This trail race takes place in forested, rolling terrain through the lush Northern Virginia woods. It’s primarily well-traveled, single-track dirt trail. There are a handful of tiny stream crossings; most of them have footbridges, but if the park gets heavy storms right before the race, your shoes could get muddy or wet. You’ll visit five aid stations, with the distance between aid stations no more than about 3 miles.
The course is mostly the same as it’s been for the past several years, although a recent reroute of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail has lengthened the second half of the course by almost 1.5 miles. The race used to be a little short. Now it's a little long.
Detailed Course Description
The race begins in the paved parking lot of Fountainhead Regional Park. After a loop around the parking lot, you’ll follow the paved park road toward the park entrance on Hampton Road. About 3/4 mile later — just before you reach the park entrance — the course veers right off the road onto a blue-blazed trail. (This initial paved section allows runners to spread out and gives you the chance to take a race position you like.)
The rest of the race is on rolling trails. After a little less than 2 miles on the trail (about 2.5 miles cumulative), you reach the first aid station, the Do Loop Aid Station. After passing through this aid station, you enter the famous “Do Loop.”
|Do Loop I||2.5|
|Do Loop II||5.1|
|Wolf Run Shoals I||10.2|
|Wolf Run Shoals II||10.9|
The Do Loop is like a lollipop on a stick. You’ll run out on the “stick,” turn right, and run the “lollipop” in the counter-clockwise direction. You’ll encounter lots of steep uphills and downhills during this section of the course. To take your mind off the challenge, be sure to watch for the rusted-out Ford Fairlane and Nash Rambler on the loop. (Ooooh, aaaaaah! The glamor!) When you get back to the lollipop’s “stick,” you’ll run straight into the Do Loop Aid Station again (5.1 miles cumulative). From the aid station, you’ll retrace your steps back to the paved the park road. You’ll then cross the road and hop back on the trail, which veers left to lead you back to the parking lot, where you’ll find the Fountainhead Aid Station (7.5 miles cumulative). To ensure that all runners will be finished by 12:30 p.m., we will have an intermediate cutoff time of 10:45 a.m. to reach the Fountainhead Aid Station. If you arrive after this time, you may not continue as an official entrant.
From here, you’ll re-enter the woods to your right on the blue-blazed Bull Run Trail, enjoying a mostly downhill trip to the Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station (10.9 miles cumulative).1 From the aid station you’ll cross the sleepy Wolf Run Shoals Road and continue downhill. After about half a mile, you’ll cross a small stream on a bridge, turn right at the end of the bridge, recross the stream (without the bridge) and go back (a course marshall will guide you). It's about 10.5 miles cumulative at the bridge. Then it’s back uphill to re-cross Wolf Run Shoals Road, pass through the aid station once more, and retrace your steps back up to the parking lot. Once you reach the trailhead, you’ll turn right onto the grass abutting the parking lot, run through the marked finishing chute, cross the finish line, and bask in the glory of your accomplishment.
VHTRC volunteers will mark the entire course the morning of the race by hanging colored ribbons from trees. The race director will show you a sample ribbon during the pre-race briefing on race morning so you know what to look for. The course will be well marked, and you shouldn’t go very far without seeing your next ribbon. Red ribbon laid on the ground will mark places you shouldn’t go. Do not step over a red ribbon!
Please note: "Well marked" often means different things to road runners and trail runners. If you’re used to running road races by simply following the herd (or the pace car, you speedster), you’ll find that trail running requires more of your attention. You need to pay attention to where you're going! You might find yourself blissfully alone on the trail for a few minutes, and it will be up to you to stay on course. We’ll make that easier for you by hanging ribbons at regular intervals, but don’t expect to see a ribbon hanging on every other tree, and don’t panic if you haven't seen one for 60 seconds. Just keep scanning the trail ahead, and you're sure to see a ribbon calling.
Just How Long Is the Course?
In the true trail-running spirit, we can confidently call the course “about” 13.1 miles, the distance of a half-marathon. A recent attempt to measure the exact distance yielded three different results — from two GPS watches and one very old-school measuring wheel, all used during the same run. The point is: Your mileage may vary, especially if you’re wearing a GPS watch. But we’re not hung up on differences amounting to tenths of a mile — and we don’t think you should be, either. Trail running isn’t like road-running; it’s slower and engages many more of your senses. So we encourage you to kick back, enjoy the scenery, listen to the birds, and quit obsessing about your exact mileage. That’s the beauty of being in the woods, after all!
Still Have Questions?
Get details on aid station food and drinks, spectators, bathrooms, and more on our FAQ page.
During this section of the race, many runners headed down to the aid station will encounter the front-runners coming back up the hill. It’s traditional for competitors to encourage one another — and share the trail — during this out-and-back section of the race. ↩