April 13, 2013
Back in November, when the thought of moving to the DC area occurred, I immediately began looking for races surrounding my school vacation weeks. Luckily, Bull Run Run was during the first Saturday of my April vacation and I was even luckier to make it in via the lottery.
I almost didn't make it to the start line though. I've had some ankle issues on the left side. Which through help from Neil Feldman at Central Mass Podiatry, I've been able to improve my running form and flexibility. More recently, my right heel has been a real pain in the rear. About two weeks prior to race day, it acted up and had me teaching in my sandals (not cool for a PE teacher!).
So, with the stress of running a painful 3.5 miler on Wednesday before the race, I really didn't have high hopes. I initially, and pre-heel injury, thought I could possibly go sub-8 hours and sneak in the top 20. I even had grandeur of placing in the top 10, but that could be a stretch. But with this heel injury, I was just hoping to finish in one piece.
The night before the race, I took two runs around the block to test out some shoes. I had the Saucony Peregrines and the New Balance MT101's. They were the only two pairs I owned (and I own a few...) that didn't bother my heel. I wanted to wear my trusty Tecnica Diablo Max, but the high heel backing prevent me from doing so.
The Peregrines won the battle of hurting my heel the least (still painful though) and I went to bed thinking this could just be a long run tomorrow and definetely not a 50 mile race.
Turns out I was wrong. The heel hurt a bit, ok maybe more than a bit, but I sucked it up and went the distance. The one thing that slowed me down was New England. The weather that is. It got hot around mile 30 (mid 70's) and my stomach turned. I was sweating bullets and trying to take in liquids but my stomach thought differently. Other than that I cruised along at a good pace for most of the race.
The start was well organized and the RD, Anstr Davidson, gave a us a few directions about the opening lap around Hemlock Park to "thin the pack" before we hit the single track heading down to the river. At 6:30 am on the dot we were off. I actually started right behind eventual winner, ultra stud and fellow Masshole, Brian Rusiecki of Deerfield, MA. I was sitting somewhere between 10-15th place after this initial run-around Hemlock and held that position down to the river.
After hitting Bull Run (they call rivers, runs down south) we headed north toward the Centerville Aid station located about 7 miles away. Running this section during my February vacation really gave me an advantage here. I paced myself on the flats and ran all the hills. It was around this part that I noticed my right Ultimate Direction water bottle was leaking. I thought maybe it wasn't tight enough or I over filled it, but that wasn't the case. It continued to leak water all over the right side of my body and I knew if I didn't fix this I could be drenched in an hour. A fellow DC runner named Jack Kurisky, said I should ditch it along the side of the trail and pick it up later as would be returning on the same route. He was dead on and I left propped on a dead tree stump to get later on.
Now I had the issue of having only one water bottle in my Ultimate Direction AK race vest. It wasn't balanced right and became really annoying. To solve this problem I simply took out the bottle and held it in my hand for 45 some-odd miles. Little things like this would have broken me early on in my ultra career, but I just rolled with the punches and put one foot in front of the other.
Eventually I hit the aid station with a young fellow from Pennsylvannia, named Ian Grettenberger and we were both in and out in seconds. The next section was a fast and flat 2.2 miles to the turn-around, then back to the Centerville Aid station. During this stretch I could see the leaders coming at me. They we're about 10 minutes up at this point, and I knew that I was running way to fast.
Would that slow me down? Hell no! We started seeing the rest of the pack coming at us and cheering us on and that only torqued the engines even more. This was an extremely uplifting moment during the race and I will always remember it. Sometimes words goes a thousand miles when it comes to ultras. A simple "go get it" or "looking strong" can turn a low into a high in an instant.
Upon returning to Hemlock, I ditched my busted UD bottle and grabbed some more GU. They really weren't going down easy for me today and I only ate 6 total over the course of the day. Now it was on to some new territory. I had never run the southern portion before and was really excited to see some new trail. The initial trail along the run was decorate with bluebells on both sides. It was a sight I've never seen and just so vibrant on the tired eyes.
This part also included some open field sections of a few hundred yards and I could really tell things were heating up. I don't do well in the heat and haven't really done any heat training, per say, leading up to this race, so I knew I was in for a treat. The next aid was about 5 miles from Hemlock and I figured I would assess my nutritional needs there. This aid was decorated with a Hawaiian theme and was well stocked (this could be an understatement!!). I ended up grabbing a few handfuls of chips and some ginger ale here and figured my gel eating was over for the day.
The next stop was about 4.5 miles away and had a pirate theme to it. The volunteers at both aid stations were tremendous in filling up my water and getting me what I needed. I must thank all of you for your support and kindness. After some more chips and coke, I learned that the next aid was only 2 miles away.
From studying the course map, I knew I was close to the White Loop and then the dreaded "Do Loop". I asked a few other runners whether I should be worried about the "Do Loop" and they said it has the ability to "break" someone during the latter stages of the race. After hitting the aid station and completing the white loop, which was just like Rayburn in a sense, where one can see runners through the woods only a few meters away but can really be upwards of a mile ahead on the race course. I caught a few glimpses of runners just ahead and few creeping up from behind here, which made me pick up the pace a bit.
After completing the White loop, it was back on the Bull Run Trail and towards the Do loop. This stretch consisted of some wide open trail which you could really run quite hard. When I hit the aid located just outside the Do loop, my stomach started to go sour. I believe the mileage was about 31 or 32 and things just weren't settling right. I thought about "pulling the trigger" a few times but decided not to.
Then, into the Do loop I went. I was told here I was still in the top 10 or just outside it. I entered the loop with four other guys and they all made it around before me. I just broke about 3/4 of the way through the 5k loop. The trail started off all downhill and I just knew things were going to get tough real soon. Turns out, the Do loop is a bunch of undulating hills that never quit. I would say about 6 big rollers with steep declines followed by steep inclines.
Upon exiting the Do loop, many others were heading in. I grinned and said good luck to a few. From here I knew I had about 15 miles to the finish and simply broke up the distance by aid stations. I plugged away but my stomach just wasn't right. I walked many of the hills I "should" have run, but running hard really made me want to puke.
With around 5 miles to go, about 5 more guys passed me (2 at warp speed!). This a bit demoralizing, pushing me out of the top 20, and changing my mindset all-together. I just wanted to FINISH! Sub-8 was still in sight and I figured that was one goal I could still achieve. I ran as hard as I could those last five miles and ended up crossing the line in 7:51. A PR at the 50 mile distance for me.
The Bull Run Run 50 Miler is one the Virginia Happy Trail Runners Club main races. It is in its 21st year and is well "run". I would have to say this is one of the best organized races I have ever run in and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to run a non-technical course with beautiful scenery. The RD, volunteers and runners I met were amazing. I feel more at ease knowing that I have been welcomed to this wonderful running community come August. See you all then.
All Photos courtesy of Bob Fabia