Bull Run Run 50: A Volunteer’s Perspective

If you aren’t familiar with any of the Civil War the Battle of Bull Run was a significant battle between Union and Confederate forces.  (Kid friendly video here) Today, much of that ground is either National Park land or part of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail.  Bull Run Run 50 takes place on the entire length of the BROT as well as in Fountainhead Regional Park.   It especially beautiful this time of year with the bluebells in bloom.


This past week here in the mid-Atlantic we’ve been getting pummeled by storms.  On Thursday there was even a EF0 that went through DC.  Friday morning a small band of hearty souls descended on the BROT with surveyors tape to mark the BRR50 course.  I had never done course marking before, but I was lucky enough to be paired with Q.  Q very much reminds me of the Mystics in Dark Crystal; he knows all, is one with the universe, and is patient oh my word is the man patient.   Anyway, Q and I headed northwest from Hemlock towards the marina.  We were to run 7 miles up then we turn around and power hike/mark on the way back, no problem.

We hadn’t even hit the first quarter mile and, Houston, we had a problem.  Normally IMG_2603there are seven concrete cylinders that allow you to hopscotch across the creek.  Remember that rain I mentioned?  All of the cylinders were all under at least 8 inches of water.  While we could (sort of, kind of, if you squinted) see 5 of them, 2 were completely gone.  Well crap.  The water was too deep and moving a little too fast for us to cross normally.  I scouted up the creek and came across the perfect solution, a tree 8 feet in the air over the creek.  Q went across first.  Charlotte, much to my surprise, happily followed Q right across.

We continued up the trail and conditions started to deteriorate.  It was like trying to run on a slip and slide.  Q kept the RD updated with pictures (several included us covered in mud after wiping out). We came to another creek crossing with no cylinders.  I vaulted myself up  4′ off the ground onto the tree and clamored across.  Charlotte didn’t follow me and was now stuck on the other side.  Q (being the superhero that he is) crossed the creek IMG_2629carrying her.   Now this is huge for a couple of reasons.  First, Charlotte is skittish of all people, but especially men.  Second, to be carried by a strange man?   As Q said, “I could tell the hamster wheel was turning in her head saying, this seems to be endorsed by mom so it must be ok.”

When we hit Old Centerville Rd. there was construction on the bridge with a 3 foot fence under the bridge that sucked us toward it due to the tilt of the ground.  We managed to slip and slide our way across but Q texted the RD. Yeah, this was a definite no go.  300+ runners moving up and back across this slick 10 inch wide mud patch, no way.  There was no way to go over the road either (plus that’s just as dangerous).  One course change coming up.   We turned around and started flagging the course south.  Start to finish to mark ~14 miles: 6 hours.  I felt (and looked) like I had just run a Spartan Beast.


Race day! I had been assigned to Do Loop.  Why is it called Do Loop? WellIMG_2643, just like in computer programming you can get stuck in the loop.  (Rumor has it one year a runner did it 4 times before he realized it.) At 0830 I opened the gate and waited for the aid station Captain, Eddie, to arrive.  He has done aid stations for years and you could tell.  Not only did he have every food known to man, but he had inflatables!   All of the volunteers got busy setting everything up.  We turned our aid station into party central.  I was hyper vigilant about making sure that we separated peanut/nut things from everything else.  Including cutlery.  I also ensured that gluten/non-gluten items were separated.  I explained why to the other volunteers.  They all said the same thing, “Wow I’d never thought about this before.”

The first runners came through in a trickle and then the trickle became a river.  All of the volunteers settled into their chosen roles.  I played shortstop filling in where necessary, but my primary role quickly became watermelon slicer.  By the time all 12 were gone I had become a pro!   Even with all of the runners that came through there were a couple that stood out and instilled some lessons in me;

  1. Aid station workers are there to help you.  There was a runner that came through that was breathing really heavy on the way into the Do Loop. They said their stomach was upset and they know that not eating is their biggest weakness.  They looked, well, awful.  We got a slice of watermelon into them on the way out, but we all talked about it and decided on the way back we needed to try to encourage them to get something into their system.  On the way back we managed to get another slice of watermelon and little bit of noodles and broth into them.   I just hope that it helped.
  2. Don’t be an a-hole, say thank you.  All of the runners who said thank you especially having had a couple of grumpasauruses come through meant a lot.  Hey, I get that at mile 30 the last thing you want to be is nice, but the volunteers are there giving up their weekend so that you can run through the woods.  (See #1, we are there to make sure you make it to the finish.)
  3. Be a good competitor. Sitting at Do Loop with the out and back traffic you got to see some of the best in people; encouraging other runners on.  Sometimes it was the runners further back encouraging the leaders, sometimes it was the leaders encouraging the folks in the back.  That is why I love my trail running family.
  4. The little things matter. This one is more for the RDs and other volunteers.  Remember that separation of allergens that I mentioned earlier?  We had a runner come through and stare at the table.  I asked them what they wanted, salty/sweet/protein?  “I’m Celiac”, they stated.  Oh! No problem, we had checked all the ingredients, we pointed to the zones of foods they could eat.   I don’t think I saw a more grateful runner all day.

IMG_2651All in all I probably spent too much time outside in the past two days as now I’m wheezing up a storm, but it was worth it.  I had a grand time and the runners seemed to have a grand time.  I even got to see several of my friends blow through.  Sweaty hugs are the best hugs!

Can’t wait for next year!


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