After watching G train for and race ultra distances for the past 2 years, and pacing him during several, it was inevitable I would give an ultra race a shot at some point. One Sunday morning at the end of April, I just decided to pick a nearby 50K and train throughout summer. Reasons included:
- I’ve come to love the ultra community, and enjoy being around the energy.
- I wanted to pick a race that G would run with me.
- We’re getting married in October, and it would be nice to have a race to train for in the interim.
- And, let’s face it: I wanted to prove I was tough, too!
After some research, and double-checking calendars, I decided to run the Bulldog 50K in the Santa Monica Mountains within Malibu State Park. G registered, too, and said he would pace me, which I was so grateful for!
Our training runs didn’t always line up, especially in the first couple of months since G had the SD100 on his radar. But the last 5-6 weeks we were able to do our long runs, and elevation hikes together, and it was so much fun!
We decided to drive up on Friday afternoon and spend the night in Calabasas so that our drive to the start was a quick 3 miles on Saturday morning. Getting to Calabasas was kind of a pain since we had to sit through Friday traffic in Orange County and LA, but we got there in plenty of time to have a nice relaxing pre-race meal.
If you are ever in Calabasas/Agoura Hills and looking for incredible handmade flatbreads, check out Boar Dough Tasting Room. We got there around 5:30 p.m. and were able to take advantage of the end of happy hour. We had The Fab 4 flatbread, as well as the Strawberry Fields dessert. Both were amazing! They also offer wine tastings and flights.
After a quick stop at the grocery store for last-minute essentials, we headed back to the hotel to lay out our race outfits, prep our hydration packs and try to get some sleep – 4 a.m. was going to come early.
I MIGHT have gotten 4 hours of sleep. I was just too nervous and excited. Mostly nervous to start. I knew we had to get through the first 15.3 miles in 4 hours, or we would have to drop down to the 25K race distance. We had practiced this several times at Mt. Woodson, so I was pretty confident, but also knew anything can happen. It is also a loop course that you run twice and I wasn’t sure if I would like that or not. I ended up loving that.
We got to Malibu State Park about 5:30 a.m., and the race was to start at 6:30 a.m. – plenty of time to get our bibs, finish our coffee, and get some light stretching in. The big climb loomed in the distance and all I could think was “I have to climb that – TWICE.” We lined up, the race director gave final instructions, and we were off.
In the past, temperatures on race day have often topped out in the 100+ range, and I was worried about how I would do in that kind of heat. But we got incredibly lucky with weather – it was 60s at the start and socked in with fog. While that meant no views on the first climb up, it also meant we stayed completely cool until the halfway point. We fell into the conga line that was to be the first 3 miles until the 4,000-foot climb began.
The entire course is beautiful, but the first 3 miles were my favorite. It was almost like you were running in a jungle … lots of vegetation and so much green; very different from the trails in San Diego. About 2 miles in, we got to run through the original M.A.S.H. television show set which is well-preserved and a super neat thing to see in-person.
Mile 3 began the 3-mile climb up to the top of Bulldog Mountain. I’m not going to lie: That’s a long time to climb even if you have practiced. I will say that the practice climbs we did at Mt. Woodson had me well prepared for how tired the climb would make me.
Once we hit the top, there was almost a mile of downhill running to an aid station, then several miles of rolling terrain before we ran about 3 miles down to Tapia Park, and then did a little more climbing before bringing it in to the halfway point. We made it in 3:30 – 30 minutes before the cutoff. I was so happy!
We refueled a bit there, and then got ready to do it all again. The good news: I knew what was coming. The bad news: The cloud cover was gone and it was warming up. I’m not a great hot-weather runner and I started to wonder how that would affect my electrolytes and overall mood, in general. We started off on Loop 2 knowing we were on the backside of the race, which felt good!
I felt a little off coming into the halfway point but chalked it up to just being tired. I knew I would be. By the time we made it to Mile 19 (about halfway up the 4,000-foot climb again), I was not doing well. I really felt sick. And I knew it wasn’t from the heat. Honestly, even with full sun exposure, we had a wonderful breeze and I never felt overheated. But my electrolytes were out of whack, big time. That’s always been a struggle for me – even in road races. Luckily, those are shorter, and I can push through without ever feeling too bad. But this was the longest race I’d ever done, and the effects were starting to show.
G poured cold water over my head, we refilled all of our bottles with cold liquids, and I ate some food and a salt packet. Then, one of the aid station workers asked if I wanted an oral rehydration salt drink – basically Pedialyte in powdered form. G told me to take it, so I did. Holy moly! That stuff is amazing! It was like jet fuel, and I was back to feeling 100% in about 10 minutes. (I realized why once I Googled it on the way home – the sodium and potassium amounts are off the charts; we plan to keep a few of these on hand for all future races).
By the time we got to Mile 22 I was feeling great, and ready to roll. We were well ahead of aid station cutoffs, so I wasn’t stressing that, and the long downhill portion was coming up that would dump us out into the last 5K before the finish. We met up with a few people along the way and talked about whether we thought we could finish sub-8 hours. It seemed really doable at that point, so that was the goal.
Fast-forward to the final climb before the finish. I hadn’t loved this 1.5-mile Spur Trail stretch the first time around, but I really didn’t love it the second time. It was the hottest I had felt all day and I was having a hard time keeping my breathing even, which let me know my heart rate was pretty high. By the time we hit the road at the bottom to run the last mile to the finish, I was feeling all kinds of crazy. Between being emotional that I was going to finish sub-8, and then a bee chasing me for half of the mile, I really just couldn’t wait for the finish line to come into sight.
G was super encouraging as a race partner, and pacer. He knew when to push me, and knew when to let me do my thing. There were definitely many highs – and lows – throughout the day, but we came into the finish at 7:55 and I couldn’t have been happier!
Overall, I loved the course and the experience. I definitely think it was a very challenging first 50K and would highly recommend it.
Have you run this race? I would love to hear your thoughts!