i was convinced to sign up for bulldog sometime in march. originally it was supposed to be me, sparky, and jimmy (but jimmy ended up doing mt. disappointment instead). why did we sign up for a 31 ish mile race in the peak of southern california summer? because two days after the race was sparky’s birthday, and this is how he wanted to celebrate. to roughly quote my friend amy, “we runners have a weird way of celebrating.”
training started in may with long runs on saturdays and shorter long runs on sundays. we had everything mapped out. then i found out i was moving to denver, colorado. more on this later, but i had less than a month from when i found out i was moving to when i showed up at work for my new job. this shook up my life, and many times i prioritized life and friends and the move over training runs. this also meant a flight was now required to run this race.
to view my training, i documented it here.
i flew into burbank thursday night. i grabbed some sport beans and a honey stinger waffle (and a couple slices of pizza) at fleet feet on the way back to pasadena.
on friday, kerry and i went to universal studios (thanks to jimmy). this may not have been the smartest idea, considering a lot of walking was involved, but i had a blast. we rode almost all the rides and ate almost all the food. well, not all the food, but i did manage to eat half of a pink simpsons doughnut (carbo loading, right?). at night, i feasted on white rice and inexpensive meat at gyu kaku, my favorite pre-race treat.
i woke up at 3:15 am. i picked out a t-shirt out of the 4 i had packed. i spilled peanut butter filled pretzels on the floor. i packed up my bags and only forgot my hair brush. kerry nicely let me borrow his car and i left pasadena at 4 am. i met jimmy, sparky, and rob at 4:30 am in burbank and jimmy drove us to the race. we parked at malibu creek state park around 5:15 am, grabbed our bibs and race t-shirts, and headed back into the car to wait until it was warmer outside.
we were soon greeted by adam and chiara, who had come out just to cheer us on at the start (this is the first of so many super amazing people who supported us on race day). we chatted outside, dropped off our gear bags, and headed to the start line. then we realized we were walking the wrong direction and went back to the correct start line location. there we ran into anthony who was volunteering and then running the 25k (like leslie who was helping to hand out t-shirts). everyone gathered around 6:30 am (the planned start time) and listened to race director nancy make a few announcements. the start was delayed due to the freeway exit for the park being closed and allowing people to get there in time. then all of a sudden, we heard a countdown and the race had started.
the bulldog 50k is a double loop course, which means you run the same 15 mile loop twice. and the bulldog loop is no joke.
a minute in, sparky said, “one minute in!” and i rolled my eyes, knowing we had many many many more minutes to go. i should note that sparky was wearing a birthday button in front, a cut up sash (that kind of looked like a tail) hanging from his pack, and a “birthday boy” button in back. i don’t know if it was his birthday or preparation (or both), but he maintained an upbeat and positive attitude the entire race.
less than a mile in, we saw a couple deer in a grassy patch surrounded by the race trail. at first it was cool to see them run next to us, but we soon realized they thought they were being attacked and started panicking trying to get out. everyone stopped and tried to let the deer run out, and they finally did. it was pretty great to see that runners were willing to stop, less than a mile into a thirty mile race, to try and help the deer.
we ran some single track and through the mash site (where they filmed the tv show mash) and at mile 2, we hit bulldog hill. this hill climbs from miles 2 to 6 and climbs about 1,800 ft. that doesn’t sound so bad, but it was all exposed and in rough conditions it is incredibly tough. luckily our entire climb (and entire first loop) was overcast with a nice marine layer. we had previewed this loop in july and in 90+ degree conditions, we were all miserable and ran out of water. so when sparky and i climbed bulldog in almost ideal conditions, we were almost giddy. we kept saying how much worse it could be. the climb felt fast and easy. we hit our first aid station halfway through at mile 4. i grabbed some coca cola, saltines, pringles, and oreos, and continued to climb the mountain. on the climb we met pamela and ingrid and started talking to our new friends.
almost at the top of the mountain, we ran into donnie and molly from the training program. seeing them helped boost our spirits as we got closer to conquering the hill (for the first time). at the top we saw bob and kevin. we all were raising up our arms and screaming, so excited to see each other. what a great way to celebrate the first climb.
we powered down that first hill and saw more fleet feet-ers, each giving us a boost. we hit our second aid station, and due to lots of water consumption and overcast weather, we both had to use the restroom. unfortunately there was one porta potty and it had two people in line. i found a spot in the bushes and as i was getting settled, sparky ran by. i panicked and yelled “NO SPARKY!” as frantically as i could, and he sang, “keeping my eyes forward!” and luckily no uncomfortable situation was created.
after aid station two we headed into a rock formation part of the course. these are a bit difficult to maneuver but at least it was something different. on the rocks were a few different photographers (some had signs that said “smile, photographer ahead!”. the heads up was nice. we proceeded downhill (pointing out spots that on the training run we had to stop due to heat), and then downhill some more until we hit a single track that lead to aid station three. more pringles, saltines, and oreos for me (no water needed, i had filled up my water bottle at aid station two) and we proceeded to chihuahua hill. i’m not sure if it’s formally called that, but that’s the nickname for the hill that isn’t as terrible as bulldog but still a pain (put in nicer words than we used on the course). it was still overcast at this point, so sparky and i were killing it and in great spirits.
we finished chihuahua and ran down and to the fourth aid station (which was also the halfway point). there we found jimmy who kept offering help, but we both felt so great that we didn’t really need anything. i felt bad, everything was a bit of a blur, but i changed my shirt and socks and put on a visor. both sparky and i had sunglasses for the first loop, but couldn’t wear them due to the humidity of the marine layer (mine kept fogging up). we both decided to ditch our sunglasses and head out with hats (and later regretted this decision). jimmy texted our friends to update them on our progress, and we headed out for our second (and final) loop.
now in the flurry of seeing jimmy and using my gear bag, i didn’t grab and food/drink at the fourth aid station. this combined with the sun starting to come out (and not drinking water due to the overcast first loop), i started to get dehydrated. i didn’t recognize the signs right away, i thought i just needed fuel so i ate some energy gels. but my head felt dizzy and stomach didn’t feel right. after a mile or so of this, sparky helped me realize what it was. i had a hammer heed powder in my pack and i was going to fill up my water bottle and pour it in at the aid station halfway up bulldog. i did this (and poured water on my head) and slowly continued the ascent. this time, the hill felt like it would never end. every turn i thought was the top, and it just continued upward. i was quiet, my head still didn’t feel right and i didn’t feel like i had the energy. thankfully, sparky talked the entire way up. it was a great distraction and i think i would have stopped a lot more if he hadn’t been there.
when we finally reached the top, my dehydration was also starting to go away. what a relief, i finally felt like myself again. we enjoyed the downhill and found ourselves at the second aid station (for the second time). this one had pickle juice shots which sparky tried (and didn’t like). they also had kettle chips which i grabbed a handful of. i was really craving the salt.
we continued on, no photographer on the rocks this time. i kept saying how great it felt to feel normal. our legs were a little sore (from both the steep uphill and steep downhill) but we chugged along. we took a picture at the spot where we stopped for 10 minutes in the preview run to enjoy the breeze. we talked about our post race food (me: nachos, him: mini corn dogs). we talked about family and pets and nutrition and anything and everything. we hit aid station three (our last one for the race), filled up our water again, saw some more friendly faces and ate salty foods. one aid station had frozen pineapple on the first loop, but sparky was craving cheez-its, boiled potatoes, and watermelon. this one miraculously had bag of watermelon sitting in one of the trays. sparky spotted it and boy it tasted good.
we took off, knowing the only thing between us and the end was chihuahua. it was rough, but nothing was as bad as the preview run we did in july. my muscles were starting to cramp up though. any weird step (like a trip on the climb) and a muscle in my legs would seize up briefly. it wasn’t terrible, but i had to be extra cautious. at the top of chihuahua, sparky wanted to text his wife that we were at the top and almost at the finish. sparky hadn’t checked his phone the entire race, and i was worried that someone was going to spoil the surprise of the birthday t-shirts we had ordered and started telling him to put his phone away. he was confused why i said it, but once we finished i explained and he got it.
we ran down and were a mile from the end, but every step was a gamble for me, so afraid that my legs would cramp and i wouldn’t be able to finish. we turned on a dirt path and saw a figure in a gray t-shirt ahead. at this point, i just wanted to walk. but sparky’s adrenaline was pumping and i wanted to try and stick with him. the gray figure t-shirt was rocky, a friend we had also seen twice on the trails running the loop in the opposite direction. we turned 90 degrees, now running directly at the finish line, and all i could see was gray t-shirts. it was the best feeling ever. kerry, amy, and jimmy were at the top of a tiny tiny hill. maybe 10 ft of incline. but as soon as i started it, i cramped again. amy ran 100 ft with me, being super encouraging, but i all i could say was, “i feel like death. i’m afraid my legs are going to cramp up.” she stopped running with me, gave me a surprising pat on the behind, and that gave me the boost to finish the race. i just followed sparky to the finish line, and as soon as we crossed, i realized we had both PR-ed. 7:03. his previous PR was 7:08, mine was 7:27.
i wish i had taken more pictures during the race, but i think i was distracted by catching up with my friend.
we went to the cars to get our t-shirts, but due to some confusion (and hunger) everyone parted ways. some of us met up at cronies, a nearby restaurant for some beers. and most importantly, sparky and i got our nachos and mini corn dogs.
thank you so much to everyone who came out. kerry for the hospitality. jimmy for the rides and support. chiara and adam for the pre race support. leslie and anthony for volunteering at the race. chris for organizing the group run around the race. rocky, steve, kim, for the encouragement both times we saw you. donnie, jaena, molly, kevin, bob, katrina for cheering us on during your training run. the finish line squad, amy, kim, leah, colin, kenny, elizabeth, zhara, serina, stephanie, esther. everyone for ordering and helping surprise sparky with the birthday t-shirts. the amount of support was incredible. thank you.