Race Report: Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100
After several years of wanting to do one of Jim’s races on Antelope Island, I finally made it happen. This was a complicated trip, we were planning it around the kid’s spring break and would need to take two vehicles and leave at different times. Training had been going fairly well and I was looking forward to having a good race.
Priority #1 was getting Malcolm set up to complete his Senior Project for school. He was going to work at an aid station for the duration of the race and then create a presentation about his experience to give in front of a panel of teachers. He and I left two days early so he could get in on some of the pre-race setup and see how things are done.
Our plan was to get out to the island on Thursday and help with some setup before spending some time seeing the sights. After that, we would camp out at the start line and then get ready for the race that started at noon on Friday.
The island is actually a pretty impressive chunk of land, rising a lot higher above the lake than I remembered. The first order of business was helping to unload the U-HAUL full of aid station supplies that would be picked up in the morning by the various crews. Tons of water, case after case of oranges, thousands of GU packets, and gallons of soda, all needed to be taken off the truck and sorted into piles.
After that work was finished, we set out on our Antelope Island Safari. Saw and interacted with lots of Bison, and also spotted a few Antelope. I had a great time breaking in my new 300mm zoom lens.
We survived all of the animal encounters and then headed back to finish prepping drop bags and set up camp for the night. A persistent breeze started blowing so we ate dinner on the leeward side of the car.
For each 100 mile race I do, I write something symbolic to me on my knuckles with a sharpie so I can look down at it during the race and dig a little deeper. This time it was the initials of two high school classmates that passed away in the last week. CN and SP, my thoughts were with you and your families.
Then it was time to finalize the drop bag arrangements, agonize over whether to carry one bottle or two (shoulda been two…), and get ready to turn in for the night. This race was unique in that it didn’t start until noon. No setting of alarms for once!
I was looking forward to a nice solid night’s sleep, but the wind had other plans. I laid awake and listened to the WHAP-WHAP-WHAP of the tent and rain fly while checking my watch every 15 minutes all night long. I did not sleep AT ALL. Bad news the night before starting a race where you need to be able to run through the entire night!
The wind got stronger in the morning and dust filled the air.
I got a good warmup before the race by chasing plastic bags that would fly out of my car seemingly every time I opened the door. I had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Before I knew it, we had less than 15 minutes to go and it was time for the pre-race meeting to get our final instructions. Check out this pic to see how that missed night of sleep was treating me during the meeting…
All of a sudden, we were off and running. Here we go again! If I survived, this would be my 7th 100 mile finish.
Malcolm would be on his own now, facing a 30 hour grind working at the Mountain View Aid Station.
The first 20 miles of the course had all of the climbing and were the most difficult, then the next 30 were more gently rolling (but into a tough headwind at times). Once you completed 50, you did it all over again.
I felt fantastic for the first 20 miles. Looking back now it is obvious I was running too hard. I should have expected to feel good being on rested legs, but instead I took it as a sign that I was having a good day and wanted to be a little more aggressive in this race to see if I could finish in the 20-21 hour range. I was running with a good group of people and felt like I had the effort level dialed in. I wasn’t killing it at all, but I wasn’t conserving anything.
This was Antelope Island, not Fantasy Island.
The wind was fierce at times and ended up drying me out more than I thought. I went back-and-forth about 200 times before the race trying to decide whether to carry one bottle or two. It sounds trivial, but it is a decision that can have real consequences. I opted to go with a single, and it was the wrong choice. I’ve had serious problems in the past with being over-hydrated and wanted to stay just a little bit on the low side. Instead, I didn’t drink nearly enough for the conditions and intensity during the first 3-4 hours and it resulted in an incredible low point that would last the next 60 miles!
At mile 20 I went from cruising up a small rise jamming some air drums to Kickstart My Heart, to hardly being able to even shuffle along flat ground a few minutes later. I went from feeling good, to bad, to worse, and worse, and even worse in what seemed like the blink of an eye.
I still had plenty of mental fight in me, though. I knew I could back off, try and recover, correct the hydration problem, and keep moving. Evening was coming and things would cool down which would help as well. I made a good game of it over the next 10 miles or so, then my spirit broke. I was done. Thinigs weren’t improving, and I was having major flashbacks to Leadville last year where a similar issue shut me down and I ended up walking the last 30 miles. That was awful, and I definitely did not want to repeat that experience.
The problem now was that instead of a thirty mile walk, I was staring down the barrel of 70 miles left to go! That just crushed me. Any will that I had to go on flat out disappeared. I was as low, or lower, than I’ve ever been during one of these things.
One though kept me shuffling forward. My family.
My dad and son have both been to various races that I’ve done (Dad stuck it out for 32 hours during my first 100!), but the rest of my family hadn’t ever seen me run an ultra.
My wife packed up the girls and the dog and got on the road before 06:00 to drive a full day through Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah all in an attempt to see me out on the course before it got dark. Access to the island is cut off at 8pm, and I didn’t know how early they had started, so I considered it slim odds for them to make it in time. There was still a tiny flicker of hope, though – and that propelled me forward through the lengthening shadows.
Finally at mile 37, as I was dragging through that horrible low, I came over a small rise and saw my daughter off in the distance. She recognized me in the same instant and started jumping and waving. Words can’t express how happy I was to see her, and know that everyone had made it safe and sound. And in time.
The crew included my wife and daughters, my brother’s daughters, my parents, and our dog. It was AWESOME!
My spirit soared.
I took a few minutes to get hugs, hear stories about the day, and recharge my mental batteries.
It was a moment that I didn’t want to end, and a memory that I will forever treasure. It meant so much to me to see them there after all the effort it required to make happen.
Our goodbye was short-lived as the whole crew packed up and moved a couple miles down the road to wait for me again at the Lower Frary Aid Station. I swear I could hear their cheering from a mile away.
I’m not much for big smiles, so you’ll have to trust me here. This is my happy face.
Now it was time for the real goodbye (until tomorrow, anyway). I packed up my jacket with Dad looking on, grabbed my headlamp, and trotted away feeling much better than I did earlier.
I wish I could say I took off and never stopped running again, but that didn’t quite happen. Even though my mind was in a better spot, my body was still not cooperating. I was determined to try and turn things around, but I was also fully aware that it was going to take a very long time. My breathing was the hardest thing to deal with. It seems like whenever I get into this state (now 3 out of the last 5 100 milers), I struggle the most with getting good deep breaths. Something is getting screwed up with my electrolyte balance and extra fluid is being retained in my chest making it difficult to breathe when I exert myself beyond the bare minimum. At least this time I knew I simply couldn’t just swallow a bunch of salt in a short period of time. I dosed it carefully over the next few hours and thankfully avoided the baseball mitt hands that I have had in the past.
I passed through Malcolm’s aid station at mile 44 and was pleased to see he was still doing well and was ready for the long night ahead. Then I went on to finish my first 50 mile loop in 9:44. It was an hour slower than I had in mind, but with how badly things had been going I was glad to see it still under 10:00.
Now it was time to hit the hills again. Only this lap it would be hiking and stumbling through the dark night. I started the loop at nearly 10pm and wouldn’t finish it until 3:30 in the morning. Two and a half long hours more than it had taken the first time.
At the end of the loop on a long descent, things finally started changing for me. My body was swinging back towards equilibrium, and I could breathe a little bit better. I started running here and there, and was able to gradually increase the distance each time. I wasn’t out of the woods, but things were coming around.
I stopped at the start/finish aid station tent about 2 minutes after Karl had won the race in a smoking fast 15:28. It was fun to chat with him for a bit, and hear about his 6:30 opening 50 miles (which would be fast enough to win the 50 most years!), but it was also mighty depressing to realize that I still had another 30 miles to go!
Those miles don’t run themselves.
Out into the dark I went again, catching glimpses of runner’s headlamps in the distance once in a while. I had been in no-man’s land for much of the night and was eager for some interaction.
Malcolm had taken a short nap and was back on duty when I went through his aid station for the 3rd time at mile 72. It was hard to face the fact that I would need to run another 22 miles before I would pass by for the final time, but I was seeing some progress and that helped a lot. It was a huge boost to my morale to see Malcolm doing so well. He looked like a pro with clipboard in hand, and really seemed to be enjoying himself.
I fumbled and stumbled over the trail in the last hours of darkness, moving a little faster than I did earlier, but still a lot slower than I wanted. That would soon change.
As I hit the turnaround at the far south end of the island and started making my way north again, another runner passed me on the trail headed to the turnaround. I only had about a quarter of a mile lead on him, which surprised me because even though I had been moving somewhat slowly I was making good progress and didn’t think anyone was within a mile or two behind me. He had fire in his eyes. I looked at his face and saw pain. A lot of pain. And he was moving quickly. Much faster than I was. Glancing at his face caused me to reflect on my own, which was slack and tired from walking/shuffling/jogging for the last 15 hours. Right then, I decided that if he could run in that much pain, I could too.
And run I did.
With my breathing not holding me back anymore, the only thing I had to deal with was beaten up legs and feet. The backs of my heels were on fire as normal, and my toes were smashed to oblivion, but that is all standard operating procedure. Those are things that I could actually run and deal with.
I started checking the clock.
After that miserable night, could I still pull it together and finish under 24 hours?
Although I had run the Slickrock 100 in 21:15, it was under a contrived and bizarre set of circumstances. The other 100 milers I have done (Bear, Leadville, Bighorn) were all tougher mountain runs that I had failed to break 24 in yet. All of a sudden, I really wanted that sub-24 and was no longer hung up on what should have or could have been.
I was tired, everything ached and hurt, and now I was stressed that I wouldn’t finish before noon. I used that stress to my full advantage and pushed as hard as I could. Roch had me in and out of Lower Frary in a flash, 11 miles to go. As I approached Malcolm for the final time at Mountain View, I started encountering 50 mile runners heading in the opposite direction. It was great to give and receive words of encouragement and high fives along the way.
Mountain View was bustling, with runners hitting it from both sides. It was exaclty 10am. I had 2 hours to cover the final 6 miles. Normally that would be laughable, but under these circumstances I wasn’t taking anything for granted. My legs were really shot now from running so much and I wasn’t sure how much more I had left in me. Every part of my body was screaming at me to stop and walk.
I had to negotiate a few hills before making it to the north end of the island, stressed out the whole time that I was going to come up short. I had asked Malcolm to text the family and let them know I would be finishing soon. The thought of finishing strong with them there kept driving me forward.
I ran through a group of scouts and their leaders that were out for a hike on the trail and one of the adults asked if I was racing in the 25k that was going on today. I replied that this was my mile 98, and smiled at the chatter that erupted in the group as I moved by and danced up a climb like it was only mile 2 instead of 2 miles to go.
My adrenaline was flowing like a river now. I had to be very careful to keep the effort level right on the edge. One step too fast and I would have to shut down and recover.
I could finally see the big white tent off in the distance. The finish! But it was so far away, and never seemed to get any closer. I just had to put my head down and keep grinding.
After an eternity, I finally hit the last corner and knew I had it. I started looking for my family and spotted them all lined up and cheering.
I was floating.
I choked back a wave of emotion and busted through that finish line feeling like I had won.
23:28, 13th place.
None of that matters, though. The experience is what counts. Not giving up, leaning on the support of the ones you love. If you train for and give your best at one of these things, you are a champion in my book.
It truly was an extraordinary day for my family on the island that day. My brother ran the 25k, finishing his first-ever trail race just a little while before I came in.
My nephew ran the 50k and finished his first ultra in fine style.
I was so proud of those guys.
It meant a lot to have all of my family around, both the runners and non-runners alike, sharing in something that I have devoted such a big chunk of my life to. We hung out for several hours cheering in the finishers and moaning about how hot 70 degrees felt.
I can’t describe how good it felt to sit down and take my shoes off.
Then it was time for the foot inspection.
The family all packed up and headed home in the late afternoon, while I went over to the aid station where Malcolm was working to see him in action for the final hours of the race.
They were keeping plenty busy, trying to hustle the runners on to the finish. Malcolm and the other volunteers had a great system going where they would run out on the trail to meet an incoming runner, grab their empty bottles and sprint back to the aid station to have them filled and ready by the time the runner came in. What great service! Jay, filling the bottle below, wore a GPS watch and accrued 17 miles just running back and forth like that!
I was incredibly happy to see that Malcolm’s day had gone so well, and that he had stepped up and made such a great contribution. He really enjoyed the time out there and I can’t wait to see his presentation.
My trusty hat has 400 miles and counting now (Bighorn, Leadville, Slickrock, Buffalo).
The buckle is very cool. I gave it to Malcolm. What he did was certainly buckle-worthy, and I hope it gives him a nice way to remember the weekend.
A great big thanks goes to Jim for his invitation and accomodation, my Wasatch Speed Goat teammates and our sponsors, old friends, new friends, my family, and to Malcolm for his company and hard work during the race. The weekend was a complete and total success!