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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Bull Run 50 Miler
Date: Saturday, April 17, 2004
Location: Clifton, VA
Race Type: Run - 50 Mile
Age Group: Male 25 - 29
Time: 6:42:59
Overall Place: 4 / 301
Comment: I felt kinda slow, but I ran kinda fast. T'was a rather warm day.

Race Report:

So I've been having this ankle thing. You know, a thing going on with my ankle. I wasn't quite sure what it was, but whenever anyone would ask me about my training, I'd have to say, "Well, I've been having this ankle thing..." I finally got to a podiatrist last Wednesday, and he confirmed that it was tendinitis. The best solution would be a couple weeks of immobilization --- meaning a big, plastic boot. "But I have some races coming up!" No worries, he said that I could race my races and get the boot next week. All was good.

Actually, no. All wasn't good. I was still worried about my ankle. It had hurt enough that it had interfered with my training during the last few weeks. Since a Very Long Run(tm) a few weeks ago, I had been avoiding long runs and trail runs. And here, on Saturday, I was going to do a long trail run. In terms of fitness, I thought I'd be fine. But if my ankle went way south, it could cause me the grief of a DNF, and even a couple DNSs in the next few weeks.

Well, I couldn't just skip the race. See, there's a team category, and I had agreed to be on a team. We had five guys and we all had to finish. The goal wasn't just to win the team category. We wanted to go under 35 hours. Wait... Perhaps I should back up. The race was The Bull Run 50 Miler. It's a trail run along the Bull Run River in Clifton, VA. It's a moderately hilly course --- nothing too long, but after mile 14, the entire course is either up or down. Seven hours is a fairly fast time on that course. In a good year, three guys (out of 300 starters) might break seven hours. So our challenge would be to have five guys average seven hours. My personal goal was to break seven hours, so I was happy to have the additional incentive of the team goal. Based on our homes and goals, the team name was VA-PA-CA-sub 35. Nothing like publishing your goals to add a bit of pressure!

If my ankle gave me trouble, I could drop out 14 miles into the race, where the course passed through the start/finish area. But I felt that I had to at least give it a shot. So at 6:15 am on Saturday morning, I found myself with 300 other runners starting the race. After several miles, folks began to settle in. By the time I reached the first turn-around at mile seven, I was in sixth place (which is pretty meaningless that early in a 50 mile race), and I was feeling flat. I just felt like my legs had neither vim nor verve. Last year, I felt great throughout the entire race. This year, early in the race, I didn't feel the same effortlessness.

Here's the funny part: despite feeling so-so, it never got worse, and the miles passed quickly. This is an unusual trail run, as most of the course is on trails with permanent mile markers. The miles felt short. (I've run on these trails enough to know that the miles are certainly NOT short.) So I just clicked off the miles. Fourteen miles into the race, as I passed through the start/finish area, I took stock of my situation, and decided that my ankle wasn't bothering me at all. At the Fountainhead aid station --- 30-ish miles into the race --- the weather was getting quite warm. It was probably somewhere in the low-80 by then, and it was getting hotter. I was starting to go through my water much faster. I was about to head out to "The Do Loop." I'd have two or three particularly hilly miles out to the loop, then the three mile loop that seems to follow the path of most resistance along barely maintained and rarely traveled trails, then two or three miles back. Last year, the leader had just finished The Do Loop as I was heading in. This year, I was hoping to head in before the first runner got out.

I hadn't been looking at my watch, so at this point, all I knew about my pace was that I was feeling slow. I also knew that at the first turn around, back at mile seven, the leaders were truckin' like diesels. I figured that despite the heat, this would be a fast year. I arrived at the start of The Do Loop, and I hadn't seen anyone coming in the other direction. No one had gotten out yet. That was my first indication that perhaps I wasn't doing so badly. Pumped up by meeting my first goal, I cruised through the loop.

When I got back to Fountainhead, just short of 40 miles into the race, I felt a lot better than I did the first time I came through. Part of it was due to starting the loop before anyone was out, part of it was finally seeing other runners on the trail (before exiting The Do Loop, I had run about 20 miles in sixth place, only seeing people at aid station), and part of it was that I was now on the last "back" (as in "out-and-back") section of the course. Time to head home. It's something like 13.5 miles from Fountainhead to the finish. My legs weren't feeling any better than they were at the beginning of the race, but they weren't feeling much worse either.

For a few more miles, on my back-bound leg, I was passing other running on their out-bound leg. Personally, I really enjoy out-and-back courses for that very reason. It's fun to see everyone else during the race, to exchange words of encouragement and to be able to spectate at AND participate in a race.

With 10 miles to I passed someone on his back-bound leg, and moved into fifth place. As I caught up with him, we spoke for a few moments. We discussed our surprise at how fast the front of the race was this year. He also said that his main goal was to break seven hours, and it looked like that wouldn't be a problem. As I left him behind, I realized that if he was that confident with a sub-seven, he must have been keeping an eye on the clock, and we must be well ahead of a seven hour pace. By this point, I had thought that I'd need to move to Plan B, and just try to beat last year's time of 7:18. I hadn't looked at my watch, during the race, so I didn't know objectively how I was doing. If I still had a shot at sub-seven, I figured that I should go for it.

I picked up the pace, energized by the though that I might be doing okay after all. I realized that I hadn't slowed down much during the race. Last year, I felt really good, but as the race went on, my pace dropped. This year, despite feeling so-so, I felt like I could hold my pace all day. With six miles to go, I made another pass and moved into fourth place. I hit the last aid station, where one of the volunteers chided me for being too chipper at such a late point in the race. "But it's such a lovely day to be out running!" I told her.

"You're sick," she told me.

"Alright then, I'm happy because I only have five and a half miles to go! How's that?"


With full water bottles, I set out for the last bit of the race. I thought about last year, moving along this stretch at a slow shuffle. This year, I was cruising along at a fairly plucky pace. When I had a mile and a half to go, I decided to check the time for the first time during the race. I wanted to know whether I should pick it up to break seven hours. Much to my surprise, based on the time, I seemed that I could CRAWL to the end and break seven. In fact, it seemed that if I kept up the pace, I could break 6:45. So I kept up the pace, pulled myself up the last big, ugly hill, and reached the finish line in 6:43.

I was quite happy with the time; I took 35 minutes off of my time from last year. I stuck for a while to relax a bit, eat a bunch, socialize some, and to make sure that team VA-PA-CA-sub 35 met its goal. The result: 34:03:42. Despite a sunny, mid-80 degree day, it was a good race. Unfortunately, I couldn't stick around for too long. I had to hit the road if I wanted to make my flight to Boston that evening.

Continued here: http://www.trirats.net/view_result.php?racerid=78