It was the morning of the Antelope Island Buffalo Run, when I reluctantly decided I WOULD run the race. Reluctantly, because I had acquired a debilitating chest cold, accompanied by a fever, chills, aches and pains. I sincerely felt like crap and I had serious doubts that I could run at all. 100 miles seemed far reaching, and in my condition, risky.
To make matters worse, the weather report indicated freezing temperatures, snow and high winds. The thought of running through the night, in a blizzard, with a cold, did NOT seem appealing.
One of the motivating factors to run the race was the fact that my best friend, Leon, had flown into town to share this adventure with me. Leon and I have had a lot of amazing journeys together and each one has been amazing in its own way. I was excited to share this time with him (and his beard) and didn't want to squander the opportunity.
So, after carefully considering the options, I decided to run. With the decision made, I still had plenty of doubt regarding my physical ability to get very far. I showed up at the race, fully prepared to DNF early.
Leon being interviewed by the media before the race
Antelope Island State Park is located in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. This island is home to about 500 bison, along with a high population of antelope, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes and several other critters. All of which are commonly observed. Sometimes, too common actually.
Like all Utah 100 milers, this race starts on Friday. Unlike most, it begins at noon. I enjoyed the start time because it allowed for plenty of sleep the night before the race. But it also meant I would be assured to see the sunrise on Saturday before I finished my race. I typically prefer to finish my races in the dark, but this start time meant that only the fastest runners would be capable of doing that.
Me and Leon at the race start
It may be a little difficult to see in the picture below, but this man is being attacked by a buffalo. This occurred right in front of us while we were lined up for the start. He thought it would be entertaining to "play" with it by tossing rocks at him. Clearly, the big fella wasn't amused and expressed his displeasure the only way he knows how. Through brutal violence. So yeah...we're going to run among these beasts, at night, for many many hours. Intriguing.
(no bison were harmed in the taking of this photo)
Karl Meltzer and Nick Pedatella leading from the start
Me, easing into my run. Feeling things out. Already thinking DNF.
I had run this first 19 miles of the course in training several times. It's a beautiful part of the course and this is where we'll encounter the majority of the ascent. Leon and I went out together and chatted while we ran. He was definitely excited to be running on the island.
During the first climb, my lungs were burning due to my chest cold and I was having trouble keeping pace. I was deeply concerned that I wouldn't last much longer, but I wanted to at least get some miles in with Leon before I bailed.
Running right passed the pissed off buffalo
After about 5 miles, my body loosened up and my chest started to feel better, so I pushed a bit harder. Leon and I separated, falling into different paces. By mile 8, I was even having a little fun.
The wind on the ridges was unbelievable and I was forced to walk against it on occasion because I was burning too much energy trying to run against it and I was going nowhere. It was a piercing, bitter cold that cut right through me. And this is the hottest part of the day.
Before every 100 mile race, I spend a lot of time developing a detailed race plan that outlines my anticipated times for each leg of the race. I also include notes regarding my fuel and equipment needs for my crew (Jo).
For this 19 mile section, I had estimated a completion time of 3:30. I told Jo that I would drop if it took longer than 4 hours. I finished in 3:18.
The next leg of the race is a long, flat, out and back section on the Mountain View Trail. There's a lot of meandering, rolling, single track that provide amazing views of the Wasatch Front. A lot of people don't like this section because it's so long and flat, but I enjoyed it a lot.
Checking in at the Lower Frary aid station (mile 27)
Leon at Lower Frary, enjoying some perogies
Wicked storm clouds headed our way
Just another local bison hunting for people to maul
I made my way to the turnaround and was still feeling "OK", but not great. Despite my illness, I was still taking time of my race plan with no sign of losing ground. I owed it to myself to stay on course as long as I could.
Coming back into Lower Frary (mile 38)
The sun fading. It will be missed.
After the long out and back to the ranch, we went on to the Lakeside Trail, which is a trail that Jo and I run frequently when we visit the island. The first mile of this section is rocky and technical, but still pretty flat. Now that it's dark, I had to carefully pick my way through a few sections. This would be a great place to get hurt.
Funny and embarrassing story time...
On my way back into the start/finish area, I stopped at a portable toilet to take care of a few things. I got in, locked the door and opened the lid to the toilet. While adjusting my hat, I somehow managed to drop my headlamp right into the tank. I instinctively reached to grab it back out before I stopped myself, realizing it was gone for good. I could see its faint light beaming back up at me through the nasty sludge. I'm going to miss that headlamp. We shared a lot of great miles together.
I had less than a mile to go in total darkness where I could retrieve my spare headlamp. I was glad to have another light with me, but I despise that particle headlamp and I grudgingly accepted it.
Pouting about the loss of my headlamp (mile 50)
I had made it to mile 50 in 9:25. My race plan called for 10:00, and I was still doing pretty well. This race gives me an option to drop at 50 and still get credit for that distance. It was tempting, but I pushed on.
While at the 50 mile aid station, I got word that Leon was exhausted and freezing and would likely drop to the 50 mile option. I really couldn't blame him. The conditions were brutal and the DNF rate was soaring!
I set out to repeat the course and get this thing over with. I had changed into tights, 2 heavy shirt layers, and a light weight wind jacket. I was still freezing.
Things went well on the second loop until about mile 83. It was snowing and the wind was howling. The darkness was overwhelming and the trail was lonely. I began to worry about my health and safety, thinking I could literally freeze to death in those conditions.
When I made it back to Lower Frary, at mile 88, I climbed into my truck to warm up and have a talk with Jo. We sat in there for 20 minutes trying to thaw out and come up with one good reason to finish this race in these grueling conditions. More than once, I had decided to DNF. I was cold, in pain and exhausted. I just wanted to go home and the thought of another 12 miles was daunting. I couldn't fathom it.
Despite everything, I bundled back up and pressed on. But I wasn't happy about it. Getting out of that truck was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I finished the out and back section, then headed to the Lakeside Trail again. The sun was beginning to come up now and the changing colors on the island were mesmerizing. It was a beautiful morning.
The point where I almost lost my cool on an 11 year old kid...
To access the Lakeside Trailhead, we have to travel through a camp area. Many of the campers were milling around watching as I ran by. At one point, I was fixing my gear while I walked along. I was making adjustments to my pack, tightening my cap, and checking that everything was stored properly. When off to my right, I hear the sound of a snide little kid. He's looking directly at me and says, "Wow, nice....jogging. HAHAHAHA!!!!"
This is a defining moment for a man that has been running for 95 miles, through the night, in terrible conditions. Somehow, I held it together and violence was avoided. Not violence between me and the kid, but between me and his smirking father, who was standing right there. Good job Dad!
As I was making my way around the island, I was suddenly passed by another runner. This surprised me because I hadn't seen ANYBODY in hours. And this dude had some speed. I tried to give chase, but I didn't have it in me to keep his pace. I was a little dejected. I wanted this to be over.
I came around the point and could see the finish area, but it's still very far off. The further I ran, the further away it seemed to be. I was totally exhausted and wanted to be there so desperately.
After what seemed like hours, I made it to the finish. There was a decent sized crowd and I got a nice reception when I crossed the line.
My race plan was aggressive and called for a finish time of 21:45. I made it to the finish in 20:24:13, which was good enough for 9th overall. I was wiped out!
As usual, I fueled exclusively off Hammer Nutrition products. Particularly, Perpetuem for calories and Endurolyte Fizz for electrolytes. This allowed me to skip most aid stations entirely.
I decided to try wearing the New Balance 1210's. This is a shoe that is specifically designed for 100 mile trail races and I had put about 30 miles on them before the race. For me, they performed flawlessly and I'll probably convert to these exclusively for my 100 mile events. I loved them.
I'm very happy with my race, especially because it almost never happened due to my illness. In retrospect, it was probably a foolish decision to run it because of the risks to my health. But the allure of the event got the better of me and I'll deal with whatever consequences that come with that decision.
The event is well managed and the volunteers are phenomenal. I had a lot of friends out on the course to support me and the other runners and it made things seem a lot easier. I want to thank Jo for taking such excellent care of me and for telling me it's OK to DNF if I want to. And I want to thank ALL the HUMR folks. You're all such an amazing and inspiring group of people and I'm humbled to be a part of the group.
Time to rest up and get ready for the American River 50 miler in California, which will serve as my final long run before the Zion 100. Redemption is mine!