Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bull Run Run 50 Mile - April 14, 2012

Twitter enables one to say what one is doing in 160 characters or less and do it from one's mobile device. And with some additional applications, such as Twitpic, one can send pictures with descriptions to one's followers. If you are a slow runner like me, one can use one's mobile to keep one's Twitter followers appraised of what one is doing during a race in real time.

Of course, the downside to Twitter is that one is limited to 160 characters per message.  That's often good enough for most messages, but for race reports, it is extremely limiting.  Since I tweeted during Bull Run this year, I've decided to use this blog entry to expand my tweets from Bull Run Run.   This is the story behind the tweets, which are bolded below.

6:30 a.m - "37 degrees as Bull Run 50 begins."
It's a bit cool at the start, but the forecast calls for the temperature to climb over 70 by the afternoon.  I decide to start with two long sleeve shirts, a buff pulled up like a Balaclava, but with shorts.  Not ten minutes into the run I shed one of the shirts and tie it around my waist.  I take the gloves off.

Photo courtesy of Bobby Gill
Unlike 2011, the week has been dry and the creeks are low and crossings involve no water.  There are no muddy spots on the course.  The weather feels fine and I get through the Centreville Road Aid Station (mile 5.5) in 1:30, 4-5 minutes faster than my 2010 and 2011 BRRs, although I don't know that at the time.

8:26 a.m. - "Thru turnaround at 7.7."
I cruise through the turnaround 2.2 miles beyond the aid station.  For some reason it feels a bit cool and I put my back on gloves on.

There is an large inflatable gorilla at the turnaround and I stop to playfully punch it in the nose. "Rumble in the jungle," I joke to the turn around volunteers.

8:49 a.m. - "Just a few bluebells this year" (with pic)
Just beyond the turnaround I stop to photograph a field of bluebells.  The unseasonably warm winter and spring has got them to flower a week or two early and there are many fewer in bloom this year than in years past.

Just a few bluebells this year.
After taking the photo I cruise along feeling pretty good except for some chafing on the left side of my chest.  I have some balm with me and rub it on, and get a band aid when I return to the Hemlock Aid Station at mile 11.6.  It helps.

At one point I slow down to offer pro bono legal advice.  Some runners coming along are discussing the receipt of a summons for reckless driving in Virginia.  "Consult a lawyer," I advise, "that's a criminal offense."  Unfortunately, the person had already sent in the citation (on the advice of the charging police officer!) in hopes that the Commonwealth attorney would likely reduce the charges to a lesser traffic violation.

10:04 a.m. - "Athru Hemlock 16.6. Change shirt."
Back to the start/finish area at the Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, I go to my drop bag, change the long sleeve shirt for a short sleeved one and ditch the gloves, buff and the two long sleeved shirts.  I realize that I had forgotten to put my pace card in my pocket, and I unsuccessfully rummage around for it.  I replace a goo pack or two.  I tape my heel which is feeling a bit rubbed and I want to ward off a blister.  I don't realize it, partly because I don't have my pace card,  but I'm now 13 minutes ahead of my PR for the course.

The weather is warming up and I'm trying to manage any risk of dehydration by taking Succeed! tablets every 90 minutes or so.  The salt and potassium are designed to help one retain fluids and avoid cramps.

11:03 a.m. - "Thru Marina,AS mile 22ish?"
I continue to make fine progress and chat with runners as I go along.  I've got a few jokes that I recall and I try them out on various folks as we go along.  Most of them are groaners and a couple of them are from the NPR Science Friday Annual joke show, which occasionally require explanations, thereby not making them funny.

11:05 a.m. - "On the trail as gunfire sounds from the range" (with pic)
BRR course past the Marina AS
I decide that my vast audience of 19 followers on Twitter deserve a picture of the trail, so I stop and take one.  I cannot bring them (but might have had I made a video clip) the sound of sustained gunfire at a shooting range on the other side of Bull Run.

I fall into running with Tom F.  It is his first Bull Run and second 50-miler.  We chat as we go along and after a while I ask him to take a picture of me.  He agrees, we make it an action, i.e., running picture, and I promptly tweet it.

11:30 a.m. "Ken runs at Bull Run" (with pic)
Running at Bull Run Run
In about a half hour we arrive at the Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station.  This aid station is always a hit for the runners as every year the volunteers select a theme for the station and dress accordingly.  This year they have selected a Gone with the Wind theme, and runners are served by Rhett, Scarlett and the rest of the characters from the 1939 movie.  They have signs leading to the aid station with quotes from the movie, such as "I'm very drunk. I intend on getting drunker before this evening's over" (an intention that many runners probably shared) and "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." (likely a warning to complaining runners not to waste their breath).

12:10 p.m. - "Thru Wolf Run at mile 26 . ITS hot out here"
The heat is starting to bother me.  Tom and I continue together.  It is only two miles to the next aid station at Fountainhead, but it is mostly up and downhill.

At the aid station I get a slice of plain pizza, and we head out into the two miles of the white loop, then on the trail passed the archery range signs warning about entry, and get to the aid station at the entry to the approximately three mile long "do-loop."

1:43 p.m. - "Into do loop at 32.5 miles"
Partway through the loop Tom asks me to take his picture and I oblige.  I take two and he provides me with his email address so that I can send them to him.  About three quarters of the way through the wooded loop we hear a rustling to our right.  We look in that direction and galloping down a slope on the other side of a swale is a herd of about seven deer, headed directly toward us.  We lose sight of them in the swale and as the leaders emerge up the slope of our side about twenty yards away the two leading deer see us and turn left.  The remainder follow them, saving us from the risk of being trampled.  (I am aware of at least two deer-runner collisions, both of which required hospital visits.)

2:31 p.m. - "Do loop out at 35 miles. Low on GUs."
I'm starting to feel tired.  My time has been slowing down, and it turns out that I take four minutes more to get through the do loop this year compared to last year.  I've been taking GUs and Succeeds! but it is starting be be a struggle.

3:14 p.m. - "Thru Fountainhead AS at mile 38. Feeling tired. Moving forward. No surrender."
The "No surrender" remark is meant mostly as a reminder to me.  Truth is, I'm feeling exhausted.  Tom has run out of the aid station, and I cannot do much more than walk.  (He finishes his first BRR in 12:00.)  There is a short section alongside a feeder creek to Bull Run that I'm able to force myself to run, but that is about all.  The last uphill to the aid station is exhausting. It takes me 40 minutes to go the next two miles back to Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station, nine minutes longer than in either of the previous two years.

3:54 p.m. - "Wolf Run AS at 39 9. In dark place mentally. Sitting tor 5 minutes."
When I arrive at the aid station I need a break.  I sit down in a folding camp chair and set my watch's timer for five minutes.  I've never sat at an aid station before other than to change shoes or clothing, but I've got to find a way to regroup, both physically and mentally.  An aid station worker brings me a cup of ice water.  My head has been feeling odd - faint, perhaps? altered state of consciousness? - but no hallucinations.

The watch timer goes off.  I get up.  I feel better.  I get an ice cream sandwich from one of the workers - another specialty of the Wolf Run aid station - and head out.  I even start to run a bit.

4:11 p.m. - "Ice cream sandwich plus sitdown and I'm BACK. THE BAD PATCH has passed. Wont be fast but feeling much better."
Only 17 minutes after tweeting about being in a 'dark place' I feel like I've recovered.  Still lots of walking, but I'm also running sections as well.

The recovery lasts for about ten minutes and fizzles out entirely.  The best I can do is walk.  And while I can usually walk at a brisk pace, I cannot do that now.  I just plod onward.  My spirits are temporarily lifted when I spot what I think is a eagle in flight, but I cannot even translate that into faster forward motion.

Finally I arrive at the Marina aid station, 5.5 from the finish.  I sit down on a bench while a volunteer brings me a cold wet towel that I place over the back of my neck.  I note that my finger tips are swollen.  Is that from too much salt as I've taken six Succeeds! by then, and additional salt in Gatorade and GUs, or is it from dehydration, and I should take more water and less salt now?  I don't know, but I decide that I've had enough Succeeds! for the day.

Caroline W. a member of our MCRRC Absolute Zeros team comes into the aid station and urges me to come along with her.  But I'm still sitting and tell her to go along without me.

5:28 p.m. - "Last 5.5 miles underway. Death march."
That tweet summed it up.  I knew I could finish. But not much more than that.

About a mile or two along I hear a familiar voice behind me.  It's Caroline.  She had apparently stopped to us a Porta-potty by the soccer fields that the course winds through and I had gotten ahead of her.

6:09 p.m. - "Vomit gatorade with 3.5 miles left. Walking with Caroline W. We will finish."
Caroline W. admires Bull Run around mile 48
The vomiting settles my stomach.  I don't feel particularly better but with Caroline leading the way, we actually do some running.  At one point along Bull Run I ask her to stop and pose for a picture.

We press on, go walk up the final hill, and get to the finish line in 12:34.  It took me 49 minutes longer to do the last 10.5 miles this year compared to 2011 and 55 minutes more than in 2010.  And I was a full hour slower than in 2011.  But I was faster than in 2009, another hot year at Bull Run that involved vomiting.

7:23 p.m. - "Finished in about 13:34 [sic]. Brutal."
I find Absolute Zeros teammate Larry B. He finished in 12:03 and has already showered and changed.  We are waiting for the fourth member of the team Jim D., to finish to see if we have successfully defended our title as Slowest team.

MCRRC Absolute Zeros
(Caroline W. absent from picture)
As the clock ticks toward 13:00, Larry is becoming anxious.  In order for our team not to be disqualified, Jim must be an official finisher under 13:00.  12:50 passes, then 12:55.  We don't see Jim approaching the finish line..  But then there's a voice behind us, and it's Jim.  He had finished in 12:40, but neither Larry nor I had seen him.

7:39 p.m. - Absolute Zeros repeat as slowest team!
As the clock hits 13:00 we go to the scorers table and they confirm that we are once again the slowest team in the race.  We gratefully accept our team champion blankets and plan to return next year to attempt a three-peat.

BRR swag - tee shirt, hoodie, glass,
and team championship blanket


  1. hmmm, technically it's 140 character upper bound on Twitter (SMS text messages can be up to 160 but Twitter truncates) ...

  2. Great report Ken. Way to hang tough and finish. I was part of MCRRC Superconductors this year. Only 3 of us finish. I am not sure what happened to our 4th member.

  3. Great report. We all figured that was a tough day in the heat, and this confirms it. It also tells me that meeting my goal of doing BRR some day would require some big-time training!

    1. Excuse me Mr. Ruthenium-level Marathon Maniac:
      You ran three marathons in three states in eight days this year. Isn't that "big time" training?