Monday, August 28, 2017
I rarely write a race report for a pure running race, but this one was epic. I had done Ironman Santa Rosa four weeks ago and decided to use that fitness to do a 50K trail race. I’ve done the Bulldog 25K three times before, and had done the reverse course as a 50K about 4 years ago in a driving rainstorm (more of a muddy slog than a running race). I was planning to use this race as training for a 50 mile trail race in October (more on the later). As usual, or so it seems lately, life dealt me a series of challenges over the last couple weeks, but it didn’t really matter because i was recovering from Ironman Santa Rosa (and Boulder prior to that), and really never did much running in the intervening 4 weeks. Still, I felt good coming into this race and got a good night’s sleep the night before, actually too good! I had earplugs in and slept through my alarm! I literally had to get up and immediately drive to the race, forgoing my usual morning routine, which always includes some cleansing of my colon (no one ever talks about that, but all of us athletes know the importance of this usual bodily function). I got to the race with some time to spare, but never really completed this part of my pre-race routine. There were no port-a-potties on the course, so managing my nutrition just got a little more critical. I decided to stick purely to liquid for the race.
I had my new Nathan vest with two bottles in it, which I had pre-filled with 100 cal of Tailwind Nutrition each. I had also frozen them overnight and they were providing some good cooling at the beginning of the race. I had also filled a plastic bottle with Tailwind and planned to carry it for awhile. This extra bottle ultimately carried a good deal of importance. The race started and I just set out at a comfortable pace. The first mile is flat and I found myself running it right about 9 minute pace. The next mile included a hill, which I walked. I had set out to walk all of the climbs on the first loop of the course, and I was going to be disciplined. The third mile had a good deal of rocky singletrack, which I took carefully, no need to trip and fall early in this race. I passed the MASH set (yes, that’s where this course runs by) and got to the first aid station feeling good. I had drank my plastic bottle full of Tailwind, saving the Nathan bottles for the climb. I took in some extra water and gatorade at this stop and immediately headed up the infamous Bulldog climb.
I read an article yesterday about the Bulldog climb. By my garmin, it’s 3.2 miles with 1750 feet of climbing. The author of the article stated that GPS in inaccurate on this climb, so I’ll choose to believe him in order to enhance the epic nature of the day. Perhaps the climb is as long as 3.5 miles and has up to 2000 feet of climbing. The temperatures were already in the mid 70’s by the time we hit the climb. The average incline is 10-11%, with pitches up to 20%, the worst of which occur towards the top of the climb. I power walked the whole way, except for short stretches where it flattened out, which I ran, and my pace was ~16-17 minutes/mile, which is pretty close to what I’ve done up this climb in the past. I did the climb, according to strava, in 53 minutes, slower than my fastest time running the climb all out by about 10 minutes. Not bad, however, considering that I had a full 50K to do.
When you reach the top of Bulldog, there is about a mile downhill on a fire road. The rains this past winter has made most of these roads rocky and the footing was not easy. With my propensity to trip and fall, I was careful, a pattern I’d follow all day, which kept me safe, but also slowed me down. I arrived at the second aid station, and had drank my plastic bottle of fluids, as well as one of the Nathan bottles. The rest of the loop is not downhill by any means, in fact, it seems like there are more and more climbs. The first climb is on rocks and is up and down, which requires care not to slip. I continued to walk the uphill sections and run the flats and downhills. Once the course came to the longest, and steepest, downhill section, I felt good, but needed to be cautious due to the amount of rocks on the trail. Next is a technical single track section, which required great care
Once I got to the bottom it was time to cross a stream. From previous experience, and a recommendation from my coach, I’d learned to just splash through rather than try to walk on the rocks. My feet would dry out. After hitting the last aid station, there was the last remaining climb. I continued to feel fine throughout this first loop, By the time I came to the start again, my watch read right around 3 hours. This was about 20 minutes slower than previous years of doing only the 25K, and I still felt good and was ready for the second loop!
By the time I hit the first aid station at the bottom of the Bulldog climb, I still felt well, but I was about to make my first major mistake of the day. I grabbed some coke, filled my water bottles, but threw out my extra bottle. This was a huge mistake. I felt fine the first half of the climb, but the temperatures had risen above 90 degrees on the fully exposed trail and I realized that I’d started slowing down. I also had run out of fluids. My HR was skyrocketing and my 16 minute per mile pace had risen by 3-5 minutes/mile. I knew that I had to get to the top so that I could make the one mile run down to the aid station, which I ultimately did. When I got to the aid station I took my time, sat down, drank a few glasses of fluid and got myself some recovery time. Thank goodness for my ironman training and experience. The extra time was not wasted, although the remainder of my run took a lot of concentration and was definitely slower than the first time. With that said, I still ran all of the downhills and the flats and walked the remaining climbs.
When I got to the last mile, I looked back and there were two runners about 100 yards behind me. I didn’t know the age of the man, but wondered if he might be in my age group. I kept running, stopping to walk briefly every so often to briefly recover. The distance between me and the runners behind me kept getting closer and closer, and with about 100 yards to go I could feel him about 10 yards behind. I gave it everything I had, and managed to finish 4 seconds ahead of him, and yes, he was in my age group. So, I kept my 6th place age group finish, having once again left it all out on the race course.
My first loop was done in about 3 hours and a few minutes and my second loop took about 40-45 minute longer. The Bulldog climb was a good 12 minutes longer, and my aid station stops were easily 10 minutes longer. I definitely was slower the remainder of the loop, but have to say that I’m pretty happy with how I did, considering the tough conditions out on the course.
I love this course, the race is an incredible challenge, and I must say that I expect to do the 50K again in the future! Of note, it’s two full days later and my quads are reminding me that I gave this race everything I had!