Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A little different race report

This is a little different race report. I won’t have any results, breathless blow by blow accounts of the men’s 50K race, even though it was pretty exciting. You can read that stuff in Ultrarunning. This is from the race director’s side of the fence.  Also, no photos, I was too busy to take any.


I usually begin planning for the Buffalo Run shortly after the previous race ends. As I put away gear, inventory leftover food before taking it to the rescue mission, and generally clean things up, I make notes of what went right, what went wrong, what needs improvement. I talk with my wife, my volunteer coordinator, friends who ran the race and will tell me the unvarnished truth. The planning really goes into gear about November. By then race registration is open, I can gauge how many are going to enter based on previous year’s entries.

At the end of the year, I place my order for shirts. I also start going to sponsors to see if they will sponsor for the next race. I also start going to new sponsors to see what I can get. I really dislike the sponsor hunting part of directing. I’m not good at hitting up people or companies for free stuff, even though it’s for my runners. I also never hit up for money. Since I treat this race as a business, I feel that it should be able to make it financially on its own without outside financial help. What I look for from sponsor is stuff I can put in goody bags or raffle prizes to give away.  Stuff for runners. 

Usually in January I start buying any gear I need. Over the years I’ve purchased most of the gear I need for the race. Renting is way too expensive, and I don’t like to rely on borrowed gear other than water jugs. Buying gives me more control and I’m a control freak with my race.

February sees me beginning to figure out how much in supplies I need to buy, food, expendable supplies, more equipment, etc. Since I’m an Engineer by training, I try to calculate what I need. For example, how much water does a runner consume in a 50K on average? 20 oz.? 40 oz.? Multiply that by number of runners, how many times they go through an aid station, etc. How many bananas does the average runner eat during a 25K or 50 mile? I had no idea a couple years ago. I have a better idea now.

Based on the leftovers from the previous year, I know what food stuff to buy. I know after this year that granola bars are not a big hit, but Oreo cookies are (both were new this year). GU? I bought one per person for this year. I need more as I ran out.  Cheeze-its are good, pretzels are not.  Potatoes are always in demand, ramen noodles for the night.  Hot broth.  Sports drink.  All of tis needs to be figured out.

I buy food as far in advance as possible, but end up buying the fresh fruit and bread just a couple of days before.

I start prepping aid stations supplies about three weeks before the race. I divvy up stuff like utensils, first aid kits, canopies, cups, etc. I put everything into plastic storage bins to better organize and then label with the aid station location.  Makes it a whole lot easier when the volunteers show up to get their aid station supplies.  They can grab and go.

Race Week

By Wednesday I have my lovely wife’s horse trailer packed with the first load to take out to the island. The park lets me store the stuff in the maintenance shed for a day or two. BTW, I’m getting a utility trailer this year to store and haul my race stuff in.  the horse trailer is not nearly big enough.

Thursday I haul the load out, unload and then go out to mark the trail. This takes most of the day. I would love to find someone to mark as well to save time, but that’s hard to do. Meanwhile, race check in is going on at Striders Running Store. They are gracious in allowing me to do check in for two days prior to the race.

Race Day

Friday found me out on the island bright and early with a crew for setup. This year we had to setup in a hurry and the weather was horrible, driving wet snow while trying to set up canopies. Not fun. Meanwhile 100 mile runners were starting to show up, so I’m directing parking, unloading supplies, organizing aid station stuff. Pretty wild. I was lucky enough to have my son and son-in-law to help plus a couple others as well.  We still didn't get done in time.  I'm setting up Thursday next year.

At noon I sent the 100 mile runners up the hillside into the snow. I had already sent out the Elephant Head aid station crew with their stuff, so no worries there. Shortly after the start, I sent out the drop bags for that location. Meanwhile, we continued to finish the setup.

All afternoon Friday we worked to finish setting up, sending out other aid station supplies and personnel. Finally about 5pm I was able to relax a little. Everything was running reasonably smooth, runners were starting to come off the White Rock trails and head over to the Mountain View trails. Since I had some time I took a drive over to the Lower Frary aid station just to see how things were going. Quite well at that point. I went back to the start/finish and saw that people camping for the night were showing up and things were going well.

At 6:30 or so I drove back over to the Lower Frary aid station. I was going to pace a good friend of mine for about 12 miles through the early evening. Meghan usually heads up my Elephant Head aid station and does a great job, however, she wanted to run the 100 this year. The chance to get out and run for a few miles through the night was welcome. A great stress reliever and bonus, in all the years I have been out to the island, I had never run out there at night. It was pretty cool. The stars were out, it was kind of cold but a pretty good time.

I got back to the start/finish at about 10:30pm and things were quiet. People were finishing the first half and heading out for their second trip around the course. By around 3am, everyone had either passed through the half way point or had dropped. The front runners had passed through the start/finish for the third time (70 miles) and were well on their way to a finish. I managed a short nap, but then back up and working. Finally at 3:30am, the men’s winner (Dan Vega) of the 100-mile event crossed the finish line. About 30 minutes later Karl Meltzer finished.

At about 4am, I found out that the remaining goody bags were in the main tent and needed to get delivered to the main gate so runners could check in there. Out to the main gate I went, then in to town to WalMart to pick up a few more supplies.

Shortly before 5am, 50-mile runners started showing up for their race. By then, I had the services of the volunteer trail patrol and they handled the parking duties. At 6am on the dot I sent out about 110 50-mile runners. As they trotted up the first hill, there were a few 100-mile runners coming down. No major collisions, thank goodness.

Now the main race day was getting into gear. Volunteers started showing up, my lovely wife got there with our daughter and grandson (the highlight of my day). Meanwhile, 50K runners started trickling in to the race headquarters, 100-mile runners were coming off the White Rock trails (70 miles in) and heading east to the Mountain View trail.

At 8am on the dot, I sent out roughly 200 50K runners. After that, the 25K runners started showing up and at 9am I sent out almost 400 of them, many attempting their first trail run.

The remainder of the day was a mix of harried answers to the many questions of runners, making sure aid stations were manned and supplied, getting drop bags back, handing out awards and just making sure things ran as smoothly as possible.

The last runner, a 50-mile runner, finally crossed the finish line at 7:30pm, one hour after the cutoff, but because I’m a nice guy, I didn’t pull her earlier. She was doing fine, just slow.

At around 6pm, we began the laborious process of tearing stuff down, just as the weather started to turn again. We originally had a volunteer crew that was supposed to show up just for tear down. One person showed. That made the teardown process last a little longer and we didn’t get off the island until around 9pm that evening.


I had a lot of mixed feelings about this year’s race. I didn’t feel it was nearly as well organized as it usually is, and for this geeky Engineer, that bothers me….a lot. It was lots of little things that happened that shouldn’t have, volunteers that committed to being there and didn’t bother to show, or left early. Not enough volunteers to begin with. A park vehicle that I paid to rent was taken away from me mid-race and that really put a dent in getting drop bags back in a timely manner.

This year’s race grew by over 200 entrants from last year. I only had 150 runners the very first year. It’s no longer a quaint little trail race. It’s hit big time status as far as trail races go. I’m not sure that’s what I want. I never thought that this race would grow to the event it has. Almost 800 runners signed up? Wow! I do know that with the event being as big as it is now, the way it’s managed must change. I need to find capable, competent, people to help me manage it. I have to structure the volunteers differently. My attention to detail has to increase. I have to start planning much earlier than I ever have. So, lot’s of stuff to do over the next 12 months. Anyone want to help?


Since I always include a gear report with my race reports, here it is. For the first part of the race on Friday I wore my La Sportiva Raptors. I figured I’d wear them since they would probably keep my feet a little drier during the little storm we had. For my pacing duties and the rest of the race, I wore my La Sportiva Crosslites. I love these shoes, light comfortable, almost like slippers. Never wore my Nathan pack or used any 1st Endurance products, but I did get some buffalo stew and one of my homebrews for lunch on Saturday.

Jim Skaggs
RD Antelope Island Buffalo Run
RD Mountain View Trail Half Marathon
RD Antelope Island 100K