Buffalo Race Debrief – Tom Brazier

By March 27, 2017

Time to hit the ANZ Skyrunning champs! Inspired by the pain and suffering of our teammates (Mick, Issy and Clarke) the day before, Knighty and I awoke in the Sportiva house for a caffeine breakfast at 0530 sharp. A quick detour to collect Dave “Bambi” Byrne and we were off to the start with photo/beard master Andy King.

The field was deep and balanced – I figured there was even chance I’d be fighting for a podium, or could miss out on the top 10/DNF. This was going to be an exciting race with plenty of carnage. The marathon course hadn’t been run in the downhill direction before. This meant we could only speculate what the winning time would be.

To grossly approximate the course and splits:

  1. Downhill – technical single track and Big Walk downhill
  2. Flat* – mostly road running and fire trails
  3. Steep* – extreme gradient climbs and descents plus a flat finish that goes forever when you’re cramping

*I know, arguably you’d put the B-C boundary at the base of Warner’s Wall, but for convenience I’ve placed it at the top of clear spot, where the timing mat was.

Naturally some runners are going to be stronger on different parts of the course. This combines with your pacing/energy strategy to produce your overall result. A lot of people have been speculating about some runners going out too hard, but it’s important to remember this overlay/combination of factors. Essentially you can aim to use your pacing strategy to amplify your strengths, moderate your weaknesses, or maintain neutral balance. My goal was to cruise efficiently over the first half then finish strong in the steep stuff – ultimately my recent lack of running mileage caught up with me and I faded/cramped on Mystic (Mick’s track took me 14mins to stagger up, compared to 11mins a couple of years ago during the ultra!).

 

The variety of terrain also caused a dilemma for shoe choice. You needed sticky rubber for wet rock, studs for slick mud/loose dirt, lightweight for road running, protection for violent rocky descents. I went with the old school La Sportiva Anakonda – pretty much like a Mutant with the heel cut out. They performed flawlessly and I didn’t have to think about my toes/grip/feet for the whole race – just my cramping hips!

Conditions were extremely muggy and hot. In combination with the rapid pace and extreme changes of terrain, this was the perfect storm to decimate the field – with plenty of cramping and stomach problems leading to DNFs in the latter half of the race. You can see how saturated everybody is in pics from the race.

Naturally, the downhill guys went out hard in section A to get an advantage over the roadies/climbers. I stayed relaxed and controlled my breathing, kept taking in fluids/calories. The middle section B would be dominated by quick leg speed runners e.g. Bambi and Vajin. The final section C would suit strong legs and fast climbers (as well as conservative pacing). Ultimately Vajin’s consistency won out (and his remarkable ability/determination to run up the entire top half of Clear Spot!) but it was interesting to see the lead yo-yo throughout the race.

 

 

So who wins out of downhill devils (A split), flat speedsters (B split) or steep mountain goats (C split)? The way I see it, the answer depends on how far through the field you were:

  • At the top end of the race, the best predictor of finishing position was the flat speed in the middle section. The red dots show the split for B and the overall ranking being strongly aligned. Vajin, Dave and I were 1-2-3 in both the B splits and overall rankings. This suggests that the fastest runners will still win, even on this hilly/downhill course.
  • As we shift the focus toward mid and back of pack runners, the time spent on Mystic and Clear Spot becomes a stronger indicator, eventually overtaking flat speed for the best predictor of overall ranking. I think this reflects that consistency and endurance is important to finish strongly for most people.
  • Downhill time on Buffalo consistently retains the weakest correlation with finish position, for fast and slower runners alike. This reinforces the notion that it is simply a buy-in/warm-up to be survived before the real race gets going.

https://youtu.be/c1u0rQR36Pk

You can see my degradation from cheerful to pooped over the course of the race (excuse any rude language!). Thanks to Luke Preston for the unique insight into the race atmosphere near the front of the field – backing it up after his 4th place in the ultra! It was fun to see so many friendly faces out on course to cheer us on, fill our bottles or smack our sweaty butts.

Thanks to Sean and Mel (Mountain Sports) for putting on a wicked race, La Sportiva Australia for their ongoing support and all the runners/spectators/volunteers for contributing to such an exciting atmosphere.