Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Antelope Island Buffalo Run, the Inaugural 100-Mile Version

runners in one of the shorter races that started Sunday, by Bradley K. Johnson

I learned the reason many 100-mile runs in Utah (also think the Bear and Wasatch) start on Friday is so the run ends on Saturday and people can go to church on Sunday.  Or so I heard.  Correct if I'm wrong.

The advantage of a Friday start is less weekend time from my family.

So for the inaugural Antelope Island Buffalo 100 Mile Run, I was able to leave on the first Southwest flight out of Oakland Friday morning (March 25th) and still make it to the race with its noon start without missing or having to reschedule work on Thursday.  One glitch-- I woke up more than an hour earlier than I had to, which would make me tired the next morning.

I would return home before the sun set on Saturday.  Our kids' progressive preschool celebrate Cesar Chavez Day, so I made sure to also get Sunday and Monday off work to hang out with them.  Good deal.

at Año Nuevo on Monday

Heavy snow and rain fell on the drive from the airport Friday morning, with poor visibility, and slush and snow all over the highway.  My rental was an economy car without snow tires, 4-wheel drive or anything else useful to keep me alive.  It was quite treacherous.  often it seems getting to the start line is harder than finishing these races.  Of course, I wasn't sure the snow and freezing rain would let up.

ice on car after making it to the start/finish area

Race Director Jim Skaggs asked we all bring a can for veggies for the post-race buffalo stew.  He said there was a Walmart on the way.  There were two after leaving the highway.  So many choices.

damn Walmart did not pay me anything to post this free graphic ad.

After spending enough on my plane ticket and car rental, it didn't make sense to cheap out, so I splurged on the larger Family size.

Antelope Island is a very pretty island, and there really are lots of buffalo roaming on it.  We were warned to steer clear of them.

photos by Sherry Shay or her crew

...lest they try to tongue you.

Okay, so the take-home lesson for this race:  there is not such thing as an "easy" 100-mile run.  Either something goes wrong, or else nothing goes wrong, but if you're at all the competitive type, you'll push yourself enough even in the latter situation that it will hurt.  I was hoping for the latter (and in fact, after my near DNF at HURT 100 over two months earlier, was expecting the latter), but instead got the former.

Luckily the snow let off right before the race started.

turning on my GPS, thinking this was going to be quick
photo by Catra Corbett

Each 50 mile loop is essentially two out-and-backs.  The first 19 miles involves a couple of loops and is hillier.  The last 31 miles includes a flatter and theoretically faster out-and-back running loosely along the road going down the east shore of the island, with a final counter-clockwise loop of Buffalo Point on the northwest corner.   (Note that the map incorrectly locates Mtn View Aid Station--it's at the trail intersection, so we went through it twice each 50 mile loop.)   link to same map below

The first 50 miles went pretty smoothly.

During the first 19 miles, we were running both above and below the fresh snow line, so at times could imagine I was running in the peaks of some distant Rocky Mountain range, minus the 5-digit altitude.  Parts of the trail were also very muddy as the snow melted, but most of the puddles were avoidable. 

They let us choose whether to do the short out-and-back to Elephant head or the counter-clockwise loop down to Split Rock Bay (see lower left corner on map), and most of us chose the out-and-back first opposite the order suggested by the map.

Elephant Head aid station, miles 5.3, 8.2, 13.5; 55.3, 58.2, 63.5
6 thanks, Elephant Head volunteers!
courtesy Davy Crockett

The mud was thick and clumpy on the detour back to the start/finish (around miles 16 and 17) the only unpleasant surface on the course.

Miles 19 through 30 was flatter, but still had its charms.

The Wasatch Mountains which I could see despite being right next to them while driving to the start due to the storm, from the island's east shore.  photo courtesy Davy Crockett

The half mile leading to the Lakeside Trailhead aid station, the last of each 50 mile loop went diagonally through a meadow.  Apparently this was a little confusing at night, but luckily I got there before dusk.

I got back to the halfway 50 mile mark (the start/finish) in 8:41:27, [GPS recorded map of miles 0-50] after turning on my headlamp in the last mile or two.  Coming into the start / finish, I passed Tim Long, who had been running very well and way ahead, but told me he was going to drop at 50 miles.  So now I was in 3rd place, but a far third place, as the guy in 2nd, rather famous, was hours ahead of me.

Karl Meltzer with his wife hanging out post-race.  He finished about 35 minutes behind the winner, Dan Vega.

I spent 7 minutes preparing for the night, then took off again.

Despite the dark, I ran well.  It helped that the puddles were smaller and the thick muddy part less clumpy-- the trails indeed drained well. I did notice the turnoff to the loop after leaving Elephant Head wasn't clearly marked.  Had I not been carrying a copy of the course map and referring to it, I probably would have missed the turn.  Finishing the loop I saw a woman had done this so would run the loop in reverse, which was probably harder since this involved running down the steeper technical slope.

I got back to the start/finish/mile 69 about 4 hours 35 minutes later, which was only a few minutes longer than it took me to run that 19 miles the first loop [GPS recorded map of miles 50-69] still in 3rd place, though I was being pursued by the next runner.  I had a lot to prepare, anticipating colder weather.  Thanks to Catra Corbett for helping me out there.  I spent 12 minutes at the aid station, allowing the guy who was trailing me to get ahead (I later verified it was 55-year-old local ultrarunner Davy Crockett, not to be confused with the historical Davy Crockett, "the man who don't know fear."

As I continued on, I could see that I was closing the distance with Mark Tanaka ahead of me.  I decided to try to finish off the rest of this loop strong and reel him in.  I kept gaining on him, but I think he noticed because his pace picked up.  That is the great thing about running in the dark, you can usually pick out the other runners nearby easily.  We reached race headquarters again before I caught him.
Mark was still in the aid station when I arrived and complemented me on catching up.  I was rather surprised to see him sitting casually with no urgency to get back out.   I realized that 3rdplace was out in the dark waiting for me to grab. 
Davy ran a great race, and an especially awesome time for someone in his mid-50s.

A mile after leaving, despite having run that course already, I noticed that I was running by some building I hadn't before.  The course had been marked with arrows on the road, but the road was wide so if you were running and looking on the wrong side of the wrong like I was, it was easy to take the wrong fork.  This points out the need to mark things more explicitly for night running-- in the daytime, you couldn't miss the markings.  (I'll tell the race director, who has proactively demonstrated much sincere interest in getting our feedback, perhaps my most important criterion in evaluating race directors.  This was the first year for the 100 mile race, so the first year runners had to navigate in the dark.)

However, the few minutes I spent getting lost and then getting back on course, during which 1 or 2 more runners probably passed me, turned out not to be a significant problem.  

Two bigger problems:   First, it got cold, dipping to at or below freezing, resulting in me getting too cold.  And, second, I think the altitude, though not super high (some would not even call it altitude, 4000-5000 feet above sea level), was making me a little sick.  Altitude is always trying to get me.

So, here were my (rounded) splits for the last 31 miles, which took my almost 10 hours, 80 minutes longer than it took me to run the first 50 miles.  Uh, I think this is called a positive split.

Note that some mileage discrepancies are due to inherent Garmin Forerunner error, and maybe my error pressing buttons on my GPS and my stopwatch, or maybe the map distances and mileages were off.

Two points-- I was moving really slowly, having trouble running rather than walking.  And I was spending a lot of time trying to warm up in the chair, spending almost 1 hour 45 minutes at 4 aid stations.  Thanks volunteers for helping me get through.

31 minutes, 1.87 miles out to Mountain View aid station (mile 70)
26 minutes, 1.80 miles to turnaround and back 
12 minutes at Mountain View aid station (mile 71.8)
1:22, 5.0 miles
13 minutes at Lower Frary Peak aid station (mile 77.4)
91 minutes, 5.65 miles
52 minutes at Ranch aid station freezing my ass off under blanket (mile 83)
97 minutes, 5.64 miles
25 minutes at Lower Frary Peak aid station (mile 88.7)
63 minutes, 4.83 miles
2 minutes at Mountain View aid station (mile 94)
32 minutes, 2.2 miles
8 minutes at Lakeside Trailhead aid station (mile 96)
57 minutes, 4 miles to finish

Special thanks to these two sisters helped me at Ranch, including piling on the blankets.  I stayed almost an hour.  Maybe that's too long, but they saved my life.

Marcia Nielsen and Maureen Miles Lee

Maybe a third significant problem slowing my pace.  Storing gels in the back pockets or your shorts may prove hazardous.  During one of the extended periods sitting or lying on my ass, probably at Ranch, I must have ruptured one or maybe two, an unprecedented gel disaster. It wasn't just a mess.  The stuff coated my hairs on my legs and perineal (crotch) area, then with certain movements (including running, which was sort of the point of the whole event) hurt me quite a bit.  Girls (and I dunno, maybe some of you sexy guys) think of a slow, drawn out, never ending bikini wax.  Pure torture!  It was the first painful insult to my beloved scrotum since last May's Masanutten 100.  At one point I tried stuffing paper towels and plastic bagging into my shorts to minimize the sticking and pain (to no avail).   It took several baby wipes post-race to make walking comfortable. 

aftermath of my shorts
(No, NOT one of my bodily fluids!)

By the way, these were the same shorts I wore at Masanutten, where the drawstring broke.
RaceReady did fix them for me.
However, recently gels keep flying out of the pockets on downhills-- does this happen to anyone else?

Catra Corbett came out mainly to watch Linda McFadden's dog (a long story) and crew her, but I got the benefit of a fair amount of help from her several times, especially at the Gate in Fence (start/finish) aid station (mile 69) and on the last visit to Lower Frary Peak aid station (mile 88.7), where she fed me Linda's uneaten pancakes, and pushed a caffeine tablet on me.  Although I  was suffering less from the cold, I was having severe attacks of the sleepies, which was further destroying my pace.  I had been literally swerving on the trail, almost falling asleep.  Duh, caffeine works.  I became a new convert to the pill form of it in for late-100 mile sleepies.  Thanks so much, Catra, and for helping me clean up post-race! 

I also saw Linda at Lower Frary, only 11 miles behind me.  She also later let me shower in her hotel room before I drove to the airport.  Thanks, Linda!

I left Lower Frary Peak with an old, large green Gore-tex jacket, or maybe a garbage bag, I can't remember, and soon became hot.  I then saw the leaders of the 50 mile and maybe 50k race coming the other way.  The leader was wearing Sportiva yellow, one of my newer teammates, Dylan Bowman.  He greeted me post-race, though he must have thought I was brain damaged since I was pretty spent.  his race report

50 mile winner in 6:15:36, celebrating with his girlfriend Courtnee

So during the slog during the flat, theoretically fast out-and-back, I got passed quite a bit, and ended up finishing 16th overall in 23:26:58 (per my stopwatch) although the last time I checked, the results still listed me as finishing 2 hours faster in 8th place.  (Despite having written Stride Racing, the timing people, about this.)

Buffalo stew really hits the spot after eating peanut butter and gels and other typical race food for 24 hours.

Even with another "miss," -- I was now 0 for 2 with running this year's 100-milers well-- the experience of getting through and finishing one of these races was and is always worth it.  Thanks RD Jim Skaggs and all the great volunteers for putting on such a great race.

I guess to run a clean, fast hundo this year, I'll have to try my luck farther east.

tangible memento I can wear above my crotch

Here's a cool trailer for an upcoming documentary on an upcoming speed record by Nikki Kimball this September on the 271 mile Long Trail (running the length of Vermont).  The trailer has lots of footage of Antelope Island during the 50k race on Saturday March 26th.

race website

my Garmin Forerunner 305 recorded maps again, if you want to geek out
miles 0-50
miles 50-69
miles 69-100


Baldwyn said...

I'm still squirming at the idea of gu-crotch. Great job soldiering through. Nice to see the buckle in person, too!

Dylan Bowman said...

Priceless report as usual Mark. It was good to meet you at the race, and I can assure you, I did not think you were brain damaged. I'm running the SD100 in a couple weeks and got a kick out of reading your account from last year. Any veteran pieces of advice on the course?

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks, guys.

Baldwyn-- don't try it at home (or anywhere)!

Dylan-- I don't know if running it once makes me a veteran. Let's see, for this race, nothing big pops out.

If you are prone to get lost, consider carrying the maps between aid stations. If you aren't using a pacer, consider an extra handheld light on the PCT when you go back from Sunrise to Pioneer, if I got that right because I was tripping a bit-- the trail was narrow and eroded at times.

Just saw your Antelope 50 report, will link to it on mine.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Nice thick field for SD (thick enough for a race the same month as States). I'd be interested in Karl's odds for you, but looks like his website is under construction. I'm looking forward to seeing you rock this, Dylan!

ultrajim said...

Great report. Hope I never get the Gu crotch thing. Thanks for coming out to Utah and thanks for the feedback. I do appreciate it.