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