This year the fifth 100-mile trail race was introduced to Utah, the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100. Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, 15 miles long, five miles wide. It is home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, upland game birds, and waterfowl. John C. Fremont and Kit Carson visited Antelope Island in 1845. They killed several antelope on the island thus giving Antelope Island its name. In the 1890′s, John E Dooley owned land on Antelope Island and he introduced a herd of twelve bison. Now hundreds roam the island.
The Buffalo Run, in its fifth year, is the largest trail race in Utah, with over 700 runners this year competing in distances of 25K, 50K, 50-miles, and 100-miles.
Last year, racer director Jim Skaggs, let me test out the possibility of a 100-mile race by running the 50-mile course twice. Assisted by a crew for the first 50 miles, and using the aid stations for the second 50, I finished the 100 last year in 22:15:45, being the first to run 100 miles on the island. I knew it was a pretty fast course and I looked forward to running faster this year.
The course this year was the same route I ran last year. It makes a 19-mile loop involving the White Rock Trail, an out and back to Elephant Head, and then the Split Rock Loop. This is the toughest part of the course because it involves some good climbs and some rough trails.
Next, the course heads to the east side of the island doing a very long out-and-back on the Mountain View Trail clear to Fielding Garr Ranch and back. Finally it does a loop around a small mountain on the west side of the island using the Lakeview Trail. That covers 50 miles. The 100-mile runners then head out and run the course again.
When I looked at the entrants for the race, I saw 4-5 elite runners signed up who I knew I couldn’t beat unless they dropped out. But then there were about five others who on a good day I could complete with. My goal was to again try to break that elusive 20-hour barrier and to place in the top five. When I arrived at the start buddy Cory Johnson mentioned that he was betting on me and Tom Remkes for the top five.
As race day approached, the weather looked challenging. There was a good possibility that we would be running in snow showers for the first 50 miles. Right before the start, a snow squall hit and I put on a garbage bag and some ski goggles. We all looked like a strange group of characters at the start.
At noon, we were away, about 45 100-mile runners. I’ve run the first section of the course many times and I like to charge up the first climb fast to warm up and to stay with the leaders. I quickly took the lead and heard someone laugh and yell, “There goes Davy!”
As I made my way up the hill toward the snow-line, I noticed several Buffalo moving to intercept me on the trail. Wow, this could be interesting. Tim Long from Colorado, one of the elite runners, caught up with me and I gladly let him lead out toward the beasts. They noticed us coming and thankfully started to gallop faster, crossing the trail in front of us. I also spied two coyotes who howled as us as we went by.
After only about ten minutes, the snow stopped and it was already time to take off the garbage bag. As I did, Karl Meltzer, one of the best ultrarunners in the world, caught up and commented on my fast start, “The rabbit rarely wins!” I laughed, replied, “I have no intention in trying to win.” At the top of the ridge I kept pace with Karl and Dan Vega. It was fun to run with the elites. I was feeling great so I pushed on ahead of Karl. What is up with this — passing Karl Meltzer at mile 3 in a race? At mile 5, I needed to stop to try to get my music going, and Karl passed me heading up to the Elephant Head aid station.
We didn’t stop at the station, just continued on a 2.5 mile out-and back to Elephant Head, an overlook of rocks that loop like and Elephant’s head. The trail was covered in about two inches of snow, so footing was a little slick at times. As Karl, Dan, and I were running along the ridge, we noticed Tim Long chose to run the Split Rock Loop first. That is fine, but he waved his arms at us confused that he had gone the wrong way. We tried to tell and wave him on, letting him know he was fine. We had chosen to do the out-and-back first before the split-rock loop. Turns out that Tim gave up his first-place position and climbed up a steep slope to get on the trail we were on. He later passed me coming back.
At Elephant Head we stopped to put stickers on our bibs to prove that we went all the way to the end of the trail, then we headed back. It was now great fun to see so many friends with smiles on coming toward me. I was already a couple miles ahead of several of them.
I no longer could keep up with Dan, Karl and Tim. Those guys are amazing. The steep trail down to Split Rock Bay was very slick and I took it pretty easy, sometimes just bounding through the snow off the trail. I had a bad shoe problem. I had put some duct tape inside the heel to prevent slipping, but there was a ridge in the tape digging into my heel. I could stop for a few minutes and try to fix it, but I would lose a lot of ground early in the race. I decided to just ignore the pain and run on.
The views of Great Salt Lake in front of me were spectacular even on a gloomy, grey day. At mile 8, we hit a series of uphill switch-backs. When I reached the bottom, I could see that Dan, Karl and Tim were already at the top. My speed was gone, so my climb was pretty slow. I passed a few runners who had not yet completed the out-and-back (I was about 2.5 miles ahead). I remember a very cheery greeting from Quinten Barney.
As we made our way along a fairly level traverse trail back to Elephant Head aid station, Tom Remkes and another runner passed me. I just could not keep up. The trail was very slushy, muddy, and slow. I reached the aid station (mile 13.7) at the 2:13 mark, just three minutes slower than planned.
The rest of the trail back to the start/finish area was really a challenge. The soil had more clay in it, causing the mud to stick to the bottoms of the shoes. I could also see skid marks on the trail from the runners ahead who had slipped. I was just glad I was near the front because I knew the trail would get even worse with each runner going through. It was pretty slow going and I reached race headquarters (mile 19) at 3:09, a minute slower than last year and nine minutes slower than planned. I needed to pick up the pace. Rather than using the aid station, I just popped the hatch of my car nearby which had everything I needed. With a very short stop, refilling my bottle and grabbing more gels, I was off again.
The next 20 miles of the course would be flat and fast. I turned on my Garmin watch to let it help me keep my pace us. All the runners around me were now very spread out. I would run alone for the next 14 miles as I ran above the eastern shore of the island with views of the Wasatch mountains and the cities to the east.
I’m always asked, “what do you think about as you run, don’t you get bored?” During this stretch, my total concentration was on my pace. I would check my watch often, push myself to go faster at times, eat and drink, and at time sing along to the music. Ahead of me, I could see Tom Remkes who at times would walk. I thought I could catch him on this stretch, but couldn’t. Behind me, a mile or so back were a couple runners including Kendall Wimmer, but then behind them appeared to be a large gap.
My pace was pretty good. I tried to keep my average mile pace near a 10:00 pace. Miles 21-27 were 9:36, 10:12, 10:37. 10:27, 10:08, 9:52, and 11:16. For me, that is a pretty good, comfortable pace during this portion of a 100-mile run. I reached the Lower Frary aid station (mile 27) at about 4:39, still behind schedule but not losing minutes. Charlie Vincent and Eve Davies were there to help and give kind words of encouragement.
It was now late afternoon. The weather was perfect, overcast, nothing falling from the skies and the temperatures in the 30s. I was wearing a long-sleeve running shirt, long tights, and thin gloves. I had a jacket wrapped around my waist, but I never put it on, even during the night. I enjoyed the cool weather and when I started to feel chilled, I just pushed the pace harder to warm up.
I reached Fielding Garr Ranch (mile 32.8) at 5:40, exactly on schedule. I was very pleased because I knew that I was 36 minutes ahead of my last year’s pace. Maurine Lee was there to greet me and was very helpful. Tom Remkes was still there and Maurine mentioned that we were in 5th place! That got my attention. I had noticed with the out-and-back that Karl Meltzer was now about six miles ahead of me.
I passed Tom going out of the Ranch. It looked like he was struggling. But in another mile he went past me moving well. Tom Remkes is a terrific runner. He has finished many very tough mountain 100s with very good times. I never beat him. But I knew with a flatter course, and all the flat training I had done, that perhaps I could compete with him in this race. Over the next couple hours, I had plenty of time to observe his running. I could see that he was walking most of the small uphills and then running the flats at a nice 9:30-10:00 pace. I approached it differently. My legs were enjoying running uphill, so I rarely walked and tried to keep a steady pace close to 11:00. My pace for miles 34-40 was: 11:27, 11:10, 11:05, 10:52, 11:08, 11:16, 11:23. I leap-frogged with Tom continually and it felt like we had a good pace going.
We returned to Lower Frary at 6:46. I was now nine minutes ahead of my schedule and 50 minutes ahead of last year. Life was good. I had no significant problems and had enjoyed greeting all of the runners behind me heading toward the Ranch.
For the rest of the 50-mile loop, Tom kept the lead. He was never more than a quarter mile ahead. But my attitude at that point was NOT to worry about other runners and my placement. I would concentrate on my pace and stick to my schedule. I told myself that the real race started at about mile 60. At that point I would compete against others.
As I reached the aid station below a ridge at about mile 43, I was delighted to see three of my sons and my son-in-law coming out toward me. I was glad they found me. I’m sure they made an “old man” crack. I didn’t stop long to chat and continued up the hill, telling them that I would see them in an hour or so at the start/finish.
Dusk hit at about mile 44. There is a short bushwhack section that descends down to Bridger Bay campground. It was impossible to see the orange ribbons on the brush. I could see campground lit up, so I just hoped one of those lights would be the aid station. I arrived at the right place (mile 45.8) at 8:14. I had lost sight of Tom with the dark and wondered if he had a light with him as I started the Lakeview trail along the western shore of the island. Finally the trail opened up and I could see a faint light only about 100 yards ahead. Our pace was good for the final two mile of the loop, 11:30 pace. We reached race headquarters (mile 50) at 9:02, just two minutes off my schedule and a full hour faster than last year. I was very pleased.
One of my sons told me that a front-runner, Tim Long, had dropped out of the race. Tom and I were in 4th place! I didn’t dilly-dally around at all, just refilled and got out of there before Tom. I knew the 19-mile loop would be tough in the dark and it was. The trail was in much better condition than the afternoon. It had dried out and was pounded down more by all the other runners. My pace was pretty pathetic. Tom wasn’t pushing me hard from behind. I had issues with my gaiters. They came loose and I kept stopping to pull them down. I could stop for a few minutes to really fix them, but then I would lose my lead and motivation, so I kept on going.
When I reached the bottom of the switch-backs, I noticed that the next runner, Mark Tanaka, a terrific runner, was already past the top. I knew he was far ahead. Tom seemed to be gaining. But my legs just loved the up-hill. For some reason after 50 miles, my legs are able to run the up-hills better than earlier in the race. I charged up the hill and at the top could see that I had extended my lead over Tom significantly.
Continuing on the trail completing the Slick Rock loop, I ran into a couple runners headed in the wrong direction. I called them on that, but they said the aid station volunteers said it didn’t matter. I told them it did, but went on. The direction they were going was actually harder. At the aid station, I discussed it with the guys there and they planned to try to mark the trail better.
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 3rd place was out in the dark waiting for me to grab. I was at mile 69. It was 13:35 (1:35 a.m.). I had been slowing down terribly and was now 45 minutes behind schedule for a 20-hour finish. I needed to pick it up.
I ran over to my car. As expected, my sons were slackers and were off snoring in their tent. But I only stopped for a couple minutes and was away before Mark and Tom. Heading up the dark road, I looked behind and could see their lights leaving the aid station about a quarter mile behind.
On a short out-and back to the Mountain View trailhead, I could see that I was a half mile ahead of Tom and over a mile ahead of Mark who was now going slowly with a pretty heavy coat on. I concluded that he would not be competing with me now. I knew that if I wore all those clothes that I would be very slow. The cold wind was an issue now and then. It seemed like we had a head wind in both directions at times. But the sky was clear, full of stars. A bright half moon rose over the Wasatch mountains.
On the long out-and-back to the Ranch, the race leader, Dan Vega was about 20 miles ahead of me. Next came Karl, who was 17 miles ahead. Wow! The next runner after that was me! There would be some lonely aid stations ahead who wouldn’t see runners for a very long time.
My next big problem was painful chafing. It became terrible. I had treated it at my last visit to my car, but that only helped for a few miles. I could stop and try using tape, but Tom’s headlamp less than a mile behind was haunting me. I knew if he passed me, I would be in trouble, so I just sucked it up and tried to ignore the pain for the next 28 miles. But over and over again I had to stop and walk to ease the terrible pain.
When I got to Lower Frary (mile 77), Charlie Vincent greeted me and congratulated me for being in third place. He did warn me that Eric Storheim, an elite runner, had started 5 hours late and could still catch me. All the way to the Ranch, I thought I kept seeing Eric’s light gaining on me fast. (Turns out Eric dropped at mile 50). It was just an illusion, Tom was still about a mile behind. My pace toward the ranch was steady, but had slowed to a 13:40 average. I would push it harder if it looked like someone was gaining and then take it easy when I was convinced Tom was still a mile behind.
I arrived at the Ranch at 4:45 a.m. The volunteers had not seen another runner for almost four hours. I was still 45 minutes behind schedule. I didn’t stay long, drank some warm broth and then was on my way. For the entire race, I just ate gels, Ensure, Reeses, a little broth, and one quarter sandwich. My stomach never really complained.
On the way back now, I could gauge the competition. The fifth place runner was almost two miles behind so that brought me some comfort about reaching my fifth place goal. I never saw Eric, so by the time I returned to Lower Frary, I no longer worried about him catching me. Third place was still possible. But when I left the aid station, Tom’s light was not far behind. I kicked it into gear on the next uphill and then could see that yet another light, Robbie Asbell’s, was within about 100 yards of Tom. That put fear into my pace. I now could again find that 11-minute-mile pace, sometimes dipping toward nine minutes, but my overall average for those miles was 12:30 pace.
Dawn arrived. I turned off my light quickly so the guys behind couldn’t see me. Matt Watts came toward me about 17 miles behind. It was great to see him. He commented that I was taking my sweet time. The guys at the aid station said the same thing. Yes, I should have been going faster. As I left the station, going up the steep hill by the fence, I cried out, “Oh no!” I could see a runner in black approaching the station. I don’t think it was Tom. I concluded the runner behind him, Robbie, caught up and was moving very fast.
All I could do was push harder. Up on the ridge I didn’t even want to look behind me, expecting to see that runner reeling me in. If he passed me, I would crumble. I knew he would catch me. Lots of cars coming for the 25K were on the road and I waved to them. It felt good to think I only had about five miles to go. Fear was driving my legs. My pace for two miles was 11:50.
I didn’t stop at the Bridger Bay aid station, just ran right by it. I looked up to the ridge above. Where was that runner? I stumbled through the rocky section near the shoreline at a pathetic 17-minute pace. Once out of that mess on the next little ridge I stopped and looked back carefully. As I looked back, a tiny runner came into view almost a mile behind. Wow, what a relief! I could maybe do this. I kicked in 11-minute pace again, looking behind me every few minutes. I looked at the overall time on my watch for the first time in several hours and was surprised to see that I would easily beat my 100-mile race PR time.
When I finally reached the dirt road to the finish, I knew third place was mine, but I couldn’t help looking behind me continually. Lots of 25K runners were warming up on the road giving me strange looks. Most of them didn’t realize I was a 100-mile runner finishing.
I crossed the finish line in 20:27:10, nearly two hours better than last year. It was a 100-mile race PR by 26 minutes! That elusive sub-20 finish is still out there somewhere, but I only missed it by 27 minutes this time. Karl Meltzer was there to greet me and congratulate me. My sons missed my finish. They were looking at the hills as I ran by — typical. Tom crossed the finish eight minutes later, and Robbie Ashbell, came in less than three minutes after him.
I watched my son Kevin start his race and then went and sat by a heater with Dan, Karl, and others, feeling like a hot-shot runner rubbing shoulders with those truly fast guys. I went out to watch a few 50-mile runners go by, but then started to feel sick so went back to wash up and rest for awhile.
I stayed around for six hours after I finished and talked to lots of runners. Wow, there were so many great people there who were so kind. Congratulations to you all for your great races. My son Kevin finished his first 25K race in 3:35. My other sons ran down the hill with him and I “ran” with him through the finish line. He first said, “That sucked.” But ten minutes later he was talking about his next race, Bighorn 50K.
After watching all the excitement, my 14-year-old son Connor told me two days later that he was going to take up running and wanted to run the 25K next year. Thanks Jim Skaggs for bringing such a great event to Utah.