Entry opens on Sunday November 15, 2020

The Bull Run Occoquan Trail meanders through a sea of bluebells.

Mark VanDyke

The Course

This page has information about the course. You don’t need to memorize anything here. The course will be well marked. But you may find it helpful to have an idea of where you are on the course at any given time.

Distance
  • 50.2 miles
Total ascent/descent
  • 5,280 feet
Aid stations
  • 11 aid stations
  • 7 with crew access, 1 with dropbags
Time cutoff
  • 13 hours
GPX file

The course for the 2020 Bull Run Run 50 Miler should be the same as was used for the last two years. It will use the entire length of the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail (BROT) as well as the White Loop and the infamous Do Loop at the southern end of the BROT, and the Bluebell Loop at the northern end.

The course

The course is a double out and back with a loop at each end (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 lot and back through the start/finish area to get spread out, you run down to the river and turn right on the BROT, going upstream. You cross Popes Head Creek and run to the first aid station at Centreville Road. After this aid station, you keep going upstream to the end of the BROT in Bull Run Regional Park. You will cross the bridge over Cub Run, go about 50 yards, turn right, and run through 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 short paved section. 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.

Brad Hinton and Keith Knipling cruise through the bluebells during the early miles of the 2010 BRR.
Brad Hinton and Keith Knipling cruise through the bluebells during the early miles of the 2010 BRR.

You then retrace your steps (which may well be muddy in this section) back to Centreville Road for a second shot at that aid station. Then continue straight downstream to Hemlock Overlook for an aid station located near the start/finish area. You will recross Popes Head Creek immediately before you head up the hill to Hemlock.

Emily Ryan is all smiles coming back through Hemlock at mile 17.6.
Emily Ryan is all smiles coming back through Hemlock at mile 17.6.

The aid station at Hemlock is also the one location where you can access your drop bag. After partaking of this aid, you will once again run through the start/finish area and head down the hill as you did at the start, but when you get to the stream this second time, you turn left on the BROT and head downstream. You go through some open sections that include soccer fields and some muddy flats, and then on to the Bull Run Marina for an aid station. After the Marina you rejoin the BROT after carefully crossing under a bridge on what is the rockiest section 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. 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).

After you survive the Do Loop, you go straight back to Fountainhead entirely on the blue-blazed horse trail, without doing the White Loop again. Then you return to the BROT, going to Wolf Run Shoals, the Marina, and then on to the finish. You 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 on one trail and always up the trail on another one.

Aid StationSplitCumulativeCrew accessDropbagsCutoffMap
1. Centreville Road7.2 mi7.2 mi
2. Centreville Road5.3 mi12.5 mi
3. Hemlock Overlook5.1 mi17.6 mi
4. Bull Run Marina4.3 mi21.9 mi
5. Wolf Run Shoals4.2 mi26.1 mi
6. Fountainhead2.8 mi28.9 mi1:45 pm
7. Do Loop – In4.0 mi32.9 mi
8. Do Loop – Out2.6 mi35.5 mi
9. Fountainhead2.4 mi37.9 mi4:15 pm
10. Wolf Run Shoals2.7 mi40.6 mi
11. Bull Run Marina4.2 mi44.8 mi6:00 pm

Elevation change

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.

Elevation profile of the Bull Run Run 50.

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 upstream (northern) end where there are about four 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 the 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.

Trail surface

Most of the course is not like this. But a few, short sections are.
Most of the course is not like this. But a few, short sections are.

This is 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 now have bridges. (Those bridges, however, can be slippery and unstable.) In dry weather you can usually keep your feet dry. If it has rained before or during the event, you will not be able to keep your feet dry.

Meteorological information

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 (°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.

Historical weather data and finishing rates at BRR
Historical weather data and finishing rates at BRR.
Sunrise and sunset data for April 10, 2021
Beginning of civil twilight 6:11 am
Sunrise 6:39 am
Sunset 7:42 pm
End of civil twilight 8:09 pm

Read the local weather forecast.

April in Virginia can be unpredictable and runners should be ready for any weather. Here, Joe Kulak enjoys the snow at the Fountainhead Aid Station during the 2016 Bull Run Run.

Cutoff Times

The race has a 13-hour time limit. There are three aid station locations 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.

Special note

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 6:00 pm 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.

Runners cross Popes Head Creek in the early miles of the 2016 Bull Run Run 50
Runners cross Popes Head Creek in the early miles of the 2016 Bull Run Run 50.