The Bull Run Run is a 50 mile ultramarathon held in April. Beautiful, lush green forest and locally famous Bluebells are newly emerged for spring time. The run on the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail in Northern Virginia is tough. The race is unique and has a Civil War theme that respects the battles that occurred over 150 years ago. Runners choose a side to run on when registering online for the race. You may choose to run for either the North or the South, which makes competing against a friend or spouse extra fun because the side who has the fastest combined finish times wins a special prize. The course is a long out and back with a few loops. The “Do Loop” is the hardest section. Overall, the race is a challenge, but many have finished it. The race is chill and fun. I loved chatting it up with the volunteers at the aid stations, I know I spent too much time doing that. I even saw someone I knew from Badwater Cape Fear!
A few enjoyable short stories and memories from my day, they may even inform you on what to expect if you decide to participate in this event in future:
• I’m always looking for a challenge, maybe I’m looking more for that feeling in your body that you can’t go on any longer. I’ve trained for other races on about 70% of the Bull Run-Occoquan trails (so there’s familiarity), but only running 16-24 miles at a time. When I saw this race, I knew it would challenge me because the course is rolling hills and I would be running these hills for further than 24 miles, ouch. The Do Loop was especially bad with the steep, but fortunately short, hills that came one after the other. It was ONLY a 2.5 mile loop, but felt never ending. At the end of the loop there was a little white sign posted in the ground reading, “Congratulations, you completed the ‘Do Loop!'” *accomplished* Darn “Do Loop.”
• At one point, I was all alone, no one in sight (I actually love this about ultramarathons. The field can get spread out and you’re left with your own thoughts, which are usually battles). I finished climbing up another hill, there was a pretty view off the cliff to a stream below. I slightly heard the stream, but next I heard a loud crack, as if lightening struck something nearby. Then more rapid cracking, changed to crumbling. I realized it was a tree as I was regaining some breath lost from the climb. I didn’t know right away which tree was falling, I became scared, so I immediately started running and looking behind me. When I spotted which old tree it was, I stopped and watched it finish as it struck other trees. I’ve never seen a tree fall before. In a way, it made me feel sad because its life ended, though I suppose it would still be home to many critters and insects as it would lay on the forest floor.
• A few runners dropped out of the race around mile 25-35. Perhaps it was because of the loops? That darn “Do Loop” made me lose my sense of direction. Anyways, I walked and chatted for about 10 mins with a man, his name was Rick (founder of D.C. Capital Striders Running Club), who unluckily sprained his ankle a few weeks prior to the race and decided to give the race a go. As he slowed, I think he decided to drop and save it for another day. It was nice meeting him. I enjoy meeting new people and hearing a snippet of their story. The people in the trail and ultra community are inspiring and badass.
• Little did I know, until around the halfway mark, my husband, Stephen (who was racing) was waiting for me at an aid station. He was waiting for me to come by to tell me that he was contemplating dropping out. I was feeling great (at the moment) and came springing around the trail bend and smiling. I was surprised when I saw him and was like, “I caught up to you!” He is a much faster runner, having many years of experience over mine. He was distraught and explained watching his GPS watch over the miles. His average pace per mile kept dropping and dropping. Our watches lost a few miles over the course, especially in the “Do Loop.” There was no connection. I looked at Stephen, he was beat up and sad. I exclaimed that he was fine and not going to drop. “Do what I do,” were my exact words as I motivated him to continue to follow me down the trail. I took his mind off the things that went awry by being a Chatty Cathy and made him continue. He was fine. At the next aid station, I greeted and chatted too much again with volunteers that I previously chatted with. I had Stephen take a fun picture of me with a skeleton, I love creepy things. We inquired about the mile marker and were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were 3 miles closer to being finished than we thought! We all severely struggle, one way or another, my time was quickly approaching and Stephen would have to motivate me to move faster.
• I wore a smile for 40-45 miles, having a lot of fun along the way (unusually talkative), but I was running on a recovering Achilles injury. As soon as my legs and feet began to hurt and wear from running, I snapped into “survival and get to the finish line” mode. The fun was over and I was concerned that I would compensate too much and aggravate my Achilles. Stephen pushed me to move faster, even if we were power walking. Everything hurt. A handful of runners around us were on the same struggle bus. We wondered how close to the finish line cut off time we would be. The SUPER COOL thing about being “back of the pack” this race was that we watched Gary, who was 73 years old finish!! I want to still be doing this at his age! All ended well, the day was a blast, and my Achilles was uninjured. Stephen and I both ran for team north (he was no fun when registering us for the race, not pitting us against each other), which had the fastest finishes, so we each got a sweet little prize!
I love the stories and memories that come out of ultra running. Here is the link to the race results and big accomplishments of the day, including Gary’s finish.