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Three days after my first 50 miler, the OSS/CIA 50M held at Prince William Forest Park, my legs are feeling great while my body is still catching up in recovery. The funny thing is, even though I ran almost twice the distance of a marathon, I felt much better than how I was after my last two road marathons. The slower pace and the softness of trails is much more forgiving than the hard pounding on asphalt/concrete. I was even able to run a couple easy miles to test my legs yesterday.

The OSS/CIA 50M Night Run by Athletic Equation was held at Prince William Forest Park in Dumries, VA, about 1.5 hour north of Richmond. Two things lured me into signing up for my first miler: One is obviously to get at least one 50-miler in before my attempt at the WV Trilogy this fall. Two is the location of the run. The Park is the birth place of OSS, the predecessor to CIA in the 1930s. On the brink of war, U.S. intelligence operations needed a centralized effort. In response to the need, a team of untrained young men was assembled "to [collect] and assemble information and data bearing on national security from the various departments... and will analyze and collect such materials for the use of the President...." Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was born and its first Director William J. Donovon picked this site as its training ground. However, the true purpose of the camp was concealed from the public until after the war. I thought the race would be my shot at becoming a CIA agent but the RD received an email from them to read verbatim prior to race start that they have no affiliation with the race, nor was it sponsored by them.

I have an out in my mind going into the race. The inaugural event is a two-looped course which allows for a 25-mile option. "If I feel good, I'd go on." That's what I told myself. As its name suggested, the majority of the run is at night. We didn't start until 1930 (7:30pm) which gave me a lot of time to think about it. In honesty, I much prefer to wake up, run, and go home. I still believe that a night run adds another dimension of mental challenge, but I'll have to wait till I've done a day-time 50M to test this theory.

Chas, Phyllis, Michael
I arrived pretty early at the park. Chas, Michael Vance and his crew Lauren arrived after I did. Race/Trail briefing started promptly at 1830. During which, the RDs, Alex and Alex P, handed out a plastic lei, a floral wreath/necklace, to all first-timer. I stepped up to receive one and ran with it till I reached the first water station. Two people I saw at finish kept theirs the whole way. In retrospect, I should have done the same.

At 1930, we were off. A couple of fast runners sprinted to the front and led the whole way. A group of us, about seven or eight, stuck together for the first 6-ish miles. These first couple miles reminded me of Chattooga River 50k -- both very technical, filled with boulders, rocks and roots along the river. We walked much of this stretch, and even more so when I ran this section again by myself in the dark. The rest of the course was very runnable, consisting smoother single-tracks and two sections of fire roads.

After reaching the first water station, the night fell. One by one, we turned our lights on. In my case, my knuckle lights. I'm happy with them for the most part except for their battery life. They last about six hours each on two AAA batteries before they became so dim that I had to replace them. It was inevitable that I had to carry four extra batteries. I wonder if headlamps would last longer.

About 10-11 miles into the course was one of the two major aid stations, the Oak Ridge, stocked with all kinds of solid foods and drinks. I picked up a few snacks and kept going. Immediately after the aid station was an 1.8-mile loop which we had to run once on our first loop, and twice on our second. After that, I started making my way back to the start/finish area, completing the first loop of the course. There were two instances where I got off course. Thankfully, runners were not to far apart/behind that I was able to find my way back within minutes. I bumped into Chas and another runner named Josh. He was a veteran who kept a regime of 15-min of running and 5-min of walking. We ran together for a bit before his walk break and later the night, he came to my rescue again as I backtracked to find my way. According to Josh, this was a tougher course than other 50-miler he had done.

Well into the night, there were moments when I thought to myself I didn't really want to do this. It's dark, I could get lost and I rather be in bed. Running distances as such gives you a lot of time to think. I thought about why I run, about what I'm running for, basically anything or nothing in general. This time, I'm running because it's part of the preparation for West Virginia Trilogy. If I couldn't even do one 50-miler, how could I expect myself to do a 50K one day, a 50-miler the next, then a half marathon the day after? What difference a sense of purpose makes! I have to give what I can to finish.

South Valley Trails
Back to the start/finish aid station, I got news from Lauren that Michael pulled his hamstring and was walking back. Oh no! We never know what a race and/or trails will bring. It's unfortunate that Michael aggravated an old injury of his and wouldn't be able to finish. After all, between him, Chas, and I, Michael is the veteran ultra runner and we know his capability. For me, however, all system was a go. There's no reason for me not to continue and in other words, no 25-miler option. With that in mind, I moved out of the aid station as quickly as I can, lest I sat down and gave up all together. After grabbing a couple squares of PB&J, Ibuprofen, and changing into a new shirt, I made my exit. Keep moving (in the right direction) is the only key to finish.

How I wished I was a better-skilled trail runner to skip through rocks and maneuver around roots. But no, it's a stop and walk for me for most boulder encounters on this technical stretch of the course. After that, I tried to get into a groove. My legs were still doing fine and I just went at a comfortable pace. For the next couple hours, I caught up with a few more runners, delighted to see other human beings. There were two other highlights on my second loop. One was at the Oak Ridge aid station where a volunteer recommended me some ramen in chicken noodles soup. I didn't realize then that's one of the owners of Athletic Equation, Scott Crabb, an ultra-runner himself as well as a coach. It was the most satisfying meal since...the falafel wrap I had after Uwharrie in February. Imagine that. And the second highlight came about an hour later. The volunteer manning the two 1.8-mile loops was the one of the most energetic personnel on the course. His smile, his encouragement, and the pat on the back brought smile on my face even after almost 40 miles on my feet.

My garmin had died long ago. I can't remember what time it was when I started the last 10-11 miles stretch. 0430, or 0500? At some point, I looked up into the sky and saw that it's turning into a dark navy blue. Soon after, there was more light and I "only" had 5-6 miles left. Instead of only two steps ahead, I now had more to look at. It was a beautiful course. Deep into the woods, I could see far ahead through a corridor of trees. The up and down on rolling hills also seemed more manageable in the light. Perhaps delusional at this point, I felt like I had picked up the pace ever so little. I ran into a couple more runners, one of whom we leap-frogged a couple times during the last two hours. I even saw Chas at the end, who I thought was much further ahead. He cheered me on and we ended up finishing within a couple minutes of each other.

Snapshot by Michael/Lauren
The distant but pleasant sight of cars and parking lot finally came. It was a slight uphill exiting the trail but that didn't matter anymore. The end was near. I ran up, saw the flagged shoot, and straight to the finish line. Michael and Lauren, to my surprise, were there waiting with big smiles on their faces. What a trooper they are! Alex, the RD came and congratulated me. Lauren said I finished 11th OV and 2nd in Female. I guess that's good; but nothing matters more than the fact that I've finished my first 50-miler! My heart goes to those got pulled off course due to the tight 13-hour cut-off time and a lot of injured runners from what I heard. We all live to run another day.

A 50-miler in the books is definitely a confidence boost for the Trilogy. I am thankful for the ability to run, and more than that, the reason to run for a greater good.


  1. Phyllis! Congratulations! Sounds like you had a great effort out there, and will be more than ready for the Trilogy to come. Recover well!


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