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Only running 5 years, Davis woman ready to tackle 100-mile Sierra race

0606Pana2W

Davis' Roxana Pana runs the trail as she gets prepared for the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run on June 28. Willy Onate/Courtesy photo

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From page B1 | June 06, 2014 |

For most runners, a marathon is the summit.

But for Davis harrier Roxana Pana, those 26-milers are batting practice.

You see, Pana is a looooong-distance competitor and for her the summit is, well, the summit.

Pana — who has been running for less than five years — is one of only 360 worldwide entrants in the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run on June 28.

The all-terrain test traverses the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Squaw Valley to Auburn — a race that presents climbs of more than 18,000 feet and descents of 23,000 feet.

People from as far away as South Africa, Australia, Spain, Argentina, Italy and Great Britain (among 16 other countries) will brave narrow trails, rocky slopes, the dead of night and nature’s creatures …

So how did 37-year-old Pana — a self-described non-athlete whose most rugged pre-running competition was three years of tennis at Davis High — get involved in one of the most grueling events on Earth?

“I wanted to get healthy,” she says. “I started going to the gym. My favorite machine was the treadmill.”

While getting her work in, she realized the scenery never changed and indoor sessions got boring. A Facebook friend told her about marathons.

“’A marathon? What’s that?’ I asked,” remembers Pana, flashing that brilliant smile and shaking her head. “Really. I was not knowledgeable about running at all.”

Her indoor efforts had gotten her in the shape she craved, so before heading out on a 26.2-mile journey, she completed a practice 10K event. Pana reports all went well with that baby step, so her second outing was the California International Marathon in Sacramento.

“I just loved it. There were so many people out there and everybody was having fun,” Pana says with a laugh. “I know. It’s really weird because the longest run I ever did in training for that was 13 miles.

“I doubled my mileage and didn’t know what I was doing.”

Pana says her work ethic wasn’t proper, nor did she practice good nutrition: “Nothing. I just kind of went into it blind-sided. But it was neat to see all these people doing this, (and the support) from the spectators. I felt alive. There was just something about it … it was really, really special.”

After doing the hilly San Francisco Marathon, Pana got serious and wanted to qualify for the 2011 Boston Marathon. She hooked up with a running group from Fair Oaks and was told about training with Auburn’s Tim Twietmeyer, a five-time winner of the Western 100.

Pana says the goal was to get marathon-ready. It worked. She’s since run “seven or eight” marathons — including that 2011 Boston race, in which she ran a personal-best 3:20.

But along the way she mixed it up with Twietmeyer’s Trails group and became interested in endurance tests.

“At the time I thought ‘That’s for crazy’ people,’ ” Pana told The Enterprise.

Apparently Pana, too, was certifiable. In 2012, she tested herself in a 50K race in Cool. There’s a hill called K2 that breaks many a runner near that Sierra foothills town. Pana had to tackle it twice.

“It was horrible,” she remembers. “I fell and scraped my knee. Everything bad that could have happened. I stopped and almost cried. I couldn’t move anymore after that first K2 effort — up 1,000 feet in about a mile.”

But she survived — and just last weekend put in 70 miles of training for the big test. Pana said it was the most running she’s ever done in that short of time. She reported that all systems are go.

“I have three goals for the Western,” says Pana, who works at Tandem Properties as a human resource specialist. “First goal is, even if I’m at my lowest point, remember to have fun.

“My second goal is to not hurt myself really bad in this race. There’s a lot of medical risks associated with this race. It’s not good for you to do something like this.”

No kidding, especially when you consider Pana has already encountered a bear and rattlesnakes and negotiates trails that run alongside sheer cliffs (not user-friendly, especially at night).

“My third goal is to finish.”

Pana’s boyfriend Willy Onate, another Davis resident, runs with the Romanian native who moved to the United States when she was 9.

Onate won’t be in the June 28-29 race, although he’s run the Western several times. He has been an inspiration to Pana. The two met while working out in Auburn and “he’s beat me at every race … except the Lake Sonoma 50K. I got him there by 50 minutes,” Pana says proudly, again flashing her engaging smile.

The tangible stakes are not high — bronze and silver belt buckles are given for competitors who run the route in under 30 or 24 hours. All other finishers get a pat on the back from race officials (of which there are 1,500 volunteers along the treacherous 100 miles).

But from a sense of personal accomplishment and well-being, endurance running provides a metaphysicalsort of reward.

What’s it like in the middle of nowhere?

“It so beautiful. On a (long run) you think about work, you think about life. But most of the time, I don’t think about anything. It’s very meditative. Sometimes two or three hours go by and you don’t see anyone.

“Just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the scenery. Take it all in and get away from your regular life.”

Notes: The run is limited to 360 of the world’s top outback runners; potential competitors are awarded lottery tickets based on their previous accomplishments. Pana earned three tickets and was chosen from thousands of globewide hopefuls. … So what about triathlons for Pana? Seems like a natural next challenge. doesn’t it? “I don’t think so,” she says, laughing. “I don’t know how to swim.” … Pana’s mother Ioana was a civil engineer and lives in Davis. Roxana’s brother Victor works for Intel and lives in West Sacramento.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at bgallaudet@davisenterprise.net or 530-320-4456.

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