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!


Jean Pommier said...

Good company over there, Peter! Heat training without water, ouch, this sounds like a preparation to Badwater...

Can't believe we won't have a race in common this season/year.



Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Solid start to the year, Peter...Congrats!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Great report and run, Peter. It was crazy how fast we all were running down that hill.

I was thinking the same thing about having too full a pack after Norm filled mine, but I just forced myself to drink it, I guess because pouring Heed on myself would get too sticky.

Sales tax--whatever--North Face really should comp you your shoes for such a detailed, technical review at perhaps the most appropriate race in which to test them.

Thanks again for the lift to the start. I should've introduced you formally to my wife, who was the most appreciative--(I silently grabbed my bag, changed in the hotel lobby bathroom and then met you and Frank outside).

Gretchen said...

Nice job on what looks like a tough course! I hate running out of water though...ugh.
Thanks for checkin in on me, I swear I am coming out of hibernation soon! ;) I did get somewhat of a late start on my training so Rucky Chucky was out of the question, but I should be showing up at some races soon here. And maybe even posting to my blog...

Norma Bastidas said...

Congratulations Peter,

I love your race reports! I want to race in the US next year and your blogs is helping me figurate which ones I would like to do.( the shoe review is an added bonus)



Alan said...


Awesome report - congrats on the tiem and finish place. See you at Ruth Anderson!

r2thekesh said...

Would you recommend these shoes for high mileage training?

Peter Lubbers said...

r2thekesh: On trails, they would be fine for high mileage, I think. I would not use them for high road mileage.

sibudy said...

I'm a newbie at trail running and this is my first "serious" trail running shoe. Went on a 12km trail run in the woods yesterday.

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