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.

 

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“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.

 

RACE DAY
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.

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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!

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Photo credit:  SweetM Images

 

LOOP 1
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.

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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.

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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.

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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


LOOP 2

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.

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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.


LOOP 3

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.

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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).

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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.

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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


LOOP 4

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.


LOOP 5

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


LOOP 6

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


FINAL LOOP!

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.

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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!”

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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.

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finish line still shot from usl.tv.  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.

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Team PEN!

I saw Laura Bello and Peter Beck who were working on the coverage of Javelina Jundred for usl.tv.  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.

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Mission accomplished.

Post-script
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.

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