Buffalo needed to be about running, not racing. I had lost fitness, muscle mass and my kidneys and liver were not functioning optimally, but worst of all, I had lost my confidence.
Enough doom and gloom…I could run again…WOOT!
On the Friday evening Joe and I arrived in Bright, immediately I could feel the vibe was awesome! Everywhere I looked I saw people dressed like runners, my trail family!
This is what I love, it is community, it is authentic and it is more healing than any drug!
Saturday Morning: Buffalo Sky Ultra - I was volunteering for this event and was time keeping at the top of the Clear Spot climb. I love being on the other side of the fence, and it was awesome seeing all the amazing ultra runners come through this point! As they reached the summit and descended down the other side, one thing became very apparent…no one had a clean backside…they were nearly ALL covered in mud! OH DEAR…’what IS this course?’ I thought! I feel like I could write a whole report about this race, but I will refrain.
After a celebratory early meal with friends that night I went back to our room feeling…overwhelmed. What am I doing here? I thought. Surely I can’t do this? I took an hour or more to get my gear ready and then closed my eyes.
Race morning, Joe and I popped on our packs and headed down to the start line. I was feeling NERVOUS! I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t want to chat to anyone. My voice was shaking and I had an overwhelming desire to scream, “I shouldn’t be doing this!” But I wanted to, I wanted to move through the mountains feeling comfortable, I wanted to feel completely connected to my body, my breath, to the mountains and nature itself. (Sorry, I know I’m a bit of a hippy)
I needed to find out if ‘it’ was still in me.
After initially walking up to the front of the start line, I did a quick self-check and settled back to the middle of pack. I felt happier there…hidden amongst the fog of nervous cold breath and the wafting aroma of Dencorub.
It starts. I’m running. I’m doing this. “Just one perfect step Jo, just one perfect step”. This has been my mantra for over a year now and I was so glad to have it at the start of this race. It took my focus off all the stories my mind was telling me about why I shouldn’t be running and set my mind and body to the business of putting one foot in front of the other in the most perfect way possible. All my nerves were gone and as I started to climb up the base of mystic, here I had a distinct moment of mental pause…I was doing it, I was feeling it, and I’m still me.
The mystic climb, the first on the buffalo menu, was steep but runnable and very beautiful! It began with switch backing muddy single track leading into some wider and steeper trail. I was running this section with friends and finding my flow. I was relieved to reach the top of mystic, climb 1 done! I was feeling stronger and freer with each step. The descent off Mystic, in particular ‘mick’s track’ was hilarious. As soon as reached the top of it and looked down, all of the muddy butts from the day before made sense! I loved tricky descents and I moved pretty well down here thanks to very good shoe choice, I passed a lot of people using all sorts of creative methods of getting themselves to the bottom.
The next hill on the menu was Clear Spot, the steepest climb of the race. I paused at the base, looked up and laughed out loud. Sean (Race Director) has a sick sense of humour. I started running but soon found myself breaking into what I’m sure looked like a prancy march. I moved my feet fast up and down, it felt like on the spot and it didn’t look quite like anything I saw anyone else was doing…but it was working for me. I was making good progress and didn’t feel like I was fatiguing my legs. As I approached the top I started to run again and as I reached the summit I saw some friends cheering us all on. I smiled. I exhaled. 2 climbs down…I was feeling great, early days but so far so good! I was about 1.5 hours into the race, everything form here on was uncharted territory!
The next leg was mostly downhill and guided me across open ridges looking out to mist filled valleys. Whilst beautiful, I had to be careful on the descents, and took them very cautiously. I found myself hoping to be on the next climb again. When I was climbing I found it so much easier to come out of thought and settle into just feeling the trail.
I passed through the Buckland Gap Road checkpoint and was running and chatting with a trail friend Tegyn, this run was really feeling like a day out with friends. It was amazing and I was feeling good! After a minor navigational mistake I began the gentle climb up to the Eurobin checkpoint.
As I ran into the Eurobin checkpoint I was greeted by my wonderful friends including Mick and Jacinta cheering wildly for me. I was smiling from ear to ear, and just typing these words brings back all the emotion of that moment. These friends were amongst the few who knew what the past few months had been like for me. They could see that I was ‘feeling’ my run and they were genuinely thrilled for me to be able to play in the mountains again. It wasn’t about a place or a speed, it was so much more than that, and it took nothing but a knowing glance with them to share all this emotion. They helped me quickly top up my water and I was onto the final notable ascent of the race ‘the big walk’.
I was only a few minutes into the climb (which I’ve done a few times and always considered ‘very runnable’) when I found myself walking. I was tired. I slowed down and had a gel and some water, I noticed my flask was leaking and as I went to fix it I spilt all my water. Great! I drank the little I had left in my bladder and this gave me enough energy to break into a run again. (I use the term ‘run’ loosely)
I was greeted at a road crossing by my beautiful friends Blake and Lucy who were out supporting us all, they jogged with me for a bit and encouraged me. About 30 minute on Tegyn passed me, we had a quick chat and he was kind enough to stop and give me a big drink of water, I love trail runners! Towards the top of the climb, I found myself following some hikers, as I asked them if I could please pass, they said ‘sure, but the race is going the other way’. Oh. I backtracked and saw the course was clearly marked, I was just focused on the walkers and followed them down the side trail. I wasted a few minutes, but was grateful they put me back on the right trail and before long I was at the CHALET! The first thing I noticed was Joe…he should have been racing, I thought he was behind me! Turns out he pulled out at Eurobin with an ITB issue, I was bummed for him but selfishly, it was so amazing to know he was going to be at the finish.
Making it to the chalet was a dream come true and I really felt at this point that I was going to be able to see this whole event through with a smile on my face and without doing myself any harm. This was my highest goal. I headed out for the last 8 km’s through the Chalwell galleries. A kilometre in my calves started to twitch and my legs no longer wanted to run up stairs. I didn’t care, I walked the stairs and took shorter strides, which kept the calf cramping at bay. I couldn’t stop smiling knowing that I was going to get through this…feeling like this. The galleries are amazing, any event where you get to go caving in is a winner in my books!
As I approached the finish I could hear the crowd and my skin became covered in goosebumps as it always does. I suddenly became capable of running up the stairs again and I powered the last 800m to that finish line. I locked eyes with Joe, crossed the line and fell sobbing into his arms. Relief, joy, shock, gratitude, connection. A return to feeling like me.
This was an amazing and well organised event! Congratulations and thanks to Mountain Sports and Sky Running Australia/NZ for all your hard work. I can't wait to return and have a crack at the Ultra in 2015!
Thank you to Barefoot Inc for all your support and understanding :-)
Matt Cooper - Thank you :-)