This was my second journey to Southern Arizona to run the Javelina Jundred trail race. It found its way onto my race schedule again because I had so much fun last year and the race has such a festive atmosphere.
The 2011 Javelina Jundred saw a massive amount of attrition due to hypothermic inducing weather conditions. This years race brought quite the opposite, with temperatures reaching scorching highs on the desert floor which forced many runners to drop due to dehydration and other heat related maladies.
The Javelina Jundred is a 101.4 mile race, which consists of six 15.4 mile loops and a 9 mile finish loop. The monotony of the loops is broken up a little because we change direction after each loop.
The trail is a fair mix of smooth Jeep roads, double track and single track trails. There is a decent amount of somewhat technical trail, littered with an ample number of pointy rocks for a runner to kick and stumble over along the way.
Honey Badger Don't Care!
Hal Koerner. One of the top distance runners in the world and an all around great guy.
I also got to meet one of the top female ultra runners in the world. Jenn Shelton has posted the fastest female 100 mile finish time in the United States. She's super tough and very cool. I had wanted to meet her for years and finally got my chance this weekend.
Jenn Shelton before the race.
I was a little concerned about this race because my body was still shot from the Oil Creek 100, which I had run two weeks earlier. Oil Creek boasts almost 18,000 feet of climbing and I had pushed that race pretty hard. Running 100 mile trail races so close together is difficult, especially if you want to run them hard. Which I planned to do.
I had a very aggressive race plan for Javelina, which I realized may be for too aggressive. I kept reminding my crew that there was a very high probability that I would fall well short of my goals. As a "Plan B" I was prepared to have a sub-24 hour finish, and I would pretend to be happy with that.
It was very cool at the start of the race. Perfect running weather, which means it's too cold to enjoy while standing still, but will feel great once we get moving.
6 AM Race Start! Spoiler ALERT: The shirtless dude on the right wins the race. But please read on.
I found myself running with Jenn Shelton for the first mile or so. We exchanged a few words and she eventual faded behind me. I slowly worked my way through the crowd of runners and settled into a spot further up in the pack.
This race has three distinct groups of runners. Up front, you have the elite runners shooting for a 14 hour finish. Then behind them, you have the pedestrian runners that simply want to do well. And in the rear, you'll find the runners that are wearing costumes. I have nothing bad to say about wearing a costume at this race. The race is designed for this type of fun. But I can firmly assert that I have never been passed by a runner in a costume. Maybe it's the increased drag?
At the mid point of the loop, we hit a section of rolling single track and most of us had to slow down to navigate it. It was at this point that Jenn Shelton caught me and blew right past me.
Near the end of the first loop, there's a very long, but gentle downhill slope. It's almost too subtle to see, but you can definitely feel it pull your body along at a faster pace. The group I was in ran this section at a ridiculously brisk pace. I almost dropped to the back and let them go, but the need to compete compelled me forward with the pack.
I finished the first 15.4 mile loop almost a minute per mile faster than my plan. I vowed to run more responsibly after that. Especially now that the sun was up and it was beginning to get hot out.
My buddy Dave Clark finishing his first loop
Jenn Shelton finishing her first loop
Me coming in after my first loop.
By the time I started the second loop, it was nearing 80 degrees with only 7% humidity. The air was just sucking moisture out of my body and I was drinking heavily to fight off dehydration. I was carrying two handheld bottles and was sucking them dry between aid stations. Even with that, I could feel I was getting behind on my hydration.
Despite that, I was running well and making up a lot of time on my race plan. By the end of the second loop, I was nearly 30 minutes ahead of my plan. Part of me wanted to give that time back and slow down for fear of blowing up, but I just continued to run at whatever pace seemed appropriate based on how my body felt.
Finishing Loop #2
The 3rd loop turned out to be brutal. The sun was high in the cloudless sky and the entire trail is fully exposed to the sun. By this point, I was draining my handheld bottles, plus drinking heavily at the aid stations before heading out. The heat of the day began to take its toll on the runner's and people began to drop from the race. I focused on slowing my pace and doing whatever needed to be done to keep things held together.
Near the end of the 3rd loop, I began to fantasize about the luxurious feeling of drinking an ice cold Coke. I couldn't get that image out of my head. I was tortured by the soothing thought of it.
Finishing loop #3, getting ready to hand my bottles off to Jo for a refill.
Drinking that ice cold Coke that was calling my name while Jo spreads ice water over my body
Hal finishing his 4th loop, now a full 15 miles ahead of me
The 4th loop was much the same, but the heat was a little less intense now that the sun was coming from a slightly lower angle. I knew I would finish well if I could make it through this loop.
The end of the 4th loop marks 100k completed and it's also when I get to pick up my pacer for the last 40 miles. In tough race conditions, a good pacer can make all the difference.
Coming to the end of the 4th loop
Thirsty, tired, but still 20 minutes ahead of my plan
I was happy to trade my handheld bottles for my hydration pack. After 11 hours of carrying them along the trail, my shoulders and forearms were beginning to ache. It's amazing how heavy 22 ounces can be after being forced to pack it around for so long.
I grabbed my pacer, Dan Collins, and we headed out into the desert together for 40 more miles of running.
Me and Dan heading out
Dan and I ran well together and we kept a brisk pace for the entire loop. We passed a lot of runner's but with the loop format, I couldn't tell if they were ahead of us or behind us. Either way, we kept rolling along, gaining even more time on the race plan.
We finished that loop faster than I had finished the previous lap by myself. Solid evidence of the value of a good pacer.
Our 6th loop was noticeably slower. Fatigue was really beginning to set in and I resigned myself to it. I was well ahead of my plan and that's all I cared about. I was going to have a solid finish and that was all I needed.
Until we finished the 6th loop and I was told we were in 9th place overall...this changed everything!!
Leading up to that moment, I had no idea where I was in the race. If I had to guess, I would say I was maybe in the top 30 or 40, which is excellent in a race that size. But top 10?! I had no idea. Now I became obsessed with holding my spot.
I knew there were some runners behind me that would want to improve their position and we could easily be pushed right out of the top 10. We still had 9 miles to run and that was plenty of time for anything to happen. I had never finished in the top 10 of a 100 mile race and I needed to capitalize on this opportunity.
As Dan and I ran that final section of the race, I began to beat myself up for wasting so much time during the race. A few minutes here and there adds up and now I was in a position to defend my tenuous finishing place because I was so unconcerned about it all day long.
I vowed to never let that happen again.
Dan and I ran hard and spoke very little. My mind was firmly fixed on the task at hand and our goal was to put distance between us and the runners chasing us. My body was destroyed and I was asking for it to give me even more.
At the 98 mile mark, I asked Dan if he thought we would get caught by the people behind us. He chuckled and replied that with our pace, it would be highly unlikely. I don't wear a GPS watch when I race, so I was entirely unaware that we were pushing an 8:30 pace at this point. If you've ever a 100 mile race, you'll know that's a blistering pace at the 98 mile mark.
I was running hard...motivated by fear. I need to employ fear more often in my races.
Just shy of the 99 mile mark, Dan and I passed another runner. It turned out to be the 1st place female in the race. I knew she was out there somewhere, but I had lost track of her. When we passed her, I looked over to Dan and said "Welcome to 8th place!"
Not only were we defending our position, we were improving it.
Now that we were assured a top 10 spot, I began to focus on a sub 20 hour finish. When I told Dan about my plan, I could see him trying to reconcile my wish with the reality which was being displayed on his Garmin. I sensed that he had doubts about it, although he never verbalized them.
We continued to push the pace all the way to the finish and crossed the line at 19:48:50 as the 8th place finisher!!
Me and Dan right after the race
Now I have a matching set!
You never know what might happen when you start a 100 mile race. Some days go exactly according to plan, some days are a total disaster. And on the rarest of occasions, the results are better than expected. This was one of those days.
This race is a perfect example of why I view ultra running as a team sport. I couldn't do any of this on my own. It takes a dedicated and talented crew to get me to the finish line. When I have Jo working hard to take care of me, and I have a great pacer, my race almost always turns out well.
Dan Collins did an amazing job handling me on the trail for 40 miles. I owe him more than I can ever repay. Pacing is not an easy job and it's hard to find just the right person for it. I've been very fortunate in my last two races to be paired with such excellent runners.
With Javelina behind us, Jo and are will be hiking and trail running our way through the Southwest as we head to Moab for the Moab Trail Marathon next weekend. It should be another epic journey.
Thanks for reading. Happy Trails!!