Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Race Report: Bull Run Run 50 miler, 4.9.11: Sex, drugs, and mud

Got your attention, right?  So, the sex and drugs part, not so much.  Ok ok--not at all.  But I wasn't lying about the mud.  Rained all afternoon and night Friday, finally stopped after two swipes of the wipers driving from the hotel to the race on Saturday morning. Not a massive amount, but enough.  Everyone I know that has run this race said "Don't worry about rain on race day, worry about rain the day before."  Everyone was right.

Race day itself couldn't have been more perfect.  Cool, 45 degrees, heavy overcast at race start, and I think the temp barely changed all day.  No rain.  But you already know that wasn't anything to worry about.

With just enough light to see without a headlamp, we were off at 6:30 am.  Never heard a shout, a gun, or a cowbell (where's Joe when you need him?)--but all of a sudden, we were running.  Worked for me.  The obligatory loop around the parking area to spread us out, then down to the river we did run.

As we headed upstream toward Centreville Aid, things gradually became slicker.  Slipperier.  Stickier.  Deeper.  Wetter.  Muddier.  And the stream crossings: Ankle deep.  Knee deep.  Waist deep.  No, I'm not kidding. This...this was a trail run.  This...this is why we do it!  This...this caused frequent use of a word beginning with "F"....

The real fun began after Centreville on the 2.2 mile out & back (i.e. 4.4 total).  It was probably fine for the lead runners, but for us mid-packers (ok...back of the pack), it was like running through a barnyard just after the cows came home.  The trail was churned deep and wide, with plenty of clay to stick to your shoes when it wasn't trying to suck them off your feet.  Throw in the "crooked bridge" crossing that put at least one runner in the creek and you have the makings of a fine trail race.

Back at Hemlock (the start/finish/staging area, 16.6 miles), I changed shoes and socks, re-Glided my toes, put on new moleskin (since the original apparently came off in the muddy, wet, brown blobs formerly known as "socks").  Was a bit chilled and decided to keep my long sleeve shirt, hat, and gloves with me (even though I wasn't wearing them).  Probably spent too long there but needed to fix my feet since it would be my last chance to do so for about 34 more miles.  I could either fix my feet now, or grill them up after the race when they would be indistinguishable from hamburger.  Yeah, that's kinda gross, ain't it?

Headed out of Hemlock looking forward to some upland (=drier) running. Much too tired already for only having done 16.  The next 10 or 12 would be the worst for me psychologically, but probably the fastest block of miles all day at about 10-12 min/mile (I know, smokin', ain't it?).  The Marina was great with the usual super volunteers, but I was distracted.  My time wasn't bad, but I just wasn't quite feeling the love again.  Only 21 miles to this point....long way to go.  I just wanted to keep moving, knowing my lowest spot is usually just south of 30 and then things would get better.

Pushed out of the Marina on to Wolf Run Shoals, where I was under direct orders from Chris Reynolds to eat the ice cream.  I followed orders.  Good orders.  And I don't even have a chipped tooth to show for it.  Dry ice is remarkable stuff, no?  Still struggling a bit, but 26 miles was past the halfway point.  The faint light in the distance was either the end of the tunnel, or the train. 
Left WRS with a slight twinkle in my eye.  Could have been the woman in the black tights and pink top in front of me.  Or maybe a second wind.  Yeah, that's it, a second wind.  Fountainhead was just two miles away, at 28.  Long two miles.  The light was flickering just a bit as I left Fountainhead, though my legs were pretty much back from the dead. Full-on mind/body disconnect.  Fortunately, we have all been here before.  Just keep swimming....

Random item (because for the life of me I can't place where this was): Best sign on the course, as you approached an aid station many miles in: "Captain, the trail is your bitch."

The White Loop was loopy to me.  Wasn't remembering the course description correctly and thought this was the section where no one should be coming at you on the trail.  People were coming at me on the trail.  WTF? But at this point I was once again running with Tom Green, one of the streakers: he's run every BRR, this being his 19th (oh, and a measly 200+ total ultras....).  If he didn't know the way, we were in trouble. Well, I'm writing the race report, so you can figure out the rest.

The entrance to the Do Loop was the turnaround point for me mentally.  I was now past 30 miles (32.5 to be exact).  Or maybe it was the pizza.  Pizza.  Pizza.  Did I mention there was pizza?  Mmm.  Pizza.  Ok, done with that.

The "infamous" Do Loop wasn't so infamous to me.  It went by pretty quickly.  I was shocked when I got back to the "stick" of the lollipop.  Back to the aid station.  The pizza was gone.  I'd done the right thing eating 3 slices on the way in.  Thirty-five miles done, and it was game on.  My spirits were up and I screamed out of there.  Hammered back to Fountainhead and Wolf Run Shoals, where I went for the popsicle instead of the ice cream. Note to self: 5 miles is a long way to carry a freakin' popsicle stick.  Just sayin'....

After WRS, I just had the Marina, then beer....uhh, the finish.  I hammered four miles.  Problem was, the Marina was five miles. I got caught up looking ahead on the trail, thinking "the aid station must be just up there" or "just around this bend."  Not.  It became a game of "Where the f*%$ is that freaking aid f#^&ing station?  Not a good game to play.

By the time I hit the Marina, I'd hit the wall.  My left quad was threatening to join the confederates and secede from the union that was my body.  I knew I would finish--I will ALWAYS finish--but I had been thinking I could break 11 hours and could see that was gone.  Time to recalibrate.  Breaking 12 would be ok, or at least beating my Stone Cat time of 12:32.

So I staggered around the Marina for a couple minutes.  Then I found watermelon.  And (again) the guy making the warm ham and cheese wraps on the grill.  I love you, man.  That was huge.  Stupid--I was just out of fuel.  Knew it would take awhile to recover, so I headed out on a slow walk, hoping (expecting) (determined) to get my groove and flow back.  After about 5 minutes, I started to pick it up.  After 10, I was running.  After about 15, I was groovin' and flowin.'  Some part of me kept wanting to stop and walk, but as I mentally checked myself over, there was just no reason to stop.  All systems go.  I had to keep saying to myself "Why stop when there's nothing wrong?"

I got into a very fun (for me) game in the last 10 or so miles, and especially in the last 5.5 from the Marina to the finish.  I had done lots of hills in training, both running and powerhiking.  Doug Freese, the ultra god I was lucky enough to train with all winter, had said to me "Wait and see how strong you are late in the race."  He knew.  Once I saw someone ahead of me struggling up a hill...they were all mine.  Resistance on their part was futile.  I probably passed 20 people in the last 10 miles, and no one passed me.  Not like I was threatening the course record or anything, but it was great to have some gas left in the tank late.  And the runnable stretches--I was really running.  I actually kept thinking to myself "Look at me, I'm running!"  That was a great accomplishment for me, to run strong to the end and not walk it in.  Cool.

So I hit the tape (ahem) at 11:42, almost an hour faster than Stone Cat last fall.  Many people said BRR is similar to the Cat, but I think the BRR course is much tougher, and the conditions this day were certainly an issue.  Not a blistering pace, but my fastest time yet in three 50 milers (I know, you can't compare courses but we all do).  Biggest thing was that I was strong to the end, and never did I think "I'm never doing this again" as I have in past races. In fact, it was the opposite--I felt strong and like I'd conquered the 50 mile distance.  Now to keep whittling down those times....

Ok, that was way too much about me and not enough about the people that made it happen and the race per se.  The race director, Anstr Davidson and crew were a well-oiled machine and the nicest folks you could be lucky enough to meet.  The volunteers ROCKED as always.  The other runners were, as always, family.  Couldn't ask for a better-marked, easier to follow, sweeter-to-run trail.  Great schwag--nice shirts, a bandana, a pin, simple stuff but really nice and not overdone.  And leading up to the race, running all winter with Doug (11:30, a very slow day for him, he usually rocks it pretty hard) and Jacque Schiffer (9:39--she didn't feel good--imagine if she HAD felt good...).  I also worked with a great exercise physiologist, Dorothy Hamburg (if you live near New Paltz, NY, and want to get stronger and healthier, go see Dorothy), who I subsequently hired as a coach (never had a coach before so this has been fun--and very productive!).  Between all of them, they made me so much stronger and taught me so much.  And there I go talking about me again when what I really wanted to do was talk about them--and say "Thank You" for all your help and encouragement, and "Thank You" to Anstr, VHTRC and all the volunteers who made it possible for me to have such a great day.  And of course to UltraChris, who kept telling me I was gonna rock BRR--and I did, in my own, weird way!

So my first Bull Run Run 50 miler is in the books.  It won't be my last.  What a race.  What a group of people.  What a blast!!!