Field notes from the 2017 Buffalo/Tiny Mouse Race

I will learn.

It is Saturday evening after the race and with crazy hair and bloodshot eyes and greasy sunscreened skin like a maniac I’m checking in to the cheapest motel I can find in all of Salt Lake City.

One of these days I’ll stop doing this to myself. 

After sweating through 100 miles of hot and dusty trail and then sleeping dirty in my tent I’ll finally be able to give my poor tired and grimy body the nice long hot bath it so richly deserves.

I will stop running.

On the road to another race

"Readability: Needs improvement"

This is a blog about the Antelope Island Buffalo Run in Utah, or as my mom calls it the Buffalo/Tiny Mouse Race. I don’t recommend reading the blog but I do recommend running the race, which takes place on a Friday in March on Antelope Island, a 28,000-acre state park in the Great Salt Lake. I love this race almost as much as I hate myself while I’m running it, which is a lot. You have got to try this race.

In 2015 I ran 17:12 on this course.

In 2016 I went back with big dreams of running in the 16s, but instead I ended up dragging myself weary and worndown for 33 of the worst miles of my life, and then I DNF’d at the ranch with total fatigue and a good deal of dizziness tossed in just for fun. I was discouraged and worried and didn’t know what was wrong. The fatigue had been building for a year but that was the first time it stopped me in my tracks.

Once I’d returned to Leadville and consulted my ouija board for guidance, I made the decision to see my doctor. The diagnosis was pulmonary hypertension — in my case a result of living at 10,000 feet — but they were able to correct the problem and I spent the rest of 2016 feeling decent enough to run some other races and even screw around with Nolan’s.

This year I returned to AI and tried again. I ran 17:29, finished in the top 10, and came away with zero health problems, three black toenails, and maybe five or six minor abrasions from tripping and falling.

We all have different challenges to face but what stays the same is our ability to face them with hope in our hearts, and then hopefully fix what’s broken and keep moving along until the next thing breaks, and then repeat until we die — at which point I’m pretty sure we become spirits who advise the likes of fools like me who like to run 100-mile races.

Where was I? Oh yes, buffalo and tiny mice. I will get to the animals eventually but right now I really want to tell you all about my road trip to Utah. If you don’t care about it, you can skip the next two sections. Better yet, skip all of the next sections and just go for a run.

Thursday things

Among my many good fortunes in life is the ability to work remotely. This meant I could start my road trip on Thursday, Thursday, the day before Friday, while still putting in eight hours of hard manual labor on my laptop. I left Leadville early on 3/16 and drove to Glenwood Springs, cheese dip in the cupholder, where I worked at a coffee shop till lunch, then continued to Grand Junction to finish the day at another coffee shop, fun fun fun fun.

Before leaving GJ I needed to run an important errand I’d been putting off, as is my custom with errands. My handheld water bottle, which I’d been using since 2012, had recently reached a point where no amount of rubber bands, safety pins, and staples could keep the ancient elastic straps from letting the bottle slip out and roll halfway down a mountain before I caught up. It had also sprung a slow leak somehow.

One quick trip to a local big box retailer later and I’d picked up a fine replacement that served me well during the race. A large dog has since torn it to shreds.

Next stop — Springville, Utah, where I’d reserved a tent site at a KOA because, as detailed above, I am cheap. I arrived at midnight to find that KOA management had failed to leave my registration info in the box outside the main office. Or perhaps they did leave it, and someone simply stole it. Either way, I had no site number, no access code for the locked shower/bathroom facility, and no more room in my bladder, but instead of throwing a brick through the facility’s glass door like a normal angry person I walked behind an outbuilding and peed on the wall like a responsible angry person.

Then I backed Growler, my always reliable except for that one time Subie, into the closest empty tent site, set up my one-man, and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of trucks rushing up and down I-15 and frogs belching in the bog behind me.

Friday highlights

When I woke up on Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday, I was still at the KOA which meant nobody had noticed me camping in the probably wrong site and kicked me out. I interpreted this as karma’s reward for not throwing a brick through that glass door the night before.

After packing up my stuff I sat down on the picnic table (free with tent site) and had myself a complete breakfast of one banana, one avocado with hot sauce, and three sips of Thursday’s coffee while a small dog and his tall man watched.

Then I drove north through SLC and across the causeway to the island and parked Growler in the field by the start/finish. After dropping off my drop bags, I once again set up my tent and took a nap until the race briefing.

Note: If you try to drive across the causeway at night you might find yourself looking at a locked gate. It’s okay, just wait right there until it opens in the morning. Oh, you’re pacing a friend and you’re supposed to meet them at White Rock at midnight? Well that’s a bummer.

Fauna and other fauna

Picture of a buffalo trying to murder someone, plus some boring scenery and stuff

Okay, let’s talk about animals now.

As you might guess the Antelope Island Buffalo Run features a number of fine pronghorn antelope. Their main business on race weekend is sprinting to and fro to make you feel stupid and slow.

As you might also guess the island features a number of fine buffalo that mostly just stand around, usually right in the middle of the trail you’re trying to run on. Do not mess with the buffalo or get close to them or even make eye contact, they don’t like you and don’t care about anything.

According to the race website and the above Facebook photo, one year a bull by the name of Earl used his big head to smash a heckler into a fence.

You could set half the island on fire and the buffalo would barely notice.

Wildfire: “I am here to burn down your island.”

Buffalo: “Shut up, we’re buffalo.”

Wildfire: “So, I’ll just do my thing and—”

Buffalo: “Shut up and leave us alone.”

Wildfire: “Okay.”

There are also tiny mice on the island. These mice like to get drunk at night and then dart across the trail like lunatics in front of runners so they can laugh at the crazy dance we do to avoid squishing them. In 2015 there were dozens of them but I only saw three this year.

After more than two years of living in ignorance of what these tiny mice were officially called I finally decided to look it up online. Thirty seconds of research later I’d confirmed that these are not mice at all — they are kangaroo rats. Sorry mom, looks like I was wrong about the tiny mice.

“Run, you fools!”

Great, you made it to the section where I talk about the race course. I’m not going to bore you with all the details about how I fueled or what I felt like at mile 36 or the number of times I changed my shirt. If you like those kinds of details you’ve long since left this blog.

Fools who decide to sign up for the Buffalo Run can expect a well-organized, low-key event with fun volunteers and an RD who wears a hat with a stuffed buffalo on top. There are no timing chips and no timing mats to worry about tripping over, so when you finish you have to go inside the tent and say “I’m done” to someone. Bonus: tasty post-race stew made with random cans of veggies brought by the runners.

You’ll also get beautiful views of the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front. In some places you can still see signs of old shorelines from the days of Lake Bonneville:

Alright, let’s have a look at the course map.

First off, the Mountain View aid station is actually located at the northern turnaround now (mile 21.5/71.5), but everything else looks correct. Sea monsters are still in the right spot. I’d say this map is a couple years old at most.

As you can see the course is 50 miles long, so run it twice for 100 miles and that’s it, you’re all done. There’s mostly smooth trail and a little bit of road, with about 3,800 feet of gain and no shade unless you’re sitting at an aid station or getting trampled under one of those giant buffalos. While you’re enjoying the shade under one of those giant buffalos, don’t forget to ask yourself — is Antelope Island shaped like a really ugly mutant seahorse, or do I just have a really bad imagination?

Between Mountain View and the Ranch (33/83) on the east side you’ll find 11 miles of flat nonsense trail where the heat exhaustion really starts to kick in and thoughts of dropping are dancing in your head and you’d kill for a just one cool cup of chocolate milk. Lower Frary (27.4/38.7/77.4/88.7), the aid station between MV & R, had chocolate milk this year, and although I usually avoid cow stuff during races it sounded perfect to me so I had some.

  • Pro tip: If something sounds good to you during a 100-mile race that means you should just eat/drink it and see what happens.
  • Side note: Yes, I use chocolate milk during races. So what if it’s on the WADA’s list of prohibited substances? 100 miles isn’t sport, it’s party. I don’t care.

Speaking of eating/drinking, two years ago when I was leaving Elephant Head (5.5, 11, 14.6, 55.5, 61, 64.6) for the last time at night I was feeling sleepy and couldn’t see straight but the volunteers jolted me awake with Red Bull and 5-hour energy. It wasn’t standard AS fare; they just shared their own personal stash with me. That’s the kind of good people you’ll find at this race. Be nice to them; they can put whatever they want in your water bottle when you’re not looking.

Elephant Head is also where you get to do a fun out-and-back and prove you went the whole way by nabbing a sticker at the turnaround. This year’s sticker themes:

  • Spiderman
  • Justice League
  • Barbie

There is one exception to smooth trail on this course. It’s when you’re going around Buffalo Point on the northwest side after Bridger Bay AS (46, 96), which if I recall correctly is where I filled my bottle with ginger ale and ice at 5am Saturday and rode the sugar rush to the finish line. There’s maybe a mile of really rocky trail that’s a bit tricky to navigate at night, especially when rheum is wrecking your depth perception.

But despite my eye boogers I made it to the finish without cracking my skull open, and while I was sitting there in the start/finish tent (19.6, 50, 69.6, 100) sipping hot chocolate and staring dazed at the 50-milers whose cars had just headlit the dusty dying night on the dirt road beside me, a man wearing a buffalo hat walked up and plopped a box down by my chair and said

“Here, this is for you.”

Inside was a buffalo statue thing. I’m in Denver right now and forgot to take a picture of it before I left Leadville, but I will add a photo later if I remember. For now, just imagine what a small buffalo standing motionless on a piece of wood would look like. Yep, it’s just like that.

Buckle and mugs and stuff

This is a black and silver colored belt buckle that says "ANTELOPE ISLAND BUFFALO RUN 100 MILE FINISHER"

There you go, that’s what the buckle looks like.

Finishers also receive handcrafted coffee mugs every year. Made in Park City, I think. I woke up too late on Saturday to fill it up with coffee but right on time to fill it up with post-race stew.

That’s it for buckle and mugs, now regarding stuff: When it comes to replacing shoes, I subscribe to the Run ’em till they fall off your feet philosophy. My kicks were pretty crapped out by the time I crossed the finish line, but guess who noticed and took pity on me? Altra. They graciously gave me a gift card for new running shoes, and after a bit of deliberation I decided to go with the King MTs, which have these huge teeth that bite into the trail and hold on for you. I’ve taken them on a few runs and hikes and they work great.

Wasatch Running Center also gave me a gift card, but as soon as I saw it I knew there would be no deliberation involved.

Me: “I’d like the exact New Balance sneaker that’s on the front of the gift card, please.”

WRC: “Okay.”

These will be perfect for my Nolan’s adventures this summer:

This is a gift card with a picture of a hand holding a white New Balance sneaker and the words "WASATCH RUNNING CENTER" at the top. Also the background is exposed brick, so it's cool.

Later

I will stop running.

Motel man wants my money but seems uncertain about actually performing a transaction. He wishes he had a Reacher Grabber to take the cash and hand back the keycard. I can tell.

One day I’ll just say “I’m done” and that’ll be it. 

I walk up the stairs more or less like a normal person and make it the rest of the way to my cheap motel room where I can finally take that nice long hot bath I’ve been thinking about since the sun set as I ran around Buffalo Point on Fri—

Shower.

I’m an idiot.

Stupid cheap motel.

Stupid stupid stupid.

No bathtub.

No nice long hot bath.

I will never learn.

 

A whole bunch of words in a thank you email from KOA

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