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Ultra Running with Jen – Bull Run Run 50 mile report

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“Guts and Nuts”

This was my mantra through the race, and the best way to describe what it takes to finish an ultra. All the physical ability in the world can get you through just about anything, but if your mind isn’t in the right place and you can’t push through the pain, it can make for a looog day.

Admittedly I hadn’t been doing much training – running or lifting – leading up to the race. I was feeling stressed and low energy, and ‘making time’ to workout was just too much. So I tried to rest as much as possible with the idea that rested and less stressed would be better than over-tired, over-worked, stressed, etc.

The morning of started as most of my races do – in a frenzy. Finishing packing food/clothes and off to a later start than I’d hoped for, arriving at the venue 35 minutes before the start. I strolled up to the start line with seconds to spare – good and bad in that I have not time to second guess my plan.

However, the entire first third of the race was spent going through a mental checklist of what I’d done wrong up until that point.

– I was trying new shorts, ones I’d only worn around the apartment a few times but had never run in.
– Using a 2-bottle waist pack instead of my 2L Nathan backpack.
– One bottle for water and the other for my powder mix, which I hadn’t used in over 3 years.
– The powder was CarboPro, but I’d been training with Dextrose or Clif Shot Bloks
– I couldn’t find the other black calf compression sleeves I’d wear in training, so I went with the white pair I had. They were fine, but I’m pasty white and the two color clash. They also tend to slide down a bit. I was just wearing them to stay warm more than anything.
– Brought one arm warmer with and left the other in the car, so I had to wear a quarter-zip pull over for the first 3rd of the race until I got back to Hemlock where drop bags were located.
– I didn’t have a drop bag, so I was just hoping to leave my buff, pull over, and gloves on a picnic bench and hope it was still there at the end.

My biggest issue, and it might seem tame to others, is that my iPod was out of juice from the start.

I enjoy music, and I would use the start of a new song to ‘alert’ me to drink, even if just a few sips. I also use it to zone out, to tune out everything around me. Sure, I love the sounds of the wind and the fall of my footsteps, but I was hyper aware of EVERYTHING around me. My footsteps were heavy, the wind was sharp, the breathing of the person behind me felt like they were right on my heels, the taping of a strap against their race belt was like nails on a chalk board. I just couldn’t concentrate on running, on relentless forward progress. I don’t always have it on, but the bud in my ear was enough to tune out my surroundings, zero in, and focus on the task at hand.

This first part of the race I went out too fast. My mile pace was 10-12 min/mile on the initial 13 mile out/back section. This is a runable course, but I don’t consider myself a strong runner. I can move well consistently, but my training pace was slower than this. I do tend to pick up the intensity a bit come race day, but this was too much. I knew it, but it’s really hard to slow down, to back off, when others are running around you. So you run to keep up with a pack.

When I got back to Hemlock, I ditched my gear as planned. My transitions were quick – grabbing part of a banana, some potatoes, and PBJ squares, and heading out with the pack that I’d come in with. I also filled one of my bottles with my CarboPro mix – 75g of carbs. I started with 50g in my bottle and had another 75g packet in my waistpack. I figured I’d add to my bottle every 16 miles. I was early here, but I didn’t care as my nutrition felt good at this point. My legs, however, did not feel good.

The realization that I went out too quickly was starting to settle in on this next 5 mile section to Bull Run Marina. The pack was pulling away, which I was fine with as I run better with people out ahead that I could sight off of. But they continued to pull away. I kept checking my watch to see my mile splits around 12-14 min/mile. Each step felt slow and labored. I didn’t have the ‘runner’s high’ I experienced during my training runs at Fountainhead and out on the Do Loop. I hadn’t been on this section in awhile, but that didn’t bother me. I didn’t have my music to know that 3.5 songs is about a mile. I only had the last song on the radio to fill my head, and I was bored of it. I needed a pick me up, and my CarboPro wasn’t doing it. I was frustrated with my pace and everything around me, things I couldn’t control.

The volunteers at the aid stations were amazing, and they always said I looked good, that I was doing well. But I certainly didn’t feel it. I felt slow and out of shape. I wasn’t having the race I wanted to. I was doing a 50 miler, but my body was like, ‘naw.. we cool with a 50k’.

It took awhile to come to the realization that the pace I was running, now 13-14 min/miles, was actually a decent pace and what I would hold for most of the remaining race. It was also very consistent. I was moving well and at a steady pace, and so far my body was holding up. The waist pack would shift to the left a little and I’d have to readjust it, but it wasn’t causing any chafing. My armswing was off a bit – wider than usual – and I might’ve been leaning forward a touch more, but it wasn’t causing back pain. And the new shorts were holding everything in place, even after a bathroom break around mile 26. What more could I ask for?

Once I got to Fountainhead Aid Station, I was in my domain. We had to run a 2.2 mile trail out to the Do Loop, one that I only run during the race. It’s winding and twisting, and I just want to get through it and onto more familiar trails. I am able to see people ahead of me and pace off of them a bit, to keep moving. Earlier I would walk when others would walk, and I got to be okay with that instead of power walking a few steps and walking to remind myself that I didn’t have to settle for moving at someone else’s pace. But I got back into that rhythm. Familiar ground, and I had my visual cues so I knew how long until I’d be on my way back to Fountainhead.

It was at this point I coined the term ‘guts and nuts’. Little things were starting to hurt. My left knee didn’t like downhills; my right Achilles didn’t like working anymore; my groin was finally reacting to the slipping and sliding from the mud earlier in the race, and I didn’t have to move much laterally to find my max reach with either leg.

The start of the Do Loop is about mile 30. I loaded up on some Pop Tarts and watermelon before heading in. I didn’t have my music to block out everything around me. I had to dig deep. I still had TWENTY miles to cover. That sounds like a lot, but you have to break it down into little pieces – into sections of trail. The Do Loop is only 3 miles. Then it’s only 2.2 miles to the White Loop, and 2.2 miles until you’re back at Fountainhead. The next sections between aid stations are 2, 5, and about 6 miles to the finish. Even still, you break those up based on the surrounding areas – sections with a downhill and uphill, number of bridges you cross, flat and runable sections, mud before the soccer fields, open fields, downed trees, bluebells, rock scramble along the water, more bluebells, and the final climb. Sounds simple. But first, I have to get through the Do Loop.


(Credit: Eric Levy-Meyers)

Despite the nagging issues, I move well. I see the familiar cars out on the course and use those cues to guide me through. Once out, I grab more fruit and Coke and start making my way back to Fountainhead.


(Credit: Kirk Masterson)

Website lists this as about mile 48, but it doesn’t match the mileage on my watch. I try to do some math and figure I’ll finish in 10:45. Original goal was sub 10, but that went out the door quickly, then 10:30, which soon followed, then I hoped for under 11 hours, which was still very attainable. Back at Fountainhead I used up my final pouch of powder. Nutrition and hydration had been pretty decent up to this point, which was a plus with the nagging physical ailments I had going on.

Guts and nuts. You need to dig deep and grow a pair to finish.

And that’s what I had in mind. Now is when the race starts. Now is when I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Relentless forward progress. I passed and I was passed. I didn’t care who ‘beat me’, I was out here for myself. I was going to get my 10th finish.

I saw familiar faces at aid stations, and they said I looked better than the first time through. It’s a funny thing how mood changes 15 miles later when you’re on the way home. I felt better. I hurt, but I settled into my pace. And receiving a wet washcloth to wipe off my face was a godsend!

No music allowed me to enjoy my surroundings – the wind was helping me along, the footsteps of the runner behind me was actually water sloshing in my bottles (oops..), and the bluebells were popping. It was an incredibly beautiful day, and I got to spend over 10 hours outside enjoying it, doing what I love. I was very fortunate and thankful.

I passed a couple runners on the final climb, they on their way to their first finish, which was me back in 2004. Runners and fans gathered behind the finish line cheering in all the finishers. Such a great sight and a warm welcome, one that I always cherish.


(Credit: Kirstin Corris)

Schwag!

Fleece – monogrammed to commemorate my 10th total BRR finish (not placing)
Coaster with the races logo
Finisher mug
Club magnet (I got 2! Shhh…)
Frisbee as the winning side of the North/South competition.

Four days later and it’s hard to believe this was only 4 days ago. The swollen feet are returning to normal size, the knee and Achilles are on the mend. I learned a lot from the race, lessons that I’ll carry over to MMT only weeks away. A 100 mile race isn’t a 50 miler times two – it’s a whole new mental challenge, one that I’m ready to take on.

Guts and Nuts.

Below are the finish times of all 10 races over the last 13 years taken from the VHTRC website. Thank you for reading if you made it this far.

-Jen

Year   Time    Age
2004  11:03:15   27
2005  11:14:24   28
2006  12:01:14   29
2007  10:32:42   30
2008  11:23:38   31
2009  10:03:55   32
2012  11:42:29   35
2013  10:53:24   36
2014  11:17:29   37
2017  10:46:33   40