Monday, March 23, 2009

In the Footsteps of Legends: The Rucky Chucky 50k

“The Rucky Chucky 50k is a humbling introduction to the Western States 100 course” reads one of Scott Dunlap’s race reports. That assessment couldn’t be more fitting. Rucky Chucky runs between miles 62 and 78 of the Western States 100 course, which is like playing 3 holes at Augusta National except the eligibility requirements for getting on this course are pretty much the opposite. They go something like this: “You think you can run (any portion of) the course? Have at it!”

In a previous post, I described my pre-race excitement of running those hallowed trails, which had been mixed with a healthy dose of anxiety due to some foot issues. Most of that was forgotten on my 2+ hour drive up. Between sipping coffee and continuously switching radio stations, I was reminiscing about my first ultra, the Oak Mountain 50k, which I had run exactly one year earlier. (read Christian’s and David’s accounts of this year’s event here).

I was one of the first to arrive and had the unusual pleasure of parking 10 feet (literally) from the starting line. My race number turned out to be pleasant surprise as well, since its digits also match my birthday (110). The pre-race atmosphere was relaxed. It was easy to meet people and people either caught up with old friends or eagerly made new ones. I had the great pleasure of meeting Peter Lubbers in person. We have been blogging friends for a couple of years now, but never met in person. (As a side note, somebody needs to come up with an name for that. “Blogging friends” is kinda weird. As is “bliends”). Also, thanks to Peter and his buddy Troy, I've got lots of fun pictures in this report. Thank you!

Peter, who would finish 4th, and I before the race

Discussing the race profile at the start (looks staged, doesn't it?)

This was a small race and I love that. RD Robert Mathis gave us all the necessary instructions (“Follow the pink ribbons or Peter in the bright shirt. Turn around by the river and make sure you tell this guy [pointing] when you get back, since he keeps the time. It may rain depending on how long you’re out there. So, yeah,…3,2,1…go!” There are many reasons why I don’t miss big city races with 52,000 runners (new record!), $150 entry fees and Runner’s World coverage. All I need are some trails, a few runners and some dude who says “go”. Simple.

So, off we were and it didn’t take long before we hit the Western States Trail. Woah! Huge forest, magnificent views of the Sierra foothills and a few thousand feet below us the Ruck-a-Chuck River, our turn-around for the day.

Somewhere near the top

We would be going downhill for about 11 miles or so (save a couple teeny uphills) and the strangest thing was happening to me: I could not get my breathing under control. I was panting and losing my breath over gentle running. Maybe it was the little running over the previous two weeks (15 miles or so total). Maybe it was the altitude (we weren’t high though and altitude doesn’t bother me much). Who knows. That was the bad news. The good news was that my foot seemed to be doing fine (phew!). And once I passed the first aid (8.7) things started to improve with the breathing as well. The volunteers shouted “have fun on the next section," and I was wondering what could await me that I hadn’t seen yet.

Somewhere near the bottom

Flowers. Beautiful, magnificent flowers. Everywhere. Orange, purple, yellow, blue,… Have a favorite color? There was a flower for you. Mother Nature was out there putting on a show, and we were all invited. It was incredible!

An out-and-back course make it very easy, of course, to see how you’re doing half way through the race. To my surprise, I was running in 6th when I hit the turn-around (2:13). That was good enough to get my competitive juices flowing. Number 7 was a minute or so behind me. It was time to push…just I had no juice left. My legs were trashed from the downhill (not good), but a good overall placement and a PR were still in the mix. After some more flower treatment on the river banks and saying my "hello"s and "good job"s to everyone, it was time to head back up. And, boy, was I hurting. I was struggling just to make it to the final aid station, which is no less than 8.7 miles of tough uphill from the finish line. I took my time here to refuel and regain strength. A mix of will-power, salty potatoes and BBQ chips (my favorite!!) was just what the doctor had ordered. I thought a lot about how so many runners have suffered here before. Not just the field, but big names like Trason, Twietmeyer and Jurek pushing for the win. And, truth be told, I was thinking most about Ansleigh. To run these trails unsupported and on a whim...mindblowing!

Shoulda smiled for this one

After some time, I passeed a sign that said “Foresthill 3.3 mi”, so I had about 3.5 miles to go (the finish line was at the other end of town). 48 minutes to break my PR and still in 6th…I was in great shape. Not so fast was what trail quite literally seemed to say throwing the final, massive, steep, painful uphill in my way. I was reduced to walking a lot of it. In the end, I missed my PR by 4 minutes, but still stayed under 5 ½ hours (5:28) and successfully defended 6th place overall. I was stoked! In terms of overall standing, this was my best finish ever, and it was about to rain cats and dogs. Sitting inside and eating cake sounded perfect right about now.

  • In the end, I learned a few things:
  • Despite doing a lot more uphill training, I still have a lot of work to do in this department
  • I love this race and hope to return here next year
  • The Western States course is no joke. Those trails are rocky and fairly technical
  • Birthday cake is GREAT post-run food
  • Driving two plus hours after a race stinks. But an In-N-Out chocolate shake can really improve the experience.

My thanks to the RD Robert and all the volunteers, some of whom braved some serious weather and temperature swings, especially the guys manning Cal2.


Peter Lubbers said...

Great report, Dave. It was great to finally meet you in person. Congrats on placing 6th in a great time (it's not exactly a PR-type of course :-)
See you at the next race!

wcaitlin said...

Sounds like you had a great run and congrats on 6th place! Glad you think the Western States course is no joke makes it easier for me to postpone that venture for this year. You know what I do with hills, I imagine they're flat (somehow I think that helps :)). And yes, the course records are dropping!

Sunshine Girl said...

Now it's my turn to be envious! But I am going to States Training Camp this year, just for fun.

David Ray said...

In-N-Out. Something else I'm jealous about.

Beautiful pics though. Thanks for posting. Congrats on 6th place too. And thanks for the hook-up with Oak Mtn!

Spurgeon said...

Beautifully written report. Thanks for sharing it with us. Congrats on the 6th place finish! Kudos on a job well done.

Scott Dunlap said...

Looks like you had great fun! It's a tough course - if you can come close to a PR here, you can definitely crack a PR on a flat course.

I'll have to come back to this one...


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

4 minutes off a PR on Rucky equals your best 50K-- congrats! Glad the foot held out. And by the way, 6th is the coolest place to get.