The Marin Ultra Challenge 50Mile. v.2016. More fun the second time around. Really.

Marin Ultra Challenge  50Miles

Saturday, March 12, 2016
Rodeo Beach, CA

Course:  50.1 miles of trails through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Marin Headlands (Miles 1 thru 20, 34 to 50.1) and Mt. Tamalpais State Park/Muir Woods National Monument (Miles 21 thru 33)
Total Elevation gain/loss:  approximately 11,000 ft.
Altitude: Lowest point, Rodeo Beach El. +17 ft.  Highest point, Willow Camp, El. +1,802 ft.
Weather:  Rainy, from sprinkles to steady downpour, with wind gusts up to 30 (? stronger?) mph
Terrain:  a mix of dirt fire trails, single track, steps of uneven height and material (wood, stone, concrete), rooty. rocky.  And because of rain before and during the race, miles of mud, puddles, and more than a dozen waterfall crossings!

Fun Fact:  MUC50M v.2016 is my 23rd ultra, my 6th 50-Mile.  And the toughest one to date.  MUC was also my first 50-Mile*  (*not the original version; 2013 had 10K elevation gain = no Willow Camp)

***The 3-3-3’s (or for this race, my 7-3-6):  Jump to the end for my race assessment, a valuable process I learned after being coached by Ann Trason in 2014 and 2015.  But why would you skip the rest of my story?? 



There was no picture of me crossing the Finish line on Saturday at around 8:13 P.M. Nothing that looked like this. The photo in the screenshot above was me crossing the Finish line of the Marin Ultra Challenge 50mile on June 22, 2013.  It was my first 50Mile.  For last Saturday’s finish, imagine it to be dark, instead of light; rainy instead of dry.  I was drenched, cold, muddy; instead of sweaty and hot.  I did not scream the second I stepped on the finish mat like I did in 2013; instead, I ran through the finish arch, didn’t even realize I had already crossed the mat, stopped when I saw Tim Stahler (MUC’s Race Director) to tell him, “MAN!  That was a TOUGH one!”   He asked me if it was tougher than the first time I did it.  Instantly I said, “Oh, heck yes!!”  It might sound uneventful, but rest assured, I felt victorious just like I did in 2013.  Perhaps a tad more.   MUC50Mile Version 2016 is without a doubt the toughest race I have ever done in my running life so far.

(Note: The screenshot above is Inside Trail Racing’s website taken last Friday March 11th. The photo of me taken by Myles Smythe back in June of 2013 has been one of the photos on ITR’s homepage slideshow for a few years now.)

I swore after I finished MUC50Mile 2013 that I will be back. It seemed I had unfinished business with the MUC.  I felt I did not really do the “real” MUC.  That year, the trails in the Mt. Tam State Park portion of the course (especially the climb up Willow Camp) was eliminated due to park permitting issues, and ITR had to change the course into a series of loops restricted in the GGNRA Marin Headlands trails.  This change reduced the total elevation gain from 11,000 ft to 10,000 ft.   Still, it was a beast to tackle for a first 50Mile.  When I tell people that MUC was my first 50Mile, I always had to put an asterisk after it and explain that it wasn’t the original MUC.  I don’t know why it mattered to me to make this clarification every time; I guess I didn’t want to mislead people in thinking I am tougher than I really am.     As a relatively new ultra runner at the time –and the MUC being my first 50M– I welcomed the course change wholeheartedly.  At that time, I really had no idea what 11K of climbing is like, and I had been forewarned of the immense challenge for me as a first-timer tackling the 50Mile distance with that much climbing. And so, a reduction of 1,000 feet made it seem less daunting, and yes, “doable”.  In subsequent years following 2013, the MUC50Mile was restored to its “real” version; Willow Camp again became the high point.  It was also moved to March.  I had other goals these past two years and MUC50Mile didn’t really fit in my calendar.   With Quicksilver 100K as my goal race in 2016, I figured MUC50 would be a really good training race because of its very challenging course.  And so I signed up for it.


And now in 2016…
It turned out that, a few days before race day, the “real” MUC was not going to happen after all. Due to the storm predicted to lash out at the Bay Area on race day, ITR had to make course revisions, skipping the Lost Trail-Sun Trail portion of the course through Muir Woods. “But we are keeping Willow Camp” Tim Stahler declared, and threw in uphill Ben Johnson to keep the good dosage of climbing to almost 11K.   It will be close enough to the “real” version.
Oh joy!

But to be completely honest, paired with this excitement was my anxiety of surviving Willow Camp.  Two weekends ago, I had my Willow Camp introduction as part of a 20-mile training run, and it was ugly.  For me at least.  Everyone else in the group did just fine.  I struggled to get that climb done, stopping every 30 steps or so to catch my breath.  I practically cried and felt so discouraged.  We were not even at altitude, for pete’s sake!   I realized how undertrained I was, having missed a few key long runs due to a minor injury (calf strain) that sidelined me for two weeks, and –forgive me for the mention– I was also in the middle of my period that day.  It’s a miracle I finished that run with enough energy to drive home!   As we parted, my friends said, “See you in two weeks!”  I said, completely out of it, “What’s happening in two weeks?”  And one of them (Minel?) said, “MUC!! That’s why we did this run!”   Oh DUH.   At that point, I felt, ok, MAYBE I’ll show up.


02.27.2016.  Beautiful day for MUC 20Mile training through Willow Camp with an awesome posse of running friends old and new.


That run, discouraging as it was, became the push that I needed to regroup and really focus on preparing for this race. With two weeks to race day, I asked myself:  what can I really do so I don’t unravel and fall apart when I reach Mile 23 during the race?  Is this race still salvageable??  For a few days, I entertained the thought of dropping to the 50K.  And then I snapped out of it.  I did the 50K last year, I already know what that’s like, and it’s not going to give me the kind of challenge I need to get ready for Quicksilver!  Also, I did not want to miss out on the opportunity of racing in the Mt. Tam State Park portions of the race.

In the next two weeks that followed, I pulled myself together.  Mentally and physically.  I am going to do the 50Mile, as I have decided to do when I signed up two months ago.  I will show up with the 50Mile bib on me, do the best I can and take in what the day hands me.  I was ready enough.
The missed key long training runs was water under the bridge.  And experience tells me, it is never a good idea to cram or make up for these lost training days.   I had been running regularly through January and February including a 50K (Golden Gate Trail), and so I felt that my “base” hasn’t eroded much since I did Quad Dipsea in late November last year.  With less than two weeks left until race day, there was no sense cramming in long runs.
_I continued to focus on my core strength (which was not interrupted while I let the strained calf muscle heal).
_I pushed myself on the remaining speed workouts, and hill-climbing which included a gnarly 4x major hill repeats of Vollmer (a.k.a. Voldemort) Peak along the Lupine Trail at Tilden Park.

03.06.2016.  View looking up at the top of Vollmer Peak, Tilden.  Is there hope for me?

_I evaluated my gear, and decided to try something new:  trekking poles.  I realize it was late in the MUC game, but I thought it was worth the try.  I had a problem breathing during that Willow Camp climb, and I had read an article that the use of trekking poles could help keep my body up allowing me to breathe better.  It is probably a lazy way of fixing my form, but I was open to trying it. I had seen other ultra runners execute a race using trekking poles.  I thought I’d check in with the RD if it’s allowed and legitimate.  He said, in his words, “Use them and abuse them.”  I planned on using them after Mile23, after the Willow Camp aid station.

_With this new approach, I had to think about logistics relating to using the poles:  how am I going to carry them; how am I going to drink with both my hands holding the poles?  This meant I had to give up the handheld bottles and figure out a different way of drinking.  Using a bladder was out of the question, and so was drinking out of the Salomon soft flasks that came with my Salomon vest.  The ideal way –and the only way– for me was to have a hard plastic bottle with a long straw attachment so I can sip without having to pull the bottle out of the vest’s pockets. I did some research, asked around, and after a lead, I found out where to get it, and I got it.

_Two days before:

  • Carb load
  • Discuss logistics/meeting point with my pacer (my friend Ken)
  • Make the sweet potato banana waffles 
  • Pre-measure the GU Brew and GU Roctane in baggies
  • Lay out gear
  • Visualize use of gear, and necessary gear transitions at aid stations.  Rehearse gear transitions
  • Print out and laminate pace chart.
  • Sleep at 10pm.

_One day before:

  • Pack everything into appropriate drop bags (Start/Finish, Tennessee Valley, Cardiac Hill); label drop bags.
  • Lay out clothes and shoes.
  • Sleep by 10pm.
_On Race Day
  • Power hike the uphills
  • Run the downhills; bomb ’em when I can make up time
  • Fuel:  250 calories per hour
  • Race Vest 1 (stuffed with sweet potato waffles and Honey Stinger chews) plus handheld with GU Brew for first 20 Miles (Up to Cardiac Hill aid station)
  • Switch to Race Vest 2 (with collapsed trekking poles in the back pocket, and hard bottle in one of the front pockets) at Cardiac Hill, for Mile 20 to Finish
  • Use trekking poles after Willow Camp aid station (Mile 23).
  • Be cautious.  Do not do stupid things like running on wet wood treads (especially down the Dipsea Trail!) or rocky trails.
  • Engage the core, stay upright, do not fall, do not trip.
  • Do not quit because Ken is waiting at Muir Beach ready to pace!  Be nice to him.
  • Thank the volunteers.  They are heroes, even moreso on days like this.


  • Safety and survival first!
  • A very conservative but a “happy” finish time of 14:20.  (14:30 is the official finish line cutoff)
  • Keep my eye on the bigger fish (Quicksilver 100K); this is a training run!
  • To be able to finish and move forward with as minimal recovery time as possible



Photo Credit:  Let’s Wander Photography


The weather forecast was accurate as can be.  No pouring rain until around 1pm, but expect wind gusts. A very stormy day awaits.  My department boss asked me a few days before, “Don’t they cancel the race given the weather conditions are so bad?”  I told him the race goes on rain or shine.   Admittedly, I was a little nervous.  I was convinced just from the weather forecast that race day conditions would be worse than the two other stormy races I have done:  the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K of 2012, and the Golden Gate Trail Marathon of 2013.  When I reached the top of Hill88 for the first time and saw the ominous rain clouds blanketing the headlands, I knew it was going to be unquestionably, the most epic race I’d ever do.  On top of it being a really challenging course, to add such adverse weather conditions just puts this race over the top… so to speak.  It was going to be a damn good fight.

I arrived at the Rodeo Beach Start/Finish line area with 15 minutes to spare, after spending a good 30 minutes keeping myself warm in my van.  I dropped off my bags, I checked in, pinned my bib, and threw myself in the pack of 50Kers and 50Milers at the Start, and off we went.


At the Start.  Photo Credit:  Michael Li

The course change at the beginning of the race gave us a double dose of climbing Hill88.  What I enjoyed about the first climb was seeing the sun peak through the hills; it was the first and last time I saw it that day.


I looked forward to reaching the junction of Wolf Ridge and Miwok because I knew that at Miwok, I was going to get my first chance to fun downhill (my favorite!).  According to my Strava data, I managed to pull an 8:29m/m on that downhill and maintained a good running pace when it leveled out approaching Bunker Road.  I did it again when I went down Old Springs at Mile 10 as I approached Tennessee Valley.  These two segments were my most enjoyable segments.  I had taken off my Patagonia wind breaker and tied it around my waist sometime during the first mile, on the climb up Coastal Trail.  Leaving Tennessee Valley aid station, I put it back on as it started raining, and the wind was picking up.  I was going to drop off my headlamp (which I had turned off at Mile 1) inside my Tennessee Valley drop bag but I decided to keep it on my head when I realized I did not have the hat clips on my race vest (the hat clips secure the hat to my vest so that the hat doesn’t get blown away).  The headlamp kept my hat snug and secure on my head throughout the day.  It was especially a godsend at portions of the race when the wind gusts were quite strong.  On a rainy day like this, my hat proved invaluable, and I give credit to my headlamp for making sure I didn’t lose it!

The views all around the headlands were just spectacular.  For some reason, the clouds, which I will call “Ominous Grey” from hereon, just gave it a sense of power and beauty unseen on the sunny days with infinite blue skies.  I moved under and through the Ominous Grey, feeling vulnerable and at the same time powerful, and thankful that I have the ability and the courage to embrace it all.  Turning back was not an option.


Photo Credit:  Jesse Ellis

The trails leading up to Cardiac Hill were not very muddy in general.  There were a few puddles here and there, through patches of the very green Santos Meadows, and a few crossings up Heather Cutoff.  I was doing pretty well pace-wise until after I got to the top of Heather Cutoff and started climbing  Coastal Trail heading to Cardiac Hill.  That stretch has always been my kryptonite.  It’s not really steep; it’s a long arduous gradual climb that seems to go on forever when I’m on it!  I kept wishing someone would just pick up the aid station and place it right in front of me!  Cardiac Hill was the first time I spent more than 30 seconds at an aid station during this race so far (I stopped for about 20 seconds to top off my water bottle at Muir Beach).  In a way I was really excited to reach that point.  I was looking forward to making my planned gear switch (refer to Race Plan above).  After I drank my Ensure, I thanked the volunteers and headed on out.  I did not pre-pack the vest with food as I did for my first vest; I was thinking I would stuff my Pro-Bars when I come back to Cardiac at Mile 28; I didn’t want to weigh myself down during this very difficult portion of the course, i.e. the Willow Camp climb.  My plan was to get my calories after about an hour (or by the time I reach the Willow Camp aid station, Mile 23) by consuming  aid station PB&J sandwiches.  At Mile 24, I’d realize what a stupid mistake this was.

But I didn’t know about that stupid mistake yet as I headed down Dipsea.  I was enjoying the fact that I was running with liberated hands!  My new water bottle was stuffed snuggly in the front pocket of my vest, and so my hands were not holding a water bottle as I had done for the first 20 miles!  The feeling of having a hard bottle directly against my right boob didn’t bother me at all.  As with the other previous downhill segments, I had a blast going down Dipsea.  There I enjoyed the first sightings of gushing streams.  Beautiful but treacherous… and that became pretty much the norm for the rest of the race.  The streams and waterfalls rushing down the sides of Mt. Tam were abundant and loud and surprisingly ridiculously gorgeous; at the same time I know that one false stupid move could end my race at that instance of misjudgment.

I saw my friends Tracy and Susan at the bottom of the Dipsea and they directed me towards the Willow Camp aid station.  Susan said, “It’s about 2/3 of a mile up”.  I thought, that far still?   I started climbing back up.  After I reached the Matt Davis trailhead, I pulled out the trekking poles and made the adjustments as I moved along.  It felt weird to use them on the road so I carried them until I reached the aid station.  There was only one PB&J quarter left so I grabbed and ate it.  The aid station volunteer said she’ll make some more, but I didn’t want to wait so I headed out.  Why I did not take a couple of Oreos or Chomps (or something!) I don’t know except that I must’ve been a bit spacey and eager to get on that climb.  Damn it.

The Ominous Grey did a good job at making me feel disoriented.  And lost.  And well, I did almost get totally lost when I completely missed a blue ribbon and started climbing a wider trail heading towards the water tank.  About a quarter mile in, the runner behind me and her pacer both yelled, “HEY!!!  THAT IS THE WRONG WAY!!!!”   Realizing my blunder, I quickly run down to the junction of the trail from which they spotted me.  I was so thankful they saw me!!   Then the three of us headed towards the *correct* trail:  of course, Willow Camp Trail!


Photo Credit:  Michael Li

It looked different from when I went on it two weekends ago, and I don’t remember it being somewhat overgrown with weeds and such.  My hands were holding my trekking poles at this point, trying to establish a rhythm as I made my way up.  I was highly cognisant of keeping my torso up, making sure that my breathing is steady and not restricted.  I also tried not to panic; I knew eventually I will reach the top.  Whenever the trail changed directions and I have a view of Stinson Beach below, I found myself in awe of the duplicity of the beauty in front of me.  The Ominous Grey hung over the coastal town and yet I found it breathtaking and grand.  And what a dose of power and inspiration it gave me when I realized I was climbing up high enough, highest I’ll ever be on this race course.

I was so relieved after I completed that climb (which took me about 50 minutes), and thinking the worst was over.  HA!

Coastal Trail’s single-track hugging the slopes of Mt. Tam was always a tricky section to navigate.  With only about two feet to run on, an upslope on my left and a steep drop on my right, down onto ravines that could eat anyone alive, Coastal Trail requires a bit of focus.  On a sunny day.  On that stormy day, it required so much more!  Being exposed, wide open and undulating such that the land created these “bowls” of spaces, the gale force wind swirled and unleashed itself with so much strength when they hit these bowls.  As I traversed the trails that went along the sides of these bowls, I wondered if the wind would pick me up off the ground and throw me into those ravines, never to be heard from again!   At certain points, I literally had to tuck my trekking poles close to my body and hunker down as I watched the grass move violently to one side, and then to another.  I wondered if I’d even have to crawl and ‘hide’ from this wind to keep myself safe from its claws.

And if that wasn’t stressful enough, here comes the stupid mistake.   During this segment, my tummy started going in knots.  I know that once this happens, it’s very difficult to turn around.  I had let the pangs of hunger rear its ugly head, and I had nothing in my pack to eat!  Why didn’t I get more food from the aid station?  Why didn’t you, PEN??  Thank goodness for an “Ann trick” I learned which saved me and tied me over until I got back to Cardiac.  I remembered I had a Jolly Rancher candy in my pocket (stashed along with my other first-aid supplies like Pepto, Advil, and caffeinated salt caps).  I almost gave up trying to get that wrapper out (almost impossible with wet hands and wet wrapper!).  But I was desperate.  I stopped and let four runners pass me by so that I can focus on unwrapping the candy.  I used my teeth to bite off the plastic, unwrap the candy and pop it into my mouth.  I sucked on that thing for 3 miles.  I still had GU Roctane in my bottle so I was not totally out of calories.  The addition of the Jolly Rancher mini-calorie was surprisingly a lifesaver.

I triumphantly made it to Cardiac 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  I went to my drop bag, grabbed my Ensure and didn’t waste any time downing it.  I stuffed my pack with food (ProBar and Honey Stinger chews), then asked an aid station volunteer to help me refill my bottle with GU Roctane.  I had packed a lightweight waterproof shell in my drop bag; my plan was to take out the Houdini windbreaker and wear the waterproof shell.   Because I wanted to save time, I decided I didn’t really need it.  The windbreaker should be enough to handle the impending downpour.  Another mistake!   Anyway, it was the last time I was going to be at Cardiac, and so I thanked the volunteers even more than when I did the first time through.  I headed down towards the TCC, unprepared for the love story that was about to unfold.


Heroes of Cardiac Hill aid station.  Photo Credit:  Martin Whitcomb

What love story?  The one about me falling in love with these Mt. Tam/Muir Woods trails.  It’s one thing to appreciate them in fair weather.  It’s another –and a stronger kind of appreciation and thus, love– in horrible weather.  The gentle downhill on the TCC and Bootjack trails presented me with opportunities to cross several waterfalls and to run alongside a raging stream… or river.  The sound of gushing streams overwhelmed my senses.


just one of the dozen or so “waterfall crossings” I had to cross.  Photo Credit:  Michael Li

Then as I was climbing up Ben Johnson (something I had never done before; I’ve always ran downhill on this trail in previous races and training runs), the rain started pouring, and that sound took over.  By this time, my windbreaker is drenched through.  I was cold and shivering, but all I could think of was to keep moving and to keep listening to the sound of the rain.  I made it down the length of muddy Deer Park trail feeling energized, and somewhat sad to leave the woods.

I saw my friend Karen at Deer Park aid station, and gave her a big heartfelt hug.  I was so happy to get to Deer Park because of three reasons:  I get to see Karen, I get to refill my bottle (and take a salt cap), AND I made it there 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff.


Photo Credit:  Let’s Wander Photography

During all the downhill leading to it, I had been carrying the trekking poles with my right hand.  I wondered if I should collapse them and tuck them back in my back pocket.  Karen noted that I will be going up Dias Ridge so I should just keep them the way they are.  So I did.  I felt like a warrior running through the ankle-deep puddles of Redwood Creek Trail as I carried the poles.  When I turned left onto Dias Ridge, I started using them again.  I had deja vu’s of last year’s 50K as that was the only time I’ve gone on this trail in the uphill direction.  I saw my friend Ken Michal about a mile in/up as he was running down towards Deer Park to see Karen.


Photo Credit:  Let’s Wander Photography

The climb up Dias Ridge was muddy and puddly.  The rain was coming down steadily but lighter than it did an hour before.  I crested the top, and was happy to see the view of Muir Beach.  I passed a few runners on my way down towards Pelican Inn, and eventually got to the Muir Beach aid station 3 minutes ahead of my schedule (33 minutes ahead of cutoff).  I scanned the sillhouettes of the people milling about at the aid station and I cannot recognize any one of them as being Ken’s.  I was looking forward to seeing Ken at MB; I was hoping I did not miss him.  When I didn’t see him, I wondered if he decided not to come out and pace me.  I guarded myself against any feeling of disappointment as it’s rather selfish.  It would not be difficult to understand if he decided to change his mind.  Given this weather.  This awful weather.  Surely, why would he even want to run 10 miles from Rodeo Beach through this awful weather to meet me and pace me for yet another 10 miles??

After I left the aid station, I saw a familiar sillhouette as I started crossing the bridge.  “KEN!!!!”  If I had gotten to the aid station 3 minutes later than I did, we would’ve met each other EXACTLY at 5:00 P.M., as I had noted in my pace chart (which he had).  As the master pacer that he is, he planned and paced himself *perfectly*.  I knew I’d be fine from there onwards.  Besides, it was so great to finally talk to another human being on the trails other than myself!!


That’s not me :)  but I went through here too, in all THAT.  Photo Credit:  Jesse Ellis

The length of Middle Green Gulch seemed less daunting when I had someone to talk to and get my mind off the long-ass climb that MGG is.   As we were in Javelina, Ken stayed in front of me and pulled me along.  He reminded me to eat.  He reminded me to drink.  He made sure we checked our time.  The back of my right knee cramped up when we started on the very technical and very narrow Wiley Trail.  Whenever I groaned in pain, he’d stop and try to see how he can help.  I told him, I’ll be ok, just block out the sound of my groaning.  Of course if it was truly unbearable, I would probably wail and he’d know I’m not ok!  The daylight had practically disappeared and we turned our headlamps on while descending Miwok Cutoff.  I navigated that technical trail and steps well considering the leg pain.  Finally on Tennessee Valley Road, Ken yells out “Six-O-Five!” to the aid station volunteers, announcing my arrival at the last aid station, the last intermediate hard cutoff.  We made it!

“Pen!” a voice called me.  I said, “Who’s that?”  I turned around to find my friend Laura Bello.  “Laura!  Thanks for volunteering!”  And she clarified that she was waiting to pace Alina.  “Alina?”  I thought all along that she was ahead of me, along with Leigh-Ann, Christy, Michael, and everyone I knew.  One of the aid station volunteers assured Laura that Alina was on her way.  I took an Advil to help me with the leg pain, a caffeinated salt cap to keep me awake, and asked a volunteer to fill my bottle with Mountain Dew.  He said, “I will gladly do that for you!”

Ken and I left Tennessee Valley station so eager to get the last 4.7 miles done and over with!  When we reached the top of Marincello, the visibility was almost zero.  I can’t see anything but the raindrops that looked like a million thin needles coming down on my face.  We were so focused on the ground ahead of us that Ken almost veered off to a trail on the side of Bobcat.  Amazingly I kept moving; somehow it helped that I couldn’t see the land rise up ahead of me.  We ran down Bobcat through the consistent light rain, thankful at this point that there is no significant wind to contend with.  We were making good time, and I knew I was going to come in ahead of my estimated finish time of 8:20 P.M.  So drenched and cold, we finally reached Bunker Road.  Homestretch!  We saw the street lights.  We passed by my van, his car, a few more cars along the road.  When I turned right and headed towards the finish,  Ken cheered me on and said, “Awesome job, Pen.  Awesome job!”   And that kept me going some more for the last 100 feet.


Ken and I, after we finished.  Thanks, Laura for taking the picture.

After I finished and talked to Tim Stahler to tell him how tough the course was, I grabbed my pint glass, my medal, my shirt, my trucker hat.  Ken and I hung around the Finish for a little bit.  I wanted to get to my drop bag but it was in the trailer and it meant I’d have to hobble to it so I just stayed where I was and kept drinking from my bottle.  We hung around a few more minutes until Alina and Laura arrived, witnessing another of Alina’s strong and inspiring finishes!  The four of us walked towards my van, and I gave Laura and Alina a ride to the Marine Mammal Center parking lot where Alina had parked.  After we said our goodbyes, I quickly changed into my dry clothes as I started to shiver uncontrollably.

Ken and I talked about having dinner after the race.   Before we parted on Bunker Road, he apologized that he won’t be able to join me and that he’s going home instead.  No worries, I told him.  “We will celebrate next week when we are both dry!”  I was going to wait until I get home to have my dinner but it was already 9:00P.M. and I really needed to eat.  I decided to stop at my favorite post-race recovery aid station.  Ken regrets that he missed out.


I didn’t bounce back two days after the race.  Who does that??  Seriously though, I got into a little bit of a panic when my right foot got swollen on Sunday and it hurt to walk.  Like my mind does, it went to a very dark place; somewhere where my right foot is in a boot and a doctor showing me a fractured 5th metatarsal (my guess at the time the pain was throbbing) and telling me I can’t run for the next 6 weeks….at least.  After seeing me hobble at work on Monday, my boss says, “Well I guess that could happen if you make your foot move for 50 miles in one day.”

Well, 14 hours 12 minutes and 55 seconds to be exact.

But I did put it through hell, making it work harder than my other 50milers, heck, even my two 100milers.  I took very good care of it this week:  rested it, iced it, elevated it.  By Wednesday morning, the swelling was gone and the soreness was slowly making its exit.  By Thursday afternoon, I am again able to entertain the thought of doing a 13mile training run, something which I honestly thought was taken out of the picture just 5 days before.


I can now say –without having to provide an “asterisk” at the end of this statement– that I have done the MUC50Mile.  I finished in 14:12:55, about 7 minutes ahead of my estimated finish time.  I did not trip or fall.  I battled it out with the elements –the worst I have ever encountered in a race (so far)– and I did not quit.  I was relentless, and I gave this beast a good fight.  I am thankful and satisfied with this accomplishment!

Seven things I did right:

  1. Prepared my pace chart, udpated to reflect course changes.
  2. Visualized and rehearsed aid station transitions, including gear change especially at Mile 19.8, Cardiac Hill.
  3. Persevered and did not give up no matter how cold and wet I was when the rain started pouring down on me at Mile 34, no matter how waterlogged my shoes and socks were as I slogged through muddy puddles. I was going to get this thing done.
  4. I was efficient at the aid stations.
  5. Took a friend’s offer to pace me. I was originally planning to run the race all by myself.
  6. Thanked the RD, his staff and the volunteers!  I’m going to guess it’s not as much fun standing in the cold blustery conditions rather than moving about.  My deepest and sincerest gratitude!!
  7. Stayed in the moment.

Three things that didn’t go well

  1. I underestimated my nutrition needs from Mile 20 to Mile 28. I took an Ensure at Mile 20. Then my plan was to grab a few PBJ at the Willow Camp aid station. There was only one pbj quarter left and I took it. The a/s volunteers said they’d make some more but I couldn’t wait. Instead of grabbing other foods, I left with that one pbj quarter! I powered through Willow Camp and by the time I got to the top I was practically wiped, and though I was sipping GU Roctane, I knew I was not getting enough carbs. Aside from the wind that lashed at me on all directions through Coastal Trail, my stomach started turning in knots: bad news. (But if you read my story above, you’d know a little jolly rancher candy saved me from further hell).
  2. I faded at Mile 41 while climbing up Middle Green Gulch, i.e. got sleepy.  Nutrition gone haywire, hard to salvage.  I haven’t experienced this in a 50Milers, or even a 100Miler in a long time.
  3. The back of my right leg cramped up on Mile 42 while on the very narrow and technical Wiley Trail. It hurt to move even on this very mild downhill trail.   Had to groan and bear it until we reached the Tennessee Valley aid station where I took an Advil.

Six things I could improve on

  1. My nutrition planning was not on par with what I did for my two 100-milers and both my 50Milers in 2015. I had not bonked at Mile42/50 in a long while, a pretty rookie mistake.  Better nutrition planning, more regular with intake, take the aid station food if you have to!
  2. Take the time to pull out the waterproof shell from the drop bag when it started pouring. Water resistant may be ok for sprinkles, but not ever for a downpour. I had packed my shell at Cardiac precisely so I can put it on when the rain was predicted to come pouring down. Because I was trying to hurry up I decided the wind-resistant Patagonia Houdini I was wearing would be ok. Besides it’s not going to be that cold. Wrong!
  3. Make it absolutely mandatory to drink my a recovery protein drink (or bar). A few snack size Snickers bars don’t cut it.
  4. More hill training.
  5. More strength training.
  6. More hill training (not a typo).
  • REI waterproof cap
  • Shirt:  neon yellow North Face short-sleeve tech shirt (NFEC swag)
  • Bottoms:  Champion capri pants, REI compression shorts
  • Arm warmers:  North Face
  • Compression calf sleeves:  Zensah, black
  • Socks:  Balega, ankle length, medium weight
  • Gaiters:  Outdoor Research, waterproof
  • Shoes:  HOKA Speedgoat
  • Windbreaker:  Patagonia Houdini
  • Lightweight waterproof rain jacket (packed, but not used):  North Face Stormy Trail
  • Race vest 1:  Salomon S-Lab Sense (white), Miles 0 to 19
  • Race vest 2:  Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin3 (black), Miles 20 to Finish
  • Headlamp:  Black Diamond Spot
  • Handheld bottle (Amphipod), 20-oz. (for Miles 0 to 19)
  • Water bottle with extended straw, 20-oz (for Miles 20 to Finish)
  • Trekking poles:  Black Diamond Distance FLZ


My Journey to Javelina Jundred. Part Two: Reflections, 10-5-5

After I finished Headlands Hundred last year, I thought, well, now what?  At the time, I felt I already reached the height of my “running career”.   Six years ago when I started running (voluntary running as opposed to necessary running like chasing after the train or the kids) for the first time in my life, the 100-mile ultra was a thing I never knew existed, a race I never even thought I could ever do let alone want to do.  Ah,… how times change.  Headlands Hundred turned out to be the most mind-blowing thing I had ever done in my running life.  I thought, whatelse can possibly beat that?  Should I keep it as a one-of-a-kind life experience and move on to my life’s next adventure?  After having such a positive experience at Headlands, I thought, well, why not do another 100miler?

Ok, so let’s do another one!  With 100-mile questions answered and myths debunked, I found myself armed with the tools and know-how to tackle another.  And I knew that if I was going to attempt this distance again, it will have to be a different kind of race experience than Headlands.  A different set of challenges.  A different scene.  A different place!  And yes, a different buckle!   And for me, doing a second 100miler meant I would have to do it better than the first, if anything, as a measure of my growth as an (ultra)runner.  Take all the lessons I learned from the first, and apply it to the next.  For me, I knew that the next big thing was not going farther than 100miles; it was becoming better at doing one.   From the day I signed up for Javelina, on January 5, 2015, I dreamed of and aimed towards improvement.    Train better.  Plan better.  Execute better.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

The nature of the Javelina beast lent itself to a race that is straightforward to plan for.  Six loops of 15.3 miles each run clockwise-counterclockwise plus one 9.1mile loop at the end, one crew-accessible aid station at the end/beginning of each loop.  I saw it as an experiment: a big race yet simple enough to test out strategies on pacing, hydration, nutrition, heat management.  And as with Headlands, I likened Javelina to one of my projects at work, one that I can plan for, manage and see through completion.  The 100-mile ultra is a very logistics-heavy endeavor.  Because it involves not one person (the runner) but a team, a good amount of care and thought needs to go towards ensuring that the team moves in a harmonious concerted effort towards the goal of getting their runner to the finish.  And so I knew that that same care and thought I gave to planning Headlands must happen for Javelina… and perhaps, even take it a notch up.

I also know that best laid plans are not guaranteed.  And so I take heart in knowing that I had the intention from the very beginning to plan a really good race.  Race day is race day, and I felt great knowing I was prepared to embrace whatever it hands me.   I am thankful for the journey I took to get there, for the people in my life –family and friends– who believed this second attempt was a worthwhile endeavor, for the setbacks that tested my patience and resolve to heal and come back stronger, for the demanding life schedule which put running –and this race– in perspective.  Everything counted.  Everything mattered. Everything fell into place.  I found myself at McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona on Halloween morning whole, healthy, happy and ready to give another 100mile race my best shot.

And as you may have already read in the previous post, things went well.  I finished strong.  I finished 3 minutes under my “dream” time.  The months of hard work and planning paid off.  I felt like I had a well-executed race, and I was …and still am (as I’m writing this) over the moon.  As part of the post-race homework given by my coach Ann Trason, I reflect on the things I did right, the things I learned, and the things I will do differently.  Typically, the list for each consists of three, but I can’t stop at three each.  And so, here goes my Ten-Five-Five.


  1. I had a great team (crew/pacers).
  2. I was well-prepared, well-rested before the race.
  3. I did not go out too fast.
  4. I was efficient at aid stations.
  5. I stayed on top of my hydration.
  6. I stayed on top of my nutrition.
  7. I stayed cool, literally.
  8. I wore/used the right gear (for me).
  9. I pushed myself in the final loop.
  10. I made sure to thank the wonderful volunteers!



  1. Pacers are a godsend.
  2. It is always worth it to nip a potential problem in the bud.
  3. Taking the time to refresh the body refreshes the mind in the later miles.
  4. Mountain Dew, in my water bottle, sipped on-the-go >> ROCKS.
  5. The Sonoran Desert is breathtakingly beautiful.



  1. Get back to using my Garmin.
  2. Be more adventurous with aid station food fare.
  3. Check anything I get to-go from an aid station before I leave that aid station, not a quarter mile out.
  4. Stay cool, figuratively.
  5. Don’t stay too long in a chair after being on the course for 100.9 miles..

———–Thank you Ann for the homework!————


My amazing coach Ann Trason, at Javelina’s “rock garden”.  Ann ran the 100K so I got to see her four times (Loops 1 thru 4) during the race.  Coaching and motivation on the course!  Thanks for everything!


For details, please read on…


1. I had a great team (crew/pacers).
This was not something that just happened on race day of course, but something that evolved over the past 5 months, and on race day, I felt that my crew (who also took turns as pacers) –Kate and Ken– was with me every step of the way.  When I signed up in January, I imagined myself doing Javelina solo:  crew-less, pacer-less.  I had heard about how this is easily doable because of the nature of the course.  It is a loop course with one crew-accessible aid station and crewing won’t be so difficult (for one, there is no driving involved!).  And again, because it is a loop course run clockwise-counterclockwise, there are always runners on the course day and night, and I will never feel alone.   Sometime in June, I think after I became part of Sally McRae’s crew at Western States, I had a change of heart.  I don’t know exactly why, but I knew I want to have a crew for Javelina.

A few weeks after my crew gig at Western States, during one of our Tuesday runs around Lake Merritt, my friend Ken offered to crew and pace me at Javelina.  After I convinced myself to dump my solo bid at Javelina, I brought him on board.  For a few months, it was just Pen and Ken.  And then just three weeks before Javelina, I ran with my friend Kate at Tilden, and she asked if I still needed a crew person for Javelina and that she’d love to help.  I said, yes!  And so we became Pen, Ken and Kate, a.k.a. TeamPen.   Last April, when the three of us ran American River 50, we had no idea we would come together as a team for Javelina.  I consider myself very blessed to have two friends whom I admire join me on this journey.

We communicated and coordinated well prior to race day.  In addition to our Tuesday runs around Lake Merritt, Ken and I met to go over my pacing strategy and logistics using his genius spreadsheet.   Coordinating with Kate even if she lives faraway was not a problem at all.  Through our emails we were able to discuss items we needed for the race.  I went over the logistics with them when we got to Arizona.  Kate also initiated a discussion among Bay Area friends who were Javelina-bound.    We became part of a bigger group.  We helped each other and shared crewing resources, from pop-up tents to camp chairs, to cheers and hugs.

Here’s a “profile” for TeamPen members, past and present.  I can say that I’ve been most blessed: 
Available the weekend of the race, positive, cheerful, reliable, thoughtful, calm and level-headed (to counteract my occasional bouts with neurosis…not officially clinically diagnosed), no-drama, good chemistry, resourceful, a troubleshooter, good driving skills, patient, steady, forgiving, capable of tough love and yet not ascerbic, fun.  Bonus if one of them knows how to identify constellations.  Another bonus if one knows how to make a spammich.

Left:  Headlands Hundred Team PENtastic (Adam, James, Sarah-Jayne, Liz, Pen, Trina, Mindy, Charles.  Not in group picture:  pacers Sam and Tawnya)
Right:  Javelina Jundred TeamPEN.  Kate, Pen and Ken

2.  I was well-prepared, well-rested before the race.
Mental taper before any race, especially a 100-mile, is very important, and one which I hold sacred.   To me, a mental taper happens when I can put my mind at ease a few days before the race knowing that I have my gear and logistics all prepared and resolved.  Or majority of it, at least.


ready to fly:  one check-in luggage.  one carry-on (backpack), one “purse” (my Victory Bag/Jackass Junction drop bag), and my hat.

This was my first out-of-state must-fly-to race. In hindsight, my preparations might’ve bordered on overkill, but I find comfort in that rather than being the opposite. I thrive when I have a plan because I know I will be a frazzled mess if I don’t.

I can’t say that I did not fuss or kept thinking about the race and race stuff before race day.  I admit I kept obsessing about the details even the night before.  But those were minor; the bulk of the preparations was done, and the obsessing was just a way for me to calm my nerves which couldn’t stand the anticipation and excitement of getting started with the race already.

3.  I did not go out too fast. 
All of the blogs I read and the advice I received about pacing at Javelina said this.  Of course, this is true for any 100 mile race.  Because the total elevation gain at Javelina is quite mellow, there is a greater temptation to go really fast right out of the gate, so to speak.  Not a very wise thing to do especially if heat comes into play in the middle of the day.

I had planned on doing a 14:45min/mile pace for the first loop, and about the same for the second loop.   While I felt I held back (i.e. not run fast) during the first loop, when I looked at the data, I was actually a min/mile faster than my target pace.  But it sure wasn’t a sprint, and so I can say I did not go out too fast.  It was most important to go slow and steady during the second and third loops which I ran mostly in the middle of the day when the temperature got up to 82 degrees.

4. I was efficient at aid stations.
Another advice I read was not to dawdle at aid stations.  During my training races this year, I practiced my aid station “transitions” (a term I’m stealing from my triathlon days).  I attribute many of my recent PR’s to my quick aid station transitions.  As someone who is at the back-of-the-pack, every minute matters.  As with Headlands, I did not have the luxury of lingering at aid stations, sitting in a chair, chatting, taking a nap…  Thankfully, I have not had the need to do so (as in the case of injury or any medical condition requiring attention).  The following were ways I accomplished this:

  • In my pace chart, I had a column for aid station transitions, and as best I can, I stuck to it. This drilled into my head that I only have a fixed amount of time.
  • As I approach an aid station, I go through a mental checklist that hits the following points:  hydration, nutrition, cooling, gear.
  • At both major aid stations (Jackass Junction and Jeadquarters), I had ‘cheat sheets’ that listed succinctly the things I (or my crew) needed to do whenever I passed thru.
  • Label, label, label.  When I get to my drop bags (or when my crew has to deal with my drop bags), there shouldn’t be much time, if any, spent looking for stuff.  Organizing and labeling items so they’re easy to find help accomplish this.  I used –and labeled– a ton of ziploc bags to group my fuel, hydration and gear needs for every Jackass Junction and Jeadquarters stop.
    Left:  a sample aid station baggie. For “JQ5” = Jeadquarters, Loop5. Pink sheet has instructions for crew.
    Right:  my drop bag at Jackass Junction aid station.
  • I pre-loaded the hip pack and the race vest I used with basic items I would need for when I had planned to use them.  Hip pack during the day.  Race vest during the night.

5. I stayed on top of my hydration and electrolytes, before and during the race.
From previous race preparations, regardless of distance, I know hydration needs to happen before the race itself, and maintained during the race.

  • During the week prior (at home,  at work,  during the flight, and after arriving in Arizona before the race): I drank either coconut water or electrolyted water regularly.
  • During the race:  I carried two 20-oz handheld water bottles for Loops 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7.  One water bottle had a carb + electrolyte GU mix (GU Brew for first half, GU Roctane for second half of the race) and the other had plain water.  Ann advised me about the desert heat and how I’d be wanting to drink more, how I’d be needing to drink more.  I stayed on top of my hydration by drinking regularly –not by thirst which is what I typically do in the Bay Area– from the GU bottle especially in the middle of the day.
  • I grabbed a few cups of ginger ale before Mile 50.  Switched to drinking cups of Mountain Dew after Mile 50.  This is all part of hydration, right?  For the first time, I refilled my water bottle (while at Coyote Camp, Mile 89) with Mountain Dew.  Best.thing.ever.
  • I took 2 salt caps, one each, during Loops 2 and 3.  I took one caffeinated salt cap during Loop 6.  Much of my electrolyte came from the GU Brew and GU Roctane mixed with my water.

6. I stayed on top of my nutrition.
As with hydration, fueling starts before the race.  Carb-loading two days before.  I avoided dishes with too many spices and cream.  (Must note:  the pico fry bread –basically like a fried donut pizza– I had for race eve dinner at the host hotel’s restaurant was so good!) A good breakfast on race morning (pumpkin flax granola with almond milk, sweet potato banana waffles, ginger tea with honey, and vitamins) set me up for a great race start.

I fueled early and often. I have adopted a 250-calories-per-hour guide during my training races (I honestly forgot how I came up with that number, but it works!) and did the same here.  I never felt hungry.  I had no GI issues.  My fuel came from the following:

  • Ensure, milk chocolate flavor.  250 calories per bottle.  I drank a bottle at the end of every loop (except I forgot one time, Loop 5.  woops.)
  • GU Brew or GU Roctane.  210 calories in every mix.
  • Sweet potato banana waffles, homemade,  packed in snack-size ziploc bags.
  • ProBar organic energy bars (I got them at Target)
  • Honey Stinger chews
  • Honey Stinger waffles (lemon)
  • PowerBar Performance Energy Blends, Banana Blueberry flavor.  I typically inhale this 5 minutes before the race.
  • I had a whole bunch of other types of fuel packed, to give myself choices during the race, but I didn’t use them.
  • “Spammiches” — heated, slightly toasted slice of Spam inside a  King Hawaiian roll.  (a favorite from Headlands Hundred.)
  • aid station food (at the non-crew aid stations):  oreos, pumpkin pie.

7. I stayed cool, literally.
Like hydration, heat management was key for this race!  Running in the desert heat is what I dreaded (feared) the most and a challenge I looked forward to conquering.  I told myself, “No repeat of Ohlone sweep DNF!”  (I won’t narrate that story here, but you can ask me if you want me to tell you about it).  I can say now that I did well surviving those daytime hours.  84 degrees Fahrenheit, though relatively a mild desert temperature, is still nothing to sneeze at, especially given there was no shade on the course.  The key was to keep my body temperature low.  And so I did the following to keep me cool:

  • wore a wide-brimmed lightweight straw hat
  • Ice, ice, ice.  around my neck (rolled up in my bandana), under my hat, inside my sports bra.
  • Constant dousing of my cycling bolero and tank top using the water from my other water bottle.  I felt like I was taking a shower while on the course during the daylight hours! The idea is to keep the skin cool.  The snug-fit bolero protected my back, shoulders and arms from the sun’s rays.  The wetness of the bolero fabric against my skin promoted evaporative cooling.  I never felt heat exhaustion.
  • Altoids in my mouth.

8.  I wore/used the right gear (for me).


  • Lightweight wide-brimmed straw hat (bought from a vendor in Oakland’s Chinatown, decorated by my girls)
  • polarized sunglasses (Oakley)
  • cooling bandana (which I used as a headband)
  • another bandana rolled up with ice and tied around my neck
  • cooling bolero (De Soto)
  • tank top (Mizuno)
  • compression running shorts (Saucony).  same used at Headlands.
  • compression calf sleeves (2XU).  same used at Headlands.
  • gaiters (Ultra Gam).  same used at Headlands.
  • medium weight Smartwool socks (changed to a fresh pair at Mile 45)
  • Shoes:  Altra Lone Peaks (Miles 1 to 30); Altra Olympus (Miles 31 to 100.9)
  • hip pack (Salomon S-Lab Series) during the day
  • race vest (Ultraspire Alpha) during the night
  • headlamp (Black Diamond Spot)
  • handheld flashlight (Energizer)
  • Lube (not gear but important to note):  2Toms Sportshield wipes for the feet, BodyGlide for other chafe-prone body parts.
    **clearly, I have no brand loyalty!  Except for the cooling bolero, I have used/tested all gear during training/previous races.  It turned out that the cooling bolero was my main lifesaver during this race.  It protected me from the sun’s rays, and when wet (either by my sweat or by dousing with water), it kept me cool.  So while I do believe “No new is good new”, sometimes it is (I got lucky).

9.  I pushed myself in the final loop.
This certainly had a lot to do with pacing, and I owe a lot to my pacers (more about them in the next section).  With much energy left in the tank during the final loop, it was easier for my mind to tell my feet to pick up and follow Kate’s pace.
we passed almost a dozen runners and beat my “dream time” by almost 3 minutes.

10. I made sure to thank the wonderful volunteers!
Always!  I appreciate so much the time, care and attention these wonderful volunteers give to the runners.  They were the life and the lifeline of the race.   Aravaipa Running did a stellar job coordinating them, and organizing the race!


1. Pacers are a godsend.
This is not something new, but a reinforement of what I already know.   From my experiences at MUC50Mile, NFEC50Mile, Headlands Hundred to Javelina Jundred, this is the truth.  Pacers will keep you at a consistent pace when you need to be. They  will push you to go faster if you need to be. For me, at Javelina, having them made the difference between eeking in under 30 hours, and finishing in my “dream time”, with almost 1-1/2 hours to spare!


Left:  Ken pacing, around Mile 88.  Right:  Kate pacing, around Mile 95.  Both ran in front of me.

Ken was steady and consistent.  I took cues from his footsteps and made sure I did not lag too far behind during the night hours.  He brought me back to my target pace for Loops 5 and 6.

Kate was spirited; she made that final loop enjoyable.  She reminded me to eat. She pushed me such that I finished one hour ahead of my estimated time for the final loop.

Below is the graph that Ken generated from his genius pacing spreadsheet, which shows my actual pace,  in-race estimate, pre-race estimate.  Where Ken and Kate paced me towards the end, you can see where I was either spot on or faster than my pre-race/in-race estimate.


2. It is always worth it to nip a problem in the bud.
Address discomfort immediately.

  • If you need to pee, don’t wait until the next aid station with a port-a-potty.  The side of the trail is good enough.  If you need to do a #2, make sure to visit the port-a-potty at the nearest aid station that has one.  (I have not had it so bad that I had to do a #2 along (or off) a trail, but if I had to, I would!).   As I found out at Headlands, it is not good to hold these things in.  They come back to haunt you later and you end up with a bigger problem.
  • If there is a rock that got in your shoe, sit down and take the time to remove it.  I decided to wait 1.5miles (until I got back to Jeadquarters) to do this.  I found the beginnings of a blister (a hotspot) forming at the back of my left heel.  After shaking off my socks and shoes of any rocks or sand, I put a little bit of aquaphor on the hotspot.  At the end of the race, I found that it still became a blister, but a teeny tiny one such that it didn’t hurt to run 25 more miles with it.

3. Taking the time to refresh the body refreshes the mind in the later miles.  Use that minty lip balm.  Wipe the salt off the face with cucumber-scented moist towelette.  I could’ve also used the disposable minty toothbrush that I packed, but I was so excited to go on my final loop (when I had planned to do it) that I totally forgot!

4. Mountain Dew, in my water bottle, sipped on-the-go >> ROCKS.   Self-explanatory.

5.  The Sonoran desert is breathtakingly beautiful.  To have run there for 100.9 miles is one of the coolest things I have ever done.  Seriously.  I miss it already.




 Photo credits to:  Kate Panepinto, Ron Ceton, Brian Ladrillono.

1. Get back to using my Garmin.
I need to work on being consistent with my pacing.  One way of to fix this is to get back to using my Garmin again.  I can’t remember the last time I wore it.  For both Headlands and Javelina, and my training races this year, I relied on my pace chart and my sportswatch, neither had my real-time pace, elapsed time and distance.   Having Ken and Kate give me the pace and distance information whenever I asked them every so often was definitely a gift.  But I also know I won’t have them (or pacers in general) all the time.  I should be able to do this on my own.

2. Be more adventurous with aid station food fare.
I remember seeing the cups of ramen laid out on the table at Coyote Camp aid station when I passed thru it during Loop 4.  I have never had soup during a race.  My experience at Way Too Cool 50K in 2013 still haunts me, and so I’ve stayed away from soup.  But I’ve heard so much about how yummy ramen is especially after hours and hours of being on the course.  Next time… maybe?

3. Check anything I get to-go from an aid station before I leave that aid station, not a quarter of a mile out.
Correcting it right there is easier than finding out a quarter mile later that you can’t drink or eat something you took to-go (as what happened at Jackass Junction, Loop6).

4. Stay cool, figuratively. 

I caught myself in a funk a few times, and I let it affect my disposition and honestly, others’ as well.  I should learn how to stay calm by staying objective, level-headed and positive, instead of crumbling and grumbling.

5. Don’t stay too long in a chair after a 100Miler.  Next time, instead of an hour, stay in there maybe 15 minutes, and then stretch. (Easier said than done. I was so tired!).  And then sit down again.  And surrender to a nap.

FullSizeRender (1)

My friend and fellow JJ buckle owner Belinda and me, plopped in camp chairs, enjoying our foot ice baths.  Thanks, James!



And so now, there are two hard-earned buckles sitting nicely in my bookcase.  I haven’t thought of adding another…yet.  I am enjoying the “pair” at the moment.  If I do think of embarking on another 100-mile race, I know I will be glad I wrote this long two-part race report.  It was worth it.


My Journey to Javelina Jundred. Part One: The Rest of the Story

Javelina Jundred  100Miles

Saturday, October 31 thru Sunday, November 1, 2015
McDowell Mountain Park, Fountain Hills, AZ

Course:  6 loops of 15.3miles each on the Pemberton Trail , run “washing machine style” (i.e. alternating clockwise, counterclockwise directions), plus one final loop of 9.1 miles
Total Elevation gain/loss:  approximately 5,000 ft.
Altitude: Lowest point, El. +1,824 ft.  Highest point, El. +2,480 ft.
Temperature:  Low 50s, High 82 (Saturday), 84 (Sunday), clear skies both days
Terrain:  sand – some hard-packed and some loose.  Rocky and technical from Coyote Camp to Jackass Junction.


“I nearly hit a javelina on my way to the park!  I’m pretty sure that’s good luck, and it means you’re going to crush this race tomorrow.”
Kate’s text, 7:13pm on Friday, October 30.

Kate’s text came as Ken and I were driving back to the condo Friday night, following a dinner with our Bay Area friends who were also going to be at Javelina Jundred. Her text came when the jitters finally started to come in anticipation of the race which was only less than 12 hours away.  I cracked up after I read it, and I secretly hoped she was right.

It’s my second attempt at a 100Mile race.  The first was completed at Headlands Hundred back in September 2014.  I told myself to calm down, after all, I’ve done this distance before.  Though I’ve been told Javelina will be “easier” for me than Headlands because of the elevation gain (Javelina has about ¼ of Headlands), I was not taking this course lightly.  Its challenges are real and big for me:  the intense dry desert heat (I dread running in any kind of heat!), the rolling terrain ( I dread flat and rolling courses!), the loopy course, a 30-hour cutoff.  I felt I needed to do a race that will push myself beyond my comfort zone in a different way that Headlands did.  I’ve trained hard this past year with these challenges in mind. But I’ve not trained on the course itself (quite different from training for Headlands when I got to practice on the course) so there were still a few unknowns out there. Also, there is no such thing as an “easy” 100miler anyway.

My goals
1.  Don’t die.
2.  Don’t get hurt.
3.  Run smart.
4.  Bring home the 100 Mile buckle.
5.  Bonus:  finish the race under 29 hours.
6.  Have a ton of fun.

My Race Plan
1.  Pacing:  Goal 100Mile average pace is 17:15 min/mile.   Respect the course.  Start conservative.  Power-hike the ups, run-dance the downs.
2.  Stay hydrated and keep electrolytes in check.
3.  Stay on top of nutrition. Eat early and often.
4.  Stay cool, literally.
5.  Stay cool, figuratively.


I got up as soon as the alarm went off at 3:00 A.M.  I spent the past two hours tossing and turning.  It  was a good thing I’ve been well-rested and  slept really well the night before!  I gave myself an hour and thirty minutes to get ready.  I took a shower, put on my clothes, sunscreened, lubed the feet, put on socks, etcetera, ….all done before I emerged out of my room and went to the living room to give Ken his 4:00 wake up call.  James was already up and about getting ready.  I had my breakfast:  pumpkin seed granola with almond milk, sweet potato banana waffles, honey ginger tea.  I took my vitamins, and followed it with a few sips of warm water.  I packed my bottles of Ensure, Spam slices, sparkling water, water bottles, recovery drinks in the soft cooler while Ken got ready.  We left the condo around 4:30A.M.

McDowell Mountain Park was only about 20 minutes away but there was a long line of cars at the entry and so we were glad we left early.   I realized I forgot to print the participant parking pass (Doh!) and was prepared to pay another $6.00 at the gate, but after I mentioned my oversight to the park official at the kiosk, he asked for my name and wrote it on the pass.  “Put this on your dashboard.”  Whew.  We parked our car at the dirt lot around 5:00A.M., then walked towards the line for the shuttle.  We had just missed a shuttle so we waited for the next.  We were the first ones to board and the driver told us he wanted to fill up the bus starting from the back row so we walked all the way to the back.  I sat by the window and looked out.  There were stars!  The sky was clear!  And as much as I wanted to appreciate this beautiful sight, my mind could not help but think, “Oh crap.  It’s going to be hot!”  I had hoped we would have some clouds today, as it was the day before, but I guess it’s not happening on this day.

On our way to our tent, I dropped off my Victory bag that was labeled for Jackass Junction.  Then we went to our tent to drop off our bags.  Kate had slept there overnight.  She was still sleeping, bundled up like a cocoon on the cot so I tried to move quietly as a mouse.   I left the tent and headed to the porta potties where the line was already long.  After I finished there, I went back to the tent.  Earlier, I had spotted Kate’s foam roller and took a mental note to come back and roll.  I forgot to ask her about it last night, and I was so relieved to see it this morning so I was able to roll out my right glutes a few times.  It was something I learned to do the day before the North Face Endurance Challenge 50Mile in 2013. Since then, I make it a point to do it right before a big race, 50Miles and up.  I took my PowerBar Banana Blueberry fuel, and headed out to join Brian, Belinda, Eileen, and our friends with Mama Lisa Felder’s team Ultra Fitness Beyond Imagination.


my Bay Area peeps!  Jenn, Eileen, Ed, Brian, Mama Lisa Felder, Rebecca, Katrina, Belinda, Susan, Alison.  Photo by Ed Liu.


With 5 minutes before the start, we made our way to the already crowded Start area.  Such a festive atmosphere, and the adrenalin kicked in right away.  Nervous?  Not really.  I was just so happy to get this 100 Miler started already!

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we’re off!


Photo credit:  SweetM Images


After 6:00 A.M., the roughly 6 feet wide Pemberton Trail was lit up by the rush of headlamps that flooded it. The first loop is the clockwise direction, with the first few miles going uphill, and then downhill at roughly the midpoint.  I kept my plan in mind:  stay conservative.  Take it slow and easy.  It wasn’t for long that dawn began to break.   About a half hour from the Start, the sun rose.  I turned off my headlamp, removed it from my head and wrapped it around my left water bottle.  I put on my head the straw hat that the girls had decorated with “GO MOM!” and “WE LOVE YOU” written on it.  I ran with Brian for a bit, then I was by myself for a while.


sunrise.  photo by Kate Panepinto

Now it was the rising sun’s turn to flood the desert with its bright amazing orange light.  As it gradually rose from behind me, the fine details of the surrounding mountains and saguaro cacti were revealed in place of their silhouettes which stood in quiet anonymity just a few minutes before.  I took my mind off running for a bit to acknowledge the beauty of this place, and how lucky I was to be there, running, and starting this long race in perfect shape.  I passed through Coyote Camp aid station for the first time, about 30 minutes after the race started.  I was on pace, and I didn’t start out too fast.  No stopping here according to my pace chart, and everyone had the same plan. The volunteers were still getting ready, no cups nor aid station treats to be grabbed.

I passed Doug Haas (I met him the day before at Jeadquarters), and he and I ran and chatted for a bit.  Then I asked him what our pace was (I was not wearing a Garmin), and he said “13:40”, and I said, basically, “See ya” and he took off.  It was a minute faster than my pace for this loop, so I slowed down.   I was starting to feel warm; I unzipped my Houdini jacket but wasn’t ready to shed it.  I can feel I was sweating, but at the same time I was cool.  I was wearing the white cycling bolero which I bought the week before, and I had read from its product description that it had that cooling effect when the body sweats.  I thought, wow, they were not making it up!

A few minutes later, Brian caught up with me, so we ran together until we got to Jackass Junction aid station, again, on time according to my pace chart.  I had a minute to get out of the aid station, according to my pace chart, so I quickly scanned for my Victory bag in the rows of drop bags, found it, dropped off my headlamp and Houdini jacket, grabbed my Jackass Junction 1 (or “JJ1”) food baggie and left before the minute was over.  I sent a quick text to Ken to tell him I just left (we had talked about me doing this as a way to alert him and Kate, in anticipation of my arrival at Jeadquarters at the end of each loop).

I then took off ahead of Brian.   A few minutes later, I realized I forgot to top off my GU water bottle.  Duh!  I calmed down and said to myself, it is still early and not warm enough.  If I end up finishing my GU bottle before I hit Rattlesnake Ranch aid station, I will just drink out of my other water bottle which had plain water.  No big deal.

It was pretty much all downhill and less technical on this side of Jackass Junction towards Rattlesnake Ranch so I was picking up my pace, naturally, and letting gravity pull me.  Brian had caught up and told me to slow down.  I was averaging 12:30m/m (according to my Strava) during this stretch, 2 m/m faster than what I was supposed to be doing.  Argh.   But I was having a great time running!  And running with Brian!  I don’t think I’ve ever ran with him this much.


Brian and me.  Pemberton Trail, Loop 1.  Photo by Ron Ceton

We arrived at Rattlesnake Ranch (RR) to the welcoming cowbell ringing and cheer by Mama Lisa Felder.  I overheard her tell Brian to take it nice and easy.   I arrived at RR about 15 minutes ahead of schedule so I slowed down during the next 1.5miles to Jeadquarters.

Arriving into Jeadquarters for the first time, finding the timing mat  was not straightforward, literally.  It was definitely a learning experience.  Thank goodness for the arrows on the ground!   Turn left, turn left, turn left, cross the mat, then make a hairpin turn back, turn right, turn right, and then left to arrive at my crew stop.  I was so happy to see Ken and Kate, and hear the cheers of our friends!!  Just as I had envisioned, Kate had the following laid out on the table and ready for me to pick up:  two filled bottles (one with GU Brew, one with plain water) to swap with my Loop1 pair, my food baggie for me to stuff in my hip pack, my Ensure which was already opened and which I drank immediately.


drinking my milk chocolate Ensure.  Photo by Kate Panepinto

Kate tied the iced bandana around my neck.  She asked me, “ice in your sports bra?”  I’d never had that before, but I said, “Sure!”  And she poured cold water on my arms and shoulder such that the bolero was soaking wet.  Oh, that felt SO GREAT!!   In under 3 minutes, I was out and hopping along!
15.3 miles done.
Elapsed time:  3:28:18


I headed out the way I came into Jeadquarters and began the counterclockwise loop, beginning now with the gradual uphill and then descending after Jackass Junction.  It was around 9:30, and I can feel it heating up.  There was definitely the need here to power-hike the next 6.7miles, or most of it at least (we ran the little bits of downhill).  I was  glad I was wearing my polarized sunglasses as they really helped in reducing the glare from the sun, and reflection from the sand.   Brian and I started this loop.  We saw Belinda heading towards Jeadquarters, and then Eileen.   And then a few minutes later, we saw my new friend Doug, who I introduced to Brian.  We ran together for a few miles towards Jackass Junction.   On this loop, we saw a few of our friends doing the 100K (which started at 7:00):  Minel, Katrina, James.  I saw this lady with wings, and her shoulder-length blonde her gave her away.  “Ann!!” “Pen!!”  And we gave each other a hug!  Ann was running the 100K, and had told me on our way to SFO that she will be coaching along the course.  How cool was that!!  She reminded me to stay hydrated and to keep eating.

Brian, Doug and I power hiked most of the 6.7 miles to Jackass Junction making sure to hold back our pace as we were fully aware that it was the middle of the day and the sun was getting more and more intense.  The ice in my bandana had already melted and I’ve been dousing my sleeves and torso with the plain water to keep myself cool.  I arrived at the aid station at 11:20 and texted Ken.  I made sure to refill my GU water bottle this time knowing it would be a guaranteed disaster if I forgot to do this with 6.5 miles till the next aid station with the heat intensifying as the hours pass.  I also refilled my other water bottle with plain water as I know I will be dousing myself with water several times during this stretch.   I asked a volunteer for ice to put in my bandana, then she nicely offered to roll it up and tie it around my neck.   I grabbed some more ice to put under my hat, and because I liked it so much at Jeadquarters, I stuffed as much ice as I can inside my sports bra.  I quickly went to my drop bag and grabbed a sweet potato banana waffle baggie, and my portable phone battery pack which I stuffed in my zip pack.   I guessed I was at the aid station for a little bit more than a minute.

I left the aid station with Brian and Doug.   This being downhill, we started running, but with more caution not just because of the increasing heat, but also of the rocks that we had to navigate around and through.   At some point, we decided to do a run-walk, at least for a bit.  We were running in single-file with me at the back of our little conga line.  Eventually, Doug took off, and then Brian’s gap from me got bigger and bigger, and I was pretty much running or power-walking by myself midway between Jackass Junction and Coyote Camp.  At this point, I can feel the heat of the sun pounding on my hat, on my head, …again thankful for the polarized sunglasses I was wearing which significantly reduced the glare that could’ve given me a horrible headache.  I kept drinking from the GU bottle, ate my ProBar, doused my sleeves, back, and torso with water to keep cool.  I also started listening to my iPod shuffle.  My playlist picked me up, especially when it started playing B-52s’ “Rock Lobster” and I was actually enjoying myself while “dancing” my way through the rock garden…sort of dancing at least.

I got to Coyote Camp finally where I caught up with Brian at the aid station but he left as soon as I got there.  I took my first salt cap there.  And took a cup of ginger ale.   And  another.   Refilled my hat, my bandana, and my bra with ice.  I also took a cup of ice so I can chew on it as I left the aid station.   I heard cowbells and I associated it with Mama Lisa Felder, and I knew I was getting closer to Jeadquarters.  I crossed the road, saw Brian, and ran up next to him.  I ran towards the ziggyzaggy route to the timing mat, and crossed it right on time.


Ken and Kate working like a NASCAR crew to get me in and out of Jeadquarters quick.  Photo by Charles Lim

Like at the end of Loop1, Ken and Kate worked like pros getting me in and out of the aid station.  Having done it the first time, the second time went much quicker.
30.6 miles done.
Elapsed time: 7:31:24.


Temperatures were at the highest as I headed out, and I knew it was most important to stay on top of my hydration, nutrition and cooling if I was to survive this loop, especially these next 8.6 miles from Jeadquarters to Jackass Junction.  I kept dousing myself with water; as soon as I feel my sleeves and tank top had dried off, I’d diligently give myself another dousing of water.  I felt like I was literally taking a shower while I was on the course!  As I learned in the past two loops, dousing works and I had been ‘cool’ this whole time despite the day’s intensifying heat.  I was feeling great!  I thought, I am actually going to survive this heat without any problems of heat exhaustion or heaven forbid, a heat stroke!

I headed out with Brian, and for most of Loop 3 we talked and power-walked it together.  Among many things, we talked about how lucky we were that the temperature for the day was only going up to 82 deg F, lower than the temperature last year, much lower still than the year before.  But I thought, even so, if the heat is not managed well, especially by someone like me who whines when the temperature goes a tad beyond 75 degrees, it could still mean hell.  Thankful that we were doing well, and that we were taking our time.   And then around Mile 36 on the way to Jackass Junction, I looked at my watch, and I looked at my pace chart, and realized, if I was to be “on schedule”, I would have to fly through the next 3 miles in 30 minutes.  There was no way I can do that!  I started to stress, kept looking at my watch, stopped talking, and started picking up my pace.  Brian picked up right away that I was getting upset and gave me words to reassure me that I was doing just fine.  And really, I was.

On top of that funk, I felt I needed to use the potty.  I mean, of course I would have to use the potty at some point!  But all I could think of was, dang, that’s going to add a few more minutes at Jackass Junction!   But it had to be done. One of the lessons learned from Headlands Hundred was not to delay doing either a #1 or a #2.   After the potty visit, I asked an aid station volunteer to help me refill both my water bottles.   While he was doing this, I went to my drop bag to get my food baggie.  I also pulled my phone out to text Ken to tell him I was just about to leave JJ.  I saw Minel behind me, and she noted I needed to get out of the aid station.  Yep, I was taking too much time.  What I had planned for a minute stop there felt like a gargantuan 10 minutes!  At least!  I remembered to grab my headlamp as I estimated it could be getting dark by the time I get to Jeadquarters.  I picked up my water bottles from the volunteer, said thank you, and took off.

Brian caught up with me shortly and asked, “Feeling better?”  I said yes.   The downhill lured me to pick up my pace and thankfully I was feeling much better so I was able to.  I was resigned to being 20 minutes behind my schedule, and thought about getting my mind off the stupid pace chart already and just enjoyed the less technical downhill run.   We saw some runners going the opposite direction (probably on their fourth loop) with otter pops in hand.  I wanted one, but I guess not so much because as soon as we discovered there were no longer otter pops in the cooler on the side of the trail, I was not so disappointed.  It was starting to cool down anyway, and I wasn’t so parched anymore as I was a few hours ago.

Brian noted the soft hues and layers of pink, mauve, purple of the sky and the mountains all around us.  The sun was setting behind us, and though we were not seeing the ball of fire descending from the sky, the view of twilight in front of us was somehow soothing.  I realized I was still wearing my sunglasses.  I took them off and the brightness that bathed my sight was a treat and no longer a nuisance.   We started seeing lights in the distance.   And then the tent. Rattlesnake Ranch was just about a mile away.  We were greeted by Mama Lisa’s cheer.  I grabbed a cup of ginger ale from the aid station and drank it while walking away towards Jeadquarters.

About halfway in between these aid stations, I recognized a lady from Florida whom I had only met virtually through a facebook runners’ group.


meeting Bernadette for the first time!

“Bernadette?   Bernadette!!”   And she said, “oh my god, Pen?”  I stayed behind while Brian kept walking;  I had to give this lady a hug!!  I’ve been wanting to meet her, and when she wrote me a few weeks ago that she was going to be Javelina, I was so thrilled!  I looked forward to meeting her at the race but we had not arranged a specific time and date to meet.  Just my luck that she happened to be heading out with her friend at that time.   Her friend took a picture of us, and we went our separate ways.   I ran to catch up with Brian.

A few minutes later, we saw Ken and Alison on the side of the trail waiting for Brian and me.  It was probably about half a mile away from Jeadquarters.   Ken wondered I might not have a headlamp.  I told him I remembered to grab the headlamp I had at Jackass Junction, “See?” showing him how I wrapped it around my water bottle.  “Of course you did!” he said with a smile.  I told him I was 20 minutes behind.  He told me not to worry about it.  He ran to our crew spot while I ran towards the timing mat.  I cringed as I saw the time on the clock (but I still managed to smile).


end of Loop 3.  Photo by Joe McCladdie

And then I thought I heard someone call my name, but I was not sure if it was my name I heard so I kept running.  When I turned the corner,  I heard my name again, and realized it was Laura Bello who was calling me!  I knew she was going to be in that area, and wondered the previous two loops if I was going to see her.  So when I finally saw her, as I was rushing to my crew spot, I was so happy and gave her a hug.  And then I went to my crew spot, this time going along this little path inside the tent area.  I said a quick ‘Hi’ to everyone who were inside the tent, and Kate led me to one of the camp chairs.  I sat down for the first time in more than twelve hours.

I had planned for a ‘reset’ at the end of Loop 3.  But I decided to do an abbreviated reset.   Instead of the full change of clothes as I did halfway thru Headlands Hundred, I decided to keep the same clothes on.  The temperature was not falling, and the bolero which I used for cooling in the daytime was functioning to keep me warm as well.  I also didn’t need to put on my leggings.  I did replace my hip pack with my race vest.  Kate tied my other running jacket around my waist just in case it gets cold.  I did my feet/blister check.  There were no hotspots, but to be safe, I  re-lubed my feet (using Sportshield wipes) and put on clean socks.   I decided to change my shoes, from the Lone Peaks to the Olympus.   Ken tied my shoelaces, and gave me my water bottles.  Kate gave me my Ensure to drink, and showed me these foil-wrapped square things.  “Here are your spammiches.”  My spammiches!!  She continued,  “Put one in your front pocket, and I’ll put the other two in the back pocket.”  I put my head Buff on and then my headlamp.


ready to head out for Loop 4!  Photo by Kate Panepinto

After I was geared up, I took a moment to take in the images and faces in that tent which was a blur to me a few minutes before.   I remember giving Charles a hug, and then James.  By the time I headed out to start Loop 4, it was already dark.
45.9 miles done.
Elapsed time:  11:54:13


Brian and I headed out at the same time.   Just like in Loop 2, we power-hiked the next 6.7 miles towards Jackass Junction.   We talked most of the way.  I counted stink bugs  we encountered on the trail (about 6).  No other major wildlife though, although I was secretly hoping we’d see at least one javelina. We saw Belinda and Eileen on their way to Jeadquarters.  Minel flew past us as she was starting the final loop of her 100K.  We saw Ann running along towards Jeadquarters; I called out her name, but she was focused on running and she kept going.  We were looking out for Katrina, and after a while of not seeing her, Brian got concerned that she might not have a headlamp.  He talked about grabbing his spare Fenix handheld to give to her in case she was at the Jackass Junction tent.

I left Jeadquarters with water bottles in both hands, same as in previous loops. After about a mile into this loop, I thought, ugh, I should’ve just taken the GU water bottle and left the other one behind!  I had no need for the other water bottle at this time of the night.  Also I took off the cutoff gloves I put on at the aid station.  It wasn’t that cold, and I was getting too warm.   I made a mental note for the next loop to just bring one water bottle and use my handheld flashlight, which during this loop I could not do –or at least found it cumbersome to do—with my right hand holding the unnecessary water bottle.

My decision to change into the Olympus was paying off.  I felt more stable as I power-hiked through the course.  I thought, I should be in good shape when I get to the rock garden.   We finally got to Jackass Junction.  I gave my GU water bottle to an aid station volunteer, instructing him to dump the remaining contents and put my GU Roctane mix in with water.  While he did that, I visited the potty and again took a #2.   I picked up my water bottle from the volunteer, thanked him, then ate my spammich.  (in case you are wondering, a spammich is what I call my Spam sandwich.  Cooked and slightly browned/crispy slice of Spam in a King Hawaiian sweet roll.  The last time I had one (or two) was at Headlands Hundred.)

I saw Brian in the heated medic tent.  He had found Katrina and was talking to her.  Katrina had dropped and was waiting for a ride back.  She unfortunately tripped somewhere in the rock garden and sustained some gashes on her legs.  She also had some tummy issues.  She was keeping warm at least, and given those wounds, she was still smiling.  What a trooper!  We left the tent after talking to her and knowing she’s being taken cared of.  Before we took off, I drank a cup of Mountain Dew; I celebrated the fact that, at this point, about halfway through this race, I can now officially have caffeine again.  YES!

All of a sudden, I felt this surge of energy!  I figured it must’ve been the caffeine kicking in.  It was the first time in two weeks and my body responded as I had expected.  I flew for the first mile or so after leaving the aid station.  Despite the rocks, I flew. In the dark,  I passed about three runners.  I was totally running, as if I just got new batteries put inside me.  In this giddy phase, I had left Brian behind.  But eventually, I slowed down, around where it got more technical and rocky.  Then I heard footsteps right behind me, and I asked “Brian?”  He had caught up, as I knew he would.  He acknowledged, and then he walked past me.  And then he flew, so fast there was no way I could possibly catch up.  In my head, I cheered for him.  “Go Brian!!”  and I was happy to see that he was getting his game on, instead of hanging with me all this time.

I was on my own from Mile 54 until the end of this Loop.  I was so glad to have the caffeine back in my system.  I kept myself alert, not running into people, and especially not veering off to the edge of the trails where the jumping chollas were.  As I was headed towards Coyote Camp, I saw an orange glow on the horizon.   I thought it was the aid station tent, glowing from the lights underneath.   But it was the three-quarters moon rising above the horizon. While I was a bit disappointed that it was not the aid station (I was about three miles away), it was quickly replaced with awe.  But not a sustained awe, unfortunately.  The problem with running in the dark of night when such a gorgeous celestial body was just beginning its ascent:  I cannot stare at it long enough because I was moving through the annoying rock garden.   I thought, safety first, enjoyment whenever I can take a break.  I eventually saw the glowing tent, where I took another cup of Mountain Dew and a slice of pumpkin pie.  I left it quickly and moved towards Jeadquarters.  2.1 miles and I’ll see Ken and Kate again!

On my approach, I was estimating that I would see Brian come out on the opposite direction to begin his Loop 5, given he passed me about 7 miles ago. But I didn’t see him.  I got into Jeadquarters, ran towards the timing mat, and went to my crew spot.  The usual drill, but with the change of carrying only one water bottle (GU Roctane) which left my right hand free to hold my little flashlight.  Also, something new:  Ken was all set and ready to pace me.  Before we left, Kate mentioned that she and Ken discussed switching their pacing duties such that Ken will pace me for Loops 5 and 6, while Kate will pace me on my final loop.  I said, “If you’re both ok with that, I’m ok with it too!”
61.2 miles done.
Elapsed time: 16:47:12.


I was so glad to finally pick up Ken and have him pace me!  The solo 7-ish mile night run that preceded was tough, and as much as I tried to keep a consistent pace, I just couldn’t.   Damn rock garden!  I was getting frustrated, and tired, and with two more loops to go, my heart was sinking and my mind was questioning if I could hang on and finish within 30 hours.  I told Ken if anything happens, I will still have a 100K buckle, and he said, don’t even think that.  “You will finish 100 miles.”   I felt a little bit embarrassed as I should’ve shown more faith in him, and in Kate.  He assured me I was doing great, still very strong, that I will be fine, and that we will run at 18min/mile pace as we had laid out in my race plan.  I found comfort in his analytic mind, that he can do these calculations on his feet, and reassure me that I have not really lost much time.

I asked him about Brian; I mentioned that I didn’t see him come out as I was coming in to Jeadquarters.  I asked if he was still there.   And then I heard him say that Brian was done.  I thought, what do you mean “done”?  I told Ken that Brian flew past me in the last loop, and he looked so strong!   I was not yet convinced that he was done given what I saw around Mile 53.   But at the same time, I was also sad at the possibility I might not see Brian on the course anymore.  So I held on to my hope that he would come around and eventually catch up to Ken and me on the trail.

We stopped at Coyote Camp aid station where Ken grabbed some food to eat. I unwrapped my second spammich and ate it as we left the aid station.  He stayed in front of me.  During the first mile, I gave him heads-up commentaries of the immediate trail conditions (“ok, we are approaching the sandy part.”  And then later, “Pretty soon we will get to the rocky part…” and so on.)  But I didn’t have to do that for too long as he took over and got a good sense of the terrain.  Through this stretch we talked as we navigated our way through the rock garden.  I eventually established –and maintained– a 20 feet gap between him and me.  Sometimes I’d catch up, sometimes I’d lag behind to 30 feet and I would call out “Ken!  Wait!” and he’d stop until I got close, then we’d continue to shuffle forward again.  I stayed focused on his feet.  I took cues from his footsteps:  whenever he power-hiked, I power-hiked.  Whenever he ran, I ran too… or at least as much running as I can eek out.  He was very good about alerting me of upcoming descents, or a ditch, and any trail condition that could throw me off.   It was amazing to me how consistent he was, and made me wish I knew how to pace myself as well.

About a mile and a half from Jackass Junction, I felt I needed to pee.  I thought at first that I would wait until we get to the aid station, but then I thought there could be a wait at the potty.  I decided I didn’t want to wait in line at the potty, and that there was no need for me to hold it much longer.  When we reached a section where there were some short trees instead of a cacti field, I called to him and told him I am stopping to pee.    Thankful that I had learned to be matter-of-fact about this after I ran with a male pacer (my friend Sam Hsu) through the night at my first 100.  I remembered Sam told me, “No need to be shy.  If you gotta go, you gotta go.”

We continued onwards and pretty soon we hit the short rocky descent into Jackass Junction.  There was a line in the potty as I had suspected; I was relieved that I didn’t have to go anymore!  I had an aid station volunteer refill my GU Roctane bottle while I went to my drop bag and grabbed a battery charger and another food baggie.  I went back to the aid station and drank a cup of Mountain Dew.   I checked on Ken if he needed to shed his sweatpants and jacket, and he said he’ll keep them on until we get back to Jeadquarters.   We headed out of Jackass Junction.  With the downhill and the less technical terrain, Ken and I were able to run consistently, even picking up our pace between 15 to 16 min/mile (per my Strava data).

We passed Coyote Camp aid station, and headed to Jeadquarters.  I noticed a tiny pebble got into my left shoe.  With about a mile to go, I decided to wait until we reach Jeadquarters, where I will take care of it.  Ken told me to proceed to the timing mat and he’ll meet me at our crew stop.  I dropped off my water bottle and flashlight on our table and then, feeling so light and energetic, I sprinted my way to the timing mat, as if I had just started running and without 76.5 miles behind me.    I went straight to our tent, pulled a camp chair to the side of the path, sat down and removed my left shoe and the annoying little pebble that bothered my heel that last mile.  Since Loop 6 will see us running through sunrise and early morning hours, I asked for my straw hat, and tucked my sunglasses on the front of my tank top.  Kate gave me my water bottle.  While Ken was getting something to eat I started shuffling away.  James said, “Don’t drop your pacer!”  Of course I wouldn’t (and I knew he was just kidding anyway).   I was moving away slowly and Ken caught up not for long.
76.5 miles done.
Elapsed time:  21:17:49


25 miles to go!  One more 15-mile loop!  Ken said, we only have to keep an 18:40 min/mile pace for this loop.  It was around 3:30 in the morning, but I was still feeling great overall.  Nothing was hurting.  My tummy was cooperating. And then I realized, I forgot to drink Ensure at Jeadquarters!!  Not to worry; I had brought calorie provisions to last me through Jackass Junction.  Before we settled back to our pacing arrangement on the trail (i.e.  with Ken about 20 feet in front of me, both of us quiet and shuffling forward), we talked about how beautiful the night sky was.  The three-quarters moon had now risen above us and though it looked like a big white star (as opposed to the orange glowing orb about 7 hours before), it still cast quite a bit of light in the desert.  The constellations were sprinkled over this vast clear night sky.  Ken identified a few of them.  I saw at least four shooting stars!

It wasn’t too long until we reached Jackass junction.   While he went to my drop bag, I asked an aid station volunteer to dump the remaining contents of my water bottle and mix with water the GU Roctane which was tucked in the water bottle’s zipped pocket.  Meanwhile, I went to the aid station table and grabbed a cup of water and took a caffeinated salt cap.  I felt I was fading a little, and from experience, I know the caffeinated salt cap will revive me.  I also felt the need to pee.  The potty was occupied and since I cannot wait much longer, I rushed to a tree nearby and peed there.  I picked up my water bottle from the aid station volunteer, grabbed a few Oreos, downed another cup of Mountain Dew.  As soon as Ken was ready to go, we left.

“Say goodbye to Jackass Junction.” Ken told me.  “That’s the last time you’ll have passed through it.”   I can’t deny that I felt a little bit of sadness, how much I will miss that wacky wild aid station, how much the race was coming quickly to its end.  Even though I admitted at the beginning of this loop that I was getting sick and tired of these loops and that I was so tired I just wanted to get this race done, I don’t know why all of a sudden I was lamenting this last passage at Jackass Junction.

About a quarter mile after we left the aid station, I took a sip from my water bottle and blurted, “YUCK!!!”  Whoa!  What was that?!???  I wondered if I had mistakenly stashed lime flavored GU Brew –and a bad batch at that—in my water bottle pocket, instead of the Tropical Punch GU Roctane.  It tasted so bad I thought, what if my organs all of sudden shut down and I keel over on the side of the trail, into the cholla and die?  Seriously, I thought I just drank poison (or what I imagined poison would taste like); it tasted bitter and plain horrible. But obviously, I didn’t die, and I figured I had a bad GU Brew stash mixed with the water.  I took about 5 giant swigs between Jackass Junction to Coyote Camp.  I’d fill up my mouth with the stuff, then I’d swallow it in with one big gulp.  After the first giant swig, I unwrapped an apple Jolly Rancher hard candy and let it sit in my mouth for as long as possible.  The sugar made the aftertaste bearable.

We encountered the rock garden one last time.   The fact that we were nearing the end of the race did not give us permission to let our guard down during this technical portion of the course.  Not at all.  If anything, we had to be more careful especially transitioning from dark to light.  I had several almost-trips and near-falls, and whenever Ken heard me yelp, he’d remind me to keep my steps light and easy.  I observed that Ken never faltered during this stretch.  He kept his steady shuffle through it all.


When I noticed the dark sky was being pushed out by a blue-orange band at the horizon, I told Ken I’d be stopping to take pictures of the sunrise.  I have to.  And so I did.  So glad I did.  But not too many pictures.  I had to commit the rest of all these glorious images to memory.  I have no doubt that moment will stay with me for a very long time.


When the sun rose above the mountains, and its rays shone brightly and blinded my eyes, I was so happy I was awake and present in that moment to witness it.  At the same time, I lamented the end of that magical night, with the stars and the bright moon, and me and Ken just shuffling quietly forward.   But there was still a few miles to cover before we reach Coyote Camp and we resumed our focus on the trail ahead.


With the sun up, I took off my headlamp and stashed it in my race vest pocket. I put my hat and my sunglasses on.  We were making our final passage through the rock garden.  For some reason, it felt endless this last time.  And those rocks!   Did someone throw in more buckets of rocks on the trail a few hours before?  Because I swear they weren’t THAT many of them strewn all over the place when we were heading out!

We saw runners with the glow necklaces around their necks.  The glow necklace is given to those who have finished Loop 6 and are on their final loop.  I remember telling one of them, “I want one of those too!”  and the runner said, “You’re going to get yours.  You are very close!”  Well, still a few miles, but in the grand scheme of 100mile things, I was very close!

Through all these miles that Ken paced me, I have to note that I kept asking him about our distance to the next aid station, what our pace was, and when he thinks we will get there.  I commend him for his patience as I was starting to annoy myself with all these time and distance questions.   When he said, we were three-quarters of a mile away from Coyote Camp, my heart jumped.

It was around this time that I thought to unzip the water bottle’s pocket.  And there I found the GU Roctane stash that I had asked the Jackass Junction volunteer to mix with water.   I figured there must’ve been a misunderstanding between the volunteer and me, that I was probably unclear with my instructions, and so he just heard I wanted GU in my bottle, so he gave me GU from the aid station water jugs.  When we got to Coyote Camp, I dumped my water bottle, and asked an aid station volunteer, can I fill my bottle with Mountain Dew please?  And he said, “Cool!!”  I’ve never done this before, take Mountain Dew to go.  I figure, well why not.   I sipped it like water from there all the way to Jeadquarters.

I was excited to reach that road.  So many runners with glow necklaces around their necks heading out on their final loop!  We approached the chute, I dropped off my water bottle on the table and, as I have done in previous trips to the timing mat, I sprinted my way through.  Before I got back out to our crew stop, one of the volunteers hollered, “Wait! I have to give you your necklace” The glow-in-the-dark necklace, of course!  Yes!  I stopped in my tracks so she can put it around my neck.  I then picked up my feet and continued my sprint towards my crew spot.  I saw Ann at the Circle’s tent, and called out her name. I was abuzz probably from all the Mountain Dew I had just sipped and the next minute happened in a whirl.  I removed my race vest, I grabbed a water bottle with just plain water, stuffed my Power Bar banana blueberry fuel in the water bottle’s pocket,  I drank my last Ensure for this race, carried my phone in my hand.

Ann rushed to our crew spot to give me a hug and to encourage me and let me know I was doing so well.  Ann was holding a pack of what I thought were cucumber-scented wipes and told me to wipe my face.  I took one.  Marie Boyd, Ann’s friend and whom I’ve met and crewed with (for Sally McRae) at Western States last June rushed out to greet me too, hugged me, and reinforced Ann’s suggestion.  “You’ll be glad you did, dear, “ she said.   Of course both of them were right!  Kate was ready to go, and as we were heading out, I felt my neck, bare and I thought, shoot, I better have my bandana!  I quickly ran back, asked Ken to get my bandana, fill it and roll it with ice and had it tied around my neck. Whew.  The sun was rising and it was heating up again.  Ken had given Kate his Garmin, and told Kate I only needed to be at 21min/mile this loop and I will be sure to finish within the 30-hour cutoff, but if I can keep it at 18min/mile, all the better.
91.8 miles done.
Elapsed time:  26:03:11.


This is it!  The last loop.  Kate was brimming with cheer and positivity.   I love it!  It was around 8:30 in the morning, and I have three and a half hours to get the next 9.1 miles done.   As we headed out, I told her to get me running at 18m/m instead of 21m/m as we have in the pace chart.  I will certainly try!  It could get me a time closer to 29 hours instead of sneaking in under 30.  From what I learned in the past 30 miles with Ken, the 18m/m is basically a low-energy shuffle, light and easy as Ken told me.  Amazingly, I can still shuffle.   We crossed the road, and descended on the trail.  Kate was running at what felt  faster than an 18m/m pace, probably because of the short series of downhills.  Somehow I didn’t mind, and I kept up.  I thought, if I am feeling this great at this point and I still have much left in the tank, I might as well use what I got left during this loop!  We saw Belinda finishing her Loop5, and she said to me,

“You are kicking ass!  I don’t know how you are still running!” 

It didn’t take too long for us to reach Coyote Camp.  It was getting warm really quickly and I took the time at the last stop at this aid station to pour water on my sleeves, back and tank top.


just left Coyote Camp aid station for the last time.  Photo by Kate Panepinto

I was carrying one bottle with plain water which I planned to use for both hydration and dousing along the course.  Though it seemed like a short time in perspective, I still had to stay on top of heat management and stay cool, literally.  I didn’t go this far only to let myself melt in the last 9.1 miles!  We left Coyote Camp and approached the rock garden which I had warned Kate about.  As with heat management, I cannot let my guard down during that stretch.  I must stay focused.  I maintained a solid hike up this incline which now felt like a mountain rather than a hill.

Kate was great company and even moreso at this point.  We joked about the rocks, and how dare they multiply in number this late in the game!  Like I was with Ken, I kept asking her about our pace, what mile we were at, and how far we still needed to go.   She’d tell me when a downhill was just ahead, and she’d tell me to run it.  I’d look at the trail and I thought, waitasec.  From my perspective, that was not a downhill.  It was more like flat which I’d rather walk at this point.  But I ran it just as Kate asked me to, and I surprised myself that I can! She told me to eat my banana blueberry fuel and I did even though I was still full from the Ensure.   I was anticipating the sign that directed us to Tonto Tank aid station.  I had been dreaming about getting to that turn ever since this race started.   Now it seemed to take forever to get there, and I thought, where is that thingggg??  Kate assured me it was coming …it was coming… it was coming…. And finally, it was there.

I have to note that on our way to this point, we had passed three runners already.  Three!   I was so blown away by that!  I thought, this far into the race??  I did THAT???  And as we turned, we saw two more runners with their pacers up ahead.  I don’t know what it was, but passing those three made me feel really good.  Was I acknowledging my competitiveness?   Well, yes I was!  And with the way Kate was pulling me forward, I felt I could pass these next two.  I looked forward to it!  Belinda was right:  I was kicking ass.

We turned around a corner and headed towards the aid station.  Kate mentioned that we only had around 4 miles to go to get to the Finish. She said, “That’s just like Lake Merritt.”  And I said, “There’s a lake??”  And she laughed and said, “No, no.  I meant the distance left is just about the distance to run around Lake Merritt!”  Ah, yes!  But I thought the sight of a lake in this desert would be awesome right now!  We reached the aid station, and topped off my water bottle.  Very quickly I did one last pee stop behind a bush (making sure it was not a cactus!), and we were off.   And it was literally downhill from there.

So I ran.   We passed those two runners.  I stopped to walk after we did.  I asked Kate how much farther.  She told me the distance.  And then she said, “Pen, how about you focus on all this beauty surrounding us.  This will be the last time you’ll be here.   Just enjoy it!  You are doing so great!”


Photo by Kate Panepinto

And she was right.  So I looked around and took it all in.  I recalled when the race started about 28 hours ago and I felt much gratitude to be there.  I felt so much more at this point where in the midst of this astounding beauty,  I was still running and feeling strong and great!  The trail kept going downhill, and we saw two more runners who were just walking along just like the other five we already passed. Kate had me running past them!  And then I walked after we did.  She opened up one of my Honey Stinger lemon waffles and gave it to me.  “Here, eat this.” And I did. And I was flying again!  She told me to look at her pack, and just keep following her pace.

Kate had seen my pace chart and she knew the time I had written down as my goal.  With about a mile to go, she said this,

“Pen!  You did not come all the way to Arizona to just finish this 100Miler.  You came here with a goal time to beat and you are going to beat that goal.  You are going to finish so strong!”

I wanted to cry.  She was so right!  I had worked so hard to do well at this race this past year.  I am going to accomplish what I had set out to do!  We saw a group of about four runners with their pacers where the trail met the road.  All of them so close together, and here we were flying!  Could I possibly pass four more??  Yes!   At this point I couldn’t believe I’d be finishing this loop in 2-½ hours instead of 3-½ as I had planned.  I will have made the time I lost in Loops 3 and 4!!  The feeling almost made me cry in disbelief of this feat that Kate just made me accomplish!  As soon as I saw the tents, and heard the sounds at Jeadquarters, I sprinted.  Just like I had done in the previous six loops, but this one felt the fastest.   It was a far cry from my hobble-shuffle when I was finishing Headlands Hundred.  This was different.  I finished much stronger.  I crossed the timing mat.  I looked at the clock:  28:39:21.  YES!  I did beat my goal time. Did that really just happen??
100.9 miles done!!
Elapsed time (Finish time):  28:38:35.


finish line still shot from  Courtesy of Laura Bello

I was given my 100 Mile buckle.  I saw Kate and Ken and gave them HUGE hugs!  I was so happy!  And so grateful to these two, my strong and ultra-capable team for this 100 Mile race, who made this strong finish possible.


Team PEN!

I saw Laura Bello and Peter Beck who were working on the coverage of Javelina Jundred for  I was so happy to see them, such familiar friendly faces from our Bay Area trail running community.  After we took some team pictures, I hobbled towards our tent.  I saw James and gave him a big hug.  More hugs to friends who were there:  Alison, Jenn, Katrina, Charles, Mama Lisa…  I plopped myself on a chair.  I stayed in there for about an hour.  I was so tired.


Mission accomplished.

I was not prepared to be blown away by the desert, in a good way!  I embraced its heat and its unique beauty.  I want to go back.  Big props to Jamil Coury, the Aravaipa Running crew and all its wonderful volunteers for a top-notch running event.  Wow.


Next blog post:
Part Two:  Reflections, Ten-Five-Five.