2011 Antelope Island Buffalo Run Race Report

Antelope Island Buffalo RunThis past Saturday, I headed down from snowy Park City to the relative warmth of Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake for the Buffalo Run races. Sure, it was right around freezing and there was a breeze, but I knew it would soon be as nice as any day I’d seen up in the mountains in quite some time. I was right. It was a gorgeous day that was matched by the scenery and the company.

The following race report focuses on my own observations rather than commentary on the elite competition that filled the 25k, 50k, 50 mile, and 100 mile races run on the island Friday and Saturday. The early season long run left me wasted enough that I felt like chilling with rather than interviewing the big dogs (and my friends) post-race. I’m sure you understand!

Buffalo Run runners

My Run
I went into the race waiting for a bonk or leg failure. A month earlier, I ran well through 18 miles at Red Hot Moab before my undertrained legs (and the rest of my body) reduced me to a 3+ mile walking break before I could run to the finish. Given that intervening month included my final push to complete Relentless Forward Progress and a reciprocal lack of focus on my training, I would be happy with running further without failure at the Buffalo Run than at Red Hot Moab. To jump to the conclusion, I’m happy.

I had no intention of “racing” the event, which gave me complete freedom to go out conservatively and I did. Between catching up with old friends and making some new ones, I must have chatted for 13 of the first 16 mile lap. The time flew by as I kept my heart rate down and I floated along. Highlights included the brightening sky and mountains, making up for lost time with old friends Jason and Jeff, and running the final few miles into the turn around with Nikki Kimball. I passed through the halfway point in a hair under 2:15. The only detractor was having placed my dropbag at the nearby (but not near enough) start/finish rather than the separate turn around aid station.

Bryon Buffalo Run floating

Me floating through the latter sections of lap 1. Photo by Greg Norrander.

With a long climb to kick off lap 2, my intensity (not pace) quickly rose. I had no intention of pushing the effort this early, but I was maintaining the slowest comfortable running pace up the hill. After cresting the hill, I had fun cruising the flat to slightly downhill ridge, where I took one of only two brief stops during the entire race. As with the entire race after mile 7, I was always moving up the field and while I wasn’t “racing,” it was still a motivating factor that kept me running. Heading out of the fourth of five aid stations at mile 21 my hamstrings were complaining from just shy of as many miles of continuous running. The 600 foot, mile and a half long descent out of the aid station did nothing to help.

Fortunately, the course switched to a correspondingly tall and long hill. Although I very much wanted to walk at times on the hill and I pegged my heart rate at a stout 170-71 bpm throughout it, the climb was a welcome switch. My legs were certainly heavy at the top of the climb, but I greatly encouraged (1) that I was still running and (2) I’d climbed the hill much faster than those around me. More important, during the first lap (and per my general philosophy), I’d marked the top of that climb (mile 24) as a safe place to see what I had left. I kept on running.

To keep my own report reasonably short, I managed to run through finish. All systems held up, but I was pretty exhausted through the final 4 miles. At the time I wished I’d taken better recon during the first lap, as I was never really sure how far I had left… and the twisty, rollercoaster section had many “hidden” trail sections. Ugh. Two things kept me moving: (1) the fact that I was psyched to still be running so late in the race and (2) the thought that I might be close to a negative split. In the end, I ran 2:15 for the front half and 2:20 for the back half, which is pretty darn close especially considering this was only my third ultra in 19 months.

Bryon Powell Buffalo Run

Me finishing the 2011 Buffalo Run 50k. Photo by Aric Manning.

During and after the race, I thought of some strategies that made this solid run possible. I’ll share those with you on Friday.

Observations, Commentary, and Results
Although I’m skipping an elite race report that’s not going to stop me from going beyond talking about my own race. Here are some observations on gear and the front of the pack.

Gear
I’m a bit of a gearhead, so I couldn’t help but notice the dominance of two shoe models at the Buffalo Run races. I’d guess that a third of the field was wearing Hoka One Ones, a third was wearing Brooks Cascadia, and the rest were a mix of other random shoe models. The Cascadia is a… or, perhaps, the benchmark trail shoe of the pass few years, so while their proportion seemed high, it wasn’t shocking. On the other hand, I’ve never seen so many Hokas in one place. Hoka has a great ambassador with Karl Meltzer getting the word out in Utah. It really was an incredible sight.

I wore a pair of Spring/Summer ’12 Montrails that I’ve been wear testing and they performed admirably. I’d say more, but I’m uncertain as to my level of non-disclosure and would rather be safe than sorry. If I still have this model come Western States, I’ll have to consider wearing them as an alternative to the Saucony Peregrines.

I also saw a ton of Under Armor clothing out on the course… or at least more than I’d ever seen at a trail race.

Horses at the Buffalo Run.

Horses at the Buffalo Run.

Races
I’ll forgo a full race commentary, as it would require recapping 8 separate fields. (No thanks!) However, here are some thoughts.

Bozeman, Montana’s (and The North Face’s) Nikki Kimball returned to the Buffalo Run races for the third time, which says something about the quality of these races. They’re perfect, snow-free, early-season races for snowbound Rocky Mountain region runners. Relatively low elevation (<5,000’), an undulating terrain, and warmth mean anyone can jump in and have a good time.

Over the past year, there’s been a growing roster of races with highly competitive fields that draw in ultrarunning’s elite like moths to the flame. With the likes of Kimball, Karl Meltzer, Nick Clark, Dylan Bowman, Duncan Callahan, Dan Vega, and numerous speedsters I’d never heard of, the Buffalo Runs have the same potential. However, the races didn’t have the feel of an “A race”… and I think that’s a GREAT thing. While it’ll surely be the subject of another article someday, I think there may be too many top tier competitive races and that top runners are getting sucked into racing too hard for too long a period every year. These races felt more like solid tune up races with a bunch of great runners. Maybe I would have felt differently if I were racing for a top spot, but, at the very least, external pressure and expectations aren’t yet applied to the Buffalo Run races.

Karl Meltzer engaged in a particularly cruel mental test out on Antelope Island. Just 6 days after running 78 miles at the cancelled Coyote Two Moon 100 miler, Meltzer toed the line for a second 100 miler. Sure, numerous folks have run 100 milers on back-to-back weekends, but how many run just over 16 hours for the second 100?! That’s right, despite being sore for the gun, Meltzer ran a 16:06 100. That’s sick!

Notables Finishes [full results]
(If Jake Krong or Seth Wold read this or any of their friends do, please have them stop by and leave a comment. Super impressive performances guys! Would love to know more about your backgrounds and how you did it.)

25k – Men
1. Chris Lundberg – 1:55:20
2. Justin Leavitt – 1:59:13

25k – Women (race of the day!)
1. Bethany Lewis – 1:59:44 (3rd overall!)
2. Andrea North – 1:59:50

50k – Men
1. Jake Krong (race report) – 3:38:02
2. Seth Wold – 3:43:31
3. Nick Clark (race report) – 3:47:59
[8. Bryon Powell – 4:34:53]

50k – Women
1. Nikki Kimball – 4:41:19
2. Emily Judd – 4:56:48
3. Suzanne Lewis – 4:58:59

50 Mile – Men
1. Dylan Bowman (race report) – 6:15:36
2. Duncan Callahan (race report) – 6:35:24
3. Jay Aldus – 6:43:49

50 Mile – Women
1. Mikelle Stephenson – 8:13:34

100 Mile – Men
1. Dan Vega – 15:31:00
2. Karl Meltzer (race report) – 16:01:50
3. Day Crockett (race report) – 20:27:10

100 Mile – Women
1. Sherry Shay – 22:40:58

Call for Comments
So who’s run the Buffalo Run and what did you think?

iRunFar Buffalo Run 2011

Yours truly enjoying the 2011 Buffalo Run. Photo by Greg Norrander.