Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sub-5 at the Rucky Chucky 50K

Yesterday turned out to be a good day for the Lubbers family! In Marysville, my sons Sean and Rocky placed first and third respectively in their age groups in the 13th Annual Tri-Counties Music Competition and in Foresthill, I placed fourth overall (first in my age group) in the Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50K in a time of 4:52 (almost an hour faster than last year).
Of course, my wife deserves "honorable mention," because she cooked the pre-race pasta dinner, baked the post-race pancakes, drove the kids to countless rehearsals, and made sure everything was properly organized.
The American River
Last year, I did not have such a great day at this race. It was pretty warm that day and we had to carry a lot more water due to an inaccessible aid station. This year's forecast called for cooler weather with a chance of rain and there would be an extra aid station, so times would probably be faster.
Lots of vertical feet on the course
Based on some recent training times, I decided to shoot for a sub-5 hour finish. The course is a very steep out-and-back trail run. You start at Foresthill Elementary School (3300'), follow the Western States trail and bomb down to the famous Ruck-a-Chuck river crossing (750'). Then, you turn around and crawl back up to Foresthill.
Before the start
Last year, I started out a bit too fast and arrived at the turnaround at 2:15, but then the wheels came off. So this year my plan was to run a more conservative first half, leaving enough in the tank to actually run most of the return trip. My projected splits were:
  • Sandy Bottoms aid station (mile 13.9)--2:00
  • Rucky Chucky turnaround (Mile 15.8)--2:15
  • Mile 22--3 hours
  • Finish--sub-5
This schedule would leave two hours for the last ten (very steep uphill) miles and it would take into account being in better shape and running without a CamelBak.

Andy Anderson on his way back

Training had been going well. After recovering from the Pony Express 100K for about a week, I ramped up my training and focused exclusively on steep mountain training. I ran 111 miles with roughly 30,000' vertical in 11 straight days before tapering back down for Rucky Chucky. On day 6, I ran my usual 10-mile mountain training loop in my fastest time ever: 1:10:38, so I knew I was ready for some fast mountain miles. The main thing was not to go out too fast. This race is mostly about being able to run back up the hill.
Chatting with CJ Callans
Troy offered to crew for me, although there was really only one place where he could meet me on the course (The Rucky Chucky river turn-around). Nevertheless, it was good to get a little bit of race intelligence and, most importantly, a ride back home! Thanks again, Troy.
With Dave before the race
Before the race, I finally got to meet Dave "Atlanta Trails" Schoenberg in person. Dave lives in Berkeley these days and came out to explore the Western States trail.

Dave in action
I also caught up with Gretchen and met Mike Scammon plus a few other runners who were going to do their first ultra. They sure picked a challenging run for a first ultra, but then again, if you're going to run an ultra, you may as well go all the way.

Checking out the elevation profile with Dave and Mike
I started out a little bit more conservative than last year, holding back more on the steep downhills, in the hope I would be able to run a lot more of the return trip. This proved to be a good strategy. Mark Lantz, out for a training race a week after running the Way Too Cool 50K a week earlier, set the pace from the start and slowly pulled away with the very positive (and fast) Andy Anderson on his tail.

I spent the majority of the downhill section chatting with Oregon's JC Callans, a very fast marathon runner (2nd in the Redding Marathon this year) who was running his first ultra. JC would pull ahead of me occasionally, but I would catch up with him again at the aid stations. Although he was new to ultrarunning, JC had received plenty of good ultra advice. He lives close to the Rogue Valley Runners store, which seems to provide employment for about half of all the top ultrarunners in this country. JC even carried a good luck charm-a Gu Roctane, rung up by Anton Krupicka himself.

Some of the great volunteers

I hit the 14-mile mark at 1:52 and the turnaround in 2:05 (both earlier than expected, but feeling pretty comfortable), and then started making my way up the hill again, exchanging "good job" and "looking-good" with all the other runners coming down the trail. I hit the 22-mile mark a little behind schedule at 3:05. At the last aid station (with 8.7 miles to go) I found out that Andy Anderson had a commanding lead, Mark Lantz was about 10 minutes ahead, and JC was only about 3 minutes ahead.

Mark Lantz powers back up the hill

Some of the uphill sections were insanely steep and almost impossible to run. I took a few walking breaks, but tried to keep a running rhythm going as much as possible. For the longest time I was not sure if I would make it under 5 hours, but once I hit some of the familiar trail sections before California Street, I knew sub-5 was within reach. I sped up a little and crossed the finish line in 4:52 (4th overall and 1st AG), still 3 minutes behind JC, who definitely has a future in ultra running (his wife was running the 50K as well). I was quite happy with the result and stuck around for Lisa Mathis's excellent post-race buffet.

JC Callans cruises into the Sandy Bottoms aid station

Andy Anderson easily took first place in 4:18, just 5 minutes off Lon Freeman's CR and Mark Lantz came in second in about 4:30 (great time for a training run!). Though perhaps not a familiar name on the ultrarunning scene (yet), watch out for Andy Anderson. He's an avalanche forecaster, who logs about 30 miles on cross-country skis in the Tahoe Truckee area every day in addition to some low-volume high altitude running--wow!

Andy Anderson (1st place)
After the lunch, I found out that Sean and Rocky had won first and third place in the music competition and that they would be performing in the winner's concert/award ceremony that evening. I rushed home, took a shower, and made it just in time for the final concert, which was a real treat. All their hard work and practice had really paid off. Rocky played a Die Harfe (Mayer) on the piano and received a $50 third place prize and trophy, and Sean played Humoresque (Dvorak) on the cello and received $100 and a trophy. Hmm, there seems to be more prize money in music than in ultrarunning...

Sean and Rocky with their prizes

Next up: the River City Marathon on April 19th. Aim: sub-3.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Four Personal Records and a Course Record

Yesterday, I ran the Pony Express Race. This race offers a 30K, 50K, 50M, and 100K option and I picked the 100K. Having run the 100K in 2007 and coming in second to Scott Dunlap, I knew what to expect.

Before the start
The race is a 1.25-mile loop course around Cameron Park Lake (50 loops for the 100K) and this format allows friends and family members to come out and crew for their runners while enjoying a nice day in the park.

Sunrise at Cameron Park Lake

My training had been going well and the last day of dry and cool weather would make this a great day to break some records. On Friday, my friend Troy decided he would come out and crew for me, which would be a great help, too. Some days everything just goes right and this was one of those days.

The new Chocolate#9 chocolate agave gel

Today, I was going to try out a new gel--Chocolate#9 Chocolate Agave. I had been looking around for a healthier alternative to the basic assortment of gels and reading about these gels (sweetened with Agave, no artificial ingredients, no refined sugar, vegan, etc.) it sounded like I had finally found the right one. These gels are some of the best-tasting gels ever. Think of a rich Starbucks chocolate truffle drink in gel format, but without any sugar and other bad stuff--a chocolate-lover's delight. I ate one every 4 laps and they gave me plenty of energy. Definitely a winner!

Jon Olsen flies by on his way to the 50-mile win in 5:58

In my training I had experimented with different speeds and decided to shoot for an 8:30 finish time. The splits for that break down as follows:

  • 8:12 per mile
  • 10:15 per lap
  • 51 minute 10K
  • 3:35 marathon
  • 4:14 50K
  • 6:50 50M
  • 8:30 100K

John Souza wins the 50K

To be successful, it would be critical not to start out with the lead pack, particularly because there were runners in 4 distances. I immediately tried to settle into an 8-minute mile pace, which felt ridiculously slow. Sure enough, about 12 runners took off fast and formed a pack up front. The "Modesto Trio" (Jon Olsen (50M), John Souza (50K), and Hao Tran (30K) was leading the pack and after a few short laps, the pack was no longer running together.

Hao Tran and Ray Sanchez (Team Pandemonium) pass through the start/finish area

My pacing strategy paid off. The first 50K felt super comfortable and I did not feel like I was working hard until about 45 miles. I was nailing the splits, one after another, almost within a few seconds. I never broke stride and just kept a cruising at a steady pace. I hit the marathon in 3 minutes fast, in 3:32, the 50K in 4:07 (my first PR of the day). By this time I had reeled in most of the people that had lapped me earlier, except for the eventual 30K, 50K, and 50M winners. Jon Olsen was really tearing it up, going faster as the race went on. He finished in 5:58, just shy of Brad Lael's 5:54 50-mile course record. Congrats, Jon!

Round and round we go...

At 45 miles it became harder to keep the pace, but it was still doable. I hit the 50M in 6:40 (PR#2) with 10 laps to go. After about 55 miles, I was unable to keep the pace no matter how hard I tried, dropping about a minute or more per mile.

Another race around this place (Eiffel 65)

Before the race, my son Sean had asked what the longest distance was that I had ever run without taking a walking break. That was a 50K and I had just increased my PR for running non-stop to 55 miles. It felt silly to stop now, somewhere in the no-man's land between 50 miles and 100K, so I kept on running, grinding out those final miles.


Troy joined me for a few final laps and the company helped. By this time, there were not too many people left on the course and all of them were suffering, yet determined to finish. With the end in sight, the last two laps felt surprisingly easy again.

With R.D. Robert Mathis (and my Inov-8 Shoes Gift certificate)

In 2007, I ran 9:36, and with one lap to go, it was clear I would be a little bit slower than my projected 8:30, so it would be fun to at least break my old record by an hour. I had twelve minutes left to do that and cranked out one more lap at the old 10-minute-per-lap pace to finish in 8:34 and change (good for another two new PRs--longest non-stop run and 100K).

Kicking back after the race

I also set a new course record (The CR was 9:06). However, I have to add that I won the 100K by attrition, because there was an overall 10.5 hr cutoff and the people that had signed up for it ended up dropping down to the 50-mile race. Nevertheless, my splits would have been good enough for (I think) a second place in the 50-miler, and a top-spot in the 50K.

Loading up on Linda's famous post-race buffet (There was still plenty left!)

After the race, we enjoyed the post-race buffet while watching the other runners finish. All in all it was great day and weather-wise it worked out perfectly, because a huge storm moved in at night and it is supposed to rain for a while now.

Rick Santos ices the legs after a strong finish, Troy talks to Western States/Pony Express volunteer Brad McGoo

Another great benefit of having a crew with you: you don't have to drive home after the race! Thanks a lot Troy for coming out with me--I owe you one!

Jose San Gabriel with 200 yards to go

A huge thanks a lot to Robert and Linda Mathis and Brad Mcgoo for putting on the great race and keeping track of all the laps!

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