The Buffalo Stampede is a new trail running event in Australia; a ‘Sky Run’ – which basically involves running to the top of the highest mountain in the shortest possible time. Skyrunning is huge in Europe, with its many mountains, but this is only the second year a Sky Run has been held in Australia. After completing The North Face 50 last year, I decided this year to try a different event, and entered the Skymarathon, with 2934m elevation gain and 1941m descent over the 41.4kms. A seriously difficult event by any standards – ascending three major mountains and one minor ‘ridge’, and including some ridiculously steep and slippery descents. It even included a bit of bouldering/scrambling through narrow boulder galleries at the top of the Buffalo. The word used most often to describe the course is ‘brutal’, and brutal is certainly was.
With four young kids and a travelling husband, it is often extremely difficult to find the time to fit in enough training for an event such as this. The challenge of entering a major event is motivating and exciting, however, and connects me to the broader community of trail runners. At certain points during the gruelling Skymarathon, I questioned why I deliberately subjected myself to this type of serious challenge, but now as I ride the post-race ‘high’ I have been reflecting on the integral place running inhabits in my life.
I have been running medium-long distances since my early twenties, rising early and following tracks as the sun rises through the bush. Whilst the feeling of being out there and moving my body has always motivated me, my purpose then was more at maintaining fitness in the extremely remote areas in which I worked, where no other options were available. Now, whilst fitness is still important, running is also a critical means of maintaining and securing my own wellbeing. Adding the challenge of a major event maintains a focus to my training, but given our family demands I am not able to enter more than 1 or 2 major events each year.
I have run thousands of kilometers in the bush over the years: through sandy red deserts and remote ranges in Central Australia, on tropical volcanic islands and dense jungle in New Guinea, and over expansive mud flats cut by crocodile-infested rivers in the Gulf of Carpentaria. These days I run through the schlerophyll forests and granite boulders of our Snowy Mountains country, crossing from our own property straight into state forest and national park. I encounter lyrebirds and roos, snakes and wombats, yellow-tailed cockatoos and echidnas. I can run for hours and still not come across a single person or vehicle: it is just me, our black dog, and the bush.
Being a stay-at-home parent is a continual exercise in the practise of giving. It is not always possible to find a balance between all the giving, and carving out some time for yourself. For the first year of the twins life, when we had four children under four, I barely had the spare hands to clean my teeth. Now, though, things have opened up a little and when I am able, (when the twins are at preschool mostly) I prioritise what I know I need to give myself in order to be the mother I strive to be. I consciously avoid looking at the tangle of toys, pyjamas and other debris awaiting my attention on the floor, throw on my running shoes and bolt out the door before some other task beckons. Most of the training for the Skymarathon was done twice weekly on preschool days.
Over the years, running has become my solace and my strength. The rhythm of each footfall provides space for thinking things through without interruption. The bush around me and the pounding breath in my chest is exhilarating and restorative.
For many, what nourishes the self may be a quiet cup of tea and an opportunity to read the paper, have a bath, do some yoga, a phonecall with a friend. The imperative to explore has always informed my choice of activity, so trail running is a natural fit. For me, it is being in motion, somewhere in the bush, that energises and sustains.
Last two images by Aurora Images