The 50mi Old Pueblo race last Spring was quite an experience, and I really thought that would be it for the long runs for me. But as the Summer wore on the itch to do something else grew. OK, maybe just needed something to keep me 'busy', and exploring the trails around the Flagstaff area. So I decided to commit a couple months to train for the Javalina Jundred (100 mi). What was I getting myself into?
The Javalina Jundred is run on a 15.2 mile loop on trails and rough double-track through the Sonoran Desert that gains about 600 feet to the midpoint (the Jackass Junction aid station). The north side of the loop is smooth as silk, wonderfully runable. The south side of the loop is rockier – a bit technical at times, with some opportunities to turn an ankle if you're not paying attention. Overall, it's a great desert course well-suited to be someone's first 100 miler. The Start/Finish point of each loop serves as the primary aid station (Javalina Jedquarters), where you can see your crew at the completion of each segment. There are two other aid stations within 2 miles of Javalina Jedquarters...all are well stocked. The race is composed of six loops around this course, with a final 9 mile short-loop to finish it off. The race is run washing-machine style, where each loop is run in the opposite direction – it’s a unique aspect of this race which makes it wonderfully social - you’re continually passing people on the course, can track the leaders, and see your friends several times during the race. Quite a bit different from a point-to-point ultra when you can be alone for hours on the course without seeing another soul.
My training for the event included a lot of long, slow runs, as well as plenty of hiking/walking miles. I was attentive to plan out my hydration and nutrition, and was determined to keep a close eye on how my body was responding to the abuse. I was acutely aware of how the smallest of pains and negative signals can quickly grow into very large problems if they’re not attended to. With 100 miles and about 29 hours out on the course, I didn't want to be dealing with any issues that I couldn't manage. I was most concerned about nutrition/hydration, blisters, and chaffing (I've fallen victim to them all at one point or another).
The Race is On! Loop 1: Started off the race in the cool pre-dawn darkness – temperatures in the 50s with forecast high temps in the upper 70s – perfect weather! The first lap felt very good, I adopted the typical run 5 – walk 1 min strategy – and took it very conservatively. My goals was to run the first loop in 3.5 hours (ended up timing it about right). Settled into a pace and met a couple of other runners going about the same speed (Eve and Shannon) and ran for them for much of the loop. Can’t tell you how much it helps to run with other folks.
The sunrise was beautiful in the clear desert air, and it was exhilarating. Just couldn’t quite grasp that I’d still be out here to watch another sunrise 24 hours later. I had an electrolyte drink (Tailwind) in my hydration pack and a vanilla-flavored supplement (Hammer Perpetuem) in my carried water bottle, and was focused on drinking a lot early in the race. The combination of the two really didn’t agree with my stomach, but I pressed on with the combination. Snacked at every opportunity and aid station. I had the honor of running with Gordy Ainsleigh (pioneer of the 100mi ultramarathon and the Western States race) for a part of this lap – now that was inspirational! He's still rocking it on the ultra scene at 68 years!
I ran loop 2 with Eve. These next two laps were going to take us through the heat of the day. Knowing this, Eve was determined to take it easy and save reserves for later. I bucked my desire to go faster and joined in her wisdom. My plan was to finish the 2nd and 3rd loops in 4 hours each. Eve is an astonishing athlete, and has an amazingly fast hiking pace – it was a relentless - kept me going well but not too hard. I stuck with the Tailwind / Hammer combination – but I was tiring of it quickly (stomach was, well, unsettled). We jogged/walked up the hill to the high point on the loop, re-applied sunscreen at the boisterous Jackass Junction aid station, refilled the water bottle and pack,snacked on potatoes dipped in salt, PJ sandwiches, then decided to take it slow on the downhill 8.5 miles back to the starting point.
Probably a good decision. My legs/body really wanted to break out and run this section downhill, but knowing my goal was still over 70 miles away made the decision to reel it in. At the aid station about two miles from the start/finish point, I switched to straight ice water in the hydration pack – Wow – what a difference that made. I was sick of my own electrolyte drinks by this point, and NOTHING tasted better at that point than the cold fresh water in that pack. I felt alive, and got a second wind and pushed it in to complete lap 2. We completed the loop in just about 4 hours – right on my goal pace – it was now 1:30 pm, and hot down at Javalina Jedquarters. I was feeling good - no problems at all with the feet, legs, stamina, or head. Onward!
Loop 3: Again, Eve kept up a blistering hiking pace up the hills of Lap 3 – this was good for me. Again it was relentless, but reasonable. One thing about participating in an ultra (for a slow dude like me) is that you have to be mindful of the cut-off times; you just can’t stop and rest for a long time. My goal was to finish in around 29 hours which would allow for some slower loops, but there was no taking it easy. I wasn’t too tired at this point, and my feet / muscles were feeling OK. Always had to remind myself I...must...keep....going. Reached Jackass Junction aid station (high point about ½ way around the loop) around 4 PM.
After a quick bite and refresh at Jackass Junction, we ran on. The atmosphere was awash in the late afternoon turn to relative coolness, and it was extremely rejuvenating. At this time I really had to stretch it out, kick up my pace and run – let the legs run free. I ran through the evening and sunset back down that silky north half of the loop. These were my best, and favorite miles of the run! It was a beautiful sunset, cooling down nicely, and of course I had to stop several times to take photos. Ah well! Made it back at 5:45 PM…which was about 15 minutes behind my scheduled pace.
There’s something very special about the smell and taste of fresh grilled meat 46 miles into a race – and the burgers and pizza felt heaven-sent at that point. I took it all, and ate to my heart’s content. I feel lucky, I've never had any stomach issues eating heartily during my long training runs or races.
Loop 4: There are special angels in the world, and they are called pacers. Nothing can pick you up better after over 11 hrs of running than having a good friend join you in the journey! Katherine paced me for the 4th lap (miles 46 - 62), and she truly was the best combination of angel and warrior. In the deepening night as the stars started to come out and a chill tinged the air, Katherine was faithful in keeping me on pace. It was dark and my body was starting to reject the idea of running through the night (instead of the usual couch and coffee), and reject the thought of any of the food I was carrying. Thank goodness the aid stations were sooo well stocked. Katherine kept me going up the hills nice and quick – kept me on pace. It felt good.
Grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich or two (heaven sent!) at Jackass Junction, and kept it going through the darkness for the 2nd half of the loop. Lap 4 was completed in just over 4hr 30 min. I had completed the first 62 miles in 16hr 19 min – just over my goal of 16 hrs for the first 62 miles.
Loop 5: I picked up Dawn as a pacer on Lap 5 (is was now 10:50 pm). Dawn did a wonderful job pacing on this lap, and keeping me going aggressively. I ran where I could - with Dawn keeping a great pace that pushed me well up the hills. After so many miles/hours on the trail I now found myself zoning out – and started the battle with exhaustion and lack of sleep. To keep me focused and on the trail I concentrated on the back of Dawn’s reflective shoes - mile after mile – it was simple, and kept me on track. All I had to do was concentrate on her shoes, simplify and focus, she’d know the way and keep me out of trouble. There were times that I couldn't go in a straight line – veering off track without noticing (watch out for that cholla!). Also had my first hallucination at this point (or was it a dream?). On a positive note the Jackass Junction aid stations was really rocking loud now; those folks had a good ol’ dance party going strong for us all – music loud, lights bright, and enthusiastic staff. Thanks guys! Oh, and more grilled cheese!
Loop 6: Katherine took over for loop six (78 miles in with 24 to go!) at around 3:30 am. I was bushed, but couldn't afford to lose any time and had to stay on the pace needed to complete the race. I was so tired – couldn’t focus. At all. I had my first sleep-walking experience, and just couldn't keep my eyes open while I was moving. I had also lost any semblance of an appetite. Not hungry for anything at this point. But I knew I had to get some nutrition and energy...and started eating the GUs and other Gels that I brought for the race – and that did the trick. They kicked in, cleared my head, and got me going on this lap. After Jackass Junction the sun finally began to lighten the western horizon…and was blessed with another beautiful Arizona sunrise as Katherine and I posed like saguaros.
Finished this lap in 5 hours, we were closing in on a finish!
The last lap – 9 miles to go! God bless Dawn who paced me on this last short lap. Started around 8:20am, and it was already getting very warm. For the first time I realized that I was actually going to finish this beast – I had made it through the first 91 miles in 26.5 hours, leaving me with a very reasonable 3.5 hours to finish the last 9. I could take it 'easy'. That thought filled my mind, and I strove to enjoy what I could of that last lap. Dawn and I passed several runners in the first 2 miles…then everyone else seemed to turn into Supermen (or Wonderwomen). I couldn’t believe how many other participants were turning up the throttle with 5 miles to go, cranking it up and running hard for the finish. What was up? These folks had guts! I tried to pick up the pace as they blew past me, but just fell short of maintaining any sort of run. Mentally, I was done. Kaput. Dawn noticed that I hadn't been eating at all over the past couple hours, and encouraged some consumption, which did help my energy. After what seemed like hours in the increasing furnace of the day, the end was in sight. And suddenly, I found another gear. I ran. I ran hard to the finish line – and it felt good. Where was that feeling/energy 4 miles ago?? As I've come to learn...so much of running is in the mind, the body can push far past what the mental blocks that we put up. I pushed through the finish at 29:16:23 to the cheers of the great crowd at the finish.
Epilogue: It’s Monday afternoon, 24 hours after the completion of the Javalina Jundred – and surprisingly, I’m feeling well. Yesterday evening after driving home from the race I couldn’t move, my muscles tied in knots. Nothing was going to get me off the couch - I had the chills, immensely tired and shivering in my warm living room. I took an hour-long hot bath that felt heavenly (I still don’t see the attraction of ice-baths). That evening I fell asleep through the deciding game of the World Series (unbelievable and inexcusable!). Now the day after the race I’m sore, a bit stiff, but feel great. My mind is rejuvenated – I feel like I can do anything, and am up for the challenge for another endurance event. I never thought I’d say this, but the Javalina Jundred has whet my appetite for another 100mi ultra. And yes, I’ve put in for Western States.
Again, I have to thank Dawn, Katherine, who paced me on this journey. Without their determined pace and company, I don't think I would have made the cutoff. Thank you so much!
Some final thoughts...
- Great course, wonderful directors, aid stations stocked with large variety of good food (and even better people). Well done!
- 195 / 369 men finished (53% finish rate). 86 / 147 women finished – (58% finish rate)
- I came in 265th out of 518 overall (counting those that didn't finish makes me feel better!).
- Best aid station foods? Burgers. Hot Dogs. Grilled cheese, Coke and Mtn Dew!
- Devon Yanko – can you believe it? She's a beast.
- Somehow avoided stumbling into a cactus.
- No blisters!
- Recovery was much faster than anticipated.
- The mind game of being 'tired', then finding energy when the end was in sight.
- Very cold temps late at night (loop 6)! Must have been been in the low 40s in some of the ravines. Would have liked to have had my gloves – maybe another layer, but ultimately I was fine.
- Mirna Valerio singing while she ran during that beautiful sunrise in the middle of loop 6. So inspirational!
- Really appreciated the looped course – allowed me to easily break it up into ‘pieces’ that I could mentally navigate.
- How I couldn't think clearly when I was so tired. Honestly couldn’t tell Dawn how to make the flash work on my little camera!
- Top finisher was Giblin Paisley – who was only 1 min 34 sec off Hal Koerner’s record (13:49:17). He was doing around 8 minute miles for almost 14 hours – simply amazing.
Yes, I'll probably be back next year.