Sunday, March 24, 2013

Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50 Mile Race Report

4 AM alarm goes off and just like every other Saturday this winter I make a bowl of granola and crack open an energy drink. Breakfast of champions! Next its upstairs to dig through the laundry and find some running clothes, the weather forecast made it sound like tights would be a good idea. Hmm, laundry gnomes hid my tights guess I'll just stick to shorts and rub some olive oil on my legs to take the bite out of the cold.

Over time my race plan has merged with my long run ritual and become very streamlined. Grab enough gels and salt pills to cover the time I think I'll be out there and stuff them in my pockets, and a water bottle if I'm out more than 2-3 hours. Goals #1 through 3 are: have a good time, do nothing stupid and finish what you start (in that order). I also come up with some time goals based on my training with the caveat that if I'm having a bad day, I'll toss them and just focus on #1-3 - its taken many failed races to learn that lesson. For the 2013 Antelope Island Buffalo Run, I wanted to beat last years PR time of 8:45 with a dream goal of coming in close to BJ, Bryce and Brian Kamm's time of ~7:45. They are all talented runners that I admire and keeping up with them is always a sign that the hard work and missed sleep from daily training is paying off.

Before the 6am start I went through my checklist: Shorts, socks and shoes: check (kinda important). Lightweight jacket: check. $1 cotton gloves: check. A dozen gels and salt pills: check. Water bottle: check. Ready to run! The temperature was a chilly 20 degrees, but the wind seemed tame and I felt comfortable and had a good feeling about the day. I fell into a jog as we started up the trail and focused on my new mantra for the early miles of races: ignore your testosterone and adrenaline and focus on maintaining an easy pace that you can run the entire day. Its tough to watch 50 guys take off ahead of me but I've finally started to learn that if I chase after them I'll burn through all my glycogen like a pyromaniac kid with a 1,000-pack of firecrackers and have a very slow and miserable day once the fun is over.

Up the steep hill, out to tag the big boulder on Elephant Head and back, down the screaming descent to Split Rock Bay and up the switchbacks everything was going to plan and I was joking around with friends Derek and Stephen. As soon as we topped out on the switchbacks and turned to head North for the first time all conversation stopped. I hadn't realized that we were running with a tail wind in protected coves and now the full force of the bitter cold 20mph wind was in our faces with nowhere to hide. My sweaty gloves, shorts and jacket flash froze. My legs turned red then went numb and I felt the familiar sting of the beginnings of frost nip in my fingers. My hands felt like blocks of ice and pulling a gel out of my pocket became a major undertaking. Over the next 6 miles into the 19 mile aid station, I watch with uneasy laughter as white freezer-burn ice crystals began growing on my shorts.

I knew that my wife Lindsay would be volunteering at the approaching aid station and I was looking forward to the boost in morale but there was a deep, growing despair twisting my stomach in knots and in the back of my mind I was formulating excuses to drop out. Lindsay and BJ were great to see as I ran through the aid station, but they had their hands full helping the hordes of other runners and I was too cold to hang out so they filled my water bottle and wished me well. As I left I started a full blown descent into Pity Town. Population: me.

Its a place where I've spent a lot of time before and is filled with great excuses, magnified pain and a lot of slow hiking and trotting. Once you come up with 2 or 3 decent excuses its on to Dropville, a blissful car ride home to a warm shower saying "this sport is stupid" and a regret filled month once I wake up the next morning. Don't get me wrong: sometimes real injuries or circumstances conspire against an ultrarunner and make dropping out the only sensible choice. Soreness, discomfort, blisters, chafing, tummy-aches and "being cold" are just part of the contract though; if you run a couple 50+ mile races you will experience some or all of these things. Self: deal with it!

Fortunately, I've spent enough time throwing myself pity parties that I recognized where I was headed and Experience put the breaks on. If I'm going to be out there all day, I might as well TRY to enjoy it - the only way to counter that mindset is be sickeningly saccharine with the self talk. Coping mechanisms deploy! I had a brief out of body experience at this point where I was now my pacer running alongside Ryan. I saw all the red flags and started listing positives and refocusing Ryan on some short term goals to feel good about. The sun is peeking over the mountains and its warming up quick, soon temps will be perfect for running! You met your time goal for the first 20 miles and you are right on track! You've already run the hardest part of the course, its nearly-flat cruising from here! You've never felt this good or been able to run up hills before at this point when you've run this race the 3 previous times!

It seemed stupid at first, but then I started to believe myself. I started to come up with some more short term goals to keep my mind occupied. Short out-and-back section, smile and say hi to some friends! Keep this pace up for the next couple miles and you will break your trail marathon PR! And your 50k PR! It was working - the sun was high and I was thawing out and feeling comfortable again. I took my jacket off and shook out all the chunks of frozen sweatcicles. I managed to catch up to Jon Stuart and really enjoyed running with him for a couple of miles until he had to dive into the bushes. I normally never catch Jon but unfortunately he was having a rough bout of GI issues and hamstring cramps. I always want to see my friends have a good race so it was a bit melancholy passing him, but he still "gutted" out a solid finish and I'm always happy to get to spend some time on the trail with him.

As I ran into the mile 33 ranch aid station that marks the turnaround for a 20 mile out and back leg of the course I felt my legs tightening up. Cramps and tight legs come on at this distance in every other race I've run so not a surprise. I still had a trick up my sleeve though. Talking the week before to Seth Hales (another fast local runner volunteering at the race) he mentioned a tactic hes used before: stash a couple Ibuprofen and take them at the ranch, and it will take the edge off for the last 17 miles. I normally try to avoid taking them while running, but I knew that only taking two wouldn't hurt because it takes a lot more than that to cause the kidney issues that some runners have experienced. Right as I popped them and turned to leave the first place female Sarah passed me and I cheered her on as she put a couple hundred yards of distance on me. Getting "chicked" is a normal thing for a mid pack runner like me so I've never felt any threat to my manliness from it. Still, as the ibuprofen began to take effect my legs loosened up again and I started gaining on her. I'm not very competitive and actually prefer to hang at other runners paces to chat but she graciously stepped aside and encouraged me on.

The last ten miles are tough to describe. If you've been there you'll understand: at some point I realized that if I just kept my current pace, I would finish under 8 hours but I still had at least an hour more to get there. Everything ached and hurt, nausea began to creep in and it then became a matter of just grinding out whatever I had left in me and not doing anything too stupid. Two miles from the finish I caught a runner ahead of me. Turned out to be the masters winner Charles. He told me to go ahead and pass the "geezer" but I took a look at my watch and realized that I would make my goal if we just maintained our pace. If we were competing for first place, or he stopped to tie a shoe I probably would have passed with a quick "good job" and picked up the pace to distance myself. I was over an hour behind first place and he was a worthy competitor though so I took the opportunity to match pace and talk to someone new for a few minutes. We talked about our summer races and homebrew gels and finished side by side in 7:45.

Typing this the day after, I'm still waiting for the "everything hurts" phase to be over so I can forget all the discomfort and just play the highlight reel back in my head. While I made mistakes and I could imagine a warmer, less painful race I would not change a thing about my day. It was pretty much perfect!

Thank you Jim and Karen for giving us all the opportunity to flog ourselves with the Buffalo every spring and thank you everyone that gave up your weekend to lose sleep, stand in the cold, clean up puke and listen to 800 runners whine about how tired we are after our catered jog!

1 comment:

lindsay lauck said...

You'r 50 mile PR is my current 50K PR. :-P