The Antelope Island Buffalo Run is held on an enormous island surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. It is also home to tons of wildlife. In particular, tons of bison. Some of which served as a welcoming committee when we started the race Friday at noon.
I've run a bunch of races with Catherine and Clair. They are co-workers, but more than that they are just amazing friends. For many, many months the Buffalo Run has been our target race. I really wanted to be a part of helping them finish their first 100 miler.
Our race started great. The weather was a little cool but fine once we started running. The first 20 miles has the most climbing. Let's play Where's Waldo. Can you spot all four runners?
As we were running along I looked over and immediately recognized the guy who was next to me. It was Eric, a physician assistant that I ran the Zion 100 with a few years ago. I hadn't seen him ever since. We had no idea at the time how valuable his expertise would be as we cruised down the trail.
Eric is a wise, experienced ultrarunner so we picked his brain for tips as we climbed.
Catherine and I saw this funny dance video last week and I thought it was high time that someone make an ultramarathon dance video. I figured that could be pretty darn awesome. She concurred. So we got to this beautiful overlook, I switched on the camera, and she did a little dance.
Then the race changed.
In a crazy fluke of chance, Catherine landed wrong and her ankle twisting it in a direction that an ankle should never twist. Ankles shouldn't touch the ground. She fell to the ground. This was at mile EIGHT. Thankfully Eric with his medical background was right there when it happened. He felt around the area and said it would get swollen but with the degree of the sprain it wouldn't cause damage if she kept going.
I think most people would have dropped from the race. Catherine.....did not.
(Disclaimer: I'm not advocating running through an injury or doing something that would cause damage. Don't do something dumb just to be cool. She actually checked with a number of other medial peeps as well.) We continued down the trail.
Catherine said that she had a long chat with God at that point and prayed that everything would work out okay. I don't know what got into her, whether it was Divine intervention or maybe she snuck into my stash of Raisinettes and was on a sugar rush, but she ran like I've never seen her run before. She ran with strength and determination and grit. Clair and I just tried to keep up.
I saw my friend Jennilyn Eaton a few times out on the trail as she passed by. Every time I saw her she stopped, gave me a hug, and we talked for a minute about how things were going. Despite those occasional stops she went on to destroy the female course record with a time of 20:18. Props! (Her race report is HERE.)
One of the greatest parts for me during the race was having my wife Mel and my son Jackson helping out to crew at the various aid stations. After the race I thanked them for all their help. Jackson said "Well, I didn't really do much." I told him that he had no idea how encouraging and energizing it is just to see a familiar face. I was so grateful for their support. (Our dog Aunt Jackie came too. He was clearly interested in other things.)
It seemed like an unspoken agreement developed with Catherine. I think that when she made the decision to press on after the ankle sprain she didn't let it distract her at all. She kept running. Kept laughing. Kept joking. If you hadn't seen "the incident" at mile 8, you'd never know how uncomfortable she was. I was so impressed with her strength.
And then there's Clair. This guy is more than 20 years older than me! And yet he was running those trails like a teenager. He is proof that age is not a limiting factor in ultras. He was like the wise, supportive father of our group.
We got a good laugh when we saw a buffalo out in the distance and Clair tried to call him over with his red bandanna. (Mission NOT accomplished. Thank goodness.)
I wasn't about to complain after the Mile 8 Mishap, but I just couldn't seem to get in a groove for the first 20 miles. It seemed like I was having to exert way too much energy to keep up an easy pace. Things got worse and I bonked from miles 20-30. I think what put me into the bonk was poor drop bag planning where I picked up my warm night clothes too early. Then I ran the next 10 miles cooking inside the Easy Bake Oven I was wearing. I felt much better when the temps started to cool off.
My sweet wife and son were so great to come to an aid station even when it was the middle of the night. After all the races Jackson has come to help with he has become quite the crewing expert. I brought back the sock monkey hat that my daughter sent with me to this race last year.
We got to the 50 mile mark in the middle of the night. It was dreadfully cold and windy. We each picked up a pacer. Mine was my friend Danny Widerberg who I've gotten to know through racing the last few years. He kept us entertained with stories of racing, and transforming a broken life, and family. He said sometimes when he tucks his little boys in at night he will say "I love one of you so much," as he closes their door.....then gets to listen to them argue about which one is loved. Or if the kids act up he'll say "When your real dad gets out of prison I'm sending you right back to him." Ha ha! He got us through a solid 20 miles through the middle of the night. Don't let his bewildered look fool you, this guy knows his stuff.
Soon enough the sun was rising on our second day of the race. (To answer a common question: nope, we didn't sleep at all. Unless you count some occasional sleep walking in the middle of the night.) The sunrise over the Great Salt Lake was just stunning.
I picked up my second pacer Jared Thorley to join us for the last 30ish miles. Jared and I go way back with running. Our races (like THIS one or THIS one) sometimes don't end like we planned but we have fun nonetheless. Jared's experience was a great support to keep us trucking. The sunrise was so amazing that I couldn't seem to put my camera away.
It's nice to have a fresh face to distract you from the bone chilling wind and the sensation that someone is doing the Riverdance on your legs. Thanks Jared!
Around mile 85 I reached that inevitable point in a 100 miler when you are beyond exhaustion. Your feet are not happy campers. You would sell your soul for a shower and a bed. And you can not begin to fathom how you are going to go another 15 miles. That is an unbelievably daunting part of the race. The only thing you can do is be determined enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At that moment an aid station worker had cinnamon rolls. They tasted like icing-coated heaven.
We had all picked up pacers by that time and had a nice little caravan heading down the trail. Every once in a while we'd stop to stretch, laugh a little, and try to not fall over. This may have been the time when Jared was singing Kokomo by the Beach Boys. I was too weak by this time to pop him in the mouth.
Words can't adequately describe that feeling of happiness when after, in our case, just a hair over 29 hours of running, you see that goal that has taken blood, sweat, and tears to achieve......the finish line. We grabbed hands as we crossed the line and I told Catherine and Clair "You will never be the same from this moment on."
I was so incredibly proud of those two people I got to share 100 miles with. I know how hard they worked for it. I saw first-hand the obstacles they each overcame. We all helped each other through some very low points. It was unbelievably awesome to share that experience with them.
My mom came out to the island to watch the finish and brought my daughters also. It was awesome to have everyone there.
This was my seventh 100 mile finish, but this one means something different. Between family, friends, pacers, fellow runners, and my two running companions, this truly felt like a team effort; each of them playing a critical part in getting those belt buckles. Just like Clair and Catherine realized, I relearned that absolutely anything is possible.
NOW - would you like to see that epic 100 mile dance party video that I captured over those 29 hours? This is pure happiness. Pure awesomeness. (Please accept my humble apology for my obscene lack of dancing ability.)