Ruck a Chuck 50k
With The Canyons Endurance Runs 100k coming up soon, and hot on my mind, I decided to race the Ruck a Chuck 50k which covers half the course. It would be a good test of strength and fitness, and give me incentive to run hard instead of slog. Turns out I hadn’t run a 50k since 2013, so I was pretty excited to toe the line and pretend I was racing a marathon.
I had suffered a bit of a back tweak that resulted in some occasionally intense nerve pain in my hip, so I was dealing with some uncomfortable running leading up to the race. But because it was intermittent and inconsistent in terms of what irritated it or what relieved it, I decided to grin and bear it. During my warmup miles, it was a slightly dull ache, and I hoped it would at least abate for a few miles.
Standing at the start line I met Anna and Amy who braved the very front with me. I asked Amy her last name, and her response was “oh, I’m not anybody” after which she told me of some of the races she had completed. She didn’t seem like “not anybody” to me. i didn’t get a chance to speak much to Anna before the gun went off, and down we flew the first 2 miles. I was so happy with my fitness/energy/spring in my step, and I had zero nerve pain. I chatted slightly with Anna and Amy, but dropped them a tiny bit before finally reaching the bottom of the blissful descent.
As the terrain flattened, Amy and Anna pulled ahead. I settled into my sustainable effort as the separation grew up the hills. Once I hit the single track there was no one in sight. Watching the time, I started ingesting Gu every 30 minutes, and my stomach cooperated nicely. Our first aid station was at mile 10, and I thought if I could get there in 90 minutes I had a good shot of breaking 5 hours for the whole course. The switch backs on the way up were runnable, and I was able to see that there was another female close behind.
I ran all the way up to the aid station, and my water was still good, so cruised through, looking at my watch. 1:27! Sweet. I kept up the honest effort, banking on the relative downhill of the return trip. With the twists and turns along the tree lined course, I had no idea how far the two gals in front of me were. I reached the bottom of the legendary Elevator Shaft – a steep, rocky, grueling section of trail whether you’re going up or down – and managed to jog a good portion. At the top, the course became runnable and fun, up and down. Bursting toward me came the men’s leader, Tim Tollefson, who flew by so quick I barely recognized him. With about a mile to go to the next aid station, Mark came running towards me, on his training run. “How far are the girts in front” and he said “not too far!” and gave me his trademark encouraging smile.
As I cruised into the Cal 1 aid station, I asked for water in my bottle and to pick it up on my way back. The volunteers were very accommodating and I blew on out for the 1 mile to the turn around. I wagered that if I got there in 2:30 to 2:35 I still had a shot at sub-5:00. In about a half mile, here came Amy “I’m not anyone” Streeter, looking strong and smooth. We cheered each other on. In another little bit, here came Anna, and we repeated the good words. At the turn around i picked up the beaded necklace as proof I had gone the whole way, and looked at my watch – 2:24! Yes!
Now in my mind I had 2 approaches – keep it chill, don’t force anything, or run hard from the turn around all the way to the final 2 mile climb, and then do my best to get to the top. I wasn’t aware of an actual decision, but found myself pushing hard, reliving some of the best work outs I have had on this section over the years – the final miles of the Ice Cream Sandwich Run or the time trial from Foresthill to Ruck a Chuck. I grabbed my water bottle from the aid station, and churned my legs hard, even up the grinding climbs. In a few miles I could see Anna in front of me, and finally caught her at the last aid station, with 10 miles to go. It had heated up, so i stopped and filled my bottle, told her good job, and hustled out.
I flew back down the switchbacks from early in the race, and felt the fatigue whenever the trail flattened, but on I pushed. When I got to the infamous 6 minute hill, a steep bit of double track that on a good day takes 6 minutes to crest, my legs didn’t feel awesome anymore. I was passed by a man who was battling cramps on the downhills, but the uphills felt good. He got to the top before me, but I caught and passed him on the next descent. And so it went, back and forth. I pushed hard, and then harder, remembering a conversation I had at Tarawera with Courtney Dauwalter – she had commented that I seemed so fresh after the race, while she had spent an hour on a cot – so I kept pushing harder thinking that maybe I don’t do that enough. And I kept saying to myself “this is SO HARD!”
With about 2 miles to the bottom of the last climb, I encountered some running buddies out for a training run. Mr D said “6th place!” and I said I only cared about the gals. He said “go get her!” but I was definitely flagging. The fellow I had gone back and forth with was now out of sight, but I didn’t give in.
At last I reached the water crossing at the bottom of the dreaded climb. Oof. My legs were shot. But never mind, I could walk! I had 32 minutes to cover 2 miles – surely with hiking and easy jogging, no problem! I walked best I could on the steep bottom section, looking ahead for the grade to lessen so I could break into a little jiggity jog. My water bottle was getting light, so I conserved, and ignored my desire to fill up from nearby streams. With so little distance left, surely I would be fine.
The jiggity jog was painful, so I let myself walk some more. My feet were feeling oddly numb and toeing out. I started to jog and again, and low and behold, felt my calves start to seize up. Oh dear. I was cramping. So I walked again. And then tried to jog, and again, the cramping started up. There is no running when your legs cramp. The best you can hope for is to be able to keep walking. I looked over my shoulder and saw no one. I kept my eye on my watch and felt like I could still make the 5 hour mark. Jog, cramp, walk, jog cramp, walk. I heard steps behind, and a man came running up behind me. We encouraged each other and he was by me in no time. I thought of Mark and his propensity for cramping, and I empathized deeply. Jog, cramp, walk. It just wasn’t getting better. I had no salt with me, but took in another gu, knowing there were electrolytes in there. I heard more steps, and it was Anna catching back up. “Good job! I’m cramping…if you keep going I think you’ll break 5 hours!” She was cramping too, but in her hip flexors, so was able to keep going. After she passed, and the road leveled a bit, I turned around to try walking backwards. Didn’t matter, I still cramped, even up my back. Neat. I turned around, walked some more, and finally, since the grade had leveled, I eased into a crampless jog. I managed to stumble all the way to the finish line, in 5:01 and lots of change, 40 seconds behind Anna. I was told we were 1st and 2nd place, and I thought, uh oh, what happened to Amy?
Knowing the area I deduced she had taken the only wrong turn available and was running up White Oak Flat. And sure enough, 7 minutes later, following the 3rd place finisher Alina Edwards, came Amy. Wow, I’m sure she would have run 4:45. She owned her mistake and was a gracious finisher.
I was super happy with the day. I ran hard, too hard in places, and was reminded that I need to carry electrolytes, and to pay attention to water sources. My nerve pain was non-existent, which was unexpected. My energy level had been consistent, the calories had gone in easily, and my gut cooperated beautifully.
Thanks to Paulo for putting on another fun event, to my sponsors The North Face, Nathan Sports, Injinji, Now Foods, and Squirrels Nut Butter, to Mother Nature for providing a glimpse of spring, and to Mark for his undying support of my running.