Monday, April 16, 2012

Running With The Bulls

I was nervous, and between being a bit chilled and anxious I desperately wanted to get the party started.  I must be honest, I really didn't run with the bulls, but I did travel down to Virginia to partake in the 20th Bull Run Run.  Bull Run Run was my first race of the season and my gauge to help indicate how the last four months of training have gone.  As everyone lined up I found myself thinking, "Has my training been on track?  And if I am off target is it minimal or drastic?  Internally it seemed exciting yet daunting that I would have 50 miles to unearth the answer to these questions. 

Having done this race a few years ago I had some recollection of what to expect so went with my Salomon Crossmax Guidance shoes, Drymax cycle socks, and Julbo Trek glasses. Off the gun I knew that I need to keep my pace in check and not get too carried away during the early miles.   Within a mile I found myself about 50 feet off the tail end of the pack of the male front-runners and the pack behind me was not in sight.  I debated pushing my pace and catching the guys in front of me, although I chose to stick to my running my race even if that meant being alone.  After the upstream turn around mile 9 I was eager to get a glimpse at who was chasing me, and how close they were.  Just over a half of a mile from the turn around I said hello to the next female, and realized that I had about a mile lead.   At mile 11 I came to the Centerville aid station where I switched out bottles with my father and moments later heard a voice inside my head saying "DON'T GET BEHIND ON YOUR ELECTROLYTES!" It is Meredith Terranova inside my head reminding me to be a smart runner and take salt pills.  No need to make this more painful then it needs to be and the temperature is already on the rise.  

Photo By: Bob Fabia (Notice the Train in the Background) 
With everything in check, I focused on completing the final portion of the 16-mile out and back. I am alone and try to set a decent pace for myself that isn't overly ambitious or lazy. To calm my nerves I try to enjoy the surroundings, while intermittently greeting other runners.  I made my way to the third aid station at Hemlock, which I opted to have my father skip so he would have ample time to navigate to the following crew station and stop to fill my bottle with water.  I know just over four miles until I get to see my dad again and to help me get there I pull my iPod out and start to fall into rhythm with the music. Then I am blessed with a large section of amazing bluebells, and the sight and smell were uplifting. Still alone I make my way through the short flats, ascents and descents.  I start thinking about the temperature and how dry it feels. I find my mind moving towards worrying about the later miles.  With all this thinking before I know it I slowing my pace to be crewed by my father at mile 21. As I slow down it seems my father has other plans for me as he yells “Go-go-go!”  I grab the fresh bottle and adhere to his words. 

To be honest I hadn't really been paying much to the race clock, but I was getting curious to see what my 25-mile time would shake out to be. I missed that benchmark on my watch, but noted that I had 26+ miles behind me in 3:37.  I had my old course record in the back of my mind and was on track to beat it, but for some reason I felt like on this day it was out of the question.  With no other runners around every stride my mind starts to wonder and I find myself wanting to jump in the water, the temperature was already in the mid 70’s and my body is use to running in early morning 30’s.  My clothes and body were bone dry and I felt like I could down a gallon of water easily at the next aid station.  Then it dawned on me to ask for ice.  As I arrived at the aid station I filled my bottle and sports bra with ice. Okay that brought me back to life a bit more.

Photo By: Aaron Schwartzbard
As I started heading towards the "do-loop" I saw the three male leaders charging toward me.  Brian Rusiecki followed by Neal Gorman and Jason Lance.  We exchanged cheers and went our separate ways.  Now for the "do loop," which brings some variety of terrain in the form of lots of leaves.  I tell myself to just focus on getting this three-mile lollipop loop done.  I do just that and as I exit the loop I ask if any females have entered the loop. The aid station volunteers inform me that none besides myself, which meant I had at least a three-mile cushion at this point.  About a mile later I saw the second female, Serena Wilcox, and she was full of smiles and cheer.  I squirt my face with my handheld and then realize that it was largely drink mix.  The bugs loved my fuel mixture and began to have a field day bouncing between my eyes and sunglasses, therefore forcing me to remove my shades.  

I continued to keep it simple and just put one foot in front of the other as I ticked off the miles.  With just about 10 miles to go I caught a glimpse of fellow Vermonter Bob Ayers. As I glanced up the switchbacks at him he glanced down at me.  Spotted!  His cadence increased and I tried to not allow the gap to widen.  I found myself chasing and I knew it was a gamble as my energy level was wavering and was hot.  As I pulled into the last aid station at Bull Run Marina Bob ran out.  My dad tried to get me in and out with my fresh single bottle, but I stop dead and insist on filling my empty bottle with water and ice.  I've never raced with a handheld, let alone two and juggling both seemed like a challenge.  As I began running again I couldn't figure out how to handle them both so I hugged them.  After a few minutes of wanting to chuck them I got one affixed on each hand and reminded myself "just" 5 more miles. 

Photo By: Aaron Schwartzbard
Every few minutes I took a drink from my fuel bottle and squirted myself with ice water.  My energy was wavering so I put some shot blocks in my mouth.  I chewed them two or three times and then automatically spit them out.  It seemed my stomach wanted nothing to do with them. I knew I would have to dig deep, but I slowly closed the gap on Bob by running the ups that he was walking.  With about 3 miles to go I ran up behind him and walked with him.  We checked in with each other and then I proceeded to run again. There was no doubt in my mind that he would pass me within a few minutes. Alone again I watch every rock and root not wanting to go down.  Finally a sign indicating one mile to go. I checked my watch to keep track of that last mile. I assured myself two more songs on my iPod and I would be done.  At the start of the second song I could see the finish tent through the trees.  I picked up the pace and looked at my watch.  To my surprise I was well under my old course record as I finished in 7:04.  

Always a pleasure to run a Virginia Happy Trails Running Club race and great to catch up with Salomon Teammates Neal Gorman who was 2nd Male and Sue Johnston and her husband Chris who began the race 20 years ago.  It was also a special day as it was my father's first time watching me compete in an ultra race and he did a fantastic job crewing me along the way.  Now do I dare say that the countdown to Western States has already begun?