Bull Run 50 miler

Manassas, VA

April 12, 2014

*warning: this report contains graphic descriptions of bodily fluids*

‘I had calculated that our team could win even if we all had cruddy days,’ I told my teammate Robin as we strolled into the Do Loop around mile 30 of the Bull Run Run.  ‘But it never occurred to me that we’d hit this level of cruddy.’  Robin had been dragging me along since Fountainhead, where I had collapsed into a chair and made no signs of getting up.  My race had been going fabulously for the first 20 or so miles, but I was horribly nauseated by the time I got to the Wolf Run Shoals aid station, and spewed vomit and diarrhea shortly thereafter.  Trying to run made me sick to my stomach, and trying to eat made me gag.  But I knew that the major aid station at Fountainhead was just a couple miles away.  When I reached Fountainhead I plopped into chair, immobilized,  and was ready to throw in the towel.  I still had 20+ miles to go, and I couldn’t see any direction for my race to go except down into that death spiral where you’re too sick to eat, and without any food you ultimately lose all energy to move.  Twenty miles is a long way to do the sad walk.

Justine was there with her two kids, and I announced to her that I was ready to drop then and there as I crumpled into a chair.  But dammit I was on the all-women’s team Wussies with Pussies (censored version: Wussies with Kittycats), and all four of us had to finish or our team would be disqualified.  Man, signing up for a team had seemed like such a good idea at the time.  I always loved running on the cross country team in high school and college, having a sense of camaraderie, working together, and running for something larger than yourself.  But for that the only requirement was completing a measly three miles — not fifty.   I was beginning to regret the hole I’d cornered myself into.  I sat in my chair watching blankly as other runners came and went — Keith, several women, and eventually my teammate Robin, who was also having some stomach problems.  Justine must be a marmot-whisperer, because against all inertia she was able to coax me out of my chair to just ‘get moving.’  I mean, what other option did I have?  I couldn’t drop because of the team, I was just delaying the inevitable.

robin my savior

robin, my savior

Robin was leaving Fountainhead as well, and the two of us agreed to just walk together for a bit.  Robin proposed a game plan where we at least ran the downhills but could walk the rest.  Otherwise we’d be out there forever.  The downhills were actually the hardest on my stomach, and I proposed alternative strategies (i.e., not running ever).  But Robin was determined to get to Hemlock before nightfall, and if I didn’t want to be left behind I had to oblige.  Every time we went down a hill I was hit with a wave of nausea and would gag at the bottom.  That white loop was awful, but at least Robin was very good at distracting me with good conversation.

It was kind of painful to see just how far back in the pack we had slipped when we started seeing runners already coming our way out of the Do Loop — Mario, Jack, Brad, the two ladies vying for the lead, and, to my great delight, Aaron.  I gave Aaron a good whine about my vomity state of affairs.  But he was running great, and we let him on his way.  After years of struggling with Lyme disease, this was really Aaron’s first smooth race where he felt like his old self again.  So great to him back on top.

Bull Run was my first 50 mile race, but I knew that if I had a good day I had as good a shot at winning as anyone.  Aaron and I had done a number of training runs between Hemlock and Fountainhead, and I was feeling very comfortable with the course.  The fibroma on my foot is still there and occasionally gets inflamed, but I knew it could go the distance.  I had executed my early race plan to a tee, running my own pace and letting the other women run ahead, settling into a very comfortable fifth place by Hemlock.  I had moved into third place shortly after the Marina.  I was eating well, and feeling great.

happy aaron sans marmot

happy aaron sans marmot

The night before the race I remarked to Aaron that I couldn’t wait to see who would end up being my running buddy.  Aaron and I had decided not to run together (i.e., Aaron had announced he wasn’t going to run with me).  But I had always envisioned that I would find someone along the trail who would be good company, like I often do in races.  It’s so much better for me if I find someone chatty like Zaruba at Potomac Heritage or Schuster at Holiday Lake or one of those colorful characters who make me forget that I’m in the middle of a race.  I initially ran with Robin, which was great, but her pace was a little quicker than I had in mind, and I let her go.  After the Marina I found myself in particularly unfavorable company.  No naming names, but even Sean doesn’t like this dude.  And Sean likes Hot Pockets.  He’s just always hyper-competitive even in really inappropriate contexts like MGM.  Today his absurdly booty shorts were particularly irksome.  I tried to step aside and let him pass me, but circumstances made us keep criss-crossing.  I can’t blame him for making me vomit (at least not literally).  But I was definitely riled, and the timing of my stomach ills was eerily contemporaneous.   And if he can mess with Seanie’s impenetrable karma, just imagine what kind of hole he can blast though mine.



It’s entirely likely that this disruption of my early relaxed pace contributed to the stomach issues that ensued shortly thereafter.  All of my good (ie, puke-free) ultras have been when Aaron stays with and we treat the event like we’re out for a long training run and there just happens to be a race going on around us.  I grew up doing short races, where the race was all you ever had on your mind, and when I don’t have someone doing a good job of distracting me, my mind tends to drift back towards racing mode.  In fact, every ultra that Aaron has accompanied me for I’ve had a great day (Promise Land, Iceland, Highland Sky – take 2, Catawba), and every ultra that I’ve run solo I’ve puked (Highland Sky – take 1, Holiday Lake, Willis River).  When I’m running with Aaron we make fun of those annoying competitive dudes, rather than letting them get under my skin.  I bet if Aaron had been running with me at Bull Run we would have laughed and swapped stories about the ‘unfavorable company’ and it wouldn’t have unraveled my race.  Not that I’m going to make Aaron to stay at my side every race, I just need to learn how to buffer myself even when when he’s not there.

All aspirations for the podium clearly were long gone by the time Robin and I ambled into the Do Loop.  But we were trying to figure out whether we still had a chance to vie for the team title, and the possibility of it kept us going forward, and even trotting down the hills against the objections of my stomach.  There were only two all-female teams: Wussies with Pussies and last year’s winning team of Kathleen, Kari, Stephanie, and Tracy (team STAKK), which made the rivalry particularly fierce (team STAKK had written on all their legs BIF for Bring It Fuckers).

I had given up trying to eat any gels or even my drink mix, but at the Do Loop aid station I was able to get down some watermelon and ginger ale, and over the course of the Do Loop my nausea began to subside and my spirits  heighten.  As my nausea relented, I was beginning to actually really enjoy walking along with Robin.  We hadn’t caught up in a long time — on my decision to stay put in DC, on Aaron’s Lyme recovery, Adam’s back, on Robin’s plans to take a bit of a break from the ultra scene.  It began to seem plausible that we could keep this up with another 10-15 miles.

We started to increase our ratio of running to walking ever so slightly.  But my stomach was still in edge, and after revisiting the Do Loop aid station I had to let Robin go while I went off to  ‘scratch some leaves’ .  But afterwards I felt a lot better, and was able to run with decent pace back to Fountainhead and arrive just shortly after Robin.  All the shitting had made my bum-hole really sore, and by good fortune Adam had a tube of butt cream on him.  But after the application my finger came out draped with blood.  It was a warm day, and the volunteers were very active about offering runners wet towels, which I used to clean off my red fingers.  But I refused to turn the towel back over when the volunteer wanted to rinse it off to reuse for other runners.  I implored her not to reuse a towel that was now covered in my rectal serum, and I tried to throw the towel away.  But the bag I found turned out to be recycling and the volunteers kept shoeing me away from everything that looked trashbag-like.  As the unofficial VHTRC epidemiologist, I really think there should be BIOHAZARD boxes at the aid stations for proper disposal of such materials.  Then again, it can’t be any more dangerous than whatever was served up at the annual Awards Dinner.  (I was planning as a joke to show up at an aid station requesting a crab cake, but I didn’t come across White House Tom or anyone who I was convinced would get it.)  I still wasn’t eating or drinking much, and didn’t take any of the stuff I’d given Adam as a drop bag.  But I was feeding off of all the support from the incredibly helpful folks at the aid station and other WUSsies along the way (Tom and Kirstin were especially good to see at the road crossing) and I was catching a second wind when Robin and I trotted out of Fountainhead with just a half-marathon to the finish.

the Pussies' competition

the Pussies’ competition

My original race plan had been to run easy until the last stretch from Fountainhead back to Hemlock, when I would cut myself loose and have a chance to hunt down the competition.  I clearly was no longer in the running for individual awards, but the team competition was still looking pretty tight.  Robin and I had been passed in the Do Loop by Kari, and Kathleen was way ahead and would ultimately win the race.  But our two other teammates, Alisa and Boots, were looking great and their performances were keeping us in the running despite our dismal straights.  Even though my race reeked of disappointment at an individual level, I felt spurred to crank it up for the Pussies.  Robin had done a spectacular job nursing me back from the grave, and we had really worked together as teammates through our rough patch.  But I was pieced back together, smelling barn, and felt I owed it to the Pussies to give everything I had left in me to the finish.

It was perplexing to me that I felt so energized even though I hadn’t been consuming anything except ginger ale and a bit of essentially calorie-free watermelon over the last hours.  Normally under such caloric deficit I’d be collapsed in a heap.  But I found myself mysteriously able to ride through the depletion.  I was still shitting diarrhea every 4-5 miles or so.  And not eating much of anything.  But my legs were thrilled to be free from the yoke of my stomach, and to have a chance to run.  I missed the company of Robin, and wondered whether the caloric deficit would eventually bite me in the ass somewhere along the way back to Hemlock.  But I ran with abandon, getting stronger and stronger all the way to the finish line.  Runners were perplexed how someone could be whizzing by so late in the race.  A couple asked me quizzically if I was even in the race.  A few called out ‘sandbagger’ and I felt the need to defend myself from such accusations and stop and explain that I had in face been puking and walking for 15 miles and had just caught a second wind only recently.  The highlight of the race was when I flew by the bad karma dude from earlier doing his own sad walk.

Wussies Chasing Kitties

Wussies Chasing Kitties

Aaron finished in 7:48 in 13th place, a fantastic Aaron-is-back-from-Lyme finish (see his recent recounting of his struggle with Lyme disease), and he and Adam were hanging out together at Hemlock wondering when Robin and I would be coming in.  ‘Running 9-minute-ish miles, they’ll probably come in around 9:30 or so, maybe 9:15,’ Adam estimated.  ‘I don’t know,’ Aaron doubted.  ‘Martha tends to smell barn.’  Adam looked at his watch, ‘Well, it’s possible she could come in closer to 9.’

Right on cue, I came up the hill to the finish area in just under 8 hours and 45 minutes.  I didn’t sprint in — that seemed like a tool thing to do at a 50 mile race.  Robin held tight and came in 30 or so minutes later.  Alisa struggled with her own bout of puking at the end but battled in for the team, and Boots managed to be the only Pussy not to succumb to stomach problems.  Bootsie’s clutch performance, beating out both the 3rd and 4th runners on team STAKK, secured victory and winners’ blankets for the Pussies (and confirming my theory that the slower runners are the real heros that make or break teams and it hardly matters what the faster runners do).  This year we had a WUS sweep, as our Wussies Chasing Kitties men’s team of Mario, Keith, Aaron, and Ryan also won the men’s team competition.  Mario had a great run, finishing 5th.  Robin made us awesome pink Wussies with Pussies (Censored) shirts that we all sported for the team photo.  Although I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to compete individually, there was an overwhelming sense of redemption at the end as the Pussies celebrated our team victory.  And it was great to just hang out at the finish line party and catch up with folks — if I hadn’t still been feeling queasy I would have stayed out there for hours.

happy pussies

a happy pussy is a pussy who doesn’t have to run anymore

All in all, I’m glad I eked out my first 50 miler.  This was the first time that I have ever bounced back from the stomach ails graveyard — a valuable lesson that in these longer events you have to keep plugging on, because a 180 turnaround is always possible.  Going forward, I’ve decided that I really need to do more ultra events.  I’ve been racing so long (since age 14) that I feel like an old hat who knows what I’m doing, but I still have incredibly little experience at these long distances.  And the only way I’m going to learn how pace myself and balance hydration and nutrition is to simply do more races.  Now that running 50k or 50 miles doesn’t seem  like a big deal anymore, I should be able to do these events more casually.  I’ve got Highland Sky on the calendar for June.  And Aaron and I are thinking of going to Montana in August for Fool’s Gold 50 miler.  I only wish there were more ultra events that had team competitions.  In the end, it was being part of the Pussies that made BRR, even under trying conditions, a fantastic event and a race I plan to return to.  It was a beautiful day with flowers in bloom and waterfalls gushing and birds singing and friends around every corner.  But is there any reason why we can’t we add a team competition to Stone Mill?  Or the Women’s Half Marathon?  Something to keep my sorry ass going even when it wants to crumple into a chair.

Mario takes the best photos

Mario takes the best photos




5 Responses to Pussies Fly Together

  1. Kirstin says:

    So impressed you were able to hang in there Martha. It takes a village – the right person to inspire you from the depths of despair, good friends to cheer you on, the courage to suffer, and last but not least; the team competition. I fully agree we need more of those!

    That poor, poor towel.

  2. Sean says:

    Another entertaining race report! Congrats to you and to all the Pussies

  3. Martha says:

    For those of you who were confused by the appearance of Sean having the technical capacity to post his own comment on a blog, fear not that I cut and pasted that from an email he wrote.

  4. Bill Losey says:

    Your reports make me smile. Do epic shit!

  5. Doug says:

    HA! I knew Sean didn’t get it posted by himself. Too funny! Epic, like Billy said.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.