The Buffalo Stampede Trail Running festival runs over three days in Bright, and the courses explore some of the local hills and mountains. There are a number of events ranging from a 10km, 20km, 42km and 100km event. There are also two stage races that people can compete in:
- The Buffalo Grand Slam: 10km, 20km, 42km
- Ultra Grand Slam: 10km, 100km, 42km.
This year we took part in the Buffalo Grand Slam - a 10km on Friday evening, 20km Saturday morning and finally 42km on Sunday Morning.
We head down to Bright on the Friday that the event was due to start to setup camp, check in, and get ourselves sorted for the 10KM skysprint to kick things off on the Friday evening.
Friday: 10 KM Twilight SkySprint
"Launch into the weekend with a single track adventure from Bright to Mystic and back."
The 10km SkySprint kicks off at 6PM from the Bright Brewery, and is a cheeky run up to the Mystic Launchpad and back - covering about 500m elevation gain over those 10km.
Everyone seems to be pretty pumped, and the race starts behind the brewery and we head out through the Caravan Park and down the road toward the climb up Mystic Hill. This is a reasonably flat section of the course although it does have a slight uphill just to get things warmed up. Hitting the singletrack at the base of Mystic hill is where things get a little congested with so many people trying to funnel into the singletrack. But, it's a fun environment so everyone is real friendly.
I had planned to just have fun and run this very easily, but in typical fashion after about 5 or 10 minutes I decided to have a bit of fun and push things a little bit, so I start to push a bit harder on the climb to see what I could do.
As the climb opens out onto a wider section of track I ran into Lucy Bartholomew, who was super cool to meet!
Once the climb reaches the top the track flattens out at the Mystic Launch pad and then the descent starts! This descent would become very familiar over the next three days, as it's the same descent down from Mystic across all of the courses. It's a really fun descent that bombs down Mountain Bike trails. It's single track, there are switchbacks, a few MTB features to have fun with. I was pushing myself way too hard for someone who had to run another 62km this weekend, but damn it was fun!
The descent then retraces the first couple of kilometers, back down through Bright, through the Caravan park and then up and through the finish arch on the lawns outside the Bright Brewery.
I finished the 10km in 1:05 - A time I was very happy with given the elevation, and cracked a beer at the finish line (a bold move considering the next few days of running).
It's a pretty quiet evening after everyone finishes the 10km and we get ready for the rest of the weekend of longer runs.
Saturday: 20km SkyRun
"A true Skyrunning experience on extreme terrain from Bright to Clearspot return."
After a gentle evening to prepare for the rest of the weekend of running and a decent night of sleep, we first got up to see off the 100KM runners at 6AM. Once they got things started bright and early we went back to the trailer for breakfast and to get ready for the 20km run.
The 20km course is a beautifully challenging run, with lots of vertical gain and some pretty gnarly technical descents.
The start is the same as the first/last couple of kilometers as all the races, so we once again take off through the caravan park before spearing right and onto some singletrack (different singletrack to the 10km) to start making our way up the hill. After a kilometer or so the single track gives way to open fire trail and the climb up to Clearspot starts to get steeper, with a few flatter sections that offer a reprieve from the climbing.
At this point most people are hiking the climb so there is a lot of chatting amongst runners, which is especially fun when you run into people who are also doing the Grand Slam. After what feels like hours of climbing (but in reality is only about 4km) the climb reaches the highest point of the 20km course at Clearspot, which is hosting a convenient aid station to refill with water and grab some sweet, sweet, sugar. From Clearspot, it's generally flat running with some undulations until the descent begins - A steep, technical, singletrack descent which was absolutely wild (and a lot of fun).
Paying absolutely no mind to my poor quads which still need to run a marathon with 2000m descent tomorrow, I had way too much fun bombing down the descent. After descending for some time it opens up and rejoins a fire trail, which is still a steep, quad-destroying descent down into the Bakers Gully aid station.
From the aid station the real fun begins - Mick's Track. It's not long, but it sure is steep. With an average gradient of above 40%, it climbs 273m over about 650m distance and it was carnage, at one point I had to step over someone who had just lay down on the trail (I'm pretty sure they were just stretching, and still alive...).
However, the top of Mick's Track (once you get over the feelings of betrayal at the false peak) is a much more mellow climb up to the top of the Mystic Launchpad, and then it's all downhill from here!
The downhill is the same course as all 3 races, so is starting to become familiar after the 10km the night before and yet it's still fun to shred down the mountain bike trails and then upping the pace as it breaks out into the streets of Bright, through the caravan park and then up to the Brewery to cross the finish line and indulge in 'rehydration' courtesy of the Bright Brewery.
With a finish time of 2:29:26, I was stoked to finish in under 2.5hrs given the 1200m elevation gain.
The afternoon after the race was spent chasing a friend around in the cold, wet and windy conditions. He was doing the 100km course (and finished later that night!) so we popped up to the top of Mt Buffalo, then the Eurobin Aid station at the bottom of the Big Walk, and finally the Buckland Valley aid station before heading back into Bright and hooking in to some pizza for dinner ahead of the 42km SkyMarathon tomorrow morning.
The weather was honestly pretty terrible so all the 100KM runners were showing some pretty impressive grit pushing through the conditions.
Sunday: 42.2km SkyMarathon
"A classic mountain-marathon in the heart of Victoria’s High Country from Mount Buffalo to Bright."
I was a little bit worried about my quads after smashing some of that downhill in the 20km (and the 10km the day before...), and we were lucky enough to be able to get a lift to the top of Mt Buffalo, and avoided having to take the bus which was nice given the cold and rainy start.
We kicked off and then did the classic immediate stop as we land on single track - but then things filter out again and we get going. It was interesting to see different layering techniques as some people where stopping a few kilometre into the run to strip off layers, versus those who maybe started feeling a little bit cold.
The start of this run was stunning - first skirting Lake Catini before we cross back through the start area at the Buffalo Chalet and then start the 10km of descending down the "Big Walk"
Descending the big walk I realised my legs were certainly doing better than I initially gave them credit for - even after I stacked it not once, but twice on the descent. No major injuries, so my only hope is that it provided amusement for the people around me
The bottom of the big walk takes us into the Eurobin Creek picnic area aid station - a good time to refill water and grab some food and then start moving up over the next ridgeline. The road up to the next ridgline was uphill but just mild enough to be runnable, but then gets steeper as the fire trail moves up to the top of the ridge.
Of course, this is where it starts raining.
Heading down the other side of the ridgeline into the rain was a little bit grim, but the weather wasn't quite cold enough to bother with a rain jacket. The firetrail pops out onto a road and after a short jaunt along the road we get into the next aid station. It was good to catch up with some friends here shortly before moving on!
Leaving the aid station it's again a mild and runnable uphill along the road, before making a right turn. I'd looked at the course in advance and knew that we had a bit of a climb back up to clearspot over the next 5 or so kilometers, however I wasn't quite expecting to be confronted with the steep forestry trails disappearing into the mist above...
Climbing these hills was tough, and the hills were relentless. They would often flatten out for a minute or so, or occasionally descend slightly, but then always back to the climbing. So much climbing.
Eventually, however, we get to a stage where it starts to level out and we approach Clear Spot. Little time for reprieve though, as the descent starts almost immediately and it is steep. I thought the climb was steep, but this descent was gnarly.
The rain makes the descent even more gnarly as it's loose, muddy and slippery. Again trying to balance out not braking so much to destroy my quads and not going so fast that I pitch over forwards and slide down the hill on my belly.
It also seems that this is about the time I stopped taking photos because I was obviously too intent on not dying. It was a lot of fun though. Somehow, I only stacked it once on the descent and after a quick slide on my butt I was able to get back up and keep on going.
The descent is only about 2km long, and getting to the bottom are greeted by the cheers of spectators out to watch their friends and family (one of the great things about trail running is the supporters and the comradery) before rounding the corner into the aid station.
This aid station was loaded with snacks, but I only had some coke and refilled water for the climb up Mick's Track and then kept on moving.
Unsurprisingly, Mick's Track is just as steep as the day before, but somehow it didn't feel as long. Knowing that this is close to the end I put my head down and just slowly climbed up, keeping an eye out for the false peak that marks the final stage of the climb.
Of course, looking out for a false peak means that I start seeing false false peaks, but got there eventually. There was a lovely marshal at the top of the climb cheering people on which certainly helps a lot.
Getting to the top of Mick's track means the climbing is just about done with the now-well familiar descent down from the Mystic Launchpad, being the third time on this descent. My legs are cooked and feel like stale baguettes, but it's time to just hang on for the descent back into Bright.
Along the final charge back through the caravan park and to the brewery I could hear someone coming up behind me and the competitive instinct kicked in, not wanting to have someone pass me in the final few hundred metres I tried to kick it up a bit which hurt like hell, but crossed the line to finish the SkyMarathon in 5:09:16.
Luckily I had enough time to duck over to the trailer and have a shower, then get back to watch the rest of the crew finish the race and celebrate an awesome weekend.
That wraps up the Buffalo Stampede Grand Slam stage race for a total time of 8:42:56 for the 72km, placing 8th overall and 7th male - A result I'm very happy with, and some good mountain training for the upcoming Alpine Challenge 100km.
The Buffalo Stampede festival is an awesome event, with a super-fun environment and some really good course designs - will absolutely be back!