When Jim Skaggs moved to Utah about ten years ago, he introduced to the ultrarunning community the unique experience of running on Antelope Island.  He introduced the first ultra on the island in 2006 and now several thousand runners have had the experience running on the island.  The main running event is held in the spring, 25K, 50K, 50-mile, and 100-mile races.   But also in the fall Jim puts on a smaller 50K race with a more interesting and challenging course.

Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, covering 28,022 acres. It is home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, upland game birds, and waterfowl.  Fielding Garr established permanent residency on the island in 1848.  He grazed his own herds there as well of massive herds for the Mormon Church.  At times there were nearly 1,000 wild horses roaming the island. During the 1870’s several private homesteads were established, with George and Alice Frary staying the longest. Communication with the mainland was accomplished by means of sagebrush fires lighted on the west face of Ensign Peak above Salt Lake City. Two such fires meant that George was to “bring over a load of cattle.”

In the 1890’s, John E Dooley owned land on Antelope Island. He bought buffalo and transported them to the Island. John Dooly and George Frary loaded the bison into a small sailboat and nearly capsized as they sailed to the island.  By 1900, the small herd had multiplied to over 100 head.  Recognizing the recreation potential of the island, the north 2,000 acres were acquired by the state in 1969. In 1981 the state purchased most of the rest of the island thus preserving it as a state park for all the people to enjoy.  Today the number of bison on the island number about 750.

This past summer’s race season has been a challenging time for me as I have battled some injuries and faced the reality of advancing age (now 56).  The 100-mile mountain races in particular took its toll and I had a couple rare DNFs at Cascade Crest and Bear 100 races.  I quit both races due mostly to mental weakness, a loss of interest, and going discouragingly slowly.   A week ago I ran the North Face 50 race and Park City where I did fine but wished I could keep up with the younger runners as I have in the past.

As winter approaches, I shift to the low lands and concentrate on less climbing and more flat miles.  Late in the week, I decided to again go run on Antelope Island.  I remember running in the first edition of this fall race several years ago, and with speed I was leading the entire race until about mile 12.   I knew this wouldn’t be the case this year, but I looked forward to this “shorter” race where I could push the pace much harder.  About 80 runners started the 50K.

We had perfect weather, with temperatures starting around 50 degrees.  On the first climb I was surprised that only a handful of runners were ahead of me and that I ran every step to the top.  Others passed me on the way up and I was in about 15th place as I started to struggle with my pace near the top.  But as the trail flattened out, I was amazed that my heart rate calmed down and quickly I was able to sustain an 8:00 pace with ease.  I was now passing those runners who passed me.  As we reached the downhills, my legs found 6:30 pace and after another short climb I reached Elephant Head in only 50 minutes, about the fastest I had ever run to Elephant Head.  I was stunned at how strong I felt and how fast I was running.  It seemed like I had again found that youthful speed.  I could see that there were only 6-7 runners ahead.  I bypassed the aid station and blasted down into Death Valley, peaking at 6:00 speed.  As the trail climbed again, Jimmy Garrett caught up to me and together we ran up the switch backs.  For the first time I ran up the entire way up without walking.  But because I was concentrating so much on my pace, somehow I missed the important turn down into the next valley.  All the front-runners ahead of me also went the wrong way.  The course had been changed just that morning and I had never run this exact route.  I knew there was a turn at the top of the switch-backs, but I never saw any markings showing me the road.  So I foolishly trusted all the runners ahead, thinking that the turn must be coming soon.  We ran on for another half mile or so and soon I saw all the runners ahead stopped and talking.  I realized we surely goofed.  They all ran back, but I decided to go ahead and see if I could find a route to the south into the next valley.

I was now alone and found a nice distinct deer trail that ran along a shelf to the next valley.  I thought that would be faster than backtracking. But soon the trail faded out and I searched the valley below for the continuing race route.  I eventually saw the road and it was discouraging to see numerous runners who were at one time behind me now well ahead.  I had to bushwhack down a steep slope and made my way to the right trail.  I had run an extra 1.4 miles and wasted about 25 minutes.  Ahead about a quarter mile I could see the shirt colors of the front runners trying to make their way to the front again.


I still had good strength and speed.  I decided to not sweat it.  I was doing this run for fun.  So I started to pass runner after runner.  Once I hit a long steep uphill on the south end of the island loop, my uphill speed departed.  When I reached the second aid station, I paused there to recover and eat well.  After running in the top ten, I was now in about 28th place.  My speed returned and by the time I reached the Fielding Garr Ranch, I had passed another seven runners.  For me it was the 19-mile mark in 3:24, for the other runners around me it was 17.6 miles.   From there, probably from the fast pace, my stomach knotted up in pain and my pace slowed for the next hour.  But the rest of the course was pretty flat and eventually I recovered running about 11:00 pace.

As I approached the finish, I marveled how well I felt.   I finished in 5:55, in 18th place and for me the distance was 30.9, nearly a true 50K.  I had climbed 3,432 feet along the way. If I had not have blundered the course, I would have finished in about 10th place.  I didn’t really feel very tired at the finish but I was pretty dehydrated from the warm afternoon.  I was pleased with the effort and hoped that I could continue to see the strength and speed in the months to come.

But on the downside, because of the speed and pounding downhills, I again aggravated my right leg.  In 2012 I experienced a massive stress fracture of the tibia.  It took more than a year for me to run pain free. But since then, I probably have experienced another couple smaller stress fractures or tears in the membrane that surrounds the bone.  I believe that has happened yet again.  I blocked out any pain during the race, but afterwards and a day later it is pretty bad.  It looks like I might again be on the injured list for 4-6 weeks.