Dennene Huntley Pangle of Edmonton, who won the 72-hour event at Across The Years on Friday, didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. While the names of people who run multi-day races are not familiar to many even in the running world (with a few exceptions), Huntley Pangle has been racing ultras and racking up impressive results for years. (Last year she finished second in the same event in Phoenix.) This year she matched last year’s mileage, even with three hours’ more sleep–one of several factors she attributes her win to.
Her voice still raspy from breathing Phoenix’s cold, desert air while running for three days and nights, Huntley Pangle (who is originally from Antigonish, N.S.) told us she felt stronger on Day 3 than she did last year, as a result of the extra sleep. “I wanted to see if could have a pretty good number while being healthier with sleep, and I achieved that,” she told us after returning home. With 379.39 kilometres, she won by 24K, and her 48-hour split (166 miles/267.26K) was a new personal best.
“Tarmac pounding” and changing coaches
What’s even more astounding is that eight years ago, Huntley Pangle, now 42, underwent surgery to repair a 14-millimetre hole in her heart that was discovered after an unrelated injury.
As a longtime track and roadrunner, Huntley Pangle has represented Canada in the 100K and 24-hour world championships, but between 2009 and 2012 she shifted more to trail and mountain running. Racing events like Sinister 7, the Canadian Death Race, and the Javelina Jundred, some years she did no road running at all. In the summer of 2019 she did a lot of trail running, but also some road training. “I think that’s what helped me this year (at Across The Years),” she says, referring to the “tarmac pounding” she and her husband Tony Pangle did in preparation for the event, where he finished in 30th position in his first 24-hour race after crewing his wife for her first two days on the course.
The runner, who works as GM of a security hardware company in Edmonton, also changed coaches in May of last year. Formerly coached by Western States course record-holder Ellie Greenwood, she is now coached by Dean Johnson, race director of the Lost Soul Ultra in Lethbridge. “Ellie and I are still great buddies,” says Huntley Pangle. “I just needed a change of perspective in my training… I knew that Dean coached, I’ve run Dean’s race, and he’s known me for several years.”
The folks behind the scenes
But possibly the most important factor in her success, Huntley Pangle says, is the people who help her get to the start line, and who keep her going when her body is telling her to quit–and she’s not just being nice. “Being an ultrarunner and doing big races, you can’t do these things on your own,” she says. “You need the support of your friends and your spouse, your boss, and whoever you meet to keep your body intact–physios, massage therapists… ” not to mention her crew, who kept her fed and motivated during the long hours of the race itself. “…You see the athlete win, but what you don’t always see is everything that happens behind the scenes,” she adds. “That’s what it takes.”
For Huntley Pangle, one of the toughest aspects of multi-day racing is how quiet it gets at night, since many racers and their crews are trying to get some sleep. “It’s really, really dark and quiet,” she say. “During the day, there are so many people around, but at 2 a.m. it’s like zombie-land. Anybody who’s actually out there is barely moving, and it’s freezing cold…” She refers to racers like Pete Kostelnick and Matt Shepard as “night ninjas” who, like her, try to take advantage of the night for adding miles–but because the track is a mile long, she barely saw them, even though she knew they were out there. “It can be so lonely,” she says. “Your crew have to work extra hard to keep you going… you have to find reasons to keep going… but that’s where you rack up the miles and you can get ahead of your competitors.”