I ran the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 for the 4th time. 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. In 2006 Jim Skaggs established the first ultramarathons held on the island and in 2011 introduced a 100-miler.
In 1848, Fielding Garr established permanent residency on the island. 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. In the 1890’s, John E Dooley owned land on Antelope Island. He bought buffalo and transported them 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.
In 2010, Jim Skaggs agreed to let me test the possibility of holding a 100-mile race on the island. I ran the 50-mile course twice, having a friend crew me for the first 50, and joining in with the 50-mile race for the second 50. It all worked out great and I finished in 22:15, and was the first one to run 100 miles on that island. In 2011 a small group ran the first formal 100-miler and I finished in 3rd place, in 20:27.
Now in 2017, I was back to run the 100 for the 4th time. In the past four weeks I had also run and finished Jackpot 100 and Trail Trashed 100. This would be my 3rd 100-miler during a four-week period. If successful, it would also be my 90th 100-mile career finish.
It was beautiful spring weather on the island, even a bit too hot. About 67 100-mile runners started at noon on Friday. On Saturday there would be hundreds more running on the island doing 50 miles, 50K, or 25k.
We first were faced with a 600-foot climb to the top of a ridge line. I had run this climb many times in the past. I settled in with the top-10 runners and on top was running with Phil Lowry and Carter Williams. Early on I felt great. On a fast downhill into a valley I sprinted fast past the guys but they caught up on the first climb up to Elephant Head. On that climb, I detected that my uphill strength was surprisingly poor, surely after-effects of the 16,000 feet of climbing two weeks earlier at Trashed Trail 100 near Las Vegas.
The views on top of the island are always amazing, views that very few ever saw until Jim started his races. I ran the out-and-back to the tip of Elephant Head and then ran the downhill very fast that almost reached the shoreline. I could see Phil ahead of me and I almost caught back up to him. On the next uphill back up to the ridgeline, my uphill running strength departed. Back muscle pain came back which I had experienced in the last 25 miles two weeks ago. I can usually run the series of switch-backs very strong but this time I had to walk them. I realized that this race would take me much longer than I expected. I never pulled out my sheet of pace goals. I was passed by several runners and I struggled even on the flat portion at mile 12.
I returned to the Elephant Head aid station that was run by many friends. I made a quick stop to recover and then continued on back toward the start area. Typically this first big 19-mile loop takes me about 3:10 to run, but on this day it was closer to four hours. I didn’t stop at race headquarters and just continued on.
With the hard part of the course done for this first 50 miles, I looked forward to the fast mostly flat section on the east side of the island as we made our way south to Fielding Garr Ranch. I hoped to really regain some time but the afternoon heat slowed me way down. Boy did I struggle! My back pain was significant and then bouts of dizziness arrived. I had no choice but to slow down. At one point I stopped to lay down on the soft island sand to rest my back and stop the dizziness. Things got better and I settled in with a couple other runners.
I arrived at Lower Frary aid station (mile 27) at about 5:50, a full hour behind my best pace at that point. I did the math in my head and thought I could make it to the ranch and back in just enough time to not take my light with me. It would also push me. On the out and back it was fun to see how all my other running friends were doing. The lead runner was already about eight miles ahead of me. Phil was six miles ahead. That was a bit discouraging to see how much I had faded. I counted the runners and I was running in about 25th place out of the 67 starters. Other good friends were about six miles behind me.
I returned to Lower Frary (mile 38.4) just as dark arrived at 8:10, now 1:25 behind my best pace. I had decided that my goal was no longer to run this race fast, it was just to finish, hopefully before that bad heat of the next day. With the cooler evening, I found good new energy and ran strongly for the next few miles with several other runners chasing me. All went well during the evening and I really found enjoyment running in solitude with lights to be seen in the distance.
I finished the first 50 miles in about 11:15, much slower than my best of 9:05. Aaron Williams greeted me at race headquarters and kindly carried my drop bag for me to my car. For the next 20 minutes or so, I ate, rested, and cleaned both feet which were starting to develop a couple small blisters. I re-taped some sections and that did the trick. I then stopped for a long bathroom break.
Before midnight, I was away again. On the initial climb I caught up to a runner who was really struggling with back pain and I think later turned back. As I went on I gapped the next runner behind me by more than a mile. Up on the ridge, I greeted Phil just as the moon started to rise over the Wasatch Mountains in the distance. I joked with others that it was a special moment for us. Phil was running really strong, about 12 miles ahead of me.
When I arrived at the Elephant Head aid station my Wasatch Wrangler friends did a great job in cheering me up. I had no sense of urgency so I sat and joked with them for several minutes. I then went on to run the Elephant Head out-and-back. As I ran along at about 2 a.m., I enjoyed flashing my green light to runners down below and across the bay. It was fun to see who would notice and flash back. But as I was having fun, I wasn’t paying attention and tripped in a very rocky section and fell into a rough patch of rocks. I pulled myself back up and it wasn’t pretty. My face took a bad shot on a rough rock but luckily didn’t knock out any teeth. I knew that I had an ugly lip, gash in the chin, and cuts all over my hand, arm and leg. That took the wind out of my sails. I asked a runner coming toward me to check me out but all the wounds looked like scrapes.
For the rest of the out-and-back my shirt became a bloody mess as I used it to stop the bleeding. When I returned to the aid station, my friends helped me get cleaned back up and we joked about my ugly bloody face. For the rest of the race I would have to answer many concerned questions from everyone I met. I felt just fine. My pride was wounded the most.
On the trail again, I pushed the pace and soon noticed that I had a good three-mile lead on the next runners. I returned to the start area (mile 59) at about 5:15 a.m. (17:15 elapsed) nearly four hours behind my best time. The 50-mile race would start at 6:00 a.m. and they would be all chasing me. I would have a 21-mile head start on them, but I knew the frontrunners would catch me quickly.
I made a quick stop at my car to prepare for the hot day ahead. My stop was quick enough to catch up with several runners I had not seen for many hours. My pace was relatively strong, still running most of the time. I passed several more runners and continued on down the east side of the island.
Dawn arrived bringing morning beauty to the island. I reached Lower Frary again (mile 77) at about 19:15. It looked like I was now in 15th place. Thankfully the early morning sun was mostly hiding behind clouds and would stay there for nearly the next five hours. I reached the Ranch turnaround at about 9:00 a.m. (21:00). On my return, I could again see all my friends. Matt Watts was really struggling with back pain and would soon have no choice but to quit.
I arrived at Lower Frary (mile 88.4) for the last time feeling pretty thrashed at 22:45. There was only twelve miles left but at this point it seemed so far. I sat for a few minutes and enjoyed the rest.
The 50-miler runners came running toward me. I sure wish I still had their speed so I could get this race over with. The frontrunner caught up to me around mile 86. He was at mile 36 and had already caught up despite my 21 mile lead since he started. About six other 50-miler runners would catch up to me in the miles ahead.
By mile 93.5, it was blazing hot and I was just about out of water. All my joints were sore from dehydration. I wished there would have been an unmanned water station at some point because the distance between Lower Frary and Bridger Bay was just too far at this point in the race, in the heat. Thankfully a park cop, stopped and asked how I was doing, probably noticing my wounds. He kindly filled up one of my bottles which I immediately drank most of. I started to feel better quickly.
As I was running down to Bridger Bay, Steven Jeffs, a 50-mile runner kindly stopped his fast pace (he finished in 3rd place) and ran slowly into the aid station with me. That was really kind of him and he boosted my spirits. I arrived there (mile 95.8) at about 25:00. I had only a little more than four miles to go. I really wanted to get this over. I had foot pain from shoes that were too worn out, and a sore right knee. I picked my way through the rocks and finally ran the home stretch to the finish. I finished in a very slow 26:21:32 in 16th place. I didn’t stop to celebrate with others, knowing that I needed to get in cool air conditioning fast. Hot 100-mile finishes can make me very sick. I rested, cleaned up a little, retrieved my drop bag, and soon headed home. About 30 of the 100-mile runners didn’t finish but got credited for running 50 miles.
That was a rough one. I learned that running three 100-milers in a four-week period isn’t very easy. I could really tell that my body needed rest, that this third one was just too much. But I got it done. All muscle soreness was gone within two days because this run was a pretty slow one for me.
My 90th 100-mile finish was in the books.