The course for the 2023 Bull Run Run 50 Miler should be the same as was used in 2018 and 2019 (the race was not held in 2020 or in 2021). The planned course will use the entire length of the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail (BROT), as well as the Bluebell Loop at the northern end; and the White Loop and the infamous Do Loop at the southern end of the BROT.
Note: the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, the governing agency for the trails used in BRR, is undertaking a multi-year effort to reroute certain sections of the BROT to make them more sustainable. As a result, the course each year will see some slight alterations from previous years. None of these more recent changes have significantly impacted the length of the BROT, or of the race.
The course is a double out-and-back with a loop at each end (first the Bluebell Loop at the northern end, and then the Do Loop at the southern end).
You start at Hemlock Overlook. After taking a three-quarter mile loop around the parking areas and back through the start/finish area to get the field somewhat spread out, you run down to the river and turn right on the BROT, going upstream (north). You cross Popes Head Creek and run to the first aid station at Centreville Road. After this aid station, you keep going upstream into Bull Run Regional Park. You will cross the bridge over Cub Run, go about 100 yards, turn right, and run through what customarily is a sea of bluebells along the bank of Cub Run. After a short boardwalk section, you will reach the end of the BROT. The course then goes left for a short paved section; a water stop will greet you very early in this stretch. After a third of a mile, the course returns to single track trail, turning left on a connector trail along the Bull Run. This Bluebell Loop ends with a right turn back onto the BROT, and your return across the Cub Run bridge.
You then retrace your steps (which may well be muddy in this very flat section) back to Centreville Road for a second shot at that aid station. Then continue south, straight downstream, to Hemlock Overlook for an aid station located adjacent to the start/finish area. You will recross Popes Head Creek immediately before you head up a steep, rocky, but short hill to reach Hemlock.
The aid station at Hemlock is also the location where you can access your finish line drop bag. After partaking of this aid, you will again run to the Yates Ford Road entrance to Hemlock and head down the same hill you descended at the start, but when you get to the stream this second time, you turn left on the BROT and head south (downstream). You go through some open sections that include soccer fields and then on to the Bull Run Marina for your next aid station.
After the Marina you rejoin the BROT, after carefully crossing under a bridge on what is one of the rockiest sections of the course. Don’t worry, this rocky underpass is very short, but if you are somewhat tall, watch your head while under the bridge! Back on the BROT, you will next arrive at the famous aid station at Wolf Run Shoals (noted for its entertaining annual theme — prepare to have fun here!). After Wolf Run Shoals, it is just short of three miles to the aid station at Fountainhead Regional Park, where you will be able to access your drop bag for the first time. After this aid station, you will negotiate the relatively short White Loop, coming out by a chain link fence, where you turn left and head out on a blue-blazed horse trail.
You take the blue-blazed horse trail to the next aid station, which is at the entrance to the infamous Do Loop. The Do Loop is like a lollipop on a stick. You go out the stick, go around the lollipop, and come back on the stick. As with the Bluebell Loop at the northern end of the course, you do the Do Loop counterclockwise. Be sure to turn right at the intersection and when you get back to the intersection, go straight — don’t do the loop a second time (although if you do, you won’t be the first). In the middle of the Do Loop you will pass by one of two memorial benches dedicated to the memory of long-time VHTRC member and BRR runner Ed “Cappuccino” Cacciapaglia.
After you survive the Do Loop, you go straight back to Fountainhead entirely on the blue-blazed horse trail, without doing that White Loop again. Here you will once again be able to access your drop bag, for the second and final time. Then you return to the BROT, going to Wolf Run Shoals, the Marina, and then on to the finish. You will pass the second memorial bench to our friend Ed Cappuccino at a point that is exactly one mile from the race finish. You then go up the hill to the finish from the Popes Head Creek side. You will go up the same way you did when you came back to Hemlock after the Bluebell Loop. The result is that you always go down the hill from Hemlock on one trail and always up the hill on another trail.
Important note regarding the table below: The cut-offs posted below for the earlier aid stations (through Do Loop In) are suggested only. These “soft cut-offs” are posted to alert you to the fact that, historically, runners who pass through those aid stations after the suggested times do not finish the race under the final cut-off. So you will want to start to step it up a bit to stay ahead of those looming hard cut-offs that start at mile 35.5 (Do Loop Out). Those hard cut-offs are enforced.
The course has a lot of little ups and downs. None of these is greater than a 200 foot elevation change and most are about 150 feet. While the elevation profile below may look dramatic, bear in mind that the major ticks for elevation are in increments of only 50 feet. The cumulative elevation gain is about one mile — i.e., 5280 feet.
Some of the hills on the course are gentle, a few are rather steep. None is long. The start is just over 300 feet above sea level and no other place on the course is higher. At its lowest, the course is about 115 feet above sea level. The only long, flat section of the course is early in the race, on the Bluebell Loop (northern) end, where there are about five flat miles (that you go out and then loop back on).
Like most rivers, the Bull Run and Occoquan have carved a valley. The trail generally follows the course of the river. Sometimes the trail is on the edge of the river, sometimes on a nearby bank or cliff. Going up and down from the river’s edge to the bank causes much of the elevation change.
We count about 20 climbs of ~150 feet. There are another four or five ~50 foot climbs. The net elevation change is zero since the start and finish are at the same place.
This is almost entirely a single-track dirt trail. Other than a few short (~200 yard) rocky sections, most of the course is runnable. (The rocky sections are runnable if you are good.) There can be rocks, roots, mud, and fallen trees anywhere. There are several stream crossings. Most of the big ones (but not all!) have bridges. Those bridges, however, can be slippery and unstable. In dry weather you may be able to keep your feet dry. If it has rained before or during the event, you will not be able to keep your feet dry.
April in Virginia can be unpredictable and runners should be ready for any weather. Temperatures are often freezing at the start, only to soar into the upper 60s or lower 70s (°F) later in the day. More often than not, however, the weather is ideal for running. Over the years we have had runners suffer from both hypothermia and heat stroke. Watch the local weather and plan accordingly.
Read the local weather forecast.
The race has a 13-hour time limit. There are three aid station locations late in the race that a runner must depart by specific times to continue in the race. These times are generously calculated to allow the runner time to meet the 13-hour overall time limit. There are no exceptions to these cutoffs. Any runner who continues after being asked to give up his or her race number will be banned from all future VHTRC events and bears all responsibility for his/her safety.
You must finish the race before 7:30 pm to be an “official finisher.” If, however, you leave the Bull Run Marina aid station not later than its 6:00 pm cut-off and make steady progress but finish after 7:30, you will receive the finishers’ award and be listed on the results page. It just won’t be counted as an “official” finish.
If There is High Water
If the water in Bull Run is high, we may have to change the course. There is a high-water course planned in case we need it.