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The Highs and Lows

Early in the race. Photo by Bobby Gill.
This is what's in my brain at mile 23 of the Bull Run Run 50 Miler: All I have to do is make it through Fountainhead. Though it's only 28 miles into the race, with 6 miles before I'm even heading in the direction of the finish line, it's the point at which I know I'm going to succeed. 

A Slow Start. I started the race conservatively, running at a reasonable pace. In a trail race with 300 starters, that means getting stuck behind inevitable bottlenecks until the pack spreads out. And in spite of my grandiose plans to spend just seconds in the aid stations, I had to stop and make adjustments. To top it off, I had fallen twice -- in the first 15 miles. That's unusual for me and it was demoralizing. I hoped it wasn't a sign of a long day to come.

I tried to stay serene. My top priority was to avoid going out too fast, a mistake I couldn't afford to make. Most of all, I needed my mental game to get through this race.

Privilege and Gratitude. I really took notice of the beauty of the trail. I called out the names of wildflowers I saw: Bluebell. Spring Beauty. Star Chickweed. Sweet White Violet. Golden Cinquefoil. I marveled at how absolutely clear Bull Run was.
I could see every stone along the bottom. (For all you Yankees, "run" is Southern for stream and also why this race is called Bull Run Run). I felt grateful for this beautiful Spring day, a little warm for a race but manageable. I listened to my footfalls, the only sound but for the melodies of birds. I relished the quiet of running without conversation. The peacefulness of the woods enveloped me. 

Bull Run Run. The race runs alongside it for miles.

Run The Mile You're In. I focused on clicking off the miles, maintaining a strong march up the hills I had no hope of running, refusing to allow my pace to degrade to the shuffle of defeat. A few not-so-positive thoughts sneaked in: Why did I sign up for this race again? Why didn't I train harder? Why wasn't I more upfront about my lackluster training when my friends asked me to join the WUS Female team?  Running all day is pointless and stupid. I wonder if the Laurel Highlands 70 Mile race director will let me switch to the 50K race? After this I swear I'm just gonna train for short distances, like 10Ks.

The Lows. As the day grew warmer, a slight breeze kicked up. It was the greatest sensation in the world. My toughest miles were upon me now. Miles 22 through 28 or so (no matter how long I am running) always come with a down spell. This is where my body starts to fatigue and my muscles begin to hurt. Worse, my mind grows concerned with the perceived discomfort of the body and begins its tricks to convince me that the distance remaining is too far to be conquered. I descend into dark thoughts. It's like depression on steroids, causing the smallest things (catching a toe on a rock, for instance) to reduce me to despair.

I've been here before. I keep plugging along, telling myself I'll get through this spell. It sounds like the biggest lie ever. The Lows suck.

Arriving at Fountainhead (Mile 28) during a low spell. Photo by Bob Fabia.

The Do Loop. The worst and toughest section of Bull Run Run. It's the furthest point on the course from the finish, and the hills are steep and cambered. There's no breeze here. I use every mantra that had been offered to me by my Twitter, Facebook and Blog commenter friends. I Am Strong, You Are Strong! Demand It. I Love This! If You Can You Must. Fearless. Fatigue is a Choice. It Doesn't Always Get Worse. Take What the Day Gives. It's just a moment; it's not forever; this is temporary. The Weak Find Excuses, The Strong Find A Way. Gumption. Relentless Forward Progress. Run the flats, run the downhills, walk the uphills.

I arrive at Fountainhead for the second time, Mile 38. Hubz attends to me and lets me fall apart a little. Toni gives me a quick massage that made a huge improvement in my tight, sore shoulders and back from holding a water bottle for nearly 40 miles. I'm hiring her full time. 
Just 12 miles to go. Time to put my big girl pants on. For the first time all day I turn on my music, so my steps will have rhythm.

The Highs. The miles were clicking by steadily. The Highs start slowly, building from small cheerful observations to a crescendo of emotion akin to a manic episode. Seeing familiar faces, smiles and encouragement of friends along the trail, passing one more runner. I'm getting this done. I am strong. I can do this. I'm building amazing mental fortitude. I can do anything. I am worthy. I can conquer any fear, any doubt.

The volunteers. My crew (Hubz). Friends. All
helping me in some way, with a smile, encouragement, a popsicle, an ice cold cloth, when the smallest kindness means everything and nearly reduces me to tears. I forgot how important the people are. They make ultras great. They're what brings me back to this crazy sport every time. 

I'm passing runners. I'm gaining strength and heart as I encourage them, joke with them, commiserate with them. I'm envisioning the glory of the finish line.
At this point, the pain is real, but I'm deliriously happy. I don't want the race to end, except to finish strong for my team.

In the final three miles, my legs just keep turning over. I can scarcely believe I'm clipping along at this pace. I pass a group of four on the rocky section. I reach a sign declaring the final mile and gleefully tackle the last big hill. 

The last hill.

I pass another runner. At the top, the grassy meadow appears. There is no better sight in the world.

The grassy field. Under a half mile to go.

I choke back emotion and run for all I'm worth. I pass another woman. I see Bob Anderson just ahead. His wife Kari sees me and yells "go get Bob!" I run. I pull even. He looks at me and grins. We sprint. The crowd at the finish notices and the roar builds. We find another gear, and then another. Arms and legs are flying. He stays with me. I have never felt so alive. We finish neck and neck.

(Bob officially beat me, though I thought I'd edged him at the time.)

Everyone is congratulating me and I am hyperventilating from the sprint, from joy and emotion and utter exhaustion. 

This is why I run ultras.

The Glory of Finishing - photo by Stefan Fedyschyn

If one could run without getting tired I don't think one would often want to do anything else. ~ C.S. Lewis

Team Victory

WUS Win: Female and Male WUS teams at Bull Run Run 50 Miler
Team WUSsies with Cats won. It was close

The scoring this year was done by finishing place rather than time. I passed approximately 16 runners over the last 15 miles of the race (at least five of those in the last two miles). 

We won by six places

My teammates of course did the real work, finishing long before me. But I was extremely happy that I was able to push enough to hold up my end of things. My race ended in a rarely-seen-in-ultrarunning scenario - an all out, elbows flying sprint. It was good for the soul, even though I nearly went into cardiac arrest.

Thank you to everyone who gave me encouragement, shared their favorite mantras and music, and held me accountable simply by reading this blog. I'll write a real race report soon. Check back later this week for the gory details.

The coveted fleece blanket. Sweet!

Under Pressure

This Saturday, I'm running my sixth Bull Run Run 50 Miler.
(Wow. That's 300 miles worth, in addition to all the training miles I've run on this trail.)

I don't usually stress about ultras. After all, this is what I do for fun on the weekends, and I'm simply not fast enough to worry about anything but running my own personal best. Sometimes (gasp) I decide to just run easy and enjoy the day!

Bull Run Run is different. Regardless of my training, I always feel anxious about this race. More than once I've actually considered staying in bed when the alarm sounded.

My first two years, I ran as part of a team. I took my responsibility as a team member seriously. A team is disqualified if all of its members don't finish. Though I've never been on a team that had a real chance to win, the possibility did exist. That possibility kept me focused on finishing and running my best.

Team "Victorious Secrets"
My first BRR in 2005. I ran 50 miles wearing a thong over my shorts.
It was slick mud, too. The temp dropped so much runners donned bread bags to keep warm.
Post race legs in 2006, the Mud Year
Having fun on trail with friends in 2008

This year, I'm on a female team with some very strong runners, one of whom is a past winner of this race. I'm definitely the weakest link.

This team has a real shot at winning, and I'm feeling the pressure. 

Running along Bull Run (that's Southern for stream), 2009

Time to come clean: My running mojo has gone missing lately. I feel sluggish, and there are any number of things I'd rather do than go out for my long run. This isn't encouraging for my big race in June, the Laurel Highlands 70 Miler.

I'm hoping that being part of a team and spending the day in the woods with friends will bring it back in force. I'll keep my eyes open out there on the trail.

I keep reminding myself I felt unprepared two years ago when I set my big PR. My training this year has been similar. I am experienced. I know what it takes to get these 50 miles done.

Race Week Preparation: I'm getting lots of good sleep and I've given up my evening glass of wine.

My plan: Run steady, get in and out of aid stations quickly, stay mentally strong and focus on my role as a team member when things get tough out there.

My mantra: Relentless. Forward. Progress. 

If you have any inspiring running quotes, mantras, music suggestions or other motivational tricks, please share!

Running through the bluebells in 2010, my big PR year

Trail Tuneup

I ran the Backyard Burn 10 Miler at Fountainhead Regional Park on Sunday. 

I run the trails here often, and it's great fun having the opportunity to run some different (temporary) trails created just for the Backyard Burn.
Mile 3 or so, cruising along

This is a hilly one, and I really like the course. EX2 Adventures puts on outstanding races.

It was a beautiful, chilly morning, perfect trail racing weather. Any day I get to race in my tattoo arm warmers, I'm happy.

Hubz is usually a reluctant photographer, but today he offered -- and seemed to relish his role.
I haven't run a short race in quite awhile. Not surprisingly, I found I didn't have the drive to push as hard as usual. Part of that was by design: I wanted to see how I ran if I kept my heart rate (mostly) under control. 

Around mile 8. Yes, I walked this hill.

I'm not sure that was a fair test, seeing that my training has been almost all easy running since my fall marathon. I'm definitely not on my racing game. 

Half a mile to go, time to kick!
What does this mean for Bull Run Run 50 Miler in less than two weeks? Probably not a PR. Then again, if I look back on prior years, I've never felt ready for Bull Run Run. So who knows?

Post-race bliss. I was quite happy with my final sprint.
 I'm just looking forward to spending a day in the woods with my friends.