This weekend I ran the Bulldog 50K trail race in Malibu California. I had signed up for this race last year but was warned by my coach at the time that it would be too difficult and I shouldn’t do it. This year I had enough mileage as a base and was really excited to give it a go. Here is a little recap of how it went, my thoughts on the trail and what I learned.
Race Day: I arrived to the race site in plenty of time. The race started at 6:30am so it was still dark outside. I forgot to bring a headlamp so after getting my bib I sat on a picnic bench until it got light. The darkness disguised the terrain around me and I didn’t know what I was in for.
Start line: I lined up with about 500 others at the “start” of the race which was a simple line across the road. I realized I didn’t get a timing chip and started to panic! I asked another racer about it and he said they didn’t give them out, they just use stop watches etc. OK, that’s kinda weird, but at least I’m not missing anything. A “Ready Set Go” from the announcer and we were off! Although I was passed by just about everyone I felt my pace was good and was happy to be running. The racecourse followed fire roads and some single track along creeks, hills, and river beds and I was feeling good.
Mile 4-7.5: At mile 4 we hit the first aid station and I was feeling great. It had been hilly but I had been pushing through it and had been doing my best to jog the hills. I didn’t stop for anything at the aid station and kept going straight into what seemed like a never ending hill. My breathing got a little harder and my legs started to burn. A girl asked me if I had done this race before and I told her no. She then went on to say that I probably should not try to jog the hills and I was wasting too much energy. Who was this girl to critique my running and strategy!?? I was a little irritated at her unsolicited advice, but about 50 feet later decided I would try her method and started power walking the hills. We turned corner after corner and I kept waiting to see a flat or downhill section but it didn’t come. My calves and hamstrings were on fire and I started having some negative thoughts. Who would design a stupid race like this? Why do I sign up for these things? Who do I think I am? I’m not a runner! What am I thinking doing the ultra beast, I’m going to drop out of that! While walking up the hill I texted my ride to say it was going to take me at least an hour longer that I thought… if I didn’t quit.
I had high goals coming into this race and when I had to walk I realized those goals were not going to be met. The race was designed to be 2, 15 mile loops with the option to drop out after the first loop. At this point about an hour into my race my mind was set on dropping out after 15 miles. There was no way I wanted to or could do this section again.
Mile 15-19: More flatness. The energy of the screaming fans faded quickly and I became lonely. The trail was flat and I was getting tired. There were no mile markers on this race – only aid stations – so it was hard to gauge my speed. I felt I was jogging slow – about an 11-12 minute mile and I knew I should be going faster on the flats. The second half of this race had cut off times. They were printed in an email but I couldn’t really remember what they were and without any mile markers it was hard to tell if I was moving fast enough. I wished I had brought my GPS watch. Curse this race with cut off times and no mile markers! How can they do that! What if I get taken out of the race for going too slow! A little negative thinking again. Around mile 18 I could feel a couple blisters forming on my right foot. Should I stop, should I push through? I had some Band-Aids with me I could use. I had to stop. It was the right thing to do otherwise I would hurt the rest of the race. I stopped and sat on a rock and took both my shoes off to evaluate the situation. I had one large blister on my toe and a hot spot under my foot. Instead of using the Band-Aids I decided to use one of my socks from my left foot. I always wear two pairs of socks when I run to reduce friction and they come in really handy for a quick blister fix. I now had three socks on my right foot and one on my left and felt instant relief. Mile 18-19 became hilly and I thought I was getting back into the dreaded hill section. At mile 19 I hit an aid station and asked them if I was the last racer? No – I was doing good they said. Hard to believe but I had made the cut off for the first aid station! I was happy. The volunteers poured ice water on my head and refilled my camelback and I was off.
Mile 19-22: This was the uphill. This time it was different though. I didn’t push myself as hard because I really didn’t like the pain I had felt on the first lap. I walked fast, but wasn’t struggling. I ate a few of my snacks and decided to take a few pictures. I was moving slow and still alone on the course and was really hoping to make the next cut off. After at least 50 minutes of hiking I saw a blue shirt in the distance and knew this section was almost over. I was over the hump. The rest of my race was going to be easy. I was happy and felt a sense of energy. I was proud I hadn’t quit, and proud that I had done this section again – however slow it may be.
Mile 22-28: At mile 22 there was an aid station. I felt good on water so didn’t get any. I ate a few pieces of salted potato and then discovered my most favorite racing snack ever: the OTTER POP. I was offered a grape Otter Pop and although I hadn’t eaten one of these for 20 years I happily accepted it. The frozen juice tasted so good and to hold the frozen treat in my hand felt amazing. My entire body felt cooled down and rejuvenated. What a genius of the race director to have these as a snack… and who would have thought. I continued on the race and began obsessing over Otter Pops. I wished I had gotten the cherry flavored one as well. Would they have them at the next aid station? I couldn’t wait! Although it was mostly downhill from here I think the amount of time I had spent on the course began to take its toll on me. I had been on course for at least 4.5 hours and it was now very hot. I still ran as fast as I could but my memory seemed to fail me. I ran into uphill sections I hadn’t remembered the first time around. The shadow of the orange tape blowing in the wind started to look like snakes on the trail. A crow cawed overhead and seemed to circle me. I missed my Otter Pop and thought “what I wouldn’t do for another one right now!” I would have done 100 burpees at that point for another Otter pop. The course rolled up and down, more up than I had remembered but at the downhill sections something great started to happen. I started seeing people and I was no longer alone on the course. I saw people that I hadn’t seen for hours. I couldn’t believe it but I began to catch people, and I began to pass people! I was so happy. At mile 22-26 I passed people for the first time in the entire race! I passed at least 8 people and this made me so proud. As I got nearer to mile 28 I could hear fans cheering and I got excited. This race was almost done! I was happy.
Mile 28-31: I hit the aid station at mile 28 ate some oranges. I didn’t refill my water because the race was almost done and I thought I had some left. Between mile 28-31 the race was really exposed and I was in direct sun. The trail was dusty and I started getting really hot. I was trying to push hard since I had so little mileage left and was happy to be almost done. I sipped on my camelback and heard the sound of air and water through the hose. I was out of water! Crap. How stupid of me to not have refilled it! Oh well, nothing to do about it now but push forward. I ran as fast as I could through the next few miles and it seemed like it was taking forever. I was hoping to hear the voices of fans but didn’t. Finally I saw the hallway point I had passed at the previous lap and some volunteers recorded my bib number and directed me forward. You’re almost done. You’re almost done. You’re almost done. I chanted this like a mantra and my feet began to move faster. I followed cone after cone around a parking lot, past a few trees and finally through the finish line! I had done it! I had finished. I finished the last three miles fast and I finished with a smile on my face. I was so proud I did it and happy I didn’t quit.
I left this race with a sense of accomplishment. In the middle of the race I had wanted to quit and die, and was cursing the racing world. In the end I was happy, strong, and felt proud. No matter what happens during the course of the race, it is never too late to turn it around, and finish strong! I know I will remember this race during some of my toughest racing moments to come, and I know it will serve as a reminder to keep putting one foot in front of the other. No matter how slow it may seem, or how far behind you think you are, as long as you are moving forward – you are a winner!