On August 25 I decided to do something I’ve never done before…run a 50K (31 mile) ultra marathon. I didn’t just decide to do this on August 25th though…the idea was hatched while hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I hiked for a few days with the guys from WARRIOR HIKE, www.warriorhike.com, and I talked with Mark about endurance running. He said that he was interested in trying a long run after the AT to see if he was in shape for ultra running, or just in shape for ultra hiking…I thought I should do the same.
I looked up the Bulldog Ultra Trail Race because I knew it was in Calabasas, CA, close to Santa Barbara. I sent the race director an email and registered from the AT. Now all I had to do was finish the Appalachian Trail and keep my legs healthy enough to run the race when I got home. I thought that after the AT I’d make it back to Santa Barbara and trail run for a few weeks to prepare. Instead, I finished strong on the AT (hiking 109 miles in the last 3 full days) and spent the next month stretching and struggling to get more than 5 miles of running in, my longest training run being an 8 mile jog in Arizona. Needless to say, I went into the Bulldog a little unsure of how I would handle it, but that was the point!
When Mark and I talked about this on the trial the idea was to test ourselves and find out if long distance hiking helps improve running. I had already tested myself in a 5K a week after I finished the AT and I tied my fastest 5K since high school cross country, not bad! If I could do it in a 5K, why not try a 50K? Logical, right? We’d see!
My brother Tyler registered for the Bulldog race as well, and I’m glad he did. If Tyler wasn’t running I probably would have backed out. I really didn’t think I could do it. The morning of August 25th we left Santa Barbara at 3:30 AM and drove to Malibu Creek State Park. We entered the park at 5 AM, registered, dropped a food bag for the course, and headed to the start line. Just before the 6:30 AM race start the sun came up and we could see the mountains we’d soon be running…hmmmm.
The first 25K (15.5 mile) loop was my introduction to the race course. Whether I liked it or not, I’d have to run it all again. The morning started cloudy with a thick layer of marine fog, keeping me and the course nice and cool. It was so thick that I had water condensation on my “not quite thru- hiker” beard. The first ascent of Bulldog seemed easy, as easy as a 2,000 foot mountain run can be. I felt good and was able to hold a slow jog up the incline while other runners, including Tyler, stopped to walk.
I made it through the first aid station and up over the peak feeling good, cleared the next section, and headed back down to the start/finish line for the first loop. The downhill was what I didn’t like. Runners around me were bombing down, balancing a fine line between being out of control and keeping their feet on the ground. I decided I didn’t want to risk falling down and the intense jarring of my body didn’t feel right so I slowed down to a jog.
I made it to the bottom, feeling slow, but feeling good, when I heard the loud stomping footsteps of a speeding downhill runner behind m. It ended up being Tyler. He said he had caught me, but that his quads were screaming. We ran the flat section of the trail, crossed a stream, hit the last aid station, and went up and over one last hill climb to the start/finish line. My food drop had some honey buns, they had been a staple on the Appalachian Trail, but now I had a hard time eating them. Hard to believe I ate one of these almost every day on the trail!
After the first lap I headed back up Bulldog Road and Tyler took it a little easier. I thought I’d be able to run back up Bulldog but by the time I started my ascent the fog had cleared and the mountains were baking in the sun. I ended up walking most of the climb, and everyone else must have too since no one passed me. From the top of Bulldog I thought I was more or less home free, but I had conveniently forgotten about 4 or 5 more small, but tedious, hill climbs and I ended up walking up these as well. The long downhill hurt even more the second time around as I tried to hold my momentum back and keep my feet firmly planted on the dirt and gravel trail.
At the bottom I made the stream crossing and stopped at the last aid station to refill my CamelBak. Leaving the aid station I had only 2.6 miles to go. I had been on the trail for almost 5 hours and covered almost 29 miles…probably the longest run of my life! My feet and legs were tired and I had a sharp pain in my foot after the first lap, but that went away.
The downhill running had taken a toll and I had a few hot spots forming on my feet and I hoped I could avoid blisters. By this time, 5 hours of holding my arms up at my sides had made my biceps extremely tired. I left the aid station and started running up the last hill climb before the finish and cramps immediately started shooting up and down my legs. I stopped and walked, trying to keep from moving too far to stimulate the cramp again. I walked for a few minutes, tried to run until I felt them coming on again, and then walked.
At this point I was only 2 miles from the finish of a 31 mile race and I could walk it in if I needed to. Once I passed over the last hill climb I was finally able to jog again, but there would be no strong finish on this race, just to finish standing up would be good enough! I circled the parking lot and made the final stretch and finished in 5 hours, 28 minutes, and 54 seconds. That is a long time to run, trust me! Tyler finished in 6:04:03 and said that he was battling cramps the entire second loop and had to walk most of the hills.
Watch this video I made from the 2012 Bulldog 50K
We were both pleased, with very little training we were still able to finish. Tyler was talking with an experienced ultra runner during the race the runner said that out of all of the 50K and 50 Mile races he has done, the Bulldog is the toughest of them all, by far, and that if we can run this one, we can run most other ultras. That is good to know! I finished 4 minutes behind a guy I had been pacing with and after the race he said I should train for more ultras because I had talent for this stuff. I said thanks, but in my head I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad…do I really want to run this far again?
After hanging out at the finish line we made our way back to Tyler’s truck and as he got in he winced in pain and said his back was hurting really bad. I wondered why, I mean, I felt fine.Then I sat down into the truck and my back touched the seat, full body shock of pain! My back was so tender from the CamelBak water bladder bouncing in my backpack for 5 hours that sitting down was extremely difficult! That’s a whole new level or running pain!
All in all it was a great day and I’m glad I did it. I wanted to test myself and test my body. What had the AT done for me? Was I in great athletic shape, or was I just in good hiking shape? I felt like the AT prepared me for the hills and the endurance. I was able to run more of the hills than most other runners around me and I did not feel fatigued or tired toward the end of the race, I mean back on the AT I was hiking this distance on a daily basis. Running a 50K was much different than hiking 31 miles and I do think next time I tackle this race I will train specifically for it.
Thanks again for the staff and race director at the Bulldog 50K, to my brother for running with me, and to all the other runners for being so supportive along the trail!
Bulldog 50K: https://www.trailrunevents.com/bd/