It was 8am on a Friday morning and it was pouring rain. I drove onto Antelope Island and pulled into a parking lot to grab my bib number and shirt. It was all real now. I was unusually calm this morning, which compared to my previous 100 mile attempt was very reassuring. As I drove to the starting area, I saw it, my first buffalo about 5 feet from my car. How in gods name am I supposed to run with these gigantic creatures just running around the island?? Well, no one had been hurt yet so I guess it’ll all be good…..right?
I arrived about 2 hours before our early starting time, which was intentional. I tend to get very anxious before races(especially my NUMBER ONE race) so arriving TOO early is my plan. I dropped my drop bags onto the tarps, walked around a bit, took my before race photo, and sat back in my car and played some solitaire. Yep, sitting and playing solitaire keeps me calm and not overthinking what is about to come. I had put in training for the past 6 months, including two 40 milers and a 24 hour race, so I felt ready and was ready. It was about 9:30am so I wandered into the tent for the pre race briefing(which included instructions on how NOT to get charged by the buffalo. Very reassuring.) and just like that we were lining up. This was what I had planned and trained for over the past 2-3 years. I had never felt more ready.
The race layout was two 50 mile “loops”(more like a couple of pinched loops and an out & back of about 20 miles) which was perfect! If you have tried to do 3-4 loops of a longer race, it can be very daunting. This way, I could finish the 50 miles and end up at the start/finish to get a little boost from my pacers & crew(which consisted of my husband Jeremy and great race support Bruce). With ONLY about 7500 ft elevation gain over the entire 100 miles, this was a much less daunting course then some others I had attempted(Tushars with it’s 10,000-12,000ft climb and Rio Del Lago with it’s 14,000+ elevation gain) so that helped my confidence. I stuck to my aid station plan almost flawlessly: Refill your pack, add electrolytes every other aid station, refill your food making sure you had at least 800 calories on you at all times, put BioFreeze on your feet to stave off soreness, and sit down for a bit but try to keep it to 5 minutes.
Within the first 5 miles of the course, I found myself playing chicken with a buffalo on the trail. He goes one way, I go the other. He turns around, I try not to freak out and get around him. All I could remember was “Don’t look them in the eye!” and “Do not run if you are close to one!”. Talk about instilling a slight fear of death. Those first 50 miles felt great, my body felt better then I could have hoped for. My pace put me about 2 hours ahead of cutoff times and I was feeling awesome! As I came into the finishing tent about 12:30am Saturday morning, I was welcomed by my husband and Bruce, a VERY welcome sight. I sat for 20 mins(knowing I was ahead of schedule) and shoveled pizza, soup, and coke into my mouth as fast as I could. I knew these next 20 miles were the hardest part and that being night time, I may forget to eat as often as needed. So, I was trying to front load and get some calories in while I could.
Expecting Jeremy to jump in as pacer for the next 20 miles or so, he said “Ok, you go the next 20 miles and I will be right here when you get back.”. Huh?!? This was the hardest portion of the race! I have to go alone?!? Being pretty tired and not able to really think too much, I said ok and at 1AM, I headed out. The next 20 miles were rough! Most of the elevation of the course was in THESE 20 miles. Winds had picked up to 25+ mph and on some steep drops off of the trail, it was a little questionable. I was tired(as expected), cold, and it was just a rough 6-7 hours. Each aid station I would sit, put my head in my hands, and wallow, but then I would get my shit together, refill, and head out. Just trying to get through the night and into sunrise was my goal for this portion of the race.
It was 8AM and I was feeling pretty defeated. I had cried a few times, or tried to at least(you’d be surprised how hard it is to cry under duress and when you are clinging to hydration) and as I came around the corner and the finishing tent was in sight, I saw Jeremy. At just the right time and with just the right tone, he said let’s get this done! Only 23 hours in, I had 9 more hours to get this last 30 miles done. I can actually finish this thing! With the night behind me, my spirits were lifting pretty quickly.
The next 25 miles were a constant awareness of time, of movement, of alternating between my shuffle jog and walking a little when needed. Jeremy was there the whole way, telling me to try to run. He made sure I had what I needed at every aid station, coke, food, refilled camelback. He was the best pacer I could have asked for. Of course, being 24 hours into a non stop race, I was starting to get a tiny bit agitated. I wouldn’t expect anything less honestly, and those who know me, would probably be surprised it took me that long to get to that point. So we kept moving and as we hiked up the hill and approached the 95th mile, Jeremy let me finish the last part on my own. I know part of it was because, well, he was probably sick of moving like a snail for 25 miles. But I like to think it was just that he wanted me to finish alone, what I had started alone.
I came around the back side of the final loop and I could see it, the finishers tent. It was then that everything just came together in my head. Oh my god, I am going to finish 100 miles. Oh my god, I am not last! Oh my god, all of that hard work and those long weekend runs paid off. I DID IT! And so I came down the final stretch into the finish, I could hear Jeremy and Bruce as they watched me walk, run, walk some more, run some more, and I just felt complete happiness. Again, I tried to cry and probably got two tears out(it’s hard to cry when you’re exhausted haha) and I came into the finish, the happiest I have been with myself. I realized that it was possible and I just made it so. The remainder of that day really didn’t entail much more then a shower, pizza, TV, and sleep.
A Few Things that I Learned on this Race
*I didn’t listen to ANY music! I tried, I really tried to, but I wasn’t feeling it and it ended up being 100 miles listening to other runners, my mind, and the surroundings. This just surprised me, a lot!
*My feet, which had given me trouble all throughout this training cycle, held up great! Knowing they were a little difficult, I made sure I stopped at each aid station and out on biofreeze. The 30 seconds it took really helped keep them mellow and was worth the time.
*I OVER packed my drop bags. Expecting rain, each bag had a sweatshirt, socks, a hat in two. I was over prepared and it helped avoid some of the anxiety during the race.
*ALWAYS PACK A HEADLAMP IN YOUR PACK! Instead of trying to time where I would be when it got dark, I kept my headlamp on me at all times. You ever run in the dark on a trail? Yeah, probably not because it’s stupid! I ran into a few people who didn’t get to their light in time and well, a few didn’t finish. Maybe this was part of the reason.
*I found it helpful to separate this race into 3 separate races: the morning portion, the night time, and post sunrise. The goal is basically, get through the night and you’ll come out on the other side in a much better spot. Push through the dark place!
*My many training runs taught me that the food you like to eat while you run, may be the food you hate on race day. You NEED to have a lengthy list of options. Pros can sustain themselves on a single type of nutrition, but for the rest of us it’s all about what you can basically get into your body. Pop tarts I consider my staple base. Soup, like an angel, especially when it’s cold and/or dark. Potato chips, you can just shove them in by the handful and not pay a price for it. Pizza, um yeah pizza was a great treat a the 50 mile mark. Ibuprofen(I know it’s not food) was a life saver twice when I just couldn’t get past the pains of the run. Gummy candy, easy to shove in and kind of a treat when you need a break from pop tarts. Coke, coke, and more coke! Even if it were 5 sips, every stop on the last stint included coke. Sugar, carbonation to settle your stomach, and it’s fairly calorie dense for the volume.
*Why would you run a 100 miles when your training was a marathon? Yeah, I don’t know why either, but I met a few people who were in that boat. Why go in unprepared mentally and physically, when you can train and be much more relaxed on race day? Needless to say, some of these people did not finish. You may be able to push through the physical under preparedness, but mentally you WILL suffer!
*You finish, exhausted and just drained of every ounce of energy. You say you will never do this s**t again. Two weeks later, you’re signed up for a 48 hour. Yeah, they’re right. You WILL do it again, if the passion is inside of you.
Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100 mile race, March 2018
Coach Melissa Farrell
100 Mile Finisher