2 years difference, but the same result in the same location: lying on ground, 63km into the Buffalo Stampede unable to continue. One major improvement being that the Buckland’s checkpoint had moved to the infamous “Duffus Drop” and so rather than making desperate phone calls while face down in the dirt, I was lying on a mat, wrapped in blankets. But none of that was going to get me running again.
When we set off at 7am in the crisp morning through the streets of Bright (which were lined with the fiery colours of autumn), my legs felt good, my head felt good, and I was ready to run a conservative race. As we made our way along the 3km of flat path beside the river I was back in (around) 20th position. Upon reaching Mystic Mountain, our first climb for the day, I quickly picked up places while settling into an easy hiking rhythm. By the top I was in 4th place but still went down the 45% slope of “Mick’s Track” as slowly as I comfortably could, making sure to save my legs for the return ascent.
After a quick exchange of bottles with my crew (thank you Mum!) at the Baker’s Gully checkpoint (7.6km into the race), I was back into hiking mode, making my way up to Clear Spot. I was feeling very comfortable and slowly Ashley Bennett, Mat Murphy and Sam McCutcheon came into view, so I could see that I was closing the gap to them. By the summit we were all only a couple of minutes apart and I had passed Ashely into 3rd place. Again, I took the descent as easily as I felt comfortable doing so, and let Matt and Sam pull away from me.
I knew the flat 6km of dirt and bitumen road between the Buckland’s checkpoint and Keating’s ridge would be my weakness, so I was unfazed when Ashley and Majell Backhausen caught me part way up Keating’s. I was telling myself to stick to a pace that I felt I could run up the ridge on the way back and so I was feeling quite comfortable.
Majell and I came into the Eurobin Creek checkpoint (25km) together, with Ashley a minute ahead of us, and after another quick exchange of bottles I was making way along the Big Walk up Mt Buffalo. The first couple of kilometres of the climb are slightly steeper than the rest, so I was making sure I hiked as much as possible to save my legs. I had left Majell behind at the checkpoint and soon passed Ashely as well. I was starting to feel the odd spasm in both of my hamstrings but I wasn’t actually cramping, so I paid the sensation minimal attention.
After the first road crossing, the ascent became much more gradual and I felt like I was running well. The path carved into Mackay’s Lookout was (as usual) lined with spectators, giving a much needed boost half-way up the climb. The path also became a little bit rocky, so whenever I felt like I was moving a little bit slower to watch my footing, I would switch to hike to conserve myself. I was hiking a lot more than last time on the rest of my journey to the Chalet, but still reached the 35km checkpoint only 90 seconds after Matt Murphy, having gained several minutes during the climb. I was a little surprised given I had started to feel a little bit off in the final couple of kilometres of the climb, but this news reassured me that I must have still been moving well. I swapped my bottles again, and grabbed a couple of extra cups of water on my way through the checkpoint and set off on the 7km Chalwell Galleries loop.
Hiking some of the stairs during this loop felt good and I was back in a positive frame of mind. About halfway through the loop, just before crawling through the first of two rock tunnels, I passed Matt and we ran most of the rest of the loop together. During the final hike up a flight of stairs I opened up a small gap on Matt, so came into the Chalet checkpoint just ahead of him. After getting new bottles of Tailwind and gulping down some extra water, I was off on my way back down the Big Walk.
I was holding back to save my legs, so wasn’t put off when Matt came flying past me after just a couple of kilometres. I knew I wouldn’t lose more than 5 minutes to him over the 10km descent, so didn’t try to follow suit. The encouragement from all the other competitors coming up in the opposite direction lifted my spirit further, so I really enjoyed the easy descent.
I reached Eurobin Creek (for the second time) feeling great and looking forward to tackling the final 25km. Before the race I had told myself that if I could run the whole way up Keating’s ridge (i.e., without walking), then I would know that I been conservative enough in the first 50km of the race. Well, I almost reached this goal, but was starting to really struggle in the second half and ended up walked two 50m stretches in the final 500m of the climb. I started to feel a bit ragged by this point but was telling myself that I would recover during the gradual descent.
However, when I reached the bitumen road at the base of Keating’s, the spasms I had been feeling in my hamstrings became incessant. I wasn’t looking forward to the next 6km of flat road, but kept telling myself it would be over quickly and that I would be hiking again soon. My running form had really deteriorated, with my legs unable to provide adequate drive, so I was reduced to more of a shuffle. I persisted, and kept feeding myself with positive thoughts, but inside just wanting the road to end.
A few hundred meters after reaching the dirt section of the road I broke down into a walk for the first time. This was certainly demoralising, but I was telling myself that I could still hike all of the two remaining climbs and would still be able to run downhill. Intermittently I would start shuffling again, but the ratio of walk-to-shuffle was steadily increasing in favour of the walk. After 1.5km of (extremely) slow progression, Danny Garrett passed me and I did my best to pretend that I was OK, hoping that this lie might come true. It didn’t. And soon Majell came past me as well.
I could feel my head beginning to droop and for some reason I was leaning a little to right. I began to get tunnel vision and would find myself staring off into the distance. Eventually, Caine Warburton came along (from the Buckland Checkpoint) in a car, having heard that I was not in great shape. I knew things were bad when I was taking a long time to answer his very simple questions and was unable to pronounce single syllable words correctly. However, I refused the offer for a lift to the checkpoint. My rationale being that if I accepted a ride then my race would be officially over, but if I lay down at the checkpoint and recovered then I may still be able to finish (in hindsight, this may have been more of an ego driven decision rather than a logic based one).
I could hardly lift my legs any more, but I made it to the checkpoint. The aid station staff quickly sat me down in a chair and got me some fluids. The first aid team began their assessments, and I knew it would be a while before I would be leaving the checkpoint.
The care I received from Lucas Trihey, Jacinta O’Neil and the rest of the medical team was excellent…but I wasn’t able to keep going. Instead my race ended in a medical tent with a cannula in my arm, while I was hooked up to an ECG machine.
After a second DNF in the same location as 2 years ago, I am still trying to work out what exactly went wrong. Despite this, I’ve already learnt a lot from the experience and can also take away many positives from the event. Allsports Physiotherapy and Mile 27 coaching have done a great job of strengthening my weak ankle since the Ultra Easy as I felt confident on it on all the technical sections. This is a good sign that I can finally get back into higher volume training to prepare for the upcoming UTA100 and Skyrunning World Championships. I guess I’ll just have to keep coming back to the Buffalo Stampede to try to break the curse!