“The Bull Run Run is a beautiful, tough run on the Bull Run Trail in Northern Virginia.” The Bull Run Run (or BRR), sponsored by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, is a 50 mile trail race first held in 1993. Due to the race’s history, popularity and long list of returning runners, race entry is decided through a lottery that opens the January before the race. With the unseasonably warm winter, I had a decent fitness base and after several people telling me how great this race was, I decided to throw my name into the lottery. Luckily, not only did I got in, but also another local runner and friend, Sebastian, got in as well. We were also in luck that we had another friend, Jules, who is originally from that part of VA and volunteered his weekend to drive us down and show us around the area. We ended up leaving the NY area Friday afternoon to brave the Turnpike traffic (a completely different type of adventure).
It was a 4am wake up on Saturday morning to get to the race for the 6:30am race start. After the drop bags were situated, there was a short race briefing, which the main takeaway was “follow the blue ribbons and don’t cross the red tape” (seemed simple enough), and we were off! The course was a double out and back. The first out and back was 16 miles, and all ran along the Occoquan River. Since the trail is mostly single track and there were 300+ starters, the first 7 miles up until the first aid station were pretty crowded on the slightly technical trail along the river. While some parts of this section did get a little frustrating, having to slow down at many of the rocky or downhill sections, I knew not killing myself now would pay off later in the race. Once we hit the turn around at mile 9, the trail opened up more. At mile 11 we hit the aid station again and then it was only 5 more great miles of singletrack and slightly rock sections back to the start. Coming back into the starting area there was one last climb that I also knew that I was going to have to do before the finish.
Coming in to the starting area, I got to see Jules again (who changed from his chauffer hat to event photographer one), hit my drop back, and was off gain on the next leg of the adventure, a 34 mile out and back section on “rolling” trails. The next 8 or 9 miles were probably the best I felt during the race. The weather was perfect, I had some miles under my belt, and I still felt relatively fresh. While the first section was more technical, this section was definitely hillier. It was almost continuous hills with very few flat sections, nothing too steep, but a lot of ups and downs.
It wasn’t until about mile 25 that things started to get a little tougher, while it was probably in the mid 30’s when we started, the day had warmed up considerably, reaching almost 80 degrees. When I came into the aid station at mile 26, I had salt caked all over my shirt and on my face. This was new for me, as I had never had a problem in the heat before, so I took some S! Caps and made sure to stay on top of my hydration. It took about a mile to get back into the groove, but I think the S! Caps definitely helped. It also helped that for the next 14 miles, the aid stations were only 2-4 miles apart.
I was still keeping a consistent pace and hit the mile 40 aid station at exactly 8 hours into the race. While I didn’t feel as bad as I did at mile 26, the heat was starting to get to me again. I knew that I needed to stop and regroup here before I headed out for the final push. So I took two more S! Caps, dipped my hat in cold water, and enjoyed an ice pop and the beautiful day unfolding around me. Even with the extra rest, the last 10 miles were a challenge. All of the hills that seemed runnable 20 miles into the race, now seemed like monsters! Even though this section was extremely challenging, my body ached, and I wasn’t moving very fast, there was very calming feeling that passed over me during this stretch…maybe it was just heat exhaustion though (joking EC)!
The last few miles of the course followed a rocky trail along the river, before it turned uphill for the last push before the finish. This race has one of the coolest finishes of any trail races that I have done. The last quarter of mile has your running across a field and down a dirt road to the finish line where you are met with the cheering of all the other finishers and their friends and families. The crowd support was a huge boost at the finish line, which I crossed at 10:42. Upon crossing the finish line you are met by one of the race staff with a handshake and a the following words: “Congratulations on completing the Bull Run Run. Hope to see you next year”.
Special thanks to the MPF Campmor Trail Team for all the support and good advice going into the race, and to Jules for putting up with crazy traffic to and from the race and taking some great pictures!