Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bull Run 50 Miler

After having such a good time at Holiday Lake I immediately signed up for the Bull Run 50 Miler, an awesome event put on by VHTRC. The event is a double out and back near Clifton VA not too far from where the battle of Bull Run took place. I got some pretty good training in including a 7.5 hour training run near Hawksbill in Shenandoah. However, my training was not as thorough as I had wanted. February through April involved me interviewing for and accepting a job in Tucson Arizona and doing a house hunting trip. Oh and I got called in for jury duty where I spent three days as part of a jury for a trial. This pretty much broke up my training more than I wanted so I had good weeks and bad weeks. My overly confident goal was 9 hours but on the inside I knew it would probably be more like 10...but I figured "hey maybe I'll have a good day". Anyway, I spent the night at the race start at Hemlock overlook and was both excited and nervous when it came time to start at 6:30 on Saturday. The course is a 16 mile out and back followed by a 34 mile out and back. I had been warned that the first 17 or so miles is pretty easy and to not fall in to the trap of going out too hard to soon.

Anyway at 6:30 we all set off using two hand-held bottles for hydration. I settled in to a pace I felt comfortable with and immediately knew my 9 hour goal was out the window. It felt more like a 10 hour kind of day already. Things went pretty well and quick all the way to the first turn around. About 3/4 of a mile before the turn around I saw my friend Snipes and he gave me some quick encouragement before blasting past. There were a few camera guys along the course. As you can see....I was feeling pretty good.

The turn around back to Hemlock Overlook was also pretty quick and painless. I saw my crew at an aid station and they replenished my supply of Hammer Gel. Time flew by and I was climbing the hill into Hemlock Overlook at mile 16. I got some candy and refilled my water bottles and my crew hooked me up with a Big 100 bar which I scarfed down, yum 350 calories! Soon enough I was back on the trails and running through a sea of Blue Bell flowers which was pretty cool. After crossing a soccer field we started into the "harder" part of the course and started hitting some rolling hills. The day was starting to heat up so I was relieved when the hills abated and I arrived at the Bull Run Marina Aid station and saw my crew again. It was really cool that so many people were interested in coming out and spending their day in the sun mainly for the purpose of handing me a box full of Hammer Gel every 60 - 90 minutes.

The Bull Run Marina aid station (mile 21ish) was awesome...and here is why.....this is important stuff!! Bacon....they had bacon and it was amazing. Apparently people had been turning them down on the whole bacon front which at the time I found to be pretty much a crime. The aid station volunteers hooked me up with two slices of salty-protein goodness and I continued out under a bridge through some precarious rocks. At this point you start thinking "Man these rocks are going to really suck in about 25 miles when I hit them again".

Not a good way to start this segment of the course. Things were getting even hotter and the next 5 miles until I hit Wolf Run Shoals was starting to get tough. I hadn't hit the wall yet but I was starting to dread it. Also the thought of still having 25-28 miles to go was starting to REALLY get into my head. I started thinking about a dirty 4 letter word that starts with a "D" .....but luckily I got a hold of myself a little bit and toughed through till I hit the next aid station at mile 26.

Things got a little bit tough for a while

This aid station was good and bad news for me. I refueled and saw a sign that said "2 miles until next aid". This led me to think I'd be at the next aid station in no time! Wrong! 30 minutes later I had navigated a pretty hilly stretch and finally got into the Fountainhead Aid Station (Mile 28). I was right in the middle of hitting a wall at this point so I ditched my shirt with my crew and grabbed about 4 gels (I didn't get to see my crew again for 10 miles). I stalked over to the aid station table where the volunteers helped me refill my water bottles, I ate some food and for good measure took an S-cap to keep my electrolytes up. Then I was out onto the white loop.

The "White Loop" section of the course went much better for me. Things finally started to cool down and the extra time I took to eat at Fountainhead paid some big dividends. I had broken through the wall, was into the second half of the race and feeling good compared to a few hours before. There were some small rolling hills and before I knew it I was coming up on the Do Loop Aid Station (Mile 32).

I ate some fruit and nuts at the aid station as well as some Mountain Dew and then moved out toward the start of the Do Loop. Right as I started the loop my stomach turned on me really bad, so I took a quick bathroom break. After the break I felt really good and made great progress through the Do Loop. I had been warned it was pretty tough but I actually had a lot of fun (and there was a nice breeze off the river).

Coming back through the Do Loop Aid Station they hooked me up with a fudgesicle it was amazing...until I dropped part of it on the ground (a true injustice after 35 miles of running). The two miles back to Fountainhead went by pretty quickly but I was starting to have trouble keeping pace. It wasn't a matter of my legs being cramped up (they weren't) and it wasn't a matter of being out of breath (I wasn't). It just seems that after running for that long.....sometimes your body just doesn't want to listen to you!

Coming in to Fountainhead (38 miles) I saw my crew again, but I quickly got distracted by the pizza at the aid station. I ate a slice of cheese, it felt really good to have some real food in me. The next section was the tough hilly section. I was having trouble with motivation, I knew I was going to finish but I just couldn't make myself run. Luckily I had been running relatively nearby some girl since entering the white loop. She asked if I wanted to run together for the end of the race which made me feel a lot better. Having someone to run with was an immediate improvement. It's much easier to motivate yourself and conversation beats an Ipod any day of the week. Anyway Siobhan (cool name) ran and chatted about how she and her husband were getting into ultras and my upcoming relocation to the southwest. Once at Wolf Run Shoals I was treated to an ice-cream sandwich  (Wonderful) and the knowledge that there were only 10 miles to go!

The company really really helped in the next section. Siobhan and I took turns taking the lead and pacing (although truth be told I think she led a little more than me). We agreed that so far this was the toughest part of the race since it was hilly and there was still a good distance to go. There were a couple places at the bottom of hills where there was a small stream about a foot deep. This was awesome, while other runners hopped over, I soaked my feet in the cool water and felt a lot better! After what felt like a long time we crossed the crazy rocks again (it was a lot tougher this time) and rolled in to the last aid station at Bull Run Marina (45 miles)

It was really rocky!
I saw my crew again dropped off my ipod and then headed over to the aid station. I drank two cups of Mountain Dew and tried to eat a decent amount. With 5 miles to go I didn't want to crash and burn. We plodded along at a good pace and eventually hit the Blue Bells again. This section seemed to drag on. I was ready to be done, I knew the end was close, I knew once I hit the hill I'd be 0.5 miles from the end. Someone had told us that if we saw a trail sign marked "11 miles" we would be one mile from the finish, so we kept our eyes open. I was pretty happy to see the sign until about 6 minutes later I saw a sign put up by the race people that said "1 Mile to Go!". I cursed pretty loudly but some people nearby assured me that it was way less than that. They were right about 30 seconds later we hit the hill up to Hemlock. In retrospect the "1 mile sign" being about 1/2 a mile away is a good thing. It makes you feel really good when the end pops up! After a quick climb up the hill I decided to run it in to the finish.

In the end I came in at 10 hours 56 minutes. Way slower than my goal. But for my first 50 miler I'll take the finish. Overall, I had a really fun day running out near Bull Run! Great course, great scenery, great running buddy for the last 12 miles, oh and did I mention there was bacon! 

Post race I took my crew out to Matchbox Pizza in Rockville... I may or may not have devoured an entire large Spicy Meatball Pizza.


  1. Congrats on your first 50!! Great race report!!

  2. Huge congratulations on your first 50 miler. That's a fine time at Bull Run Run.

  3. That was an awesome day as I think back on it. Glad we could team up together at the end to get each other to finish our first 50! So crazy what our bodies will do if we just tell them they can. Happy trails my friend :)