Running Through the Night

Saturday night I ran an all-night training run at Pemberton Trail, two full 15.4-mile laps plus the 9.2-mile partial loop that comes back on the Tonto Tank trail. It was my best trail training run in years.

Not a race, but a no-cost supported run, its purpose was primarily to train for the Javelina Jundred 100-mile trail race on November 4, 2006. Generous aid was provided at the trailhead by JJ race director Jimmy Wrublik and his father Rodger. Jimmy reports seventeen runners showed up.

In return for my efforts I won the “Most Memorable Performance” prize, the only award given. I had the choice of a pair of Patagonia silkweight shorts and a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila. I already had a pair of the shorts from the all-night 12-hour run at Nardini Manor last year, in support of the Katrina disaster, and don’t care for them, as I think they’re more like a playboy’s underpants than running shorts, so have never worn them. Happily, I drove off with the Jose Cuervo. I was strongly tempted to pop the lid and drink it on the way home, as the sun was just coming up. But that would have been a Bad Thing.

No I wasn’t. Just kidding. But the thought occurred to me as the bottle sat on the front seat next to me.

My total on-the-trail time was 10:39, but I logged it as three separate runs in my records because I had different objectives each loop. Every end I stopped my watch and took my time at the trailhead to regroup before heading out for the next. I won’t have that luxury at JJ.

When I looked at my logs from 2004, at which I ran the identical workout, but unaccompanied by a pacer, I completed it nearly an hour slower. I’m in better shape now than I was then.

The weather was utterly perfect all night, with a high in the mid-seventies at the start, when it was still light, to the low sixties by approaching sunup. We had the luxury of a full moon in totally cloudless skies. Moonrise began about a half hour after we took off, and the moon still had not set when I arrived home at 6:40am. It was glorious, bright enough for us to see our shadows, and made it possible to see everything for tens of miles around.

The JJ race itself will be held four weeks from yesterday, therefore also on the night of a full moon. The RD has always aimed to schedule it as close to that celestial event as possible.

One factor that enabled me to perform my best was running the entire distance with the person who will be my pacer during the night hours until the finish at JJ in a month: Laura Nagy, a superb runner I’ve known almost the whole time I’ve been ultrarunning. In 2003 she and Alene Nitzky co-directed my favorite race Across the Years, when the regular RD took a year off, so I had pleasant opportunity to work closely them both in helping to present that.

Laura is a multi-sport athlete who trains meticulously. At one time she was a 3:02 marathoner. She has won a number of ultras, finished well in some 100-mile races, and is now training for the Phoenix Ironman next spring. Though a software jockey by profession, she is an ACE certified trainer, and thoroughly expert in the technicalities of endurance sport. Helping motivated athletes to reach their goals, both with training advice and pacing is a service she enjoys providing voluntarily to people of her own choosing.

I didn’t directly ask Laura to be my pacer. She answered a query I put out to a local ultrarunning list for anyone who would be willing. Knowing her and her abilities as well as I do, I jumped at the chance.

Laura said that she had biked for three hours Saturday morning, and decided to stop because she didn’t want to be “too tired” to run all night. Sheesh.

One of the advantages of having someone so competent in my company was that I knew that no matter how often or how fast I wanted to run, she would be right there. I never once had to turn around and ask if it was okay to run, or if she was doing okay and needed a break.

Last night’s run was scheduled to start at 7:00pm, but as an untimed event, it didn’t matter when people started, nor how much or little they ran. Laura and I arrived at the site within seconds of each other just before 6:00pm. With getting set up, suitably pottied and ready to roll, we were able to take off by about 6:15. It was still light enough to see without flashlights for the first 1.5—2.0 miles.

We were both armed with superior green-LED flashlights. I also had my 3-LED Princetontec for backup, which was useful mainly at the trailhead for fussing with gear, also on the road for digging for electrolytes.

The single biggest mistake I made of the night was a failure of preparation: As I put on my footgear, following my usual ritual of taping, lubrication, and double sock rolling, I realized to my utter consternation that I had failed to glue velcro strips to the heels of the shoes I would wear, necessary in order to attach my gaiters. My option was to wear older gaiter-prepped shoes, but the newest of them have 600 miles on them, and I wasn’t willing to do that.

I definitely should have. I will never again run any trail without gaiters, as the way I run tends to kick up enough dirt and pebbles to fill the bed of a pickup, much of which ultimately finds its way beneath my feet, which comes to feel like running on a bed of pins.

In all I stopped at least eight times through the night to empty my shoes, to what I sensed was Laura’s increasing frustration with me, and could have stopped many more, as I ran many miles with shoes full of rocks until I could no longer stand it. As I write this, my heels in particular are still raw. Big mistake — real big mistake. But that’s what training runs are for: to rehearse our mistakes. Err … make that to identify them so we don’t make them again in a real race.

Laura had designed some sadistic plans for me, namely to run some hard uphills, and also to run a few other sections fairly hard. Though I raised an eyebrow at the notion of doing hill and speed training in a 40-mile training run, I had committed myself to trusting her guidance, as it provides for me the most realistic hope I have of making it to the end of JJ under the cutoff, after going 0-3 in that race for finishes. (The race’s dropout (DNF) rate has been close to 50% all three years.)

Therefore, I suggested we do the first loop the “hard” direction, where there is a 3.2-mile jeep trail that is steady uphill (therefore all downhill in the other direction). While not a difficult stretch by any reasonable standard, it’s sandy the whole span, so demands that the runner be on the lookout to plot the best line across the higher, harder-packed portions, made slightly more difficult in decreased light.

Run it I did, trying to keep my pace up, from Cedar Tank to the turn south at the northwestern extreme of the trail. The middle third of the trail I ran when I could, which was more often than not, and walked when I couldn’t. When we reached the rocky 3-mile stretch along the southern ridge, which is downhill, but tricky and laden with potential for extremely unpleasant injury if one falls, I managed to run almost all of it, working as I always do in that section on my technique of spotting and planting steps carefully, and lifting my feet so as not to catch a toe. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve tripped and fallen on that path, from which I conclude that my form has improved.

After coming down off that ridge, it’s a gentle two-mile run over undulating dirt mounds back to the trailhead, of approximately equal technical difficulty (not very) in either direction, though being at the start or end of a loop respectively does have an impact on one’s perception of its arduousness.

We completed the first loop in 3:32 — somewhat slower when I checked my watch than what I had guessed. I was thinking sub-3:15. Silly me. My PR for a loop, carrying only a single water bottle, is 3:04.

Our unrecorded turnaround time was somewhere around fifteen minutes, maybe a little more.

We headed out on the second loop the opposite, “easy” direction, with a different purpose in mind. We walked a fair amount of the first section, including most of the rocky ridge strip, and ran after that where we could, but I saved my best effort for the north jeep road, this time in the downhill direction. I stopped once at mid-point to empty shoes, take electrolyte and what have you, but overall it was a good piece of running. From Cedar Tank, immediately after which it becomes single track, back to the trailhead, we ran most of the downhills and walked the uphills, arriving at end-of-loop in a total of 4:23.

Regrettably, I made the mistake of inadequately replenishing my water supply after the first loop, thinking I had far more left in my 100-ounce Camelbak Mule than I did. I should have looked instead of hefting and squeezing it. Dumb mistake. As I result, I ran the whole last six miles entirely without water, and without that I was also reluctant to guzzle the chocolate Hammer Gel that I carried in a flask in my hand, that had begun to taste like medicine.

On all three loops, until the final mile, I ran ahead of Laura, being allowed to set my own pace rather than having to struggle to keep up with her, from which point I could also hear her better. (I have a slight hearing problem.) She could have run twice my speed if running for herself, but she never once suggested I should run when I was walking, or that I should pick it up. Knowing she was always right there was great incentive to keep going for longer.

We regrouped once again, perhaps a couple of minutes faster than after the first loop, and headed out for the third “Tonto” loop. Within thirty seconds I realized I didn’t have my green LED flashlight, so ran back to get it, adding another minute and a half to my loop time. Big deal, but I would not have wanted to do it with just my Princetontek, so I’m glad I noticed before I got any further.

At Javelina Jundred, the final portion consists of running out the counterclockwise direction to the aid station at the west Tonto Tank trail junction, then taking the easy 2.7-mile downhill trail back to the eastern junction, followed by a one-mile return to the trailhead on the same road we came out on, a total loop distance of 9.2 miles, and making a race total of 101.6 miles.

It was my determination to power walk the portion all the way from the trailhead to the Tonto Tank turnoff. Sometimes when I’m walking with someone I tend to walk a bit slower than I’m capable of, as I believe happened last night, because we got involved in chatting. In a training run it didn’t really matter. Besides which, my feet were hurting from all the rocks, both inside and outside my shoes.

When we finally hit Tonto Tank, after a final shoe-emptying session, I took off. Following a brief period where I got used to running again after not doing so for the past two hours, I started to push it as hard as I was still able, given that I already had over 36 miles on my legs for the day, that it was by this time around 4:30am, and as should go without mentioning, I’m 63 years old and have no talent for running whatever.

Soon I was in a zone, leaping over the speed bump logs placed like hurdles every 25 yards or so (an annoyance), extending both my stride and turnover, letting gravity pull me, as I tore down as fast as I dared without doing something dumb that would cause me to trip and be badly injured. A few times I checked over my shoulder to be sure Laura was still close by. How silly it was of me to think that my pace was in any way a challenge to her. The worst thing that happened was I once again had to make more adjustments in my foot placement to compensate for the confounded rocks in my shoes, which were beginning to feel like needles.

I ran every step of that stretch, all of it hard, until we reached the east terminus, upon which Laura reminded me we were not done. Oh yeah, we had another mile to go. This is when Laura at last took the lead, providing a practice session for what we will do at the end of the race, if we get that far. She began gently trotting and then walking about twenty steps each at a time, making some adjustments for the greater than average hills in that section, and gave me instructions to just follow and imitate her, which I did to the best of my ability.

The trailhead is not visible at nighttime until about 100 yards out, where there are still a few more lumpy hillettes to negotiate, but from that point on I ran it in. Laura began calling back to me from a bit before that: “It’s 29:55 … 29:56 …” At first, being thoroughly fried, I didn’t know what she was doing, but obviously she was simulating a close fight with the clock just before the cutoff. Finally, I came storming into the parking lot, and ran clear to the other side, where the aid station was still up, and a make believe finish line, before stopping my watch at 2:44:07.

Among the good things that happened last night was that I experienced not one single second of sleepiness. I carried caffeine tablets with me, but never took one, because I didn’t need one. Sometimes they work for me, but sometimes they don’t, or worse, they upset my stomach, so I won’t take one except as a measure to ward off relentless sleepiness.

I was never discouraged, nor did I wish I could just quit. Just as well, because once you’re out on that trail, quitting is not an option, short of waiting for a park ranger on an ATV or a $5000 helicopter ride to retrieve your sorry butt in the morning. When I finished my adrenalin was pumping, and save for my impaled feet, surely could have gone out for another loop if it had been in the plan. (But I’m glad it wasn’t.)

We were the last ones in. We sat down to chat with Rodger and Jimmy and Robert Andrulis for a few minutes, by which time the natural cooling off of my body combined with the early morning temperature led me to feel chilly. With dawn beginning to approach in the eastern sky, we packed up and went our various ways. Believe it or not, Laura dashed off to prepare to teach Sunday school this morning at 9:30. I don’t know how she does it.

For me, it’s a 45-minute drive home. By the time I got into Fountain Hills the lack of sleep started to make itself felt, requiring me to drive home with the utmost concentration. I arrived home safely, took a 15-minute shower, and crawled into bed, my wife still sound asleep, at 7:45, and slept for three hours.

Laura suggested an ice bath, which sounds like a good idea, but I was much too tired for such a thing when I got in. We had to go out in the late afternoon, and I considered soaking my legs in the shallow end of our swimming pool when we got back — but I just had to watch the St. Louis Cardinals beat San Diego. While watching it I ran our excellent massage vibrator over my legs, which helped a great deal.

Despite feeling sorer and more tired than I’ve been following a training run in years, overall, it was an enjoyable and beneficial outing that should go a long way toward preparing me for Javelina Jundred next month.

About Lynn

o Writer and Editor o Computer Technologist o Composer o Ultrarunner
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