Monday, April 14, 2014

Bull Run (Not Quite) 50 Miler

Dora (RunDominican) and I before the start

 My ultra goal for this year was to tackle a 50 mile or longer race.  I have always wanted to do Bull Run Run mostly because it is our local ultra, and I have raced or run on the trails enough that I felt like I had pretty good course knowledge.  So I was very excited when I signed up and got selected in the lottery.  I got some awesome coaches (Sandi Nypaver and Sage Canady of VO2MaxProductions), and a training plan that I loved and executed very well.  However, I always knew finishing this race was going to be a stretch for me.  The cutoff is 13 hours, and they are really strict about the various cutpoints along the way.  It was going to have to be a perfect day of race execution for me to get a finish.  In retrospect, I really should have signed up for Glacier Ridge 50 Miler which has a 14 hour cutoff and permits pacers from mile 32 on.  That extra hour would mean the difference between a 50 mile finish and a DNF.  So lesson learned on bad race choice, and I knew it going into Saturday.  I was really pretty worked up about the race the fear of failing and not finishing the distance after all of my training.  I pretty much had myself freaked out about it all week until Friday when I happened along a few inspirational posts from friends.
Turned out to big my big mantra near the end when I realized that I was going to get cut.  "Don't unpack!" was what I was repeating in my head.

I signed up for something big and scary, but I tried it anyway.

Friday afternoon I headed over to Hemlock Overlook after work and picked up my bib and shirt.  The shirt was nice quality although I didn't dig the color (turns out not to be a big deal since I won't wear it now).  The quote on the back is cool and in keeping with the theme of the race.

I was irritated to find out that the finishers award was a beach towel.  I was going to run 50 freaking miles for a beach towel.  Now some people would say that you should run the 50 for the love of running the 50, and I get that but then don't bother throwing up a cheesy beach towel like it's some kind of awesome prize.  It's hard not to compare it with other 50s that have nice medals or buckles.

Weather forecast was sunny and 80!!! Yes, you heard it 80 in mid April despite the fact that I ran a marathon in snow, sleet, and hail two weeks ago and did 90% of my training runs in polar vortex conditions.  I don't run well in heat so my hopes for a finish were rapidly dwindling.  My goal on Saturday morning was just to keep moving as fast as I could until they forced me to stop.  I hydrated really well pre-race and had my Nathan Mimimist ready to go to avoid any hydration issues and a repeat of Instant Trail Classic .
Prepping the hydration pack

Flat Mama-minus the shoes because my trail shoes are a mess
My self made pace card with critical cut offs in red, family meeting points in green, and times and mileage.

We got to Hemlock Overlook about an hour before race start.  There were lots of people milling around, but the bathroom situation was pretty good.  There were indoor toilets near the bunkhouses with relatively short lines right up until 15 minutes before race start.

 I used the toilet about 100 times and split some Honey Stinger chocolate waffles with the boys just to top off my pre-race fuel.  I had already done my usual peanut butter, raisin bread, and banana plus coffee routine at 4 am.  I gave my guys one last big hug and said that I would see them at Fountainhead (mile 28).

Trying to stay relaxed
Pre race hugs
 They did the National Anthem, played the bugle and shouted charge to send us off.

Start line (courtesy of James Williams)

And they are off! (courtesy of James Williams)

Inspiration on my hand...Fly! inspired by some of my running friends and 413 for Philippians 4:13 and also to remind me that no matter what happened tomorrow was going to come, and everything would be OK.   Plus I have raced with my Boston bracelet every race since last year.  It reminds me that running is a gift and to enjoy and honor every step.

There was short road section where everyone was running way too fast so I tried to settle into my easy and comfortable pace.  We hit the trail and quickly got slowed down because this section of Hemlock has a lot of river sections with tons of rocks.  Most people were picking their way over these so there were points where we would come to a complete stop.  This was a little frustrating to me because I was worried about time, but I tried to relax because I knew runnable sections were coming.
Trail schematic

Trail map

The first section of the race was 7.2 miles from Hemlock out to Centerville Road where there was an aid station with a suggested time for the last runner through at 8:21 (basically a soft cut). The sun was really hot at this point, and unfortunately we didn't have much shade coverage from the trees as the leaves weren't out yet. We did see bluebells in this section, and although they were pretty they were really aggravating my allergies.

Trying to spread out the conga line near the start (courtesy of James Williams)

 I came through right at 8 am and grabbed some oranges, took an Enduralyte, and some Honey Stinger chews and headed out quickly.  I was a little concerned that I was only 20 minutes ahead of cut so early on when I was running pretty hard and doing well on the climbs, but there were a lot of runners right with me and behind me.  Some veteran runners assured me that we were just fine with regard to the time so I relaxed a bit.  We headed out of the AS for a 2.2 mile out and back section.  This section was a bit annoying because it was narrow and there was a lot of out and back traffic especially with constantly yielding the trail to the lead runners coming through.  I got back to Centerville Road around 9:05 (suggested soft cut was 9:29 so I had picked up a little time and felt good).  I didn't spend much time at the aid station this time either as it was really crowded.  I grabbed some quick Mtn Dew and orange slices and used my own Honey Stingers plus another Enduralyte.  I was doing pretty well with my hydration pack and going through the water.  Then I headed back to Hemlock. 
Waiting at Pope's Head Creek Crossing (courtesy of Bob Fabia)

We came back a slightly different way and the runners had spread out quite a bit so this section was better the second time through and slightly shorter at only 5 miles getting us to 16.6 miles.  I was feeling pretty good at this point and hit the aid station around 10:25 (suggested soft cut was 10:46) so still maintaining my narrow margin ahead of the cut.  I got my pack refilled, ate some bananas, took another Enduralyte, and headed back out.
Headed back towards Hemlock (courtesy of James Williams)

So now I was headed out to Bull Run Marina on a 4.5 mile section.  I struggled a little bit in this section, but I expected that because my usual wall is somewhere around mile 18 so I really just focused on pushing into the Marina and tried to forget about how hot I was.  Suggested time into the Marina was 11:56.  I came in around 11:40 so I lost a little time on this section, but I was still ahead of the cut and confident that I would get into Fountainhead before the first hard cut.  They had ice cold wet cloths at this aid station so I used those to cool down really well, grabbed more banana, did my Enduralyte, a little Mtn Dew, watermelon, and oranges.  I was in and out in under 2 minutes.  I didn't want to linger and waste time in the aid stations so I was trying to come in very focused and get my business handled and get out.

Marina Aid Station (courtesy of VHTRC)

 Next order of business was to get 5 miles to Wolf Run Shoals which would put me at the marathon mark.  There was no suggested time for this one, but I was thinking that I needed to be in there by 1 pm to stay on track.  I don't remember a lot about this section except running across the god awful soccer fields that were completely exposed and just getting scorched by the sun for at least a mile in this section.  Wolf Run Shoals was decorated like a Christmas theme and had lots of interesting food choices.  Thumbs up for the cheese quesadilla triangles since I was feeling like I needed just a little bit of real food at that point.  I grabbed one of those and another piece of banana and scooted out.

Aid station crew in Christmas gear (courtesy of VHTRC)
  I was focused on getting to my awesome crew at Fountainhead before the 1:45 hard cut, and I only had 2 miles to go.  This section seemed really hard to me like there were a lot of climbs in it.  I was still doing OK on the climbs and really focusing on power hiking them.  The downhills were killing me because my quads were getting tired, and it was hard to feel in control going down the hills.
Did I mention that it was hot?  Photo of thermometer before noon yesterday.  It eventually hit 80!

I rolled into Fountainhead at 1:37 with not much time to spare, but I was ahead of the cut.  I never even saw the kids and barely saw JD because I was focused on getting out of there.  I knew making the next cut was going to be a problem for me, and I wanted to give myself the best chance of getting there.  I don't even know what I ate or drank at this aid station.  I just know that I blew through it while some volunteer was trying to assure me that I had plenty of time (not sure what race clock they were looking at).
Section of the aid station that I pretty much stuck to. (courtesy Hai Nguyen)

 I had 4.5 miles to go on the white loop at Fountainhead before getting to the Do Loop and a little over an hour to get there.  I was so hot by this point that I felt like I was barely running even though I was putting out a lot of effort.  The climbs were really taking their toll on me.  All of the runners coming back were really encouraging and giving me updates on how close I was to the aid station.  I watched the time tick past 2:50 and knew that they would probably drop me at the entrance to the Do Loops, but I was hoping that if I was close they would give me a little breathing room.  I got there at 2:53 and no such luck (note to self on dumb race choice...for a 14 hour cut you would have been an hour ahead of the cut and in good shape).  The man with the clipboard informed me that I was past the cut and that I needed to tear off the bottom of my bib as I would no longer be allowed to continue.  Then he told me that I needed to get myself back out to the road because there was no transport from this aid station.  So I was looking at 2 miles to get back to the road.  That kind of sucked because runners were passing me and telling me that I was doing a great job (um, not so much).  The thing that pisses me off just a bit is that the Do Loop was a 3 mile loop, and I wasn't that late getting to it plus I was going to be on the trail anyway because I had to walk myself back.  I don't see why they couldn't let me continue in the loop and then get dropped at Fountainhead since I had to get back there anyway. Then I could have gotten a legitimate 38 miles in before being told to drop.  As it was I ended up with a distance PR because I had to hike myself out.
In the words of Rex Ryan "Let's go get a goddamn snack!" (courtesy of James Williams)

I called JD and let him know that I was done.  He said to call him when I got close, and he would drive down to the trailhead to get me so I didn't have to get all the way back to Fountainhead.  So I hiked myself back out to the road.  I actually contemplated running because I was starting to feel better and was wanting to run, but I figured that my race was done and a good hike would be a cooldown for my legs.  So that's the story of my race.  I got a DNF, but it wasn't because I quit.  I kept pushing right up until the end and would have kept running if they would have let me continue.  I know my legs were good for 50 miles.  I just needed some more time.  On a cooler day I think I would have run better, but you have to take what race day gives you.  Overall, I feel pretty good physically.  I got some serious blisters on my big and little toes (no idea why as I've never had those before...thinking maybe wet feet from stream crossings combined with more foot swelling than usual due to heat).  I also rolled my left ankle pretty good around mile 10, but other than being a little tender it feels OK.  Now I'm going to focus on recovering for Pittsburgh Marathon and have my sights set on the buckle at Oil Creek 100K.

Will I be back at Bull Run?  Likely no.  The course was just alright for me.  One of the drawbacks of knowing the course is that it gets boring.  I knew all of the sections, and they aren't all that visually interesting.  The aid station volunteers were nice, but they weren't that great about helping refill bladders, etc.  They seemed to like bottles, but were completely flummoxed by bladders. 

I got spoiled by the full on pampering that I got at YUTC and Oil Creek (even as a pacer).  I basically was doing all of that on my own even when I was in an aid station that wasn't busy.  It wasn't an awful race, but I didn't love it enough to want to repeat it.  There are a lot of other races out there that I want to do so I only want to repeat those that are really amazing overall.

Elevation chart

One last note about the elevation on this course, and I'm going to quote one of my favorite bloggers Kelly Agnew (Slipping Slowly Into Pain)  "this course has over 5000' of ascent. This trail is a deceptive bitch and if you take her for granted, she will trash you.  This race goes out of its way to not discuss the climbing. No...this race sneaks it in. A little here...a little there...before you know it, your legs are screaming. ... there are MILES and MILES of trail that never stops rolling. By rolling, I mean a 100' ascent, then downhill. Then a 200' ascent, then downhill...on and on and on until you want to punch the next race volunteer you see. Maddening!"  Um, yeah pretty much sums up my race!

Special thanks to my sole sisters at Moms Run This Town for support leading up to the race, keeping me from melting down all week, and supportive text messages throughout the race (particularly Sue (This Mama Run for Cupcakes) and Lexie Loves to Run  for reminding me not to unpack and Sara Ham for telling me to "Fly!"); my amazing coaches, Sandi and Sage, for believing in me even when I didn't always believe in myself and for putting together a training plan that worked with my life and didn't become my life; and my amazing husband and kids for getting up at 4 am and running all over the NOVA park system while I raced yesterday and lifting me up all throughout the day.

My race award from Nic!  Way better than a beach towel!
This has been my flower since the moment Fellow Flowers put the flowers out there, and I did my flower proud this weekend. 
Dreamer:  Putting yourself out there.  Doing it scared.

A friend pointed out this awesome blog earlier in the week, and it's worth reposting.  "In the Philippines, a finish or a DNF means “I SHOWED UP AND FOUGHT WITH EVERYTHING I HAD”. It means, “I am present and engaged in my life”. It means “I am myself, without apology."  "Saying No to Cool


  1. I really admire you for tackling this. Particularly in the heat. That sounds really brutal. I crewed someone at this race once and my runner was DQed because he ran one of the loops in the wrong direction. And that was because he didn't see a clear course marking and someone saw him come out from that section the wrong way. He ran the whole 50 but was DQed anyway. So, they are pretty strict and it's a tough course. Go find a 50-miler with a buckle prize with a little more wiggle room for time! :-)