The Buffalo Stampede Grandslam Part I
A minute ago I had just reached over to grab my phone and quickly retracted my arm as my ribs pierce me with pain anytime I make a sudden movement. This is a result from the first day of the Buffalo Stampede Grandslam - Good times!
There are three races that take place during the Buffalo Stampede weekend which all start in Bright, Victoria (Australia). The first race is on the Friday which is the Sky 26er, a 26.9km run with 1850m of accent. On the Saturday is the ultramarathon (Ultra Sky Marathon), a 75.4km run with 4545m of ascent and finally on the Sunday is the Sky Marathon - 41.4km of running and 2924m of accent. If you are crazy enough you can enter the Grandslam which consists of running all three events over the three days (which of course I did).
When I first read about the Grandslam the one thing that intrigued me, as I'm sure it did with many of this years runners, was that only two out of seventeen people had actually completed all three races from the previous (and inaugural) year. I quickly signed up and started planning my training.
I only had a couple of months to train for this and living in Brisbane I didn't have many options available in the way of mountains. We have Mt Cooth-Tha which is near the city and has some great trails to train on but noway near the amount of incline required for this event. With no other convenient locations I decided that this would be my only choice and I got stuck in.
Over the two months as Summer was supposed to wind down, the heat and humidity of Queensland stuck around. There were some days where I wouldn't even attempt to go and train due to getting dehydrated and exhausted too quickly. My work also got a little busier than usual and found myself working more days then usual which took out some more training time. In the end, my longest training run was 35km with about 1800 meters of incline. Not ideal but it had to do.
The day before I was supposed to fly down to Victoria I started getting very sick, I suspected tonsillitis so I quickly made an appointment to the Doctors to try and get on some medication as soon as possible. Luckily it wasn't tonsillitis, unluckily though, it was a viral infection where medication would have no effect. I only hoped that it would be short lived and not affect my run.
The next morning I flew down to Melbourne, still feeling unwell. I picked up my rental car and started my three hour drive up to Bright. I had packed my tent, sleeping bag, air mattress and set up camp at a local holiday park. The weather was almost perfect, clear sky's with a crisp, refreshing and light breeze. The next three days would be the same which was a welcome change from Brisbane's humidity.
I didn't get too much sleep through the night due to still being sick, I was taking multi vitamins, lemsip and some ibprofen to help ease my sore throat. I also found myself up at night thinking about the weekend ahead. The first day didn't worry me too much, it was thinking about the second and third that probably helped keep me up during the night.
I woke up at 5:30am and unfortunately I wasn't feeling any better. Trying not to think about it I continued getting ready and drove my way up to the start of the race to register.
The mornings were a lot colder than I was used to, around 5 degrees Celsius! I was still wrapped up in my warm hooded jumper, beanie and pajama pants right up until near the start of the race. With only a few minutes to go I had already made the decision to go slow and steady through the weekend just so I could get to that finish line on the third day!
This year the course for the Sky 26er had changed due to back burning and was now run on the Ultra and Marathon course which according to the race organizers was more 'bang for your buck', however the Grandslammers running this year that were familiar with the course weren't so happy about that!
After the race briefing and the countdown we were off! The crowds waiting on either sides of the start were electric, all support crews had small cow bells that they would ring, there was cheering, horns, clapping, it was really great!
The first 3km were pretty flat and paved, I thought to myself 'well at least 6 km of the course is easy'! Surely enough the climbing started, everyone around me was now hiking up a steady incline through a forest, the track was narrow and was covered in fine, soft dirt. After a few hundred meters up to the top of 'Mystic Mountain' there was an extremely steep decent down to 'Bakers Gully'. I seemed to get down this quite well, a few people around me fell over a couple of times but nothing major, my trekking poles definitely saved me once or twice! When finally down to Bakers Gully I was finally able to get a bit of a run going again, but not for too long, this is where the first really big climb started all the way up to 'Clear Spot', this climb was slow and arduous!
While hiking up the climb to Clear Spot I met another Andrew, he was also doing the Grandslam and had done the Ultra 75 twice before so he already knew the course quite well. Andrew let me know that this climb up to Clear Spot could be quite deceiving, there were three points of the climb that would make you believe that you were at the top only to realize that there was plenty more climbing to go. I was glad he told me this so I didn't get my hopes up each time, it was kind of funny to hear yelling and swearing from other runners who didn't know this.
When finally up at Clearspot I refilled my fluids while Andrew ran ahead. I had a look at the elevation gain and it was already well over 1km! I took off from Clearspot, this time it was a decent but not steep enough where I couldn't run and eventually made it to 'Duffus Drop', you definitely couldn't run down all of this part. Duffus Drop was very steep, again the dirt was soft and was easy to slip over, I had one minor fall but luckily nothing bad. As I was heading down, there were people coming back up and this was the first time I had seen multiple people on their hands and knees (or feet) actually climbing up a track during a race, it was madness!
Finally getting down to the bottom was a short run to the halfway point, having already refilled everything I turned around for my return back!
Heading back up Duffus Drop was tough, I didn't think it would get any harder then that but as usual I was wrong. I got back up to Clear Spot and knew I was going to have to head back down the long and steep declines that I had hiked up previously with Andrew. It seemed a lot steeper then I thought when having to navigate my footing down the loose gravel and dirt, I saw a couple of runners that were able to fly down quite easy. Because I had never trained on anything like this before I was being overly cautious. About halfway down there was a short, steep drop with very loose dirt, I took one step, dug my poles into the ground, one more step and then lost it! My foot slid out from underneath me, my pole, now on an angle also slipped and I came crashing down with the full force on my thigh and ribs! It completely knocked the air out of me and I lay there for a few seconds wondering if I had broken my ribs. I've had a couple of tumbles during all of my years of running but that one is definitely ranked as one of the hardest. I slowly pushed myself up off the ground, my sunglasses and fallen off with one of the lenses scratched and separated from the rest, one pole was beside me with the other one a few meters down the track. I looked at my thigh and there were a couple of grazes but it was my ribs that hurt. I collected everything and continued down for a bit to see if I was still ok, luckily it appeared that I was so I continued on.
Eventually making my way to the bottom I realized that I was still able to run, that was a big relief! I ran back through Bakers Gully before coming up to climb back up to Mystic Mountain and this climb was a killer! Never in all of the races that I have been in have I ever encountered a climb like this one. Every step up required much effort, I had to be careful where to place each foot, trying not to let rocks fall down to anyone that was behind me. It went on and on and on. Just as I thought I had reached the top I looked to my right to realize there was still more to go! I felt like this was the mountain getting revenge from when Andrew foiled its deceptiveness during the first climb of the run! Trying not to dwell on it too long I started up again and eventually made it to the top, I threw my hands up in the air to rejoice only to remember that I was going to have to do that climb again near the end of the Ultra 75km the next day!
Exhausted from the climb I knew that the rest of the run back was relatively easy so I was able to get some comfort from that. I refueled while I walked for a bit and then carried on for the rest for the last few kms.
Once getting back through the Forest I was back on smooth pavement for the last three kilometeres, I was able to finally pick up a good pace right up until the end. Andrew had passed me through the earlier and greeted me at the finish line. I told him about my earlier tumble and he pointed me in the direction of the first aid tent to get cleaned up.
After getting my leg wound cleaned and patched up I sat down and had a good rest and think about the next two days to come. My legs were feeling surprisingly good, I just hoped they would feel ok at the start line for the ultra. I packed everything up in the car and made my way back to the holiday park to prepare for day two.
Continued in Part II