Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Matt Woods show

Saturday morning's Bull Run Run 6:30am race start came and went in a hurry.  So did Matt Woods.  Matt pulled away so fast at the start all I could do was admire his effortless stride for only a few moments until he was gone into the woods.  David Frazier and another runner [with a beard] immediately gave chase and I began running in earnest with fellow WUSsie, Aaron Schwartzbard.  Aaron and I ran the first few miles together and carried on a bit about various trivial things until he slowly dropped back and I found myself running alone.  At this point it was mile five or six into the day's task, running 50 miles in the woods, I was in fourth position and was in mood to push hard in an attempt to catch the lead pack or put distance on Aaron and the others not far behind.

It was also on this section of the course when the nastiness began, and by 'nastiness' I mean mud.  The previous few days of rain saturated the lower lying valley trails.  Roots, rocks, logs, etc. I don't mind.  What I do mind, however, is mud.  The first section of Bull Run is an out and back with a turnaround at mile 9.4, aptly named "Turnaround".  Not long before reaching the turnaround I see the front runners coming back towards me and timed David, running in third, with a 6:15 gap on me.  David was moving along sprightly seconds behind Matt and the other runner and I was more or less surprised to see how efficiently each of them negotiated the mud.  Shortly after the turn around- here is why I don't like running in mud- I managed a serious f*k up and superman slid on to the muddy trail, muttering "ssoooonnn offf aaaahh biiitttccchhh" as I slid on my chest and belly across the soupy spring soil.  Several runners coming towards me in line for the turn around witnessed the entire act.  Hopefully it provided a good lesson in proper foot strike management for them, in addition to comic relief.  For 10 years growing up I was a baseball player.  Every spring and summer that is what I did- I played baseball.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that I never pulled off a more perfect slide in all my years stealing bases or attempting to maneuver around catchers going for home plate.   My slide eventually came to a halt and I rose in shock gazing at the mud pie I had just made of myself.  I then started running again.  Not much else I could do.

Covered in a slowly drying mud cake-like shell, I ran back in the direction I had just come, eventually completing the out-and-back section as I passed through the start area, Hemlock - mile 16.6.  From there on I continued running alone, occasionally catching glimpses of Jack Pilla and Adam Hill in the distance cresting over or running down a bluff from whence I had run only moments earlier.  Somewhere around mile 20 I passed a runner (whose name I still do not know) and found myself in third position.  I figured holding pace with Matt Woods over the preceding miles likely did him in but wasn't ready to count him out so I kept my head down and pressed forward up and down the hills.

At Fountainhead aid station, mile 28.1, I was 5 minutes behind second place, which I figured was David.  The Gu gels and Cliff blocks I ate throughout the race tasted good and everything else felt pretty good so, again, I kept my head down and pressed forward.  Shortly before I entered the Do Loop Matt was on his way out, breezed by me and said "that sucked".  "That" being the notorious "Do Loop" section of the Bull Run Run course, of course.  "Great", I thought.  Not more than 10 seconds later I looked up and saw David 150 yards up the trail.  I sensed he was gathering his energy a bit before pressing on through the Do Loop.  I entered the Do Loop aid station, mile 32.5, as David exited then caught back up with him moments later.

It was at this point that David and I set about running together for the remainder of the race.  I stayed on his heals through the Do Loop, which consisted mostly of narrow, poorly navigable trails and steep gullies.  Upon exiting the Do Loop I responded in kind to David, taking the reins at the front and from then on we continued pushing each other up and down the hills and back along the muddy trails paralleling the Occoquan river.  We were intent in our shared purpose: thwarting Jack and Adam's surging attacks at our second and third positions.  It was still possible to see them from time to time on distant bluff trails, trailing hungrily for position.

The remaining miles of Bull Run went by quickly and like all good things the end eventually came.  David and I climbed the final ascent back to Hemlock, and ran side by side for the remaining half mile.  Was a jockeying for second about to ensue?  I wasn't sure.  The pace naturally picked up until the finish line was in sight.  As the revelers cheered us on I looked at David and asked "should we give them a show?"  As he opened his mouth and before he could complete his first syllable which began with an "Eeehhhhh..." a wide open, quad bursting sprint broke out between us with 100 yards to go.  My heart beat shot up and I felt the heat pulse through my chest, arms and legs like an electric current.  I was a foot or two in front of David but he caught up to my immediate right within seconds.  The finish line was so close.  Bull Run Race Director, Anstr Davidson, was standing directly on the finish line about to get run over as the two of us steam rolled directly towards him.  With a final kick of adrenaline and another wave of surging body heat I stepped on the gas with whatever I had left and crossed the finish line with David immediately to my right.  I collapsed onto the ground seconds after crossing the finish line, actually somewhat sad the race was over, but definitely glad not to be sprinting any longer.  Did I actually finish ahead of David and come in second place?  I'm not sure.  I don't think so.  We tied.  The good news is David is running Massanutten next month so we'll have another opportunity to run with and against one another.  (Other Massanutten runners take note: David will be a contender.)  I hope to God not to replicate a finish like that, with David or anyone else, after 100 miles running through the Massanuttens.

David Frazier and I, stride for stride, sprinting to the finish.  Look close.  He is immediately to my right.  Photo by Robert Fabia.
Long before I finished the Matt Woods show was over and I learned that a new course record belonged to him in a time of 6:08.  Pretty amazing, I think, considering the muddy conditions over so many miles.  Gaby finished as 3rd female in 8:06, which is also a stellar accomplishment.  Our buddy and fellow first-place-winning WUS Coed team member, Ragan Petrie, finished as 2nd female in 7:52.  Annette Bednosky won the race with a time of 7:39.  Such impressive times for the top three ladies!

All in all, considering the state of my training and lack of proper tapering for the race I am pleased with the result.  Plus, my body has never felt so good immediately following a 50 miler and that is a healthy sign for a soon-to-begin long summer of 100 mile races.  In the Bull Run Run 50, the VHTRC continues to demonstrate its reputation for quality races and even better post-race parties and socializing.  This race is a classic for several reasons and a must-do for any and all devoted front, mid or back of the back-type ultra runners.

Inspecting what is left of the mud shell, amusing Quatro and David.  Photo by Robert Fabia.
Aces!  Matt Woods, a happy WUS.  Photo by Robert Fabia.
Me, Gaby and Ragan.  WUS Coed team, sans Keith Knipling.  Photo by Bobby "Cross Fit" Gill.

There's Keith.  Photo by Robert Fabia.


  1. I know there is a fast guy from Utah showing up at MMT, but I think I am going to put my money (monopoly money) on you. You sure know how to throw down when the time calls for it. Good Job!


  2. The bearded runner is Steve Hoogland who dominates just about every EX2 backyard burn 10 mile race. The guy is a beast and shows little fear in regards to super fast trail running in risky conditions. He kicked my ass at the BYB 10 miler in prince william forest 2009. I never wanted to race him again in those races because of how dangerous it was trying to keep up with him. He also scored 52:00 minutes at army ten miler one year. He works for Potomac River Running Company. Steve was one of the few key factors of how I was able to get a course record. I ran hard to keep up with him. At mile 17 he stopped to change his shoes and I ran hard because I thought he was going to catch up. It wasn't until after the second time I hit the do loop station that I was told no one was behind me. It was like being chased by a ghost. At that point I had a chance for the course record so I continued to push hard. I told Steve at the beginning of the race that he should try running some of the xterra races and other shorter distance trail runs. He's fast, runs hills well, and can handle the technical terraine. Maybe he will run some more ultra races and get better. It was his first. He's never even run a marathon yet.

    Matt Woods

  3. Jason- I'm not sure I would even bet monopoly money against the big dog from Utah. Lot's of runners from up your way in PA at Bull Run. Looking forward to catching up at MMT.

    Matt- thanks for clarifying. Beard or no beard, Steve clearly has talent. Hopefully he'll race more long distance events and push all of us to either improve or bonk to the sidelines.

  4. Sounds like a good show! Congrats to all! Sorry, but I had to chuckle reading about the mud slide / baseball analogy. Good oen!


  5. Nice finish, man. I'm excited to see how MMT plays out. Only 4 weeks.

  6. Nice pictures. One of the mudslide would be entertaining. I am amazed by the photo finishes that happen after so many miles. Exciting to see, for sure. Congratulations to you all!