The Rucky Chucky 50k takes place on the Western States Trail between Foresthill and the Ruck-a-Chuck (mile 62-77 of the Western States 100). About ~120 racers signed up for the out-and-back 50k, with 30 more doing a two person relay. The course drops about 3,500 vertical feet fairly quickly, then ambles along the American River to a turnaround, before heading right back up. Props to the second-leg relay runners - they definitely drew the short straw. And if you're interested in seeing how crazy the Western States 100 trail is, this 15-mile section is a humlbing introduction.
Upon arriving, it was in the high 40's, pouring down rain and had no signs of letting up. This didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the runners milling about. Those that had been here last year had said they would much rather take the rain than the stagnant heat of the canyons that engulfed runners last year. As runners ate Krispy Kremes and filled their water bottles, there were lots of hugs and catching up. It seemed like everyone knew everyone, including all the volunteers. Perhaps they were all part of the ultrarunner.net series, or maybe it was just the rich sense of community I seem to find at all these ultra races. They quickly picked me out as a new face, and were happy to chat me up.
As the race began, a group of six runners took off so quickly they lost us within the first quarter mile. I settled in around 12th, just fast enough to keep my body temp up. I spotted Beatrice Song whom I had met at the Palo Alto Vista Marathon a couple weeks previous, and she told me that Rich Hornstra was at the bottom of the hill to do the second leg of the relay. She was smiling ear-to-ear as she charged through the rain, as would be Rich, no doubt.
Once we got a couple of miles in, it was clear there was no way to avoid being soaked to the bone. The rain streaked the sky, and massive puddles blocked the trail every 20-30 yards, often requiring you to charge straight through. Gaiters would have been a great idea. I began pacing with Marty Hoffman, an experienced ultra runner from El Dorado Hills, and we quickly figured out he was faster at the downhills and I was faster at the flats so we switched off at appropriate spots. Marty was nice enough to share his downhill running technique with me too, pointing out that I was losing time looking for good foot placement and zig-zagging across the trail while he pretty much charged straight down. The last couple of miles to the turnaround was flat, so I pulled away, but knowing that Marty would catch up once we got back in the hills.
About a mile from the turnaround, Lon Freeman from Berkeley, CA went blazing in the other direction, looking strong. Marty had told me that Lon can crush the downhills, and in ultra running that can make all the difference since most runners keep similar uphill paces (ie, fast walking). Marty must be right - Lon was nearly 30 minutes ahead of us at the halfway point. About 10 minutes behind him was Beverly Anderson-Abbs, the ultra running super star, getting ready for her first Western States 100. Her husband, Alan, wasn't too far behind her with 2-3 others. At the turnaround, they let us know that the last aid station had to be shut down so we needed to pack in as much as we could. A grabbed a couple of extra bananas just in case, and charged back up the hill.
The rain continued to come down, but a few clearings exposed the majestic green canyons of the Auburn mountain country. A few areas of the trail were like running up a stream, and got a few laughs and hollers from the other runners. Daniel Small was having a great time, particularly given the only other trail race he had done was a 10k, and enjoyed digging deep to get himself up the hills. As I passed Daniel, I caught up to Alan Abbs and one of the other racers at the last aid station. The wind had begun to pick up, so everyone donned any clothes they had. A cup of instant soup gave me a boost of energy (although it was challenging to run with), and the three of us closed in on the last 8.7 miles and 2,000 vertical feet. Two of the relay runners, including Rich Hornstra, passed me in the last 2 miles. It took us about 100 minutes to cover the last stretch, and in the last half mile, both Marty and Alan Abbs kicked into high gear to surge up the last hill.
I placed 8th overall with a 5:21, quickly joining the other shivering and soaked racers for a massive buffet of soups, sandwiches, salads, pies, and cake. Everyone looked like chocolate-dipped cookies, caked with mud from shoes to shoulders on the back, but freshly rinsed from the rain on the front. Lon had come in first with an extraordinary 4:28, and Bev Abbs won the female division coming in at 5 hours. Despite the missing aid station, the race had gone off flawlessly. I would certainly do this race again.
Now, time for the hot tub. ;oP
* A couple of quick notes about making it to Catalina Island. The last ferry out is at 7pm, and you have to check in at 6pm to keep your ferry ticket. LAX-Long Beach can be as much as a two hour shuttle (although JetBlue and others allow you to fly into Long Beach directly) so you have to fly in fairly early. I gave myself four hours of flex time, and still didn't make it. When I called to cancel my hotel/etc., all the Catalina vendors kept their deposits and pre-pays, gave me a one year credit. Just be forewarned - you can be out hundreds of dollars if you don't make it.