Ultramarathon

56) Bull Run Run 50 miler, Clifton, VA, Apr 7th 2018

Time: 8:16:34  Place: 10/272 starters 231 finishers

(Photo on left courtesy of Frank Probst)

Bull Run Run 50 miler is one of the big races on the local (Virginia / DC / Maryland) ultra scene, run by the Virginia Happy Trail Running Club. It’s an out and back route along the Bull Run Trail in Virginia and promises an undulating course with no big climbs or descents and plenty of bluebells. Entry has required a lottery in the last few years, though I’ve never been able to fit it into my schedule. For 2018 race day fell the day before the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in DC which I already had an entry for but decided to put my name in the lottery for the BRR50 and see what happened. Result – no lottery required and I had a place!

It was never going to be an A race but would be a good long training run for whatever my goal race turned out to be for 2018, and with a 10 miler the next day would make for a great high mileage back to back weekend.

Preparation

I knew there were no big climbs on the course and expected the trails to be similar to the Rock Creek Park trails that I train on in DC. Which they were.

After the 6 hour race the weekend before, I had a low mileage week in the run up to BRR50, running less than 20 miles over the working week, though that did include a cheeky 5k race on the Friday evening (my speed session for the week), which I ran in 18:43, my fastest time since November 2016.

I knew my legs wouldn’t be fresh for the BRR50 but given the goal was time on my feet and mileage I wasn’t worried about that.

I had planned to camp at the start (free) but decided against it with the winter weather forecast and instead stayed at home to get a good nights sleep in my own bed, before the 4 am alarm.

Race Morning

Breakfast consisted of a PB&J bagel as I was getting ready, then a sticky bun and can of coconut water on the 50 minute drive to the race start. Parking was a short walk from packet pick up and the race start, but there was plenty of it.

I had a banana as I picked up my race number (and hat) then sorted my ‘drop bag’. The nature of the course (a 16 mile lollipop, followed by a 34(ish) mile lollipop, meant the only drop bag location was the aid station at the start finish line, so I loaded my Nathan pack with 50oz of water in a bladder (with Nuun Electrolytes) and two 10oz bottles of Tailwind mix (½ pack in each) and a mushroom rice frittata and banana bread to fuel me through the first part of the race and had more food and extra tailwind to pick up for the second part. It was still dark so I was glad of the head torch, but it wasn’t snowing which was a big plus.

The Race

The race starts with a loop around the parking area to spread the field out. I took this fairly easy to test how my legs were feeling, with the plan to save energy for the second half (a lesson learned the hard way!). After the loop, the route drops down the the river and undulates North to the site of the Battle of Bull Run, looping through a bluebell wood before returning the way you came. It’s a lovely course and mostly runnable though there were several short hills that I decided to walk. I was passing people on this section and mostly running with others. The aid station at mile 8 was a welcome sight and well stocked. I resisted the offer of a Mimosa! And again on the way back through. It was starting to warm up by the time I got to the steep climb (the biggest on the course) that takes you back up to the start/finish line. I dropped my windstopper, warm hat and head torch and picked up a cap, as well as restocking my food, and my second pair of tailwind bottles.

The second part of the course is an out and back with two loops. The aid stations are much closer together on the second part and all well stocked with sweet and savory snacks and plenty of liquid options. The warm pretzels and perogies were particularly welcome! The terrain is similar to the first part, lots of undulations but mostly away from the river. The two loops are very twisty on wooded slopes but all were well signed so I never got lost. Though when I saw palm trees on my way into an aid station I thought I might be.

 

 

Mile 25 to 30 were tough mentally as I could feel the tiredness in my legs, but once I got back to the aid station at mile 32 after completing the second loop, I started to feel better. The pink car at mile 31 had me thinking I was hallucinating. I had caught a few people over the last 15 miles or so but there was a lot of running on my own, which I didn’t mind as the scenery was beautiful.

On the run back to the start I began to catch more people, and whilst my legs were tired I was running at a comfortable pace that I knew I could keep up to the finish line. It was nice to run for a while with different people which helped to while away some of the miles. At the mile 36 aid station, I stopped to refill my tailwind bottles and top up my bladder. That was the longest aid station stop. At all the others I had been grabbing a few things to supplement my supplies, and in the latter part of the course having a few sips of coke.

The climb to the finish line didn’t seem as bad the second time around. I knew there was someone about a minute ahead of me and nobody for several minutes behind me so I didn’t have to push hard. I crossed the line in 8:16:35 which put me in 10th place (I had no idea where I was in the field). There was a great atmosphere at the finish line. After a shower I explored the food options (veg soup or beef chilli, and plenty of homemade cakes). There were adult drinks on offer as well but I resisted those as I had the drive home to think about and recovery for the 10 miler.

Oh and I finished the 10 miler in 1:09:11, several minutes off a PR but not my slowest time. I started at marathon pace and managed a strong finish. My legs felt tired and I had a niggle in my right quad from all the ascent and descent but apart from that I felt ok…

Learning points

I was very happy with my time and I was surprised by how much ascent (6,000ft) and descent there was on the course which meant it was hard to get into a rhythm. I could have gone quicker on fresh legs but this is definitely a course and race atmosphere to enjoy.

Cheese and mushroom fritatta and banana bread worked well as race fuel but the odd Oreo cookie and peanut M&M was a nice treat!

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