“In the middle of a difficulty lays opportunity” is a phrase by Albert Einstein that I have come to sincerely appreciate. And based on my race at the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50, there was an opportunity to be had.
Antelope Island Buffalo Run is one of my favorite races of the year. RD Jim Skaggs puts on a great local race and the island is always a blast to run. Throw out various trail-running distances from 25k to 100 miles, add 850 runners (most of which are your friends) and it becomes a party.
My first introduction to ultra marathon started here a couple years ago. My good friend Craig Lloyd was running 100 miles, like only idiots do, and I wanted to see him do it. I got talked into volunteering out at the Mountain View AS, where I could see him running the long out and back twice. It was a terribly windy and cold night and remember half dead zombies stumbling into our AS all night… many of whom were ready to call their adventure to an end.
Craig’s goal was to run under 18 if he could, but certainly under 19 hours. When the clock struck 18:05, I decided to run back from the finish line and bring him in. I met him a couple miles up trail and we had a short embrace and did what we needed to in order to get him home. I wasn’t easy on him and he worked hard, but he also came in at 18:58. To see someone transcend themselves for that intrinsic reward to cross a barren finish line got me hooked on this sport.
Flash forward a couple years, a few races on the island later, and I planned on toeing the line for the 50 miler for the second time. Despite having been undertrained due to numerous niggles here and there, my goals were quite high. I wanted to break the 7hour mark and ultimately end up on the podium. Although my distance training wasn’t what I wanted it to be, I’ve been consistently running harder and faster than I had the year previous. I knew I was more fit and faster than ever to attack the hills and cruise the flats at a comfortable pace that should have put me under 6:45. I’ve been training new, dieting new and trying new nutrition/electrolytes for the season and this was the perfect place to try them out and see the results.
We unceremoniously lined up for Jim’s last minute do’s and don’ts of the course. I calmly shared a few jokes, put my headphones in and settled into my pace the second I saw the heard of runners surge forward. We rounded the dirt road onto the trail and it was obvious who wanted to make it a race.
Right away we hit a long sustained climb and the field separated. I made sure to maintain my own pace and listened to my body as we climbed so I didn’t bury myself in the first couple miles of the race. My strategy wasn’t to really let go until the we got done with the first 19 mile loop and were out on the east side of the island were the trail tends to be really flat and runnable. One runner bolted off into the distance and I didn’t give chase, just let him run off. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my day just to keep up in the first handful of miles.
A few miles into the run and after the 2nd short little pain in ass climb, I was greeted by the Elephant Head AS which was run by all my friends in the Wasatch Mountain Wrangler group. Always a little burst of energy seeing that crew, including Craig. I was glad to know there were another 2 stops at this AS during this loop of the course as the group boosted my moral, probably more than they realized.
We headed out on the actual Elephant Head out and back as sun was starting to light up the trails and bring life to the race. I settled into a comfortable pace and was really just trying to enjoy the course since this section is one of my favorite sections of trail of the day.
My legs felt strong, mind was free, energy was great, music was hitting the pace and my smile was big. By the time I finished the 19 mile loop, I was spot on for pace and it was looking forward to settling into my grind it out pace on the flats and cruising my way into my goals. I was comfortably sitting in 4th and within a couple minutes of 1st. It was close knit but I knew the flats and exposed heat of the next 25 mile out and back would separate the podium placement eventually.
It took a handful of miles to get there but by the time mile 25 rolled around, I hit my stride and started moving really well at a comfortable pace. I hit the turn around of the out and back within a couple minutes of 1st and 2nd and was itching to hit mile 40 so I could make my move. I was just ahead of schedule and both of them were looking a little fatigued. My ego smiled to know that I was hunting them down and they were only getting slower. I got a great rejuvenation from seeing my wife and father who were crewing me. They reminded me that this was my game plan and it was time to do what I like to do in late in the race… turn it on.
Somewhere along the 5 miles stretch to the next aid station, I started feeling some cramps approaching. No problem, I started drinking more and slammed a few extra salt pills. I’ve never really had full-blown cramps before so I wasn’t super worried about it. I left that aid station and made the quick little climb out of there and started doing my thing on the downhill when it struck. Full on muscle spasm cramps in my left quad and right calve. It was severe enough to actually tip me over right on the trail. I massaged it out and took off again. Only to be stopped 200 yards later with the same thing.
This terrible cycle continued all the way to the finish line. My legs didn’t want to maintain anything under 8:45 pace without seizing up and down hills were almost comical. I actually wished to run uphill since that was the only thing that didn’t lock me up. And I tried everything to subside things. Massage, stretching, extra salt pills, tons of hydration. It was relentless.
My game plan quickly switched to holding onto the podium. I did exactly enough to keep moving forward without making the problem worse. But as I left the last aid station and had only about 5 miles left, I saw the runner behind my FLYING down the hill after me. He must’ve sensed my weakness because he attacked with ferociousness. I put myself into survival mode and pushed super hard out of that AS and ignored the pain the best I could. It didn’t last long.
I could feel myself teetering that line and inching towards blowing up. It wasn’t but 3 miles left and I was ready to give up the podium. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to fight him off any longer. Until I came up over a little climb and heard a voice that shot a little energy into my soul. I looked up to see Craig and all his shirtless glory running up the trail towards me.
“This looks familiar,” he yelled. I looked around and realized that 2 years ago today, I met him at this exact spot (literally within 15 yards) to finish out his race. We quickly embraced and the energy of that task 2 years ago sparked the fire to get to the finish. I put all my trust in Craig to get me their and told him I’d do all the work he asked me.
I’m not going to lie… it hurt. A lot. He worked my legs harder than they wanted to. But he rolled me in to seal up the podium and reach a goal of the day. Although I was 10+ minutes slower than last hear, I was happy with the performance. I was able to transcend the pain and turn it into a positive energy. I fought through a rough day and didn’t quite even though I knew I was running well below my capabilities.
|When you can't run to the finish, just fly|
It wasn’t my best performance but it let me know I’m still running well and I learned a lot. I won’t look at this as a failure, but as an opportunity to learn about my racing and how to improve. Never having fought through cramps like this before, I’m going to have to figure out a game plan for that in future races. My legs moved great and only a few days later I’m feeling like I can start training again. I need to determine if it was the new nutrition plan or different salt that I used that cause the cramps. A few minor tweaks to my training program and I think I’ll be ready to attack my goals for Bryce 100.
|Antelope Island is also only a couple minutes from my parents so I'm grateful they come to support|
Footwear: Altra Footwear the One 2.5 (testing model)
Socks: Injinji quarter midweight Run 2.0
Nutrition: VFuel gels and top secret new product
Headwear: Migö Visor