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.
TEN THINGS I DID RIGHT:
- I had a great team (crew/pacers).
- I was well-prepared, well-rested before the race.
- I did not go out too fast.
- I was efficient at aid stations.
- I stayed on top of my hydration.
- I stayed on top of my nutrition.
- I stayed cool, literally.
- I wore/used the right gear (for me).
- I pushed myself in the final loop.
- I made sure to thank the wonderful volunteers!
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED:
- Pacers are a godsend.
- It is always worth it to nip a potential problem in the bud.
- Taking the time to refresh the body refreshes the mind in the later miles.
- Mountain Dew, in my water bottle, sipped on-the-go >> ROCKS.
- The Sonoran Desert is breathtakingly beautiful.
FIVE THINGS I WILL DO DIFFERENTLY:
- Get back to using my Garmin.
- Be more adventurous with aid station food fare.
- Check anything I get to-go from an aid station before I leave that aid station, not a quarter mile out.
- Stay cool, figuratively.
- Don’t stay too long in a chair after being on the course for 100.9 miles..
———–Thank you Ann for the homework!————
For details, please read on…
TEN THINGS I DID RIGHT:
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.
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.
Result: 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!
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED
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!
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.
FIVE THINGS I WILL DO DIFFERENTLY.
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.
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.