George’s Buffalo Run Race Report

buffalo run george
George Finishing Strong

Wow – what a difference a year makes. I still think that the Buffalo Run is the Ultimate Trail run and I still think it’s the hardest half marathon anywhere. But this year was very different from last year.

1. Last year – only 4 of us Beach Runners (plus Mark) ran
This year – over 20 Beach Runners ran

2. Last year – I wasn’t prepared mentally, emotionally, or physically
This year – I was ready mentally and emotionally after running last year’s race, so I knew what to expect and I knew what I was up against – the good (the scenery) the bad (the uphills and the discouragement) and the exhilaration (the downhills at sub-7 minute and sub 6-minute mile pace). And after Gary’s PV training runs, including the Bataan death march (Doug’s aptly named description) a few weeks ago – I was more than ready physically.

3. Last year – no Beach Runners were on the podium
This year – I think it was 7 or 8 people got 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in their division. Nothing short of amazing – but – when you look at our training regimen, it’s not surprising at all and it makes perfect sense.

4. Last year – kinda warm
This year – way hot

5. Last year – I saw no one cramping
This year – on the last stretch on the pavement – the last approximately 2 miles – I saw 6 or 8 people writhing in pain from cramps or desperately trying to stretch them out.
See #4.

6. Last year – very dry course
This year – multiple water hazards

7. Last year – lots of whining and sandbagging from Steve and Gary on the boat ride over
This year – no whining or sandbagging – just talk of strategy for how to start, what pace to go out at, and how hard to hit the hills.

8. Last year – Steve didn’t eat enough during the race and bonked. After the race he was down and negative. This was one of the strongest examples of how body chemistry can influence attitude and behavior. (Typically, I don’t eat much during half marathons either, but this is not your typical half marathon).
This year – Steve ate plenty during the race and was his usual upbeat, positive, and confident self after the race. Placing 2nd in his age group may have played a part in his positive outlook as well.

9. Last year – I finished about 150 or 200 overall and 20 or 25th in my age group
This year – I finished 101 overall and 11th in my age group. See #2.

10. Last year – I was at mile 5 at 1 hour 5 minutes
This year – I was at mile 5 at 1 hour – so I took about 1 minute off of each mile on the first and hardest part. See #2

11. Last year – no one almost collapsed, needed IV fluids, or went to the hospital
This year – Matt did

12. Last year – I passed very few people on the first 5 miles and tons of people passed me
This year – I passed a bunch of people on the first 5 miles and few people passed me

13. Last year – I passed over 20 people the last 3-4 miles
This year – I passed only 5-10 people the last 3-4 miles

14. Last year – no one passed me the last 3-4 miles
This year – no one passed me the last 3-4 miles – still – one thing didn’t change – on the last 3-4 miles no one passed the Great White.

O.K. – now for the mile by mile recap:

Mile 1 – About 30 yards into the race, I said in a quiet voice – “I love this race.” And two women running to the right of me heard it – and laughed – and said “Yeah, right – you’re only 30 yards into the race. Wait until you’re at mile 5 and tell us whether you love this race or not.”

I started off running with Christy, Doug, and Mina. As we made the first few turns and start running up the paved road, we were at a comfortable pace doing about 8-9 minute miles. Then we got to the downhill part at about mile 1.5 and Doug and Mina both took off – reminding me that were Beach Runners and we run fast downhill. I got to the first aid station and took some water. Then we started the trails. It wasn’t a steep as I remembered last year. Right after mile 2 I lost Doug and Mina.

This year – I thought more about strategy and I saw that the steepest mile was between mile 3 and 4 – so I resolved to run all the way to mile 3. I pretty much made it – I might have walked once or twice for 10-20 seconds before mile 3. At around mile 3.5 it really got steep – and I stopped and walked a few times – but again – it didn’t seem as steep as last year. In reality – from about mile 3.5 to mile 4.5 is actually the steepest. I also used the Danny Dryer sidestepping method several times and that really helped.

I saw Christy up ahead and she was walking. When did she get so far ahead of me? I caught up with her and we walked a while together. Then she started running again and she left me behind.

Once I got to the top – there were some great downhills. I totally forgot about those from last year. I didn’t have a really bad uphill until right after mile 6 on my Garmin. The mile markers all seemed to be off from about mile 6 on. I really did go fast on these downhills. At this point the race last year – my legs felt like jello. This year – they still felt strong and I was able to recover on the downhills. At the end when I checked my Garmin – it had my fastest pace at 5:36 – and it was probably right around here.

I also forgot how beautiful it was up here. The sun, the cliffs, the deep blue water – the area on the back side of Catalina was so remote and steep. If you happened to fall off of the trail – it looked like it was a straight drop about 1,200-1,500 feet.

Then there were several short downhills followed by steeper uphills. I ran most of the hills, but when it got really steep – I walked and then accelerated on the downhill. I hit all of the aid stations. Last year they had tons of the Cliff Shot blocks – and those were great – someone told me that they had caffeine in them –maybe that’s why I got the sugar buzz going last year. This year – they had something crappy called “Swedish Fish”. But they had a texture just like Gummy Bears – actually more like stale Gummy Bears – and they got caught in my teeth. I was totally not digging this and I ate no more of these “Swedish Fish.” They suck as far as race food. Hated them. Who in the hell picked that out? Why couldn’t they pick something good?

Then more up and down – I ran most of the uphills and cruised the downhills. I really forgot all these great downhill parts. I enjoyed this so much more than last year. I wasn’t concerned about time and I was so psyched out after last year’s beating on the course that this year it seemed easier. Then I felt something weird on my heels – something like a warm spot at the center of each heel. And I thought to myself – that’s weird – I’ve NEVER felt that on my heels.

I hit the next aid station, had both water and Gatorade – and saw one of my favorite race foods – mini pretzels. I grabbed a handful of the pretzels -those are always so great after long runs. The salt tasted good. I grabbed one more Gatorade – wow – it was really hot – and I had them refill my water bottle – and I grabbed more pretzels and walked until I finished them off and started running again.

Then the steep uphills started again and I had to walk on and off the next few miles. Right before the aid station – I was starting to get tired – but after walking a little – I got a second wind. At this point – it was getting hot and I passed several people. Then I saw Gary – and he was flying downhill and looking happy. He looked much better than last year. Then after that I saw Matt and he was doing well, followed by Steve, Laurie and Jake. After that I saw Christy – she was about a mile ahead of me. Then it kind of flattened out and I hit a really good stride because I knew that I was near the turnaround.

But I wasn’t near the turnaround. They moved it farther out this year. I had to climb one last big hill, then a quick downhill to the turnaround and running back up the slight hill I had just run down. What was that all about? I knew my mileage was off. At mile marker 8 – I had 8.5 miles on my Garmin. And at mile marker 9 I had 9.6 miles. Anyway – that explains why my Garmin didn’t match the mile markers. Then my heels started throbbing and I knew it must be blisters on each heel.

After the turnaround I saw John. He seemed to be doing well. Then I saw Doug and Mina and Sandy was right behind them. A little bit later I saw Sarah, then Uncle Sam and Janet.

Once I hit the turnaround – I knew I had a few slight uphills before that fantastic fast downhill. I felt so much stronger this year and I started flying down the hills. I definitely hit the downhills much harder and more aggressively than last year. This is the greatest part of the race – and probably the best 3-4 miles of any race I’ve ever run.

Then I had a sharp pain in my side. And I thought to myself – what in the heck is that?
And it turned out I had a side stitch. I haven’t had one of those in 4 or 5 years. How did that happen? Maybe I drank too much water? Or drank water too fast? Maybe I was hitting the downhills too fast? Anyway – I stopped and stretched, caught my breath and started running slowly. Then my heels started throbbing harder.

Then somehow the side stitch went away and I started flying down the hills again. I remembered every curve from last year and felt again how great it was to run so fast. I passed several people – like they were standing still – and I ran through the curve that I almost missed last year – then there’s that one flat section in the shade but I had so much momentum I just flew through that section. It was all so familiar and felt so great. I do love this race and it is worth getting up at 4:30 am for it. Then my heels started screaming bad.

Then I saw Christy stopped on the trail. I told her that this was the best part and that she needed to run and run fast. She said she had a side stitch and I suggested that maybe she should just walk it out before running again. Then I took off again and passed several more people. My heels were hurting – it felt like they must have rubbed against something and created these monster blisters. So instead of landing mid-foot I started landing on my toes – but that didn’t really help.

Then I finished the trails and started on the paved section. I was still running fast but my heels were killing me. So I stopped at the last water station, and walked while I drank my water. And walking didn’t make my heels feel any better – so I figured I might as well run – at least the race will be over faster if I run. I continued to pass people. Lots of people were really running out of gas – or were covered in sweat and just trudging and shuffling along. I felt strong, focusing on my form and keeping my pace below 7 minute miles.

Then I came up to the golf course and the horse stables. I saw an ambulance with its lights flashing and I thought to myself that inside there was probably some old golfer guy that had a heart attack or some kid that fell off his skateboard or scooter or bicycle and cracked his head open. Then I thought – maybe there’s a runner in there. I hope it’s not someone I know – but I knew that was silly because Beach Runners all know about hydration, pacing, and body sensing.

Little did I know at the time that it was Matt Brown inside the ambulance. I only found after the finish that he was the one in there.

Then I hit the last little turn left followed by the quick right before you go down the final half or quarter mile stretch. I love the end of this race. Last year – I passed 2 people in this final stretch. This year – I saw one solitary woman in a teal colored shirt but she was way too far ahead for me to catch her before the finish. Then I kept running and finished and actually heard the announcer call out my name and city. I never hear that – always other people but never me.

Then I grabbed some Gatorade, a banana, and some orange slices and hung out and waited to see other people finish. I saw John finish, then Christy, and then Sandy.

Then I went over to the Drug Store windows to look for statistics and saw that Gary won his age group and that Mackel got second in his age group. I walked back over to the finish to congratulate them and Gary told me about Matt.

Then I saw Doug and Mina finish and hung out with them for a while. Doug showed me his extremely ugly blood blisters – yuk! – and he told me how Mina was going to enjoy lancing them that night. That’s almost too much information. We were talking about all of the Beach Runners who were going to get a spot on the podium and that the three us all ran a good race but that were just regular schmos who ran a good race and had fun. Then we found out that Mina got 2nd or 3rd in her age group – which makes her no longer a schmo – and that Christy placed in her age group as well – so then we had to hang out for the awards ceremony.

I’ve never run a race where I knew so many of the podium finishers. Gary and Mackel and Sarah and everyone got their 5 seconds of glory and applause – especially Gary – he was really hamming it up on the steps – that was great. Then when they announced Christy – the announcer paused when he got to her city – and he said “Pasadena? There’s Beach Runners that live in Pasadena?” That’s when Mackel chimed in and said that he lived in Pasadena and that there were Beach Runners from all over the Southland – Arcadia, the Valley, Orange County, blah, blah, blah.

Then I thought to myself – it’s not where you live that makes you a Beach Runner – it’s where you train and how you train and especially who you train with that makes you a Beach Runner.

Awards –

O.K. – now for the award section of my race report.

For the Leading by Example award – this goes jointly to Steve and Gary for their podium finishes. I was truly impressed – and I’m not easily impressed. Steve was #2 in his age group. Gary was #1 in his age group and #12 overall.

The Inspiration Award goes to Barb and Cece for sticking it out and finishing the race after all the aid stations and crowds were gone.

The ugliest feet award definitely goes to Doug Rokowski. He had these gnarly blisters on the sides of both feet. They were both about an inch and a half in diameter and raised up about a half inch. And – they weren’t just regular fluid-filled blisters – they were blood blisters. Yuk!

The most improved award goes to Christy. She’s never run a marathon and this was only her second half marathon and she reached the podium on this incredibly challenging course. Nothing short of amazing.

The “What am I doing here” award goes to Nato. This was his first half marathon. I can’t imagine if this was my first half marathon – if it was – I don’t know if I would have quit endurance running. Way to go Nato – all of the other half marathons you’ll do in the future will be much, much easier.

The education award goes out to Matt Brown – for the education he got on race day on the perils of endurance running and importance of recovery. It’s a lesson for us all. We run these long runs, and it seems that mind over matter works, and all this Chi running stuff really, really works – and that we can do anything we set our minds to and train for – but that while we may have reached a very high level of fitness and performance – we’re still human and we do have limits.

The Tarzan and/or Wild Man award goes to Jake. No explanation needed.

The happiest couple award definitely goes to Doug and Mina. They got engaged around mile 21 at last year’s Catalina Marathon. I saw them start this half marathon together – I ran the first 2 miles with them, then I saw them near the turnaround and I saw them finish the marathon together holding hands. I can’t believe they’re leaving us and moving to Michigan. I’m going to miss them.

George White, Beach Runner Mentor and SoCalRunning.com Member

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