As of now, Bull Creek has become standard in my training regimen. If I was restricted to one trail in the Austin area for training, it would be this one.As far as technical running, this one has it. It’s got shade, it’s got climbing ,it’s got decent views and rock hopping that you do not want your mind wandering away from. My fellow trail running geeks and I label it as, “gnar”.
Bull Creek has the capability to connect into the Forest Ridge Nature Preserve and this preserve connects into St. Edwards. If you were to go to the very end of St. Ed’s and turn around, you’d be able to pull off about 16 miles. This route will give you about 1600 ft. of gain give or take depending on whether you can confidently trust the Strava phone APP. It’s still not quite mountain running, but I would go as far as comparing it a significant portion of the Boulder Skyline Traverse.
So my first day of the week was met with a very nice run in good old Bullcreek. I told my lady I was anxiously anticipating this run since Anthony casually mentioned that I would meeting up with some of his new training partners. I liked how he never explicitly said I was going out with fast runners. Very methodical and business-like. Probably in my best interest. I pulled up to the “unofficial trailhead” next to a Subaru showered in a multitude of outdoor-related stickers and a young man wearing a “Trail Root’s” trucker hat. Outdoor stickers and trucker hats seem to be all the rage these days with young outdoorsy folk. No judge. Actually, I’m pretty fascinated by the culture. I yelled, “What’s up, man!” through his closed window and didn’t realize I was barging in on a phone conversation. I mouthed, “My bad” and went to my car to remove my slave uniform and put on my freedom gear (i.e. short shorts).His name was Jacob and we exchanged various trail running qualifications. Anthony and another slim young man pulled up in the mean time. It was the first time I was on time for a work out with Anthony in a long while. I exchanged hand shakes with Anthony and “Doug”. More qualifications were exchanged and I became more intimidated about what I was getting into as I discovered these young men defected from the road.
We hiked down to the trail and performed our first act of of business. A good piss. After relieving ourselves, we “triangulated” our tracking devices and Anthony was off at the lead of the pack. I quickly volunteered to take the back as there’s nothing I dislike more than having to force an uncomfortable pace at the start of a run. The pace was no bullshit. I sometimes never get how they can jump start their engines like that. It’s like they turn on Porsche 911 Engines and go from 0-60 in five seconds. My engine’s more like one that needs to be running five to ten minutes after the night of a Texas freeze. Regardless, I was in a relatively positive mind set and welcomed this as a good training opportunity. Right from the start, my hydration vest’s fit was off kilter. How the hell did this happen? I hadn’t touched it almost 48 hours. I was trying to correct an annoying bounce, sustain a brisk pace and mind every foot fall. It was a rough start. I let the group know what was happening and prayed I would not miscalculate any of my steps. It would not be pretty if I did.
We quickly descended what was becoming the usual route down “Space Mesa”. The boys chatted like the pace was just another day. I remained focused and had to treat it like a chase more than a leisurely trot. We arrived at the entrance to Forest Ridge and while the sun was going down, I was surprised how much daylight was still left. We were moving. Forest ridge starts with some technical climbing and a they charged up at a tempo pace from my perspective. A few of the boys activated their head lamps and I kept mine off. We arrived at the base of our first significant climb and the pace accommodated it. In other words, we slowed down, but there was no sacrifice in effort. With allergies in full swing, I hacked, grunted and coughed my way up. My body was starting to hate this. The young guns were beginning to pull away, and just like in racing, I had to fight off the negativity that comes with falling behind. The game is preventing your mind from going into darkness. Besides, you never know if the man/woman in front of you is having their own inner battle. I may have slowed down, but I turned up the dial on my stubbornness. A personal flaw I use to my advantage. Breathless and a heart on the verge of bursting through the chest like a Xenomorph, I arrived at the top less than 10 seconds behind my partners. I re-joined the group and caught myself getting a slightly bitchy mood. “What the F, guys! Trying to get some water here!”, as they returned to full pace upon my arrival. Little fuckers. Without recovery, my inner stubbornness kept up with them in my least favorite portion of the trail, the fire road. It was at that moment I finally started contributing some conversation without worrying about sacraficing precious oxygen. I told them a little bit about my Bandera 100K experience at the beginning of 2013.
In the middle of the conversation, Doug’s headlamp decided to go out. We continued on like it was of no importance. Talking and maintaining a quick pace, I was surprised how fast we traversed the fire road and entered St. Ed’s. Anthony asked if we should do a loop through St. Ed’s and with half my mind, I said yes like I had some other choice. We bombed a downhill portion of St. Eds and out of the darkness, a blonde woman in typical gym-babe attire manifested out of complete nothingness. She looked startled as four half naked and brightly lit young men came charging down the steep hill. Letting her calm her nerves, we found out that she got turned around during sunset. We offered to trot with her until we found her ride. She was good looking, but the other guys pounced on her in an excited conversation the way a Boy Scout does after a week of Summer Camp. I let them be. Through the grapevine, I found out she was visiting from Alaska and had been out here for a major portion of the day checking out Austin’s better trails. This was someone’s perfect outdoor wife prospect.
We dropped off the lost Alaskan babe and made our way uphill in the direction towards our cars. In the mean time, I started feeling good down hill and a Flow state came about me. It felt good enough for me to take the lead. The climb up the limestone shelf’s felt efficient and natural. We left St. Edwards in what felt like record time and re-entered Forest Ridge to take the other trail down hill which negated the fire road (thank god). Again, I got brave and began bombing down some steep hills with grace. I was beginning to get away from the group so I slowed down a bit. I soon realized that I wasn’t moving as fast as I thought. Doug was having some issue with out the use of his head lamp and it only made sense on this kind of terrain in this kind of darkness. I decided to enjoy the blessed Flow state for a little while longer until we re-entered Bull Creek where I decided it was my turn to assist Doug. Anthony took over as lead and I helped Doug by lighting the tight corners on the switchbacks. This involved varying my pace a bit, and timing my head turn soon enough to light up any possible treachery. There was no doubt a risk of eating ground myself during this session. On top of this Doug, was feeling the burn of the trail and was losing his form. I would later find out that Doug ran the 3M half marathon the day before in what I’m sure was an impressive time. Jesus.The head turns were taking a toll on me and the need to get Doug out of the darkness was feeling greater. Anthony would say, “Just a little further”, but this statement is always up for interpretation. We arrived at the relief of the trail head. Jacob immediately took for his car. Something about worrying his wife. The run had us sitting on the man hole that I crashed my Honda Civic into a few weeks earlier. We shared the comradery of suffering together. While I wanted to run fast the entire way back, I’m glad I was able to get Doug back to his car safely. Much better than carrying him out. It was indeed a fascinating 12.5 miles.