The Antelope Island Buffalo Run is now the largest trail race in Utah, this year with over 550 runners. It has a very unique setting on a large island in the Great Salt Lake, where the wildlife is protected by a state park.
I missed this race last year, choosing instead to run the Moab 100 held on the same date and this year considered missing it again. But then I got the crazy thought of running the Buffalo Run 50-miler twice, accomplishing 100 miles closer to home. It was just a thought, but buddy Jim Kern took it one step further. He asked Race Director Jim Skaggs’ permission and volunteered to be my crew during the night. Jim Skaggs asked permission from the park for me to run on the trails usually closed during the night. They were fine with the idea. So I had no excuses, and decided to go ahead with something that started as just a crazy thought.
My plan was to start in the evening before the race, have Jim Kern crew me during the night, timing it such that I could make use of the aid stations as they opened in the morning, and finish with the 50-mile runners. The first 19-miles of each 50-mile segment would be a challenge because it is on a remote section that can’t be crewed and I would need to run that section each time without any aid. Jim Skaggs was kind and arranged to put a water jug at the Elephant Head aid station location before I started. This would allow me make the entire run carrying only one water bottle.
As race-day approached, the weather forecast for the night of my first 50-miles looked bad. Rain/Snow was forecast, with up to two inches of snow up on the ridges. I wasn’t dissuaded, simply added more warm clothes to my gear. As I was driving to the island, there were some pounding snow squalls in the valley, but I could see that the island was being bathed in sunshine. Amazing. I arrived at the start/finish line where Jim Skaggs and others were building out race headquarters. Jim Kern, my crew chief soon arrived and I made race preparations. It was windy and very cool, but I would never feel any rain fall during my run. I would see a few snowflakes.
At 6:00 p.m., with no fanfare, Jim took a picture, I hit my watch, and began my run up the hill. I was curious to know how I would do. This was a run, not a race, because I was the only one doing this. I knew that for the first 68 miles or so, I would have no others runners near me. Without any competition around me, would I be able to push myself hard enough for a good finishing time? Would I quit when the going got tough? These are the thoughts I had in my might as I ascended to the ridge- tops that presented amazing views of the Great Salt Lake to the west and the Wasatch Front to the east.
I initially felt strong and fast, but I could tell that I wasn’t starting as fast as I normally would with other runners around me. But I was fine with my pace. I arrived at Elephant Head (mile 5.5) at 0:52. Next I did a three-mile out and back on the Elephant Head ridge. I had never run this section before and I was very pleased with the views in all directions as the sun was setting. Far to the north and down below, I could see race headquarters.
This first 19 miles is the most difficult part of the course, with some nice climbs, but still very runnable. The loop descended almost to the shoreline and then I made a long climb up to the base of Frary Peak. I really enjoyed the mostly flat return to Elephant Head as it weaved in and out of the drainages giving wonderful views of the valley below. Darkness arrived as I returned to Elephant Head (mile 13.7) at 2:14. I checked my water bottle and it still had enough for the final 5.2 miles of the loop. The cool temperatures (mid 30s) were keeping me cool. I turned on my green hand-held flashlight and then thought it would be fun to also turn on my red headlamp, giving myself a traffic light look if someone saw me up on mountain.
At mile 15, I started to have problems. I could tell that my stomach was upset and no longer processing anything. I threw up several times over the next mile. I expect my problem was that I had taken in too many calories over the past couple hours. Or, the problem could have been caused by the antibiotic I had been on during the week. The night before I had also had stomach problems. This really worried me and slowed me down. With an upset stomach, if you push the pace, it only gets more upset. If the stomach is upset, you aren’t taking in calories and fluid. Eventually you have to stop.
As I was approached and descended toward the start area again, those there spotted me. They took out a bright spot light and started to flash it toward me. I flashed my green light in return. I could hear cheers. Very cool! I arrived (mile 18.9) at 3:08. Despite my problem, I was still on a good pace. Jim Kern was there with his car and all my supplies. My mind was really fuzzy and I had difficulty answering questions and started looking for things in the wrong place. Somehow I had to pull out of this. I ditched taking in Ensure and switched to Heed. I put on another layer, a warm hat and took my warmer gloves with me. Jim Kern was ready to start crewing me near the locations where the aid stations would be in the morning. There were some very enthusiastic guys having a lot of fun at race headquarters. They peppered me with questions and just couldn’t believe I was doing something so crazy. It was pretty crazy.
On the road again, and still feeling terrible, I pushed ahead. Jim greeted me at two spots in the next few miles, but I didn’t need anything. He offered me some candy, but I knew I would just throw it up. My stomach was now cramping. I did my very best to keep my pace up. I discovered some mileage signs along the trail and they were very helpful to motivate me to keep my pace up. I managed to run at a 10-minute-mile pace for a few miles. The view of the city lights across the bay to the east was incredible. This was something none of the runners would experience on the next day.
I arrived at Lower Frary (mile 27) at 4:52. I was still a few minutes ahead of my pace goal, but I was a mess. I knew I had to recover. Jim let me sit in the car, out of the cold. The warm potato soup I brought in a thermos seemed to help. Jim offered to refill my bottle with Poweraid. That would be very helpful to again switch to something else. There was a porto-potty there, so I took advantage of it and felt a little better. My stop had been very long, about 20 minutes. I pushed on.
Within about a mile, something happened, I don’t know what, but all of a sudden my stomach felt better and the cold Poweraid tasted amazing. I was finally pulling out of it. My pace increased dramatically. I started to have a blast. There was a bright moon out and I had fun turning my lights out and seeing how fast I could blast down the trail by moonlight. But I could go faster with the lights, so turned them back on. It was having great fun until I saw some dark black shapes ahead. Buffalo! My lights spooked them and they started moving quickly ahead of my, but not out of my path. They finally stopped on the trail ahead and watched me. A little fear went through me. I decided to take a wide detour around them and slowed down. Finally around them, I kept looking back, wondering if they would decide to chase me down. It was an eerie experience. Throughout the rest of the night I would continue to see many buffalo nearby, dark objects in the moonlight.
In what seemed to be no time at all, I again was greeted by Jim, who crewed me at the locked gate a few miles from the ranch. He complemented me on my fast pace. I refilled with Poweraid and pushed ahead down the trail toward the ranch. All was quiet there when I arrived (mile 32.8) at 6:16. I was now past midnight. I turned around to head north and was shocked by something alarming. I now had a very cold headwind to deal with. I zipped up my vest, put on my warmer gloves, and pushed ahead. In some places the wind would really howl, about 20 m.p.h. But thankfully it wouldn’t last too long or I would be more protected by a ridge. When I returned to Jim’s car, I asked him if he had been getting any sleep. He had. He explained that he was using an alarm clock to wake him up a few minutes before my expected arrival.
My stops were rather long. Much longer than at an aid station stop during a race. Each time I really needed to sit for awhile in the warm car to bring new life to my body. I reached Lower Frary (mile 38.4) at the 7:35 mark where Jim parked the car such that the wind would not blow like crazy into the car. This time he also had the heater going well. He mentioned that I was on pace for a 10-hour first 50-mile finish. I knew he was right and was disappointed because I had targeted for 9:30. But my long stops were taking its toll on the clock. When I left, I told Jim that I would pick up the pace. Boy, did I ever. Those mileage markers along the way were very helpful for me to make sure I was averaging 10-11 minute-miles.
Usually Jim would be standing out of the car when I arrived, sometimes with a camping light on the roof. But this time when I arrived at the next stop, all was quiet. I had run too fast and beat his alarm clock. When I opened the back door of his car, he let out a scream and jumped like crazy. I apologized, but couldn’t help chuckling. It was now about 2:30 a.m.
I was now north of the start/finish area. All that was left for this first 50 miles, was to descend down to Bridger Bay Campground and run along a rocky shoreline around a large hill. On the ridge above the campground I lost the trail. I would later discover that there wasn’t any trail, it was just a bushwhack marked by road cones that I couldn’t see in the dark. But I knew I needed to reach the campground, so I set my sights on what seemed to look like campers and tents reflecting in the moonlight. All was quiet when I arrived and I knew most of these campers were racers. Jim flashed a light toward me, which helped me find the next trail head. I made a quick stop, still wanting to break 10 hours for the first 50.
The trail around the mountain was the only section of the course with rocks and they were big rocks. It was tough to keep a fast pace going. Finally I made my way around and could see the lights of the start/finish area a couple miles away. I kept checking my watch and pushed my pace. As I approached the finish, I took inventory and was amazed at how well I felt. I really didn’t feel like I had just run 50 miles. I was in the right frame of mind to continue toward my 100-mile goal. I returned at 9:59. It was 4:00 a.m., two hours before the 50-mile race start. Jim Skaggs was busy at work preparing for the crowds to arrive.
After another long stop, I bid the two Jims goodbye and started again to climb up to the ridges. Jim Kern had really been a trooper to help me during the night. He would now have several hours to sleep before the start of his 50k race at 8:00 a.m. As I started my climb, immediately my stomach again rebelled. My pace slowed to a crawl as all the same pains came back. I eventually took in more salt hoping that it would solve the problem. I watched the lights far below and could see many racer car lights driving on the causeway toward the island. I really had wanted to make good advantage of this 1:45 head-start I had on the rest of the 50-mile field, but I knew it was shrinking. It took me over 30 minutes longer to arrive to Elephant Head compared to the last evening. But thankfully, the Heed in my bottle started to taste fantastic. My stomach again recovered and I pulled out of it.
I really enjoyed running out along Elephant Head again because I would watch all the activity of lights several miles away at race headquarters. Cars were driving all over and headlamps were flashing around. I flashed my green light over and over again towards the runners, hoping someone could see it up on the dark mountain. (Sure enough, Jim Skaggs commented that he could see my light). My urgency for a fast pace just wasn’t there, I was enjoying the early morning. But at 6:00 a.m., I thought about all the runners who were now chasing me. That inspired me to work harder. At about 6:10 a.m., I was back at the Elephant aid station location. There still was no one there to set it up. Runners would be arriving in just 30 minutes. I filled up my bottle with the water that had been dropped there and continued on the five-mile loop to the south.
Dawn arrived. I turned my flashlight off only a mile away from the location where I turned it on the night before. I had traveled 49 miles between dusk and dawn. Soon Elephant Head could be seen a mile away. I could see runners along the ridge and down in the valley, like ants chasing after me. I ran along a short section where some runners came toward me. Half of them greeted me by name. I could tell that some knew what I was doing, because they would say, “You are nuts.”
When I arrived at the aid station it was a very busy place. I saw confused looks by the aid station volunteers as they looked at me, taking down my number. I told them to not worry about me, that I was on my second 50, not in the race. That made them even more confused and I started getting a ton of questions. It was pretty funny. I continued on and all was quiet on the trail again. As I made my way around the valley, I wondered where the front-runners were. I kept looking across the valley for any sign of them chasing me, but just couldn’t spy them. I really wanted to return to the start before the 50K started at 8:00 a.m., but again my stomach was in knots and I had to slow down. I reached the trail junction just in time to see the last of the 50K walkers only 20 yards away on the trail above. I thought I saw Jim Kern, yelled “Hey Jim” but it must not have been him.
I reached the start/finish aid station (mile 68.9) at about 14:15. It had taken me 4:15 to do that 19-mile loop. Yesterday it had taken me only 3:05. An aid station volunteer made some comment that I was “only” an early starter, not a front running. Jim Skaggs was there, and corrected her. He said I should receive special attention, that I was a 100-miler. That got their attention. As I was filling my water, the two front-runners arrived. Wow, they had done that loop in about 2:20 or so. They were flying!
After I left the station, I was greeted by buddy Jon Allen who would run in the 25K starting at 10:00 a.m. He escorted me to my car and helped me transition to what I needed for the day ahead. I peeled off one layer, took off the warm hat, ditched the lights, changed my shoes, and put on sunscreen.
Jon gave me great words of encouragement and took a picture of me heading out. Other front-runners soon caught up to me and a couple knew who I was and what I was attempting.
Each time a runner caught up, I did my best to keep up for awhile. Soon, I just started blending in with the other runners. On the out-and-back to the trailhead, I could see which runners were on my tail. Some of the runners didn’t know that I was on my second 50 and wondered why my pace was slowing. Each time I would explain and they would leave flabbergasted. On the section with the mile markers, I kept up a very good pace, again clocking 10-11 minute-miles. I found a good song on my MP3 that always gets me going fast. This helped me to keep right up with these runners near the front of the pack. In fact at times I would start catching the runners ahead of me. How cool was this? I was keeping up with guys that would finish in under 9 hours.
But my pace eventually slowed down. On the last stretch to the ranch I ran out of water and started to become dehydrated. I also had not been eating enough. I remember Chad Carson catching up, wondering why I was dressed so warm? I hadn’t really noticed. But I was glad I still had warm clothes on because again when I would turn back from the ranch, a cold headwind would really cool me down. I arrived at the ranch (mile 82.8) at about 17:45, 11:45 a.m.
Everything came crashing down shortly after I left the ranch. The stomach again went south and I went into a major bonk. All I could do was walk slowly up the trail. Dozens of runners came toward me or passed me, asking if I was OK. Most of them had no idea that I was on mile 84 instead of mile 34. Finally, I had no choice but to lie down on the soft warm grass near the side of the trail. My respiration was out of control and my stomach felt like it had gone through a meat grinder. After a few minutes, I no longer felt like I was going to die. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the first real rest in over 18 hours. I picked myself up again, but over the next couple miles again had to lay down several times, taking up a total of about 20 minutes. I looked at my watch and sadly concluded that I would probably finish in over 24 hours.
Some very kind runners I knew would always stop and offer assistance. Some knew what I was doing, others didn’t. Many offered me anything they carried. Finally, after take three S-caps and drinking plenty, I rapidly recovered. I was running again. During that episode, I was probably passed by 30-40 runners. I was now running near those who would finish in around 10 hours for their 50. I knew I should be able to keep up with this group, so I did.
After I arrived at Lower Frary, Cory Johnson arrived. He yelled out, “Does everyone know what Davy is doing?” It was fun to talk with several runners about my crazy 100-mile quest. Well, after Cory’s announcement, I couldn’t be a slacker. For the next several miles I led a pack of about eight runners and was able to put some big distances on them. But at about mile 92, I started to slow down again. I couldn’t find the motivation. Julie Nelson was very kind to me at the aid station at mile 93.5, and had me take more S-caps. Cory Johnson caught up with me at mile 95 and we had fun running with each other for a little while. My speed was gone, and I was just now content to finish. John Bozung greeted me at the final aid station and explained to everyone there that I was finishing 100 miles.
The final four miles were a real chore. I was somewhat amazed that despite all my challenges, I was still going to finish near 22 hours. I know that the key was to run fast when I felt good to make up for the slow pace and long stops along the way. The finish area came into view. As I approached the finish line, Jim Kern ran up to escort me to the finish. I was proud to have him by my side. The cheers were amazing. I know that half the crowd just thought that I was a haggered old man finishing his 50 in 10:15, but I could also tell, half of them realized that I was finishing 100 miles. I finished in 22:15:44, my second fastest 100-finish. It was also my 31st finish. I sat down next to Cory Johnson and received congratulations from many that also usually included the statement, “you are nuts.” We joked that I finished in first and set the course record for the 100. Jim Skaggs said to me, “you are the first person to run 100 miles on Antelope Island.” Several joked that I should receive two 50-mile finisher mugs.
I finished feeling pretty well. My quads were a little sore and my feet were anxious to get out of the running shoes. The 1.5 hour drive home was a little tough, but I made it. I was in bed before dark and had a nice restless night’s sleep dreaming about Antelope Island and my wonderful experience. Many thanks to Jim Kern, Jim Skaggs, and the state park for allowing me to do this.
Times: First 50: 9:59, Second 50: 12:16. I believe because of the soft, well-groomed trails there, that it would be possible for me to run a sub-20-hour 100 there if I had a perfect day.