|Bottom line: 12 hours 29 minutes for my sixth BRR, accompanying audacious Dr Stephanie Fonda who finishes strong in her third and toughest ultramarathon. It's also her best ultra, with steady progress throughout and far fewer problems with feet, knees, digestion, blisters, etc. than on earlier long treks. Perhaps the mini Heath Bars that she consumes every 5-10 miles are the secret? Or maybe smart training, proper hydration, meticulous electrolyte management, and conservative pacing? Or is it, as Stephanie promises during our previous long training run "I'm doing something new at Bull Run. I'm not doing anything new!" — so credit goes to no wacky experiments this time with new shoes, new stride, new foods? (It certainly isn't my nonstop monologue, eh?)|
But on the Thursday evening before BRR I manage to break one of own my cardinal rules, "Protect your feet before a big event." Foolishly barefoot at home in the dining room, I brush my right foot across the hardwood floor and get a splinter in the sole — yow! But fortunately it's only a few millimeters long, and after hobbling around the house I find a magnifying glass and tweezer, and eventually manage to extract the offending sliver. Whew!
Stephanie gets to run the Bull Run Run this year against all odds. She makes it off the waiting list literally during the final few hours before the deadline. It happens much to my surprise, since until the day before I confidently predict that few people would drop out who were ahead of her, and thus she could volunteer at an aid station and count on receiving a high priority for next year's BRR as one who didn't get in. My bad!
In the Hemlock Overlook lodge before the race begins I meet young Jean Kim, preparing for her first ultra. We chat and I give her a pace card I've made, along with encouraging words. Jean follows Stephanie and me for the first several miles, but then we lose sight of her, and sadly she apparently DNFs. Also before the start I greet friendly veterans Caroline Williams and Gary Knipling. Both salute me with fist-bumps.
|Today's weather is somewhat warm, with temperatures rising from the upper 40's into the upper 60's during the day, rather uncomfortable especially when the sun hammers us and breezes pause. My fingers swell up, but not horribly so. Stephanie's do likewise. We take S! electrolyte capsules and Clif Shot energy gels at intervals, drink water from our hydration backpacks whenever we remember to, and nibble on salty treats from the aid stations.|
Fields of lovely bluebell flowers border most of the first 16 miles of trail, the upstream out-and-back part of the BRR course. We go slowly and hold our pace down to 14-15 min/mi. That proves to be a proper tactic today. We make all the cutoffs quite comfortably with 30-45 minutes to spare, and are able to take long walk breaks during the final stages when fatigue begins to set in. As I so often say, "It all turns out OK!"
A red Mophie battery pack charges my iPhone during the run, since otherwise it would have run out of power before the finish. A new Garmin model 910XT, bought after Stephanie's experience with another Garmin extended-battery-life GPS, works well. Both GPS systems diverge by a few percent from each other and both suggest that the course wasn't as long as the official numbers. No matter! See Garmin and Runkeeper for detailed trackfiles and splits.
(photo of ^z by Aaron Schwarzbard)
|"And that will up-regulate the beta oxidative cycle!" A tall fellow is cruising near Stephanie and me during the first part of BRR. We introduce ourselves and commence one of the most technical conversations perhaps to have occurred during an ultramarathon. The gentleman is D. Marshall Porterfield, Purdue University professor who's serving as a NASA project administrator now. Marshall is also an Ironman and a veteran of multiple 100 mile trail runs.|
Stephanie and Marshall discuss diet, diabetes, intermittent fasting, epidemiology and biomedical experimentation during miles 13-16 as we return from the northern turnaround to the Hemlock Overlock start/finish area. A few miles later Marshall pauses to point out a near-perfectly-camouflaged frog on the trail. It looks precisely like a lump of lichen, but with two big beady eyes that watch us. Marshall runs on, and finishes ahead of us in spite of serious knee issues.
|Scary adrenaline-surge moment: at mile 17 during the descent from Hemlock Overlook back to the stream, Stephanie trips on a root or rock and takes a serious fall. It could have been a game-ending face plant. But fortunately, as Stephanie tells it, her (uh) generous (ah) endowment (um) cushions the impact and saves her from a broken nose. A volunteer ahead of us and a runner behind both hear the fall but don't witness it directly. Stephanie emerges with big scrapes on right arm and left leg, as well as a sudden headache and as a badly bruised nose.|
The rest of the race is, thankfully, less eventful. At mile ~25 Stephanie notices little yellow dots covering my face and scalp — seeds from some bush that I brushed against. Coconut-flavored ice pops at an aid station are welcome refreshment and remind us of an in-joke. In the DO LOOP segment of the course, on one of the old rusty car hulks, a giant inflatable "Hello Kitty" balloon bows to us, as Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" plays on a boom box.
Deep in the woods Stephanie suddenly hears a big tree branch crash to the ground. Thereafter, every time a widow-maker crackles in the wind she jumps. At one point she is so certain that a limb is plummeting to kill us that she covers her head, cowers, and shouts, "Where is it, Mark? Where is it?" Fortunately, nothing seriously threatens, though around mile 40 I feel something bite me on the left shoulder. Frenzied swatting and pinching eventually stops the attack. When I peel back my shirt the creature turns out to be an iridescent emerald-green ant-like insect. Ouch!
As we proceed downstream fast young Keith Knipling greets us as he heads northward on the return trip, a dozen or so miles ahead of us. A few weeks ago Stephanie and I followed his progress at the legendary Barkley Marathons. We step aside and salute him as he passes.
About mile 43 Stephanie and I catch up with Andrew Harter, who is badly dehydrated. Apparently he's trying to do the run without a bottle, a dangerous gambit. Stephanie and I offer him water from our backpacks, and he drinks from mine like a camel, makes it to the Marina aid station, soaks up more fluids there, and successfully finishes just behind us.
In the final segment of the race we meet Shelley Cable. She and Stephanie engage in a rather clinical discussion of breast-feeding, including a friendly competition as to who stayed the course longer for their nursing babies. The duel concludes with a mutual fist-bump celebration. Go Mamas!
(photo of ^z by Aaron Schwarzbard)
|Just before we turn to make the steep final climb to Hemlock Overlook Stephanie spots a lovely Great Blue Heron standing in Bull Run. As we approach the finish line we talk about "Accumulating Positives" and how fortunate we both are to be able to do such an awesome thing as run 50 miles in the woods together. Sweet!|
Kilt-clad comrade Mike Edwards is the organizer of Team Rocket, "the team dedicated to doing evil with Pokemon". We win the Slowest Team Award by a good margin, thanks in part to Mike's waiting several minutes for us just before the home stretch. The official results show:
Mike goes far beyond the call of duty: he picks me up at my home at 4:30am for the drive to the race, and gives both Stephanie and me a ride home afterwards. Bravo, Sir!