The Bulldog 25K has been on my ever-growing race bucket list for a few years. I knew that both the course and race day temperatures would go up, but I was pumped for the challenge. Part of my “training” included a 16 mile run on the Holy Jim trail two weeks prior: 8 miles almost entirely uphill (4100 feet) and 8 miles back down. I felt great during and after that run, so I hoped to feel just as good during the race.
Naturally, I convinced a friend to come along for the “fun.” Packet pickup for the 25K opened at 6:30am, when the 50K started, so John and I departed Long Beach around 4:45am. The risk of hitting traffic or road closures is always present when braving the LA freeway system, but we sailed smoothly to Calabasas and had plenty of time to park and prepare. I was able to give Joe a quick good luck hug before he started the 50K – he runs this race each year to raise money for SoCal Bulldog Rescue.
While completing a 1-mile warm up on a quiet trail, I heard movement in the bushes and was really surprised to look over and see a large deer! I didn’t realize there were deer in the woods of Southern California. I was also surprised to see that the pre-race briefing was mid-way through when I returned from my warm up – oops. I ran into Bruce during the briefing, we chatted for a few moments, and then the race started.
I remembered being told before Xterra Malibu Creek (nearly identical course) that “the first 6 miles are uphill” and then eagerly waiting 2.5 miles to actually run uphill. I relaxed into the run for this beginning portion, taking in my surroundings and mentally preparing for the real climbing to begin. This race’s reputation as being difficult is due both to its vertical profile and warm weather. While it felt cool when we left the start line and for the first few miles, it would quickly heat up. When the grade suddenly jumped from 3.7% to 10.3% right before mile 2.5, I said “this is where the fun begins” to the male runner beside me.
According to Strava, the Bulldog trail from top to bottom is 3.2 miles with an average grade of 10.2%. What the elevation profile doesn’t show are the switchbacks, rocks, and lack of cloud cover. My legs felt great for the entire climb, but my feet did not. I’ve never owned a pair of trail shoes, but may need to invest in some. The trail becomes very rocky and dusty in some sections and I lost traction a few times. As the trail became rockier and the sun stronger, I took two walking breaks of ~20 seconds each. They weren’t very long breaks, but one of my goals was to run the entire section, so I did feel slightly disappointed. As we neared the summit, I said a few words to another runner who was near me for the entire climb. I was impressed with his ability to climb well and simultaneously snap photos. He responded in a thick French accent, alors nous avons échangé des mots en français.
Our treat after conquering the Bulldog climb was a gorgeous view of the Santa Monica mountains… and the Corral Canyon aid station (mile 7.5). I threw back a cup of water (with ice!) and continued on through a scenic section of the trail which lies between two tall rock formations.
It’s difficult to maintain any sort of rhythm through this part because of the large rocks, but definitely makes for an interesting run. After the rock formations, the course undulates and then descends steeply for 2 miles (12% average grade). I came upon my buddy Bill Gearheart, with whom I’d shared a few miles during the Ventura Half Marathon. He looked fantastic and we caught up for 2 minutes before he dropped me. Yep, I was dropped by a guy 2x my age! I’d started to feel the effects of dehydration after leaving the first aid station, but wouldn’t hit the next one until mile 13.1. I made the mistake of not carrying any water for the race, despite strong encouragement to do so in the the pre-race emails and on the website. I kept my effort in check as the effects worsened and just focused on making it to the next stop.
After a few more ups, downs, and a water crossing, I arrived at the Tapia East aid station. I’m not sure if this happens to other runners, but my hands clench and go claw-like when I’m dehydrated. I had to wait 30 or so seconds for my claws to relax enough to where I could pick anything up, but finally downed two cups of water and a cup of Gatorade. I left and continued on toward the last challenging section of the course, which I believe is called the Spur Trail, but has been dubbed Chihuahua Trail. Aside from featuring many tight switchbacks, this section is rocky, narrow and completely exposed. It’s probably only a little over 1 mile long, but feels like 5 miles. I could feel the large blister forming on the pad of my big toe, the angry callus on the underside of my other foot, the sunburn I’d earned during the last 13 miles, as well as the dehydration, but this was the last “hurdle” before the finish line and I shuffled my way through it. A runner had passed me at the final aid station, but I passed him back with about .5 to go. A spectator let me know that I was the 3rd female and I tried to finish looking somewhat strong.
I’m happy with a 2:21:25 finish time, but disappointed with my poor hydration planning. I think that I could’ve finished in sub-2:20 with at least a handheld water bottle. However, like I’ve said before, I don’t like claiming that “I could’ve” run a certain time. Regardless, I finished and bonus! earned a pair of Injinji socks for my age division placement. After our races, John and I found a Mexican restaurant and tucked into a large sharing of chips and guacamole, quesadillas, sangria, and more beer.
I kicked Sunday (the next day) with a relaxed 10 mile run by the beach while listening to a podcast. Expecting tired and sore legs, I was surprised to feel quite… normal. It was another wonderful weekend of running!