Monday, March 24, 2008

Delayed (and Almost Ruined) Ambition -- Deciding to Try to Win the Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50k

Blowing the Taper

about to lock in at Sugarbowl the day before the race: another form of Mountain Running. this is Mt. Judah, not too high or steep, but this hill has the terrain park.

Winning this year's Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50k was definitely not on my radar even as late at 8 miles into the race. I was there for fun, a good training run and to check out the Western States course before I finally make it in (probably in 2020, since there is talk of discontinuing the 2-strikes-and-you're-in rule). By doing this run, you literally get to know it forwards and backwards between miles 62 and 78.

Anyways, had I been thinking seriously of winning, I would not have attempted as many jumps or gone so fast snowboarding the day before the race. While my toddler was having fun at all-day ski school (half-price at Sugarbowl in March!), my wife and I took turns on the slopes, with the other taking care of the baby. Even when I wasn't trying to squeeze value out of our lift ticket, I could feel my ankles getting sore walking back and forth in snowboard boots to the car carrying the baby and a full backpack.

Maybe the stupidest move: when I first got to see my toddler get on the Magic Carpet "lift" after lunch, the damn thing broke. They were going to make him walk up the hill! It was too painful to watch, so I ran over, picked him up and started running up the stalled conveyor belt, probably 45-50 pounds with equipment. I guess I at least didn't pick up his 20-something South American instructora.

Pushing the stroller up the hill from the pizza place in Auburn to our car that evening, feeling sore in several places, I realized that I may have blown a great 5-day taper, but since this was just a fun training run anyways, and I was focused on spending quality time with my family, I wasn't too concerned.

RACE DAY, Saturday March 22, 2008

my gracious chauffer from Auburn to the Foresthill start

Peter Lubbers, already driving his friend Frank Plucker, is nice enough to pick me up at the deluxe Motel 6 in Auburn before 7 that morning, sparing my wife and family the major hassle of getting up early and driving me out. We get to the start early, enough time to use the bathroom (when I realize that the 5 slices of combo pizza I'd eaten the night before were probably not the best pre-race meal--again, proof that maybe winning was not on my mind), and fill up my Fuel Belt Del Fuego pack (replacing inner sack with the easier to suck Camelback one--Fuelbelt, please take note) I'd won as part of my 2006 swag, and stuff my pockets with Hammer gels and Cliff Shots, and 6 Ecaps. And, just in case I need some audiospiration, my Nano, since the Fuel Belt has 2 more pockets. Consider bringing my camera, but decide against it. Am expecting Scott Dunlap to be there, but he doesn't show up until maybe 15 minutes before, sleep deprived from an unexpectedly layover in snowy Chicago.

(note, race maps with elevations at the end of this post)

We start running through the main street of Foresthill. I'm feeling a little off, and don't manage to hold conversations with Beverly Anderson-Abbs and Scott and others. After a few turns, we get onto the trails, which for the first few miles is almost all downhill. Some guy way ahead of us stops to pee (I would later learn he is Jady Palko), so then it's Bev ahead of me. Note to less experienced runners--even if you are running with an experienced (even a nationally renowned) runner who has run the course and trail numerous times, don't fail to look for the course markings yourself. At about 1 mile, Bev leads the first 5 or 6 of down the wrong way, until we hear "you're going the wrong way" behind us. Luckily no significant distance, but now I have to slowly pass runners on the narrow single track for the next few miles. As I descend, I am thinking I'd be too short of breath to take part in any of the conversations above and behind me. Am I going too fast?

Beverly Anderson-Abbs, USATF 2007 Womens Masters runner of the year, getting her raffle swag. Every runner would get a swag prize!

I pass 2 guys I don't know, then Peter Lubbers, who seems to be pacing himself well. He says there are 2 guys ahead of us. Next is Ray Sanchez, who races 1-2 times a week, so it's no surprise he's struggling a little. I'm thinking the guy in the lead is way out in front, but eventually I spot him, I believe he's the guy who stopped to pee, but I'm not sure. I take my time to pass him (he in fact, suddenly stopped and let me pass).

The last guy I had to pass before I found myself in 1st, fast downhiller Jady Palko (thanks, Will Gotthardt, for the ID).

So at about mile 10, I find myself in first place. Huh? What just happened? So now I start to have regrets. Not about going to Sugarbowl with my family, or even going up the lifts. I'm having second thoughts about every jump I tried, every steep slope I gunned down, not changing out of my snowboarding boots, running up that Magic Carpet carrying both my kids.

And the pizza.

Okay, so that night, we went to pizza. I didn't want to be a party-pooper (remember, the goal is to minimize the family impact) and just eat bread while the rest of family was chowing on really good pizza (or baby food). I'm mildly lactose intolerant, which means I'm okay eating a few slices of pizza, but 5 slices with multi-toppings probably aren't not the best choice before an ultra.

at Old Town Pizza, in historic Auburn. To my Sportiva sponsors--hey, I'm still wearing the jacket!
So with my assuming the lead position, I start to feel the discomfort in my bowels. Over the next 3 miles, it gets worse. Since some readers have complained I get too biological on them, I'll spare you the details, but basically I have to pit stop at about mile 13, right before the 1st aid station, and if my toddler had seen it, he'd shout, "OOH, DADDY THAT'S NASTY POO! NAAASTY!" And then I'd ask him what food it looks like and we'd talk about how yummy chocolate pudding is. Then we'd have good laugh. Gotta love my son!

Luckily I don't get passed doing it. Peeing standing is one thing, but squatting with your pants down and getting passed--how undignified and humiliating!

Norm Klein, RD of Rio del Lago 100, Sierra Nevada Double Marathon, Helen Klein 30k/50k/50 mile, and former RD of Western States.

Norm greets me. "Hey is Jon Olsen running this?" I'm so focused on keeping my lead (winning IS on my radar now), I'm not sure I answer him, but ask him if it's legal to leave my hydration pack to fill and pick it up on the way back since it's less than 2 miles to the turnaround. After leaving, I feel guilty-rude. Didn't even congratulate Helen on her new world record (women 85-89 age marathon, I think).

I try to be quick at the turnaround, and remember to note my time, about 2:03 (at that rate, I could finish Western States in about 12 1/2 hours, hmmm... but I guess it was mostly downhill). I see the next runner about a minute after I leave, meaning a gap of 2 minutes. I see Bev within the next minute, and several other runners within the next 2. In other words, there are about 5-6 runners within 5-6 minutes of my ass.

I get back to the aid station (the last before the finish), and apologize to Helen for being so rude (not that she was offended) and congratulating her. Then I ask for my pack, but evidently I wasn't the only runner carrying one who thought of the same thing, so it takes about 15-20 seconds before Norm spots it under the table. He hands me a cup of cola, which I gratefully chug. I almost forget to stock up on more gels.

Helen Klein, yet another world record bagged at the Napa Marathon earlier this month.

Within the next mile, I start hearing breathing and footsteps behind me. Damn--who is that? A mile a minute faster than me... Is my now full Fuel Belt pack weighing me down that much? We chat a little, and the fast dude tells me he's in the relay. Whoops, forgot to look at the race numbers. 1000 something is solo, 300 something are relay runners. He eventually passes.

Well, maybe it's irrelevant I didn't pay attention to race numbers, since at the very least, Bev is close and definitely a major threat (aside from not winning, it is technically getting chicked), and there are several others close--I just have to run as sustainably fast as I can. With an uphill return and the temperatures rising, anything could happen. For instance, my legs might mush on me.

What's great about out and back races is that you get to know where you are competitively, and you get to see and say "hi" to everyone. Okay, actually I'm running so hard I can barely grunt out "hi" while most everyone is saying full sentence compliments "Great job, Mark," for instance. Me so rude, so competitive...

Lynx: my 1st pair of comped racing shoes on the Sportiva Mountain Running Team. will be racing with these several more times this year.

In addition, I am starting to feel some pressure over the base of my left pinkie toe. The shoes were working great--the cushioning was great on the downhills, the bane of my running and racing since last fall. I hadn't tried them until today.

my ugly feet. black 4th toenail on right is old. new minor blister over left 5th metatarsal joint

Noticeable deceleration. On the (relatively few) downhills, I start to hear footsteps, but when I look back and up, I never see anyone. I eventually figure out it's my hydration pack bouncing up and down. Or I am paranoid tripping out. Nonetheless, no letting up. I think of putting on the iPod I've been carrying the whole race, but decide it's not worth the hassle--I'm in the zone, able to work it hard, and not suffering from 1 or 2 songs that keep playing over and over in my head. I try to job up as many hills as is biomechanically efficient, but still do a lot of walking. I am fricking sore. I am prepared to get passed. I am thinking I will be so pissed at myself if I lose first place by a few minutes, because I KNOW all my activity yesterday adds up to at least 5 minutes. At least I was smart enough not to bring my camera (sorry--if you want good on the trail race photos, see Scott Dunlap's blog-- I love you all, my readers, xoxoxo, but not that much...)

11th place finisher and Bloggerdean Scott Dunlap, after his ordeal, including hardly any sleep. I know you all can never get enough of this guy.
My pack empties at about mile 29, but I figure I'm okay. The only problem is that I have just downed a Hammer gel, and with nothing to wash it down, am feeling a little yucky in the mouth. The trail keeps going up and up, there is less cover, and I'm feeling hot. When I finally hit the pavement, I start looking back every 30 seconds or so--just in case. Turning onto Main Street, I dismayed I can't even see the school. But soon everyone at the finish spots me several blocks away and it feels good to hear their cheers. (Official time 4:43:50, although when I looked at my Garmin later, it was 4:43:20-something. I'd trust the latter more, except that the altitude change was recorded as more than 9200 feet up and 9200 down which can't be right.)

Despite 21 miles in 1st, I'm still a little incredulous at winning. I try to walk off my panting, and think I give Linda Mathis a big sweaty malodorous hug, which I doubt she enjoyed. I hear about some shower and make my way to spray off any offensive odors.

Aaah, shower. I was too shy (and the water a little too cold) to get butt naked, but I did aim into my shorts.
Robert Mathis hand me my prize--a coupon for a pair of Inov-8 running shoes. Whoops--not Sportiva! Guess I won't be wearing them soon (I was racing in them most of last year). No trophy or anything. Just as well--my wife is generally not enthusiastic about all the animal figurines mostly from Norm's races that are sitting around our small house. But I'm thinking a stuffed green dinosaur in blue boxers might've been cool...

I would sit and cheer everyone as they come in, but realize that my wife will show up any minute and want to get going home. I go to the bathroom and give my legs a liquid soap scrub down for the urashiol (poison oak irritant) and then to the gym to fuel up. But I have to make the wifey call--post-race mind you. My Razor with AT&T gets no signal. I ask Catherine Sullivan, who lends me hers (Verizon seems to be the way to go), but I can only leave a message. I ask my wife about the egg hunt and when she might get here, should I try to hop a ride out to Auburn. I make no mention of winning the race

Catherine Sullivan, super volunteer for the day

I help myself to several servings of food and try to mingle, but end up sitting listening to Scott tell some hilarious stories including one about savvy chicks he meets on My Space (yes, take this out of context!)

Since I'm too lame to take pictures on the course, you have to look at a random few in a less scenic school gym. (Hey, if you want scenery, put on shoes and get ond a trail!)

Linda Mathis, Matt, Linda Bennett and RD Robert Mathis, in the kitchen

finishers Karyn and Mike Hoffman (thanks Kathy Martin for clearing this up for me--I knew her name began with a "K").

finisher Tony Overbay, left and fellow Anti-Hair Party runner whose name I didn't know originally, on right :) Have since learned he is Tony's running buddy Jeffery Johnston. I sold my Way Too Cool entry to eager Tony for a win win win situation-- kept my motel reservation, and took my toddler skiing and sledding that weekend (while mommy and baby went out of town), inspiring this weekend's family trip.

finisher Charley Jones, of Folsom, who saved me while pacing Rena Schumann at my first night section at Rio del Lago in 2005. I am thinking I should shave my head.

finisher (7th place) and relatively hirsute Paul Sweeney, with raffle prize Stony Face Red Ale (which is what I got too)

My beloved wife comes with our kids, late enough that I'm full. She drove to Folsom to catch an egg hunt, but my toddler got into petting these bunnies...just as well, since he's wild and crazy enough without junk food. Since carrying both of my kids would've slowed me down and been dangerous, I'm very grateful. The win I owe to her. But I decide not to mention that I won, and let her figure it out eventually. Don't wanna act like I'm too into this silly racing thing... ooh, she congratulates me! Is this chick into me now?

Gotta go! I thank the volunteers I see (thanks all!) and say bye, then we drive our loaded Rav on that gorgeous road to Auburn (with that gorgeous and scary bridge). I end up driving the whole way, high from caffeine (I in fact had enough in my naive system to keep me up half that night) and my win. We decide to check out the waterfront at Benicia for the first time, and have a delightful dinner at a restaurant along the water before getting home way past our bedtime.

Carquinez (I-80) bridge seen from the Benicia waterfront

Other blog race reports
These links link directly to the specific report, not just the blog site. Alphabetical order.

Scott Dunlap lots of great photos out on the trail
Adrian Jue
Peter Lubbers thanks for the ride!
Tony Overbay
Catherine Sullivan thanks for volunteering (and for the photos)!

Please contact me if you know of any others.

Race results

Course maps with elevation profiles taken from the Western States website:

Foresthill to Dardanelles
Dardanelles to Peachstone
Peachstone to Fords Bar
Fords Bar to Rucky Chuck (east half)
Fords Bar to Rucky Chuck (west half)

first published 1 week post-race (sorry, have had to work 60+ hours since the race), Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 20:25.


willgotthardt said...

Yeah you know you've entered the realm of elite when you can steal a deuce in the middle of a race and still pull off the win.

[Well done/impressive...congrats again]

Will G.

willgotthardt said...

Note: Runner w/Coke is Jady Palko, crazy FAST downhiller (like no other), a very talented triathlete.

Will G.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks Will, for your (repeated) kind words. Also for the ID of Jady (also should've read Scott's blog first)-- will update it.

By the way, great job, time and place yourself at Pirate's Cove. And since you beat both Tom Clarke and Sean Lang, who both beat me at Skyline Ridge-- you beat me! (Crap, and I thought I WON this race...)

Gretchen said...

Great report Mark, as usual. Thanks for refraining from details about your pit stop...well, except for the chocolate pudding comment. Wait, you didn't refrain at all! Were you like this before you had kids? :) And of course you're right, we just can't get enough of that Scott Dunlap guy. (Especially on MySpace) Do your wife and Scott's wife hang out at all, because I'm thinking they should probably have their own blog. I'd love to read it. ;)
Glad to hear you had fun at Sugar Bowl too, that is my local playground.
Looks like your stage is set for a great year Mark. Keep up the good work, and the entertaining blog!

T Clarke said...

Mark - Fantastic race! Congrats on the win and thanks for the encouragement.

Scott Dunlap said...



Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

well done and, apparently, happy birthday!

Addy said...

congratulations :) Wonderful race report as always, and a first place story to boot!

Imagine, a full, exhausting family day followed by winning an ultra. That, my friend, is endurance :D

Tony Overbay said...

Hey, I look bald in the picture you took of me! Must have been the light! :-) Great meeting you in person, Mark, and thanks again for that WTC entry! I never heard "the rest of the story." Sounds like you guys had a great weekend without the race...and saved your legs for the big win!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Anyone reading this know how to prevent spam comments like the one I just deleted above? I went ahead and required people to type in the random letters.

rick said...

Was the instructora cute? Heck where was I, I could have helped with that. I'm not a podium athlete so whats a little wear and tear. Helen Klein is amazing and Scott looks like he hadn't had enough sleep - look at that face, haha. Anyway good race, too bad about the stomach, way to take one for the family eating the pizza.

P.S. I can't believe you clicked on the Spam on my blog.

Sean Lang said...

Wow what a week! Snowboarding, winning the race, and of course pizza, doesn't get much better than that! BRAVO!!

Sean L.

Donald said...

Holy cow ... you're like some kind of superhero with this report. Unbelievable weekend and race. Congratulations, excellent job.

Alan said...


Awesome run and great report! Can't wait to read about your run at AR50!

Catherine said...

Hey Mark,

Great run at AR50. I saw you frantically heading up to the start line. You went by so fast I didn't even get a chance to say hi. Hope you had a good run. I did.

I tagged you for a little game that's going through the blog world. You can check out my blog for info.

Baldwyn said...

Hey Mark, want some company from Castro Valley to Ruth Anderson next week? I live in CV too, and my family will be meeting me later in the day anyways, so this would save some gas! (You can contact me at baldwync @