This weekend sees a first in Australian ultra and trail running, the first fully-sanctioned SkyRun to be held on our shores in the form of the Buffalo Stampede. Driven by ‘vertical’, Sky Races are known for being tough events where the legs need to be strong, but the head even moreso. The weekend’s festivities will see two major races, the 75km ultra and the more traditional 42km marathon and then a contest within a contest, the lung-busting King of the Mountain (KOM). The essence of the contest is to find athlete (male and female) who can muster the fastest combined climbing time for the designated climbs within the event.
Skyrunning as a recognised discipline traces its roots back to Italian mountaineer Marino Giacometti and fellow enthusiasts who started pioneering races and records on famous European peaks like Mont Blanc in the 1990s. Today the sport is managed by the International Skyrunning Federation and features superstars like Spanish alpine master Kilian Jornet.
Starting in the picturesque and welcoming township of Bright at the foothills of some of Australia’s most impressive mountains, The Buffalo Stampede’s main attraction being the climb to the Mt Buffalo Chalet and the unique formations of Mt Buffalo.
But who’s racing? For an event in its first year of operation, the Buffalo Stampede has managed to attract some serious talent across both the ultra and the marathon with over 350 people signed up. We’ve coupled together an in-depth preview into some of the main contenders for each of the races, both of which have some serious talent. Picking a winner among the Aussie and New Zealander’s is pretty tough!
Buffalo Stampede 75km Ultra-marathon
The man on everyone’s lips for this race is Dakota Jones, also known as ‘young money’. Attracting the likes of Dakota for this race is a big deal for Australian ultra running, given Dakota is considered one of the world’s best. Perhaps one of his most famous moments was beating a certain Kilian Jornet at the end of the Transvulcania Sky Race a few years back, after he out-sprinted the Spanish maestro downhill to win the race. Since then he’s had second place at Hardrock and third at Calvells del Vent (84kms), along with wins at the Hasetsune Cup – Japan Mountain Endurance Race and San Juan Solstice 50 Mile Run. He finished second at UROC behind Rob Krar, but then had a rather bizarre result at the The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship finishing 98th in what appeared to be a bit of a ‘fun run’.
Regardless of that, Dakota is pure quality and barring an injury (or getting lost) there’s no way we can see him losing this one. But, looking at the quality of the Aussie runners behind him, he might not have it all his own way as there is a plethora of top-class Australian runners seeking to keep him on his toes.
First up is our pick for the prize to race in Europe, Blake Hose. It’s worth noting that as part of having a Sky race in Australia, with it comes the opportunity for the first male and female Australian runners the opportunity to race in Europe at the ISF World Championships, with flights and race entry taken care of. Blake is hot right now, in that I personally think he’s one of the best talents on our running circuit, along with a certain lad from Queensland, Ben Duffus.
These boys are quick and they also have youth on their side too, just like Dakota. All three of them are under 25 and have speed to burn. Blake’s got two wins under his belt so far, a speedy 9hrs 28mins at the Great Ocean Walk 100kms, as well as the Wilson’s Prom 60kms from last year. This year he finished a highly credible second place to one Stuart Gibson at Bogong to Hotham, but importantly one of the few guys to break the 7hr mark. Word on the vine is that he was with Stuart for the majority of the race and going under record pace with him before falling away slightly towards the end.
Ben is another seriously talented runner with three wins from four races last year, perhaps his best result coming at the Surf Coast Century where he scored a smoking time of 8hrs 28mins for the 100kms. Ben also finished seventh at TNF100 last year and as he crossed the line, I thought to myself, future winner there. There’s no doubt that these two guys are probably two of our best mountain runners between the 50-100km distance right now.
Next up are a couple of Queensland boys, racing under the same team as Ben Duffus, the Kokoda Spirit Racing team. Caine Warburton and Moritz auf der Heide are two gunners whom also have bags of speed to burn. Known for their exploits on the flats, Buffalo Stampede will present a whole new set of challenges for these guys, but they’re sure to take it all in their stride. I think both of these guys are clocking around the 2:3x for a marathon, so they’re sure to be right up there. The question is whether they’ll have the mountain legs to compete with the likes of Blake who is proven over this type of terrain and also practically loves on the course.
Moving away from our fair shores and just a hop, skip and jump over the ditch will see New Zealand’s Grant Guise make another foray into the Australian ‘mountains’. Grant is a true mountain goat, training in the steeps of Wanaka and is the envy of most of his Facebook friends, given the lifestyle he portrays through endless photos of him running in the most amazing country. Word on the vine is that Grant is in shape of his life right now – and with the results to back it up – he grabbed a highly credible 6th place at last year’s Kepler challenge and is also a 10:2x TNF100 runner too. Word is that he’s in better shape than that right now – a serious podium contender.
Then there’s Mr. Consistent, Brendan Davies. As a running coach, Brendan’s spent a lot of time down on the course, so is well-prepared for what the mountain will throw at him. You’ll barely ever see Brendan off the podium, proven by his 145km 12hr track run at Narrabeen, securing him second place in January, as well as another podium at the MSIG Sai Kung 50 in Hong Kong.
Perhaps a dark horse for a podium spot is Amadeus Gladbach. Probably unknown to most, but recently scoring 11th place at Six Foot Track with a scorching time of 3hrs 41mins. Unproven over the longer stuff, but enough form to suggest he could certainly challenge the leaders early on.
But the list goes on when it comes to Aussie contenders. There’s Blue Mountains man and former TNF100 winner, Andy Lee – known for his love of eating up the hills. Andy is not one who will die wondering ‘what if?’ The man goes out very hard, sometimes paying the price, but he gives it his all. If things work out for him, don’t be surprised to see him gracing the placings. Other notable entrants contending for a place at the top include, Mick Donges, Mark Lee, Wes Gibson, Andrew Tuckey, Aussie long-distance road rep, Jonathan Blake, Dave Coombs, local lad Chris White and Canberra runner Tom Brazier.
In the ladies, it currently appears to be a two-horse race between Shona Stephenson and Kathy MacMillan. Shona often goes out hard in races, aiming to hang on, while Kathy is very measured and comes on strong in the latter half of the race as she proved at Bogong to Hotham recently and an excellent fourth place finish in a high quality field. Both have similar times at Great Ocean Walk, so should make for an interesting battle up front.
Then there’s the ever consistent Isabel Bespalov who’s sure to be knocking on the podium door, following her excellent second place at Cradle Mountain earlier this year, along with Blue Mountains runner, Susan Keith. Susan has had good runs at TNF100, as well as winning the inaugural Canberra Centenary race last year. She appeared to have an off-day at Six Foot track last month, but maybe that was a ‘training run’.
Buffalo Stampede 42km Marathon
In the marathon race, while shorter in distance, is no shorter in terms of the depth of talent racing it. For the ladies, again the field is pretty wide open in terms of potential winners and podium placers. Colleen Middleton is a Six Foot Tack stalwart throwing her hand at the mountain ranges, while Tiff McClymont is one that should never be discounted from the mix either. She’s back up and running after recently becoming a Mother and has serious speed to burn. Then there’s Sarah Jane Miller and Sophie Brown to consider too.
Special mention must also go to Gretel Fortmann who’ll be running in the marathon on Sunday. Normally a contender for sure, but then there’s the small matter that she’ll be sweeping the ultra course the day before too. Needless to say, her recovery better be pretty good as she’ll have just 8hrs to eat sleep and get up again to race the 42kms. Machine!
Five names in the mens race jump out immediately as potential winners:
- Vajin Armstrong
- David Byrne
- Matt Cooper
- John Winsbury
- James Stewart
The head says that Vajin ‘should’ win this race. He has the pedigree and form to take this one out, but you can’t discount the other guys at all. Perhaps the greatest unknown of that list is David Byrne. Although he recently won Six Foot Track, how David will fare over the mountains is another story entirely. In his favour is the fact that he’s the fastest man in field if we look at pure pace. This counts for an awful lot, but it’s then how that gets converted into form for the mountain ranges of Victoria. Given his exploits already, I think David has the skills to challenge Vajin all the way – but it is a big unknown.
However the old romantic in me would love to see the likes of John Winsbury duking it out up front. John has been around the ultra scene for sometime now, proving his talent over the Bogong to Hotham course, winning the event in 2010. All was quiet for a few years until he bagged third place at TNF50kms and then seventh at Kepler just behind Grant Guise. John has bags of talent and if in form, as he appears to be, is a contender for podium.
Matt Cooper is another perennial podium placer with a love of big mountain races. He’s done plenty of racing in the heights of Europe, so will be well-versed for the trail challenges that are thrown at him this weekend. Last year he secured third places at both the infamous Andorra Ultra Trail – Ronda dels Cims 184 km as well as Le Quechua Tour des Fiz in France. He’s also won the Australian Alpine 100 mile challenge twice. Another Aussie familiar with the best of Europe’s mountain ranges is James Stewart, who has spent a fair amount of time racing in France against some of the best in the business.
Good luck to all runners, we’ve outlined the main picks, but who do you think will win?