This was my second time running Bull Run after running it for the first time 2 years ago. I didn’t specifically train for it or taper very much with the main focus on UTMB this year. But my mileage was solid, and I felt fit going into it. It was also supposed to be a fantastic day with perfect weather. The only concern was that I got food poisoning Thursday night, and my stomach wasn’t all the way back. I guess I was starting with a clean slate? Not exactly comforting going into a 50 miler, but what can you do!
We started off in the early dawn at 6:30am in very brisk weather with temps close to freezing. I settled in around 20 places back and walked the line between not going too fast while trying to generate enough heat to warm up my skinny self. I fell in with Eric and Keith, and we were rolling along nice and easy. The sun started to come up, and the bluebells were fantastic this year and in full bloom. Life was good!
We hit the turnaround before I knew it. They cut off the last mile or so since the river had flooded with the recent rains, and we would do the white loop twice later to make up for the distance. I was feeling really strong and was surprised to realize we were already back at Hemlock! 15 miles down right on pace (2h12min), and I felt great.
I blew through the aid station since I was wearing my pack, and I pulled away and was running solo for the next stretch. The trail gets hillier here, but I was cruising along and keeping up a good pace. Shortly after the marina aid station though I start to not feel so hot. It felt like something was off, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. This was basically a repeat of 2 years ago, but I decided to slow down sooner to pull myself together rather than wait until it got worse.
I mixed in more walking on the hills and tried to get under control, but I was getting worse and not better. I tried more food but that didn’t work. Tried a salt pill but that seemed only to make things worse. I was getting passed a lot through this stretch and came into Fountainhead with around a marathon down not feeling good. It then dawned on me that I had only had about 10 ounces of water and a few sips of Coke over 4 hours of running, and it was also starting to get a lot warmer. Yup, that’s probably it. I filled up one bottle with ginger ale and one with water and set to work on rehydrating.
I slowed down even more on the white loop but really tried to get in fluids. After the white loop I slowly started to feel better as I worked towards the Do Loop. Then Eric came up behind me just as I had started turning the corner and feeling a bit better. His rock solid pace and company was just what I needed! I got my ass back in gear and locked back into a steady pace. I’d drained my bottles and planned to stop at the Do Loop aid station to refuel and top up to get 100% of the way back.
Eric was giving me some great advice on UTMB (he finished a few years ago), and soon enough we were at the aid station. I had some watermelon and soda, topped everything up, and I was ready to start hitting it again! We had a really solid Do Loop, and before I knew it we were back at the aid station.
As we headed back to the White Loop, I started to feel good. I mean REALLY GOOD. My energy was 100% back, and my legs felt almost fresh since I’d been running slower for 10 miles. It was game on, and I kicked into a new gear feeling awesome.
I checked my watch and saw we were 5h16min in with a bit over 16 miles to go. I started doing the math and realized I was back in good shape to break my 8h27min time from 2 years ago. In the back of my mind, I was wondering if I could possibly get under 8 still, which was my A+ goal. It seemed like a big reach but maybe doable?
I hauled back to the white trail and hit it at 5h42min. My outgoing split on the white trail was 21 minutes, but I was moving really well and charging the hills through this section. At the end of the loop I started passing people and picking up the places I had lost earlier. I rolled into Fountainhead just under 6 hours. 2 hours was an aggressive closing split for the last 12 miles of the 50K held on this course in December. It would be fiercely tough to do that at the end of a 50, but I resolved to try!
I took the time to fuel up well and took off a man on a mission. Over the first 3-4 miles I was passing lots of people, and my splits were fantastic. I was banking time for sub 8, and it was looking doable.
Things started getting a bit rougher coming into the Marina aid, but I was at least holding time.
I did a last quick refuel and hustled through Marina. From here it would be a 5.5 mile grind to the finish, and I think I had 55 minutes or so. My stomach was not fantastic and energy levels were low, but I had enough in the tank to grind it out. I was fighting for each mile and working super hard on the hills through this section.
At 2-3 miles out, I knew I could get sub 8 as long as I avoided falling into the river to running straight into a tree. Both of these were not a given in my current state though, so I tried to stay on task. I got to the last mile marker on the trail and .5 miles later turned up the last big climb back to the finish.
I chugged up the hill and towards the top my hamstring started seizing up. I tried my best to avoid collapsing and finishing on hands and knees, and I turned the corner to see the clock at 7:57. I kicked it in (quite possibly a generous term here) and finish in 7:57 and 14th place.
Unfortunately I was faster than expected and parking was tougher than expected, so I missed seeing the family when I crossed the finish line. But they arrived soon after, and we had a great time hanging out. Liam was a huge fan of cheering and would stop anything he was doing and cheer super loudly for every runner. Liam and Connor also ate everything in sight and were really enjoying the finish line picnic atmosphere.
I was really excited to run sub 8 and 30 minutes faster than 2 years ago even without a perfect race or focusing specifically on this one. It gave me a huge confidence boost in UTMB training. Clearly the base building is going well, and now it is time to start the serious climbing!
I really love Bull Run and really appreciate the efforts of everyone involved with it. I’m hoping to make this one an annual tradition and be back many times.