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Saturday, April 7, 2001 -- Clifton, VA
Bull Run Run 50 Miler (iPO Event Id#: 2661)
Story by Brad Yurish (writer, racer, and newbie ultra-runner) with photos by Karen Diehl

[Details] [Coverage] [Overall Results] [Pic Set 1] [Pic Set 2] [Pic Set 3] [Pic Set 4]

Be sure and visit the official VHTRC Bull Run Run web site for a whole lot more coverage.

Race Pic
A little morning mud on the trails at the Bull Run Run
Well before dawn on Saturday, April 7th, 265 runners had begun their journey at the Bull Run 50 Mile Trail Run. Spirits were very high in the predawn meeting, although these runners would soon find out that trail conditions were going to test those spirits for even the most determined individuals.

The Bull Run ultra takes place at Hemlock Overlook Park in Clifton, Virginia, and runs along the famous and historic Bull Run and Occoquan River. However, do not think for a minute that this is a flat riverside trail. It is anything but flat. With trails continually winding far above the water's edge and back down, this run had plenty of hills of all shapes and sizes for everyone.

The run started at the park promptly at 6:15 A.M. and ran 8.5 miles North along Bull Run. The first aid station was at Centerville Road (rt. 28) at mile 6.5. The race then went another 2 miles out and turned around. This is the first section to really begin testing a person's determination. The mud along this section was as thick and greasy as any mud this writer has ever seen. It might have been easier to run on ice at this point. However, this only added to the entire experience and gave runners plenty to talk about as everyone carried on through the rest of the race. I'm sure there were many instances where people went down along this trail, but one incident that I saw sort of summed up the feeling at this point in the race.

There came a point where a low spot in the trail had most everyone trying to jump the 'mud pit' and land on the other side. One fellow, who will remain nameless (only because I didn't get his name!) planted his right foot smack dab in the middle of this pit. Well, his foot came out but his shoe stayed in the mud! He made it out of the muck to get to the other side, but when he turned around to retrieve his shoe he slipped and landed smack in the mud right next to his shoe.

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Rocks, dirt and water... that's a trail
Shortly after this episode the lead runners came into view as they were headed back on the return leg. Even the lead runners were not immune to the cruelty of the mud as one of the two front runners turned a corner, lost his footing and went down hard on all four's. After returning to the first aid station, the trail became much more friendly and the running became much more enjoyable. Along this section of the trail there were even ruins of Civil War artillery batteries, but most people didn't have the time to stop and admire all the history of this area. There were many miles ahead...

From this point, the trail wound all through the woods back up to the start/finish at the Hemlock Overlook Park for mile 15.5. At this aid station there were cookies, candies, sandwiches, salt, fruit, and tons of other foods and drinks. The volunteers at these aid stations did an excellent job of helping runners find whatever they needed.

From here the trail dropped off the plateau of the hemlock park to run on some great singletrack trails. At one point, the trail goes right through about 10 soccer fields, all of which were being played on. This was definitely an interesting moment in the race. Hundreds of people were cheering and screaming for the kids on the field just as the runners were coming through after having ran 20 miles in the relative quiet of the woods.

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Forecast is for some beautiful running
Some of the steeper and hillier sections followed here, and an aid station at Bull Run marina was a very welcome sight indeed. Another full compliment of snacks and goodies were waiting, along with freshly sliced strawberries! Orders for grilled steaks were placed here by some, but I don't believe this was on the menu.

As the trail went further South, it would be another 10 miles before there was an aid station where crew' members could meet runners. However, 5 miles down the trail there was an aid station, but it was unlike anything most non ultra-runners have seen. About a mile before the 'space station' were signs alluding to an 'Odyssey 2001 Adventure'. Beside these signs were black shutters with one entitled "The Dawn of Man", a stuffed monkey, and another one proclaimed ice cream 1/2 miles ahead. Having not seen the movie, this writer had no idea what was going on. For a moment, I thought I was starting to become delirious. However, running into the 'space station/aid station' all fears of going mad were put to rest. Volunteers were dressed in white NASA overalls with aluminum foil covering their heads, and anything else the suits didn't cover. The theme for this station was of course, the movie '2001:Space Odyssey' and all of the volunteers did a wonderful job playing their respective parts.

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Seeking a little refreshment on a hot and muggy afternoon
The next aid station was at the Fountainhead Park, mile 29.5, where crew members could meet runners and it also served as a staging area for the infamous 'Do Loop'. Two more miles out towards the Do Loop was another runners' only aid station that happened to be run by Chris Scott. I don't know if there was a theme, but with the festive hats, loud music, and made to order grilled cheese sandwiches, it was a little piece of heaven. From what I could gather1, Scott and the rest of the VHTRC folks bushwhacked this trail when the first BRR started, and this loop was quite the navigational challenge. Add to that some of the tallest climbs and some of the prettiest views, and it makes for some high quality trail running. After runners emerged from the Do Loop, they could pick up their grilled cheese sandwich and head 2 miles back to Fountainhead. From this point on, it was 12.5 very long miles back to the finish line.

A 2.5-mile loop that was included in the southbound leg was not included on the northbound leg, much to this writer's surprise and delight. But there were still some hard miles ahead and a final monstrous climb to the finish line.

At this point, the sun decided to come out to heat up what was an already hot and muggy day for the first week of April. However, once again this was just a test to see if runners could complete the challenge of the Bull Run ultra. I'm sure many people walked a number of the steep hills in the last 12 miles, although the aid stations really helped runners stay fueled up and their spirits high. Without the cheering and enthusiasm from the volunteers and spectators at this point, it would have made an already tough run even tougher. After making it back to the last 2 miles of the race, runners had to navigate the most technical sections of the trail. At this point, most persons were having a hard time staying on their feet, let alone scrambling over and under this super technical rock garden! The change in the trail actually felt good for this runner and again, added to the overall experience. Once this was completed, runners had 1 mile of fairly flat trail and a 1/2 mile hill to climb to the finish line.

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Back on the trail, hills included
The crowd gathered at the finish did not hold back on their applause for any of the runners that finished. Every runner that crossed the finish line knew they had completed a very tough run, and the sights and sounds of the finish line were a welcome sight indeed. Some runners were so excited to finish they even did a cartwheel across the finish line, i.e. Lori Ann Schuler! At one point, about 5 runners turned the corner heading toward the finish line. With about 80 yards to go, all five broke out in a dead sprint and raced to the finish line. The crowd couldn't believe this was happening after 50 miles of running, but these runners hammered it out till the very end.

After most everyone had finished, Scott Mills gathered everyone together to give out awards. But since not all runners had finished, each time a runner came toward the finish line, the awards ceremony was stopped and a huge round of applause broke out.

Howard Nippert won this year's race and even with slow trail conditions, broke the course record with a time of 6:25:37. Michele Burr placed an impressive 9th overall, and won the women's division with a time of 8:05:05 in a field where women took 5 of the top 20 places. Scott Mills, Anstr Davidson2 and the rest of the VHTRC put on an excellent race that was as organized as well as any event I have ever seen, especially one with 300 entrants, six aid stations, and a start that began in the dark! The aid stations and volunteers should also be commended for doing an excellent job of feeding the runners and keeping our spirits high.

1 'The trail, as it is, was done by horse people before the BRR ever happened. It is usually ill defined so we have to "make" it each year. This year, someone swept the trail with a broom. It was never this well marked before.' Anstr Davidson, Race Director

2 'Thanks for the mention of me, but I really don't deserve it compared to a lot of other people!' Anstr Davidson, Race Director