There is something really exciting about returning year after year to the same courses. It is in that opportunity that I can more accurately gauge whether I am improving or not. Returning again to the Bull Run Run 50 Miler was my much anticipated 50 miler homecoming because it was on this course that I first conquered the distance in 2011. I was excited to see how my training was going for MMT and to revisit my maiden 50 mile course.
After securing the dependant units with the grandparents I was on my way, solo, to the Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Clifton Virginia. This year I would be "roughing" it and staying overnight in the bunkhouses. That turned out to be a great idea! My drive was uneventful and I arrive a little past 10 p.m. Due to my late arrival there wasn't anyone to check in with so I simply found my way to the girl's bunks and staged my gear for the morning.
I had an entire bunkhouse to myself. This would turn out to be because the few other ladies (two I believe) were already sacked out on the other side of the bunkhouse with the lights out and I simply went into the other side of the house. In a way this turned out in my favor. I was able to take up as much room as I wanted, come and go at will and not worry about who might snore. Not that I get much sleep race night anyway but it was nice to sleep peacefully for the few hours that I did.
The only bag drop area was at Hemlock. Mile 16ish
Much like every race night, sleep was spotting. I was up very early and picked up my bib. #557 they would call me all day long. I found Anstr, the RD and pay for my room. Thanking him for so sweet accommodations. Bunking will be a repeat habit when I am lucky enough to get into BRR each year. With the early hour I was able to be in and out of the bathroom with no lines, pack up my room and be race ready with time to mingle as the other runners began to arrive.
Always time for a good morning photo to text to the family
Along with 327 other runners I lined up behind a crack in the blacktop, listened as Anstr gave us a few final words and then "Go." We were off.
Getting light before the start
WHY GARMINS SUCK
We were off around the only paved section of the course for about 150 feet and then we turned and headed across the field used for parking to begin the first of two out and back sections. This first one would cover about 16 miles before bringing us back to the Hemlock Overlook again. As the field spread out a little when we crossed through the parking area I noticed that my Garmin still hadn't picked up satellites. I had turned it on 20 minutes before the race start. It wouldn't finally lock on until after the first aid station at Centreville Road over 7.2+ miles into the race.
PEOPLE ALONG THE WAY
Gary, all smiles.
Number goals aside one of my goals was to talk with other runners more. Well, okay. If you read me often or have ever ran with me you know that I already talk a lot. An annoying amount so I've been told. But the talking I'm referring to is the kind that actually involved listening to the other person too. I wanted to talk with and get to know the other runners I am lucky enough to meet along the way. One of those runners was Gary Knipling. He had a jovial way about him and an effortless style of running. He also ran with a pair of skimpy panties. A running club thing I believe. I wish I had picked up my pace as he pulled away from my group since we ended up finishing very close together.
Tom taking on one the the many ups
Gary and Tom Green who I share quite a few miles with swapped turns telling stories from their years of running together. I also shared the early miles with Tim Gavin who co-RDs the HAT Run. I had previously amused him at Hashawha Hills when I become giddy in telling how I was going to attempt my first 100 at MMT this May. Tim was dealing with a back issue and hoping to make it back to Hemlock before calling it a day.
On the Trail with Tim
Another runner I share the majority of my day with was Alan. He and I would end up leaping frogging each other all race long. His bright orange shirt made him a great target to encourage me anytime I fell behind.
Chasing that orange shirt
It was amazing how the miles fly by with the lively conversations floating around.
CENTREVILLE ROAD AID STATION
Even though I have ran this course before I was surprised how quickly I was to the Centreville Road Aid Station this year. I knew I wasn't pushing my pace. Calculating from my regular watch I was averaging a little under 10 minute miles to that point but I was still there far sooner than I had remembered from last year. The trail conditions this year were much better than last year. The water level was low and the trails were most dry to tacky in the lowest of areas. I paused only briefly at the aid station to drink some ginger ale and top off my pack. The short out and back to the turn around had been a miserable section last year and I wasn't eager to do it any.
The forest was an inspiring backdrop for the day
Garmin finally locked in and I could see that my pace was strong but sensible. I enjoyed seeing the bluebells that were past their full bloom but still added some color to the forest around them. I got to see the fasty fasts on their way back toward the aid station for the second visit. It was fun to try and get smiles out of the lead runners who were all focused on racing but most of them shared a smile and a bit of mutual encouragement as they zipped by.
By the time I got back at Centreville Road I knew I had made at least one mistake already. I was over dressed. I quickly handed off my pack to be topped off. Yeah I was drinking that much! Then I ducked behind a car to strip out of some clothes. Since I am not comfortable (yet) running in just a sports bra I opted to ditch my thicker under shirt and arm sleeves (which I had pushed down already). Having lost too much time I grabbed my pack and headed out back towards Hemlock.
Gary at a very low water crossing
HEMLOCK ~ THE SECOND TIME
After another 5 miles I found myself back at Hemlock. This was the first of several low points for me during the race. Although the volunteers were very proactive about assisting me, I couldn't help but remember how hubbs was here last year waiting to give me fresh shoes. I know that he would have helped me in realizing that I should have ditch more clothes while I had the chance. Instead I lingered and lost time.
Aid station volunteers can not be thanked enough!
Call this, let's see how much time we can waste
This should be titled, Get Going Girl!
See I am STILL here!
But for every low point there are many more high ones. After I finally pulled myself away from this aid station I realized that my compression shorts were not going to be take off, another round of modesty vs common sense, I headed away from Hemlock. Just before entering the trail again I got to quickly say hello to a DM friend Matthew. He was volunteering at BRR this year. Thanks Matthew!!
SUPER HERO THOUGHTS
It would be another 4.5 miles of fun before the Marina Aid Station. During this section of trail I was feeling pretty good. I wasn't looking at my watch and my Garmin was useless having missed the early miles completely. I felt as though the trail conditions were so much better this year that my Dream It goal might be possible. Quickly I reminded myself that the plan for the day was to not even consider such thinking until I had 40 miles in. So with thoughts of invulnerability pushed away I try to focus on the amazing trail and the runners I was sharing it with.
MARINA AID STATION
The volunteers rocked! All the aid station volunteers were awesome. They greeted me cheerful. They lied and said how strong I looked. They bribed me with treats, the sweet, the savory (bacon!) and the salty just to keep me going. They were so essential to my ability to complete the distance.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!But one of the biggest reasons I LOVED the marina aid station volunteers so much was they said one word that may have saved my day, ICE.
WOLF RUN SHOALS
One of the best things for me about this race is the distance between aid stations. The first time I ran this event I wondered why they were often so close together. I quickly learned that a timely arrival at an aid station can pull me out of a low and help move me closer to that finish line.
After 5 more miles I hit what might be the most famous aid station on the BRR course. The Wolf Run Shoals aid station. This years theme was gone with the wind.
At about 26 miles I was still feeling pretty strong although I was struggling with the increasing heat. To this point I was drinking a sports drink/water mix from my pack, drinking ginger ale at the aid stations and indulging in pickles, olives and a few bites of bananas. But at Wolf Run Shoals I didn't need talked into a Popsicle and then it was off toward Fountainhead in only two miles.
I love the trails that the BRR is run on. The trail/course markings were easy to follow. There are sections that for me are technical but overall the distance is runnable. The hills and descents are fairly constant with only a few short distances across open fields. This mix helped keep my legs from fatiguing in any one area. There are a bunch of water crossings although this year it was possible to run the distance without getting your feet wet I chose to run across a few small creeks to cool my feet.
Another thing I like about this race is that there are other people on the trails. Not a lot. But a few hikers. They amuse me. Most of them are in the middle of these gorgeous forest scene...talking on their cell phones. Those ones lifted my spirits by unknowingly amusing me. The ones that were not on their phones often offered encouragement or astonishment of the distance we were running. One highlight in particular, which would go down as the quote of the day, was a group of three small children with what I assume was their father. I was running up a hill with a small group of runners. My energy was high as I ran the hill and spotted the kids. I ran over to them. I jokingly said he was looking great, as if he were running too. Then gave him a high five. He slapped my hand and said, "No. No. We're not part of the race!"
FOUNTAINHEAD AID STATION
This was the look on my face when I realized that I had forgotten about the White Loop. If you have read many of my race reports you might remember my fragmented memory of courses. I can recall with detail sections of trails but I rarely can knit those sections together. I fell victim to that at Fountainhead. I was thinking that I would be heading to the dreaded Do Loop section but first I had to do a little loop. It is only done on the way out to the Do Loop and it is only 2 miles but it was a bad time for the mental hit that I still had that little extra to do before I was "headed back" towards the finish.
DO LOOP AID STATION
Finally at the beginning of the Do Loop, I was struggling. I had fallen in and out of running with several runners. Alan and I were once again together and shared a photo while pausing to fuel up. Because I was struggling with the heat and goals I had been pausing much longer at aid stations than I had been practicing due my spring 50ks. At an earlier aid station the amazing volunteers offered me something that I didn't take then but realized at the Do Loop might make the difference between heat stroke and strong finish.
I felt like a genius when I dumped ice down my sports bra. Almost immediately I felt better. My head was spinning and I felt like I actually might make it around this crazy lollipop of a dreaded loop.
I was ready to take it on. Much to my surprise the Do Loop didn't hold such a challenge for me. Maybe it was the ice or the extra long pause at the aid station. Whatever it was didn't matter at the time, what mattered was that I enjoyed the Do Loop. The thought that I was closing in on my 6000th streak mile filled my mind. The thought that for the past 706 days I had given myself a little bit of every single day fueled me as I cruised over the trails. I stopped to take a few photos and really enjoyed a portion of trail that I had previously dreaded. I returned to the Do Loop aid station eager to begin the trip back toward the finish line!
Return visit to the Do Loop AS
THE RACE IS ON!
Back at Fountainhead AS
While I was still struggling with the heat I was still running strong. As I passed back through aid stations I would fill my pack, re-ice my top, drink ginger ale or water and eat something salty. I didn't indulge in pizza this year, although it was a big temptation. The few glimpses I has stolen at my watch reminded me that a good clock time was within my grasp if I could just hold on a few more miles. I knew that I would be lucky to have 10 miles of racing felt in me after running 40 but I thought if I could just keep cool and hydrated, I just might do it.
Once I hit Wolf Run Shoals I knew I had about 5 miles to the next aid station. I checked my watch and knew that my race was on for the day. I paused only briefly to grab a quick drink and too off running.
There were hills. I ran'em. There were descents. I pushed'em. There were flats. I crushed'em. Well that is how it felt anyway. I kept reminding myself that it was only 5 miles and then I could get all those cheers at the Marina. When I got near the bottom of the stairs a volunteer handed me an icy wash cloth. It was amazing! And then I was climbing the steps to the Marina I was greeted with cheers and a photo-op thanks to Tim who had dropped to avoid worsening his back issue.
After getting into the aid station I topped off my pack but noticed that I hadn't really drank as much as I thought. I ate two pickles and drank some water. The heat had only become more of an issue as I pushed my efforts to make the time I need to keep that goal within reach. More ice in my top and I left the aid station with about 5 miles to go.
THE MENTAL RACE
It has happened to me in nearly every distance race I have ever run. The mental challenges. After leaving the aid station I began over thinking how I was feeling and the choices I had made to the point. Suddenly I wasn't just running the mile I was in, I was suddenly running MMT. All 100 miles in the one moment. I felt crushed with the feeling that if I was struggling this hard in 50 miles how would I ever survive 100. All rational thought left me. I stopped drinking because every sip caused my stomach to attempt to remove what little there was in it. The ice I had put down my top was melted already and I felt as though the trail was moving under my feet.
I had to walk. Not that I hadn't walk some of hills earlier in the race but those had been choices. Now I didn't have a choice with the ground spinning and my mind reeling, I had to walk.
I kept moving forward trying to get my thoughts under control. After a few miles the spinning stopped and I was able to run a lot more. The reality that I only had to run...to the next bend....to that pine tree...up that hill...just this mile, all those thoughts settled back in and I was able to start enjoying the last miles again.
There was that final hill which seemed to go on forever. That hill that made me so happy because I knew that I was so close. And then before I had time to find doubt again, there was an open grassy field and the final trail to the finish line.
I ran. It felt like running at the time.
A handshake with the RD, a pat on the back and
after I started I had done it.
And it was amazing!