Bull Run Run: North and South Battle Heat, Not Each Other
The fourth annual Bull Run Run 50 Mile, organized by the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC) on the beautiful Bull Run — Occuquan trail system, saw a continued growth in popularity as 155 entrants toed the starting line a first light. They were greeted by unseasonably warm and humid weather. A cold and late spring had not allowed most of them much opportunity to acclimate to warm running conditions, and as the day unfolded, many would suffer from the heat and dehydration. In spite of this, Mike Morton continued his string of record-breaking performances by setting a course record; Bridget Brunnick followed suit in lowering the women’s record by over 20 minutes. These were but two of the many fine performances which characterized this year’s fourth battle.
As race day neared, 175 entrants from 21 different states and Canada were registered to run. After successive increases in the field over the last four years, we have now reached our limit and will cap next year’s run at 175 to maintain the quality of the event. Hemlock Overlook once again served as race headquarters, where the combatants were provided a non-traditional Civil War pre-race meal of spaghetti to fortify them for the next day’s fight. Of the 155 starters, 100 registered to represent the Northern forces while 55 chose to run for the South. We had brothers competing against brothers, husbands competing against wives, and even service academies (U.S. Coast Guard Academy vs. U.S. Air Force Academy) fighting against one another for bragging rights. In the end, each participant was really competing against the course and themselves to reach their personal goals and to earn a coveted veteran pin with stars representing each previous finish.
As the starter’s musket was fired by our Civil War recreationists, the field quickly spread out as the runners first crossed Popes Head Creek and headed north on the initial section of trail. Mike Morton led from the beginning, but he was constantly looking over his shoulder as Bob Martel of North Carolina was only five minutes behind at the 14 mile checkpoint. Following Bob was the 1993 race winner, Vassili Triantos, who was pacing himself nicely, knowing all too well the rolling hills of the park system would slowly wear down and defeat even the best conditioned runners if they hadn’t held something in reserve. After Vassili were a number of fine runners who were all running in control and waiting to see what the heat would do to the leaders. This group included Barry Lewis (of Trans Am fame and 1994 BRR winner), Doug Frost (masters winner at the Crown King 50Km), Derrick Carr, Chip Merrow, Ed Zerambo, Andy Peterson, Jeff Hinte and Tim Stanley (going for his fourth veteran star). In the women’s race, Bridget also led from the beginning, but she was closely shadowed by Beth Herder and Janet Stein (women’s 1994 winnter), two experienced ultrasrunners who hail from New York.
By the Fountainhead checkpoint (mile 28.5) at the southern end of the course, Mike and Bridget had gained further control of the race, opening up some sizable distances on their competition before entering the infamous Do Loop. Bob was still in second place but was beginning to look vulnerable, while Vassili continued to click off even splits and was gaining on second place. Meanwhile, Barry, Chip and Derrick were looking strong, followed closely by Jeff and newcomer Kevin Sawchuk, who warmed up for the race by running Boston on the preceding Monday. Actually, we had over a dozen runners who ran the 100th Boston and then came to Bull Run to get the kinks out! As if this wasn’t enough, we also had 17 runners (sadists) who were planning on attempting VHTRC’s Massanutten Trails 100 Mile only two weeks after the BRR.
The Do Loop (miles 31-33.5) is the anti-trail of the BRR course and the rough going can be extremely upsetting to the uninitiated. This year’s aid station captains, Steve Simon and Brian Stecher, heard many a battle cry coming out of the loop with the only positive comment being that “at least it was well marked.” From here, the runners headed back north to the finish line. At this point, it looked like it was all Mike’s and Bridget’s race to win or lose, depending on their stamina and how they coped with the heat. Bob was slipping further at this point and Vassili took over second place. Barry also moved up to third and Derrick was now focusing on fourth. Jeff traditionally moves up in the field in the last five miles of this race, and this year was no different as he had his sights on another top-five finish. By the last uphill back to Hemlock Overlook and the finish, Mike and Bridget were running to set records, Vassili had a solid hold on second, and It was a race between Barry and Derrick for third, with Derrick able to prevail by just over a minute.
The women’s top five, including Bridget, were: Beth Herder (earning her first veteran star), Janet Stein (third star), Terri Zerambo (not only her first 50 miler, but she trampled her husband on the course as well!), and Heidi Rudiger (a USCGA cadet running her first ultra and our youngest competitor at 18). Our oldest, albeit most experienced ultrarunner, was Cliff Davies from Canada who finished in just under 12 hours.
By day’s end, there would be 120 official finishers in under the 13-hour limit notable among them was Tim Krug, who was running for Dan Rossi as a tribute to Dan’s battle against cancer. Masters division winners were Vassili Triantos and Sandy Israel, while the senior men’s award went to Joe Dabes (there were no senior women finishers). The Clydesdale winners was Al Schumm of Virginia. There were numerous outstanding performances throughout the day as the combatants prevailed to earn their veteran status. All are to be congratulated for accepting the challenge and competing against the toughest 50 mile train run in the East. The heat and humidity contributed to the highest attrition rate in BRR history, reminding us all of the importance of keeping hydrated, nourished (to include electrolytes) and of monitoring one’s level of exertion.
The success of this year’s event is once again due to all the volunteers who gave so generously of their time to cater to the runners’ needs. Thank you — we couldn’t hold this event without you! While the number of volunteers precludes me from naming each one individually, I would like to especially recognize Chris Scott, Brenda and Anstr Davidson, Betty Sue and Dick Brannan, Molly and Woody Parker, Dan Grayson, Steve Simon, Brian Stecher, Jeanne Melanson, Sharon Jans, Joe (Hardrock or bust) Clapper, and Ed and Rosalie Demoney for their many contributions. The VHTRC is extremely proud of the BRR 50 and we are already striving to improve next year’s event. If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear from you. We also cordially invite any and all who are up to the challenge to join us next spring for the Fifth Battle of the Bull Run Run 50; until then, Happy Trails…
— by Scott Mills, RD
Kevin Sawchuk, M.D., adds:
The 1996 Bull Run 50 Mile Run was held on the first hot day of the year. Due to the unexpected heat and humidity, four runners ended up being treated for hyponatremia (low salt/sodium in the blood). While most ultrarunners know the importance of replacing fluids lost during a race, many do not realize the dangers of drinking too much fluid and/or not replacing salt losses. If fluids containing little or no salt are used to replace salty sweat, symptoms of hyponatremia may occur. These symptoms may include muscle or abdominal cramps, weakness or dizziness. Hyponatremia is more likely to occur early in the season when runners have not trained in the heat. However, hyponatremia can develop in any race if too much salt-poor fluid is consumed or salt losses are not replaced.
Runners should train in the heat for at least two weeks if they plan to race in the heat. This teaches the body to lose heat more efficiently and produce less salty sweat. This can mean running during the hottest part of the day, and in colder climates running in ridiculously heavy clothing. Runners should also consider taking salt (one or two salt tablets or one teaspoon table salt) every hour, especially if symptoms of hyponatremia occur. Race directors should instruct aid stations to have salt available.
The experience at the Bull Run Run also points out the importance of working with local emergency medical system personnel. Notifying the local fire department or ambulance company before a race allows them to plan for potential problems and provide a quicker response. The EMT’s who helped our runners (including carrying one on a stretcher down a mile of trail) were amazed that anyone could run 50 miles; they have already volunteered to station themselves along the course for 1997!
Last updated January 31, 2021