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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Bull Run Run 50 Race Report

2011 Bull Run Run 50 Mile Trail Race Report

Often times the logistics of simply getting to the race helps distract from race day nerves.  That was definitely the case for the 19th running of the Bull Run Run Trail 50 miler on Saturday.  I had done my usual triple checking driving directions, double checking packing lists, arranging and rearranging bags to be packed in the car only to forget S'ghetti Girl's bag Friday morning.  Since we were not leaving until after school and work, we simply slipped home to gather the suitcase and attend to a few other chores while we were briefly there.  After a quick confirmation call with Hubbs that we were on our way and he would be meeting us, we headed out.

S'ghetti Girl loving our hotel room

Once at our hotel the younger kids and I waited for Hubbs to arrive.  The plan was for him to take LBM so that I could get my geared laid out and get some shut eye.  What is that they say about the best laid plans?
S'ghetti Girl and I ended up pool side for a while.  That was fine with me.  We had a nice hotel we might as well enjoy it.  Hubbs took LBM to the airport to pick up Army Son who was flying home from AZ. 
It was a lot to pack into any evening!
I won't bore you with the reunion details right now you are here to read about the race.
At some point I slept, a little.
But mostly just waited for it to be time to get up.

Hubbs and I at the dark start line
Thanks Matt!

Hubbs followed me to the start and helped me get my bib since we didn't get into town in time to pick it up the night before.  I was very glad he came along since there was a long line of traffic as they were dealing with parking due to the heavy rains the day and evening before.  The upside was we were parked very close to the race start!
Hubb's friend Matt came to see me off too.  It was a big surprise!  He is an avid runner (half marathons) but had never really heard of ultra trail running before.  The atmosphere had him ready to sign up! 
Ultra runners are just the nicest people.

Finally signs of dawn

After a little chat with Hubbs and Matt it was a quick potty visit before joining the start line, in the dark.  Hubbs wanted me to start at the front but I knew that we only had a short loop before entering the single track and I didn't want the elites to get irritated with middle of the pack me.  Later I would wish I had started a bit closer to the front since I fell into running with groups that ran a slower pace than I was comfortable with.  Every ultra I do is a learning experience.

An opportunity to wash our shoes and feet
aka creek crossing

The race started at Hemlock Regional Park at 6:30 sharp.  Runner completed a short loop around the parking area to spread out the field before entering the single track trails.  Runners would pass through the Hemlock aid station once again after completing the upstream portion of the double out-and-back style course.  The first aid station on the upstream side would be a Centerville Road at about 7.2 miles.

Why are creek crossings followed by little hills?

To say the first "leg" of the course was wet would be an understatement.  The stepping stones at the creek crossings did keep you from getting your entire leg wet but there were no dry feet on Saturday.  As I learned in the last two 50ks this year, Seneca and The HAT Run I don't mind wet feet at all.  In fact, I rather enjoy cooling my feet during long runs. 

A runnable relatively dry section

The course was a beautiful combination of single track trails, creek crossings, a few open fields, a very brief gravel road, and rocky sections.  I don't listen to music while I run and I couldn't help but wonder if those who do know the beautiful that they were missing out on. 
It was obvious that many volunteers had taken time away from their lives to maintain the trails I was so lucky to be running on.  Even early in the race, the efforts of those people were not lost on me. 
I didn't have too much trouble finding a pace that felt right for me.  I remembered what previous ultras had taught me, that I need to keep my own pace; pass runners when their pace feels too slow or let them pass when their pace feels too fast. 
As I climbed the hill to the first aid station I felt great and took nothing. It was nice to have a fellow ultra runner there, Kari who had been sidelined by an illness (but she be doing the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 for something like the 5th time in May!). Seeing her cheerful happy face was a boost.
She was full of so much confidence in me that I believed it too.  Thanks Kari!

The mud

And then the fun began by the name of a 3.5 mile turn around section full of mud.  I thought that I loved to run in mud.  I thought that.  I am honest enough to say that I didn't know what 344 pairs of feet could do to puddles of mud.  I didn't know that mud could get that deep or eat shoes.  My usual praying for others honestly became praying for a dry path.  I wished for cleats more than once.  I was not watching my Garmin (won't wear it again in the woods ever) at this point but I felt like I was not making very good time.  I was either slipping more than running or bush whacking to avoid the mud which didn't work.  There were wooden slat bridges to cross that were caked with mud from the other runners.  One of which was about 5 feet over a creek, seriously slanted and missing one board.  There were awesome volunteers at this bridge trying to sweep off some of the mud build up and make sure people used caution by offering us chocolates! 
One runner did fall in so I heard.

Another time to cross the creek...more mud

I saw the elites come back from the turn around.  Over this distance the out and backs are more of a blessing than a curse.  I love to see how the leaders runners are doing.  I love to watch their form and see the expression on their faces. 

Theme for the race:  MUD

I saw Annette Bednosky.  She would go on to set a new record and win the women's division.  Even in the mud where I was struggling, she ran joyfully.  I wish I could have taken a photo to share but the look on her face was one of giddiness.  Like a child getting away with something really fun behind their mother's back.  She appeared to be in runner's heaven.  I hope someday I get strong enough to find my way there too.

But there were blue bells too

Even though I might not have been in runner's heaven and I was loosing a lot of time I was enjoying the scenery.  I am so glad it wasn't cut from the course due to water.  I really enjoyed the challenge.  And the blue bells, although not a plentiful as some years, were amazing to see amongst all that brown.

A beautiful distraction

After the turnaround I headed back through the mud to the Centreville Road aid station.  I was greeted with a great surprise.  Hubbs had happened upon it after having breakfast with Matt and was waiting there to greet me!  After the struggles of the mud and the slow pace it was a needed lift.  I got my pack topped off and asked Hubbs to grab my other shoes so that I could change shoes once I got back to the Hemlock aid station.  Getting rid of five pounds of mud would be a welcomed relief.  I lost a bit of time at this stop working out the next meet up.  Next aid station Hemlock ~ 5 miles.

Glad to see that at least I was smiling

Along this five mile stretch I caught back up with a runner who had run the Skyline Challenge last July, Jennifer.  She had tweaked her ankle in all the mud and had slowed her pace but was determined to finish.  We ran together for a while and talked about a safe way to tackle the down hills. 
She did finish, bum ankle and all.  Congrats Jennifer!  
But remembering that I had to listen to my own body, I picked it back up and in no time I was back at Hemlock aid station to the cheers of Hubbs ready to help me. 
I can't thanks Hubbs enough for giving up his plans for the day to be there for me. 

I quickly switched only my shoes.  I kept my wet socks thinking that dry socks on wet feet would be a blister waiting to happened.  I drank a half cup of soda, ate one perigee and one baby potato with salt.  At about 16.6 miles I was still feeling great and following a plan to fuel (mostly) by myself, taking a GU about every hour  and drinking from my pack but the extra goodies helped warm my stomach for the moment.   

Crossing under the only road (above) the course
The next aid station Bull Run Marina was in about 4.5 miles.   Along this stretch I fell into running with two guys.  We chatted a little bit.  "Outlaw" had decided or been talked into running a 50 miler with his friend Mr. 44 after having only run half marathons.  It was Outlaw's birthday.  He turned 30.  Happy Birthday.  What a  insane great gift to give himself!  At the Bull Run Marina I grabbed pretzels and was gone.

Still all smiles

About five miles to Wolf Run Shoals aid Station.  Having left Mr. 44 and Outlaw at the aid station I was surprised when they caught back up to me.  They explained that they were feasting at each aid station for as long as the wanted and then running to the next aid station without much regard for the accumulating 50 mile distance and it was working.  They were having a blast! 

Great aid station ~ Toy Story Themed

The Wolf Run Shoals was themed this year with Toy Story.  They are also famous for their ice cream treats!  I ate a half dozen green olives feeling brave enough to risk the effects on my stomach and headed out.

It's Buzz LightYear!

Buzz LightYear makes a mean PB&J!

Two words on aid stations. 
The volunteers.
For running we had a near perfect weather day.  For standing around in the damp forest the conditions were less than comfortable.  Every single volunteer had a smile on their face.  I was asked if I could be helped multiple times at every aid station.  And even though I am sure that they encountered a few runners that were grumpy as the miles got long, none of these wonderful folks looked the least bit frustrated.
Thanks, falls short of my appreciation.  I know that I could not have done this amazing thing without many many people giving so freely of the time and energy. 

The food.
There was candy, you name it.  There was chips, pretzels, hummus, cookies of all kinds, pies, fresh made burgers, quesadias, olives, pickles, baby potatoes, perigees, hot pizza, fruit you name it, water, sodas, Gatorade and more.
I know I didn't name it all.  It was amazing!
FYI:  I ate, one baby potato with salt, one perigee, three baby pretzels, 3 chocolate chip cookies, one pretzel rod, half a dozen green olives, one baby gherkin, a dozen pringles, half a slice of the worlds best pizza ever, and three bites of apple pie.  No wonder racing doesn't cause weight loss.

I'm smiling on the Do Loop

The next aid station would be at the start of the White Loop around 28 miles.  I don't remember much about this part of the section getting to the Do Loop at about mile 32.  I was feeling good and moving well.  Once at the Do Loop aid station I realize I was about to go farther than I had ever run.  I still had a ways to go on "time on my feet running" but distance wise I was about to step over my 32 mile limit. 

Let the mental games begin.

But only on the outside
The Do Loop was a 3.5 mile loop billed as a "lollipop on a stick," in that you ran out the "stick" and around the "lollipop" and back in the stick.  I envisioned a lollipop.  It was the most cattiwampus lollipop in the history of lollipops!  It was up and down and up and down and around and out and around and out.  This loop wasn't even a distant cousin to a circle, maybe a circle on crack. 

One of two old cars on the Do Loop

There are two old cars along this "lollipop" and I told myself , as the reality of breaking through another barrier began to hit hard, that I would stop at the Rambler and take photos.  That carried me through to the "back side" of the lollipop. 
This is where I thought that ultra running is a lot like child birth.  There were moments of joy and exhaustion but after it's over the difficult, the painful moments are so quickly forgotten. 
I thanked God that I was out there loving every exhilarating painful moment of it!
As I was taking photos and counting my blessings, Mr. 44 and the Outlaw caught up with me and then it was Game On again. 
I wasn't going to let them get too far away.

I "really didn't Like" the Do Loop
this is where I hit farther than I had every gone before!

Back out at the Do Loop aid station aka the best pizza ever station (shy of 36 miles) I risked eating a half slice of pizza.  It was still hot.  God Bless volunteers!  I topped off my pack and started running.  Next aid station at Fountainhead was only 2.5 miles away. 
When I was preparing for this race I thought that the aid stations were really close together and wondered why.  I don't wonder that any more.  Over this terrain and distance the simple interaction with those volunteers really does work wonders for carrying you through the difficult part of an ultra event.  Many runners tend to run with others but I am certain there any many who like me find that they usually end up running solo and rely on the aid stations for that mental boost.

That little speck at the top...yeah, a person.

I passed Fountainhead aid station.  Then 2 miles later the Wolf Run Shoals aid station at about 40 miles.  I quickly thanked Buzz, Woody and the crew, grabbed a half cup of water and headed out determined to do the next 5 miles under an hour.  
One good thing and also one bad thing about being me is my memory.  It's bad.  Really bad.  I can remember the course in bits but I am unable to string them all together.  So when running a out and back type course over this much time, I forget exactly where the more difficult terrain was.  I only knew that if I had any "race" in me that day it would be in the last 10 miles.  So I ran, no walking, no hiking, no wussing out and surprised myself by having it to give.  I repeatedly said to the runners I would pass, "I'm just going to slog by you, maybe?".  Only to have them tell me I wasn't slogging, I was running.  My paces were much faster then I thought I would have left. 
I arrived feeling very strong at the Marina aid station in less 50 minutes.  I was elated!  If I could hold onto a decent pace I might be able to hit around a 10: 45 finishing range.  Honestly amazing myself! 
But I still had 5.5 miles (yeah the course is 50.5 miles).

One of the last remaining downhills getting "close" to the finish

I left the Marina aid staton after 3 bites of celebratory pie.  I ran.  The course went on and on.  I wanted to walk the hills but I ran until....
yeah, doesn't it always happen.  I talked to a guy who I was passing.  He was wanting to walk and was okay with whatever the clock said when he got to the finish.
I wish I had seen it because that was his race, nothing wrong with his plan but it wasn't mine.  He just talked and I let him.  I let him set the pace for way tooo long.  I finally got a word in and at the next hill took off.  Whew!  I wish I could say I didn't do that again but I did.  Another guy, another story he wanted to share.  A major boulder rocky section.  All RED FLAGS.  But I am the one who allow my time goal to come and go. 
But now that I have had time to reflect.  I don't regret those pace slowing conversations so much.  They helped me enjoy those last few miles a little more.  Maybe I got to help those two guys go a little faster than they would have.  For better or worse, my choices were part of me looking out at the things I have done and believing that I could handle whatever lay out there just beyond where my eyes could see.

First 50 miler ~ The Bull Run Run Trail Race

Not too muddy for 50 miles
Holding my cell phone - telling the world, I CAN!


  1. outstanding! u r beyond awesome.
    good job! u did it! U CAN and U DID!

  2. You CAN and you DID (and did it WELL, I might add). Amazing and inspiring!

    GO YOU!!!!

  3. So amazing!! What a recap. Sounds like a great race and you definitely CAN!

  4. Holy cow! That is some race! I would never have made it past the pizza table. I would have eaten one piece after the next and fallen asleep! You are a strong woman!

  5. So incredible! You are an amazing runner! Love the joy you have for the sport and for going long. Awesome in every way!!


  6. I hope you screamed: Veni! Vidi! Vici! at the end!!!! Way to go girl!!!!

  7. IN-CRED-I-BLE! I don't know how you remember so many details from such a long race. What an experience. CONGRATS AGAIN. I am truly inspired. And you make these ultra sound awfully appealing with all of those goodies... if there was ever a time for guilt-free pizza, candies and pie, this is it!

  8. Excellent race report and what a run!!! So proud of you and thank you for the inspiration :)

  9. Yeah Shelly - you rock! I have been anxiously waiting all week for your post! What an awesome day and an awesome job you did! So cool that your husband was able to meet up with you at the aid station. And I think its great that you slowed to talk to those guys towards the end - you're a good competitor and like you said, probably really cheered them up and helped them out. Amazing job, lady! I'm so impressed. Very inspirational!

  10. Amazing! Fantastic report and inspiring effort! You almost made running 50 miles sound appealing. Congrats!

  11. I read, and enjoyed, every single word! I hope the time isn't pulling you down at all, it's your first and you learn from the things and as you say, those guys at the end were great for conversation and mental fortitude! Congrats lady...can't wait for your next one!! :)

  12. After reading this I'm starting to believe that ultra trail running is all about the food and the running is just a means to burn off the calories. But seriously - amazing!! You did so well Shelley, I'm in awe.

  13. Amazing! Great report! You make me want to run an ultra just for all the food options. ;o)

  14. Great report - holy cow! 50 miles is tough on a bike - let alone running. You and your family must be so proud of you.

  15. This is so inspiring!! What an amazing accomplishment. I love how detailed this race report is. Thanks so much for posting it! Makes me a tiny bit tempted to try a 50 miler myself someday....

  16. you never cease to amaze me :)

    funny about your mentioning cooling your feet off in the waters. i totally thought of you this morning on my run when i had to traverse a puddle. sure i wasn't running as much as you but that statement from you flashed through my mind :)

  17. Wow, oh wow!! I've been interested in these but I can't seem to get to 26.2 without a hitch.. you are incredible!

  18. WOW! Great review, great race, killer and COOL course! This is a total win!! Congrats!

  19. Amazing report! :) I'm in awe! :) I can only wish for an 11-hours time on this summer's 50-miler! :)

  20. Seriously... awesome! You made this sound like fun... great attitude. I am so proud of you. BTW: I was telling everyone at church about my friend S who was running a 50 miler and finally someone asked me how I knew you... I got nervous because I don't actually know you but said... oh, we're sisters (sisters in Christ!).

  21. So fun to read this! Sounds like such an awesome experience - I can't wait to join the 50-miler club!

  22. A report worth waiting for. Sounds and looks great. Well done on running, taking photos and being an inspiration. I admire your gratefulness.
    Looking forward to more of your great adventures.

  23. Way to go girl! I really enjoy reading your race reports, and you have such a great way of looking at the bright side of things.

  24. Holy Cow you are amazing! What a great report! And I love that you are always smiling in the photos!

  25. You are amazing! And inspiring! Congrats!!!

    What a beautiful, awesome run. And report!

  26. FANTASTIC job girl! Totally amazing! I swear I'd probably pig out and have all that yummy food sloshing around in my tummy.
    Great report!

  27. WOW! You are amazing!! I have not yet tried the marathon - 50.5 miles! WOW!

  28. You are amazing! Congrats on an amazing race. I love how much you remember and can share on your blog. Your outlook on running such a distance is uplifting.

  29. Had to laugh at your comparison of ultrarunning to childbirth. Congratulations on your great performance at your first 50-miler! Hope to meet you at one of these races in the future.

  30. Great report. Congratulations on your 50 miler.

  31. Thanks for sharing the race! What a great finish! Looked like it was tough!

  32. Nice report, excellent time, and congratulations on your first 50 miler. BRR with mud is not one of the easier ones to pick for the first time, but the VHTRC folk put on excellent events and Anstr is a teriffic RD: trail runs for trail runners by trail runners. If you like wet feet, try Capon Valley 50K in a rainy year.

  33. 50 miles?! I can't even imagine. That is so awesome. Congrats!

    And yes, I am from DC and I know Bull Run well. I was going to ask if you're a local, but seeing that you got a hotel room I'm guessing your not.

    p.s. - do you not get blisters running in wet socks?? This ultra thing is a whole new world to me. I only recently did my first trail race (a 5k).

  34. Congratulations! It sounds like a wonderful, but difficult race. I can't imagine running with wet, muddy feet, but it's fun to hear that you enjoy the wet feet. Outlaw and Mr. 44 sound like they were having a great time, too. That is an extreme birthday celebration, but I love that they were living it up at each aid station. The Toy Story themed station looks so cute!

  35. Fabulous description of the Do Loop :)

    But all that mud in your photos scares me a bit; I've run the majority of the course, but not with mud. Hmmmm. Not sure I'm brave enough -- I have been considering BRR.

    I just learned two days ago at SM50 how great running through cold water feels, just like you describe.

    Congratulations on your great run and report.