Devin ran 50 miles this weekend. Here is his memoir.
No starting gun, no count down, and two minutes after the â€œofficialâ€ starting time. The only thing left to do now was run.
Earlier that morning, in the pre-dawn stillness that can only be seen at 5:00 AM in the middle of April, the weight of the endeavor I was about to undertake was too heavy to bear. As Casey was taking a shower, I decided to head over to the lodge and try to eat something. I had packed bananas and peanut butter and some oranges, but that morning, the thought of eating any of that stuff just didn’t seem appealing to me. In the lodge I was able to get a few muffins down, followed by a number of cups of water. The food sat in my stomach like a stone, oh well, whatever. After that I headed back over to the tent to put on my t-shirt with my number on it. I soon figured out that the cool thing to do was to cut your number down and pin it on your shorts, oh well, next time, you only get to be a newbie once.
The day before, the folks at registration were suprisingly non-instructive:
â€œI’m here to registerâ€
â€œWhats your name?â€
â€œThere ya go Devin.â€
After leaving the registration building and realizing we had no idea where to camp, we decided to return, and ask directions. The second time we returned, a nice guy came out and showed us where to go:
â€œYeah, camping is right down there, and we serve dinner over at that lodge, and in the morning there will be coffee and stuff in there. Tommorrow there will be 300 people here, so just follow the crowd.â€
His name was Scott Mills, he was the race director for a time, but he had since moved to California, and he was just back to run.
He was right. At about 5:40, I met back up with Casey, we hung around inside the lodge waiting for everyone to do something. About 6:00 am the tides changed and everyone starting sauntering over to where we were to line up to start.
We got down to the start. There was a clock with the time on it. It was 2 minutes to start. We had a nice volunteer snap our picture in front of the clock, Casey looked tired, I looked nervous.
I gave her my jacket, a kiss, and wandered over to where all the people with numbers pinned on their clothes were standing. There was a nervous energy about, some folks joked, others were quiet, some stretched, some chatted.
â€œSo is this the start of the 5K?â€ I asked.
I would get a lot of mileage off that joke.
Shortly there after, we were off.
The course looped around the park that the race started in to spread the runners out, less than a mile later, we were back at the start heading down a trail towards the river. This stretch of trail Casey and I had hiked the day before, it was nice, but to see a huge conga-line of runners heading down it was quiet surrealistic. I just slowly ambled along, trying to ignore the pace of whoever was in front of me and paying attention to my own body’s signals.
Soon we met the river and hung a sharp right. From here, the course would follow the river along until a creek crossing and a trail junction. We would cross the creek and run 7 miles to the first aid station. It was pretty easy running, there was a short technical section that wasn’t an issue so much for me, but everyone was walking it so I figured I was in no rush. The trail I had trained on was a lot steeper and much rockier, and for that I am very glad.
I was paying attention to my knee, it would act up here and there, but nothing serious, yet. I was pissed. I couldn’t believe it. I decided to keep running until the pain was too much, then I would stop. I had actually given up at finishing 4 miles into it, because I knew my knee wouldn’t last.
Soon the trail left the river and headed up into the rolling hills along the valley, nothing was too steep or too long, I could have easily run the hills, but I knew I had a long way to go, and I figured I would take it easy. I also was still following in a line of runners, and I figured they had a better idea about what they were doing than I did, but that didn’t last.
Most folks where walking the hills at a pretty slow pass, huffing and puffing as they went. I had trained religiously on the hills, so even though I knew I could run them without going anaerobic pretty easily, I took the easy approach. I finally realized that I could walk the hills and STILL pass folks comfortable, I started doing just that. The trail was in great shape and it was really nice to be running after 2 and a half weeks off, before I knew it, I came upon Centerville Road, the first aid station, 7.2 miles, or 2.31 5Ks into it.
That first aid station was a blur. There were runners everywhere and folks yelling at me asking me what I needed in my bottle. I asked for some water, as I sipped it, I saw Casey. I’m not sure what happened then, conversation-wise, but I’m pretty sure that it had to do with food or drink or something. I dropped my fanny pack with her, and ran off down the course with just a hand-bottle of Cytomax. From this point, the course heads another 2.2 miles up the river, turns around, and heads back to the start. This was also the point that I was passed by the Front runners, who were
at this point already 4.4 miles ahead of me, and moving REALLY fast. I was amazed. I just continued on my merry way down the trail. The course followed the Bull Run closely here, so it was pretty flat. At this point also, everyone was passing everyone else, because some folks were running out, and some where running back, and the awesome thing was that everyone was encouraging everyone else, all encouragement was some form of either â€œlooking goodâ€ or â€œkeep it upâ€. It was really nice.
The turnaround caught up to me abruptly, there were these two gentlemen standing in the middle of the trail, next to two Starbucks cups, an empty beer bottle, and a flower all stacked up like a cone. I do-see-doed the cone and headed back the way I came.
I was back at Centerville in no time. This time I left fully stocked, loaded with my fanny pack again, a bottle of water a bottle of cytomax, 2 granola bars, and 2 packets of Gu, for the 5 miles back to the start, where I would meet Casey again.
So far in the race, I had drank roughly 2 quarts of liquid and consumed somewhere along 400 calories. The long of the short of it is that you need to consume more than water to go 50 miles, and thats all there is to it.
The night before Casey and I ate pasta and salad and chicken at the pre-race briefing. We sat with another couple, in hopes that maybe we would get to know sombody.
I guess his name was Bill, but this was his third year running the Bull Run Run, and it was by far his favorite race. When I told him it was my first, he asked me if I had trained significantly, I told him my longest run was 24 miles, and he said that was just fine. That made me happy. This whole endeavor had intrigued Cas from the beginning, and she asked Bill’s girlfriend/wife/whatever if she had done anything like this.
â€œI did a 5K, and that was enough for meâ€
I guess we all have different ideas about the phrase â€œanything like thisâ€.
Three plates of pasta and two more of salad later, I was full. It was good.
The run back from Centerville was easier in that I knew the terrain that was coming, so the hills weren’t as scary, and the aid station broke up the runners a little bit more so I wasn’t stuck running the pace of whoever was in front of me.
Some time passed, I met a nice guy from South Jersey who didn’t seem to be having much fun, it was easy to tell from his get-up that this was probably his first ultra as well.
â€œHow are ya doing?â€
â€œMan, these hills are killing me, I did all my training on roads.â€
Again, I was thankful that the hills gave me no problems and that I had trained almost exclusively on trails.
The course took a different trail at the first creek crossing we had passed originally, and headed up the hill back to the start.
Soon we were crossing an open field with some challenge course elements, and someone said â€œGood thing we don’t have to do the obstacle course to finish!â€
This was going to be the â€œhome-stretchâ€ at the end of the race, 35 miles away, my knee wasn’t hurting me, but I wasn’t thinking of finishing, I was just getting to the next aid station.
When I arrived back at the start, I grabbed some water from the aid station volunteers, and headed up looking for Casey. I didn’t see her. We had decided that if I didn’t catch her at an aid station, I would just keep running and she would get me eventually. I took stock of my supplies as I munched on a handful of M&Ms, I had a bottle and a half of water, a gu, and a granola bar. I knew I should’ve gone back to the aid station to get some electrolyte, but I didn’t, and stupidly I kept running down the road, a decision that could’ve very well cost me the race.
As I sauntered down the road towards the trail that originally took us down to the river, a lady in a visor said:
â€œWhat? Your girlfriend left you?â€
â€œYeah, probably better off anyway….Her, I mean, not me.â€
I ran back down the trail, and soon I started getting sluggish. I ate a granola bar, and drank some water and my energy returned, I was only 4.5 miles from the next aid station, so I wasn’t worried about it. But what I didn’t realize at the time, is that it had been close to 2 hours that I hadn’t had any cytomax/gatorade/salt, and I was only going about
50/50 on what I drank in terms of water and sportdrink This soon caused a problem. I pounded the second Gu from Centerville, and drank more water, but I wasn’t feeling good at all. I had to slow for a walk, as the course meandered through a park with soccer fields and baseball diamonds, as folks jogged by, they asked if I was okay…
â€œI’m moving, which is better than the alternative.â€
I would like to say it got better, but it first got much worst.
I soon found that if I had over-extended any of my leg muscles too much it would immediately seize up and cramp. I had muscles in my legs cramping that I didn’t even know I had. The strangest being the muscle on the outside of your ankle that pulls your arch down to the ground and your ankle to roll inward, yeah, even THAT was cramping. I was afraid that soon the big boys(quads) where just going to seize up, my knees where going to buckle and I could do nothing about it, but I managed to get to the next aid station, at the Bull Run Marina.
I had figured that Casey had probably just missed me at the start, so she would probably wait, then be too late to catch me here, so I wasn’t really expecting to see her, so when I didn’t I wasn’t surprised, or mad, I was just happy she was in Virginia with me.
Something I had read about in ultra races was the (in)famous baked potato and salt. There are cut up pieces of potato, and a bowl of salt, you take the potato, dip it in the salt, and eat it. It never seemed appealing to me, and I never thought that I would be doing such a thing, but here I was wobbling into the aid station, actually CRAVING this crazy ultra ritual.
This was the first aid station I spent an amount of time at. Centerville I probably hung around for less than 2 minutes, tops. The start I almost walked through, but I knew that if I wanted to continue, I had to regroup.
I took a piece of potato, dipped and ate it, took a piece potato, dipped and ate it, took a piece of potato, dipped and ate it. I had a volunteer fill my bottles up with gatorade, I swung one back right away, sipped the other with the potato, and soon had both refilled again. I ate some banana, another potato, and some Pringles. I was feeling better almost immediately, and I had a new outlook on my new best friend, Mr. Baked Potato and Salt.
As I ran out, headed towards the next aid station, I heard a volunteer…
â€œYeah, this is mile 21.9 out, and 44.9 backâ€
Hearing that shook me back into the reality of the endeavor, and it was scary, I was on the verge of complete physical breakdown, and I wasn’t even half way there. I felt like I had really made some miles, but in truth I had barely started. I thanked the volunteers, and headed along my way.
Soon the trail crossed a road, and there was a cop there directing traffic letting runners by. By the looks of him, he was having a grand time watching all the crazy people try to run 50 miles.
I was feeling better but my legs where still cramping up now and again, so I continued to take it easy, but I was able to keep pace with the folks around me because they would slow way down on the hills, where I would keep my pace and pass them, then they would pass me on the flats, but soon I would see them again on the hills.
I slowly hiked up a hill, passing a farmhouse when I saw him. Wearing a yellow shirt, black shorts, with a number 1 pinned on his shorts, was the guy in first place. I cheered him on as he flew passed me, that guy is a machine. His name is Leigh Schmitt, this was his third year in a row winning this race. In case the reader thinks my experience is noteworthy let me put things in perspective:
Leigh was 15 minutes ahead of the second place runner. He finished with a time of 6:24:43. That means that he AVERAGED just over 8 minutes a mile, for 50 miles. Training for this, my really fast pace for interval runs was 30 seconds slower than this guys race pace. Just seeing some of those front runners was an inspiration. Oh, and this wasn’t only Leigh’s third year winning the Bull Run Run, it was also his third ear running it. I know, its okay, my hokey saunter jog-pace really doesn’t seem all that great anymore, so feel free to stop reading if so inclined.
The next aid station is Wolf Run Shoals Road 26.1 miles, or 8.4 5Ks down the way. Being that this is the first station after the halfway point, they celebrate, with ice cream sandwiches, and costumes. This year the whole aid station staff was dressed up like M*A*S*H. When I got there, I went straight for the potatoes and salt again, and more Pringles, and Gatorade. I was able to get one of the aid stations volunteers cell phone’s to call Casey, hoping she would catch me at the next station. The conversation didn’t last long, spotty coverage, and her uncertainty about who I was calling, and why I would know it was her on the phone made for a unconstructive phone call that I didn’t want to waste anymore time with. On my way out, I grabbed an ice cream sandwich. It was only 2 miles to id station, and I was feeling my momentum building once again. This was also undiscovered territory for me, my longest run only having been 24 miles, but I wasn’t worried, I was just getting to the next aid station, where there would be drink, a cute
blond(hopefully) and some more of those great potatoes and salt.
The trail since leaving the start the second time was definitely more hilly, which I didn’t mind in the least, because it gave me ample excuses to walk, and the hills still weren’t giving me trouble.
Before I knew it, I had reached Fountainhead, 28 miles down the way. Casey finally caught me, and she had met up with Katie. Katie used to work with me at Starbucks in Glastonbury before she moved to DC with her fiance, Jeff. I had met Jeff in passing before, he was big into bike racing and triathlons, so I had to put on a good face to try to trick him into trying one of these crazy races, I don’t remember if I went to the friends cheering me on or the food at the aid
table first, either way, it was really great to have folks there specifically cheering me, personally, on. The next 10 miles would be what I considered the â€œmeatâ€ of the run. Its that stretch between â€œrun a long wayâ€ and â€œalmost finishedâ€, it was mentally exhausting as well, because this is where the trail becomes less direct and more meandering, in its quest
to be a 50 miler as opposed to a 44, or whatever miler.
Right after leaving the aid station, the trail heads off on â€œThe White Loopâ€ thankfully, the white loop only has to be done on the way out, because its not really a loop as much as a series of zigzags up and down back and forth in an acre of a few acres. It took a painfully long time. When I was at the aid station though, I was able to get some more GU packets from Casey, so I popped one of those, and realized something. I need to be less stingy with the simple sugars this late in the race. I had become so enamored by those salty baked potatoes that I had ignored all the other girls on the dance floor, but personal discovery would soon change all of that.
When I reached the next aid station, at a place called â€œThe Do Loopâ€ I saw it, in little red cups sizzling like a magic elixir, Mountain Dew. Yes, Mountain Dew, I asked a volunteer to load my bottle up with half Dew and half water. I felt the effects almost immediately. Understand now, I had been running for 7 hours at this point, mental capacities were
probably pretty limited, and I hadn’t had any significant caffeine all day, and man, that stuff was rocket fuel.
The Do Loop was the Southern most portion of the course, it was shaped like a lollipop, the run heads out from the aid station, around the loop, and back. Running out, there was a volunteer telling runners which way to go where, I asked him a question:
â€œIf I really like to do the Do Loop, do I get to do the Do Loop twice?â€
I’m sure he got that a lot(maybe) but he laughed anyhow.
When I got back to the Do Loop aid station, I realized something, I was 35 miles into it. 15 miles to go, with somewhere in the range of 5 hours left to finish before the cut-off. For the first time, the entire race, in my entire life, for the first time since getting this whole crazy absurd idea in my head and bobbing it around and training for it and paying for it and buying Gu for it and telling people about it, I knew I was going to finish. I was going to finish. I was going to finish.
I asked the nice lady at the aid station to fill my bottle up with more Mountain Dew, I grabbed some more
potatoes, and I was off on my way, finally, heading back to the finish. I hit Fountainhead the second time around, saw Casey, Katie and Jeff. I got some more of the M.D. Rocket fuel from the station, then sat of the grass to change my socks, I brought three pairs, and ended up changing into the last two for the last 12 miles. Running was really hard at this point, the physical pain of it had sort of leveled off, so that wasn’t the issue, the issue was that I KNEW I was going to finish. So the will power to run versus the ease of walking was hard.
The next 6 miles to the next aid station was slow going. I got back to Wolf Run Shoals Road. My entire view on everything had changed, I knew I was going to finish. The conversation with the runners out on the trail was completely different as well. The conversation wasn’t about the pain so much as it was about the completion, we talked about training, what worked for us, and the fact that we could walk it in from there. It was here that most folks learned that
this was my first ultra, and then they were even more amazed by the fact that it was my first running race at all. Something strange happened just before coming into Bull Run Marina, I actually got sick of walking the hills. The whole 50, the only thing that I knew wouldn’t give me an issue was those hill, so hey, I had less than 10 miles left, I was going to run
â€œOn your left.â€
â€œHoly crap, What are you doing?! Are you retarded!?â€
A skinny lady with frosted blond hair responded when I passed her on one particularly long uphill section, running.
Bull Run Marina, I had run 14 and a half 5Ks. Only a few hours ago, I was on the verge of complete destruction at this very place, too scared to even think about how many miles I had left. But there I was, with my crew cheering me (and everyone else) on. My head was just flooded with the emotional release of just knowing that yes, I was going to finish my run. I (again) cracked the â€œthis is a little long for a 5K dontcha-think?â€ joke, and everyone laughed. They were
probably not laughing at the joke as much as laughing at the guy who is still cracking jokes after running 44.9 miles. I was just lingering when a volunteer said something along the lines of â€œhey, you gotta finish to finish.â€ I gave Casey my fanny pack, loaded up on a Mountain Dew Gatorade Cocktail, finished a snicker bar, and headed off on the last 6 miles of the race.
Finally, it was coming to an end.
The final miles were great, it was this section of trail that I was at my darkest, that a simple mistake of mine almost completely wiped out my dream. I was making great time, I ended up running the last 5 miles at a pace that was probably faster than that I had for the 20 previous. The course passed the original trail we had used to get down to the river, to climb up on the opposite side up the hill and across the field that was an impossible dream earlier that day.
I started running when I knew the end was near, I knew that Casey and the gang wouldn’t be expecting me so quickly, so when I saw the crowd, I let out a whoop. Right at the front of the crowd was my cheer squad, it was so great to see them. I’m pretty sure I asked where the finish line was. Whether I sprinted, jogged or walked across the finish line, I don’t remember, and honestly, I don’t care, I had run 50 miles in 10 hours and forty-six minutes. I had done it, I had done it, I had done it.
Its two days later, I can hardly bend my knees, my legs are still swollen like balloons, and I can’t get over the fact that, yes, I ran 50 miles.