March 18, 2006

I ran in the first-ever Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50K on Antelope Island, the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah.  I really enjoyed the experience especially because it was the first ultra that I ran with my brother, Bob.   Bob, who flew in from California, had run in a few marathons and had completed a double-crossing of the Grand Canyon with me last fall, but he had not yet run in an ultra race.   This 50K was an ideal race for a first-timer.

I found Antelope Island to be an amazing, unique setting for a trail race.   Great Salt Lake is massive.  It extends clear past the horizon.   Antelope Island rises high above the waters of this distinctive saltwater lake.   Just fifteen miles to the east rises the immense snow-covered Wasatch Mountain Range.   Undeveloped Antelope Island, protected by a state park, immediately presents a truly western, rural setting for a running adventure.

Here I was, on a crisp morning, getting ready to run on this island explored by John Fremont and Kit Carson in 1845.   The island also served as the home for nearly 1,000 wild horses during the late 1800’s.   Brigham Young enjoyed visiting in 1856 to swim, boat, and take a carriage ride.   Well, here it was, 2006, and Davy Crockett visited the island.  Instead of a musket and coonskin hat, I carried a water bottle and some Hammer Gel.  I was primed and ready to prance on the trails with my brother.

The race was well organized and had a nice down-home family feel to it.  I looked forward to feasting on the after-race buffalo stew    I could tell that many volunteers were witnessing their first ultra, wondering what motivates 150 runners to cover 25K or 50K.   Race Director Jim Skaggs gave a short welcome, told us to go, and away we went.

I ran the 50K distance that consisted of two loops through a giant figure-eight course that climbed ridges and descended in valleys, presenting spectacular views.   The trails were ATV roads with compacted sand, soft single-track with occasional rocky obstacles, and a few stretches of dirt roads.

I felt fast and strong during the first 25K loop.  My brother struggled a little bit warming up but kept up a nice pace.   Sometimes I couldn’t hold back and ran fast ahead, passing many runners and then stopped to talk to the volunteers, take in the views, and wait for my brother to catch up.  The temperature was cool and ideal for an early spring race.   I peeled off the long sleeves at the lone tree aid-station around mile 4.

As we ran through one of the valleys, we could look up toward a ridge and see a herd of about 100 buffalo quietly grazing, ignoring the strange humans cruising through their valley.   Clear back in the 1890’s a herd of buffalo was introduced onto the island.  I’ve heard the roar of stampeding buffalo in the past on the island, but today they grazed calmly in the distance.   One very cool feature of this course is the wide-open landscape void of trees.   At times I could see several miles ahead and see runners spread out across the course.

With the first 25K loop under our belt after 2:45, we headed out for the second loop.   I let my brother head out a few minutes ahead of me.    I was surprised that it took me almost two miles catch up.   After the Lone Tree aid station, Bob really kicked it into gear.   I wondered where all that energy came from!   For the rest of the race I would just do my best to keep pace with him.   With about five miles to go, I ran some time calculations in my head and realized that we had a chance to beat 6 hours if we really hustled.   I thought about mentioning that to my brother but he was doing just fine, I didn’t want to encourage him to go even faster.

Thankfully, for most of the day the forecasted rainstorm stayed away, but near the tail end of our run, the winds kicked up, the temperature took a dive, and we had to again put on our long sleeves.   Soon the start/finish area could be seen a couple miles in the distance.   Bob kept cranking out the miles and I kept struggling to keep up.   As we neared the finish line I made one last push to finish side-by-side with my brother.  We clocked a 5:58, an impressive time for a 51-year-old rookie brother.

Race Director Jim Skaggs congratulated us at the finish line and we enjoyed a wonderful post-race dinner with many local running friends.   We came away with two great running shirts, plenty of other goodies, and best of all wonderful memories of our day running where the buffalo roam, on Antelope Island in Utah.