Sunday, March 23, 2008

Test Driving the North Face Rucky Chucky Shoes at the Rucky Chucky 50K

We're Off! (Photo Courtesy of Austin Violette)

On Saturday, I joined about 100 runners (82 in the 50K and 20 in the 50K Relay) for the Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50K. Apart from last week's 15K race, this was going to be my first race of the year and yet another chance to do some trail-testing. This time I was checking out the Rucky Chucky trail running shoes -- a new model from The North Face. I had bought it in Portland after discovering that there is no sales tax in Oregon!
The New North Face Rucky Chucky Shoes
I knew this was not going to be a super-fast race fro two reasons:
  1. No aid stations for the first and last 14 miles, which forced everyone to carry lots of water or risk running out of water on a fairly hot day (or, in my case, both!)
  2. The course does not play to my strengths, with screaming downhills (my favorite) on the way out and butt-kicking uphills on the way back. It would have been perfect to start at the river crossing instead and run the course in reverse.
Still, I felt strong and had a good base coming into the race, so I was going to do my best to run a good race. On race morning I picked up Frank Plucker in Grass Valley and Mark Tanaka (the eventual winner, now known as the grrrrreen dinosaur!) in Auburn, making this a very environmentally friendly trip to the start.
Lightning-Fast Mark "Ultrailnaka" Getting Ready to Crush the Course
We found everyone in great spirits at the start. It was fun to see many trailrunning friends again, like the fitter-than-ever, Vespa-chugging Scott Dunlap with his brand-new Inov-8 hydration pack; race-volunteer-for-a-day Catherine; future WS100 pacer Tony Overbay (this was the first time I actually met Tony in person); 12 Hours at Cool RD and Rucky Chucky sweep Nancy Warren; two-ultras-a week Ray Sanchez; fellow Tahoe Triple veteran Sigurd Asp (training for WS100); the 16-year old track-star-turned-ultratrailrunner Austin Violette; and many more.

View from the Trail (Photo Courtesy of Austin Violette)

The race started promptly at 8 a.m. and we raced down some of the steep downhills, perhaps going out a little too fast, but it was hard to slow down. The course follows the WS100 trail all the way down (roughly 2500') to the Ruck-a-Chuck river crossing and I remembered some of the sections from pacing Dave Yeakel jr. on this same course last year. It was not all downhill in one go though -- there were still plenty of uphill sections!

Elevation Profile of the Rucky Chucky 50K Race

Until just before the race started I was not sure if I should take two big hand bottles or my CamelBak. In the end, I opted for the latter, but the danger of using the CamelBak is that you put too much water (read: weight) in it. Also, it is very hard to tell how much water you have left. It took me about two hours to reach the first aid station (13.9 miles) and I still had water left in my pack. Norm Klein and Tom Wrobelowski kindly filled up my pack for the return trip and I left it there so I could run to Ruck-a-Chuck and back without my pack. I reached the turnaround in 2:15.

Austin Violette at the Turn Around Point (Photo Courtesy of Austin Violette)

As soon as I strapped my CamelBak back on and started running up the hills, I started feeling a bit sluggish. Time to refuel. I thought that I might have brought too much water, so I started splashing some of it on my face and neck in order to cool down. Although the race site says it was only 67 degrees, it sure felt a lot hotter, especially on the more exposed sections of the trail.

Some parts of the trail were so steep that it was more efficient to just walk, making it a long and slow climb back to the start as well as a great training experience for the hotter weather that is coming up. At a certain point I felt like my water supply was shrinking and I stopped pouring it over my head to make sure I would not run out. Unfortunately, at mile 28, I heard the dreaded bubbly sound that accompanies the last few sips of water in the CamelBak. Turning the backpack sideways helped a little bit, but at mile 29 I was completely out of water. Fortunately there were only about 2.5 miles to go.

RD Robert Mathis at the Finish

I finished in 16th place overall in 5:45, a little slower than I had hoped for, but given the conditions I was happy with it. The post-race buffet, prepared by Linda Mathis was excellent and I talked to many of the other runners for a while, before finally heading back home where a great stack of pancakes was waiting for dinner!
Catherine and Other Volunteers Record the Finishing Times

Jack Driver on the Home Stretch

As for the new shoes, I really enjoyed them. Here is my summary:

Summary of the Rucky Chucky Trailrunning Shoe Experience:

  • Fit: Excellent. The shoe fit me very well (slightly bigger than "normal" size 13s) and feels very smooth. It has good breathability. The shoe features an ergonomically-designed footbed that looks a bit weird at first but really does not bother your feet.
  • Toughness: Very Good. The bottom of the shoe is very well protected with new "snake-plate" technology.
  • Flexibility: Excellent. The Rucky Chuckies are very flexible, unlike some of the other TNF running shoes.
  • Side-to-side Stability: Very Good. The shoes felt extremely comfortable and allowed me to move over tough terrain effortlessly.
  • Grip: Very good. Not super aggressive, but plenty to get the job done, especially on rocky terrain.
  • Switchback Handling: Very Good. I had to stop and tighten the shoes very tight to handle some of the extreme downhills (so my toes would not hit the front of the shoes) and without an integrated lacing system this restricted my feet a little bit.
  • Weight: Excellent. This is the shoes' best feature! They are really very light for a trail running shoe. I almost did not feel any difference with my road shoes. I found some of the other TNF shoes on the heavy side.
  • Price: OK. At $120, it was a good thing there was no sales tax in Oregon!
  • Overall: This is a great and surprisingly light shoe for almost all trail conditions and can even be used on the road if needed.
Next Up: The Daffodil Run 10K!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Running The Shamrock Run 15K

I am in Portland, Oregon for a few days to present at WritersUA, a technical writing conference and while I was driving through town on Saturday, a poster for the 30th annual Shamrock Run caught my kids' eye. I checked out the website and found out that there was still a chance to register on race day. Better yet, the race start and finish line was two blocks away from our hotel.

I got up early and since we were also going to go for a hike later that day, Vicky and the kids decided to watch the race from the hotel window :) When I arrived at the start of the race, I instantly understood why Portland is rated the 5th-fittest city in the United States: there were 16,000 runners running in the 5K, 8K, and 15K combined!

I decided to run the 15K and despite the huge crowd it only took me five minutes to get a race bib (they were out of chips for the late registration) and just two minutes to check in my clothes, thanks to the hundreds of fantastic volunteers and an impeccable organization.

Never having run a 15K, not knowing the terrain, and not having run any short races for a while, I really had no idea what I could expect as a finishing time. I lined up towards the front of the roughly 2500 15K runners, after having seen the 5K starting line take almost the full 13:30 that it took Dan Brown to finish and win the 5K to simply get past the starting line.

We took off, touching the Shamrock race banner for good luck, and after a short tour of the downtown we started a pretty good climb. Whenever you see several race signs that make fun of going up a steep hill ahead, you know that you're going to be in for a pretty good climb and, sure enough, this one did not disappoint. The first 4.5 miles were all uphill (approximately 600' climb) and it only really started dropping back down at mile 7.

Elevation Profile of Portland's Shamrock Run 15K

The course was really pretty and I enjoyed running in the new environment. I paced pretty well and went faster than I expected. I hit mile 6 in under 42 minutes, which surprised me a little bit. At mile seven, the race joined with the (3000+ ?) 8K runners and the 15K runners started weaving through the crowd. Towards the end, the two races ran in different lanes and I picked up the pace for the last half mile. I sprinted past about three runners who had previously passed me just seconds before the finish line. I finished in 1:03:30, in about 24oth place overall (a new PR by default for this new distance, but one I was quite happy with). I grabbed some water and within ten minutes, I was back at our hotel room.

We went for a great hike at Multnomah Falls later in the day. The hike features a one-mile, 600' climb to an observation deck at the top of the waterfall. This is the second highest waterfall in the United States -- pretty spectacular.

Race Details (Motionbased):

Next up: Rucky Chucky 50K (Note: the first aid station of this race cannot be reached by trucks, so there will not be aid for the first 13 miles of the race, so if you're running this race, bring extra water bottles -- so much for using this as a supported training run :)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ultrarunning Gear Review: Salomon XA PRO 3D ULTRA Running Shoes

The New Salomon's After Their 33-mile Break-in Run

On Saturday, I used my REI dividend and an additional 20% coupon to buy a new pair of Salomon XA PRO 3D ULTRA trail running shoes. I decided to test them out toady on a nice long run and went to Bullards Bar Reservoir. Bullards Bar Dam (one of the largest dams in the U.S.) is located on the border of the Tahoe National forest, about 15 minutes from our house.

The Bullards Trail is a great trail that is mostly shaded, with many trailheads. You can mountain bike, hike, and run there. It has something for everyone: you can go for a 2-mile hike as well as a 50K run. The entire trail is single track and follows the edge of the massive reservoir, but is by no means flat -- it is constantly changing elevation and there is a tough, gradual 800' climb to get to the final trailhead. The trail is about 14.5 miles long and ends up in Camptonville on Highway 49. I added another 1.5 miles by running on the road from the top of the dam to the nearest trailhead (the Sunset trailhead). This would be a great place for a 50K; one day I'll organize a race there...

It was a gorgeous day for a run, so I took my Camelbak Rim Runner and packed about 3/4 gallon of water, some Greens+ bars as well as some PB&Js and I was off. Note to all the hibernating people out there: get out and use the beautiful trails! In my entire run (6.40 hours) I did not see ANYONE out on the trail. Overall I ran for about 6 1/2 hours and had a great time.

Bullards Bar Dam

Back to the new shoes. I am still looking for the perfect 165-mile ultra shoe for this summer's TRT run (please, let me know if you have any suggestions). I tried out the Montrail Hardrocks, but found them too heavy, stiff, and bulky. Previous Salomons were always a little bit too soft, but with the ULTRA I think Salomon has made a great new ultra trail shoe.

This new pair is defintely a candidate for TRT165. A nice balance of comfort, flexibility, and toughness. One great feature on all Salomons is the patented lacing system. It laces up very evenly and you can tuck the lacing strap away so it does not get caught.

Here is my summary:

Summary of the Salomon XA PRO 3D ULTRA experience
  • Fit: Excellent. The shoe fit me very well and feels very smooth. It has good breathability. The shoe also does not have a very high heel, which I like.
  • Toughness: Very Good. The toes and the bottom of the shoe are well protected.
  • Flexibility: Excellent. I am a firm believer in flexibility to aid natural running style. Not all the Salomons I tried out were this flexible though.
  • Side-to-side Stability: Excellent. I really liked the side-to-side stability of these shoes and never had a problem with rolling. This probably adds a little weight, but it is something that is lacking on some of the more minimal shoes like the Inov-8s. Their website claims "Salomon's 3D advanced-chassis system pairs with close-to-the-ground construction for ultimate stability. This system stabilizes your feet over uneven terrain, without losing energy from your stride" and I have to agree with that.
  • Grip: Very good. Even though the tread does not look overly aggressive. I ran on a lot of soft terrain and never slipped on piles of pine needles, but they also handled good on hard surfaces and on the road.
  • Switchback Handling: Excellent. I bombed down a mile of switchbacks reaching top speeds of 5:30 and thanks to the great lacing system and my gaiters, the shoes never gave me any problems.
  • Weight: OK. They are a bit heavy compared to my road shoes (Nike Vomero), but not nearly as heavy as the Montrail Hardrocks. I think they are actually not that heavy as far as trailshoes go; in fact, they claim to be super light, but everything gets a bit heavy at size 13 :)
  • Price: OK. At $110, I was happy to have all the discounts!
  • Overall: This is a great shoe for almost all trail conditions. I look forward to taking them out on the TRT.
Details of the run:

Next up: Rucky Chucky 50K.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tim Twietmeyer Ultramarathon Seminar in Sacramento (March 20)

I went to one of Tim's seminars last year and they are great. I'll be in Portland, Oregon that day, so I won't be able to make it myself. The seminar wil be held at Fleet Feet Sports in Sacramento at 2311 J Street. Call to RSVP: 916.442.3338 .
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