The Buffalo Stampede is the latest ultra to hit the running calendar. It’s an epic event that will quickly become known as one of the toughest races in Australia. It’s the first sanctioned SkyRun in the country and will be held on April 5th and 6th in the Victorian high country. This weekend of racing features an ultra distance event (75km) as well as a marathon (41.4km), and such is the enormity of the challenge that the organisers saw fit to arrange SkyCamp. It was an opportunity for competitors to see and train on the course and receive expert tuition from the likes of Brendan Davies and Hanny Alston. We also took this opportunity to get Brendan’s thoughts on the race, the course and what it will take to get through, or should we say over, this mountain madness!
Q. In one sentence, how would you describe the course?
The course is a beast, beautiful yet brutally tough at the same time.
Q. What are the major sections to be aware of?
This question should be ‘what aren’t the major sections to be aware of’! Seriously this race is just tough from start to finish. If I was to really pinpoint the most insane sections it would be in order of crazy: The Spur descent off Mystic Mountain, the following death march ascent up to Clear Spot and then the last half quad-busting descent off the same peak. Then lastly you have ‘The Big Walk’ ascent up Mt Buffalo which, while technically is not as tough, is just unrelenting all the way to the top. Of course if you have the ultra all those things are then turned around when you go back the other way!
Q. What is the most scenic part of the course?
There are many scenic sections and brilliant views are abundant, it’s just that I don’t think we will be taking our eyes off the trail long enough to really admire them! I guess you can’t go past Mt Buffalo though. The second half of the Big Walk takes you along some massive exposed rock slabs and past the many unique rock formations that litter the cliff line. Once past the historic Chalet the Underground River track takes you down to the eerie cavernous gully. Lastly the Chalwell Gallery loop takes you past the quaint Lake Catani and then through and under some pretty crazy boulder formations!
Q. How technical is it and will you need to know basic navigation?
Sections of this course are extremely, if not the most, technical I have ever run. The grade is so extreme in sections we had people going down sections backwards on their hands and toes. The first descent down Mystic is particularly nasty, if a 250m drop of elevation in just over a km is not enough then throw in loose terrain; rocks, leaf litter and the like and you have the Strava segment to rule all! Then of course you have to climb this again some 68km into the ultra…oh bury me now! The Clear Spot descent, while not technically too difficult, brings in lots of large, skiddy, sandy sections that you will not want to go over on as you may not stop in a hurry!. Sections of Buffalo are also quite technical, with about 2km of fist sized rock hopping to negotiate about half way up. Sections of Chalwell Galleries require some rock climbing skills too! I don’t think navigation will be an issue as Sean and the crew always mark out their courses well, but like all trail courses you always have to be alert and on the ball as we can always run past markers without even noticing eh Dave 😉
Q. What specific training do you advise?
Where do I start! Lots of power walking up hills, preferably with poles! There is just too much steep ascent to consider and it would be silly not to practice something you will be doing a lot of on the climbs. Also practice your downhill running skills. Lots of time can be lost if you are unsure or pussy-footed on the descents. Easier said than done though. I consider myself a pretty decent descender and there were bits that I was reluctant to go down at any speed. Lastly, sustained uphill running. The Big Walk is runnable as the grade is not massive but it is 10km long so will require optimum fitness and aerobic capacity. Also don’t skip the strength sessions. Speed is not really going to be of much advantage in this race. Power, endurance, technical skill and conditioning AND A BIG DOSE OF MENTAL TOUGNESS will be the key components to a successful race.
The ‘average runner’? Mate, there are sections that even the great mountain runners around the world would walk. Theoretically I guess you could try and run them but there wouldn’t be any point; walking would be faster, especially with poles. The outward bound Clear Spot climb would be a walk, with only the very pointy end possibly taking a run-walk approach. The first half of the inward bound Clear Spot climb would be the same. The climb back up to Mystic on the way back would be a walk for everyone…period. I think the Big Walk up Buffalo may be a bit different though. The average weekend warrior would walk the steeper bits and run the flatter sections while a good mountain runner would be aiming to run the whole thing. This is an ascent that could take over 3 hours for some or as little as 1 and a quarter hours for the top end.
Q. Do you have a time prediction for what the winner will need to run in the two races?
It’s very tough to tell, I was coaching on the weekend so was continually going back and forth and stopping with my groups so I wasn’t able to get a great feel. But my gut says that for the marathon a sub 5h time will get you up there. I’m going to say the winning time for the ultra will be between 9 – 10h. If you can negative split the way back (even when considering the fact that you only descend Buffalo) that will be quite an achievement in itself.