Sunday, November 13, 2011
Javelina Jundred...100 Miles in the Arizona Desert
On November 12th and 13th, I ran the Javelina Jundred trail race in Fountain Hills Arizona. The race is run in a beautiful desert park on a 15.4 mile loop which is run 6 times, alternating direction with each loop. The 7th and final loop sends the runners down a cutoff trail and is 9 miles long. The total actual distance for the race is 101.4 miles.
This race intrigues me because a lot of 100 mile veterans will refer to this race as "easy". I think that statement is ridiculous. Personally, I don't care about climate or topography, running 100 miles is never easy. Although, I do agree some events are more technical or challenging, but this should never be referred to as an easy race.
This sign is posted at the start/finish line, so we won't forget to alternate directions for each loop.
The Javelina Jundred was my HCM fund raiser for 2011. Thanks to the generosity of so many people, I was able to raise more than $3,000 for the foundation. This money will go to support the needs of families in our community that are struggling in the face of cancer. Thanks to everybody that donated!
As usual, Jo would be crewing for me and managing my race. We went to packet pickup at Javelina Jeadquarters on Friday afternoon, then started getting everything assembled for the following day.
I felt very prepared coming into this race. I had run a lot this year with very little time focused on recovery, but nonetheless, I felt like I was in the best shape of my life. As a result, my mind was at ease leading up to the race and I was very focused. I assembled a reasonable race plan before the event and I felt confident that I would meet my goals.
One of my favorite aspects of ultra running is the opportunity I have to visit beautiful places. And there is no better way to enjoy this beauty than to be surrounded by it on the trails that run through those places. McDowell Mountain Regional Park was no exception. I have always loved the desert landscape, and this area offers some of the most stunning scenery in Southern Arizona.
Here a few examples...
The race started at 6:00 AM on Saturday and there were 400 runners registered to run. While this race is considered easier than a lot of 100 milers, it still has a 50% drop out rate. We need to face it...no matter where a race is held, running 100 miles is pretty damn difficult. And despite what I had heard about this course, I found it to be very challenging.
The race start...
We arrived to the race start an hour early so we could set up our crew spot and get acquainted with the area. It was a very cool morning, which is ideal running weather. We staked out a spot near the start line and set up for the long day and night ahead. This is something that Jo had become quite used to.
The race started promptly 6:00. The trails are mostly double track, mixed with some jeep roads, so the field thinned out quickly and I never felt crowded. I kept a very easy pace but felt strong and let my legs dictate the effort. My plan was to run easy enough that it never felt difficult. I simply settled into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the run.
The trail has a very gradual incline with a few short, but steep hills. This continues for the first 6 miles or so, then begins an equally gradual descent toward the finish of the loop. While they were noticeable in the beginning, they became daunting later in the race.
I finished my first 15.4 mile loop in 2:25, which was faster than what I had outlined in my race plan. But because it never felt labored, I wasn't worried about it.
I grabbed some fuel from Jo and headed right back onto the course.
The race format alternates directions for each loop, so I headed out the way I just came from. I enjoyed this because I was always encountering other runners and it provided a lot of opportunity to give and receive support. Even in the deepest throes of depression and defeat, trail runners tend to have a great attitude and are always quick with a kind word.
This format also gave me a chance to see the elite runners several times during the day. It was impressive to see them running so hard, but appear to be doing it with very little effort.
I was particularly interested in watching Hal Koerner because he was the favorite to win and I happen to be a pretty big fan. By the second loop, he was leading the race.
I continued to run strong and feel good. The end of the second lap was right at the 50K mark. I finished that distance 3 minutes shy of my 50K PR. This worried me a little bit because I thought I was probably running too hard in the early miles. But as I evaluated everything, I still felt good and didn't want to slow up too much early on.
Me at the end of my second loop...
I hit a bad patch in the middle of the third loop because the sun came out with a vengeance and was slowly cooking me to death. Being in the desert, we had no cover to provide shade and I was being sapped of all my energy. I took in more fluids and slowed my pace in an effort to ease my suffering. But I still felt like crap and began to fall off my race plan and was passed by several runners. When I got to Jo at the start line, I told her that I was falling apart and was worried about the race. She did her best to care for me, get me patched up, and she sent me back out to the trail.
A few miles into my 4th loop, I bounced back and sped back up easily. I regained all the positions I had lost on the earlier loop, and I took a few more spots on top of that. I was feeling very good and took the opportunity to run along side other runners and socialize. This was the high point of my race.
These pictures were taken near the end of my 4th loop.
I finished the 100K distance in 11:43:47, which seemed like a decent time, although it's a distance I have never tried to compete in, so I had never given it any thought.
Heading out for my 5th loop, I was ahead of my race plan pace and was worried I would blow up if I tried to get greedy, so I deliberately slowed down and went very easy. I still had 40 miles to run and I knew anything could happen to derail me.
I had been having fueling issues during the entire race because nothing appealed to me at the aid stations. As a result, I ate very little during the entire 100 miles. I could feel the result of it during the 5th loop, but there wasn't anything I could about it. I ate what I could, but it was never enough to keep up with the energy I was burning.
When I came into the crew area at the end of my 5th loop, it was time to get ready for night time running. It was still warm, so I grabbed my head lamp and decided to skip extra layers.
Me getting prepared to head into the night...
I also grabbed my friend Aaron, who had planned to run with me during the night. Aaron has never done any ultra distance running and has certainly never paced before. But I thought it would be a nice distraction to have somebody with me late in the race. It was nice to have the company and he got the opportunity to experience the world of ultra running.
Aaron ready to head out...
A few miles into the 6th loop, it began to rain and it turned cold instantly. I was only wearing a singlet and a pair of shorts and I began to struggle. Additionally, the trails began to to turn to slop in several places and made running in the dark even more challenging. It was slow and brutal and I felt helpless against it. At an aid station near the end of the loop, I begged a garbage bag from the volunteers and covered up as best I could. The difference was amazing and I felt much better.
After returning to the crew area at the start line, I changed my shirt, added another layer, pulled on my hat, gloves and rain gear, and headed out for the final 9 mile loop.
The last 9 miles were as bad as they get. I was wet, tired, cold, and demoralized due to the rain. And to top it off, the trails had continued to deteriorate and several sections were impossible to deal with. I resigned myself to a slow slog through the mud, knowing it was almost over.
My race plan called for a sub 22 hour finish. I was very aware of the clock time during the final loop and began to doubt my ability to achieve that goal. As we descended off the last hill and I hit the final flat section leading to the finish line, I ran as hard as I could with my remaining energy.
I crossed the line at 21:57:52 and was elated to be finished. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and was happy that my plan worked out.
I was also excited to see that Hal Koerner held his lead and won the race, posting a time of 13:47:46. That just might be the most amazing thing I ever witnessed.
Here is the picture of Hal crossing the finish line. What a guy!
As for me, I was happy to be in the same race as many elite runners and I loved seeing them at work doing what they do best. It was a fun, festive event, but still very challenging. It is definitely a race to remember!