Running Pemberton Trail

Saturday afternoon I ran Pemberton Trail. The high in Phoenix was 102, about normal for this time of year. I didn’t see another human soul out there the whole time, not even in the parking lot.

I felt good at the start, anxious to get in a good workout. I wore my light white sun running hat with the neck drape, M-Frame Oakleys newly outfitted with brand new dark gray polarized heater lens, long-sleeve CoolMax running shirt, which I wear sometimes rather than depend on a superabundance of sun screen (also applied in ample supply), bandana on my left wrist, headband and newish Timex with Big Numbers on my right wrist (lefties often wear watches on their right hand), the Champion underliners that I refer to affectionately as Big Fancy Underpants — couldn’t live without them, Patagonia running shorts, new pair of women’s half-height nylons underneath regular running socks, Asics Kayano shoes, and my chock-full 100-ounce Camelbak Mule carrying ID, cell phone (as an experiment), a Powerbar, and drugs. (Well … Succeed tablets, ginger capsules, caffeine tablets, Pepcid A/C, and Advil.)

I headed off in the “hard” direction — counterclockwise, not knowing just how much I would actually be running in the heat and carrying all that stuff. I surprised myself by running at least three quarters of the loop, but eased into it by running a few steps, then walking, then running a longer stretch, and so on, until I was running all but the steeper uphills. There aren’t many, at least not that last more than 40-50 feet, on the first part of the course.

A couple of miles in you hit what in the opposite direction is the end of a majorly sweet downhill that lasts for about three miles, but going counterclockwise it’s (of course) uphill. By the time I got there I’d determined that I would do my best to run it rather than walk — something only a fool or an elite runner, of which I am neither, would do during a race. And run I did, with a break at the one-hour point to guzzle and slam down a Succeed!, and maybe two other brief walk breaks of thirty seconds or so each. I got to the end of that section less than ten minutes slower than it takes me to do it during ideal weather. The reason I ran it was simply because I’ve been delinquent about doing hill work, and with a 100-mile race coming up, I guessed I’d try to get a season’s worth into a single run.

I was still doing just fine, so I continued the strategy of running the downhills and walking the harder uphills, which increase substantially at this point in the course.

Two hours into it, from the remotest point on the trail, I tried to call my wife on my cell phone, but it was futile. There is no signal at all out there, so carrying a cell phone for safety purposes is useless. That’s the last time I’ll try that, even though running alone in the afternoon where it’s deadly hot and inhabited by snakes and other undesireables, but no humans, is not exactly the safest thing to do.

When I reached what turned out to be exactly the three-quarter mark timewise (3:00), I drained the last of my water — at a time when I had a mouth full of my last bite of Powerbar, and was hoping to have a little left to wash it down with. Ugh. Ptoooey! I had to make it the rest of the way entirely without water. It wasn’t pleasant, but the only way to take more water is to add a couple more hand bottles, which adds enormously to the weight.

Usually I take just the Mule and ration the water. I’ve done this often enough to know that then I’ll run out a mile or two from the end, and can get in before I start seeing pink elephants. This outing I decided to drink whenever I was thirsty, and allow myself to suffer the remainder. I figure the same amount of water is better off inside me doing some good than being carried on my back while becoming the temperature of fresh coffee. The difference this run is that during the hottest weather I don’t usually go in this direction, and I rarely run as large a proportion as I did yesterday.

About a third of the way through the rocky section on the high south ridge I was surprised to see there’s a brand new trail intersection called the Dixie Mine Trail. There’s an official sign up that says Pemberton Trail in the direction you’re traveling, like all the others out there, but the one pointing at right angles to the new trail, off toward the mountains, has just a piece of paper taped to it with the name, so it must still be very new. I hadn’t been there since April, so hadn’t seen this before. A map indicates that it leads about four miles southwest and does not reconnect with Pemberton Trail, so giving vent to my curiosity would have added about eight miles to my trek.

I still managed to run over most of the trickier rocky portions of that section — in fact, except for once at about 2:00am last October while running the fifth lap of Javelina Jundred, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve caught a toe and bit the dust on that trail. I must be learning to pick up my feet.

There’s a descent from that ridge that leads back out to the trailhead that takes me about 25 minutes to cover coming the opposite direction on fresh legs on a cool morning, but by this time it was approaching 5:00pm. For part of it I was walking straight toward the sun, and couldn’t bring myself to run for several minutes. When I turned north on the piece that leads out, which is quite lumpy with short rise-and-fall hillets, it was challenging to keep going, because by this point I was mostly toast, but I still managed to make that section from the descent to the finish in 34 minutes, missing a sub-4:00 finish by 33 seconds. I headed out hoping for 4:15, so I was satisfied with that.

You may think 4:00:33 seems like a long time to cover 15.4 miles, particularly for one who claims actually to be “running” much of the way. I’ve run a Pemberton Trail loop in the fast direction in as little as 3:04 — in cool weather, carrying only a single water bottle, in a race (the first lap of Pemberton 50K in February, 2004), and rested from several days off in preparation. And you’d be right, it is a long time, but all I can say in response is that heat and weight and going that direction on that particular trail add a lot to the challenge.

Whew! Only six and a half of those puppies and you’ve done the Javelina Jundred! I think I have some training left to do.

As soon as I reached the edge of Fountain Hills, I found first that my cell phone worked again, so I could let Suzy know I was still alive and on the way home.

Then I hit the first convenience store I could find and got a drink so big it took two hands to carry it back to the car — must’ve been at least a half gallon. It was nearly gone by the time I got home, and when I weighed in I was still four pounds lighter than my morning weight.

This week will be an easy week, as I’m planning on running an all-night 12-hour session next Saturday night, hoping to get close to 50 miles, and want to be well rested for it.

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About Lynn

o Writer and Editor o Computer Technologist o Composer o Ultrarunner
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