Sunday, April 19, 2015

Buffalo Stampede 2015 - Gored, Gutted.. & Survived

Bring it on, you Buffalo! Photo credit: Aurora Images

I feel all the good vibes again looking at this picture :) Positivity, pride, happiness, and a real sense of achievement... I'm extremely glad I could relinquish the demons from last year (though to be honest its long faded ~ its not like I have nightmares every night!) & just make good a promise I made to myself a year ago.

There is also a little glimpse into the possibilities as well.. the body & mind was actually feeling extremely good towards the end ~ I felt like I could have gone beyond the 75k and take on even more if it had to! (Or maybe I was just ridiculously over caffeinated!)

I also got to know my gut a bit better - that it is a sensitive beast.. and it will turn into the incredible hulk regardless after 50k!! And it's great I also know what it needs to calm back down..

Mentally I was fully ready to complete the Stampede. I made up my mind very early on that unless I was physically broken, I would wrap it up one way or another. I was a bit apprehensive in the last few weeks before Buffalo because my training was less than ideal, but other than that it was as if the 75k was already completed in the head, and the physical body simply needed to catch up!

What made it even easier was having the great company of like-minded folks (Jamie, Gavin & Grace) for the final 25k. Gavin told me he was going to finish even if it took him longer than 17 hours, Jamie was suffering big time with gut & feet issues (that made my last year's suffering laughable) decided he just wanted to finish (he came all the way from Sydney!).. and Grace, who was just after some company to tackle the darkness was steady & strong which helped.. four of us got together at Bucklands aid station & were happy to complete the run together.

On hindsight, having their company was actually fantastic not only because we could look out for each other tackling the steep hills in the dark, we could bounce off words of encouragement & do fist pumps & crack jokes & share salt-tablets etc.. naturally we can't always plan to have company to help get through the tough bits in an ultra (& even if you do get company who's to say they will be good/positive company?? they may turn into werewolves!!) - but just saying there's no harm embracing it because the company WILL help.

OK let me get down & dirty into it section by section:

Race prep

Wasn't the most ideal preparation but decided I would make up with rest with sheer will power! I was happy with the amount of hill-climbs I've done, but not too happy with the endurance training..

Working against last year's lessons - I learnt how to tape my entire feet properly to avoid blisters (for me a game changer), single layer top for temp regulation, and stuck with the good fitting & soft-soled Karrimor shoes.. not the ideal shoes in terms of quality but as long as it was fit for race-day it'll have to do. Last few days before Buffalo I felt very relaxed & slept well - which always helps.

General race plan

Use last year's timings as a guide, take it easier on first 2 climbs, aim for first 52k & then keep moving! Minimal solid foods & get ready to tackle gut issue! Hug wife at aid stations! Finish the damn run within cut-off!

Pretty color-coordinated bunch aren't we? Grey, Blue, Red.. Photo credit: Aurora Images

Start - Mystic - Bakers Gully

The climb up to Mystic felt longer than last year's, the route also felt a bit different from memory (it seemed to snake in & out the direct fire-trail climb a bit more?).. the body was moving OK, however wasn't expecting to use as much energy as I did ~ made mental note to self to reserve bit more for the 1st climb to Mystic next time (if there's a next time). Bumped into Kevin at the top of Mystic & he confirmed the route is indeed different this year! Aha! I wasn't imagining things after all.. picked up some pace descending towards Mick's track.

Mick's track was more powdery & dry compared to last year's muckiness. So it felt easier for traction but required a fair amount of bum-sliding moments as well.

Mick's Track in its full glory

Clearspot - Eurobin (25k - 4h 06min)

Photo credit: Aurora Images
Didn't linger at BG & went straight to tackle the big bad Clearspot. Everyone was going up around the same pace & as expected, the climb was relentless but manageable. The legs (& poles) were ready for it.. no mental surprises.. made it up in one piece (didn't really check the time). All was good..

Didn't linger at Clearspot either & started the long descent to Bucklands. The view was not as spectacular as last year's so wasn't really distracted. Nearly rolled my ankle over a small rock & had to double-focus on the trail I was running on. Kept reminding myself to focus, because if there was one section where my ankle would buckle again, this would be it! Focus Bin Focus!!

Caught up with Gavin. Ran with him for a bit & then went ahead.. by the end of the long descent & into the roads towards Bucklands, the quads started to pinch just a wee bit.. signs of early cramps (that was quick!). Started sipping more tailwind to up the salt.. stay with me Quads!

The view as we approached Bucklands aid station is as breathtaking as I remembered it. Thought to myself this would be where I'd station if I was event photographer! Marched on gingerly on that thought..

Ain't she a beauty

High-fived all the kiddies, the wife & SCTR crazies as I approached the aid station, was truly great to see them!.. I was feeling great & didn't linger long at the aid station. Took in some chips & moved on. Mind was pretty set on getting to Eurobin at this stage..

Power hiked over Keating Ridge with a couple who were seasoned runners from Sydney. They were moving great but had concerns over cut-off & overall strategy being newbies.. shared as much as I could. Before long, we were trudging along the road towards Eurobin.. reach around the same time as last year (4:06)

Big Walk - Chalet (35k - 6h 42min)

2014 vs 2015
After a quick 5-7min, I was out of Eurobin. No solid food of course. I had taken in just more chips & salt tablet to prevent the cramps..tightness on the front quad was getting more apparent. Wondered whether it was due to compression trail shorts I was wearing which had particular squeeze on the front quads.. anyway couldn't possibly run without shorts so had to start the Big Walk climb regardless..

Did a big section of Big Walk with another runner Gareth (I think) - had a good chat about everything under the sun with him, which helped keep the mind distracted. A long slow trudge & I didn't push too hard as I'm mindful about pacing myself. Shortly after reaching the flatter part I broke away from Gareth.. the legs were happier on the flats & moved into Chalet feeling good.

Chalet - Galleries - Chalet (42k - 8h 16min)

The gut wasn't too happy with Tailwind during the climb.. and was slowly turning against powergels too. Changed Tailwind to Heed & needed to sip more water to calm the unhappy gut.

The wifey said to lose the poles going into the Galleries loop coz there was going to be rabbit holes to crawl through etc. I did so without hesitating.. a mistake upon hindsight, this is a difficult 7k & there were still several ups & downs that needed tackling.. had to just put hand on quads & push.

Rabbit hole.. nice & cooling
As expected, 7k took me 1.5 hours to complete.. bumped into the Siqi & Anthony and had brief exchanges.. Siqi didn't look too flush (cramps) but Anthony was looking fresh ("but I feel so tireeeed").

The rabbit hole was a nice change. I was alone this time (last year there was a queue!) & the rocks were nice & cool it was tempting to just sit there & relax.

As soon as I cleared the 2nd rabbit hole, congratulated myself for that's the half-way mark! Yippee!

Pulling into Chalet, cowbells were music to the ears, (I think) Gareth came to cheer me on but couldn't recognise him.. I believe he had decided to pull out & had changed out of his running gear.. oh well, cheers buddy!

Hugged wife, took pictures, stretched quads, took on-board more Heed, more water and many more salt tablets.. I knew these were going be the 3x crucial ingredients for the rest of the journey. Left Chalet on a high & forgot poles.

Big Walk - Eurobin (52k - 9h 56min) 

Photo Credit: Wife
Messaged wife "Poles Eurobin" shortly after leaving Chalet - thank goodness it was downhill for next 10k. Didn't go thrashing the quads like last year as on a few occasions they were threatening to cramp. Had to go easy.. 1 or 2 runners overtook me. Energy level waning. Pretty much a lonely section. Pulled in at around same time as last year.

Decided to spend a bit more time at aid station to get things right before setting off. Changed top, changed head-wear, Heed, many more salt tablets, water, ate some fruits, chips, grabbed POLES.

Saw few more runners pull in inc Vanessa & everyone looking/feeling positive on finishing within cut-off. "Its only 25k, how many 25ks have you done?" Vanessa's words of wisdom as she left the aid station.. pretty much a 'just keep moving' plan from this point onwards.

7 hours for 25k - sounds ridiculously generous. But was it really?

Eurobin - Bucklands (61k - 11h 47min)

Shortly after starting the climb up Keating Ridge, new friend Jamie caught up with me.. he was looking in fine power-hiking form. I was surprised when he suggested whether I wanted to complete together as he was faster - it was getting dark & he wasn't in best of form in actual fact - threw up 5x times up Big Walk & his feet was hurting going downhill.. 5x times!! Jamie was surviving on watermelons & coke. I complimented him on his determination & decided it will be fine to stick together.

Several occasions he had asked me to run ahead if I wanted to (esp downhill) but I knew he was in pain, so we stuck together. He had suggested if we power-hiked the whole way back we could make it just fine. I had no timing target & decided to just take it easy & enjoy the rest of the journey as best possible! Just 3 more hills...

Breaching the 56k mark halfway up Keating Ridge, it was a new personal record for me. From that point onwards I was breaking new grounds. Secretly very proud (couldn't possibly hug Jamie). Before long Keating Ridge was done. 1 hill down.

The sun was gone for the day as we left Keating Ridge & pulled into Bucklands. We were also joined by Gavin & Grace. I think everyone could have slow-jogged intermittently but was happy to power-hike for a bit together & rest the legs. Cut-off was the only thing on everyone's mind & Jamie was reassuring us that we'll be fine. Everyone knew we had 2 big climbs coming & in the physical state we were in, it was perhaps best to stick together & support each other in case of anything.

Bucklands night fruit market! Photo credit: Piffles Inc

Bucklands - Bakers Gully (72k - 14h 42min)

Kissed the wife & left Bucklands after a short spell. Phoenix gave me & Gavin glow rings 'so that we can see you coming' bless that girl. We stuck together as we power-hiked our way to Clearspot. It was quite a long hike.. from a distance we could see Warners Wall - head-lamps flickering & all.. the body was tempted to jog but on hindsight it was best to save legs for the climb. Besides, Warners Wall was just a first section & its actually a very gentle slope that slowly gets steeper & steeper. The hidden 2nd section doesn't get seen until Warners Wall is cleared. Gavin had some trouble with his poles & was cursing in the silent of the evening..

And so the climb ensued. Heavy-breathing. Head-lamps shining directly onto a wall of dirt. Dust everywhere. Pushing hard with poles with small but consistent steps. Many short stops to catch breadth. Could hardly talk. Losing voice & could mainly speak softly when chatting to Gavin.

Gulps of Heed. Salt tablets. Small portion of gel. Every 20mins or so.

Funny moment when Gavin's phone suddenly rang while we were deep into the climb. It was Sophie.. she heard someone called Gavin who was with someone called Jamie had suffered cramps & needed medical attention. Gavin spoke between breaths explaining it wasn't us & he was fine & healthy & halfway tackling the big bad Clearspot with Bin.. :) what are the chances of such coincidence of names eh?

Warners Wall was utterly sapping. Hats off to last year's runners having to tackle this wall filled with mud! But if there was one section that drained me completely its the last 2k before summit of Clearspot.. in the darkness as we chugged on I remember seeing some lights at the top of hill & thought to myself  'that can't possibly be Clearspot.. that's too high up' ... but of course it turned out to be exactly that... & for the first time the mental determination was truly shaken.

This last 2k wasn't as gnarly as Warners, but at that point I was really struggling to find energy. Heed helped. Mouth & body didn't welcome anything else. Gut was gurgling everytime I ate gel. Burped a lot... relied heavily on the poles & moving very very slow.

Baby steps after baby steps, Clearspot was finally conquered. The other 3 were resting at the picnic table when I finally caught up with them. Jamie had his head down, Gavin & Grace seem to be holding up well. I sat down & could only stare blankly at the lights of Bright some distance away. A beautiful sight but could hardly muster enough energy to appreciate it. Wished I had at least snapped a selfie with the gang & the lights. But the thought hardly crossed my mind.

Jamie was getting cold & urged us to move on. We tackled the long downhill & nearly took wrong turns.. twice. Told Gavin this must've been where Siqi got lost last year. Anthony had went the wrong way in fact & did extra 2k (good thing he found his way again).

Seeing the camp-fire at Bakers Gully was invigorating. The vollies were cheerful & helpful - before long everyone had their energy restored & was pumped to get going again. 2 hills down. 1 last one to go!! We were all in a good head-space at that moment.

Bakers Gully.. too tired to eat watermelon normally. Photo credit: Kathy Swinkels

Bakers Gully - End (16h 35min)

As we left for Mystic, Grace remarked that whilst there are no man-eating animals in Oz it was good to have tackled the darkness in a group, Jamie & Gavin then mentioned wild boars are still able to make a mess on us & as if on cue.. sudden big movement in the bushes next to us.. :)

I felt happier going up Mystic. Still slow of course but had more energy & legs felt better. Had to let out a primal yell of joy when I finally cleared Mystic... waited for Gavin to tackle the downhill together. Before long we caught up with Grace & her husband & some other runners, we went zig-zagging down Mystic & it was very dusty. My head-lamp wasn't the strongest & it was hard to see & breathe with so much dust kicking up as we went downhill (I should add that back in the Inn after the run, clearing my snots they were actually brown with dust!!). I fell twice, fortunately took on no injuries.

Reaching the flats, Jamie & I were in front and we power-hiked the final 3k with hope that Gavin & Grace would catch up. And caught up they did in the final 1k.. spirits were high as we made our way past sleeping/snoring campers along Morse Creek...

And in the last 100m it was hard to hide a smile, we formed a line & jogged our way to the finishing..

Hugging the wife & thanking the SCTR supporters & heart-felt congratulations & showing of appreciation for Jamie, Gavin & Grace it was raw TRAIL LOVE at its very core.. and easily the biggest moment in my trail running 'career'. :))

Defining moment.. with Gavin, Jamie & Grace. Photo credit: Wife

75.5km with 4,545m elevation gain.. JOB DONE. Time to retire!

Now that the biggest race in the whole wide world is over for me.. I'm not rushing to commit to another event just yet. Going to be picky with my events & get back to just enjoying the trails.. perhaps try out rogaining & get some camping done?? :)

Hope the race report on Buffalo Stampede 2015 has been informative for those keen to take on next year's event. Thanks for reading folks! Happy running!

A collection of our beautiful faces for memory lane... :)


High-fiving the ever-awesome Kirsten! 

The super-moms & super crew.. without whom the hubbies are nothing!

Superman Tim!

Up up & away! (Anthony looks like he's strangling himself :D)

Here's a quick link to my 2014 Buffalo DNF experience.. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Heel-Toe Drop - It Matters..

Yes.. the whole heel-toe drop thing has landed on my door-step.

Can't afford to ignore the topic given I have suffered two incidents of ankle sprains in the past 4 months. The last one I'm in the midst of nursing!

I put the blame on my own ignorance & over-confidence in the strength of my ankles & joints which I had previously thought were indestructible. Turns out they weren't!

I have been training in the Salomon XT Hornet in technical terrains because that's what this shoe is built for right? Sure, to a certain extent. The reality is - it's only half the story. While it is built like a tank, the mid & outsole are actually pretty stiff.. while this is great for durability, it also means it doesn't quite mold to the terrain much. Add the 10.5mm heel-toe drop, your heels end up pretty high off the ground & you're really putting strain on your ankles in compensating for the lack of stability in such technical terrains. Imagine cruising downhill, you'll effectively be increasing the heel-toe drop with the incline, throw in a random small rock along the path... lets just say you had better have ankles of steel. That was basically how I sprained my ankle on both occasions..double ouches.

So I learnt the hard way why shoe drops are important considerations for trail-runners. As well as checking how stiff the soles are (& how long they stay that way). I have scoured the internet since to read up & understand more about drops - so far an article in sums it up pretty neatly in this article, thought I'd share it here... so read up & be knowledged!

So what is the perfect drop? At the end of the day, that’s up to you. Your terrain, biomechanical needs, and personal preferences determine your ideal combination of drop, cushioning, and support. The “minimalist movement” isn’t defined by the lightest, lowest drop shoe you can find; rather its all about finding the least amount of shoe you need to enjoy running efficiently and injury free. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Higher drop shoes (10mm+) lower the levels of active cushioning required by the body and quicken the toe-off. In other words, the impact of your stride requires less tension in you foot/arch/ankles/calves/knees/quads, and immediately rolls your foot forward to toe off. The trade-off: these shoes can be heavier, less stable in technical terrain, and make active cushioning muscles weak and injury prone (i.e. IT Band Syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and patellar tendonitis).

Lower drop shoes (0-8mm) allow more arch and ankle articulation for better trail feel and are generally lighter, with less material. However, they also require increased active cushioning (muscles and tendons you use running barefoot to cushion your stride), and require a runner to power through their turnover with their own feet.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Healed Foot Clinic - Blister Prevention Taping by Anna Beetham

For those who suffer foot blisters incessantly as I do, here are some great clips on blister prevention taping by podiatrist Anna & best practices for long runs, she recommends using Fixomull tape ("it's gold").. off I pop to the chemist to get some..

Healed Foot Clinic 1- Blister Prevention Taping (heels)
Healed Foot Clinic 2 - Blister Prevention Taping (big toe)
Healed Foot Clinic 3 - Blister Prevention Taping (toes)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Salomon XT Hornet / Fellraiser - Product Review

So. I've been told several times that Salomon shoes are rather narrow & surprise surprise.. I was very happy to learn that the XT Hornet (& most likely XT Wings 3) are actually kinda wide..

With online shopping (that many Aussies do) we're victims of many trials & errors - I'm hoping with this entry I can help some of you who may be thinking of getting these Salomon shoes but are unsure about fitting etc.

My feet are kinda wide, & I need bit more cushioning in the Achilles heel area. But how wide?

Here's how my feet measures up:

Widest at 11cm & kinda fat throughout, Length is 25.3cm.. 
The XT Hornet at UK 9.5 fits very nicely for my 11cm wide/ 25.3 long feet.. my feet do not feel squeezed at the sides & I have sufficient toe box area. The XT Hornet offers more cushioning at the Achilles heel compared to the Fellraiser so I definitely feel I have found the right Salomon shoe & size. Having said that during my initial run the sole felt quite stiff & I'll probably be putting another layer of sole just for added cushioning - however this could improve as I slowly break into the shoe - we shall see. All in all pretty damn chuffed about them so far.. they are sturdy for the mountain trails but not as elaborate as the XA Pro Ultra 3D & my favourite feature being the wide heel outsole which is awesome for stability..

UPDATE 16Feb2015 - Read more here on the stiff sole & my 2 ankle sprains!

The S-LAB Fellraiser at UK 9.0 (& my previous Salomon shoes ie. XA Pro Ultra 3D) definitely feels a bit tight width-wise compared to the XT Hornet. If you have narrower feet than my 11cm you may find them a good fit. Having said that the Fellraiser has its place - light, grippy, low-profile, fast - I use it for short mucky flat-ish fast trails, not too technical... protection against jagged rocks is minimal (you will feel them sharp rocks, no rock plate), if your Achilles heel needs more cushioning like mine during steep climbs these won't quite cut it.. coz cushioning material is kept to a minimal & if your heel digs into the back of the shoe like mine does, you're not gonna like the friction. Keeping to shorter trails my feet don't swell as much & wearing them with thin socks - they do alright.

Here are some further comparison:

Fellraiser - narrow, fast & streamlined / Hornet - wide, sturdy & stable 
Lugs - Fellraiser's lugs are almost twice the thickness!
In the mucky trails they did cake up pretty quickly.. but I'm not complaining
Archilles heel cushioning - Hornet offers more & Fellraiser minimal
Outsole - widest is my Karrimor Excel - the Hornet is next & Fellraiser narrow

Well - nothing much to compare from the top - just a nice color contrast!

Quite frankly I'm just glad I found a Salomon shoe that I can actually wear for my big runs! Once again I think the XT Hornet is very similar for the XT Wings 3 - their profiles looks almost identical & hopefully many of the info for Hornet can apply to the Wings as well...

Well hope my short & sweet product review info has helped folks.. Happy Salomon shopping & trail running!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Karrimor Excel - Product Review

I wasn't expecting much when I purchased the Karrimor Excel from a Sportsdirect store out of desperation. I had no suitable shoes leading up to Buffalo Stampede and was pleasantly surprised by the fit & cushioning of the Karrimor Excel when I tried them on. I'm still putting this entry up because after some minor tweaks to the shoes I did feel confident they would bring me through Buffalo & Macedon - both pretty gruelling trail events.. and they did. 

First Impressions - when I still in the store, studying the material used I wasn't expecting these shoes to last very long - the laces were of poor quality & were too elastic to be effective. however it had a wide heel base which I liked & once again, it just felt very cushiony & comfy (more than the Salomons & Hokas). The fit was good for my wide feet as well so I couldn't ask for more given they were also retailed at less than MYR200 (~ AUD70). I knew I had to modify the laces & it could potentially work OK.

Here's a quick breakdown of the good & bad:

Here's the before-after the lace modification.. as expected the shoe performed much better with normal laces
The wide heel base.. great for downhill stability

The sole design & material is grippy in muddy conditions & cushiony - but is quick to wear & tear - see following pics.

Cushioning was pretty normal to start with, training in them it wasn't long before I had to add extra soles to provide the cushioning I wanted.. 

All in all - I would recommend these shoes if you're after a low-budget trail shoe & especially if you're a wide-feet like me. These shoes while not perfect are pretty comfortable. I think its inevitable the laces need replacement. The sole design works well in muddy wet conditions - they don't retain mud cakes too easily either. They would last a bit longer too if you're not doing technical trails all the time but don't expect them to last quite as long as the bigger brands eg. Salomon & Hokas.

Here are some links for more info:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Macedon 50k - Sweet Brutality..

It is hard to imagine it was just last Sunday I made that rather strained leap across the finish line, hammies hammered & fingers frozen, but with such sweet elation.. :) I have my wife to thank for these memorable finishing shots, completing the Macedon 50k felt absolutely fantastic only because it lived up to the toughness that everyone had described it to be. I'm proud that I finished with little left in the legs - I pushed myself hard in the final 2k climb & executed pretty much as planned!

And not-so-secretly it was also the mini-redemption for the DNF at Buffalo.. the 'rebound' run :) While the two are very different runs, Macedon is no push-over either & demanded serious mental & physical commitment (for me anyway!). It felt like I've tied up some loose ends from Buffalo & reinstated that important feeling of completion..

This year we also had a contrasting lovely weather. Personally I would've enjoyed a bit of rain & muck but the weather was certainly more welcoming in general compared to last year's weather el miserables.. race organisation was great but Brett seemed a little bit short on volunteers.. directions & ribbons were a-plenty but certain sections it was still possible to take wrong turns.

Anyway. Let's jump into the race recap....

The General Plan was very similar to last year's.. broke it down to chunks of 10k - I gave myself a bit more breathing space for the first 30k and set the target for 4:30hrs (1:20, 1:30, 1:40)... I knew I would be slowing down despite a general downhill profile for 30-40k so I planned for 1:30 for this section. For the next section heading out & back from the tunnels I gave myself about 1:00 & another 1:00 for the final big climb & finishing - 8:00 hours in total. I would remind myself to stay fresh for the first 20k... expect tiredness to kick going into 35k - and then good ol grinding as I push beyond 40k onwards.

My Garmin recorded 2351m elevation gain & 52.5km in distance

0-30k - Overall the first 30k was still tough-going despite a slower pace.. I wasn't going particularly fast but managed to catch up with some runners as the kilometres went by.. I was pleasantly surprised I could feel some energy surge with the Amazeballs & they seemed like a good complement to the Tailwind I was sipping (it doesn't fill my hunger pangs unfortunately)..

The technical downhills helped make up time & I thoroughly enjoyed descending fast & with confidence.. I was moving well on the muddy technical descents especially but the rocky bits were still a bit challenging - the Karrimor shoes I was wearing has been wearing thin & I would get a sharp jab every now & then from the rocks... I remember thinking HOKAs would've been perfect tackling all these blasted sharp rocks.. if only HOKAs made their shoes wider it would possibly be the perfect shoes for me.

It was great to see the lovely SCTR folks at the SCTR aid station 3 - seeing familiar friendly faces in the middle of the woods cheering you on is nothing short of golden :)

Yuan, Erin & Gary showering wearied runners with their loving smiles

The views at around 18km mark, last year it was totally shrouded in mist.. 

As I slowly approached 30k I was tempted to push for a sub-4 like last year but I had to remind myself to stick to the plan, the real goal is 52k! Besides, I could feel blisters were forming & I did not want to aggravate it by pounding the trails too hard.

Blister woes.. (again)

I started working on the blisters straight away as I arrived at 30k. The Injinji socks I was wearing were too thin for this rather technical terrain & fortunately I brought my thicker pair. I didn't rush myself as I knew I needed to get them fixed up properly or I'd never complete the run... after 8min of plasters, restocking of gel , Amazeballs & a kiss from the wife I was off!

30-40k - Heading out I got a bit confused with the directions, I asked some runners for direction but nobody seem to be sure. I slowed down & doubled-back a few times to make sure I did not take the wrong turn (I feel that pushing hard & finding out you've gone completely the wrong way is the worst possible thing to happen to runners..)

I enjoyed the short downhill from the Memorial Cross but facing the never-ending long undulations of fire trails between 30-40k was very mental for me. My legs were starting to feel the strain with every short & sharp climbs. I could feel a wall was coming & paid more attention to my nutrition intake every 20-30mins. Finally seeing the O'Briens at the 40k aid station felt like a mini achievement on its own!

Sweet sweet trails along 30-40k.. 

40-48k - Asking "where the hell are these damn tunnels??" is probably is the only thing I remember while running this stretch... I was happy a mini 2nd-wind came at around 43k & arriving at the aid station it was great to see a smiling Regan running out to greet me :).. it turned out the first tunnel was just a couple of metres down where the aid station was via a short unmarked trail..

How beautiful is this.. 


Heading into the the 2nd tunnel I was in familiar territory, Vonsy & I had done a short recce few weeks back in that area & I knew I was on the return loop coming out of the 2nd tunnel. As I made the turn back towards the 40k aid-station, the final 2k big climb had started...

48-52.5k - Waving goodbye to the O'Briens for the 2nd time, I knew I had less than an hour if I wanted to hit my target time. I must've stopped & stretched my tired quads about a hundred times as I plodded as fast as I could up to the top. At that point there was no question I would finish the run, it was just about how much I would push myself. Macedon gave me a great chance to exercise the mental fortitude lessons I learnt from Buffalo... I threw in all the positive thoughts I could think of I was almost nagging myself all the way to the finishing line!

"Everyone else is going through the same pain right now, what's the big deal? KEEP MOVING!!"

"What did you expect? OF COURSE the course is tough, that's why you signed up!! Move your ASS!!"

"It's Mothers Day, think of mom!! You CAN'T stop!!"

There was a brief scare when I must've taken in too big a chunk of Amazeballs & I could feel my tummy was in rejection mode & small burps & tiny heaves started rearing their ugly heads... thankfully after forcing a huge burp, my tummy was back on form.

Seeing the Memorial Cross was such a tease. You knew you are so close now yet your legs can go no faster. You keep pushing but they are not moving, they only respond by staying in the first gear. And just when you're all numbed out, you finally pop out from the woods & onto the tar road filled with tourists visiting the Cross all looking perplexed, wondering why is there a man in running tights looking like he is running away from the Cross & about to collapse any time.. :)

But of course the final 2.5k is where it would mentally hurt the most. Almost by instinct your first thought is YES I've done it! I've conquered the mountain & the finishing line is just around the corner (& it physically is, I did nearly run direct to the finishing!).. but nooooooo... you got to loop round it for another 2.5k! And while you're quietly cursing away there's a little hill thrown in as well... the final icing on the quad-busting Macedon cake..

But alas, after 7:53 hours of sweet brutality & mountain fun - I would be finally done.

With my wife & friends cheering as I crossed the finishing line.. it was a beautiful day for a beautiful run. A happy day. Nothing beats the feeling of completing something that you know has pushed your boundaries & it's such a great feeling being able to share the experience with all the fellow exhausted runners :)

Macedon continues to impress & if you're thinking of a decent challenge for yourself or just to experience trail running in a beautiful setting - definitely sign up for 2015.. until next time folks, happy trail running!

Finishing joys... courtesy of Yuan/Brett

Nutrition planning - Tailwind + Amazeballs + Gels + Snickers!

Dedicated to my dearest mom, Happy Mothers Day Ma!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Buffalo Stampede Ultra Sky Marathon 2014 - Gored & Gutted...

My first ever DNF..... and boy it sure sucks!! :)

Disappointed? It's hard not to be :) Mentally I was ready. But physically I couldn't deliver. Nutrition planning was torn to shreds by the Buffalo.. in short, I was out of my league in the 75k event that day.

Am I proud though? For sure. Would've loved a successful execution but personal milestones were reached that day regardless. Highest elevation gain (2900m+) & longest run to date (>10hours) ! I've given it much thought since & I recall how Vonsy & me staring at the elevation graph going 'NO WAY' back in January. And there were cut-off times to think about. And that was just for the 42k. We left it late signing up for it because we knew how much training would be needed to even have the confidence to toe the starting line.. so this has been a milestone for sure despite the DNF.

Overall thoughts? One helluva route! I have truly fallen in love with Mt Buffalo despite the punishing course. The views were really unexpected especially as I was going round the Chalet loop. Loved the waterfall & streams along the rock face, that was truly memorable.

As for the run, with the poor nutrition execution I probably left about 90% of me (& my guts) out there when I stopped at the 52k Eurobin mark. Doing the Big Walk with just water & raisins took too big a chunk out of me. For the remaining 10%, the way I see it Keating Ridge would have eaten up 6% easily. And I would have 4% left for both Clear Spot & Mystic. Meaning I would be extremely extremely slow for the last 2 climbs. It was 50-50 making cut-off at 17.5 hours (most likely caving at Baker's Gully). Reaching Eurobin the rain started pouring, the muddy slopes of the final two hills played in my mind. But it wasn't the muddy slopes that deterred me (Vonsy knew that when she said "you know you love the rain!"). Too true. I love rain. I love mud. I would've relished the experience doing them in the dark too! I wasn't afraid of the challenge ahead.

I was simply exhausted.

Since the Chalet loop I could feel my body slowly shutting down on me. I knew I would have to live with the DNF decision.. so it had to be for a bloody good reason. Going on I would be pushing beyond what my body was prepared to give... & there certainly would be repercussions (ie. worst fear being injuries, crewing for Vonsy like a zombie or not at all etc).


1) Bright - Mystic - Baker's Gully (7.6km) (time 1:13 target 1:30)
Felt good at the start. But climbing Mystic I felt I was going a bit too hard too early, heart rate was high, but happy I was ahead of target reaching Baker's Gully. Enjoyed the muddy descent. Knew I had to bring heart rate down for next climb.

2) Baker's Gully - Clear Spot - Bucklands (15.2km) (time 2:35 target 3:30)
Poles helped, marching up Clear Spot in small steps, feeling surprisingly strong, heart rate was OK, happy long descent again. Lovely views. Wasn't too troubled by the steep muddy downhills.

The view as we descended Clear Spot
Enroute to Bucklands.. Buffalo awaits..

3) Bucklands - Keating Ridge - Eurobin (24.3km) (time 3:55 target 5:00)
Shouldn't have taken a 2nd cup of Coke at Bucklands aid station but gassy discomfort eased out eventually. First sign of lethargy (that was quick!) going up Keating Ridge, body was sweating a lot more than usual, kept hydrating, poles were helping but legs were slowing down.. a happy downhill but socks were getting damped from the sweat & could feel blisters slowly forming, reached Eurobin sub-4, 1hour ahead of target. Changed out of attire, felt better. Had sushi rice, watermelon, refill electrolytes.. great to see the SCTR crew & supporters!! No sign of wife though! Boo!  

Excessively sweaty...

4) Eurobin - Chalet (35km) (time 6:43)
Started the climb just after 4hours feeling good! Even took a selfie. But 15 mins into climb trouble started... I started belching, the tummy was revolting!! Couldn't believe it. A little stitch was forming & I threw up.. right after that I felt like I got hit by a freight train. Told myself to take mini-steps & keep climbing. Wanted to take in something to fight the lethargy but tummy was just angry... had to take in water, some little raisins slowly & gently. The climb was getting harder & I was overtaken by few runners. Motivation was down. But had to keep pushing. Sign of cramps but with every sip of electrolytes there was belching.. feeling bloated. Threw up again as I heaved air into the tummy. Tried to breathe through nose & chest instead.. was zoning in & out at times. Rested more frequently. Nausea every time I squatted or bent down. Dakota goes zooming by... followed by Ben & Blake.... damn these kids are fast, had to keep climbing. Raisins & water.

Don't let the smile fool ya... I was in much pain!

DNF first appears in my head. Dissapointed my body was like that. Kept climbing. At one of the road junctions, bumped into Beth Cardelli CYCLING up Buffalo.. "hows it going??" she & the road marshal asked.. I stuck my tongue out & shook my head, "Keep Going!!" they cheered me on.. I'm trying, definitely trying.

Finally made it to rock-face. Inspired by view!! Needed the distraction. Tummy seemingly recovering.. but legs has taken its toll... feeling very weak. Slow climb on rock face section. Washed face & sipped at streams & loving the views. Thought about TMBT how it was enjoyable because there was no pressure of cut-offs. Had to think positive like that again. Was feeling fresher towards the top, could run a bit but very slow.. overall feeling very tired & disappointed despite tummy feeling less angry.

Entering the flats towards aid station at Chalet spirit picked up a bit, bumped into more runners descending including Chris, Tim, Isaac, Jacinta etc.. finally approaching Chalet, with cow-bells ringing I was just happy to have made it. Shared tummy agony stories with everyone.

Elated that I made it to Chalet.. 
Face of pain.. much contemplation took place on that rock!

Ron & Matt had finished the loop looking strong. Wished I could feel strong like them. Wanted to push on but had doubts. Vonsy convinced me to do the 7k loop first before deciding. Swapped out all my electrolytes to Heed, had some food (thanks Sharon!), 10mins later I pushed on. It's just 7k anyway........... right?

Ron & Matt looking solid.. Photo credit: Claire

5) Loop - Chalet (42km) (time 8:22 target 8:00)
Wrong... plenty of climbs to tackle still & could only muster a sad shuffle on the flats.. muscles were terribly strained. Still could do descents. Bumped into a smiling Siqi looking good & moving well. Bit of traffic jam at rabbit holes section, one lady was having difficulty. Chit-chatted to several runners while waiting & was a nice distraction. Was now purely on Heed & mini-snickers & raisins, had energy but legs would scream whenever there's ascent. Was losing both speed & motivation... longest 7k ever.

Face says it all.. 

Lingered & discussed DNF with Vons & Alexa, waited for Gregor to show up to decide whether to push on. A running partner would certainly help. The girls suggested just do the 10k of downhill first. It was do-able as I could still do descents. Conflicting thoughts. Mainly thinking about the 3 hills ahead. I could tackle Keating Ridge slowly but last 2 hills would have finished me off before I could make cut-off. Unless my legs recovered somehow. Gregor returns & decided to pull-out (damn you Gregor!). I doubted again... rested nearly 30mins. Finally decided to tackle the downhill for personal reasons (had to take something back from Buffalo) & call it a day. NO regrets. Patched up blisters (thanks Medic!), changed socks (with arch of sole cramping!!) & pushed off.

Medics have the best job... 

7) Big Descent - Eurobin (52k) (time 10:04 target 10:30)
Ran my heart out. Loved the descent. Left it all out there. Tackled the technicals with confidence. Overtook at least 6-7 runners... I was taking something back from Buffalo finally. Soaked it all in. For once I was smiling. Had to take a last snap of the view....

Finally crossed Eurobin creek bridge at 10 hours mark. Clocked just over an 1hr on descent. Legs smashed. NO regrets...

Legs smashed... 
Big D & Lib hearing me out as I call it quits.. supportive as ever! 

At Eurobin, Jon told me Keating Ridge would just take 2 hours. God knows I was tempted. I would take 2.5 hours possibly. Told Buffalo official I needed 10mins to think about whether to DNF. Sat on the grass & rain started pouring.. SCTR crew all over me. So nice to see them. I love running in the rain. It was a terrible tease from the almighty. I was waiting for some invigoration from the rain.. it didn't come.

Finally DNFed at 10:11mins. I was done for the day. The Buffalo won.

Lessons learnt? Plenty! Like many other we entered this run blind, no idea of the terrain we're facing, no idea of the mental & physical capacity required etc.. here's some of my precious lessons learnt:

1) Nutrition - we stuck to what we were comfy with, what we knew: mini-snickers, gels, trail mix, some sushi rice, electrolytes.. on hindsight, the electrolytes could have been too concentrated & needed to be more diluted. I believe that was the ultimate trigger for my tummy upset after Eurobin (I had refilled my electrolytes which were pre-prepared & it did taste more concentrated) & I had possibly taken in too much calories, I feel I often make the mistake of trying to take in too much... often causing discomfort to the tummy. Naturally nutrition effects are very subjective, so for me now I know I need to spread out calorie intake, & pack up enough for the journey instead of eating extra at aid stations, ensure electrolytes are diluted sufficiently or try brands that are easier on the tummy (eg. Heed)... need to look into liquid fuel, smaller moist edibles like chomps, raisins, anti-fatigue caps & even extra salt-tablets.. basically a more serious approach is needed to nutrition planning. And more long hard runs to test them with.

2) Gear - putting on the Buffalo vest I felt it was already a wrong move. Should have taken it off straight after flag-off as planned.. it was retaining too much heat & while I was doing OK climbing Mystic with it - it was getting too much for Clear Spot onwards as the day got warmer. By the time I reached Eurobin I was excessively sweaty. This must've accelerated my eventual lethargy & system upset. ONLY stick to an attire you know works for you.

3) Blisters - I also had blister woes, blisters has always been a major concern but thankfully with the switch to Injinji socks & wider shoes, blister occurrence seem to have gone away during training runs. However during the run, with damp Injinjis I still had blisters occuring.. so definitely still put plenty of glide/blister bombers regardless. And stick to the thinner Injinjis for quick-dry effect.

4) Shoes - this is more of a pre-race lesson learnt. Had major shoe woes leading to the run, the Rapa Nuis were a poor fit for me (too small & narrow at toe box) & I knew I couldn't run in them for Buffalo, I bought a pair of Fellraiser but it was causing discomfort to my heel during climbs (not enough cushioning), I ended up running with a little known brand Karrimor (bought in Malaysia) that surprisingly gave me the fit & comfort I needed. I was just thankful I had comfortable shoes to run with. More importantly the type of fitting I should be running with for long distances.

5) Scheduling - I've also learnt that the plan to crew for each other was probably not very wise. While I did not want her to wait for me at the finishing, me tackling the dangerous run conditions towards the end could've affected her run the next day to some degree (whatmore if I got myself injured or lost). And even if I did finish, I would've been useless the next day crewing for her too. So I feel it did play in the mind as well this particular point.. we possibly need to tackle events on same day or allow sufficient time in between.

6) Mental Preparation - on the point of thoughts playing in the mind, its been such an eye-opener for me & the wifey knowing now how much more mental-planning we needed to do for all the possible outcomes from a tough run. Going into it, we had general time targets but did not have similar 'mental targets' if you can call it that... following from my point above regarding scheduling, it links up to questions that we should've asked.... will I have mental reservations? am I truly ready to give it totally everything? what do I do when the DNF demons come visiting again? under what conditions will I pull-out? etc etc.. yea we always put in our best effort but without personally experiencing our own mental limits we never would've really known the importance of breaking it down further & what it is to be really 'mentally-prepared'... well NOW WE DO! :D

So will I be back?

Most probably?? DNF sure is a terrible feeling to hold on to! (slowly easing though), maybe because I feel cheated by my own lack of preparation, and I was gored & gutted by the Buffalo as a result. However now that I've had a taste of it, the 75k is definitely within reach. Will I feel differently after a week? Don't know.. but looking at pictures, trying to re-live the moments now, I do feel I have unfinished business with the Buffalo... I may be gored & gutted but the experience has also galvanized my resolve! 

Can't thank the wifey & SCTR enough for crewing & cheering me on while I was out there. Can't believe I made Vons & Alexa swap out all the trail mix to just raisins and cranberries :D... You'll want a team like that if you're thinking of tackling the Buffalo.. :) I am also very happy for the SCTR runners (Chris, Tim, Isaac, Ron, Matt, Siqi, Alexa, Anthony, Vons) who completed the run successfully, there's much to learn from our strong runners & they continue to inspire me.

Thanks for reading folks, I hope this has given you sufficient motivation to take on Buffalo Stampede 2015! Golden last words would be - 'Don't be afraid of the big bad Buffalo, just be prepared for it!' and also 'Poles!' :D

Meanwhile do check out Vonsy's post on her Buffalo experience.. we share similar sentiments on our thoughts on the race organisation which you can read all about in her post. The event has huge potential & here's to a more fantastic one next year..

Onward to the next run!

Must continue from this moment again in my comeback..  :)

Photo credit to Vonsy, Ian Hoad, Claire, Libby & Dion