Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bull Run Run 50 Miler - April 12, 2014

No Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy
The 2014 Bull Run Run promised to be a battle for slowest team between two time champion MCRRC Absolute Zeroes and Team Vilambitagati, successor to last year's defending champion Team Rocket.  But to add to the over- and mis-use of the oft paraphrased version of the quote from von Moltke the Elder, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." If the enemy can be terrain and weather, then BRR would be a testing ground for the aphorism.

At 4:50 a.m., I drive Mark, Barry, and Gayatri, three of the four members of the opposing team out to Hemlock Overlook for the start of the race.  The weather promises to be on the warm side, and with a late winter, the trees have not begun to leaf out.  I decide to start with shorts and a long-sleeve shirt, and change to short sleeves upon the return to Hemlock at mile 16.  I plan to take a Succeed salt/electrolyte capsule every hour and consume a gel every 45 minutes to replace salts lost through sweat and to keep up energy.

After a nice a cappella rendition of the National Anthem, we start promptly at 6:30 a.m.  Fellow Team Zero member Larry and I start off together and chat about the weather, clothing and our chances to reclaim our slowest team title and win yet another championship blanket.  Light showers Friday night have softened parts of the trail and created some small muddy areas, but the streams are not high and footing is good.  Larry trots on ahead.

Deflated Easter Bunny at the Turnaround
Diabolical Sibling Torture
One of the pleasures of trail running is getting to meet and chat with folk you might not otherwise meet.  Since you are going to be out there for hours stories help pass the time of day.

I run awhile with -  let's call her 'Jane' to honor the "what's said on the trail, stays on the trail" rule. She came some distance to the race with some friends but is going to stay a day or two in DC while the friends go home after the race.  Her younger brother is going to pick her up.

I ask if she has been nice to him growing up.  In response, she tells the following story.

When she was 15 and he was about to have his sixth birthday, she told him that on the sixth birthday, boys turn into girls and girls turn into boys.  "I don't wanna be a girl," her brother moaned. "Girls are icky."  She tells him he doesn't have a choice.  And she tells him the girl name she has picked out for him.

The bluebells were late this year
On his birthday he wakes up with trepidation and glances down.  He's still a boy! Bravely he tells her that he didn't believe her.

"You don't turn into a girl when you wake up," she smugly replies. "It happens when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake."

When the time comes and the cake arrives, he breaks into tears. Mom, figuring something isn't quite right, puts an end to the diabolical fun.

[Alternate ending: The brother blew out the candles, turned to 'Jane' and smartly said, "My birthday wish to remain a boy was granted." But he didn't. He was only 6.]

Fooling Around Crossing Pope Creek
(Photo by Bob Fabia)
In the Presence of Giants
On the way back to Hemlock I catch up with BRR legend Tom Green.  He's one of only three men who have finished all 21 previous BRRs.  The week before he had run the Umstead 100 Miler, his second 100 miler of the year.  I tell him that one reason that I don't want to run a 100 is that I don't want to see the sun rise a second time.  He tells me that seeing the sun rise the second time is actually energizing.  He also reveals that he takes a 90 minute nap during the night.  Maybe running a 100 isn't so bad, I start thinking.

Crossing Little Rocky Run
(Photo by Mike Bur)
Tom also tells how during Umstead he was passing a woman runner and her pacer during the night.  "How are you doing," he asks her in greeting.  She bursts into tears, saying that it is her first 100 miler and she is tired and exhausted and doesn't think she can make the 30 hour cutoff.  Tom, who has run over 40 100-milers and numerous 24-hour events, tells that he "pulled out all his motivational tricks" to help her.  He tells her that she is a lap ahead of him (Umstead is eight laps of a 12.5 mile course) and that he is going to make the cutoff, that she only has a lap and half to go, and that running at night is the hardest but with seven hours gone she only has three hours of darkness to go. "I only saw one women DNF later," he says, "and it wasn't her."

Just then we catch up with Tim Stanley, the second of the three finishers of all the BRRs to date.  Tim had tried to withdraw from the race because of a painful medical condition, but the other legends of  the race have persuaded him to come out and at least start.  Tim will go the 16 miles out from Hemlock, through the bluebells (few in bloom because of the late winter) and back to Hemlock before ending his streak at 21 finishes.

Tom tells us that 2014 may be his 100-miler final tour - he has six more planned through the summer. He says that running 24 hour races are becoming more attractive to him - "you can finish them by sitting in a chair the last hour if you wish," he jokes.

Approaching Hemlock the first time.
No running there the second time.
(Photo by James Williams)
Implement the Plan
Back at Hemlock I change my shirt and contemplate whether to switch from my handheld water bottle to the higher capacity backpack, or add a belt with a second water bottle.  Either would assure that I won't run low of fluids as the day is warming up and I drinking a lot but at the cost of being hotter and sweating more from wearing them.  I decide that the remaining aid stations are close enough together, 5 to 5.5 miles are the most, to stick with the handheld only.  A bigger problem is with gels.  Without the backpack I don't have enough pockets to carry all the gel I need to implement my plan.  It isn't optimal but I decide that I will rely on food at the aid stations to make up the difference.

Heading out I grab some bacon and cheese pierogis.  I hold the bacon in front of me and pretend to chase it to the amusement of the spectators.  All goes well to the Marina aid station (mile 21) where volunteers are handing out wash cloths dunked in ice cold water. It feels great on the head and I soak the blue washcloth I brought with me to bring along. Paper cups with bright red maraschino cherries are a nice treat along with salty beef jerky.

The day continues to warm up.  I remember to take a Succeed every hour, but I've messed up the schedule for the gels and can't remember when I took one last.  Finally I set a timer on my watch to remember for me.

Christmas Came Early at Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station
Wolf Run Shoals aid station (mile 26) is Christmas-themed this year.  I ask to meet the naughty elf but am told she is not there.  More wet towels.

In two miles I'm at the Fountainhead aid station and the drill is now familiar.  Get the cold, wet towels, wipe down, refill the water bottle, soak the blue washcloth and head out into the White Loop.  I put the dripping cloth on my head to both cool off and to provide some cover for the head.  Stephanie, the fourth member of Team Vilambitagati passes me looking relaxed.

Approaching Fountainhead outbound.
I didn't look so good on the way back.
 (Photo by Hai Nguyen)

In 4.4 miles I reach the beginning of the Do Loop. Once in the loop one no longer has to see runners headed back toward the finish while still headed out. I comment to a runner running his second BRR after a break of a couple of year about the crew teams we can see on the water.  He tells me about crewing at Villanova and I tell him about daughter Hilary crewing at LaSalle.  Somehow the conversation turns to mortality and he tells me about how he had had a heart attack years before while lying in bed.  The surgeon told him that he survived because his heart was strong from running.  Later I recall that I had met the same runner in almost exactly the same place in 2011 and he told me the same story.

Back to the Do Loop aid station (mile 35) I eye the pizzas but don't feel hungry.  I'm down to one gel but someone points out that a runner had left some extras behind.  The choices are peanut butter or unflavored.  Neither sound good but I take a peanut butter one.  The heat is starting to wear on me.  Not feeling hungry has progressed to vague nausea.

The Mind Quits Before the Body
Slowly fading away in the Do Loop
Plenty of walking gets me back to Fountainhead (mile 38).  This is the point where the race usually gets tough for me, but now I'm already in bad shape.  I sit in a chair and volunteers bring me wet towels.  I'm not at all hungry at the same time I realize that I'm running out of energy.  The aid station captain tells me that I am about 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff time if I want rest.  I sit for 20 minutes thinking whether to quit or to go on.

Mark comes in to the aid station and I decide to go with him and push on to the next aid station 2 miles away.

We go together a bit and then he simply runs away.  I struggle up the hill to the Wolf Run Shoals aid station (mile 40) and flop into a chair. I can barely talk. An elf brings me a cup of coke and refills my bottle.  The workers start to disassemble the decorations in preparation to shutting it down.  Santa comes over to talk to me.  I tell him I'm thinking of quitting. "You can't quit here," he says. "We don't have a cutoff."  I tell him I have a phone and can quit if I want.  Santa insists that I can make it to the Marina aid station 5 miles further along.  He introduces me to other runners who have arrived at the aid station and tells them that I will be going with them.  He tells me that I can finish and that he will be there to greet me.  He puts Succeeds and Tums in my pill case.

It was a hot day . . .
After 8 to 10 minutes of sitting, somehow I get up and move out. A small strand of remembrance that the mind quits before the body might have been the difference.

A bit down the trail I take the Tums and the Succeed.  They are like a miracle drug.  The nausea vanishes.  I can run again.  I try to follow a woman running and I can't keep up with her on the downhills, but I make it up on the flats.  I catch and pass Larry for the second or third time of the day.

Approaching Marina an aid station worker is walking toward me.  He tells me they had been told of a runner who was struggling. "That was me," I reply, "Feel much better now."

A Tradition Like No Other
I reach Marina in 12:13, seventeen minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Tom Green is sitting there getting ready for his final push. I have 1:47 minutes to go the final 5.5 miles.  That's just under 20 minutes a mile, pretty much a walking pace, or it is on a flat surface.  I can run some and do so where the course is flat.  But there is one long climb and progress is slow.  I take out the peanut butter gel and try to force myself to eat it.  A small taste is all I can manage before I squeeze the rest out on the ground and put the empty packet in my pocket.

I move along fairly well.  Tom Green catches me and I use him to set the pace.  Finally we reach the long steep hill that climbs to the finish.  We start to walk up it but I'm running out of strength again and stop to gather some strength. Tom stops.  I resume and have to stop again.  Tom stops to wait but I tell him to go on.  I start again but nausea wells up from my stomach.  I bend over, but stay on my feet.  The second bout of nausea finally discharges my stomach.  I go a few more steps and sit on a log.  I'm terribly tired.  More nausea and finally my stomach is empty.  Larry comes by and offers to wait.  I tell him to go on.  Another runner waits with me.

This is the third time in six BRRs that I have vomited on that hill.  My own little tradition.  After about a minute I feel revived and we walk toward the finish. Rounding the corner that brings the finish in sight the two of us start to run.  I finish in 12:47:06, less than 13 minutes before the 13 hour cutoff for official finishers but good enough to log my sixth consecutive BRR finish, 264th of 272 finishers. Santa, now in civilian clothes, is there to greet me.  With my stomach empty, I enjoy an Orange Crush and a hot dog prepared by the volunteers.

Both MCRRC Absolute Zeroes and Team Vilambitagati were disqualified: for us because Caroline had to drop after 16 miles because of a pre-existing knee injury and Jim finished over the 13 hour cutoff; for them Barry unfortunately missed the Do Loop and was disqualified (read his report) and Gayatri missed a cutoff.

Tom Green not only finished his 22nd BRR, but he was on the winning slowest team. Gary Knipling and Frank Probst became the first 70 year-olds to finish the race, and Frank kept pace with Tom as now the only two runners to have finished all 22 BRRs.
Swag: Shirt, Finishers' Beach Towel,
Winning Side BRR Magnet, Reusable Cup, Bib


  1. great report on a tough day, Ken!

  2. Nice report, and great job on a tough day. Now I know what you were doing all that time I didn't see you.