Race report: Bull Run Run 50 Mile
The Bull Run Run 50 Mile
April 14, 2007
Bull Run Regional Park - Manassas, VA
Hosted by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club
Despite the rainy weather forecast, the Bull Run Run 50 Mile (15th Battle) turned out as a fine day for a trail run. Everything on this day fell into place, highlighted by cool weather, a dry trail, and the expert volunteers of the VHTRC.
The road travelled to Virginia was a familiar one. I shared the ride with Dave and Vince, two trail running buddies I've known ever since my first ultra in 2004. Back then Vince, the owner of the Vertical Runner store, sold to me a pair of Montrails and I've been a trail running fan ever since. Dave has either run along with, or crewed for, me in every one of my eight previous ultramarathons. In turn, I've paced Dave to two of his 100 Mile finishes--most recently at last year's Massanutten Trail 100. Vince, Dave, and I have run together many times in the local Cuyahoga Valley. Road tripping to a big race with these two put me at ease. Being with, and meeting good people became a constant theme of the weekend.
We arrived Friday night at race HQ to catch the tail end of the race briefing, a quick pasta meal, and packet pick-up. Derek (Codename: Durt) joined us for dinner and we shared winter training stories. I know Derek from the Coolrunning website, meeting for the very first time on this day. Two weeks prior, Derek crewed a friend to her first 100 and I could tell that he was just raring to go for his own first 50 mile run.
Before retiring to the hotel, Dave walked Vince and I over to show us the uphill finish. The last stretch before the finish line follows a grassy clearing and an obstacle course of some sort--knowing all these landmarks became helpful on race day. After prepping gear and checking it twice, off to bed for a few hours rest before the 4:15am wake-up call.
Training: It's been an odd year so far. Pes Anserine Bursitis sidelined me for a 2-3 week period in December/January. After a couple PT appointments and a short rehab, my weekly miles progressed upwards and back to marathon volume by the start of February. Then I tried that NASA running study thing, lasting one week before dropping out. Long story short, I couldn't keep up with running at the same time as devoting time to the study.
Basically, I've trained with marathoners over the last 12 weeks. I followed the Benji Durden marathon plan along with four friends training for the Boston Marathon. Although a harsh winter here in NE Ohio, we pulled off a decent training season. Everyone was ready to race. Additionally in March, I exchanged two of the marathon long runs for two Fat Ass 50km trail runs. In hindsight, these FA runs made me tougher in respect to taking care of myself on the trail.
Pre-race disposition: I came into this race much more relaxed than last year's JFK 50 Mile. After the JFK disappointment, I learned not to place a strict time goal constraint on myself, to run within myself, and to take what the day allows. I planned to be out there on the trail for 9 hours, more or less. My goal race awaits nine weeks down the road at the Mohican Trail 100. The goal for the day was to finish Bull Run Run relatively easy in order for a quick recovery and to continue training towards Mohican.
The BRR course and VHTRC: The course follows a rolling and groomed trail along the Bull Run-Occoquan Regional Trail in Northern Virginia. On this day, the trail was much easier than our local Ohio Buckeye Trail with less elevation or technical trail. The rains stopped sometime on Thursday allowing the trail to dry out and overflowing streams to subside by Saturday morning. Last year's BRR mudfest, along with the rainy forecast had us prepared for the worst. Amazingly, during the race my feet stayed completely dry.
The race website bills the BRR as the club's "premiere event," and its members did not disappoint. Uniformly and expertly at each aid station, the volunteers of the VHTRC pampered at each step. My bottle was filled to my liking, allowing me to tend to chafing, hydration, and eating. That I carried beverage powder did not slow me down. The volunteers rinsed and filled my bottle 3/4 full so that I could add the powder to my bottle. I spent no more than 1 minute at each station before heading on.
Kudos to the trail marking crew. The trail was primarily marked with blue engineer tape tied to trees and such that it was nearly impossible to get lost. At times, the markings allowed me to put my head down and run without worrying about navigation.
Nutrition strategy: For planning, I aimed to consume 200-250 calories per hour. For nine hours that equals 1800-2250 calories. I've had success with the Succeed products (powdered beverage) and carried as much powder as possible. Returning to my own drop bag at mile 16, the plan was to carry a few servings from the start and then to reload at my drop bag. In all, I carried 8 servings (5 servings of Ultra and 3 servings of Amino.) Each serving mixed into a 22 oz. bottle. Also carried was a combination of Clif Blocks and gels. Total carried calories amounted to 1300-1400. I sought to find the remaining calories at the aid stations.
The Race After settling into the crowd of 336 starters, the race director reminded us of the hallowed Civil War battleground on which we were about to run and started us off at 6:15am. Race temperature was ideal for me: low-30s at the start and mid-50s by the afternoon. The rains held off in the morning followed by a light drizzle in the afternoon.
After a 3/4 mile loop around the parking lot, we headed out and along the Bull Run-Occoquan trail. With the rain holding off since Thursday, I soon discovered that the trail was not muddy at all. To pace myself, I reminded myself to use the first two hours as a warm-up.
Not much to report in the first 9 miles out to the turn-around. I found my rythym and walked any hills I needed to. The highlights of this section were the blooming bluebells and sighting a preserved Civil War artillery position. The stream levels were low enough, allowing us to hop across and avoid wet feet.
Mile 9-16: Turn-around to Hemlock (Start/Finish area.) I reached the mile 9 turn-around in about 90 minutes and feeling comfortable. A nature of the ultramarathon is the meeting and chatting with fellow runners along the way. For the next hour, I ran with Nancy from NY from the turn-around for the 7 miles returning back to the starting area. Two of her remarks resonated with me: One, that this was her first 50 mile run, and two, that she was aiming for the masters course record of 8:20.
After scaling the hill, I returned to the Hemlock starting area in 2hrs 34min. I skip the aid station and head for my drop bag to reload. I was prepared for the wet conditions, but with the dry trail I needed no foot care and quickly headed back out on the course. Nancy was long gone by now. In my mind, I thought I would catch up to her later.
Mile 16-26: Hemlock to Wolf Run Shoals. Leaving Hemlock for the second time, we continued on the Bull Run heading downstream towards the marina and Fountainhead Park. As the field spread out, I spent less time with fellow-competitors and more time alone. Thirty minutes down this trail I crossed a soccer field complex and made a mental note for the return trip enroute to the finish.
Approaching the Wolf Run Shoals station, a 54-year old named Marlon caught up with me for a few miles. We shared JFK stories before he sped off ahead.
Mile 26-32: Fountainhead and White Loop. After reaching the marathon distance in 4hrs 10min, I noticed that I was maintaining a sub-10 minute pace. Doing the quick math to occupy the time, I figure that I was on or near 8:20 finishing pace. While it was too early to think of the finish line, counting minutes became a handy way to kill time.
I kept on with my usual ultra strategy: Walk the ups, run the flats and downs, and think aid station to aid station. Eat and drink while walking the ups. For me, each ultra has a low point. On this day it was on the rolling White Loop between Fountainhead and the entrance to the Du Loop at some point in the fifth hour. When the low point came, I walked a bit more and started pulling out my "Git-R-Done" tricks and mantras such as thinking of my parents, reciting my favorite prayer, and to simply think that today is my day to do something great. I ran with no music or ipod on this day.
Even with all the best planning, executing a good ultra run takes some wits and on-the-fly decision making. Thoughts of eating, hydration, electrolyte balance, and foot care must all be considered and addressed before an emergency arises. Easier said than done when deliriousness begins to set in. For me, even with the hourly Succeed capsule (sodium) I discovered some swelling in my hands. This gave me a sign to address my hydration and to keep up with my electrolytes.
Mile 32-35: The Du Loop. Entering the Du Loop, I see teammate Dave and recognize he is now a full 3 miles ahead. I'm surprised that Vince still trailed him. Two remarkable things happened at the Du Loop aid station. One, I found some freshly cooked grilled cheese sandwiches. They agreed with me so well that I took a couple more pieces, eating a total of four little sandwiches before heading out on the Du Loop. Two, I met Phil from Reading, PA. Phil notices that this was my first BRR and immediately guides me along and we ran at an agreeable pace.
Phil and I shared stories. Our home running groups both ran at the Groundhog 50km in Punxsatawney last fall. We both went to college in Florida. The race was Phil's 6th BRR and he gave me the insight on how the race would unfold. Phil's companionship passed the time and before I knew it, the infamous Du Loop was over. I became energized again. Remarkably, I eat four more grilled cheeses before heading out.
Mile 36-38: The return trip to Fountainhead. Having Phil along was exactly what I needed. He promised that this section would invigorate as we pass by all the outbound runners on the way to their Du Loop. He was right. Generally downhill in this section, I greeted each runner with a cordial "keep it going," or "nice job." In this stretch, I passed a remarkable 17-year old named Michael. I found out after the race that this was Michael's third recent ultra. He ran the Umstead 50M, Mad City 100km, and BRR in consecutive weeks! As I pass by, he pressed to keep up. Amazingly, Michael finished only 5 minutes behind me on this day.
Checking the clock, I noticed I've maintained a sub-10 minute pace. I started entertaining the idea that I could keep it going to the end and better my best JFK time of 8:28.
Mile 38-45: Wolf Run Shoals to Bull Run Marina. Somewhere in this time I got ahead of Phil, but not by much. I felt him behind me and every once in a while when I'd see him on a ridgeline or hill I'd yell out his name. While we did not run together after this point, Phil was not far behind and his presence pushed me to move forward.
Mile 45-50.4: To the finish. I spent less than one minute in the last aid station. After a couple cups of cola, all I needed was one bottle of sports drink to survive to the finish. I left the Marina aid station at 7hrs 20min and 5.5 miles to go. Sub 8:20 was definately the motivating factor. I pressed on, reaching the soccer fields and knowing the end was within 40 minutes. Each race seems to have that extraordinary moment when finishing the race is no longer a question. Mine came with 5 miles yet to go.
With about two miles remaining, I see my teammate Vince up ahead. Seeing Vince energized me even more and I pressed to catch up. Upon catching him I sensed he was fading and I could slip on by. Running with a friend at the end of a fun race made this day just that much more special. I glance at the watch and see 8:05. I say to Vince that there's "about 10 minutes left in our race." The next thing I see is dust as Vince takes off for the finish line. I had no kick that would keep up. Vince pulls me along and up the hill to the Hemlock Overlook. A magnificent day of trail running ends.
Final time: 8:17:26
Finishers: 301 (336 Starters)
That both the men's (6:24) and women's (7:43) winning times placed #2 in the all-time record book speaks to the excellent condition of this year's course.
Team competition: Along with Dave and Vince, two Ohio ultrarunning legends joined us to form an Ohio team for the men's competition. Nine-time Mohican 100 finisher TJ Hawk and eleven-time finisher Ron Ross rounded out our 5-man team. I'll admit the team concept weighed on my mind throughout the run. A motivating factor, for sure.
The team rules changed this year. Teams members were required to reside within the same geographic region. Not so in past years as normally one of the sponsored teams wins the prize. Of four registered men's teams, Vertical Runner was the only team to finish an entire squad, thus bringing the team award to Ohio!
What really happened is that the majority of the go-fast runners formed mixed teams. The winning mixed team beat us by over two hours!
Team VR results:
17. Dave P. 7:46
29. Vince R. 8:16
30. Lloyd T. 8:17
42. Ron R. 8:42
64. Terry H. 9:00
All-in-all, a wonderful day to run spent with good people all around. Credit to the VHTRC for hosting a fine event. I enjoyed my time in Manassas on my very own version of the Battle of Bull Run.
Shoes: Montrail Continental Divide
Socks: Darn Tough wool
Hydration Pack: Nathan one-bottle waistpack, with 5oz flask
Additional: hat, gloves, short sleeve shirt, shorts, and a Golite Wisp outer shell.
Link to selected pics from the BRR gallery of photographer Aaron Schwartzbard