Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bull Run 50 Miler - Race Report!

"OK, let's see if I can't fake a 50!"

These are the words I said to myself as I walked to the starting line of the Bull Run 50 in the pre-dawn darkness on Saturday morning. I knew my body was seriously under-trained and still struggling to regain its normal energy/breathing levels after fighting through the longest respiratory cold in the history of phlegm. I knew the only way I wouldn't embarrass myself is if I made sure to focus on the things I could control (fuel, pace, snot-rocket trajectory, etc.), and then hope the 5 days off from running leading into the race did something to help my energy levels return. Also important to note: Bull Run is only a 50 miler, not a 100+. This means after the first step of the race, my brain begins telling me, "Only 40-something miles to go...". Good thing I'm dumb enough to buy into "glass half-full" stuff like this when I'm running.

The starting much talent from all corners of the Ultra world!     Robert Fabia Photo
...and we're off!    Robert Fabia Photo
In retrospect, it was probably not a good sign to be straining on the first mini-hill of the day!  Robert Fabia Photo
The race started off easy enough just after sunrise. I made sure I was close enough to the front during the opening 1/3 mile loop through the parking area to avoid any log-jams when the 344 of us hit the tight and twisting single-track (which makes up about 99% of the course). Even though the weather was perfect for running (cloudy, 40s to low 50s), the previous day's rain made more than a few sections of the course a slick and muddy mess. Lucky for us, the rains also turned a few of the river crossings into "knee deep" affairs, so we had a couple chances to "rinse off" while running through them as well. As for running in these conditions, I've said it before, not as a shameless plug but as an honest reality: Thank God for Drymax socks! Their Max Pro trails are the greatest. Even with my under-trained feet, I finished the race blister-free, yet again.

A few of the concrete cylinders were still semi-useful in the high water!   Robert Fabia Photo
Others were just slippery ramps into the river.  Robert Fabia Photo
 As the early miles rolled on, I warmed up on the flats and cruised up the first couple hills in a loose pack with Keith Knipling, Brad Hinton, and a couple others. Quite honestly, I was just happy to have made it to the first aid station at mile 7.2 without needing to lean on a tree and wheeze away like an accordion while catching my breath (as has been the case any time I've tried to even shuffle that far in the past couple weeks). While the others stopped for quick refills at the aid station, I cruised through and headed up river on my own. Since I train on the BR50 course so much, I knew precisely how to plan out my fuel stops to minimize delays during the race. I started the race carrying all the fuel I needed in my Camelbak (full bladder with 5 gels mixed in, and a 5-gel flask for each of my two refill stops). I just needed to stop two times (mile 21 and mile 35) to refill with water and mix in a gel flask. I spent no more than 60 seconds at each of these aid stops, and I can't imagine saving any more time even if I had a crew out there. The excellent team of volunteers are to be thanked for this (Thank you Tammy!).

It was a little sloppy out there, but who was I to complain, I couldn't run fast anyway!  Desiree Williams Photo
As I neared the northern turn-around (mile 9.4) I saw that Matt Woods and David Frazier were having no trouble with the mud as it appeared their feet weren't even touching the ground as they ran. A handful of other great runners were already a few minutes back from those speedsters, and when I hit the turn-around cone myself, I realized I was in 8th place. Since I figured I was already running on borrowed time,  there was absolutely no "race" in my legs/mind, I just wanted to settle into some sort of groove and survive the day without having to take a nap along the trail.

Reality caught up to me shortly after passing through the mile 11.6 aid station. This is where runners climb back up/down the first couple hills they traversed to start the race before continuing on with the southern part of the course (which has dozens of hills itself). Since I've run these couple hills on the northern part of the course roughly 47,000 times in the past few years of training out there, I knew I was in real trouble when about 1/2 way up the very first one my lungs pulled the emergency brake and I was forced to walk. I believe the exact words I said matter-of-factly to myself, bad grammar and all, were: "Well, this ain't no good!"

No wonder running uphill was so hard, my GIANT head must weigh 50 lbs. Thanks fish-bowl lense!  Bobby Gill Photo
With about 37 miles to go, and my ability to run up the big hills already gone (I just want to point out how ridiculous this fact is was only mile 13!), I looked back into my bag of tricks to figure out a way to survive the day. Time to focus on controlling the things I could control. With the overcast and cool weather, I knew my fuel plan was spot-on. I had my ipod waiting in my pack to deploy as needed later in the race (I found out later on that the music also blocked out my wheezing and gasping as I climbed up the hills, and the lessened awareness I had that I was struggling had a wonderfully positive affect on my mindset). I also had a couple caffeine bombs (Roctanes) to drop as needed in the 2nd half.

All of those treats were nice pick-me-ups to have handy, but they wouldn't mean much if I didn't figure out a way to make up for the lost time from walking all the hills. Lucky for me, I have two things that I figured could make up for the problem: 1) Really long legs, and 2) A complete fearlessness of running downhill like my Camelbak is on fire. Normally I run quick-but-controlled while going downhill, like most of us do, but I needed to throw a little caution to the wind on this day to make up for the lost time on the climbs. Why not let gravity do the work for me, right? I opened up the fly-wheel on pretty much all the downhills and ran some of them thisclose to reckless pace. I would never do that in a 100+ mile mountain race since it would trash my quads pretty quickly, but this was only a 50, so I just embraced the fun!

As it turned out, the downhills were a total life-(and time)saver all day long, and even though I felt wiped out so early in the race, not struggling to run up the hills kept me from ever reaching a level of true suffering. I'll take "wiped-out" over "full-on suffering" any day!  A nice distraction I also had for the final 25 miles or so was chatting (and playing leap-frog with) Jim Blandford from PA. James was annihilating his course PR by over an hour out there, and it was a treat to watch him do it for all those miles. Just when I thought he was fading behind me, he'd come storming back to jump in front of me. We cruised in the last few miles together, and I figured he deserved the extra spot on the finishers list so I stepped back at the last second to give him the clear 7th place finish. Awesome run, Jim!!
Crossing the line with Jim shaking RD Anstr Davidson's hand in front of me.  Robert Fabia Photo
The race was such a departure from my normal "even pace" plan, but the end result was an average of 8:35/min miles and a 7 hour 15 minute finishing time which was good enough for 8th place. I'm more than happy with how it all worked out in the end. I'm looking forward to having my energy-level and lung capacity return to normal over the next couple weeks so I can get back to some real training and put in an honest effort at the Massanutten 100 in May. One thing is for sure, with fellow MMT100 entrants Neal Gorman and David Frazier both obviously in great shape (tied for 2nd at Bull Run in 6:44), it'll be fun to see them mix it up with the rest of the loaded field over those 100 miles of rocky fun on next month!

Finally, BIG congrats go out to the winners of this 19th edition of the Bull Run 50 miler: Matt Woods broke the course record by one minute (!!) in 6:08, and super-talented Annette Bednosky came up from NC to take the women's race in 7:39. Just as big of a congratulations goes out to my friend Andy Gingrich who went from volunteering at this race last year (having never run more than 13 miles) to racing in it this year and scorching the course in 8:39! Awesome job!
David Frazier (2nd-tie, 6:44), Matt Woods (1st, 6:08 CR), Neal Gorman (2nd-tie, 6:44)  Robert Fabia Photo

Annette hammers it all the way to the finish for the win!   Robert Fabia Photo
The finish line gathering was full of great folks for me to catch up with (24-Hour teammate Anna Piskorska was a surprise treat to see out there) and meet for the first time (Neal Gorman, Annette, Howard Nippert), and as always, the VHTRC crew of organizers and volunteers were beyond top-notch. RD Anstr Davidson did yet another stellar job through-and-through, and I hope he and all the hard workers on this event are enjoying a nice relaxing day off today! Congratulations to all!


Amelia said...

"Ran" my own race today: finished a 10K 8475th out of 8491. Can you believe they got that many runners to show up? Anyway, the belt you recommended for me to get was a lifesaver. THANK YOU! And CONGRATULATIONS on your awesome effort over 50 miles. As always, I am truly impressed.

nmp said...

7:15....not bad for how you felt! Looks like MMT should be a good one up front.

I have a question for you on the drymax trail ultimate protection socks - are these as warm as the regular trail socks? I find the regular trail socks (greyish ones) to be too hot except for in the winter. Don't have this problem with the regular ultimate protections though so was wondering what the trail versions are like. Thanks.

Dan Rose said...

Amelia, seeing as how you're 5 months pregnant and still beat a bunch of people, did you trash talk any of them when you passed by? or were they all just following the Pace Group Leader holding the "6+ months pregnant" sign?

Nick, the max pro trails are definitely not a 'cool' sock for hot weather running. If you're looking for a cooler option but still want that level of protection, wearing the regular Max Pros will be much cooler (they'll just cease to be white after a 100 mile dirt run). The max pro trails are warmer because they have a tighter weave (with no toe vent) to keep 100% of the dirt out. They also go higher up on your ankle to keep debris from sneaking in by your achillies.

Runner Tammy said...


It was so great to see you even just briefly along the Bull Run Run Course at the Marina Aid Station! You were moving so smoothly and quickly.

I am so proud of you and know this is the start of a REALLY great running season with lots of success and super speedy times.

nmp said...

Thanks for the info. I'll take dirty socks over hot feet so will stick with the regular drymax protection socks.

Drymax Sports said...

Dan, Congrats on your race! Great to read such a great report about another amazing experience!


Ric Munoz said...

Thank you for yet another richly detailed report, Dan -- yours are the absolute best. You not only fill in your fans about your own race, but you spotlight your fellow runners almost as well as you describe your own race. Why can't all race reports be just like yours? Congratulations on a great finish, especially considering your less-than-100% physical state!

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

So great to stubble on your race report. I saw you out there (thanks to the out-and-backs). I would not have guessed you were having trouble at the time, you looked strong and upbeat when I say you. Thanks for sharing the view from the front of the back with this middle of the pack first 50 miler trail runner.

Dan Rose said...

Thanks Bob & Ric!

...and a big congrats on your first 50, Shelly!! You sure had to earn it on that sloppy track!

Chris Roman said...

Way to hammer through as usual with amazing mental fortitude, you are the man :)))

Anonymous said...

Haha, sorry about the shot with the huge head! My wide angle lens has a tendency to do that... yet I still continue to use it (and laugh at the resulting pics). Great race out there. A 7:15 is a damn fine time to lead you into MMT. See you there, wide angle lens and all!


Dan Rose said...

Bobby - No worries, wide-angle lense or not, I'm a goofy-looking dude anyway. You've got nothing but my thanks and respect for all the awesome work you do to give us all great race memories when you're not out there running killer races yourself. Thank you!!