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 fluid and food, and the distance between aid stations is no more than about 3 miles.
The course is mostly the same as it’s been since 2005, although a recent reroute of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail has lengthened the second half of the course. The race used to be a little shorter than a true 13.1-mile half-marathon. Now it’s a little longer. (Think of it as more bang for your buck.)
Detailed Course Description
The race begins in the parking lot of Fountainhead Regional Park. You’ll follow the paved road toward the park entrance on Hampton Road. About 3/4 of a 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.”
|Aid station name||Mileage|
|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. (Classy. We spare no expense.) 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. 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 1 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 and make your way to the Wolf Run Shoals Aid Station (10.9 miles cumulative).1 From the aid station, you’ll cross Wolf Run Shoals Road and head 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 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 be aware of 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.
How Long Is the Course Really?
In the true trail-running spirit, we can confidently call the course “about” the distance of a half-marathon. Our best measurements come to 13.6 miles after the autumn 2017 re-route of the Bull Run trail. Earlier attempts 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.
The Old Course
In 2005, the course was changed to the version described above. Before that (1993–2004), we used the course shown here. The start/finish was the same. The first out-and-back followed the present Fountainhead mountain bike trails (yellow and red on the map) to the present Do Loop Aid Station. Runners then returned to the start/finish for the second aid station. The route then went out on the white blazed trail (shown in green on the map) and then the Bull Run Trail, which runners followed to a turnaround at the Wolf Run Shoals aid station (very near the present aid station. Runners then retraced their steps to the finish.
During this section of the race, 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. ↩