Bulldog Ultra 2015 Race Report

Jesse Luna finish at Bulldog 25k/50k

After my flameout at Leona Divide and my partial redemption at the XTERRA Malibu Creek 22k I got up the courage to try a long shot – the Bulldog 50k trail race in Agoura Hills.

I say it was a “long shot” because the race has a four hour cutoff after the first 25k-ish loop then cutoffs at each following aid station. Last year I ran the Bulldog 25k just over four hours so I’d have to not only improve my time but still have enough gas in the tank to do a second loop on a very challenging course.

Things were also busy at work and at home so I had to be super strategic with my training. I had to be so strategic that it would either help me get to the second loop and take me to the finish line or it would blow up. My strategy was to not run as much and focus more on elevation gain that would challenge me mentally which is what I would need to complete the second loop.

Besides doing the XTERRA race which is 90% the same course as the Bulldog 25k race, I also went back to do more training runs at Malibu Creek State Park in the hot afternoon sun for heat training and to build time on feet. In July I climbed over 12,400 ft vertical gain and leading up to the race I had climbed an extra 6,700 feet in August which includes a two week taper.

Race Day

Leading up to the race I thought of dropping down to the 25k and make it more of an enjoyable day but the last day to do that had already passed so I would either have to do it on race day or just not do the second loop if I happened to make the cutoff. I decided to just run the 50k race and see what happened.

Malibu Creek State Park is a great treasure and has beautiful trails. But with hundreds of runners and friends the parking lot fills up pretty quickly so I volunteered via the Bulldog Facebook group to pick folks up from the nearby shopping area. I picked up two runners who were doing their first ultra, Jynelle and Beatrice. We met at the Starbucks which opens nice and early and there were a lot of other runners there hanging out, some of them were there for the 25k race which started an hour after the 50k race.

We got to the park and picked up our bibs and t-shirts and went straight for the bathroom line. While in line, I heard some runners talking about who would win the race and one voice mentioned that there were going to be a lot of strong runners out there. I think the “voice” ended up coming in second and there were a lot of strong runners out there.

After taking care of business I looked around for some of my Facebook buddies. As I was pinning on my bib, I chatted with a couple of people and one woman mentioned that she was there to support her son. Later on as I walked around I saw Chris who I had met at last year’s run approach the woman, he was the son. I connected with Chis on Facebook so it was cool chatting with him and seeing him run his first ultra.

Starting line of Bulldog 50k
Starting line of Bulldog 50k
Bulldog 50K Starting Line
Bulldog 50K Starting Line -2

It was time to get to the starting line and Nancy the race director gave us her pep talk about following the rules to keep everyone safe. Last year I lined up at the far back of the group and couldn’t hear anything so I got up closer this time. A little before the final countdown I saw Marty Barrios and he gave me a wave. I was looking for him earlier but that was the first time I had seen him there.

Miles 0-4

I took off a little faster than on other starts. By the time I hit the mile marker there were still some folks behind me but when the climbs started I went into power hike mode. By the time I passed the M*A*S*H site there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of people behind me but I heard a voice or two back there. When I got to the first aid station I took down some Gatorade and stuffed a couple of goodies in my pockets. Up to that point I had a GU and a half. Usually I also have a Cliff bar right before the race but I didn’t do that. Not a good start.

As I peeled off from the aid station two women passed by and I figured they might be the last of the 50k runners. I think I was right.

Miles 4-7

After the aid station the Bulldog Rd climb was slow going. Miraculously it was overcast, cloudy and almost cool but the climb didn’t feel any less relentless than it usually is. The last mile was super slow but I only took two or three small breaks to catch my breath and those were only a few seconds. As I figured, the fast 25k runners came by while I was still climbing. I tried to count runners because I knew my friend Dan was running and would be in the top group. When he did catch me I said Hi and told him that I thought he was in 6th place.

There’s a fire road fence towards the top of the Bulldog Rd. climb but I totally missed it and the next thing I saw was the search and rescue crew up there telling folks that they made it to the top and that there was steep one mile run to the bottom. I was feeling kind of crappy at this point and wasn’t up for a speedy descent to I jog walked down. I finally made it to the Corral Canyon aid station hosted by the 805 Bootcamp crew led by Randy and Sarita Shoemaker. Everyone treated me like a king when I got there and Sarita even took a photo of me acting silly. I had volunteered at the Bandit Ultra race earlier this year and it’s a great event put on by Randy and Sarita and their crew. I was soaking wet from sweat and still had plenty of water in my hydration. Second red flag. I tried to eat some things there but only took down a cracker with peanut butter and put more food in my pocket. I felt lifted from the energy of the aid station but shortly after I started the next little climb up the moon rock formation, I bonked big time.

Once I got to the top of the little ridges I saw the sign that there was a photographer on the other side. Last year I tried to be a ham and shot down the technical rock descent and stomped wrong and hurt my foot some. This year I was a lot more careful but still managed a nice smile.

Shortly after that I finally checked my elapsed time and it was 30 minutes slower than the pace I needed to hit the 4 hour mark. I felt sunk and my energy was super low. I had been feeling dizzy and somewhat drained. And now that the 50k bid was pretty much gone I shifted into cruise mode. I decided to hike in the rest and did.

I’m still trying to figure out why I made that choice. Did my motivation to race just fly out the window? Was I partially in survival mode since I had been feeling dizzy and crappy? I wasn’t that out of it and probably could have done some of the downhill runs. Or was I releasing my ego and deciding to just enjoy a good hike during a race? I certainly didn’t feel stressed about things. I knew I would finish even though I still had more than half the race to go.

Miles 7-15 and finish

I power hiked the rest of the race, including the steep downhills. The top 50k runners were now passing me on their second loop on their way to the finish line. Streams of 25k runners were still passing by. When I got to the Tapia Park aid station I took down some Coke and a couple of nibbles and even sat down for a minute. I wasn’t winded or out of breath but just sat for a rest. Before leaving the aid station I dunked my cap in the little kiddie pool and dumped the water on my head. I felt like hopping in and splashing around for a bit but I resisted.

The last hill (sometimes referred to as the Angry Chihuahuas) didn’t seem too bad since I was in cruise mode. Usually when I get there and I’m gassed I find a nice rock and take a sit for a few seconds. I tried to do that once on the climb and a runner passed by at that instance and put his hand on the rock where I was going to sit. I decide to skip the sit and keep going up to the top. I was glad that I had made the last climb.

Once I got down off the Chihuahuas I did a run/hike to the aid station and that’s where they checked me that I was a drop down to the 25k. Shortly before that I had received a voicemail asking where I was because they didn’t have a record of me being on the course. I didn’t hear the call come in. I think I was the only one yelling “155 out” as I left each aid station since I knew I was towards the back of the pack. (I did my part and even went to the timing table after the race to make sure my drop down was recorded and they had my bib number listed there.)

I continued the run/walk down the last part of the road and it was fun to hear people cheering me on. One 50k runner (I think) said “good job” ask she ran passed me and I said “I just did the 25k”. She replied “There is no ‘just’ in running this course, it’s tough.” She was right. I ran into through the finish line chute and into the 25k race line and got my medal.

I don’t think the official times have been posted yet but according to my Nike+/Strava stats, I did the 25k in 5:21:46. Let’s just say this year’s race makes my time from last year look like a masterpiece (except that I didn’t temporarily lose my vision as I did last year).

Follow me on Strava, Yo!

Muddy trail shoes and the shadow of a curious Chihuahua.
Muddy trail shoes and the shadow of a curious Chihuahua.

After thoughts

I am once again blown away by all the support we get out there as racers. The race director Nancy held things together, the volunteers and groups were all great and all the additional support crews were great.

As a data-head runner, I uploaded my race to Strava and checked the Flyby feature where you can see other folks who crossed your path while engaging in an activity. I could see how some folks made the cutoff and then went on for the second loop and didn’t make the first or second cutoff point. Those folks have a lot of guts and have my utmost respect as being badasses.

My carpooling buddies Jynelle and Bernice had good days and both finished their first ultras, congrats to them!

It was also cool finally meeting Christina who I follow on Twitter and her blog A Running Mess. Her blog of race reports is great and she does a lot of races here in Southern California.

What’s Next?

In three weeks I’ll run the Ventura Marathon and hope to meet up with a lot of my high school friends who are coming up from the San Gabriel valley to do the full marathon. It will be interesting to see how my mountain running endurance works back on roads. I ran the Father’s Day 10k race in Ventura June but I haven’t done much road running since then. I’ll have a couple of weeks to get used to the pounding then will probably use a run/walk strategy for the pancake flat but hot race course. This will be my first road marathon.

In November I’ll be doing the Ray Miller 50k and I’m confident that the more generous time cutoff (12 hours) will allow me to reach my goal of completing an ultra race by the end of the year. Luckily the race course is fairly close to my house so I’ll be able to train like mad to make some magic happen that day.

Did you run the Bulldog 25k or 50k as well? How did it go? Feel free to leave a link to your race report if you blogged about it. What’s your next race? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!