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My 2010 Bulldog Saga - First Ultra

by Scott Palka

Thanks for a one of a kind experience at Bulldog. I am happy to say I have accomplished my objective and have my bright shiny 50k finish medal in hand. I thought you might like to hear about my Bulldog saga, which proves you are never too old to make rookie mistakes.

My "ultra" story starts when a friend of mine suggests I get an audio of "Born to Run", knowing that I have ridden my road bike a few thousand miles in Death Valley and run 4 Death Valley marathons (all road). I like the book and am somewhat motivated to take one step past 26.2 miles, at this point I have completed 35 marathons, and really never wanted to go even 100 meters further. Then "fate" strikes, and I am given an opportunity to be a volunteer at race HQ for Badwater. This is really great news, I have always wanted to run a few miles at 120+, and I might get to meet someone from the book "Born to Run". I have a great time at Badwater, besides manning my volunteer duties, I ran a few times, and did in fact meet several people that were in the book "Born to Run". I get the "strange" idea that ultra-running is not anything like marathon running, and so on return to San Diego decide to enter an Ultra. 50 miles seemed pretty far, given that my average weekly miles for 2010 is around 15, so I look for a 50k, and land on Bulldog. With a great name, I sign up and make my "Bulldog" plan.

1) Even though the web site quotes 8,000 feet of elevation gain in 31 miles, I don't believe it as that would be the equivalent of two trips up South Grade Road on Palomar Mountain, I figure it's a typo and the gain is probably 1/2 that (rookie mistake number one, confirm foolish assumptions, especially when disputing expert opinion).

2) Not really running much, my plan is simple:

~Run the flat sections (thinking there must me some) at 8:00 to 8:30

~Jog uphill, as long as the heart rate is below the targets

~Walk any steep uphill

~Cruise the downhill (this would be the "worst" of my assumptions)

~Target Heart Rate max 135 lap one, 145 lap two

3) Race starts and things are going really well until mile 3 on lap one when: The Bulldog bites me. I trip on a tree root and have a hard landing on another tree root. I am laying stunned, a runner names Jim asks me how I am, I say I think I will be ok, it takes a minute before I can get up, I do a quick inspection to make sure the leg has not had a compound fracture, looks ok a few bits of "trail rash" some minor bleeding, etc. The thought of turning back, ironically never occurs until much later, after I finish. (see picture of leg, attached).

4) I am doing pretty well getting up to the top of Bulldog road, then comes the biggest surprise of the day, the first really downhill section. I can't believe how hard it is to run downhill, especially on uneven surfaces, but I am still moving at maybe a 9 minute pace and feeling really good. The second aid station comes, and then I find out rock climbing is part of the course. Now my running shoe selection was probably the oldest pair I have, the "tread" on the bottoms while not totally smooth, was, well pretty smooth and I am side stepping to avoid sliding down the smooth rock surface.

5) OK that gets done, I get past the photo guy, and then enjoy the run on the ridge line. Later the pace I was running the ridge line would really come back home, not from the effort level, but from the beating the quads were getting.

6) Narrow trails, and a stream crossing also unexpected. The first stream crossing I carefully step on rocks so I don't get the feet wet, the second time, it's just Bull dozer straight ahead. Rest area three has a paramedic, he takes a quick look at the leg and unfortunately finds no medical reason why I should discontinue.

7) I get to aid station 4, which provides the ultimate choice, straight ahead 1 km and be done with it, or turn left for déjà vu all over again. Somehow, my son a race volunteer is at aid station 4, making the straight option, unavailable.

8) I get to the "root" of my fall, and observe the area, making a note that unlike the road, you really do need to pay attention to the ground surface, every uphill seems 2 to 3x steeper, but I am making pretty good time, and the heart rate is easily in range.

9) Back to that downhill 1 mile before aid station number 6 and I find out, the body is not going to let me run downhill, and I can really not walk very fast either. For the remainder of Bulldog, I will learn that I can go uphill much faster than downhill, and the uphill actually feels better the harder I go.

10) Finish line in sight, I manager to sprint to a top 200 finish!!!!!!!

Additional Findings: Well I did accomplish my objective of my first trail run and ultra. If I ever am going to do one again I will certainly train on a few trails, and focus on downhill running. I found out that Ultra runners are having a lot of fun, and are friendly and encouraging. So great experience, I could have lived without the fall, and will certainly pay more attention to looking at the ground going forward.

So, thanks for a great event and I will be recommending Bulldog to anyone who is looking for an ultra. I can't really say if I will run another Ultra or not, but the Bulldog will always be a great memory.

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