Monday, April 14, 2014

Buffalo Stampede - The Sky Marathon

Last week was about perfecting the Frankenstein shuffle, dreading going down the stairs or seating myself onto the toilet bowl to pee,  and oh gawd, tripping over my feet (in public, nonetheless). I have been stuffing myself with so much food to silence the howling hunger pangs, allowing my weary soul to catch a hundred and forty winks everyday and hoping, just hoping, that my memory of that Sunday's race would fog up.

Waiting for the flag off.

Sunday, 6th April 2014.

With daylight savings, we were greeted with light skies at 6am and there was no need for a headlamp. The crowd today was smaller than the day before, but hey, Anna Frost was taking part.

Annoyed that I had missed a photo opportunity with her on Friday, I made faces and gestured at Isaac as he chatted with her (very smooth, dude!) but unfortunately he couldn't read my expression: Invite me over!!! 

I quickly sauntered over just as their conversation was ending and ... made some rubbishy talk with Frosty.

"Oh, hi, how are you? Weren't you running yesterday? I saw the photos you posted up yesterday! Oh, wow! How long are you staying in Melbourne? Oh, Singapore! What's in Singapore? Okayyy ... SO CAN WE TAKE A PHOTO TOGETHERRRRR PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE??"

Frosty was the 1st woman to finish the race in 5 hours.


We were flagged off at 6.30am and off we went. I was doing my best to keep up with the crowd as we ran through the town centre and towards the trails. But once on the single track, everyone ahead of me slowed down to a brisk walk in the park and I was rather pleased we did!

I was expecting some guys from behind to run past us since we were trudging rather slowly but no one did.

I looked back and saw the view. :)

Everyone was relieved to get off the single track and on to the 4WD track.

At this stage, I was thinking that Mystic Hill wasn't too bad at all.

We soon returned onto a single track and there was a small steep climb which required scrambling up. A few runners stopped by the side of the track to peruse the climb while some took the opportunity to charge ahead.

More climbing, yay!

It was coming close to 4KM now and I couldn't wait to reach the top to descend as quickly as possible.

At the top of Mystic Hill.

A great place for a picnic.

It was good to run downhill after that.

Or so I thought.

We soon arrived at the infamous Mick's Track that the guys were trying to describe to Alexa and I the night before.

Because it rained the night before, the track was really muddy. Some people ran down it pretty quickly with their poles, some ran along the grassy sides, some just slid down on their bums and some cautiously made their way down.

It took me almost 30 minutes to manouvre my way down, swapping between squatting down and sliding, and running down as quick but slowly as possible. Seeing some people fall down scared me, yet seeing people running or sliding past me urged me to hurry up.

I was quite annoyed for taking too much time to get down that track! Argh!!

Mystic Hill
Elevation gain: 794m
Distance to Baker's Gully aid station from start line: 7.38km
Target time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Completed time: 1 hour 31 minutes.

I didn't stop to refill my bottle as I still had plenty of water and electrolytes.

I braced myself for the next hill to come, knowing that it would be 2.1km long to the top.

The occasional mist would obscure the view.

A loooooong climb.

I would stop a couple of times along the way to catch my breath and rest my soon-to-be-sore quads.

Before I reached the top, I could make out a few familiar faces, Ron and YB hanging about up there ... which was nice yet unnerving. It meant I had to smile for the camera!

Ron sent this to SCTR to report my progress.

I look like I was the last time reach the top!

I asked the guys whether this was the last of the climb (there were talks about fake peaks and whatnots) so I had to be doubly sure that it was time to run downhill. 

I was relieved when they said yes!


Rolling hills in the distance.

Needed a model in the foreground so I quickly chased up to the runner ahead of me, who turned out to be Neil Kinder.

We ran together for a while and made some small talk. There was a tricky downhill to tackle which Neil demonstrated that pfffft, it was easy peasy for him.

Eager to get to the next aid station, I was pleased to run on flat land. I think I was fairly within my target time but I knew it would make me feel so much better to ensure it.

Clear Spot
Elevation gain: 992m
Distance to Bucklands' aid station from Baker's Gully aid station: 8.62km.
Target time: 2 hours.
Completed time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Total distance covered: 16.0km
Time lapsed: 3 hours 17 minutes

Topped up my bottle at the aid station. Spent a few minutes standing still and stretching the legs before pushing off.

The bitumen section of this run was so ... mind numbing.

"Check out those crazy humans!" the alpacas seemed to be thinking.

Thank goodness for the cute and furry spectators!

"Keep Calm And Eat Grass."

I wanted to sit down with them, steal a hug or two, ruffle their furry heads, and pretend to have a conversation with them.

Into Mount Buffalo National Park.

It was a walk and jog, walk and jog as I was starting to feel lazy. I knew that from the elevation profile, Keating Ridge had the lowest elevation gain compared to Mystic Hill and Clear Spot yet I still had difficulties in completing this section.

I kept my poles, thinking that there was no need for them.

From Buckland's aid station, it was about 9km to Eurobin Creek aid station but it felt like longer than that.

As the track was a winding one, you didn't know what to expect around the corner. I kept hoping for a relief, a little decline instead of gentle inclines all the way, but no such luck.

Not sure why, but I think by harbouring secret hopes that the next corner would be a descent, I was injuring myself mentally. I gradually became fraught with unhappiness dissatisfaction frustration and uncertainty, wishing I had my iPod with me to block out the negativity. 

I kept checking my watch for the distance covered, and got angry when it showed very little progress.

About 4km up Keating Ridge, I told myself, "OKAY, it should be downhill from NOW. Let's do this!"

I moved faster as much as I could.

Okay, maybe it's the next corner.

Not this corner, maybe the next one.

This is shit. Where is it?



My quads were showing signs of cramps to come and that didn't help matters. I became more upset.

When the descent finally came at bloody 21.43km, I was so relieved. 

I ran and ran, hoping to make up for lost time.

Coming out of the park and onto bitumen, I kept running. I overtook probably one or two people, but that wasn't the point.

I saw Gregor at a distance, although I wasn't too sure. Grateful for the company although it meant not having enough time to recompose my mental being, he ran with me into Eurobin Creek picnic area, the checkpoint.

Kirsten was the first to cheer really loud, which caught everyone's attention. Everyone surrounded me, fussing about: What do you need? What do you want? Some water, Coke, HEED? Get your poles ready!!

Photo credits: Jon and Claire.

There was a flurry of action and I kept my head low as I was trying hard not to cry. I was rather brusque with my replies despite saying thank you and I may have hurt their feelings. (Sorry!)

Tears had been threatening to flow (a clear mental breakdown, tsk tsk) but there was no hole I could crawl into to let it all out (as it would have made me feel much better) without public viewing before continuing on with the race.

Eventually I sobbed a "But it's soooOOooooooooooOOoooooo hard!" in reply to Claire's well wishes that may have made the men around me very uncomfortable.

Stripped my shorts off at Eurobin Creek.
Photo credit: Claire.

I ran off before I released another bucket of tears and as I got onto the bridge, a camera flash went off, catching me open mouthed with my Tim Tam.

Keating Ridge
Elevation gain: 622m
Distance to Eurobin Creek's aid station from Buckland's aid station: 9.43km.
Target time: 2 hours.
Completed time: 1 hour 42 minutes.
Total distance covered: 25.43km
Time lapsed: 4 hours 45 minutes.

Took an extra 600ml bottle of water, added Hammer HEED to the bladder. Ate 3 Tim Tams and drank a cup of Coke.
Disappointed with my mental state.
Should have shaved 15 minutes off if I had focused.

It was 200m into the Big Walk up Mount Buffalo that I realised I had made a huge mistake: I did not replenish the salt in my body. 

My quads, hamstrings and glutes were already complaining during the climb up Keating Ridge, but the quads were seizing up more often now.

Frustrated, I knew it was going to be a really loooong and hard hike up to the chalet.

Guy in blue was waiting for someone. :)

Some parts of the walk was runnable and some runners overtook me at some point, since I was walking more than running.

One of the runners ahead of me bumped into her husband and children on the track. She must have been pleased to see them, as it broke the monotony of the climb.

I was contemplating a selfie right here - I regret that I didn't!

It was like Lake Mountain Skyrun again.

When my watch showed 33.4km, I was relieved that the Big Walk was going to end really soon. I shared this with two ladies behind me and they sped off.

1km later, I was still nowhere the top.

I may have given the runners some wrong information ...

I had to keep on marching (despite the achy quads)!

I could hear some cheers coming from the chalet, or it could have been my imagination because soon enough, I found myself at a dead end.

I had taken a wrong turn and found myself looking at the chalet from the Pulpit Rock.

You've got to be bloody kidding me.

The chalet remained elusive.

I was so mad at myself for not paying attention to the markers and making the wrong turn.

So so so mad.

Such a waste of energy and time!!

A really grumpy me.
Photo credit: YB

Relieved to finally arrive at the chalet despite the additional distance, I threw a bottle of water and my poles out of pack and shot off to tackle the last 7km.

Elevation gain: 1,326m
Target time: 3 hours.
Completed time: 2 hour 54 minutes.
Total distance covered: 36.02km (Including getting lost.)
Time lapsed: 7 hours 39 minutes. (Upon crossing the timing mat.)

Did not take salt again. 
What a noob mistake.
Threw poles and 1 bottle of water at Gregor before heading off.

Steps, oh my gawd!

The last 7km didn't look like it was going to be easy for the weary legs as I hoped. I bumped into Alexa and Anthony making their way back and I was so envious that they were done with their race!

The cramps came and go that I'd have to stand still, or stop to walk as briskly as possible.

A few runners caught up with me, some ran past and two ran alongside with me for a while. I asked if anyone had some salt with them but there was no response.

Oh well.
It was my problem, anyway.

Lake Catani.

They ran off after a while as I had to slow down to a jog again. At this stage, every 100m felt like 1km.

Alone, I kept looking at my watch to check my time.

I soon arrived at the human-sized rabbit hole we were supposed to go through, catching up with the 2 runners who were deliberating whether we should turn back instead.

Another runner soon arrived, and all 4 of us were mulling over it, which was a waste of time if I had earlier recalled Anthony's advice to "make sure I go down it".

The last runner and I agreed that we definitely had to make our way through it as we did not see anyone head back the same way we had come from.

And what if there was someone on the other side of the rocks, waiting to cross our bib numbers off their list?

You can see a guy as a speck at the top of her cap ... that was the way out!

Talk about exciting!
I wished I had taken a selfie like Chris did.

I had to take my time to wrestle through the rocks and pulling my legs over. The cramps were getting stronger and it was getting harder to move as quickly as possible.

We soon across another pile of rocks we had to climb over and through. 

The last guy was kind enough to offer me a hand but I told him I couldn't move over the rocks as my legs had seized up. I told him to move on and I could sort myself out. 

He asked if I was sure.
I asked if there were stepping stones I could make my way with and he said yes.
So I said not to worry then, thank you.

Off he went.

And that's when I bawled my eyes out.
I was very disappointed with myself, for not dealing with my cramps earlier on.
Disappointed that I was cramping like crazy.
Disappointed that it was already 9 hours into the race and I had failed to make my target time.
Disappointed that I was bawling my eyes out like a big baby.
Disappointed that I was feeling like a big loser.
Bloody disappointed.

I tried to call YB but there was no reception.
Gregor, no reception.
Anthony, no reception.

I wanted to ask from where I was, how far more did I have to go and would I have enough time to make it before the cut off.

By then, I had managed to manouvre myself out of the rocks and limped slowly down the steps. I tried calling YB again but since I couldn't get through, I called Dion instead. He must have had a hard time understanding my question so I just told him to tell YB that since I was cramping very badly, I may take a while to finish.
I calmed myself down by chanting a Buddhist mantra which may or may not have helped, and kept marching on. (I think it did.)

There is never an easy way out of a race without finishing the damn thing.

Suck it up, soldier! 
That's right!
Just keep mooooooving!

I ran when I could, stopped to walk when I felt like it.
I felt like I was putting in more effort than I was at the beginning of the 7km loop.

It must be the pressure to ensure I'd make the cut off.

I bumped into 3 people who were either the marshals or first aid people or sweepers, I wasn't sure.

I kept marching until I bumped into YB who, of course, had panicked when he received Dion's message and came to get me.
With a bottle of water.

I told him that I didn't need water but he told me it was electrolytes.

Met Libby who was resting by the side of the track with secret pills in her hand. Accepted them graciously as I could, but rather embarrassed that I had a rescue team come after me. :)

Came across Gregor with crisps which I  also accepted with much relief. 

I had to tell the guys to please stay with Libby as I needed to make my way on my own (and not accused of having pacers on the course with me).

I was practically marching as quickly as I could, relieved to know that I had enough time to finish the race within the cut off time.

But I didn't want to 'just' make the cut off. 

I could hear the crazy cow bells ringing and the shouts (must be Claire and Kirsten) from afar, and soon I started tearing up again. 

Tearing up for the silliest reasons, really, that so many friends were still around and waiting for me to finish this race.

They shouldn't have. :)

Being knighted as a skyruner by the race director.
Chalet 7KM Loop
Target time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
Completed time: 1 hour 57 minutes.
Total distance covered: 43.95km
Time lapsed: 9 hours 46 minutes.

Not pleased with how long I took to complete the last 7km but it's no one's fault but mine.

The kids giving a helping hand with my stuff. :)

I can't thank the Milnes, Beyers and Hartnells enough for staying back to wait for me. I'm sure the kids were tired and not forgetting the long drive back. 

Alexa did a fabulous 7:47 for her race.

I've also never had a huge crew of supporters wait on me hand and foot and cheer like crazy chimpanzees for me before so wow, thank you so much again.

The wife brings home the bacon! :P
With Kirsten, one of the crazy hardworking volunteers at Buffalo Stampede.

Emotions aside, let's talk about the event.

1. The Course

The course is definitely a difficult one, but it is not impossible. The elevation profile, at first glance, is bound to scare any normal human being runner, except those who crave a challenge and excitement. (It did put me off until February this year.)

With single tracks to 4WD tracks, bitumen, and not forgetting mud and rocky bits along Mount Buffalo, these are not unusual to regular trail runners.

Perhaps the almost vertical climb up Cooper's Track / Clear Spot and going down the rabbit hole at Chalwells Track are the only things I've never come across before during my trail runs in Melbourne ... so far. I enjoyed climbing Clear Spot the most!

The difficulty would be making the cut off time of 5.5 hours at Eurobin Creek.

If they had they stuck to the earlier cut off time of 7.5 hours at the chalet (35km) however, I would not have made it in time.

Loved the challenging course, despite my cramps!

2. Event Organisation

The organising team seemed to be short-handed. For such a prestigious event  (Australia's 1st Skyrun), you would expect it to be teeming with a lot of volunteers. 

For example, during the blackout at the finish line on Saturday night, manpower was needed to handle the arch which had fallen down. And as it was pouring heavily, it took a while to sort it out.

The volunteers did their best and managed well, but I'm just saying that they should not have been burdened with so many responsibilities. Nevertheless, their efforts were well appreciated by the runners. We can't thank them enough!

Alternatively, perhaps the marathon runners could run on the same day as the ultra runners, but flagged off a little later. That way, the event wraps up in a day.

Things to improve the next time:

a) As mentioned in my earlier post, I think a race briefing should have been given before the athletes' forum. Events which I previously attended such as the Surf Coast Century 100 and Razorback Run, participants were briefed the night before. During the briefing, emphasis was put on the importance of mandatory items, landmarks along the course, etc. 

b) Checkpoint at Chalwells Track - As mentioned above, we were troubled as to whether there was a checkpoint to meet after climbing through the rabbit hole. The runners and I could have just turned back without troubling ourselves! Just saying, that every u-turn point should have a marshal to ensure that runners don't cheat take shortcuts.

c) I was quite bummed to return to an imaginary finish line as the timing mat and clock were no longer there. The time given to complete the marathon was 10 hours and I expected the timing gantry to still be there when I finished my race. I think it is a fair expectation. 

d) The aid station was also shut down by then, with watermelon being the only refreshment  available. Oh wait. I'm not too sure but it did look like it. I could be wrong. 

(Why do some events do this? Is it to deter slow runners from taking part in their events again? Just a general thought.)

e) The vest provided - If only it was long enough to be worn again as a proper running vest. Short and tight just doesn't seem right. Hmmm.

Elevation profile from my watch.

3. Lessons learnt

I don't walk to talk about it.
I never learn!

I was planning on sticking to my refueling plan of every 30 minutes but when the athletes spoke of  refueling up at the peak and flat lands, I changed plans. I was brainwashed.
I should have taken a few minutes to rest and refuel properly at Eurobin Creek before the Big Walk as well as at the chalet before the final loop. I was too caught up with making good time that I didn't want to spare the few minutes to recuperate - that cost me the entire race.

I was also affected by YB's experience the day before, thus I watered down my electrolytes' drink in my bladder. I didn't bother eating the sushi rice I had brought along, fearing that it would upset my tummy as it had upset YB's. I was just a wreck.

Eating Tim Tams alone does not work.

I need to buy salt tablets for my next event.

I am emotional but I am not a quitter. 
Please do not call me a drama queen. :)

I was upset because I had relied too much on the elevation profile provided by Buffalo Stampede. I believed that the aid station at Buckland's was at 15.2km, Eurobin Creek at 24.2km and the chalet at 34.3km hence my frustration that it was further than I expected. Very silly of me.

Ps. Thank you again to SCTR for their support and encouragement, and my friends! It was a fun weekend together. :)


  1. That was awesome. Achievements after achievements. WELL DONE SD

    1. Thanks, IronKew. I was just there to enjoy the view ... and some of the suffering. :)

  2. Great write-up (saw the link after someone commented on FB, I am somewhat obsessed with double checking through race reports that out people found it as hard as I did). I ran near you a couple of times at the start (yellow top, black bike shorts - I'm in the last picture in your section coming into Bucklands), good to hear how it went for you. Awesome work on getting through it, if I'd had the same hydration and cramping issues not sure I'd have been as tough!! You did super well, and there's always next year to come back armed with salt tablets!


    1. Hey Robyn, I remember you. You were blazing the Big Walk, if I remember correctly. Congrats on your awesome finish! :)

  3. Lol... Love this! "I am emotional but I am not a quitter.
    Please do not call me a drama queen."

    Fantastic report. Hugh congrats on your finish!

    1. Thanks!
      Wish you had been there to suffer together, Gary! Then I wouldn't have cried hahaha! :)

  4. A sky running demon! I'm totally out of your league! Congrats on the achievement, you did good! Now when's that 100 due?

    1. I am eyeing the 100 this year but too lazy when I contemplate the training involved. Ugh. And nah, I'm just a regular trail runner la, no sky running skills at all!

  5. Great report...nearly teared up !! (well actually may have) .... I completely agree with you! Not leaving the finish line, mat, aid station and everything set up for the tail enders is inexcusable. We pay the same money as everyone else and deserve to be treated as competitors. Bloody dissapointing that this occured. I cant imagine your dissapointment on this point.....Well done on sticking to the task...Awsome effort.. Dave

    1. Hey Dave, I hope you've recovered well and looking forward to your next event. You did great, too!
      Maybe Alexa and I shall set up a coffee stall along some running route/event some day, seeing that it did help you feel better. :)