Skyrunning for Australia: the Stampede

TrailRunMag 11.09.2013

You’ve all seen the term bandied about: Skyrunning. And you’ve seen the world’s best smash themselves up the steepest of steep mountains, towards said sky, with pained expressions on their face. That’s because the courses are usually brutal in their ‘up-ness’. Now, Australia has its very own Skyrunning challenge with the launch of the new Buffalo Stampede, an outing that also represents a foundation stone in the planned Australia-New Zealand Skyrunning series.

Buffalo Blue 02Featuring a 75km Ultra SkyMarathon and a 41.4km SkyMarathon, The Stampede will take place on Victoria’s Mount Buffalo, at the gateway to the state’s high country. Hopes are that it will join the hallowed ranks of other Skyrunning World Series events the likes of Mont Blanc Marathon in France, Speedgoat 50 in the USA and the Mount Elbrus Vertical Kilometre in Russia.

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.

Buffalo Green  06“[It’s] the purest form of mountain running … getting to the top of a mountain and back down again as quickly as possible,” says newly anointed President of Skyrunning Australia/NZ, Marcus Warner. “It’s the athlete versus the mountain. It’s not for the faint‐hearted. It’s definitely a significant challenge and the athlete needs to know what they are doing.’’

“Nearly 5000m [of elevation gain] over 75km is up there with some of the best races in the world. [Elite overseas runners] are going to go away pretty sore and pretty beat up from this race.’’

So, too, will Regular Joe runners, it’s assumed. Which is exactly the attraction, isn’t it?

The Buffalo Stampede is expected to attract a bumper field of talented local and overseas runners and will, says Warner, finally “put Australia on the map’’ of Skyrunning because it will finally convince overseas runners that Australia possesses the terrain to stage a serious mountain running challenge.

Buffalo Green  02“Elevation is really what drives the difficulty of it. [The organisers] have really sought out the most extreme mountain in Australia that really embodies Skyrunning because of how steep it is.

The Buffalo Stampede has been organised by Sean Greenhill from Mountain Sports.

A passionate trail runner himself, Greenhill already stages popular trail running events like the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon and the Sydney Trailrunning Series. He chose Mount Buffalo National Park in Victoria as the venue for the Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon (75km) and Buffalo Stampede
SkyMarathon (41.4km) because it is one of the few areas in Australia where he could satisfy the exacting Skyrunning rules about vertical gain.

Buffalo-Blue-01No other runs in Australia over similar distances will have as much climbing as the Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon (4545m) and the Buffalo Stampede SkyMarathon (2924m).

“I can’t think of a marathon in Australia that comes within 500m of gain of the Mount Buffalo SkyMarathon,’’ Greenhill says. “They are, in terms of elevation gain over distance, the most difficult events of their kind in Australia.’’

And because it is the eroded magma chamber of an extinct volcano, Mount Buffalo boasts a spectacular granite terrain like no other peak in the Snowy Mountains. [Trail Run Mag can attest to the striking landscapes of Buffalo as a unique trail playground – on a recent outing to audit and rate trails across seven alpine peaks, we came away feeling Buffalo had that extra dose of trail magic that made it really stand out in terms of pure enjoyment of terrain – the chamber run through a huge rock slot the stand out feature, and apparently included on the Skyrun course].

Greenhill also chose Mount Buffalo because it allows him to start the Buffalo Stampede events in the beautiful town of Bright, which he loves for its alpine scenery, fine food, local produce, boutique beer and outdoor sports culture. [Trail Run Mag again attests to the beer in Bright – that was the nightly ‘audit’!].

Buffalo Blue 04Clayton Neil, the manager for economic development with Bright’s Alpine Shire Council, said: “We see the Buffalo Stampede as a really strong addition to our events calendar that really aligns with where we are heading. It embraces being active in nature and living life outside. Bright has always been a popular place for people who love the outdoors and this event takes that to another level.’’

Although the Buffalo Stampede races will be among Australia’s toughest, they are open to entry from anyone, with no qualifying needed.

Up for grabs in the Buffalo Stampede are tickets to the 2014 Skyrunning World Championships to be held next June in the famed French alpine resort of Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc.

A three‐day Buffalo Stampede training camp based in Bright will be hosted by top Australian trail runners Brendan Davies and Hanny Allston from January 17 to 19.

Davies raced in the Skyrunning Mont Blanc Marathon this year and will be competing in the Buffalo Stampede Ultra SkyMarathon in April in the hope of winning a ticket back to the slopes of Mont Blanc for the Skyrunning World Championships.

“The Skyrunning label brings with it a lot of credibility,” said Davies. “It puts [Australia] on the world map as a destination for the world’s elite trail runners. For Australian runners, it gives us the capacity to dip our feet into the Skyrunning series without having to travel overseas. It’s just a plus for the sport. I see it as a real positive for everyone. I’m going to be going all out for that race.’’

Buffalo Stampede
5-6 April 2014