La Sportiva Mt Buller Running Festival

Feb 1st & 2nd saw the action centre around the Victorian Alpine Village of Mt Buller in the state’s high country, with Australia’s first official Vertical K event and Mt Buller Skyrun! Tom Brazier reports on what happened during his two days of running.

What’s a Vertical K? A Vertical Kilometre is not really my cup of tea – intense uphill running – but it was good experience. For the European Vertical Ks, the courses are supposed to have 1km elevation gain within 5km (or less) of course – think 20% gradient and hiking/scrambling uphill. It’s a bit harder to find 5km in a row of that terrain in Australia, and the Mt Buller course was about 8km long for 1km ascent, which meant the gradients would be a lot more runnable for most of the race. After 10 days off running/exercise (wisdom teeth removal and corked glute) I was pretty excited to get away for a weekend of running adventures, but also a bit nervous about remembering the old left foot-right foot routine. Getting to Buller early allowed me to scope out the course and help RD Paul Ashton (Running Wild) and race sponsors Matt Adams/Stephen Upton (La Sportiva/Bogong Equipment) setting up the finish line and marking the course.

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A dirty 6am start was necessary on Saturday so we could finish setting up the finish line, then we headed down to start line at Mirimbah to meet all the excited runners. I wore the Limited Edition Anakonda shoes for the Vertical K because they’re pretty light and thin-soled (4mm drop) with aggressive tread – we wouldn’t need much cushioning for a purely uphill race. I tacked on the back of the lead pack for the first km or so then backed off into survival mode. Robin Rishworth and La Sportiva teammate Stephen Upton overtook me, then I held on to 7th place in 67 mins. The winner, Jordan Harries, blitzed everyone to finish in 52mins, with Aaron Knight and Moritz auf der Heide getting under 60mins to round out the podium. Emma Kraft was first female in 74mins followed by Bronwyn Humphrys about 90s later.

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Saturday arvo was disgustingly hot so we packed up the Vertical K markers then waited til 5pm to setup the Skyrun finish line down at Mirimbah and have dinner at the Merrijig pub with everyone else.

On Sunday morning we picked up Izzy and drove down to the start. I wore the Helios shoes for the 45km skyrun. They’re light and grippy but with a bit more cushioning which would help on the 10km downhill finish when tiredness would be creeping in and technique might get a tad sloppy (still 4mm drop but bigger stack height due to foamy midsole). They seemed like the most popular choice on the day too!

The 36/45km courses started with the same climb as the Vertical K on Saturday. I paced myself better today, and was only a couple of mins slower up the mountain but felt MUCH better. At the Buller summit I was sitting in 3rd position, with Moritz and Joel Fitzgerald ahead of me then a few 36km guys close behind.

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Cruising through the village and down to Howqua Gap was fun and fast running, then we started climbing again towards Mt Stirling.

I figured Moritz and Joel must have been powering along and would be pretty tough to catch, but motivated myself with the idea of defending 3rd position from the chasers close behind. Lots of hiking up towards Stirling. As I came back from the little summit out and back, I saw Chris Roberts and Dan Beard (45km chasers) as well as Stephen Upton (leading the 36km woohoo!) so they were very close behind me.

The out and back to Craig’s Hut was hot, hilly and exposed to the sun, probably a low point of my race. Apologies to the volunteer lady with the camera at Craig’s Hut who kindly asked if I would like to venture 10 metres past the turnaround point to have my photo taken at the hut. I replied ‘nah I don’t give a shit’ which actually meant ‘apologies but there are guys close behind me so I have other priorities right now and need to keep moving’.

After getting back over Mt Stirling, I figured I was home free when I made it to the 10km downhill turnoff. It was a bit of a rude shock when Chris Roberts popped up behind me with a friendly ‘oh good, we must be on the right track if we’re both here’. I freaked out and tried to pull away from him, logic being if I showed/feigned strength then he would give up and back off. This made me work pretty hard for the last 6km or so, but I opened up a small gap and we ended up 3mins apart at the finish. I crossed in 4:55, happy to go sub-5hrs but pretty sure I can improve upon that next year. Moritz almost cracked Mick Donges’ 4:14 record from last year, with a big gap to Joel then another big gap back to me. Lucy Bartholomew won the chicks’ race in 5:30 followed by Izzy Bespalov in 5:44 (woohoo!).

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Nutrition: I was super slack in the heat and only consumed about 3 hours worth of home made malto/protein mix (700 cals) over the 5hr race. Drank plenty of water with some electrolyte tabs, 0.5-1.0 L/hr.

The river was glorious at the finish line, as the temperature was beginning to soar by 11am. Huge props to the runners who were still battling through the course around lunchtime in that heat. I was particularly stoked to hear about the 36km podium which was a combo of La Sportiva team and ANU mates. Stephen got his revenge on the course for last year, it was good to see Damiano finally race without any injuries and Matt… not bad for a rock climber.

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