(report by Kate Abbott)
Normally, this race has a lottery but this year all applicants got in. I had started off the New Year with some good long trail runs, so I just began to build on those when I learned that I had a spot in the race. This would be my second 50 Miler; my first was JFK last fall, where I finished in 11:30, about 40 minutes slower than what my marathon based time prediction was. This was likely due to the extreme cold and severe stomach issues, combined with venturing into unknown territory of distance. BRR is a much tougher course than JFK; all trails, with very steep ascents and descents, as well as a lot of rocks and multiple water crossings. The average time at BRR is about an hour slower than JFK. I set my sights on 12:30, hoping against hope to get under 12. As this is a local race (20 minutes from home), we do a fair amount of training on this trail.
The day dawned clear and cool but hot weather was predicted for the late morning and on. We started out with a lap around the park to break up the 300+ runners before heading onto the trail. Steep downhill for ¾ mile took us to the Occoquan River and we headed north. The Virginia Blue Bells were in full bloom and were an amazing sight. I am running with Mark and Ken, two fellow trail runners who are quipping and bantering about poetry, suggesting that we need some drugs and admiring one another's calves. At one point I am laughing so hard that tears are running down my face—it may have been when they mentioned the meth lab they set up along the trail. The other runners are chuckling. We hit the first aid station at mile 7.2 which is where SpreT is working. He tells me I look fresh and tells me that I am smart to take it slow so early in the race.
A little past the aid station, a runner goes down in front of me, losing a shoe in the mud. Less than 30 seconds later, I do a face plant. Soft mud is more forgiving than rocks and I climb back up to my feet, inspect the damage and keep moving. A little whack to the knee and a lot of mud. No matter.
We hit the north end turn around and head back, hitting the aid station again. The sun is well up now. Five miles more and we are back at the start at mile 16.5, where I quaff some potatoes and salt and drop off two of my water bottles from my fuel belt. The next aid stations are all less than five miles apart and I figure the less I have to carry the better. Ken consults his pace chart and tells us we are on pace to go under 12. Back down the hill and southbound. We go thru my least favorite part of the course, a large soccer field and a gravel road. Bull Run Marina is next—more potatoes and some Pringles. I lead most of the time, with Mark making dire predictions that we are going to crash and burn if I don't slow down. I tell him I think we can do this.
Wolf Run Shoals, mile 26.1, a marathon now. The leaders are now coming back towards us. At the aid station, a volunteer encourages a young man, telling him "only 10 more miles". I wish. I start to feel a little dizzy and wonky and pop some endurolytes. A few stomach cramps. I pray that I will not be felled like at JFK. I keep all this to myself and a mile or two later, it passes and I am feeling strong again.
We hit Fountainhead, the end of the trail. There we complete the White Loop and the Do Loop. We are still on pace to go under 12, possibly by 20 minutes. I realize that I have at least three bad blisters and stop to regrease the feet, which look awful. I ignore the searing pain as one breaks. We pass Caroline, anther training partner. She seems to be struggling in the heat and indeed, at the next aid station, she sinks into a chair with ice on her head. Heading north from Fountainhead, 12 miles to go and it feels like we are heading home. We try to do the math to figure out if we have a shot at 11:30. We realize it would be a very long shot but we press on, running the flats and downhills and walking the hills.
Wolf Shoals aid station has ice cream sandwiches! I eat one and hope that it does not make me sick. It tastes heavenly and the cold gives me some energy. It is now well into the 70s, possibly even 80. Bull Run Marina and I am sucking down Mountain Dew and Coke but feeling strong. Ken is starting to fall behind, struggling on the steep hills. Another runner is with him and Mark and I go on. At five miles to go, I call my family and tell them we should finish within the hour. The thought of seeing them at the finish is inspiring.
Back thru the dreaded soccer field; another blister pops. Profanity leaks from my lips and we press on. Three miles to go and we come upon a vomiting runner. We offer assistance and his girlfriend pats his back. Two miles and we are on the last stretch of rocks. One mile to go and we are commenting about how good we feel and how well our training has paid off. The last ½ mile is an excruciating uphill and we groan as we climb it. Cresting the hill, we start to run, hearing the cheering. I spot the kids and DH up ahead and we run harder as the clock reads 11:39. With a final burst, we cross the line in just under 11:40!
What a great feeling and a great day! The kids load up on post race food and I sneak a beer. Wonderful! We wait for Ken and Caroline. They finally come thru around 12:30. Severe dehydration and exhaustion took its toll. Other runners are in the same situation.
At home, I examine the blisters…pretty horrid. Looks like flip flops for a few days but the euphoria has not yet worn off and I start imagining the next ultra.
(report by Kate Abbott)