I had quite the running adventure this weekend and it didn’t involve me running a single step.
I have been involved with the Buffalo Run on Antelope Island since its inception in 2006.
- 2006 – signed up for the 50K. First year of the race and the race director, Jim Skaggs had a 4 hour cutoff for the first 25K loop. I was about 5 minutes over the cutoff and knew there was no way to finish the race in under 8 hours (even though Jim said I could continue since I was so close) – so dropped down to a 25K option.
- 2007 – raced and finished the 50K. This is the year that I met Leslie Petersen and protected her from her fear of a buffalo stampede.
- 2008 – raced and finished the 50K.
- 2009 – signed up for the 50 Mile. I ended up with serious IT Band issues and had to DNF at mile 28. I will be back to conquer this beast.
- 2010 – signed up for the 50K. Ended up in a cast on my right ankle. Volunteered for most of the afternoon and the finish line.
- 2011 – inception of the 100 mile race. Volunteered to help out. Was asked if I would run an aid station overnight at the Ranch. Agreed to do so.
Once I contacted the volunteer coordinator and agreed to do anything they need – I got more adventures than I had planned. Britta asked if I would be willing to camp at the Ranch. It sounded like a lot of fun so I agreed. Then I suggested it to my sister and (brave person that she is) she agreed to camp out with me. I have to admit – my sister is very game and willing to support me in a lot of my idiocies.
As the race drew nearer I found out that I was an aid station captain. This also meant getting all of the gear across the island and setting up my aid station. This was not going to happen in my little Jeep, so we involved my brother-in-law, Gary, who was willing to bring his truck out on the island and move gear for me.
The week of the race we all started watching the weather. Rumors of extremely cold temperatures and possible wind, rain and snow had the racers and volunteers all adjusting their expectations and gear for the race. And yes – volunteers do need to have gear.
Friday morning I loaded up the Jeep with food and essentials for two days. This also included extra camp chairs and lots of blankets for runners because we knew that we potentially might have cases of hypothermic runners to deal with – especially if the conditions were wet. It was pretty discouraging that as I headed through Salt Lake and into Davis counties I was facing almost white-out conditions, but as I drove out to Antelope Island, the skies cleared and the snow stopped.
Marcia, Gary and I all headed out to the Start/Finish area and loaded up the pickup with our supplies for the Ranch aid station. The 100 mile runners would be coming through this aid station at Mile 38 and again at mile 82. The 50 Mile runners on Saturday would hit the aid station at mile 32 – but I would be long gone before that occurred.
We had our aid station setup by around 2:00. Lindsay Lauck arrived to help me for the first few hours and Marcia and Gary headed off the island. As with any first year race (and this was the first year for the 100 mile option) – there is a lot to be learned. Lesson number 1 – this aid station does not need to be set up until after 4:00 p.m. We sat and we talked and we sat and we talked. I finally headed back down the road to get an idea of where the leaders were. I came back and told Lindsay I saw two runners just past Frary Peak and that they would probably cover the 4.5 miles and be to our station around 4:45. I was right.
Dan Varga came bounding in first. All he wanted was to have his water bottle topped off and he was out the door and back on the course. A few minutes later, Karl Meltzer repeated the same request and handed me a pocketful of garbage to dump. These guys were cruising. Over the next hour we had three more runners – Mark Tanaka, another runner, and Davy Crockett. We had been waiting for Davy and sang him in and cheered him on.
Lindsay left for the night a little after 5 p.m. and another family showed up that had never volunteered or ran in a trail race, so I told them what to expect and what to do. Marcia came back out for the night around 5:30 and we settled in. More and more runners started coming through. All of them had struggled a bit more because of the wet conditions on the first half of the course and all were covered in mud. The mud had definitely added some extra work for them to run through.
Before it got too dark, we changed into our heavy duty winter clothes. My right piriformis area was really hurting me – but once I got into my thermals and snowboarding pants, the pain eased up considerably and I eventually forgot about it. As it got dark our volunteer family left for the night and Marcia and I started setting up for a long, cold night. About 11:00 p.m., the last racer came through on the first lap and we started predicting when the leaders might come through again.
We hunkered down in the tent. Marcia had a folding chair and a sleeping bag and blankets. I had a reclining lawn chair (that was a life saver) and my son’s sub-zero sleeping bag and blankets. Marcia had also brought a propane heater that helped to keep us a little warmer. We put up a blanket to block the worst of the cold on the front flap of the tent and just talked the night away.
We had predicted the runners would come in around 1:15 a.m. and suddenly, about 12:50 Marcia said, “Runner!” Dan Varga was wandering around the tent trying to find a way in. We filled up his water bottle and he raced out of there. Karl Meltzer came in at 1:00 a.m. and also was quickly on his way. It was awesome to see the speed these runners were putting in. Davy Crockett had told us he expected to be in around 4:00 a.m. at the earliest, but we knew there were two more runners in between him, so we left the tent door open and turned on a lantern we had left out by the gate to help show the way in.
I ended up dozing off around 2:00 or so and suddenly Marcia whispered something about being surrounded by buffalo. She could see the silhouette of buffalo crossing in front of the lantern. We then started being pretty scared. I could see a lot of buffalo eyes reflecting off of my headlamp, we heard buffalo snorts and woofing that sounded like they were within 10-20 feet of the tent. We would then hear a lot of buffalo feet stampeding down the road that was not far from our aid station tent. I will admit that two women all alone with no radio or cell contact with the race directors and quite a ways from the next aid station left us very scared for a couple of hours. We kept talking because we think our talking earlier had kept the buffalo away.
It was after 4 a.m. before the next wave of racers started trickling in. Ultra runners are such a great group. They all tried to joke around even as tired as they were. Everyone was positive and thanked us for being there. Davy was in third place at this time and about 8 minutes in front of another runner and racing to keep his position. With no radio contact we had no idea whether runners had DNF’d earlier in the race.
One runner that had us a bit concerned was Mark Tanaka. He had been in third place Friday afternoon and came in after 6 a.m. He was extremely cold (but not hypothermic) and extremely tired. We ended up putting him in my subzero sleeping bag, piling several blankets on him, putting hand warmers in his gloves and pouring chicken broth down him to try and help him recover. We put back the lounging chair and he dozed for quite a while. He was determined to finish and felt that sleeping would help him get some energy back. I think he ended up being in our aid station for about 70 minutes, so we had a good visit with him before we wrapped him up in a space blanket to help him get warm before the sun fully came up and sent him out the door.
It was blissful to see the sun come up. We were tired from not sleeping and tired from the cold and anxiously awaiting the backup captain to arrive on Saturday morning.
It was a great afternoon and evening and quite an adventure. Right now I am a bit scared about the idea of being there overnight again because of the Buffalo. It might be that if we can come up with a better lighting system and a way of making some automatic noise that I will be less fearful and ready to repeat the adventure. But probably not for a few years.
The reason – the 2012 Buffalo Run 50 Mile Race has to be conquered. I cannot let that 50 mile DNF be my final attempt at that race.
A final thanks to my sister for being there for me and being a good sport.