Sunday, March 31, 2013

Buffalo 100 Race Report - Going for Cold

1st Place (M): Karl Meltzer, Sandy, UT 14:34:00 CR
1st Place (F): Kristel Liddle, Fort Collins, CO 20:59:07

DCraig: 29th, 26:11:00 (PR 100M)

I simply could not decide how cold I was going to be. The forecast had deteriorated over the past several days, and it now seemed certain the night would bring near-record low temperatures, high north winds, and, in all likelihood, snow. But I really wasn’t worried about the night, it would come, bringing what it’s got. It’s this first 18 or so miles, I wanted to start well and so I kept fumbling through my bags trying on jacket and fleece combinations.

One last tie-in..
Can I borrow your coat?

The start of the Buffalo 100 on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake almost always seems a bit colder than it is. The wind skips off the inland sea chilling the start-finish at the White Rock Tent, and there’s not a lot for the us 88 runners and helpful crews but wander between tent, car, and outhouses waiting for the noontime start. Finally, Darren said, “No, that’s too much. You know you’ll warm up once you get running.” Still bundled in my down jacket, I opted for some compression tights under my shorts, a couple silk-weight capilenes shirts, and a mid-weight shirt. I had a light jacket in my pack if the rain or snow, spiraling in intense squalls all around the island, decided to cut loose on us. The down jacket was handed to Dez as I walked up to start.
Bison this big; waves this high; snow this deep; just wait.  Let's do this.
While RD Jim Skaggs set us up on a line scratched in the dirt, a perfect set-up for the low-key but well-done event, a bison momentarily lost his cool and crushed a photographer against the fence immediately in front of us. Check it out, here and here... stone-tossing paparazzi beware. Although this was happening directly in front of us, you can see Darren in the red jacket keeping his distance, I didn't even notice.
With Dan Sr.

It was relief to get started. All the time training, following Footfeathers' charts, testing gear, planning crew needs and aid station strategies, all of it an enjoyable part of who I am, but this is the day it all comes together or falls apart. Regardless, I'd been looking forward to it, I felt good and ready, and now I was climbing the first hill. I watched Karl and Nick stride away and settling in for a good start. It's always a little faster than planned once you get caught in the momentum of the little peloton where newly met runners exchange resumes of past ultra-feats, everyone trying to fit-in and legitimize their own reason for why they are there. It's very fun for a while, but soon I'm ready for the loneliness of the long-distance runner.

My plan was to skip the Elephant Head Aid Station, which you loop in-and-out of three times per 50 miles, so soon I was heading out the excellent single-track on the Elephant Head out-and-back. The snow was coming, but now it was broken by rays of sunshine; perfect. I stripped my outer shirt and left it in my Elephant Head drop-bag (Ok, I stopped, but it was quick). As I turned onto the Split Rock trail, there was Karl coming into the station, already six miles ahead of me. Maybe he was waiting 'til now to do the out-and-back, I hope so. Or he's done 14 miles to my eight; if anyone can...

I'd paced Darren around this course in 2012 but that means I'd only "seen" the Elephant Head and Split Rock trails in the dark, filtered in the tunnel-vision of the headlamp. The snow squalls mixed with hints of clearing sky highlighted the early part of the afternoon. Easily my favorite part of the course, night or day.

Yes, sun!

I was back into the White Rock Tent (19 miles) at 3:30, about an hour ahead of my projected time. Was I going too fast? As planned, I scooted on by, grabbing a hand-held from Dez to down some electrolyte between here and the Mountain View AS. It's only a mile between the two stations, but Mountain View helps runners remember the up-coming out-and-back. I got my pack back from Darren and and then turned to face the only muddy sections of the run. The northwind was stiff and I knew I had to look forward to that on the second lap in the deep-freeze of the night. But, after the little out-and-back, I could enjoy turning south for the stretch on the east side of the island.

I got some good running in here. The sun was out and I was going with the wind. Everything was going perfectly as planned, I was even well ahead of my projected time. I didn't think my early pace would cost me, after all Dennis and Mary (Dad and Mom) had a simple bean burrito waiting up ahead. I reached Lower Frary at 5:00, still an hour up. And there was Karl coming back from the Ranch and cruising toward a new course record, now 12 miles ahead of me. Nice.

Lower Frary - Get me my Black Diamond gloves!
I grabbed a new shirt and headed out, the sun would go down soon. The Ranch seemed far away, this was the only part of the course I had not been on previously. Still, I didn't linger as I turned back into the wind with 33 miles behind me. And then it got cold; it was a cold that I wouldn't shake until late the next morning. Though I worked to keep it out of my mind, I felt it in my lightly gloved hands first. Soon I couldn't feel them at all. And that began to take some toll on my confidence. I should not have been thinking it would get worse, but this slowed me down. Thankfully, Dez had the handwarmers as I returned to Lower Frary and I could change to windstopper gloves. Though the chill had set in, I kept at it, working to keep some pace. But I could see my early pace and even my plan had been too greedy. But, no worries, let's deal with the cold and keep the forward progress. Enjoying each encounter with the team I moved on; Dennis and Mary split for the hotel after my second Lower Frary pass, they had a race of their own on Elephant Head in the morning.

The running came for extended periods along the last section from Mountain View to the Lakeside Trail. The darkness slowed me down some as did the short technical sections on Lakeside but I soon gained some pace as I neared the halfway stop at White Rock. But first I had to check out the dirt in a good crash on perfect single track. I somehow managed to catch the attention (or vice versa) of the last rock before the parking area pavement. Headlamp beam look cool staring straight up into the cloudy night sky. Oh well.

Dez and Darren met me at the tent as I arrived at 10:20. I'd only lost about 40 minutes in the early part of the cold and I was still a little ahead of myself. I did a quick change from the compression tights to my looser  XC pants and, in the warmth of the tent, put on some fresh shirts and a fleece-line jacket. Soon, still on schedule, Darren and I left for the second lap with the Buffalo. I still felt pretty good, though the chill of the afternoon wind was still clinging to me somehow.
2 for 2 with you.

Darren's the perfect pacer. He doesn't say a lot but knows when to drop-in some stories. He doesn't push, but at the right times he makes a suggestion, which at the time sounds like a profound idea -- "let's run for a minute." Two or three minutes would pass as we'd move quicker than before. "Let's run to that rock." Who knows what rock he was talking about, but we'd get another good section behind us.

On this lap we stopped at Elephant Head to take in some hot soup or some Coke before moving on. Never too much time, a practice I greatly improved on in this event. We saw some guys who'd been way ahead of us looking pretty haggard in a few of the aid station, but at other times enjoyed seeing those still looking good and going steady. At one point we were passed by a guy bombing down the Split Rock descent but we caught him on the climb out and I got to walking along with him. After a couple minutes Darren suggested a little run "just for a minute." We wouldn't see that guy again until we were inbound (he was still outbound) the next morning. A simple move that got me out of the comfort of walking with someone who wasn't going to be going any faster for awhile. Thanks Darren.

I got back to the the White Rock tent (Mile 70) at about 17:00 (~5:00 AM), now about 1.5 hours behind schedule (though that didn't matter much). The chairs were too comfortable, and several runners were finding they couldn't get up and move any longer. I sat shivering, again  changing shirts and looking for energy.  I'd been doing GUs almost every half-hour, but in the early morning I seem to have lost track. I don't usually have stomach issues, but I just didn't feel hungry. I needed fuel but couldn't get motivated to keep tearing open new GUs. I went to the soup and it seemed to help. I also switched shoes here. The Hoka Bondis had been messing with my left ankle, growing painful especially on right-leaning trails. The collar seems to have some odd pressure points on my left foot. That was completely relieved by changing to the Hoka Mafates.       

Dez had slept in a corner of the big tent and was doing great as we left her for the run to the Ranch. We navigated the watery, now icy, sections and looked for running energy. I just didn't have it. The doldrums had set in. I would try to run for a minute, with or without Darren's suggestions, and would feel nothing and find myself walking again. I couldn't even find the power-hike I had planned for the tougher sections. I'll need to look for answers.

The sun was up by the time we got to Lower Frary where Roch and the Black Diamond crew had a veritable breakfast buffet going. I grabbed a quesadilla and some new handwarmers (actually the toe-warmers work great in gloves). We couldn't wait for the sun to hit us, hoping that the solar power would kick in. The sun came, but I remained under-powered. Damn. My right ankle now had a gnarly bark that would argue with each step. I tried to tell myself it hurt the same either running or walking so I might as well run. But to no avail, I was starting to get a little angry.

Then there was bacon cooking. The boys at the Ranch AS served it up, I cleaned my shoes and we hit the trail. Of course, now we were into the wind again, but I was better prepared this time. Warmer AND slower.  Scott, tearing up the 50-mile race, which started at 6:00 AM, waved as he passed us and soon he'd pass us again. Suddenly the trail was alive with runners coming down the east side as we navigated upstream. I gained a little momentum from the fresh-looking bunch, and more momentum when I saw my 100-mile comrades doing their best behind me. But it wasn't much to write about, just the occasional stretch of running and a lot of silly-walking trying to ease the ankle back into activity.

Left: 100 miles, not that far. Right: 100 miles, far out! 
At Lower Frary, we saw Dez again and I immediately felt a little better. Karl was hanging out with the Black Diamond crew, so I congratulated him on his record time (and 35th victory), which we'd already heard about, of course. So he comes over and we're comparing this year to last year's win and he's talking about being ON some days. I'm sitting there clearing the snow and sand from my shoes (Oh, I didn't mention the snow we'd been running through for a while. About the last 3 miles at the Ranch [six miles of out-and-back running] had received a pretty stiff squall in the early morning. I got to run the snowy trail in sunshine).  Where was I? Right. Karl mentions that he also timed his Advil right this year, after feeling torn up in 2012 while setting his previous course record.

I really wasn't at Lower Frary THAT long; just dumped out my shoes, changed to dry socks, grabbed a second quesadilla, and moved out. But Karl's Advil comment got me to thinking. What is the fear with ibuprofen? They pounded the Advil = Bad at Leadville pre-race and there's good evidence that it can do you wrong. Especially if you're under- or dehydrated. I felt decently hydrated and seemed to be peeing at least a couple times between each station. Heck, I only have a few miles to go, single digits by now.

And there goes Rick, my running partner at the end of our doomed Pine-to-Palm; he's tearing up the 50-mile race. Great to see him.

So at Mountain View (Mile 94) Darren got me a couple Advil from Dez. I took them with a full water bottle that I knocked off before the Bridger Camp station (Mile 96). As I stripped from windgear (it just didn't matter anymore), I could already feel my ankle pain disappearing.  And soon we were running, and I mean really running. Sure, I rather stumbled through the technical section but we were sub-ten after that. Some 50-milers caught me, but none easily, and their comments were motivating -- "Damn, you're a 100, I've been trying to catch you for a while." I ran the last three miles with a solid effort, enjoying a yo-yo with a 50-miler on the last hill.

26 hours, 11 minutes, later...  (Jaynie's my greeter)
And somehow you get there. I high-fived Dad as I approached the White Rock tent; he and Mom had finished their 25K to Elephant Head and Split Rock only 40 minutes earlier. The crowd cheered as someone shouted, "a 100-miler!" It's nice; Jim sets up the Saturday morning starts (50M, 50K, and 25K) so that the finish is a bit hectic but you're greeted by an enthusiastic audience. I turned to cross the chip-time line and joined the party. As a final surprise, Jaynie, a great friend from Utah, was the biggest cheer in the gathered crowd; she was taking the timing chips from runners' shoes. A highlight among the many great volunteers; thanks to everyone of you.

Thanks Jim!
26:11:00 -- a nice 2 hours and 45 minutes off my 100-mile time at San Diego. Very different courses, to be sure. Obstacles and demons still line up to challenge, happy to meet it and learn. I'll still dream of 24 hours (100 miles = 1 day), but to finish is to win. I probably got a little greedy early on, but I'll carry the lessons forward. And I'll keep going...

My Beautiful World
Infinite thanks to Dez and Darren. You see Dez, P2P was what it was, but you got me to the Buffalo and beyond. Darren, the team is perfect; this was your idea, and I'm better for it. Dad and Mom ran their own Buffalos - I'm glad you got to see and enjoy the best part of the course and it was fun knowing you were out there as I struggled out of the doldrums. Special thanks to Tim aka Footfeathers, your guidance and training strategy gave me the confidence and foundation for 100-mile success. I'm ready for more.

Dennis - Split Rock Trail
Mary - Split Rock Trail

Young Mountain Runners - 180 miles between us.

GearPatagonia Software; Black Diamond gloves; Zengah and XC tights, Injini socks; Hoka Bondi Speeds (0-70) and Mafates (70-100); Nathan hydration pack. Oakley shades, courtesy of Bikes and More, Winnemucca, NV.         

Week Summary 3/24/2013

Empire OB: 3.2 mi (+8 ft); 9:15 pace
Buffalo 100: 100.0 mi (+8,400); 15:47 pace

Weekly Totals: 103.2 mi (+8,408 ft); 26:40:47 on trail
Monthly Totals: 241.5 mi (+23,730 ft); 52:56:40 on trail


  1. That was a great day (and night)! Thanks for the opportunity to be there to share it with you. Now it is off to the high mountains of Colorado for another adventure of the Young Mountain Runners!

  2. It embarrasses me when you thank me for my small part in your big accomplishments when you, Darren, and your folks inspire me to train hard and live kindly every day. Proud of you, boy!

  3. Yet another great adventure! It's been fun accompanying you on some of your training. On to the next...