Run Run 50
Overland Regional Park
14 April 2007
by Dave Bursler
In the past I've relied upon many sources including my nieces, nephews, grandfather and God above to provide the motivation necessary to run ultramarathons. However in the race I was about to encounter I would have only my heart to rely upon because all of those sources of energy would be needed elsewhere.
The Monday before my race my Uncle underwent major surgery to repair an aneurysm that formed in his heart. As the day of my race approached he laid sleeping peacefully in a hospital bed as those surrounding him wondered when or if he would come too. My mother was very upset which in turn upset me. It was hard but I could not allow my mom to know how much her tears affected me. Instead of getting down and fearing the worst I urged her to support my uncle just as she had supported me while crewing for me in 100-mile races. The analogy fit because his fight was similar though the implications of failure were no where near the same. Her positive attitude and enthusiasm and never give up approach always helped me forge forward even in the worst of times and now she needed to do the same for her brother. The night before my race I wrote to my mom from my hotel room promising her my uncle would not die. I reminded her that he comes from a family of fighters and he would fight, fight and fight some more until he won the battle. My ability to overcome the challenges that present themselves in 100-mile races is not a unique trait but rather it is something I inherited. I was always taught by my family through words and more importantly experiences that there is no challenge too great to be overcome not even death itself.
I did not need any one or any power to generate the source of energy I would need to run the 2007 edition of the Bull Run Run 50. Instead, through my running, I planned to generate positive vibes in the direction of my uncle to supplement his own strength in order to allow him to win his personal battle.
I left my home in
Though in what seems like a remote area the park is actually
located just 30 miles South of Washington D.C. Dulles Airport and
Anyhow after picking up my packet and chatting with a few
friends I made what turned out to be a very important phone call to a good
friend back home. My buddy Rick and I have been good friends ever since he
spent 24 straight hours with me as I ran around the
In that 24-hour span of time Rick and I found that we share a lot of common ground and have similar personalities and interests. Ever since that day in September he has found a way to speak to me like no other. In fact the advice he has given to me can only be described as that of a big brother. An example of this were the words of wisdom he used to encourage me at Badwater. He advised me to do my best under all circumstances but more importantly to understand that no matter the outcome I would not disappoint anyone not my mom, not my dad and certainly not my grandfather. The words he used in his attempt to motivate me for Bull Run Run were similar but conveyed in a different manner. He simply told me that I have nothing to prove, just go run. Those words were so straightforward that I could not help but understand. His guidance, direction, advice, whatever you want to call it, immediately took the edge off of me. I had nothing to prove and now I could just go and run and enjoy the entire day.
Later in the evening I stopped off at what is turning out to be my favorite pre-race eating spot, Subway. I grabbed a sandwich and some chips and took them back to my hotel room where I could eat and prepare for the next day's run. As I sat and ate, my thoughts were not focused on my run but rather my mother and my uncle instead. I am a big believer that confidence alone is something that allows people to do the amazing, that which is not understood and can not be comprehended by the average human being. Some how I wanted to try to instill this confidence in my mom so that she would truly believe my uncle would be okay and then she would be okay as well. The best way I express myself is through writing so after eating I posted a note to my blog, which included a promise to my mom. My promise to her was that if she believed in her heart that my uncle would be okay that indeed he would pull through. Believe in your heart, despite what doctors may say, just believe in your heart and I promise he will be okay. After writing I went back to my hotel room and stared at the picture of my grandfather that I had sitting on the bureau in the room. I looked directly into his eyes and told him that I would not need his spirit to be present in my heart for the next day's run. Instead I asked him to be with his son and give him the will to fight and survive.
My confidence level has suffered some severe blows due to the nagging
injuries I have experienced over the last couple of years. My right leg,
in particular, has not functioned properly since February of 2006.
The amount of running I have been able to do has been limited due to the fact
that I am tired of dealing with the pain. Doctors have not been able to
confirm whether the leg is still broken or if there is muscle damage or are
there is nerve damage. The only recommendation I have been given is if I
can manage the pain than I can run but if not than I should stop. That
being said I have not had the ability to maintain a consistent training pattern
for many months. There are times when I run fine and without pain but then
the next day I am hobbled only to find that the very next day I am pain free
again. It is quite baffling to the medical professionals that I have
spoken with but more importantly it is frustrating to me. My
mileage has been erratic at best and of much concern as the day of the race
neared. In fact the pain in my leg was so bad that at one point in late
March that I considered bailing out of the event. The pain lessened and my
desire to once again have an opportunity to run the beautiful
As I prepared my clothes for the following day I munched on some salty potato chips and Chex Mix that I bought from a vending machine in the hotel. I felt very good and at ease with myself. I was not concerned about my ability to run the distance or my ability to withstand the pain as a result but what did concern me was how well I would care for myself during the race. It was going to be a cool day and like most I had no one there to keep an eye on me to make sure I was drinking enough and resupplying my body with the nutrients I lost through sweating. As a way to address this issue I planned to wear a small waist pack in which I would store some Succeed tablets which contain the right concentration of potassium and sodium lost in sweat. Also I placed a few aspirin along with two Imodium tablets in the pack. Finally I carried a small vial of ginseng along with a 2 ounce bottle of Rocket Shot energy fluid and a disposable rain jacket in the pack. I had all of the necessary items but the question was would I remember to use them.
I knew that nutrition could also play a major role in my ability to run strong. Instead of following my normal method of drinking Red Bull and Ensure I decided that I would eat whatever the aid stations provided. In a way it was an experiment but an experiment in which the odds were in my favor and also to my benefit. The effects of the caffeine in the Red Bull are usually positive for the race but the overall effect including my mood even days after is not good. I felt it was time to move away from the artificial energy provided in the form of caffeine and start using the energy offered in real food. Again this would only work if indeed I recognized that I needed to take the time to stop and eat early.
Well fed and feeling at ease off to sleep I went around midnight. I calculated that it would take about 20 minutes to get from my hotel to the park where the race would start. Taking into account the fact that I would need to stop at a convenience store to get some water for my bottle and also eat I decided that I had better be up and about by 4:45 a.m. This would allow me the leeway to do the necessary things and say my peace to the Man above while easily making it in time for the 6:15 a.m. start.
I slept like a baby with little stress or feelings of unwanted pressure so when the alarm sounded I felt great. I jumped right up, got in the shower, and then dressed in the clothes I had laid out the night before. The predicted weather called for morning temps to be in the low 40's and rising into the 50's as the day progressed. In preparation for that I planned to wear warm-ups over my tank top and shorts and then would remove them just prior to the start. I wore a pair of cotton gloves as well because my hands usually dictate my body temperature and because of this I planned to keep them on the entire race.
After getting dressed I jumped into my car, did the necessary things and arrived at the park around 5:30. The atmosphere was quite calm compared to most races I've been involved with but this event is unique in that most who participate either stay overnight in one of the bunkhouses or they camp. Me? Well I'm a bit spoiled. I don't mind camping but if there's a hotel nearby I can assure you that I will be in it. Anyhow I acclimated very easily to the calm environment created by my fellow runners. While waiting for the start I found a place undercover where I could place my drop bag. I then sat and observed what was going on around me. At 6:05 a.m. I removed my warm-ups and placed Vaseline in the areas where I'm most susceptible to chafing. I wanted to put some Vaseline on the bottom of my left foot because I was a little worried about the strap that I use to support my collapsed arch. It was digging deep into my foot and already causing some minor pain. After some thought I recognized that no amount of Vaseline was going to prevent the damage that could occur from that. It's a long run and anyone who participates will suffer with some pain me included. If my only pain was the result of the damage from the strap I would count my blessings and thank God above.
At 6:10 a.m. the runners started seeding themselves according to their level of ability. I waited until most of the runners were in place before finding a spot I felt most comfortable with. It was still dark so I found it to be difficult to recognize the faces of those around me making it hard for me to place myself in the proper position. Finally I found a spot a couple of tiers back and then waited calmly for the start of the race. My feelings and confidence level at the start of this race in comparison to the marathon which I did a month earlier were quite different. I was very composed and under control while at the same time confident that my goals were reasonable and could be met.
Around 6:15 the race director, Bob Phillips, asked us to take a moment of silence to recognize the troops stationed overseas and to also remember those that lost their lives on the hollow ground we were about to traverse. A few glances at his watch and then the words go from Bob's mouth sent us on our way.
This was my third time running the
My concerns going in to the race were how well my right leg would hold up, how well my right hamstring would hold up, how well my left foot would hold up and whether I would have stomach issues. Yes I had a lot of concerns but once the word go was said I only had time for positive thoughts. That being said as I made my first stride coming off of the start line I could feel my hamstring pull which created a slight dull ache. It was at this time that I told myself no more pain. I put my mind in action and gave it full control. I never once again experienced pain in the hamstring, leg or foot the entire race. I completely understand the power of the mind and use it to its fullest in any race I ever do. I am not superhuman nor am I any different than anyone else. It's a matter of recognition and desire. I could allow my body to take control and feel every ache and pain and may be even wind up quitting or I could let my mind take over and drive me to the finish. We all have that choice and the amount of suffering that occurs depends on the choice that is made. If you believe you can finish under any and all circumstances you will.
I followed my strategy of running a quick first mile while
staying a few yards back from the leaders. The quick mile produced an
immediate separation amongst the other runners which amazingly enough held true
for most of the race. The terrain leading around the first mile consists
mainly of gravel road but as we turned left out of the makeshift parking lot we
were led back on a trail up to where we started. Like most of the
The terrain that we were now presented with would be pretty consistent throughout the most of the entire run. The trail was single track but wide enough for others to get around. It was soft with very few obstacles in the form of roots or rocks and compared to past years very dry. My description above is accurate for most of the course however there were a few short sections where rocks were prevalent and roots littered the trail.
As I ran out the first seven miles to
I felt great early on but I never allow myself to get overconfident too early in a race because I know that the tide can turn quickly and often. That being said I enjoy the moments when I feel good but I conserve enough to stave off the lethargy that will surely try to challenge me in the later miles. Despite my intense personality I always take the time to smell the roses. Intense and competitive I am but also very observant and appreciative of the opportunity I've been given to run in such a beautiful area amongst the nicest people in the world. The flowers were blooming and the birds were chirping while in the distance I could hear the water from the river rushing. If my goal was to push myself beyond my limits on this day I could not have thought of a better place to do it than where I was.
I tend to look for certain places as a point of reference as
to how I'm doing and how I should pace myself. The first place I targeted
was the trail that would lead us back into civilization at
As I reached the turn that led me up to the aid station I was greeted by Kevin Sayers who graciously volunteered his time to guide the runners in the proper direction. I always make it a point to thank the volunteers but I find it to be more meaningful when I know the person's name I'm thanking. It becomes heartfelt and I believe the person understands just how much I appreciate the sacrifice he or she is making for my benefit.
When I reached the aid station I became very aware of a problem that could potentially develop into a major issue later in the race. I had run over 7 miles without a sip taken from my water bottle. The weather was cool and my thoughts were wandering outside the scope of the race. One of my pre-race fears was coming to fruition; I was not taking care of myself properly. Although I had not been drinking I still felt very good as I made my way up the short incline to the aid station. Since my bottle was full and I felt good I decided to continue running without a pause. I followed the markings which led me around a cone and then back down towards the area where Kevin was standing. As I approached he directed me to the right and informed me that he would see me again in four miles.
There was a short, steep hill that immediately met runners as they made
their way outbound from
The path that led us outbound ran very near the river making the grounds susceptible to floods. That meant that at any time there was a very good chance our nice dry trail could turn into a sloppy mess. Although the thought of this remained in the back of my mind at all times I never looked too far ahead and always appreciated the dry trail I had at the time. The single track leading out was quite narrow but the overgrowth surrounding the trail was not such that it would block those that needed to get around. Not that it mattered to me at the time as I was running well behind the person in front and had gained enough space on the person behind. However I knew that eventually I would need to share the space because those in the lead would be coming back towards me and when I made the turn those coming out would then be coming towards me as well. I looked forward to seeing the leaders and I looked forward to seeing those behind. It was fun to encourage and to be encouraged and the interaction eliminated the boredom.
There were a few wooden bridges on the trail leading from
The trail leading back to
After passing by Barry I went up and down the short, steep hill that would
lead me back to the aid station at
This time when I made my way up into the aid station I decided to stop and have my bottle refilled. I still wasn't drinking a lot but aid would not be available for another six miles and I was certain that after eleven miles of running I would start to consume some fluids. I thanked the volunteer for filling my bottle and then made the turn around the cone and this time headed left out of the aid station back toward the original start line. There would be no surprises on the return trip as I would traverse the same grounds going back as I did going out. The only difference would be that the ups would now be downs and the downs would now be ups. Since I scoped the course out in entirety on the way out I had already targeted a couple of hills in which I would most likely walk on the return trip. Mentally this made things so much easier because the decision was already made and there would be no disappointment if in fact I walked. Energy is something that I have found can be conserved mentally as much as it can be conserved physically. It was still early and the conservation process was in full swing.
I was about a mile out of
We ran most of the way back but when we reached the climb that came into
view directly after crossing the river I decided it was time to walk. He
took a quick pit stop and I walked the steepest part but soon ran again when
the hill became more manageable. The trail led us out of the woods
and into a grassy meadow which still had an uphill pitch to it but it was only
slight and would only be a factor later when I had to travel this same exact
path to finish. The grassy meadow then led back into the woods on a short
single track into the aid station at mile 17. I moved quickly through the
aid station only allowing enough time to have my bottle filled and to grab a
cup of soda before heading back onto the same road on which we
started. Just before I was about to make the left turn out of the start
area I heard a lady's voice ask if I knew which direction I was
headed. Turned out the lady was none other than a Dianna Widdowson a very good runner from
The road I traveled led me to the right for the second time onto the
trail. It was this same trail in which I traveled upstream that led me to
Although I knew where I was at and knew where I was headed I had no clue as to how many miles I had traveled. In fact it didn't really matter to me because I was running for 50 miles and whatever it took to get there is what it would take. I wasn't 100% and I wasn't in the best of shape so time wasn't a major factor but instead it was all about finding my way to the finish.
When I reached the soccer fields I was again in an area where I had to do battle with my own mind. It was at this time that I first thought of how my uncle was struggling for his life in the hospital. I told my mom that our family never quits and that we fight until the end. I was inspired by my own thoughts as I gained energy and fought my way through the down period. I had hoped that the energy I generated from these thoughts would also be shared with my uncle and that he would too be inspired.
Once through the recreational area we were led back into the
woods into a section that I knew was susceptible to floods. I was prepared
for mud but when I reached the railroad ties that were placed in the area as a
way for hikers to avoid such conditions I was pleasantly surprised. It
wasn't dry but there wasn't shoe sucking mud there either. Actually I felt
more comfortable running on the wet dirt than I did trying to hop from wooden
tie to wooden tie. I then made my way up and down the short hills along a
trail that paralleled the river until I reached the aid station at the
I wasted little time in the aid stations but in retrospect the time I thought I would be wasting may have been better served addressing my needs. At this point I had no symptoms but I have way too much experience to wait for symptoms before reacting. The biggest mistake I made during the day was not taking care of myself and I was about to feel the effects.
The path leading out of the aid station led us down a series of steps and toward a road devoid of traffic. Despite the fact the traffic was sparse marshals were in place in order to make sure the runners safely crossed. Once across the road I hopped over the guardrail and back onto a slightly hilly trail where I would begin to feel the effects of electrolyte imbalance. As I moved forward I became slightly dizzy and my stomach started to give me some trouble. At first I thought I was experiencing hunger pains and truthfully I did not recognize the real issue until I reached the aid station at Fountainhead still many miles away. I fought off the dizziness with thoughts of how my uncle was battling for his life. I could easily conquer the condition I was encountering with a little fight and a lot of determination. There could be no quit in me because if I did it could only mean it would be okay for my uncle to quit as well. Though I never know exactly what form it will take I always expect a down point in my races. No matter what they are I will find a way to counter them and ultimately triumph. The feeling of triumph in the end is satisfying but the experience of the struggle is very hard. Struggles happen to everyone on the course no matter how fast or how slow. The ultimate goal and the most satisfying reward is not how fast a runner goes but how well a runner manages his or her struggles to find the finish.
I struggled mightily running alone for a couple of miles until Nathan Echols from New Jersey caught up to me. Somehow he remembered me from a conversation the two of us had at the JFK 50 the previous November. I was a little embarrassed that I had to admit that I did not remember our talk. Anyhow he was a very nice young guy and he kept me company for just a few minutes. I recognized how strong he was running at the time and did not want to get caught up in his pace so I allowed him to continue on. While I love a good conversation I understand what my limits are and how to stay within them. The short talk was enough to help me refocus. I truly believe most problems are worsened when a person is alone and allowed to let their mind run rampant. I was still a little woozy but I had enough strength to find my way into the Wolf Run Shoals aid station. This aid station in particular is something runners look forward to for two reasons. First of all they serve ice cream and secondly the volunteers select a theme and dress accordingly. This year's theme was Mash so the volunteers dressed up as nurses and doctors and one even dressed as “Hot lips” Houlihan. I knew going in that the station workers would be dressed up but I felt so bad that I never recognized what the theme was until my return trip back later in the day.
Since I thought my problem was created by hunger I grabbed a sandwich and a cookie from the table and force fed myself. The path leading out of the aid station was smooth and runnable so I could not justify walking at that point. I was hopeful that I would soon feel the effects of the food and that I would once again feel strong. In the mean time I forced myself to run and devoted my thoughts to my uncle.
The course for the most part in the two miles leading from Wolf Run Shoals to Fountainhead was mostly flat. It took extra concentration on my part to overcome boredom as well as dizziness but my fight though different than others was nothing unique amongst the other participants. We were there fighting the same battle and looking for the same reward. If you don't win the small battles along the way the finish line will never appear. Like everyone else I fought and I looked for resolutions to my problems and finally when I reached Fountainhead and saw the potatoes and salt I knew what I needed to do. I dipped the potato in the salt, held my breath and somehow downed the entire thing without gagging. I then asked one of the volunteers to top off my water bottle with Gatorade. As I left I took a banana along for the ride hoping that the potassium/salt combo would finally be the solution to my problem.
I left Fountainhead with the knowledge that I would return after traveling 10 miles on what is advertised as the toughest part of the course. I was first led through the White Loop before being directed toward what is known as the anti-trail or the Do-Loop. The hills were actually a relief because they gave me an opportunity to feel free to walk and relax. Since my main goal was to finish safely I felt comfortable walking without worrying about the time ticking away or who was going to pass me. I didn't walk every single hill and I never walked any one in particular the entire way up. I felt that if I walked too much than fatigue would set in quicker than it would if I used a run/walk strategy. I may have been a mile from reaching the Do-Loop when I first started seeing runners headed back in my direction. At first I thought I was going the wrong way but then I remembered it was an out and back so these guys were headed back and at least four miles ahead of me at the time. The relief I felt created an energy surge which pushed me forward up a steep hill that led into the Do-Loop aid station.
I entered in and out of the aid station very quickly without taking more salt or drinking more Gatorade. I'm not exactly certain how I made such a mistake over and over again but I failed to recognize my needs. In the end the outcome was that my fight was harder but I still won the battle.
Upon exiting the aid station one of the volunteers told me that he would see me in three miles. I remembered from years past that this section was not as hard as described by the accounts of others. The trail can be followed with ease, the footing is excellent and the hills, though plenty, are not overwhelming. In all honesty the first mile leading out of the aid station takes runners directly downhill before the trail becomes a bit unpredictable. I slowed but not dramatically as I adopted a method of walking up the hills and running down. Though I was not slow it became obvious that those behind me either walked a lot quicker than I or they did not adopt my same style of forward progress. It was during this section of the run that I was passed first by Keith Knipling and then Scottie Mills who by the way went on to post a very impressive time of 7:43. I somehow made it through the Do-Loop without anyone else passing me but lurking in the background would be three young ladies who would soon fly by me with ease.
The walk breaks in the Do-Loop did not reinvigorate me by any means but the fact that I did not push hard meant that I did not experience negative effects from the lack of salt and potassium. That being said I felt that I had no reason to be alarmed as I left the Do-Loop aid station. It never occurred to me that once I pushed my body again I would suffer.
I left the aid station with the knowledge that I would be passing others as they made their way out going in the opposite direction. I saw a lot of friends who I recognized and some who recognized me. Feeding off of encouragement is a good way to gain energy. The encouragement I speak of is not just the kind words sent my way but those I express to others as well. There is no better feeling than to see a positive reaction on another's face as I compliment him or her on their performance. Words are powerful and can lift a person to heights unknown to man or they can shut someone down completely. I prefer to lift the spirit of others.
I had just made my way down the hill when the lead woman, Amy Sprosten blazed by me with what seemed like minimal effort. She was focused and determined and looking very strong. Though still 15 miles from the finish I was confident she would win.
It seemed like it had been hours since I left Fountainhead on this 10 mile trek but I was certain the end was near. I knew I did not have to travel the White Loop a second time but I was not sure how we would be detoured around back into the aid station at Fountainhead. In reality it didn't matter because as long as I moved forward I would get there eventually. That is exactly what I did and sure enough I made it back to the cheers of some unknown friends. Seems all day someone out there knew who I was and enthusiastically urged me on. While I may never have an opportunity to thank those people I certainly did appreciate the encouragement.
The salt, potatoes, bananas and Gatorade all stared me directly in the face once again and seemingly called my name. I had been weak and a little woozy for most of the 10 miles I had just traveled but never once did I consider why. The mere fact that the above mentioned items stood out reminded me of what I needed to do in order to solve my problem. I did what I had to do and felt comfortable and even excited knowing that I was on my return trip to the finish line.
It was now only a matter of taking the same course I traveled on the way out only in reverse fashion. It was about maintaining composure, regaining strength, and running consistently. My goal was aid station to aid station to finish line. This meant two miles, five miles and five and a half miles. No lump sum but rather once section at a time.
The two miles back to Wolf Run Shoals were kind of flat and
a little boring but I amused myself enough to stay focused on the task at hand
and I was able to stave off the dizziness. The volunteers
gracious assistance allowed me to get what I needed from the aid station and
move quickly in and out and back on to the trail toward the
I'm not going to go into much detail as to what Bethany and I chatted about but one thing in particular that she commented on was her belief that I had given up ultras. I actually found her question hard to respond to because I wasn't sure exactly what my true feelings were. I love ultras but I also know that participating in them long term will not only make me susceptible to permanent injury but also will take focus away from what my true goals in life are. My answer to her was that I gave up running in 100 mile races but that I will continue running in 50's. Was that a true statement? Well it was that day but until I make my final decision on whether I will participate in Western States in June nothing is set in stone.
Bethany and I really kicked it into gear running the hilly section that would lead us back into the Marina Aid station. I couldn't help but think just how impressive it is for those of us out there to still be running or walking forty some odd miles into a race. It's a fantasy world that regular people could never understand but for some odd reason those of us who participate take it for granted as something everyone can do.
In the distance I pointed out the road to
I left the aid station before
The trail along the river was mainly flat and in reality very pretty but at
the time it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. A Flat trail leading me
to the end but where was the end at. It continued
on for what seemed like forever. I was overwhelmed by boredom and forced
into a walk in an area where I had no business walking. Once walking my
body took over and reneged. I didn't feel pain but I did feel
dizzy. Negative thoughts were surrounding me and slowly but surely I was
losing the fight. I forced myself to run but walked in areas where I
should not have allowed myself to do so. As I struggled I was passed by
both C. J. Blagg and Michael Allen. I wasn't
frustrated or concerned but I sure was ready to put an end to this
thing. I didn't take care of myself early on and I was now paying the
price. No big deal, I thought. I still have some energy so I can walk/run
it in. My spirits were lifted some when I finally reached the turn which
led me up the steep hill into the meadow onto the trail and into the finish
line. I walked all of the way up the steep hill and then ran through the
meadow before stopping to walk a little. The walk gave me the last bit of
strength I needed to run the final few yards across the finish line. My time….well that's a story in itself. I was certain
that my time would be around 8:15 because I had checked my watch at the
The Bull Run Run 50 mile race has
found a place in my heart. Though I've always claimed the JFK 50 held each
My goals are many yet my desires are few. I ask God for
little because He's not there to give but rather guide. On this night I do
ask God to please comfort my family and give strength to my uncle to help him
win his battle. No matter what the future may hold my race at