Saturday, April 7, 2018 6:30 am
This post is long. I like to think of myself as a storyteller. So in just the same way I couldn't merely tell you I had a burrito for lunch yesterday without telling you why I settled on burritos, where I got burritos from, what I had inside of it and how I felt afterwards, I can't just merely tell you I ran Bull Run. In other words, for me, there is no long-story-short.
Last year, I wanted to run something different. I had heard through the grapevine of the 50 miler put on by the VHTRC in early spring, I like 50 milers, and my running partner, Kevin C, was training for Western States, it seemed like the perfect timing and fit. We agreed and put in for the lottery.
I received word I had gotten in to Bull Run last year on the afternoon of a particularly trying day for me. Six week later, by the time the race had rolled around, I was focused on working on the shame and fragile amount of self-worth I was facing. Determined to run BRR to help Kevin train for Western and just to have a good day on the trails I moved forward with my plans to run it as a training run. But then foolhardy actions the week of the race jeopardized even that when my hip got inflamed/irritated/unaligned.
The morning of last year's Bull Run found me in the bathroom of our hotel room getting dressed and I remember thinking clearly of not starting, I was weighed down still with too much doubt. It would just be so easy to not. Not start, not try, not face the demons. But I started anyways. However, the morning of last year's race was a heavy one with fears for my hip, my head, my heart.
I survived, I even had a pretty good day at BRR last year. KC and I finished in under 10 hours and just ran to enjoy the trails and the blue bells, to partake in a supported long run. But I wanted to go back, train harder, race the 50 which is my self-proclaimed favorite of the ultra distances.
Training for the 2018 Race (with a side of Terrapin Race Report)
The plan. The plan was to train, to be smart, to be ready. Ah, the best laid plans. All started well enough, I made a plan, complete with incremental mileage increases and cut back weeks, a few shorter races for speed. It wouldn't get me to anything over 50 miles in a week in training but that was ok. We, KC and I, made it through the lottery and registered. Things were going well enough. A few shorter weeks due to life. Little did I realize I was making a mistake.
I have this pair of Altras. And for the life of me I CANNOT get them to stay tied. But because I'm cheap or lazy or just not very bright sometimes I didn't replace the laces, I just tied them tighter. And tighter. A week into March I woke with the feeling that I had a bruise on my foot. It got worse over the next few days until it hurt to wear shoes. I took days off, held on to a positive perspective and hope.
Then a little knot appeared. Then the knot grew. As did the discomfort. More days off. Finally, a quick Google search despite knowing I shouldn't. Extensor tendonitis...from shoes being tied too tight. More days off, with Terrapin quickly approaching. It is better to be undertrained or so the doctor says.
I had signed up for Terrapin 50k as a long training run in my peak week for BRR. I was hoping to be as close to 9 hours at BRR as possible. I figured that even though the terrain at Terrapin was nowhere near similar the mileage and hard effort would do me good. I hadn't planned to taper. Just train through. But then the foot. So an early two week taper. Never got over 40 miles in training. I was able to convince myself that it would be ok.
I replaced (finally!) the laces in the Altras the night before Terrapin. I went into the race optimistic for a good day, not afraid of the weather, with a plan to work hard.
It was going ok, but I was slower than I hoped at Goff Mtn. But then this song by Frank Turner came on, it could NOT have been more perfect in that moment of doubt:
"Down at the bottomI found the things I'd forgottenThat despite all I've done, I can learn, I can learn and this time I'm Gonna hold onto thatI'm gonna forgive myselfAnd then ask for forgivenessCrossing my fingers and toes'Cause God only knows I need thisLord how I need this"
And while the song was still playing I thought, "You're going to be ok". And I believed it. Damn, did I believe it. I've tried to convince myself of a great many things and I know when I'm fooling myself, but this, this I finally and completely, believed. The rest of the day was good.
Everything would be ok.
Enter, stage left, the angry calf. You know the one, the one that mocks and challenges me at forks in the road? But not this time. So the training hasn't gone as planned, so the calf is hot and bothered. Two weeks to BRR, just relax! And I believed in that. And so I didn't run, and I didn't worry (much). Because I'm, as silly as it sounds, finally figuring somethings out about myself. That in spite of all that doubt, I'm going to try. I'm going to do my best.
At this point in time I had to re-evaluate, my original goals of a close to 9 hour finish were looking fairly slim, not that I couldn't, but I had to recalibrate the expectations. Between the lower than planned mileage and the calf, I had to come to terms with what I would go for. But as long as I remember, everything will be ok.
"I have made mistakes, I continue to make themThe promises I've made, I continue to break themAnd all the doubts I've faced, I continue to face themBut nothing is a waste if you learn from it"
The actual Bull Run Race Report starts here:
The start of this year's race was different than many starts I've had, it was so calm. I felt so calm. I was so ready for something I didn't feel ready at all for, yet ready to begin again. We were off and running just as scheduled at 6:30 am. I started near the front, something I don't do generally in ultras or any races, I could see only 30 or maybe 40 people out ahead. I didn't fret that I was starting too far up front. Last year I had kind of felt stuck in groups that were hard to get around, I thought being up front would be better, I got caught up in the pace a little, but it felt good.
I felt for the calf, it was tight and there was discomfort but not in the same place as the previous two weeks, I ran with it (pun absolutely intended). I was moving along, it felt quick for me, there was a girl right in front of me and one right behind who passed me and I tried to stay with her to the aid station at mile 7. I was hoping Todd would say top ten. I was running hard, most likely, TOO hard, I wanted the efforts to have me in the top ten and then I would just try and hold on as long as I could.
We came in to aid one which is at the top of these short steep timber stairs. Todd and Cooper were ready, new bottles and Mountain Dew in hand. Then Todd says..wait for it.. "You're third! And second is right there."
|Leaving Centreville Courtesy|
VHTRC Facebook Page
Not quite what I was expecting, now I'm convinced I've gone out too hard, I'm wondering where Rachel Bell Kelly and Bethany Patterson are, the two girls I've been running behind can't actual be first and second, because I can't possibly be third at mile 7, UNLESS, I'm running that stupid hard.
Yep, probably. But I drank the Mountain Dew, grabbed the new bottle and took off as Rachel and Anna (the eventual winner) were coming into the aid station.
From here you do an out and back loop before coming back to the aid station. Last year, there was high water, the out and back was brief, there was a lot of foot traffic and this is precisely why I had gone out fast, to avoid most of the traffic congestion. This year, the loop was much bigger and a lollipop design. My stomach had been a little upset but news of being third and the pace and the sugar combined made it all that much worse. I sang a little Avett Brothers to myself, "Just do your best, it's the only way to keep that last bit of sanity."
The stomach turned for the worst and I had to hop off trail. As soon as I did Rachel and Anna passed me and yet I still couldn't find tree cover. I made the stop as brief as possible but from my position in the woods several people had passed by. I hopped back out and did my best, the loop was crazy, people going in the wrong direction and there was a little confusion about what was the correct direction. Thankfully we did it correct and a loop is a loop I suppose so I think all in all everyone was fine but it did break up the miles and it seemed far less congested than last year.
Back at Centreville I was now 5th, and not quite as close to the top 5. I was still moving at a good pace but the stomach wasn't letting up. I swapped bottles with Cooper and Todd gave me crackers and a few GU for my vest and I drank some more Mountain Dew. I left the aid station and ran back along the stream to the start/front area where I would see Todd and Cooper again. But the stomach just would NOT let up. I had to stop again. And again. I would pull in 4th and then have to stop. It was frustrating. The pace, on trails, was good, I managed the first 12 in 2 hours (according to my Garmin) with several bathroom breaks. I was happy about that even if it felt a little wreckless, I figured the speed may have upset the stomach but I still ran that hard for another hour.
By mile 18ish my stomach was a wreck and unforgiving. I ate a few crackers to lay off the sugar a little but I also figured it was time to slow down. Leaving aid three I was right behind Rachel, still 5th place but with a stomach that was beginning to really worry me. Todd seemed a little worried here, but then he reminded me of what we had talked about, the race wasn't meant to be, not with the training and the foot and calf problems. It would be ok.
Just do your best! I reminded myself. What is there to regret if you do your best? After the aid station I finally took two pepto, and stopped to use the restroom again, losing sight of Rachel and being passed again by a female, now I was 6th. In the next few miles I went to the bathroom three more times, each time I was passed by more runners eventually losing count of my position. It was hard to slip, it was hard to have my stomach be an issue, and yet I held on to the notion that I would do my best despite my stomach. I would not let it get me down. Accept the now and work with it the best you can. If I had to walk a little to settle the stomach than so be it, if I had to use the restroom a dozen times, then so be it, just do what I can and keep moving forward.
Right before the marina aid station, and coming back from a restroom break I saw Sophie Speidel coming up on us, she had told me of her times and tribulations at Bull Run at the start line, she had come back for redemption, and she was running true to her words, she looked strong and fit as ever, a legend and inspiration to me on trails. It wasn't until after the marina that she ran off and out of sight, but she kept me on my toes before and after.
On the way to Fountain Head aid station my legs also began to tell me they were done, they suggested the distance was not in them. I took two more pepto and kept on hope that the stomach might not get worse, it had time to improve. I was now 10th or 11th female, I had lost count, I was just trying to think of other things, my 'whys'.
Bull Run Run this year was my tenth 50 miler. I love the distance. Bull Run Run is almost entirely single track trail with so little other surface that it could be stated that it is entirely trail, it has a little bit of everything, steep ups, steep downs, long ups and long downs, flats, streams and rocks, roots and bridges, it is a beautiful course with well run aid stations, it's a runnable course but that is in no way to suggest that it is an easy course. I was renewed in the thoughts of ultra running as a whole, that I get to spend my day doing this, part of my life. That I get to revel in the highs and work through the lows to make me a better runner and a better person hopefully on and off the trail.
By Fountain Head I was tired and there was still so much distance to run, but Todd and Cooper were there smiling and dressed to run, they started out of the aid station there right behind me but were going for only five miles before returning to the aid station to crew again when we came back from the ten mile loop here. Todd had stories of the front runners and the crews, the aid stations and the wildlife they had seen. They weren't with me long but they were a distraction. Through here I caught up with Greg Loomis and Curtis and those brief conversations were pick me ups.
Kevin and I were talking a bit about the course when Greg caught back up and ran with us to the entrance of the Doo Loop and we talked Hardrock and ultra training. It was also a good distraction. But in the Doo Loop I was left to my own thoughts, how much easier this day was compared to last year when simply beginning was daunting. Here I was on this day, so far from a year ago, maybe others can't see it but I can FEEL it, I may not be able to explain the depth of the bottom that I felt I was standing in a year ago, but I thought about mental illness and how hard it is, how hard it is to explain, how common it is and yet so unspoken. I was thankful to be exactly where I was. And just as thankful for the journey, though it may not be over, that has taken me here. I got a little emotional but it was truly tears of happiness, or accomplishment, of fighting to get back to where I know I should be, need to be.
And then I saw three women up ahead, and I thought, the race is not all but lost, just do your best. And so I ran to and finished out the Doo Loop with Sophie and Rachel. They're both training for hundreds, it made me think of running a hundred again, now that I finally feel better about my mental race. We came into the Doo Loop aid station and I asked for a plain slice of bread with peanut butter because I was trying to not overdo the sugar by having jelly.
I left out of there and I felt better, maybe better than I had all day. My legs hurt, my knees ached, but my head was good, I trusted myself, and I was lifted up by Sophie calling me "the closer". But there were many miles ahead left to run. All I had to do was run.
I came back into Fountain head tied with Sophie and Rachel for 8/9/10th. Todd was encouraging and told me to go! I felt a little rushed out of this aid station, I walked over to the aid station table and ate a pringle, but there just wasn't anything else appetizing. I wanted to eat but my stomach, which was finally feeling some better after hours, had me concerned. But I vowed that I must get to eating right or would risk my best.
In the next few miles I tried to hold on and keep a steady pace, we left with about 13 miles to go and yet the legs felt so heavy, so dead. And yet, slow as it was, we ran more than walked, Rachel passed me and disappeared, I could hear people cheering for Sophie just behind me at the second to last aid station, with 8/9 miles to go. I started to walk. I had a little lull, a down moment. I took two ibuprofen, a GU and got out the headphones, it was time to stop whining about all of the pain and really get to work.
With the music on I settled into a pace, a groove if you will, and ran a little faster, a little harder. I passed Rachel and then started to spot other runners and just focus on running steady, hard but also smart, it sounds so easy and yet there's such a balance to it. I had to keep from working the calves to the point of cramping. The stomach felt knotted but held up, I started eating at half hour intervals.
I got excited as I worked along the river to the marina and the last aid station, I planned to drop my pack and long sleeve shirt, I did so in as quick a movement as I could, Helen was there offering encouragement and anything we needed. I just needed to finish. I left on a mission, 5.5 miles to go, run as smart and hard as I could.
Through the soccer fields I remembered last years race, how we had walked the smooth uphill, talked about how fast a course this might be, I thought still that I have work I could do to better my performance at Bull Run but I was giving every last drop that I had in my current state, for the day at hand.
I passed a female and was now on a mission to chase down any other runner I could. So often I finish and there was a runner just seconds ahead, I just worked and gave every ounce I had left. Through the rocky stream bank there was another female that I passed but she was only slower going over the rocks, I figured I would have to drain every ounce in the last miles because she was a clear fighter with fight left in her, and yet I loved it, it gave me that extra push to do the same.
In the end, I finished with a PR, 9:16, on a course that was at least two miles longer than last years and 6th female. It was the toughest race my stomach has given me with the exception possibly of Iron Mountain in 2013. But I don't know that I have EVER had a stronger race mentally, not once did I let the stomach wear me down to worry, to fear or doubt, for a HARD day it was a very, very GOOD day. And for this I'm thankful.
Bull Run is a deceivingly tough course, but it's beautiful and serene. It has bits of everything, and well stocked and supported aid stations and volunteers. And I will be going back, because I think I'm not done there yet. Many thanks to Todd and Cooper for coming out and spending their day in the cold, snowy, sleety, windy weather to feed me mountain dew and swap bottles off every few miles. It isn't so much the handing me a bottle but the love that the support suggests. I really couldn't do it without that.