I put this one on the calendar a couple of weeks ago after doing a bit of research for a road trip out to Las Vegas that we had planned for Dana's spring break. After checking out the local racing calendar in Vegas, and coming up short - with the exception of an expensive and uncompetitive 50k - I figured I'd give the Salt Lake City area a look for Saturday events, and came up trumps with the Buffalo run.
We pulled into Ogden, just north of Salt Lake City, some time after 11:00 pm after a good six hours on the road (and beating the Google Maps' prediction by 45 mins). Stayed at an inexpensive, but very clean, Days Inn which was as close to the island as we could get without sleeping in a tent by the start.
Woke up to the sound of the hotel wake-up call after a solid, but short sleep. Scoffed a couple of glazed donuts, accompanied by some nasty cheap-hotel coffee before leaving for the island a little later than planned, which left me being rushed to get ready once we were parked up. Just as Jim Skaggs, the race director, told us we had two minutes until the start, I noticed a timing chip on someone's shoe, and then just as quickly realized that I didn't have one on my shoe. Bugger. I sprinted to the car and fumbled around with the chip - doing a really crap job of putting it on - and sprinted back to the start just in time to hear the 'go' command, essentially getting a rolling start. My chip was flapping annoyingly on my shoe - and would continue to do so for the next 32.5 miles. I also soon realized that my shoes were still tied in casual mode - not 'race-tied' - so there was a bit of slippage going on. Not an ideal start, but at least I was there.
As with every race on the road to Western States, this was a no-taper affair, and I could feel the extra weight in my legs as we climbed through the first two to three miles (600-700') of the course. About two miles into the race, we came across a herd of buffalo, two of whom had broken into a full-on charge in our general direction, crossing the trail ten meters ahead of us in pursuit of fleeing antelope. Wha?
By the time we cleared the Buffalo, it was beginning to look like it was going to be a two-man race. I initiated a conversation with my running partner, and learned that he was a former Weber State University miler, who was training for his first road marathon. I already knew he had good leg speed after struggling to keep contact through the opening mile or two, but with the additional info on his lack of endurance experience, I figured that he'd probably be struggling late in the game.
We went through the first five miles in 35 minutes, clicking off some sub-six stuff on the downhill connector between the two loops. By the time we hit the bottom of the second loop of the figure-eight course, at the base of a 700' switchbacked climb, a third runner in red had joined us. By the top of the climb, he was a couple of switchbacks adrift and we didn't see him again.
Coming back to the start/finish/turnaround on the back side of the first loop, I was beginning to gap the guy in second and by the time I hit the spur back to the start/finish, I had maybe a half minute. I decided to stop and answer nature's call, however, as I was unsure if we were supposed to hit the spur back to the start or continue the loop onto the second lap of the course. Turns out we had to do the spur. The two of us completed the first 16.3 miles a few seconds apart in 1:52.
Heading back out on the second loop, it looked like we had a good eight to 10 minutes on the next two or three runners. I was still feeling plenty strong, so knew they wouldn't be a factor. Half way through the opening climb, I heard the whooping and hollering of the 25k start, figuring that there would be a couple of guys in that field who might be chasing us down.
After the climb back out, I had put 20-30 seconds on second (after struggling to keep pace on the first loop), so figured he was starting to bonk a bit. As the trail flattened out, I put my head down and pushed a little harder to see of I could break my competition and get a lock on the race. A couple of miles later, it looked like the race was in the bag, as I had a good three- to four-minute lead and still felt like I had plenty left in the tank. The focus now was Brad Mitchell's 3:49 course record.
I knew that Brad was running the 25k, and was interested to see if he would catch me before the finish. By the time I was nearing the top of the switchbacks on the second loop of the figure eight, I could see Brad in his yellow La Sportiva top and another guy starting up on the second part of the climb, so maybe five minutes back with eight or so miles to go. Good stuff.
This was enough motivation to help me keep the accelerator depressed, but I could see the two of them were closing on me every time I got a visual. By the marathon-distance aid station, it looked like I had maybe two minutes. I knew the long uphill connector was coming, and figured by the top of that two-mile section they'd probably have me reeled in. As it turned out, I was able to maintain a bit of a gap, and as I made the 90 degree turn toward the backside of the final loop, it looked like I had 20-30 meters on the two 25k-ers who were still running in lock-step.
I took an internal assessment here, and decided that I would jump into the 25k race to see if I could maintain the lead and take a stab at the 50k CR in the process. Digging deep, I was surprised to find the gear I was looking for and was able to pick up the pace enough to maintain my lead. By the spur, and last three quarters of a mile of downhill, I took a quick look over my shoulder and realized that I'd actually increased my lead a bit. I took a look at my watch and saw that I also had a shot at the course record. I put my head down and let it go, finishing up in 3:48, just one minute ahead of Brad's CR from two years ago, and probably 30 seconds ahead of the 25k race. Kind of funny that Brad was the motivating factor in pushing me to take down his own course record.
Closing it out
So anyway, when it was all said and done, I felt like I finished the race feeling strong and in control. I was able to dig deep late in the race and find gears and energy that last year would not have been there. There's no better feeling in endurance running than digging deep late in a race and finding reserves. I'm really starting to believe that if I can stay healthy over the next couple of months, I have the potential to be a threat in late June.
Okay, you can stop laughing now.
I plan to put in a mini one-week taper for Fruita next month, so I can go in feeling rested and ready to race and get a true read on my form versus last year. In Fruita last year I crumbled over the last five or six miles; this year I'm hoping to find a similar gear to the one I found yesterday, and I'll need it if I'm gonna give Duncan, Ryan and Dakota a race for their money.
Finally, a note on Antelope Island and the Buffalo run. The course was definitely tougher than I was expecting on the climbing front, but the track was very runnable, which allows for good predictable footing. The views of the Wasatch Mountains across the Great Salt Lake are breathtaking, and to run with the Buffalo is a truly unique experience. Jim Skaggs does a great job managing the race, and I do believe a good time was had by all. Highly recommended on all fronts.
I'll clean this post up and add some photos when I get a chance, but right now I'm off to post some recovery miles at Red Rock Canyon, before a session in the pool with Alistair and then some food, beers and gamblin' this evening. Ah, vacation.