Antelope Island 100 Mile Buffalo Run

Antelope Island Buffalo Run 100M

March 25 & 26, 2011

Davina: On Tuesday March 22nd, Emily mentioned that she would like to go watch our friend Sam run and pace him to get that coveted 100 mile buckle. Not sure how it happened, but I mentioned I would love to catch a ride down and before we knew it, we were leaving Nampa around 2:00 pm Friday the 25th. From the phone conversations we’d had with Sam on the trail since the race had started at noon, we figured would find him somewhere between miles 40 and 44…oh wait, did I mention he had no clue we were coming?

Sam: First of all, I had no business even registering for this race. I couldn’t even run for 8 weeks after the Javelina Jundred five months ago. I didn’t make the cutoff to continue on and run the last 9 miles of the race due to knee pain. I didn’t tell anyone that I registered for Antelope knowing that I wouldn’t have enough time to train properly. It took everyone about 2 weeks to figure out that I was in by checking the entrants list. My thoughts were this would force me to rehab properly and be as ready as possible come race time. No time for any type of setbacks. Also in my head was the pressure to erase the JJ DNF. DNF doesn’t sit well with me. I am not a quitter and I finish what I start. So with my training miles somewhere near half, I added bootcamp 2 to 3 times a week having to modify exercises that stressed the knees. Antelope Island, ready or not here I come!

Sam: The weather forecast was snow and rain for the weekend. Looking out the hotel window on race morning, I had to smile. It was raining pretty good, and that turned to a fairly heavy snow for a while and then back and forth between rain and snow. The reason I was smiling is because it doesn’t rain on me when I am running, and this would be a good test. While driving to the start (early because I am always early) the snow lightened up to a drizzle mixed with a few flakes. I placed my drop bags in the canopy in the proper piles. I had plenty of dry clothes including shoes in each of the 4 drop bags just in case. I also had a Starbucks Doubleshot, an Ensure, and plenty of S! Caps in each a bag. The Doubleshots were to be a pick me up for the 2nd loop. I stole this idea from Emily. She actually quits caffeine before her races so that the Doubleshots have more effect. I am not giving up my coffee! {and neither is Emily any more!}

Sam: It was getting close to race time, and the volunteers were still setting up. I helped put together a canopy. We were told beforehand that they would still be setting up until the start and they were. With a couple minutes to start, Jim Skaggs the RD drew a line in the dirt with his foot and announced this is the starting line. The equipment wasn’t there yet. I thought this was a pretty cool, low tech way to start a race. And we were off, overprepared for the rain and snow that wasn’t to be. Why? Because it never rains on me when I am running.

Sam: About a half mile in, I looked up at the snow covered mountain and could see some dark specks that must be buffalo. I remember thinking I hope we are going up there and we did and they were. The snow was beginning to melt and the trail was getting muddy in places. Somewhere around mile 8 on the second set of switchbacks, the melting snow was creating a stream of water on the trails and very muddy in places. About this time, I started developing knee issues. Oh no, not again, was my thought. At Elephant’s Head aid station (mile 13.5), I changed into my road shoes for two reasons: 1. My shoes and socks were soaked and 2. I hoped this would help the knees. Jen Stover helped with my drop bag and was there to assist. She and a friend were manning this aid station. Seeing Jen was one of my race highlights. I wish I had a picture. She had a Viking helmet on and war paint – oh wait, that was her mascara running.

Sam: Leaving Elephant’s Head aid station, I dropped quickly to lower elevation and warmer dry trails, trying to forget about aching knees and trying to stay slow and save energy while taking pics. Between mile 18 and 19 I broke out the iPod looking for some distraction from the knee pain. I have a mix of Christian and 50s music on my iPod. At this point, I was just logging miles and listening to music wishing that Emily and Davina would show up to pace me. I had a gut feeling that they were going to show even though my head said they weren’t.

Emily: It doesn’t really matter how it all came about, but Davina and found ourselves traveling to Antelope Island, Utah on Friday afternoon, the 25th of March, 2011 on a mission to assist our friend Sam in finishing his first 100 mile race. Davina and I had talked to him in the early evening when he was about mile 32, just getting ready to leave the Ranch AS. I remember talking to Sam on the phone earlier in the day while we were on I-84 in northern Utah:

Promise me you won’t even THINK about stopping until you get to mile 50, okay Sam?

Oh, I’m not quitting. I feel pretty good right now.

Emily: I was hopeful. The big concern was Sam’s knees, which had caused a DNF at JJ back in October 2010. But things sounded like they were rolling along much more smoothly for a much longer time than they had at JJ, when things had started unraveling very early in the race, about 10 miles in.

Sam: Logging miles, I met and ran with Jan who used to live in Boise but now lives in Salt Lake. We would run together and take turns passing each other and run together more. Somewhere during this time I talked to Emily on the phone. Yes, I carried my cell phone. Emily is a very good friend and running partner. I told her that I felt that she would show up to pace me and she got quiet. After I hung up, I remember thinking that I hope I didn’t make her feel bad for not being able to come. This is where I first thought they weren’t able to make it.

Sam: The snow capped mountains were amazing glowing bright pink around mile 30 or so as the sun was starting to set.

Sam: Just after dark I got a call from Emily after I stopped to use the bushes and Jan went on. {Emily: actually, it was Sam who called me, and I really didn’t want to answer because I just had this feeling that one of the next few runners would be him, and I was right. I held the phone away from my ear and could still hear a voice from the headlamp ahead in the dark talking, confirming it was him.} Emily asked if there was someone running in front of me with a red light. My thought was how did she know that Jan was in front of me? That’s when she said it was her.

Sam: I don’t have the words to describe how I felt after running about 30 miles with achy knees and having two amazing friends make a surprise five hour drive to pace me. Everything was going to be okay. This was a big boost for me. I was going to get my first hundred mile finish. The rest was Emily and Davina. These next miles were a blur. The lightening in the distance lit up the clouds in such a cool way as Emily and I ran from Lower Frary back to the Mountain View aid station where Davina was waiting.

Davina: Emily ran out four miles from the Mountain View aid station to meet Sam, and then they returned back to Mtn. View (mile 44) where I was ready to take over pacing for the next six miles into the race headquarters (mile 50), where Emily would take over for the next 19 or so miles. Sam looked great when I first saw him. He had high spirits and joked around about the buffalo. I know seeing Emily out on the course gave him the lift he needed to get through the night.

Davina: Emily and I decided to divide up the pacing into sections and alternately torture Sam with our presences. Haha – he really took it like a good sport. In all actuality we weren’t that mean – we kept the yelling to a minimum. {Snicker, snicker}

Davina: About mile 45 there is a section where we thought we were going to have to cut cross country due to unclear markings or lack of markings. We wandered around for a while trying to get back on course and to the next aide station. The RD had non-reflective orange and black course markings flagged really low to the ground, along with trampled and rained-on lime arrows. I can see the buffalo now – Let’s trample every last piece of tape! and they did. We slowly came to recognize a glow close to the ground as not some wild animal ready to eat us, but a lantern to guide our way. The guys at the Lakeside AS were very helpful and nice as they sent us on our way.

Sam: I remember deer eyes at night running with Davina.

Davina: About mile 48, we came around a rocky section to several beady eyes staring at us. My first instinct was to hide behind a rock because I had heard that the buffalo might charge if threatened, and who wouldn’t be threatened by a bunch of crazy runners out in the middle of the night? Instead, it was a whole herd of deer, the closest one being about 20 feet from us. They were beautiful. Sam kept a steady pace, hiking an average of nice 15 minute miles. Sam told me of all the buffalo he had seen during the day and how beautiful the land was. I was so anxious for morning to come so I could get to see some of the country he kept describing. In the meantime, we wandered by the light of a half moon and our headlamps, one step at a time.

Emily: When Sam and Davina came into the start/finish tent at mile 50, I was ready to go. I’d gotten Sam some Ramen to drink and we helped him recharge his Nike Sportband. After 10-15 minutes of recharging and reorganizing, we were set to go on the 19-mile loop that would take us to dawn. It was 12:35 am when we headed back out into the night.

Sam: Later in the race, I remember all the pressure melting away when the girls took away my tech gadgets and all I had to do was obey and run.

Emily: As we headed out into the night, RD Jim Skaggs commented to us “it’s just through the gate again.” This would be the second time Sam had done the course, and I was sure he would know what Jim meant by that. We rolled through the gate, confident that Sam knew where he was going “just through the gate.” But we all know darkness brings a different world.

Davina: Meanwhile, I decided I should try to get at least a couple hours of sleep so that I could be the best help as I could to Sam come those early morning hours. But, it didn’t work. From 12:30 to 4:30 am, I might have squeezed in a total of 1.5 hours of sleep, but I really can’t be certain that I got that much. My mind was on Sam and Emily. I kept praying for them, praying for Sam’s strength to hold up and for his knees to not bother him. I thought of all the runners out there and what strength and profound determination they showed. I had the pleasure of hanging out in the tent with Jon Kinzer, who pulled from the race due to a rolled ankle and Achilles issues, along with 100 mile winner Dan Vega  (15:31) and second place 100 miler Karl Meltzer (16:06).

Emily: I could see lights of runners ahead up on switchbacks on the hill to our left, and I knew that’s where we needed to be heading. The road we were on had headed straight through the gate outside the aid station. We toodled on, but the further we traveled, I started to question.

Sam, is this the way you went the first time?

I think so. I’m not sure.

We need to be up there. Maybe the road will turn in a few minutes?

Emily: The road we were heading on was leading out to the right parallel to the base of the hills. Something didn’t seem right. Finally, 1.2 miles out, I said We need to turn around. We are not cutting left up the hill like we should. I was fresh so I turned around and took off running with Sam following behind at a walk. When I frantically raced into the aid tent, I snagged the first person I saw who looked like he might be a reliable source of information.

You take a hard left along the fence directly after passing through the gate.

OH. Crap. I walked back over to the gate and looked for markings that I missed the first time through. There were maybe some faint flour marks on the ground, and on closer inspection, I saw a solid white line crossing the road we had just taken. I guess that meant we shouldn’t go that way. Oh brother. I waited a few minutes for Sam to arrive and then we were on to mile 50 for the second time.

The time was 1:25 am. 50 precious minutes vanished into the night.

Emily: Sam and I pushed up the large switchback to the top of the ridge. I could tell Sam was in a little funk. He asked if he could lead so he could try to get some of his fire back, and I let him go. I needed to take a pit stop and change the batteries in my badly fading headlamp anyway. {Note for night runners: always carry a small backup flashlight so you can see in the dark to change the batteries in your headlamp if you are alone.} So, by the time I was going again, Sam had gotten quite a ways ahead on a downhill section. The top of the ridge afforded a breathtaking view of SLC across the great expanse of the lake, and I drank in the view, appreciating that I could exist in this moment in this place on this night. Dry lightning flashed in the distant sky, but stars lit the sky directly overhead.

Emily: By the time I caught back up to Sam, we were climbing our way to the Elephant Rock AS. This whole section was comprised of a loop and an out and back, so we were seeing people coming back our way, one of whom was a strong looking Dennis and then Jon Kinzer who was calling it a day, limping back to the main hub with a tendonitis issue and twisted ankle. I felt bad for him, but on a positive note, Sam had recovered his better spirits by this time, had acknowledged that he was in a funk over the bonus miles, and had moved on, literally and figuratively.

Emily: Reaching Elephant Head, we opted to do the 3 mile out and back section before the loop. The out and back was a sweet little singletrack at a slight descent out to a point that I am told was spectacular during the day; however, in the dark, I could not even tell we were on an island. It’s just you, the rocks and dirt in front of you, the stars above, and the circle of light guiding your way. Reaching the turnaround, I picked a cute sticker out of the bucket for Sam to stick to his race # proving he had been there, and we headed back to Elephant Head. I had a quick telephone conversation with John through here – we had cell service at selected points around the island. I tried to keep him and Tina updated throughout the race so everyone could pray and be informed about Sam’s progress.

Emily: Now on the 6-7 mile loop from Elephant Head, we had a beautiful experience under a stunning half moon. I tried to get some pictures but they didn’t come out so well. Eventually, we caught up to some headlamps on a section of switchbacks. We had not seen many people for a while and it was a welcome sight to not only see headlights, but more so to see that we were catching up to them. Nothing is more moralizing in the wee hours of a 100 miler than to catch up to and overtake someone. All racers experience highs and lows out there, especially through the night, and realizing you are faster and stronger than someone else brings a strong dose of good spirits. We overtook the lady and her pacer, wished them well, and went on our way. Sam’s victory arms indicated that he was happy about this small achievement. I could tell the lady was in one of those slumps and felt bad for her. But those things come and go…and Sam’s turn for the slump was coming a little later down the road.

Emily: I kept checking my trusty old Timex to monitor our progress and try to keep it steady. Secretly, I was nervous about the time, not sure how our lost 50 minutes would affect our overall mission. Originally, I had aimed to get us off the 19 mile loop about 5:30 am (5 hours), but I had revised that plan to 6:00 am after the bonus miles. After prodding Sam through some rather difficult miles, around and down to the aid station, taking walk breaks when needed, but trying to keep up a good pace, we rolled into the start/finish about 6:30 am, and Davina was waiting and ready to take up a good portion of the daytime running on the lovely flat lakeside singletrack, vast the Salt Lake and snow capped mountains ever-present for miles 50-94.

Davina: When Sam and Emily returned, we made sure to get Sam in and out of the AS quickly. Emily would crew along as much as she could and hopefully get some shut eye, which she never did – too much activity. Sam was in good spirits, his left ankle a bit sore but his knees overall good. We made sure to keep a close eye on them, though.

Emily: Morning was freshly dawning when Sam and Davina headed over the hill toward their long lakeside run. From a crew’s perspective, I think the night portion went well, and Davina and I did a pretty good job getting Sam in and out of the major checkpoint pretty efficiently, with the exception of having to charge his various electronic pacing devices.

Davina: Sam and I made our way back over to the Mtn. View AS (mile 70) and completed a short 2 mile out and back before heading on the long out and back to the Ranch. I noticed that Sam started thinking weird things were funny, like the two girls headed straight for the lake instead of turning on the trail to do the out and back. Sam good naturedly told them they were on the wrong trail and that they might get a bit wet if they kept going. Haha.


Emily: I hung out with the race winner and Jon Kinzer for a while before heading over in the car to check on Sam and Davina. Ben Blessing called about 7:00 am while I was in the process of overlooking the misty lake in the early morning light, flocks of birds landing and ascending, buffalo grazing on grassy knolls above the water, lake awash in blue and pink and white. I gave Ben a good report, saying that Sam was feeling pretty good so far, was maybe getting tired, but was still moving well and was not experiencing debilitating knee pain. I can’t remember exactly when Sam first mentioned to me that his left ankle hurt, but I think I dismissed it as one of those pains he would just have to deal with.

Davina: We made our way into Lower Frary (mile 77) where Emily met us, helped Sam refill his water, and got him something to eat. It was at this AS where Sam said he needed to use the restroom and came out shortly handing me an extra pair of running shorts that he had been wearing. Let me tell ya, I’m not sure what I thought when he handed them to me, but I got a great laugh out of it! I do remember him saying, That should help me run better. He’d been wearing two pairs of shorts the whole time? What??

Davina: After Lower Frary AS, I got to encounter my first up-close buffalo about 30 yards off trail. Sam wanted me to get closer and get a picture, but I made sure to keep moving as I snapped the shutter button.

Sam: This was too funny – Davina was shaking so much out of fear of a buffalo attack that she couldn’t push the shutter button on my camera. She kept saying come on keep moving. She was sure we would be attacked. The buffalo were probably laughing harder than me.

Davina: I noticed that Sam kept doing a little more walking and a lot less running. He was also starting to really favor his left ankle and even stepping slightly off the trail would cause him extreme discomfort.  About mile 80, after Lower Frary outbound, Emily met up with us and wrapped Sam’s ankle with a good ol’ Ace bandage, which helped immensely. On the trail again, I decided it was time to not keep my prayers quiet and spent the next two minutes praying right alongside Sam that God would work a healing in his body and that he would move on to conquer this 100 mile race. So many people sent texts to Sam – he had me check his phone as it kept buzzing – such amazing support from such awesome friends. Into the morning, I decided to institute a walk/run pattern hoping that it would give him a little more of a push and take focus off the ankle. Overall, I think it worked. One minute of walk and then one minute of run, allowing for two minutes of walk while he ate something – I know, I know – but I had to keep him moving.

Sam: My ankle started hurting badly and the knee pain went away. I remember as the fastest 50 milers were approaching, I was trying to let them pass and the pain was too much for me to step off the trail. I started apologizing to them. I welcomed the ankle pain as a distraction from the knees.

Emily: Davina called me shortly after Lower Frary, saying that Sam’s ankle was getting really bad and wondering if I had anything in the car that might help. I whizzed over to the next point on the trail where they would access the road, plopped Sam down in a chair, and wrapped Sam’s ankle up in an Ace bandage.

Sam: Emily taped my ankle, and I wanted to convince Davina that it was better now, even though it wasn’t. It would eventually go numb and feel a lot better. Sometime during the ankle thing, the knee pain disappeared.

Davina: Every once in a while Sam would look off in the distance and make a remark about the beauty of the snow capped mountains across the Salt Lake. It wasn’t until he asked about the sprinklers on the hillside that I began to wonder if this was what I had heard talk about – hallucinations and how the mind could play funny tricks on you. I laughingly told Sam they were not sprinklers but that if we would like to check them out I would wait on the trail for him. He decided not to. Heh heh. At one point while pointing up the hill to some bonsai-looking trees, Sam told me those were some of the biggest buffalo he had ever seen.

Davina: I decided to play along and said, Oh no Sam, those are giraffes. Yeah, that’s what I said. See those two giraffes?

Davina: I didn’t encounter my first real struggle with these imaginary images Sam was having until he thought he saw the Ranch AS, which was really the side of the mountain with rocks lunging out on the edge. If I had just run 80-something miles I could see how it would look like an aid station. Sam was so intent on getting there he kept asking me why I just wouldn’t let him go to the aid station. I tried several times to tell him that was NO AID STATION, but he told me that he was going anyway. He was just about to head cross country when we met up with Paul and Steve, and Sam asked them about the aid station hoping for a more favorable answer. Thankfully they told him the AS was up the road about two miles and that was just a hill. Thank you guys!!!  I will admit that had me in stitches. He was just so adamant, and I just got to yell at him that it wasn’t; and then he looked so sad that I had to say, Oops, time to RUN.

Sam: I got upset with Davina because I thought she was looking at the wrong spot and this was why she couldn’t see the invisible aid station.

Davina: Emily met up with us at the Ranch AS (mile 83), helped us get Sam refueled and hydrated, and then out we went, back to Lower Frary. I would switch things up on him and do 1 min walk/1 min run, 2 min walk/1min run, 2 min walk/2 min run, and then start over. Emily had brought along some turkey wraps and that proved to be great fuel for him. They were solid without being heavy on the stomach. I also had one of those Gatorade Primes that I had thought to buy to bring along because I knew Sam liked them. Between the turkey wraps and the Prime, Sam’s energy seemed rejuvenated, and he got back on track.

Emily: It was quite late in the morning before I even started feeling drowsy from being up all night, but there was enough action at the aid stations and driving along to the various points to meet Davina and Sam that I never felt like I needed to stop and sleep. Anyway, I didn’t want to be asleep when they came through, especially because they were moving faster than I expected them to be.

Emily: While waiting back at Lower Frary AS, I had the good fortune to encounter Robbie Woog heading outbound, and I helped him to get moving out of the aid station on his way to his first 50 mile finish! It was there that I also encountered a spry Dennis heading inbound, simply killing the course in his tutu with his pacer, speedster Glen Merrill.

Davina: During that day, we came across some of our 100 mile friends: Lynette McDougal, running strong and positive as always, finished in 25:51. Dennis Ahern killed the run in 22:24 with a second place in his age division and 13th overall. Steven Boyenger and Paul Lindauer finished together in 25:54.

Davina: We met back up with Emily at Lower Frary and she took back over running with Sam. They had about 11 miles to make it to the finish line and about 6 hours to do it. Sam was strong and determined. After four years of knowing Sam, I learned something new about him – he CAN run without his Nike+ and his Garmin.

Emily: The 4-5 miles (~89-94) from Lower Frary to Mountain View AS were fairly uneventful, just passing the time, consistently walk/running 1 minute/1 minute with some variations for the terrain. Sam tried to stay fueled, eating the last turkey wrap and a cheese stick I had in my pack, along with some peanut M&Ms at the aid station. At Mile 94, there was a short climb (less than a quarter mile), and the rest of the race was flat to rolling terrain on the section Davina had run with Sam the night before.

Sam: I remember seeing double several times with Emily in the last 6 mile section of the race. Two people were running toward us, but to me there were four of them. As I ran behind Emily, I thought no wonder she runs so smooth – she has four legs.

Emily: The piece of trail with 2-3 miles to go was one of my favorites. Massive rock formations hugged the trail, sometimes becoming parts of the trail; and Sam – a rock lover at heart – still had the presence of mind to point out to me what the formations looked like to him. Look, there’s Elvis! I just looked around us, letting Sam get ahead of me for a minute and tried not to get emotional about this huge achievement that was about to be won. I think I grinned from ear to ear for a good three miles into the finish.

Sam: I laid on a rock with about 4 miles to go, and it was funny for me. I thought for sure Emily would be yelling at me.

Emily: I was too kind-hearted to yell at Sam, when he clearly had a smidge of humor left. It was pretty funny to come around that corner to find Sam hamming it up on a huge flat rock, like he was sleeping. As if I would let that fly for long!

Sam: Just before Emily took over pacing the last time, I told Davina several times that the three of us should cross the finish at the same time together. I was upset when she was across the finish line with the camera.

Emily: Sam was moving along well all the way to the finish, alternately walking and running, and we only got passed by a couple of 50 milers as we passed a couple other 100 milers ourselves.  The white tent of the finish line finally appeared in the distance like an oasis. There it is, Sam!! As is often the case, objects in ultras are often further away than they appear, but I tried with moderate success to get Sam to run the last mile in. When we reached the finish area, I practically had to drag Sam down the “aisle” toward the finish line. He just wanted to stop there and wait for Davina to get over to us.

Sam, you have to finish the race!

But I want Davina to cross with us.

Well, she is over there taking pictures.

But I want Davina to cross with us.

Come on, Sam!

Emily: Almost reluctantly, Sam crossed the finish line, grabbing my hand and holding it up as we crossed. The clock read 27:34, two and a half hours ahead of the finish cutoff. What an awesome victory! Davina and I were relentless, but we only pushed Sam to the point that he was capable. This was his finish, his victory, 100 miles he covered with his own two feet. I was incredibly proud of him.

Sam: It was great of Dennis and Jon being at the finish with high fives. Seeing Emily’s excitement for me at the finish was very touching. All I could think was wow!

Davina: I learned many lessons in the pacer role of this 100 mile race:

  • 1. You can do anything for one minute – just ask Sam.
  • 2. Ramen noodles are good, but not for the whole race.
  • 3. Emily should always be there with her turkey wraps.
  • 4. Praying is great.
  • 5. Praying out loud at mile 82 is okay and other racers thank you for it.
  • 6. Just laugh when you see giraffes in Utah.
  • 7. Friends are the best.
  • 8. Watching your friend hold that buckle in their hand does make you cry.

Davina: Hey, Sam, remember when we started running at the Rec and wrote down our goals? Half marathon – that’s just small stuff, my friend. You are now in the 100 mile club! Congrats!

Sam Collier:  27:34:13.4   16:33/M   5th in 50-59 Age Group

Davina: Emily and I left for home about 5:30 pm Saturday evening.  I count myself blessed to have such awesome friends, ones who will speak the truth, ones who will hold you accountable, ones who will dream with you, ones who will believe in you, and ones who will go that extra mile with you.

3 thoughts on “Antelope Island 100 Mile Buffalo Run”

  1. this post makes me super happy! the switching between voices is great, and especially i love the story. long runs can be so dramatic and traumatic. i’m bursting at the delight of this retelling, of sam expecting you’d show up to pace, of all.

    i’m still unable to resist the temptation to blow through previously perceived limits. 100 miles? the next limit to explore is 40 this coming summer 😉 if that doesn’t break my body, then…

  2. by the way, that 40 i’m looking at? the McCall Trailrunning Classic, in your list of favorites. maybe we can meet up on the trail, and you can use sam’s cell phone to call the medevac for me.

    1. Hey, obviously I’m not very UP on my comments! Sorry about that. McCall Trailrunning Classic is SUCH a beautiful, hard, rewarding race. You will love it.

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