2016-04-09 - Bull Run Run 50 Miler

~48 miles @ ~16 min/mi

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!

      King Lear, Act III, Scene ii

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/BRR_2016_mile_02_halke_pothole_z.jpgSleet, hail, snow, thunder, mud, and wild winds: it's an ultra-beautiful day for a ramble in the woods!

And bottom line: for the ninth time, I finish the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club's Bull Run Run — 12 hours 55 minutes — slowest ever, ahead of the ultimate cutoff by only 5 minutes. Whew!

Along the way there are slips and falls but thankfully no game-enders. Early in the event, walking in reverse to chat with new trail friend Donald Halke II, my foot drops into a mud pit. Gayatri Datta scolds, "Mark, please look forward, not back!"

(pothole photo by Donald Halke, mile ~2 of the Bull Run Run course)
The day starts before 5am at Gayatri's house. Kind comrade Ken Swab picks us up to carpool to Hemlock Overlook Regional Park where the BRR begins, ends, and returns at mile ~16 en route. Cold rain patters, then pauses. We snag our starter's swag, which this year includes an awesome camp chair and cool commemorative socks. Then it's time to take our traditional position at the derrière of the pack. At 0630 we commence running as dawn brightens behind thick clouds.

Gayatri and I stick together, and Donald Halke introduces himself to us. As so often happens during ultramarathons soon we're fast friends. He tells of his work, family, health, plans, and past running experiences. The back of his shirt today reads:

        1 - heart attack
        2 - stents
        4 - by-passes
        1 - pacemaker
    so why are you behind me?

Gayatri and I pause for Donald to take pictures of us. We admire the bluebell flowers that carpet the valley, and average a comfortable 16-17 min/mi pace. At mile ~4 when the hills steepen I trot ahead to reconnoiter.
Bull Run Run 2016 near mile 7 - photo by Kevin Sayers"Hail, Chief!" As icy pellets sprinkle the earth like white peppercorns I punnishly salute fast runners coming back from the northern turnaround of the BRR course. A rumble of thunder is followed by light snow. Then rain resumes.

Approaching the Mile ~7 (Centreville) Aid Station, I hold out my bottle. "Please, sir, I want some more!" After inhaling cookies and a couple of salt capsules it's time to dash away, dash away, dash away all.

(photo by Kevin Sayers; streaks falling in the foreground are sleet and snowflakes)
Extreme weather this year plus recent injuries makes many runners go slower than planned. Ultra hero Tom Green is picking his way gingerly over rocks and roots. This is his 24th Bull Run Run; wisely he withdraws and ends his streak, rather than risk a bad fall.

At mile ~12 I catch up with Dr Stephanie Fonda, still suffering from damage incurred two months ago when she raced a 100 miler in Texas (see 2016-02-07 - Rocky Raccoon 100 Sweeper). To cheer her and encourage her to continue I cajole, tease, joke, quote naughty bits from Shakespeare, and remind her of past runs of legend that we've completed together. When even bawdy bardish banter fails, I attempt a guilt-trip: "If you abandon me and I'm alone in the woods, when I fall down and the bears are chewing on my toes I'll whisper, 'If only Stephanie had stayed with me...' — and you'll feel so guilty!" She meta-ripostes, "But you will feel even more guilty about the guilt I will feel when I make you miss the cutoffs by being too slow!" OK, you win, Stephanie.

At mile ~15 we pause at the Cara Golias Graffiti Memorial under the railroad bridge for a dual-selfie. Then away I trek, climbing the steep slope back to Hemlock Overlook as briskly as possible.
Bull Run Run 2016 near mile 15 graffiti under the railroad bridge - with Stephanie Fonda
Bull Run Run 2016 near mile 17 - photo by Robert Fabia"Wait — you mean there's another 32 miles to go??" I feign disbelief when Robert Fabia takes my picture at Hemlock Overlook.

Ken Swab arrives about 20 minutes ahead of me, half an hour behind his usual time at this point. He texts to check on my status; I reply hyper-optimistically (as always!). But, Ken writes in his BRR race report, maybe his heart just isn't in it today. Cold wet feet, slippery mud, and the prospect of even worse conditions in the mountainous southern 30+ miles of the trail conspire and persuade him to punch out.

I dash onward in hopes of making the next cutoff. It's now mile ~17, roughly 11am. In my haste to move out I forget to pick up the battery pack from my drop bag, needed to recharge my phone/GPS. Half a mile down trail I discover the error, and ponder going back. "No!" is the right answer.
Pushing the pace cautiously, keeping energy in reserve, running the downhills with care to avoid a stumble — everything feels incredibly good, in spite of a couple of slip-slides in the mud. "It will turn out OK", as a good friend taught me long ago. All will be well.

At the Wolf Run Shoals aid station I snag a strand of Mardi Gras beads to wear around my neck. The weather keeps improving, and trail conditions are better than expected.

Fountainhead is the first BRR cutoff, mile ~28, at 1:45pm. Zoom in on the watch in this picture: it reads 1:41:57 — more than 3 minutes to spare. Yay! Refuel, pop two more salt capsules, and get outta there!

(photo by Hai Nguyen)
Bull Run Run 2016 near mile 28 - photo by Hai Nguyen
Bull Run Run 2016 near mile 38 - photo by Hai NguyenOnward, around the White Loop horse trail, then south and east. No time to pause for selfies now. Always-cheerful Adeline Ntam, miles ahead of me when we meet, gets gifted my bead necklace. You go, girl!

Next cutoff at ~32 miles: ~4 minutes to spare. At the Do Loop aid station James Moore swears it's under 2.5 miles to Fountainhead. "Thank you, Sir!" I give him a big hug. "There's a chance!"

Winds gust to 30+ mi/hr. Leaves swirl and trees sway, creak, and groan as they threaten to fall and make new widows or widowers. None does.

(photo by Hai Nguyen)
At Fountainhead, mile ~38, the clock says I'm ~6 minutes to the good. Don't blow it now!

True Confession: at mile ~24 an impolite and overconfident thought surfaces: "This trail is my B17cH!" On the way back, after mile ~40, comes the realization: "I'm this trail's B17cH!" And there's no time to waste pondering that duality — the ultimate 13 hour cutoff still looms. Terrain in the final miles is rocky and steep. The GPS/phone battery dies.

And then, the finish line.

It turns out OK.

(photo by Hai Nguyen)
Bull Run Run 2016 near mile 38 - photo by Hai Nguyen

Result: 256th place of 258 finishers. Two women are behind me so I claim DFL male honors. Frank Probst, age 72, is just ahead and completes his 24th BRR — that's every single one.

Past times and race report links:


Next year? Who knows!

(trackfile) - ^z - 2016-05-02