When I crossed the finish line of the Buffalo Stampede 20km skyrun in 2017 I said to my partner “I absolutely hated that” and I did.
So why on Earth did I then sign up to run the Buffalo Stampede Skymarathon for 2018?
This year I have dedicated myself to becoming an Ultra marathoner at UTA50 in May. The best possible training run I could find, that would ensure I was ready for UTA, was Buffalo. When I think back on the Buffalo 20k Skyrun, I was completely unprepared. That wasn’t going to happen again.
I must admit I thought I was completely crazy. AS did most people including friends and family! I mean.. I really did hate that last run! But this time I would be prepared. This time I would train and this time I would drag someone else along. The same person I talked into doing UTA50. Amanda Bolt, a fellow RMA. I absolutely love running with Amanda, she is the most beautiful person and one of my best friends. Plus, we do love to have a chat when we run. We were both scared at the start but also excited. As the race neared we both felt stronger, more determined and capable of achieving something great.
We arrived in beautiful Bright, Victoria on Saturday, the day before our run, only to discover the weather had turned to complete crap. It was pelting down and the wind was ridiculous! We watched the Ultra marathoners finish their gruelling 75km in shock and in awe. They were covered in mud, wet and exhausted. We felt like penguins on an iceberg huddling together as the rain came down. We heard that it was snowing 10km up the road. Then they started pulling people off the course because the conditions were too hazardous and visibility was too low to continue.
Laying in bed that night all I could hear was the rain and the wind. And all I could do was lay there and pray that our run would go ahead. Go Ahead!!! A sane person would pray for it to be cancelled, but we had come too far and this felt like our own personal challenge. I was praying the rain would suddenly stop and the sun would come out from behind the clouds, like the scene of a movie. A rainbow and a unicorn would be nice but I think I was pushing it. I was also hoping I didn’t have to get my jacket out of my backpack. I had wrapped it so nice and small in preparation for UTA50, I didn’t want to use it.
Up we got at 5.00am for some porridge and final backpack check. This was a training run after all, so we were carrying all our mandatory gear for UTA. As we drove up the mountain the temperature was dropping and the rain was not easing.
Huddled under a heater, I couldn’t get my jacket out of my backpack fast enough! What else could I wear? RMA buff? Yep get that around my neck now! Gloves? Yeah definitely put those on!. I looked at Amanda, whose lips were now blue and thought at some stage she may push me off the mountain for getting her into this position!. We just wanted to get going and see what we were made of. We looked at each other and just knew we were ready and we would face this challenge together!
Race officials informed everyone that they had to shorten the course by about 3km. The Chalwell Galleries were too dangerous to go through. Bugger, I was really looking forward to that part of the challenge, I’ve never shimmied through rocks before. But I didn’t care, the race was going ahead and that is all that mattered.
So like lambs to the slaughter, there we stood on the top of Mt Buffalo. Facing the unknown with the added difficultly of horrid running conditions. It was only four degrees with a wind chill of minus six.
So off we set, rugged up like Eskimos on a fishing trip. The wind was blowing hard and rain was like sleet. I could see it blowing sideways across the mountain. The first part of the run was along the face of Mount Buffalo, up and down steps made of rocks. Every step was slippery but I could feel my shoes gripping well. I couldn’t believe where I was, what I was doing. Amanda and I just kept saying to each other how lucky we were to be experiencing this, to be achieving this. Our appreciation for our surroundings and this challenge seemed to take away the pain for the weather. We could imagine how magnificent the views should be but they were lost behind the clouds and fog. Running has changed our lives forever. Trail running was like the icing on the cake! Or maybe it was the snow on the mountain peaks…!
Amanda was the first to fall over. Admiring the variety of bushes and shrubs and not looking where she was going. Unharmed and glad she had her only fall out of the way. Next it was my turn. Unfortunately for me, I was admiring the waterfall on a sheer cliff face when I went down. Must have looked scary like I might slip all the way off the mountain, but I just got back up. Not injured was the main thing. Great we had both fallen over, got that out the way with no injuries, easy.
Next thing we know we were running through the beautiful forest down the mountain along The Big Walk track. We weren’t fast but happy to just continue along at a nice pace and conserve our energy. I knew what lay ahead. The last 10km of this run is the same as the 20km route I hated so much last year. And Mick’s Track. I have had nightmares of Mick’s Track, and I was dreading it. I had previously warned Amanda about Mick’s track but didn’t want to bring it up as she was doing great. Before too long we came into Eurobin Aid station. We felt like heroes. The poor volunteers out in the rain offering us food, drinks and even a cup of tea. We shoved some lollies in our mouths but pushed on, knowing we still had so much ahead.
We seemed to get in a rhythm and I remember thinking that I had no concept of time or distance. My Garmin was buzzing every kilometre but I lost track of which km. What did it matter, we had so much further to go, let’s just get on with the job.
It wasn’t too long before we started some serious climbing. I knew we must be making our way up to Clearspot. I knew what lay beyond Clearspot but I also knew it was only 10km from the finish. The tracks were long and seemed never ending. Just as we got to the top of a hill another would appear. There was plenty of swearing at this point as fatigue was definably starting to set in. Time for a Clif Bar I thought, that will perk me up. As I ripped open the packed and slid it out of the pack it went flying through the air and landed in the mud. Amanda yells out “3 second rule!” and I scrambled to the ground, picked it up and put it in my mouth. “Want a piece?” “Hell yeah!”. We needed a bit of comedy relief and it tasted divine
More hills, more climbing. More wind and more rain. I was starting to feel chilled but couldn’t be bothered getting my thermal top out of it’s tiny little (UTA ready) neat bag. When will these hills ever end? We would look up and see someone climbing ahead of us then they would just vanish in the clouds. 5km of climbing and we didn’t falter. We just kept pressing on. Amanda would power on ahead of me, then I would catch up and pass her. Then she would pass me, and so it went… More hills, more climbing. More wind and more rain.
Cowbells? Did I hear cowbells? We must be nearly there. No, just a bird. Surely we must nearly be at the top by now, we have been climbing forever!
Cowbells again? 3 times we thought we were at the top hearing people rattling cowbells for us. It’s possible we were hallucinating by this stage. Then finally we made it to the top of Clearspot. And there was my partner ringing Cowbells. Coke and Salt and Vinegar chips never tasted so good. And gave us just the kick we needed.
We stood on the edge of Clearspot and looked down. Shit it was steep, really steep. And crap it was muddy and slippery. We edged our way over and started our decent. It was almost impossible to get a grip and I decided that staying low to the ground was best for me. In fact I was so low at a few point, I was sliding on my arse down the hill. I just couldn’t get my footing, down I went… I think I fell about five times. I couldn’t wait til it was over. Amanda found her groove and powered down like a woman on a mission. We had a bit of a laugh at my lack of finesse descending muddy mountains but kept going. We needed to get this done. We knew Mick’s track awaited us. We discussed our plan. We are strong, we can do it! Just power up as best you can and don’t stop. I was very concerned about how muddy it was going to be, considering my last effort to stay on my feet, be and quite frankly scared I wouldn’t even make it up.
We turned the corner and there it was looming over us. Micks track. 1km straight up. At one point it has a 49% gradient. Last year it look me an hour and my legs froze up. But this year I was feeling stronger. True I had 32km under my belt and the conditions were horrendous but I still felt I could do this.
Up we went. One foot in front of the other. It was impossible not to stop, just to stretch our backs at least. At this point the wind decided to pick up and I thought that if I stood up straight, I might actually get blown off the mountain! At least it wasn’t as muddy as I thought it would be. I sure as shit didn’t want to start from the bottom again, so I kept my head down and powered on. All I focused on was where I was going to put my feet. Look for a footprint and just keep going. Try not to look up to see how much further because it is only going to look like eternity. Then I saw someone standing at the top. Encouraging us to keep going, don’t stop. What a saint. I knew we had made it.
Finally, completely exhausted with absolute jelly legs, we made it to the top. It took us half an hour. I looked at Amanda with pure pride and delight and she looked back at me and said “That was the worst thing I have ever done in my life” I might have laughed if it wasn’t so true. Now she knew the horror that is Mick’s track. On the other side of Mick’s track was technical downhill. Lots of windy tracks, rocks and mud. It was Amanda’s turn to spend some time on her butt. The first time took her by surprise but then she just kept slipping and got used to it. Fatigue was well and truly taking over but we just make sure she wasn’t hurt, wipe the mud off and keep going.
The final 3 km is flat and through Bright to the finish line. We were completely spent. We were cold, muddy, hungry and ever so grateful that we were by each other’s side. We started to hear the cheers of the crowd and managed to get our jog on. Then we heard the blessed sound of those cowbells.
It was over. We had done it. In the worst conditions possible on one of the hardest courses in Australia! We had done it. Together the whole way. We started together on the top of Mt Buffalo 8 hours and 14 mins earlier and we ran in together, hand in hand to the cheers of our loved ones with tears of pride and relief in our eyes.