on) and soldiered on to hit the next mountain, Clear Spot.
This climb (2km in length at 30% average gradient) was an absolute beast. Hands and knees crawling. Lots of muted swearing. Puffing like a smoker. It went on and on. I passed a few people (needed to make up time from that dismal downward effort) and ended up hanging near some dude who was doing the “Grand Slam” which is madness personified. Those guys have signed up for the 26km on the Friday, the 75km on the Saturday and the 42km on the Sunday. I figured this meant he would be vaguely familiar with the course so believed him when he said to his boss/sidekick/sister that the summit was “just around the corner”. After he trolled out this advice incorrectly for the 3rd time I realised he was useless and steamed away. Made it to the top, how nice. Pleasant rolling downhill for a while then another crazy steep descent. I decided early to go on my bum (dignified) but then felt bad that I was scratching up my rings. I thought I’d just take them off to give to Rich but apparently had big fat sausage fingers. Cool. They can stay on. Made it unscathed-ish, saw the cheer squad again and ran on.
Things were tolerable to the 26km mark. Alpaca farm, a chat with a German called Wolfgang who schooled me in diaphragmatic breathing, another climb. I pulled out my iPod shuffle and with 4.5 hours of music to choose from, I decided that Salt’n’Peppa Shoop on repeat was my best course of action. After listening to this for 20 minutes, I shoved the iPod deep in my pack where it remained for the rest of the race. Chatted with another Lisa Jane on the way into the next checkpoint. She likes bikram yoga and lives in Canberra. Made that cutoff by 70 minutes. Shared my watermelon with Teddy, jammed some more food in my pack and started the main climb to the top of Mount Buffalo (10km in length with average gradient of 15%).
This was pretty challenging for the first 3km or so. The gradient was steep with little variation. I found some helpful looking sticks on the ground and used them as walking poles – at the very least they were a slight distraction and took a tiny bit of effort away from my legs and lower back. I found a rhythm and went on to pass around 9 or 10 people. Things levelled off slightly and there was the occasional few hundred metres that were runnable. Halfway into the climb I started relentlessly checking the km count on my watch and thinking constantly that 10km uphill was really, really far. Things were turning into a mental game and I wasn’t stoked at how focused I had become on distance when I ordinarily wouldn’t care. I texted Rich, he was chipper and encouraging and then I stuck a podcast on about South Korean pop music and the birth of paparazzi in that country – “poparazzi” as they called it. Clever. I became vaguely attached to my sticks and could barely remember a time before I held them in my fat, fat hands. And then one of them snapped in half. I threw it away, filled with anger and betrayal (why now stick?!). For readability, let’s just say I was now at the top of Buffalo, 10 measly minutes until the cut off for that checkpoint.
From here, an 8km round trip out and back to the finish line. I had made a new friend (Amanda, she was really blonde and pretty and not at all out of breath) and we jogged along together to Chalwell Galleries – a strange accumulation of enormous boulders that we had to climb in and through and down. I was annoyed that I had come this far and could possibly slip and break my neck on this ridiculous part of the course. They had marshalls in hi-vis at the top and bottom saying helpful phrases like “just keep lowering yourself down, it’ll become obvious where you’re going”. Ok lady. I awkwardly wriggled along a bit further until I could see someone else official looking at the bottom. “Hey, how do I get over this bit? Do I go like this?”. “Well, yeah, I guess. I’ve seen it done a lot of different ways today”. “Yeah but is my way the best way, like, the safest way?” “Sure” “I look graceful like a ballerina don’t I?” “No”.
Cool, cool. I pop out the bottom and wait for my BFF Amanda. We run some more. Then a bit more. My Garmin is ahead by a few km’s, hers is only showing the actual time of day. Useless. Then we hear a few cowbells, some distant cheering. Her lover comes bounding towards us out of the bush saying nice things like “You’re almost there”. Amanda surges, her flaxen ponytail bobbing into the distance. A piece of my heart goes with her. I sigh inwardly, try and fix my own hair (not at all), pull my shirt down (nope), look slightly human for the finish (no chance). Oh look! Rich and Teddy! Standing on a boulder! That’s not safe. But hell, it is the finish line and the lovely, sweet, kind people are clapping for me. Gosh almighty. I’m done. And I get a medal. And Teddy immediately wants me to read him a Dr. Seuss book as I stumble over the line. Alright buddy, anything for you tiny human.
Thank you credits: our families have been extra radical in giving us a bunch of help so Rich and I can get our training done. My mum, Wendy, is awesome. Rich’s mum, Jude, is excellent. Rich’s dad Scott and Karen are amazing. These people give up hours of their precious out of work hours to cart our child around and we love them for it. They also give us meals and snacks, showers, coffee, laundry facilities! The list is long. Thanks guys.
Obviously massive props to Rich. That guy is not only my husband but a supreme coach who is stretched a million different ways in life yet manages to keep his junk together. What a dude and inspiration.
I’d say thanks to Teddy for putting up with us both as parents but he has no clue and thinks running all day in the bush is normal. High five little guy.
The road to UTA100 is only a short one from here. So pumped xx