2013 Buffalo Run 50k: Bryon Powell’s Report

[With my second pre-Western States tune-up race* going down as you read this, I thought I finally ought to publish this story… even if I didn’t include all the follow-up long-run info that I’d intended.

* I dislike calling these “tune-up races” as I don’t approach them all as “races.” Up until States, these are “supported long runs at races to benefit from extra motivation and support”… but that’s awfully wordy. ;-)

A month ago, I traveled out to the Great Salt Lake’s Antelope Island in what is becoming an annual migration/pilgrimage. Why? Jim Skaggs’ set of four Buffalo Runs are a perfect way to ease into longer springtime efforts. The footing is good. You won’t see much snow. The courses are fairly flat, but undulating enough to vary the stride throughout. The weather is generally good. (It was a bit harsh for the 100-milers this year.) Anyway, this is why I’ve run a Buffalo Run race each of the past three years.

This year, I opted for the 50k. As for many shooting for a summer 100, running a non-focus 50k in March is perfect. It’s longer than most folks’ (myself included) regular long runs, and is a great step toward running a 50-miler or 100k tune-up in April or May.

For me, the Buffalo Run 50k is particularly useful in that in that’s it’s nearly entirely runnable. (I counted and I walked five times for about five total minutes this year.) I’m a sucker for the mountains once the snow melts and have absolutely no doubt that I’ll have the motivation and ability to prepare for the mountain aspects of my first focus race of the year – the Western States 100 – six or eight weeks later in the season… once the snow melts from the mountains. Over the years, I’ve consistently found it much harder to motivate myself to go for very long, non-mountainous outings during which I’m running nearly the entire time. Adding the Buffalo Run to my schedule gives me one runnable long run that I can count on logging.

2013 Buffalo Run

A view of the Wasatch Mountains from Antelope Island after this year’s Buffalo Run.

Quick Buffalo Run 50k Race Report

This time around, I WILL successfully avoid a protracted race report. Rather, I’ll share how things turned out as well as some observations from the run.

So how’d it go? Well, I was treating the “race” as a long training run, and, on that point, I succeeded. The 50k course is essentially two laps. I ran the first lap at a moderate long run pace and came through the halfway point feeling great. I tried to rein myself in until the top of the course’s only big climb with maybe seven or eight miles to go. I mostly succeeded on that. However, I did have some tightness/pre-cramping in my left calf (the pace was still faster than my daily training pace, which is ridiculously slow) so even when I hit my “you can open it up now point,” I stayed in control as I wanted to make sure my calf didn’t cramp. It didn’t, but my caution meant that not once during the event was my heart rate elevated. In contrast, I employed a similar “jog the first lap, push it a bit the second lap” approach in the 50k in 2011 and, in so doing, crushed myself cardiovascularly that same last seven or eight miles and still positive split by six minutes.

This year, I negative split the two laps by a few seconds. That made me quite happy for many reasons, not the least of which are it showed I’ve got enough early-season fitness to maintain a decent pace and that I did manage to run conservatively the first lap. I also ran six minutes faster than 2011 despite the course being half a mile longer and running an easier overall effort. As you’d imagine, this was a nice boost to my confidence.

Observations

  • Just relax. As with two years ago, I observed many folks going out too hard or, more accurately, coming in slower than needed. This year, I ended up in fifth… after passing at least seven 50k-ers on the second lap. Yes, I acknowledge that if I were “racing” 50k, I would likely have a positive rather than negative split and positive splits are fine. In fact, they’re probably the best/most likely option. However, I remain convinced that a good race at the Buffalo Run 50k from someone around my fitness/ability would result in a five minute to, at most, a ten minute positive split.
  • Pee breaks piss me off. I stopped once each lap and I couldn’t help but think about the clocking ticking away during a focus race. I came away with the few thoughts/reminders. First, multitask the pee break with eating a gel or the like. Second, time the breaks with the course. A 30-second break might be nice at the top of a runnable climb or lessen the load a couple ounces ahead of that climb.
  • Speaking of weight, lighten up! I loved racing with one bottle, a one-ounce waist-bottle pack, and no more than three gels. Fast and light is fun.
  • Song and dance. I was both dancing (Beat It, Thriller) and singing out loud after I picked up my iPod at the start of the second lap, even on the climbs. I had fun and saw others smiling around me. (Even if I can’t sing!)
  • Starve a run, feed a racer? Okay, so with around 15 or so 20-plus mile runs this year prior to the Buffalo Run, I’d consumed calories on maybe three runs – all long overnight runs in New Zealand. (I discount 30 calories a friend gave me as a kind gesture during an unplanned long run.) Despite that, I had absolutely no problem processing about 300 calories per hour throughout the run, including two instances where I ate two gels simultaneously. At this point, I’m not advocating that others switch to a low- or no-calorie training regimen – this is a personal experiment, but I can note that the lack of eating on previous training runs (really, for the past two years) didn’t hurt my ability to pack in the calories when it was time.
  • Go, Speed Racer. I wore New Balance RC 1400s, a marathon-distance road racing shoe for the Buffalo Run with complete success. This, despite having never run any of my previous road marathons in anything less than 12-ounce trainers, fearing tradeoff of lesser support over so many miles. The two-lap course gave (and Meghan suggesting pre-race that I not wear a pair of minimal trail shoes) gave me the impetus to experiment. As a result, the RC 1400 experiment overturned my long-held, self-imposed shoe restriction. While I can’t say that I’ll be wearing the RC 1400 come Western States, it’s certainly a possibility… and it’s nice to have another arrow in the quiver.
  • Drink responsibility. It was cool (both sides of freezing) and the race was “short,” but I got away with less than 40 ounces of fluids the entire race. I started with one full 20-ounce UD kick-valve bottle, had it filled at mid-race (thanks, volunteers!), and had some left at the finish. With a cup-free race, that’s all the fluid I had on board. Didn’t take any electrolyte tablets.

Subsequent Long Run Addendum

I’d planned on including my first post-Buffalo Run long run in this report… and then long runs two, three, and four happened, with an according desire to memorialize them and their individual lessons. That won’t happen, but here are my main thoughts.

It’s still winter on the Wasatch Back as far as trail running is concerned. There are a couple short stretches of trail open, but certainly nothing worthy of a long run if you want to respectfully avoid chewing up muddy trails. That’s left lazy me with one option for long runs – the roads. Combine that with a return of climactic winter the past few weeks and that’s put me in a motivational hole. Fortunately, I wisened up to a solution.

Head Out on (Safe) Long Runs on Which You Can’t Fail – Three of my four long runs since the Buffalo Run have been “can’t fail” runs. Once I headed out the door (or, in one case, once I hit the turnaround), I felt as if I had to make it to my destination. (In all instances, some combination of bus rides, very expensive cab rides, or embarrassed out-of-the-blue calls to unexpecting friends provided a safety net, but with a VERY high mental hurdle. In my mind, they didn’t exist.)

The first run was a highly motivating point-to-point long run from my home to the heart of Salt Lake City for an MLB exhibition game mostly on secluded roads. It was a nice day and a blast.

SLC MLB game

The just rewards after a springtime long run.

A week later, I had a visiting friend drop me off in SLC for an appointment – I ran home via Big Cottonwood Canyon and Guardsman Pass (5,000’ climb). With Meghan in Morocco, not even a few hours of snow/rain and a 3.5 miles of unplowed snow dampened my motivation. I had to make it home. A day later, a spontaneous 22-mile run around the exterior of Park City turned into more of an up-and-down affair, but running a long loop and being confident that I’d feel fine for the first half, meant I’d be in a position where I’d have to suffer most of the way back under my power. My lack of knowledge of the various neighborhoods’ bus routes was blissful (or at least beneficial) ignorance.

Upper Big Cottonwood Canyon

Covering the final few miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Similarly, on the Sunday after covering Lake Sonoma, I ran from my hotel out to the race’s start (and a bit beyond), leaving a 14-mile return trip. The slight-but-real chance that I’d see some friends driving around helped keep me honest. Still, once I turned around, I felt like it was time to run/walk/crawl to the hotel one way or another. Thankfully, during the last seven miles, low seven-minute miles felt like the best form of locomotion.

I also snuck in 24 miles on the Western States course on the way out to Sonoma, but that was plain old fun on a beautiful day with some company. Easy peasy!

Eat for Fleet Feet – I’m training for a 100-miler at which I’d be happy with an average pace of a hair under 12-minute miles. Speed is not a focus. As I largely don’t care about the pace of my training efforts, I generally don’t eat on long runs or, when failing isn’t an option for 30-plus-mile efforts, I consume some minimal number of calories to at least feel well. However, with a flat, sea level long road run after Sonoma, I decided to more or less fully fuel. The effect was pronounced. I negative split the run by 6-7%. (There was a couple hundred feet net loss returning, but the entire negative split was in the final seven flat miles.) My final seven miles of that 28-miler were the fastest road miles of my year with a 6:32 mile to close out the run. I felt in control, limited only by the lack of a bigger gear rather than any cardiovascular or metabolic limit. Given the focus of my training, I won’t be changing my training run fueling in the short term, but I’d be much more keen to do so the next time I seriously train for a 50k or a stage race.

2013 Lake Sonoma run

My turnaround view during my Lake Sonoma out-and-back.

Indulge Your Desires – Truthfully, I’d much rather be tramping trails than pounding pavement at this time of year. Park City is a trail running paradise six or seven months a year. That means 40-50% of the year I’m merely shaking through as a runner. I aim to indulge my trail running desires year-round going forward.

Late April Deer Valley

Late April hill training in Park City.