Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bull Run Run 50 Mile - April 6, 2013

Training?  I Don't Need No Stinking Training!
Jennifer W. and I set out to run Bull Run together.  We last ran a race together at the Black Hills 100K last June, where I dropped out just short of the turn-around and she went on alone to finish the race.

Gandalf, aka Mark Z, at the start
Due to a variety of reasons Jennifer has been a bit short of training this year.  Well, actually way more than a bit short.  Since Black Hills Jennifer has run one 14-mile training run and a couple of 12-mile training runs.  And some shorter runs.  I believe in the "Bare Bones Training Theorem" which holds that if you can run half the distance you can run the entire distance. But we are talking about running three and a half times the distance.  Jennifer is one of - no maybe the - toughest runners that I know, so if anyone can do it, she can.

We carpool to the race together and I tell her that I will stick with her throughout the day.

Championship Three-peat?
Team MCRRC Absolute Zeroes is back in an effort to win the award for the slowest team for the third consecutive year.  Jim D., Larry B., Caroline W. and I make you the team.  We expect a challenge from Team Rocket, put together by (disgruntled?) one-time Absolute Zero Mark Z and consisting of Mark, Jennifer, Mike E. and Stephanie F.  Jennifer and I will cancel each other out, so it will depend on how the rest of both teams perform.  May the slowest team win!

Beautiful Day for a Run
Ken and Jennifer in the bluebells
(courtesy of Aaron Schwartzbard)
The weather is pretty much perfect for the race.  A little cool at the start but a day that warmed up a bit in the afternoon.  Rain earlier in the week had assured that the course would not be dusty, but there was not so much rain that the course was muddy or that the streams were high.  All the stream crossings were navigable without the need to get one's feet wet.

Normal seasonal temperatures also assured that the bluebells were in full bloom when we ran through them.

Fields of Bluebells
Steady as She Goes
Jennifer and I start out slower than I have in my previous four BRRs.  This is partly to give her a chance to settle into a comfortable pace for the day and partly for me to avoid my typical BRR strategy of going out too fast and having a miserable final 12 miles.

Crossing Rocky Run with Jennifer following
(courtesy Mike Bur)
We enjoy our trip through the bluebells.  A runner tells us of a story during a 100-mile race of hallucinating a small girl sitting by the side of the trail.  His wife assures him that there is no child so he goes on.  He credits the training from his U.S. Navy chief for preparing him for such moments.

Too slow?
Our slow strategy works almost too well. Through the first 16 miles and back to the Hemlock aid station (which is also where the race starts and end) we are on a pace well above 12 hours.  It seems to me that leaves little margin for error to make the 13 hour cutoff if we have a tough last section of the course.  On the other hand, if we can stay steady we'll be in good shape.

Jennifer alongside Bull Run
At Hemlock I change my shirt and get rid of my hat.  Mike E. of Team Rocket is there also changing some gear.  Because of the out and back nature of the first part of the course, we have seen the other members of the two teams on the course, with Mark and Stephanie of Team Rocket behind, as is Jim D.  Larry and Caroline are ahead.

Jennifer and I head out on the second, and far hillier part of the BRR course.  With the exception of a few stretches, it is almost entirely uphill or downhill.  None of the climbs or descents are particularly long, but it does start to take its toll.

We settle into a routine.  Jennifer speeds down the descents, and I power walk and catch her on the ascents.  It makes both of us faster overall, as I try to follow her down, and she has to hustle as I overtake her walking the ascents.

Piratical crew at Wolf Run Shoals
(courtesy Anstr Davidson)
As usual, getting to the Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station (mile 26 and 40) is a special treat as it has a special and different theme each year.  This year it was pirates, and I give out a loud "Arr, matey!" to greet the saucy pirate wench checking runners in.

Jennifer and I continue our routine.  Despite having gone more than twice her longest training run by the time we get to the Fountainhead aid station (mile 28) outbound, she is feeling fine.  We keep moving along and are running sections at a pace that, should we be able to keep it up, will allow us to finish under 12 hours.

But I keep reminding both of us, especially me, that this is a run that get determines in the last 12 miles, after leaving the Fountainhead aid station on the way back.  I've got the experience and data to prove it.  My times to there in 2011 and 2012 were within 90 seconds of each other, but it took an hour longer to run the last 12 miles in 2012.

Spiderman at the Do Loop AS
(miles 32 and 35)
In the meantime we enjoy our run through the Do-Loop.  We head in to the loop sucking on frozen ice pops,  run past the pair of slowly decaying cars, spy the crew teams on the water by the Sandy Run Marina and stop to plant a kiss on Hello Kitty.  Since she doesn't have a mouth, she doesn't return the favor.

Every Year the Do Loop Cars Look Worse
Finishing the loop we refuel at the aid station and head back toward Fountainhead.

A Hello Kiss for Hello Kitty in the Do Loop
The Real Race Starts Now
We reach Fountainhead AS (mile 38) in 8:45.  That puts us within striking distance of a 12 hour finish.  There are 12.5 miles to go and we have 195 minutes to do it.  That is a pace of only 15:36 minutes per mile, barely above a moderate walking pace.

On the other hand, we have been going for 38 miles, the hilliest part of the course has to be re-navigated and the day is starting to warm up.

We are definitely slowing down, but we get to the pirates' lair at Wolf Run Shoals in an elapsed time of 9:21.  That means a pace of 15:09 for the last 10.5 miles and we break 12 hours. (In case you are wondering about the arithmetic BRR is 50.4 miles, not 50 miles.  It's like getting almost an extra half mile for free!)

The next five miles to the Marina aid station are tough going.  This part of the course has the steepest hills, one after another, and although we did them outbound, its hotter now and fatigue is setting in.  In addition, I've lost track of how many Succeed! salt tablets I've taken and when the last one was, and I've also started to lose track of my timing for taking gels.  And the miles are starting to take their toll on Jennifer.  We have abandoned our team work of running downhills and walking uphills and are mostly walking.

My tweet as we leave the Marina aid station (mile 44.9) sums up our condition, "Out of Marina at mile 45. Jennifer nauseous. My left knee hurts. But finish awaits in 5.5 miles.  Worst section over."  But I also recognize that our chance for a sub-12 hour finish is pretty much gone.

It's true that the final section is not as bad, but it does involve some careful climbing over rocks that we had little trouble with when we had gone over them just a couple of miles into the race.  Now it is a matter of careful placement of tired feet and legs and using hands to steady oneself. The last long hill away from Bull Run and up to Hemlock Overlook is brutal.  I have to stop a couple of times to gather my strength to go on.

The tables are now turned.  I tell Jennifer that she can go ahead, but she sticks with me and after my insistence that she step across the finish line first, we finish in 12:09.

Who's the Slowest?
Jennifer and I have canceled each other out in the team competition.  But what about the others?  Caroline (11:56) and Larry (11:52) finished under 12 hours.  Since every member of each team must finish under the 13-hour cutoff for the team to qualify, it may come down to who can make the cutoff.  At 12:28, the three remaining members of Team Rocket appear and finish together.  It turns out that Mike E had waited for his teammates just around the corner from the finish in an effort to improve their chances. Jim comes in three minutes later in 12:31.

Oddly, the race director tells us that Absolute Zeroes are going to repeat as slowest team, but may win the oldest team award instead.  That depends on whether 69-year old and 18-time BRR finisher Bill Wandel can make it to the finish line before the clock hits 13 hours. Finally, with just 12 minutes to spare, Bill appears and crosses the finish line for the 19-time to applause from the crowd. That team averaged 66.5 years old (an aggregate 40 years older than the Absolute Zeroes) with a combined 76 BRR finishes amongst them.

Team Absolute Zeroes is announced as the slowest team, and we chant "three-peat" as we collect our blue  blankets.

The next day the race director announces that the scoring was fouled up and that Team Rocket was actually the slowest team.  He tells us to keep our blankets and that the VHTRC will order more blankets for Team Rocket..  We do.

Swag: Two shirts, cup, bib, bottle opener, face towel, handkerchief, 5-year finisher visor
and (undeserved) team champion blanket


  1. Yay, Jennifer & Ken! ... good report! - ^z

  2. Congrats to Team Rocket and to you Mark for getting Stephanie to the finish in under 13 hours.