Friday, October 21, 2011
Running with the Buffaloes 100 Race Report
When Walt Whitman wrote of the public road that "I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you, you express me better than I can express myself," he pretty much summed up my feelings about this race. The inaugural Running with the Buffaloes 100 Mile Run took place on Saturday, October 16, 2011, and as with all of my big races, I have fond memories of every step, yet in the end, I was glad to be done with the whole damn thing.
The race embodied what I love most about ultras: that low-key atmosphere of casual athleticism. No one here is a braggart. No one here is prideful. The feel in the air is chill. Attending one of these events, as opposed to, say, a big city marathon, is the difference between nestling in at your friendly neighborhood coffee joint and going to a Starbucks.
There were twelve of us doing the 100 miler. We met in West Yellowstone, the start of the race. The little town of hotels, gift shops, and restaurants sits at the entrance of America's premier National Park. All the runners stayed at the Gray Wolf Inn. After checking in and unloading our bags, we all went to Wild West Pizzaria for a hot meal. Some familiar faces sat around the table that night - like Pam Reed, the petite-sized female endurance warrior whose record-setting accomplishments have paved the way for other runners around the world. There was George Velasco, the seasoned ultra veteran who refuses to let the limitations of age, and even injury, come between him and his goals. There was also Bill McCarty, a man celebrating his 64th birthday by running 100 miles, proving that you are only as old as you choose to be. We lit a candle on a cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to him, then, we headed for bed.
Running with the Buffaloes was different from every ultra I've done. For one, it was all on the road (but, to call this a road race is somewhat misleading. Along every stretch, is a shoulder of soft gravel and dirt that mimics a trail). Secondly, there were no aid stations. We were crewed for the entire 100 by race directors Lisa Smith-Batchen and Dave Carder out of vans. They had everything from baby wipes to Red Bull to cheese sticks, candy, and boiled potatoes.
If you've ever crewed for an ultra, you know the hard work that goes into it. In some ways, crewing is harder than running. When you run, you at least get to zone out and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. With crewing, not only do you have to stay up for as long as the runner, but you also have to remain mentally alert throughout the whole ordeal. Multiply the experience by twelve runners and you get some idea of what it was like for Lisa and her volunteers.
By the start of the race and up until about mile 30, I managed to keep up with the lead pack. That may have been a mistake to go out so fast. I hit mile 50 in eleven hours. But, I felt good and the general trend of the first half of the course profile was downhill. Eventually, the pain in my legs became more evident and I slowed down. But, pain is inevitable in a 100 mile run, and so far, there was nothing out of the ordinary going on with my body, so I pressed onward.
To take my mind off the pain, I focused on the beauty of my surroundings. Running through the National Forest in mid-October is a blessing of colors. The day was a perfect mix of sky blue and deep green, leaves of brilliant reds and yellows. The weather was sunny and cool. I grooved to the tunes of TLC, Ace of Base, Miles Davis, Eminem, Johnny Cash, and John Coltrane on my iPod. I drank steadily and consistently, ate plenty. Life couldn't have been any better.
By nightfall, things got a little dicey, but my spirits stayed high. Despite feeling a sleepy, I kept moving forward. In any case, rest was not an option - at one point, I asked Lisa if she would let me in the van to close my eyes and sleep for five minutes. Her response: "So sorry, dude," and she drove away. Sleepiness was, I think, my number one enemy during this race. To battle it, I chugged anything with caffeine, including Mountain Dew and coffee.
I experienced surges of energy throughout the race and allowed myself to be swept up by them. By mile 70, I was powering up all the hills and running for miles at a time. My goal was to catch the next runner in front of me. "He's only half a mile ahead," Lisa told me. I pressed on. After hours of running, I still hadn't caught him. Later, I found out that Lisa had lied to keep me motivated. He was actually about three or four miles ahead. In the middle of the night, I eventually caught up with him and passed him. I put about five miles distance between us. Then, I lost motivation to run hard. My only goal at that point became to no get passed up.
And I didn't get passed. When the sun came up, it was a blessing. The majesty of that red glow rising slowly over the Tetons is something you must see to believe. It gave me a boost of energy and I pressed onward.
We finished in the little town of Driggs, Idaho (the race actually went through three states - Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho), right in front of the Dreamchasers store, owned by Lisa and her husband, Jay. At the finish, I collected my buckle, ate some pizza, and drank some coconut water. Then, I waited for the other runners to come in. George came in beaming. After years of trying to successfully finish a 100 miler, he finally earned his buckle.
But, the star of the race was Bill. Bill had been having trouble for a while before the finish. By mile 70, he had developed a curious lean. From what I heard, his hamstrings were shot. His pacer had to hold him up and support him. But, he made it in with time to spare and with a big grin on his face. According to Lisa, he never complained once during the run. He always kept chugging along.
Thus marked the end of the inaugural Running with the Buffaloes 100 Mile Run. I can't wait to go back next year. In short, it was the best race I've ever done.