Bull Run Run 50M, Clifton, VA 2,3
Elevation Gain: 2000+'; High Point: 310'
April 9, 2011 - After a day of steady rain across the eastern seaboard
there was little question in the minds of veteran runners at Bull Run that
this would be a day for lovers of mud running.  The morning dawned with
serious humidity in the air, but no further rain.  Some standing water
on the trails in the vicinity of the start foretold of a greasy adventure.

I arrived with more than an hour to start time and was able to relax in
my final preparations.  The mood among the 344 participants was 
buoyant in the mild chill of the 42-degree morning.  This is a race with
a friendly history, one that people seem to like to return to again and again.
The spirit of the Happy Trails Running Club was infectious, so I enjoyed
myself right from the get-go.  

The event loops around the starting area at Hemlock Overlook to sort the
field before descending off the bluff down to Bull Run where the Blue
and the Gray faced off in the first major conflict of the Civil War in 1861.
The Rebels had aligned along eight miles of the creek awaiting the North's
advance.  At first routed by a coincidental flanking movement, the South
would ultimately prevail in victory.  While running along the stream it was 
hard not to reflect on the balls of lead and stone that would have been
flying through these woods one hundred fifty years ago come July.  Despite
the time that has passed, the hills still echo the screams of the wounded
and the report of cannon fire if one listens closely. The smell of salt peter 
and blood is still in the air if one breathes deeply enough.  My senses were
finely attuned as they always are when I toe the line to run these ultras.

The running seemed easy (despite being greasy) as we moved along 
without much jostling to the first aid station at Centreville, an uphill
dog-leg off the trail.  We crossed side streams along the way using
cement cylinders but still got wet feet.  It was a day where avoiding 
getting dirty was pointless.  I was feeling good but had decided at the 
outset to lay back and control my early pace to avoid racing.  The woods
were pleasant with spring flowers emerging from their winter slumber.
I expected to see more bluebells; spring must be later than usual.

After the turnaround we headed back the way we came, stepping aside
for oncoming runners that were bringing up the rear echelons.  At a 
slanted and slippery wooden bridge that we would cross for the second 
time, a spotter indicated that only one person (a "swimmer") had 
accidently slipped off into the creek.  A good number of people showed
signs that they had slipped and fallen into the mud, but so far I was able
to stay upright.

Returning to the start from the first out and back I checked my watch
at 16.6 miles, one third of the 50 miles, and was pleased to see it only
took 3 hours, despite the poor traction along the way and a variety of
rolling hills.  5.5 miles per hour suited me fine and put me ahead of 
schedule for my goal of a ten-hour finish.

From Hemlock Overlook we headed out for our second out-and-back with
a Do-Loop at the other end.  The time passed quickly without much 
effort as people around me were fairly conversational and interesting.
We passed the Bull Run Marina and Wolf Shoals aid stations before
reaching the two-thirds mark at about 32.2 miles, which I hit in exactly
6 hours.  I figured I hit the 50K mark at about 5:45 or so without any
real racing.  This meant I had four hours to do the last 18 miles.

With this in mind, I eased back deliberately, getting more social with
other runners and taking more time mixing it up at the aid stations.  I
wasn't here to set any records.  I walked a bit more on rough terrain,
but still ran up the hills while others walked.  It had a good training
effect and was a good measure of my conditioning given that I could 
still run with control and not walk because of muscle fatigue.

Running down hills was very deliberate.  I still protect my left Achilles
after rupturing it a year ago, and have been babying a bit of tendonitis
in my right knee.  One young midshipman from the Naval Academy said
she would catch up to me on the downhills, but would lose everything
back trying to catch me running up the hills.  So the afternoon went, 
with many runners going by to finish up to an hour ahead of me.

There was just no hurry in me, so I lolly-gagged the rest of the way,
confident of a ten-hour finish, even if I walked more than necessary.
I crossed the line together with another Pennsylvanian named 
George in 9:56:30 in 128th place of 325 finishers and was very 
satisfied with the effort.

After collecting my Patagonia finisher's jersey and cleaning up a bit,
I jogged the half-mile back to the car, stripped down into some dry
clothing, got warm again, and drove home.  Given the controlled
nature of my effort, I felt only mild soreness and was able to resume
fairly normal running the next day.  Toes were sore from all the
lateral slipping in the mud, but it seems I'll only have one black nail
from a good day in the Virginia hills.