Sunday, April 13, 2008

The 2008 Bull Run Run 50 Miler

On Friday, April 11 at around 3pm I packed up way to much running gear and drove on down to Clifton, VA to Hemlock Overlook Park. The park rests about 15 miles or so outside of Centreville, VA, near Manasses right along the Bull Run River. Through some traffic, I got there around 4:30 and walked my way up to a small cabin where I picked up my packet, shirt and for $5 got a blanket, a hat and another shirt (not a bad deal). I can say at that point I was already beginning to psych myself out a bit just seeing some of the other runners. They were all older, had runners bodies, seemed excited and chilled out. I, on the other hand probably looked like a rabbit walking through a pack of stray dogs. So I grabbed my stuff and scurried to my car to hang out, reserve a hotel room, and wait for the pasta dinner at 5:30 (the wonderful pre-7pm dinner we runners enjoy the night before).

I walked up with a small crowd to another cabin for the dinner and while we all waited around outside for things to get organized, I chatted with a couple other runners. One man, who seemed pretty uneffected by the fact that tomorrow he'd be running all day reiterated one piece of advice I kept hearing and reading: walk anything that looks uphill, "run" the rest. The other piece of advice I found pretty funny, and, it turned out to not only be some great words of wisdom, but also, what the majority of these ultra runners live by:

"Start slow...then taper off". Turns out, there's no avoiding this (unless you're a freak of nature and run these things under 8 hours).

Dinner was great, I hid in the corner a guzzled two heaping plates of pasta, chicken, salad and bread; then I hit the road to find the hotel. I was in bed at 9pm, my running gear layed out, my drop bag packed up, my water bottles filled and my gut and brain a little overwhelmed with what the hell I was about to do.

I pulled into a grassy parking area around 5:45am and trudged my way to the start line with a bunch of other runners. I put my bag down in the drop area and applied Body Glide to every possible part of my body. I strapped my water bottle belt around my waist and secured my 3 packs of Cliff Blocks, 2 packs of GU, 1 small Body Glide package, 1 tube of Chapstick and a few kleenex into their appropriate pockets and walked up to the start area. I felt surprisingly calm and sat there on a large rock just watching all the runners gather together. We all crammed into the small up hill, all 350 (I think a little less than this actually). When the Race Director yelled GO, we were off!

The crowd spread out through a small loop around Hemlock Park and when we returned to the start and took a sharp right turn into the woods, we were already in single file formation. This is how we would have to stay for the rest of the entire run.

Things went well from the start. I felt great, nothing ached, the people were fun to chat with, we all just moved slowly along, walking up, running, sliding down. The weather was warming up and was humid, but I wasn't worried, I like humidity after all...I just never ran for a full day in it. I hit the first aid station at Centreville Road feeling strong. I drank a couple cups of Gatoraid, refilled both water bottles, had a bit of banana and a cookie and was on my way back to the trail. My first obstacle came right at this point. It came in the form of a Cliff Blocks packet. It literally took me about 8 minutes to open the damn thing, and by the time I did, I was a mixture of pissed and compeltly cracked up that it took so long. The lady I was talking to the whole time just kept laughing at me, then stole a couple blocks and we went about our run. I guess it was a good distraction, I mean, it did take about a mile for me to figure out how to open it. Just about then we hit the turn-around and headed back to the Centreville Road aid station again.

With my bottles refilled, and a bit more fuel in my system, I retraced my steps to the start at Hemlock where I would pass the 16 (ish) mile marker.

This upwards loop was pretty flat, from that first aid station, around and back there were no major hills, some mud and some great views. I gave a "good work" to everyone I passed (I got to see the entire group because of the narrow path and the turn around) and I soaked in the beautiful scenery.

Just after the Hemlock aid station is when I started to feel it. I started to cramp up in my calves. Now, I don;t know if you've ever cramped up, but it hurts, a lot. And not only that, usually when it happened, you get to spend a bunch of time laying on the floor screaming, but not this time; I just kept running. y calves, my hamstrings, my right hip flexor and my groin, they all were right at the edge. If I straightened my foot out, abducted or adducted my legs too much, I'd be done, tumbling down one of those 35 foot rock and root infested slopes. So I walked, I hobbled, I just kept moving and at any time I felt them tightened up a bit too much, I stretched very quickly and then kept moving. This kept on through the Bull Run Marina station at mile 21 and the Wolf Run Shoals station at mile 26. I was so unbelievably close to quiting at that point it freaked me out. I was thinking as I hobbled along about what i would tell people, how i would feel, would i have to go to the hospital? All this was going through my mind. At each stop I consumed as much salt as possible and received 0 sympathy from anyone. They just said "have some salt man!". So I did. And I kept going.

This kept on, the cramping, the pain, the negative thoughts, through the Foutainhead station. I got passed by what felt like every single runner who signed up, but I kept moving. At this point, every step I took was longer than I had ever run before and I wanted to finish so bad. At mile 28 I got to Foutainhead and saw my main man Jim Bathurst waiting. He hooked me up with some more Blocks (he cracked them open for me) and reiterated some advice: "have salt man". So I did; and I kept going. Do Loop was coming up and all I kept hearing was "survive the Do Loop and you're good to go". I had no idea...well, at this point, I had a pretty good idea to expect the worst.

And then, somehow, by some miracle, the cramps disappeared. I was leaving the Do Loop station, about to enter into certain death as I assumed, and all of a sudden I felt as good as new. The path was wide, slightly down hill, a lake could be seen and crew teams were out practicing. No one was around me and for about 15-20 minutes I cruised. I could not believe that after all that pain, almost giving up, feelings so strong I have never felt them before, it all just got better.

Then Do Loop hit. Thank god I was feeling fresh, they were not kidding. Steep slopes where you had no choice but to sprint and/or slide down and then, right at the bottom you had to stick your foot out to stop from running into the uphill. And they weren't 10 feet, they were longs; 30, 40, 50 feet and more, over and over and over and over again. Talk about taking a beating 33 miles into a run. But I felt strong, and came out of the Do Loop, and pushed on back to Fountainhead with no serious problems (except I hadn't pissed in 20 miles).

My friend Brendan was waiting there with Jim and it was great to see them both. I got some more blocks, some more salt and snacks, and refilled my bottles. Brendan gave me some good motivation telling me I only had 14 miles to go, and even HE could run that far. The good thing was, at that point I could still laugh. I also decided that at each station I would ask as sincerely as I could if i was winning. Only a few people laughed at this, most of the time they just said yes. I kept saying it anyway. I guess it was my subconscious way of making light of things; it numbed the pain a little.

14 miles to go. My body was starting to fatigue. My stomach and chest started to hurt. My legs were heavy. And worst of all, my kidneys started to hurt. I couldn't take a deep breath, I would tire out if I moved to quickly because I couldn't breath. I had pissed, but only a little, and I don't care to share the color of that with you all. I tried to just forget about it and keep going. I did keep going...but I couldn't forget about it all. 14 miles to go. I told myslef that I was going to finish. And that was all I needed.

I'll finish this up tonight or tomorrow when I get back from MA where I'm helping out with my mom. Please feel free to comment as much as you'd like!!!

Josh Courage

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