|Before this year's Bull Run Run 50 miler I carefully prepare a cornucopia of excuses. I've been suffering from a bad head cold for the past week. On Thursday I banged my knee on a bench in the bedroom. My broken arm last October interrupted my training. Fortunately, today no excuses are needed. Thanks to my friend Kate Abbott's smart, aggressive pacing we finish in 11:39:50, an astounding 45 minutes faster than my previous BRR personal best set in 2007. In this photo we're climbing the final hill and sprinting toward the finish line as Kate's family cheers for her.|
(photo by Victor Perez)
A lizard scampers across the trail, skittering on the brown leaves. Bluebells bloom alongside the path. Geese honk as they glide upstream. Butterflies flit past. For the second year in a row the BRR is held on an unseasonably warm spring day, with temperatures rising into the upper 70's. This time, mercifully, the humidity remains low.
"The Bull Run Run is the reason I was put on this planet," I explain to Kate. She and I began our series of long training runs last year, as she prepared for her first ultras. Kate was with me on the Appalachian Trail when I fell and fractured my humerus. We ran together on the Bull Run Trail itself to preview the course, 28+ miles one day, 32+ another. After so many hours one might think we would know each other.
But even so, Ms. Kate never ceases to surprise: today in the woods she delights me by reciting the opening lines of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in lilting Middle English. She's retaliating for my attempted performance of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". I concede defeat, temporarily. Later I come back with a rendering of Shelley's "Ozymandias". I keep Keats's "Upon First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" in reserve.
How not to begin a race: five minutes before the start, standing in the crowd awaiting the prebrief, I realize that I have no water in my bottles! I rush up the hill, fill them at the drinking fountain, and make it back just in time. Whew!
This year I wear a bright orange singlet that says "12:00+" on the back. It's from the MCRRC Parks Half Marathon, where I led a 12+ minutes per mile pace group. Since Kate and I have the goal of coming in at ~12 hours I figure it applies today with total hours in place of min/mi. Perhaps several other runners do too? As we proceed upstream in the first segment of the race, I look back and see a conga line following me, twenty runners long. A few miles later the procession dissipates.
After the first aid station, mile 7.2, Kate slips and falls in the mud. Fortunately she escapes injury and only carries some splatters on calves and elbows to commemorate her fall. I'm luckier than usual and manage not to turn any of my stumbles into tumbles, though in the later part of the race I do become less stable. I handle the heat better than in past years by drinking ~20 oz/hr of Gatorade or the equivalent. In addition I take half a dozen S! electrolyte caps plus a few energy gels and small amounts of candy, chips, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, etc. from the well-stocked aid stations. Eating less than usual but drinking more seems to work today.
Trotting along I blow my nose trail-runner fashion, covering one nostril and snorting. I don't realize that comrade Ken Swab is right behind me. The snot-rocket hits him on the leg. Sorry, Sir!
As it turns out, that incident is not the worst that befalls Ken today. For the first 40+ miles of the BRR Ken and I have been practicing our usual banter, much to the amusement of Kate. At one point I mention the yoga class I've begun taking recently and Ken expresses interest. Kate is a yoga instructor and recommends a studio near where Ken lives. It's name is "Down Dog", a yoga position which Ken says describes his race strategy: to run like a dog until he drops, what CM Manlandro calls "Fly and Die". Alas, that metaphor becomes too true at mile ~42, as per his graphic report. Ken loses energy and becomes ill, perhaps due to dehydration and/or major electrolyte imbalance. But he finishes the BRR within the cutoffs, thanks to his toughness and the help of a fellow ultrarunner.
My road is far less rocky: I'm actually quite comfortable throughout the entire race. The following day I feel hungry and have a slight headache plus minor stiffness in the quads. Two days later I'm back to normal. Kate similarly does splendidly, except for her feet which begin to complain about the halfway point. She says a Bad Word when the first huge blister pops at mile 40, and a Very Bad Word when the next one breaks at mile 45. But Kate is strong: onward she runs.
Mark McKennett, another fellow Montgomery County runner, has shaved the letters "BRR 50" into his crewcut. He's usually far faster than me but today has joint pain, perhaps from overtraining during recent weeks. Kate and I catch up with Mark at the Do Loop aid station, and for some time thereafter we see him intermittently. In spite of his aches Mark is ever-cheerful: he hoots with joy across the valleys at me, and I hoot back. His plans include some far-more-stressful ultras in the near future. Likewise Caroline Williams greets us as we catch up with and pass her; she's aiming for the Massanutten Mountain 100 miler next month, so the BRR is merely a training run for her.
My watch tends to take splits when I reach up to scratch my back, but the table below has been corrected for those errors. As it shows, Kate and I gained 45 minutes over my 2007 performance during the first half of the race, and maintained precisely that advantage for the second half.
|Wolf Run Shoals||5||26.1||--||6:30||6:35||5:45|
|Do Loop - In||4.4||32.5||8:20||8:03||8:12||7:17|
|Do Loop - Out||3||35.5||--||8:49||8:54||8:02|
|Wolf Run Shoals||2||39.9||--||10:00||10:02||9:13|
As always, many thanks to the BRR director, organizers, volunteers, and everyone else involved!