Not long ago if you asked me if I’d run in a 100K race, I’d reply, accompanied by a version of stink-eye, by asking you if you thought I was an idiot. Run 100K?? Who does that? And why when there’s motorcycles for that. What type of looney tune runs that far? On purpose!!
As fate would have it, and for some unknown reason, last year I was asked to crew my friend Dennene for her 100 Mile race in Fountain Hills, Arizona. The race is called Javelina Jundred, named after the wild pig called a javelina (pronounced have-a-lina). What’s also cool about this race is that costumes are encouraged because the race is on Halloween (or close to it). Why not? It will be an interesting adventure. Little did I know that when I got to the race site and met a few cacti, one of the first thoughts that pounced into my head was “I have to run this race!” The race hadn’t started yet and I wanted to run it. Suddenly I am one of “those idiots” who is gearing up to run 100K. And yes, I know there’s motorcycles for that sort of thing.
Flash forward a year and it’s my turn to wear a race bib at Javelina. Done was the heat training, the wearing of many sweat-filled layers during runs and the odd race to prepare for the anticipated desert heat. Yep, here I was back in the desert looking forward to running my first 100K race. Strangely I had a certain calm about me. I knew that I would finish the race due to my brute force stubbornness. However, race day is race day and anything can happen.
The race expo didn’t disappoint as the venue had changed, was a lot larger, and a more features were added. Our bib pictures were taken in front of a wagon, much better than the standard race backdrop.
The swag! One thing about Javelina is that the swag is pretty sweet! A drop bag, buffs, technical long sleeve, sticker pack, and assorted other goodies filled the bag. Seeing what was in our drop bag was almost like Christmas morning, except this was Halloween.
One of my highlights of coming to Javelina is seeing Catra Corbett, Dirt Diva, again. Not only is Catra an amazing runner, her story is pretty darned impressive. She’s made the journey from being a drug addict to an incredibly inspiring ultra runner. One word to describe Catra is colorful, the other word is delightful. A truly genuine, sweet soul and such a pleasure to be around.
After some milling around, shopping, picture taking, and enjoying the desert sun and cacti, it was time to get me and my crew ready for tomorrow’s race. Ask me how I felt about the race, the answer was “meh”. Yes I’m looking forward to it and I’m not a bundle of nerves about it. Good place to be.
Race Day!! My crew Dennene, is set up for the day and will be crewing 3 runners in addition to me. Our spot is small but efficient. Very much describes my crew as well. Gear, chairs, food, yep we’re set. We were able to MacGyver some shade with a nylon something and duct tape. Believe me, shade will be much desired later in the day.
It’s still dark when the 100 Mile runners start their race and us 100K guys go out an hour later just before sunrise. It’s spectacular to see the rising sun in the desert. And it’s cooler at this time too. The temptation is to run out fast to get as far as one can before the heat hits. However, that can be “quicksand” for one’s race because if one is tired before the heat hits, little chance of recovery. My plan is to go out slower and be consistent throughout the day and into the night. After all my big uber goal for this race is to have fun, most important. I did set my race goals with my A goal is to sub (come in before) 22 hours, B goal is to sub 24 hours, and C goal is to finish the race. Okay now let’s get this party started before I have to pee again. Javelina Jundred 100K, let’s go!
Javelina Jundred is unique in that it is a looped race run in washing machine fashion. Loops 1, 3 & 5 go clockwise and loops 2 & 4 go counter clockwise. 100K runners do 3 loops and 100 Mile runners do 5 loops. Loop 1 has an extra bit on the end to make up the distance for the 100K and 100 Mile. Plus the scenery is a bit different during this section. What’s neat about the way Javelina is run is that we get to see each other on the course all day and night by meeting each other going in opposite directions. When runners meet each other, encouragement is given and we get to check out the costumes on course. Honestly, this is a very friendly race.
Loop 1. Just after sunrise is pretty darned nice. I went out in a power-walk to warm up good and conserve energy for later in the race. I am wearing my cooling gear (hat, sleeves and ice bandana) so that I am cool right from the get-go and not waiting until I’m heated. Right now I’m having fun checking out the cacti scenery, admiring the landscape, and chuckling at the guy who was sidelined to pick out a nice hunk of cactus from his leg. I could tell by his speech that he wasn’t amused with his thorny new friend. And how does one go about removing a hunk of cactus, other than carefully?
I did take a few pictures, one of me with a Teddy Bear Cholla cactus. Point to note that Teddy Bear Cacti are also known as jumping thorn cacti. The thorns are nasty creatures which will embed themselves deeply into the skin. Definitely not a cactus to pick a fight with. In this picture even though I didn’t touch the cactus, I had a few thorns in my shirt, which, were quickly removed once my thumb discovered they were there. In the moonlight the thorns shimmer, quite pretty. Still a nasty cactus.
Prickly pear cacti!! They’re huge here!! The bushes are as tall as what I am. And the big cacti are TALL!! Yes I am a cactus nut, love the thorny creatures. As I was taking pictures of cacti, one lady commented that I wasn’t from Arizona. My reply was “isn’t that obvious?”
Before long I was at Coyote Coyote camp aid station and heard one of the volunteers shout out that Fireball was ready to go. Yeesh!! Too early in the morning for that stuff! I made sure my water and ice were full, grabbed an orange-vanilla GU gel (tasted decent) and off I went towards Jackass Junction Aid station. What I did notice during this loop was that I was catching up to people and passing them even though I was still power-walking. Sweet!! Every once in a while I checked my Garmin to see what my pace was and promptly forgot what it was. I was having too much fun among the cacti. I soon started to see the 100 Mile runners coming from the opposite direction and began looking for my friend Ryan. There he was in 5th place! Yes, I was counting.
After Jackass Junction I started to ultra shuffle and kept pace behind a fellow for a good long time. I met up with my friend Jon on course and after a hug and encouragement, kept on going to Rattlesnake Ranch Aid Station where again, top up and ice up. Shortly after Rattlesnake Ranch I turned left after seeing Fred Flintstone complete with rumble car to go onto the “bonus” section of loop one. Selfie time! I had the thought of doing this each loop, however that didn’t pan out. Off into the Lousley Hills, that I will refer to as Cactus Canyon and I’m feeling pretty good.
Okay imagine this: cactus filled canyon at high noon with the sun overhead beating down into the canyon. It was 90F (32C) on course and hotter in the canyon. What got old quick were the 10,000 switchbacks to run up and down until FINALLY emerging from the canyon only to have a photographer scare the bejezzus out of me. That was the longest (and hottest) 5K of my life and I was glad it was over. I was actually glad to see the photographer because that meant there was life in the desert besides me and the tents of Start/Finish Headquarters were “right there” and that meant my crew was waiting for me and so was the watermelon in the cooler.
After being in that switchback inferno the watermelon and the Bolthouse Watermelon-Lemonade-Mint juice was going down pretty good. Dennene refreshed my ice bandana and stuffed more ice down my cooling sleeves. My feet and fingers had swelled a bit, so Dennene loosened my shoes. (Note: I should have clued into something here, but I didn’t.) I took a couple more minutes longer to cool off before I was good to go and off I went onto Loop 2 and into the midday heat.
Loop 2. Even though the day was warm (duh, it is the desert), I honestly didn’t find it too too bad. Heat training paid off. I did notice that something was picking my back from my pack and had to keep arranging and trying to see if I could dislodge it. (Note to self here about the irritation. Really!! Seriously!!)
Before I got to Rattlesnake Ranch I caught up to a nice fellow named Doug, who is from Phoenix and is also doing his first 100K. Because we were matched in pace and it was nice chatting to someone, we hung out for the rest of the loop. It was nice having my own personal “tour guide” who talked about the cacti, scorpions, wildlife, what javelina are really like (they like laying on prickly pear cacti, who knew?), and all sorts of things. I found out that those big, tall cacti grow only a foot every 100 years! Unreal.
At Jackass Junction we saw one of the contenders for the Best Ass award. Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, right there was a set of pretty darned nice cheeks flossed by a red thong. Definitely worth almost tripping over my feet for. Dammit!! Didn’t have my camera ready. Truth: in the afterglow of seeing a fine ass spectacle I forgot I had a camera. Heck, I’m not sure if I even remembered what my name was.
Between Jackass Junction and Coyote Camp the sun was setting and did not disappoint in the views. We went as far as we could without our headlamps, however it came the time to light up and prevent tripping on one of the gazillion rocks that enhanced the trail. Even in the night runners encouraged each other when meeting and passing. Coyote Camp had it’s own surprise as it was decked out like Christmas with the lights, trees, and music. Serving the gingerale was someone I recognized and asked if he was Sage Canaday. It was!!! (just Google Sage to see what a gifted runner he is) I asked if I could get a picture of us and he joyously obliged!!! Woohoo!! A picture of me and Sage!! Talk about race fuel at it’s finest.
During the stretch between Coyote Camp and Headquarters Doug and I talked about the anticipation of the next loop being with our pacers. Dennene was going to come out with me and Doug’s daughter (if I remember correctly) was going out with him. Yay!! Something to look forward to for our final loop. We entered Headquarters, bode each other farewell and a good race, and we each ventured off to our crew stations for aid and refueling.
At my crew station I changed shoes from my Altra Olympus to my Lone Peaks 3.5 because my feet were sore and a change may be good. I also changed from my top from day clothes into warmer night clothes because desert nights can be cold. During my time at Headquarters there were a couple of comments that my pack was heavy. Well dammit, water is heavy. However, Dennene did take some stuff out of my pack because by this time I wasn’t eating much. (Note to self: note why feet were sore) I donned on my big headlamp, my pack, and off I went alone into the night for my final loop.
Loop 3. It’s quite peaceful at night and the stars were out. The Javelina course is well marked and aside from the stars I was also looking for course markers. I did take note that the Teddy Bear cacti shimmer pretty in the moonlight. Still a nasty cactus. For some reason I looked down and saw in front of my feet a scorpion. Wow!! A scorpion. I watched it shrink into protect mode and left it be. Oh man! I wished I could tell Doug that I saw a scorpion!
Ryan and his pacer caught up to and passed me and I was solo again when I heard someone come up beside me and ask where my pacer was. I turned and asked where his pacer was. It was Doug!! As fate would have it, neither of our pacers came out with us so here we are together for the last loop. What a nice surprise for both of us!
Coyote Camp came quickly and what did I spot on the table? BACON!! 2 pieces of bacon left, one for me, one for Doug. Made us happy. After a quick refuel, off we went onto what seemed the longest stretch ever to get to Jackass Junction. What became apparent were the thermoclines of the desert and some of those spots were downright cool! It’s a good thing that I changed into warmer clothes at Headquarters.
After what seemed to be almost forever and a gazillion rocks, we reached Jackass Junction where we took a quick sit break and made sure we were fueled. I said quick because even though Jackass Junction is known for the party spot on the trail, it was nippy at that aid station. Teeth almost chattering, off we went to Rattlesnake Ranch.
Aside from my feet complaining, I was feeling pretty good except for the fact that I had to pee what seemed like every 50 feet. Good grief!! I felt like the kid who has to go to the bathroom 10 minutes after leaving home. GAAAHH!!! (Note to self: next time change from compression shorts into something not so snug unless I really want the workout and anxiety.)
The good news about the trail from Jackass Junction to Rattlesnake ranch is that it’s flatter and almost has a downhill slope. The bad news about the trail is that we could see the lights of Rattlesnake Ranch for about 5 miles before we got there. Talk about following the Star of Bethlehem! After what seemed to feel like almost forever, we FINALLY emerged into Rattlesnake Ranch and the bonfire that was waiting.
While it would have been romantic and all to barrel through, we decided to take a sit and enjoy the bonfire for a few minutes. Doug feasted on ramen and I was happy to enjoy the fire and chat with the aid station volunteers who joined around the fire. After a nice break it was time to go forth. Then the sweetest news of all, “it’s only 3.6 miles to Headquarters.” Oh yeah!!!! I looked at my watch and realized that we were in good shape to sub 22 hours. Let’s do it!
By this time the moon had decided to hide behind the mountain leaving the world black except for headlamps. That didn’t matter as we were coming in for the finish. Sub 22 and we’re both feeling pretty proud of ourselves. First 100K almost in the bag!
The suddenly, the lights of headquarters were in front of us and so was the Hoka arch. I told Doug to nail it in for his family. Dennene came running and pointed out that I had 7 minutes and something to go around the loop and finish. My response was that “yeah, I’m doing it.” When I got to the crew station I saw my Canadian flag draped on the chair. I grabbed it and made the final power-walk in.
I saw the clock, 3:57 and I knew that I subbed 22 hours. My first 100K!! Tears came to my eyes when I realized my accomplishment and also saw Dennene and Stacey at the finish line. Wow!! I did it! I dropped my buckle right after it was handed to me, but after I picked it up I wasn’t letting it go. I said to Dennene and Stacey that I was so happy the I subbed 22 hours. They looked at me and said that I didn’t sub 22 hours. I think the look of confusion on my face spoke volumes until Dennene told me that I subbed 21 hours!!
I broke down and cried. Not only did I finish my first 100K race, I smashed my A goal by a little over an hour! I was dumbfounded. My “A” goal was a “shoot for the moon” type thing and I did it. I have my buckle to prove it which more than makes up for all of ribbons and track awards that I didn’t get in school.
2 pairs of Altra shoes, 1 pair of Altra gaiters, a desert, and a boatload of desire = a 100K belt buckle and a new level of realization that I can do anything I put my mind to.
As of right now I don’t know what my 2018 races will be. However, I have the feeling I will be challenging myself yet again. And maybe in a place where there’s said to be cacti.