Thursday, April 15, 2010

Run Like a Bull

Wanting to get in a few races before the trail season kicked off in New England I headed to Virginia to partake in the Bull Run 50 mile race. Having heard great things about this race I was eager to try it, especially since I missed it last year due to injury and illness.

On race morning Inov-8 teammate Amy Lane and I found our way into the starting pack as the race director gave last minute instruction. We had planned on running the first half of the race together and then parting ways. Before the signal to start I looked down at my Roclite 320’s and was happy with my shoe selection (this day would only be my third day on trails since last season so I wanted a more supportive shoe with some cushion). Amy and I both knew the course was a double out and back with a loop on the end of the second out and back and had heard we should push the pace a little at the start so not to get caught behind slower runners on the first single track section. Fortunately the field quickly sorted itself out and I looked to find my stride. As we headed into the single track I let Amy lead the way and set the pace. We settled into a nice conversational pace and took note of who seemed to be lingering behind us. We were running one and two for females. Before I knew it we ran up a set of stairs and arrived at the first aid station which was around mile 7. I easily spotted our crewman Jason as he was rigging a cowbell and cheering. Not really thinking I attempted to run by the aid station and continue on with the race, fortunately volunteers noticed me and sent me back down the stairs and back on the correct trail. Again Amy did a great job of guiding the way and maintaining control of the pace. I know that I was smiling on the inside and outside as I was surrounded by blue bells, birds chirping and ultrarunners. Once we made it to the first turn around Amy and I now could get a glimpse at where we stood in relation to others. About a mile later I passed Amy so to take a turn in front. In retrospect I think that when I saw nothing but open trail in front of me my legs took over.

Once I realized what was happening Amy and I were no longer together. I was now alone with no one within eyesight in either direction. I hit the aid station at mile 11 and was eager to see my crewman at mile 16, which was also the start/finish area. I continued to run a consistent pace on whatever terrain I found myself on. As I came into the aid station I was overwhelmed with the amount of spectators and volunteers. I didn’t see Jason so assumed he might be further down the road where I could easily locate him so to swap out bottles and grab gu. Within a minute it dawned on me that he wasn’t there and that I was now going to have to deal with my decision not to stop and fill up with water. My legs still felt good and I was very focused on getting to the next aid station so to get some water. I tried to stay mentally calm as my nutrition plan was now in jeopardy. Now I wouldn’t see Jason till mile 28 which meant that I would be very short on gu and would just be drinking water. I managed to get to the next aid station and filled my bottle and took survey of the offerings. No gu and a million and one things that I wouldn’t eat because I am a picky eater. I grabbed a few grapes and a strawberry, ultimately not a good choice for my stomach or for a significant amount of calories. As I plugged away I made a mental list of things I would ask Jason for at once I got to him. When I saw him I grabbed a fresh bottle, gu and continued on my way. Within moments I realized that I hadn’t asked him for the other things I wanted, the number one thing being S-Caps. Still by myself I tried to remain focused on following the blue ribbons. I feared that at this point if I wondered far off course mentally I wouldn’t be able to regain composure.

It would be another ten miles before Jason and I were scheduled to connect again. I started to drink and within minutes found the drink coming right back up. After throwing up I knew that I need some calories, I was thirty plus miles in. I opened a gu and filled my mouth. Now what? It was just all sitting in my mouth and I couldn’t seem to get it to go down. It took some time, but it went down. My stomach felt empty. My legs still felt good but I knew the lack of calories was going to take its toll on me. Finally I had some male runners in sight. I slowly closed the gap and just stayed close enough so to follow them during the “do loop”. This portion of the course was the most difficult to follow as there was no obvious trail, just blue ribbons to follow through a forest of fallen leaves. Within a few miles I passed one of the runners and continued to keep the other male in my sights. As we pulled closer to the next aid station I passed him as well and then went to find my crewman Jason. I spotted Jason’s smiling face and he went to hand me a bottle with Gatorade. Even on the best of days I cannot drink Gatorade so I passed on it, grabbed some gu and took off running. In my mind I am thinking twelve miles to go, feeling empty and wanting some company. I kept gazing at the river that the trail meandered along and wanted to take a dip.

To help entertain myself I start trying to guess how many blue ribbon markers there are within the given mile I was running. As simple as it seems it was keeping my mind occupied enough. I had some recollection of the terrain that waited ahead and I knew where I should push a little and where I should maintain. My stomach started to growl and I knew I had to try another gu. I tried not to think about it as I opened it and squeezed a third of it into my mouth. I immediately forced myself to swallow it. Just two more swallows left. It probably took me ¾ of a mile to get the rest down, but I was happy I was able to. Soon I spotted someone walking towards me on the trail and she started cheering for me by name. I was immediately perplexed and then noticed her Inov-8 shirt. As I continued to run she introduced herself as my teammate Sophie. Her energy was contagious and I immediately found some more giddy up in my stride. When I arrived at the last aid station I was eager to be done. I thought I only had four miles to go, but was told it was five. This one mile difference felt like a massive mental blow. I looked at my watch and calculated my finish time. I kept peering to see if I could spot anyone in front or behind me. I continued to plug away and played it safe on the seldom technical sections. When I came to the final single track up hill I slowed to a walk. It was the first time I had walked all day but it proved to be much faster and efficient to walk the stairs on this hill then to try and run it. Once I got close to the top I started running again and everything started to look familiar. I picked up my pace and took one last glance behind me as I headed for the finish. I crossed the finish line in a time of 7:23, which turns out was a new course record. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, scenery, volunteers, competitors, crew or support from teammates.