Six days after finishing the Pony Express Trail 100, I was back in Arizona to run the Javelina Jundred for the 3rd consecutive year. Back to back 100 milers sounded manageable at the time because my race recovery time had dwindled dramatically in the last year. I had planned to run these races at an easy pace to ensure I could finish them both.
Whatever...that plan immediately flew out the window and I ran Pony Express in 18:02, finishing 2nd overall. I sometimes have trouble suppressing my competitive impulses.
The week between races, I was worried. My recovery from Pony Express was anything but fast. People like to assume that flat races, like Pony Express, are easy but they definitely are not. My legs took an unprecedented pounding and they weren't springing back to life like they usually do.
Between races, I walked a lot, ran a little and focused on my recovery nutrition, which includes a lot of protein and vitamin dense foods. As the week wore on, I was feeling better and gaining confidence, but a successful run at Javelina was still in question.
The Thirst for a Buckle Can Lead a Runner to do Foolish Things
By race morning, there were no more obvious aches and I was feeling pretty good about my race. I had set two goals for my finish and would have been satisfied with either:
Goal #1- Sub 20 hour finish. I finished in 19:48 in 2012 and wanted a repeat.
Goal #2- Sub 22 hour finish. As my fall back plan, I wanted to do at least as well as I had in my first race here, which was 21:48.
For me, there's something very satisfying about a sub 20 hour finish in a 100 miler. It's an arbitrary time, but it motivates me.
To run sub 20, my strategy was simple. There are six 15.5 mile loops and one 9 mile loop. I planned to average 3 hours on the large loops and a sub 2 hour time on the final loop.
The race started at 6:00 AM. We were led off the line by Ian Sharman, Hal Koerner, Joe Grant and several other elite ultra runners.
Still Half Asleep!
The starting temperature was around 60 degrees but felt cooler than that. The weatherman was promising a high temperature in the low 90's. The ability to run totally exposed in this kind of heat would be a deciding factor for most runners.
For the first several miles, I was running well but my legs were protesting my decided pace. I was busy passing runners in search of my proper spot in the lineup. After 7 miles, I was settled in and the field was spread thin.
I was carrying a handheld bottle with Hammer Endurolyte Fizz and a few Hammer peanut butter gels. I didn't stop at any of the aid stations on the first loop.
Where Jo Would Spend Her Day, Taking Care of Me
Finishing Loop #1
First Loop Done in 2:17
By the time I finished the first loop, my legs were loose and the pain had totally subsided. The looming problem now was the heat. The sun was up and the day was warming fast. I would have to slow down and conserve energy from now on, but the first loop bought me some time on my race plan.
A Quick Coke Before Heading Back Out
A big part of the allure for this race, is the festive atmosphere. Costumes are a big part of this race culture and there are always plenty of interesting things to see on the trail. Running 100 miles is undeniably difficult. Running 100 miles in 90 degree weather makes it harder. But to do all that under the burden of a costume? That's pretty damn intense!
And as an ultra runner, you haven't truly lived until you've seen Spiderman taking a crap on the side of the trail at 1:00 AM.
Angry Bird. This HAS to be HOT!
Not Entirely Sure...
This race format requires us to switch direction on each loop, heading back out the way we came in. This is a brilliant idea because it breaks up the tediousness of a loop course and it allows all the runners to see each other more frequently, like an "out and back" format.
After heading out for my second loop, I was able to greet a lot of friends that were heading in. We exchanged encouragement and support along the way.
Aid Station Girls Hamming it Up!
I slowed my pace a bit on the second loop and spent some time enjoying the desert scenery. Arizona is a unique and beautiful place to run.
Scenery on the Course
I spent more time socializing during the second loop. Whenever I went to make a pass, I would linger and settle into conversation with other runners. That also allowed me to temper my pace more and probably prevented me from blowing up early.
The sun was blazing by this point in the race and I knew the carnage was about to take shape on the course.
Coming in to Finish Loop #2 (50k) in 4:46
I made a point to take some time before heading back out, so I stopped for an ice cold PBR and a short chat with Nick Coury, one of the Race Directors. That beer tasted amazing! I made a point to drink a PBR after every loop from that point forward.
Chatting With Nick at Mile 31
Because the heat was climbing fast, I ditched my bottles and grabbed my Osprey hydration pack. Jo loaded it with ice, water and Fizz Tabs.
Heading Back Out
Loop three is always the dangerous time in the race. The heat is reaching its peak and runners begin to succumb to fatigue and potentially heat exhaustion. I slowed my pace even more and focused on staying hydrated. I topped my bladder off twice during this loop and depleted it with ease.
I saw plenty of reasons to believe there would be a high DNF race this year. More than half the field was walking now and many of them were too drained to pass along the customary "Good job" when we met and passed each other.
The brutality was just beginning.
Finishing Loop #3 in 7:35
I had survived the lethal third loop and was still in great shape as most the field was fragmenting and falling apart. Loop 4 would be just as troubling for the faster runners because we would still be in the hottest part of the day when we got started.
My short term goal was to finish this loop in good shape and prepare for running strong as the sun set.
I could feel a sunburn coming on and kept meaning to do something about it, but in typical "hurry up" fashion, I never actually did anything except allow it to get worse.
The carnage on the course was mounting. I stopped several times to make sure certain runners were ok and offered whatever help I could.
It was on this loop that I stopped to help a runner remove dozens of cactus burs from his shoes and feet. It was a bloody, painful mess. One that I am all too familiar with on this course.
Finishing Loop 4 (100k) in 10:35
At the end of this section, I was feeling dried out and somewhat dehydrated. I decided to take a prolonged break and get properly fueled and hydrated. I drank two full handheld bottles of ice cold water, a full bottle of Endurolyte Fizz and a an ICE COLD can of PBR. I also ate some solid food to fill my belly. After a 10 minute break, I was ready to get back after it!
It was at this point that I wandered over to the medical tent, just to see what was happening in there. As suspected, it looked like a military field hospital, with people scattered everywhere, groaning and a few screaming from the intense pain of severe cramps.
People rarely understand the value of managing electrolytes.
When the nurse saw me standing in the door drinking a beer, she assumed I had just DNF'd and invited me in to sit on an empty cot. I said, "No, I'm still racing. I just needed a beer". She stuttered for a second and I walked away so she would be spared any further embarrassment.
Trying to Rest, Recover and Hydrate
Feeling Much Better!
Heading out for #5!
And it Was Still HOT!
The sun was lower in the sky and that provided a lot of relief, but the hot day had already done a lot of damage. As I rolled past the aid stations, they were getting fuller and fuller, at capacity with runners seeking refuge, nutrition, hope and a reason to continue.
I've learned my lesson about aid stations at tough races like this. I avoid them at all costs or I risk being sucked into the misery that dwells there.
Sun Beginning to Fade
The temperature began to drop rapidly but it would never approach anything that resembled "cold". I don't know if it ever got "cool", but the sunburn I earned earlier in the day made it feel colder than it actually was. And I was fine with that.
Finishing Loop #5 in 13:53
It was time to evaluate the race and plan for my finish.
I had hoped for an average of sub 3 hour loops and at this point, I was averaging 2:45's. I was firmly in the top 10, partly due to my running and partly because a few of the elite runners had to drop. I had one more big loop, then a short loop before finishing.
Assuming nothing disastrous would happen, I had a great shot of achieving a sub 20 hour finish.
Knowing I had some cushion, I started to take more time. I ran easier, walked more and spent more time fueling.
Heading out for #6!
I felt fully refreshed by the arrival of full darkness. I still had 23 miles to go, but it definitely felt like this race was winding down and I was going to pull this off as planned. My enthusiasm pushed me along, into the night.
Somewhere in the middle of the loop, I left the trail to make room for a large pack of oncoming walkers. When I stepped off the trail, my right foot landed on a dead cactus that I hadn't seen in the dark. The pain was intense and immediate as the cactus easily pushed through the bottom of my shoe. I quickly hopped onto my other foot, which landed on the same cactus! Now I had long needles stuck in the bottom of both my feet.
This misadventure required me to sit down, remove my shoes and delicately deal with the cactus needles. After a few minutes, my shoes were safe again and I was on my way. Tenderly at first.
During my sixth loop, Hal Koerner went on to win the race. Hal has won here once before and he also holds the course record. He's had an amazing year, placing very well in several races, established a new FKT of the John Muir Trail and recently, he and his wife were blessed with their first child.
But uncharacteristically, Hal hadn't won a race all year. I was pulling for him and was elated to see him take the win.
Hal and his Beautiful Mother Diane. Great People.
It was after Hal finished that I got a text from Jo, telling me she was leaving the race for a little while.
This was NOT in the race plan!
Evidently, Hal was feeling sick after his intense run, and meanwhile, he was being swarmed by people wanting to congratulate him and enter into dialogue regarding his race, diet, nutrition, shoes, etc. Hal is a very gracious person and he certainly tries to accommodate people when they want some of his time, but he was feeling REALLY sick. Normally, he would sit and talk for hours, but this was not a normal situation.
Jo loaded Hal and his Mother up into our car and took him away from it all so he could get home to rest.
My wife left the race. With Hal Koerner. While I was still on the course!
I probably would have done the same thing.
Fortunately, Jo made it back in plenty of time to crew for me before I headed out for my final loop.
92 Miles in 17:19!
While Jo was taking care of my pack, I enjoyed a final PBR with my good friend, Larry Adams. Larry is in my local running group and ended up dropping down to the 100k after he had some kidney problems. Another victim of the intense heat!
At this point, I knew I could walk this last 9 miles and still break 20 hours. But now, I was focused on a course PR, which would require me to beat 19:48. I was still in the top 10 and also didn't want to lose any positions on this last loop.
I headed out fast. Or at least at a pace the feels fast after 92 miles.
A mile into this loop, things got weird.
I passed a runner who was sitting on the side of the trail, staring at his shoes. I stopped to check on him and he said he was fine, just resting.
A few hundred yards later, this spectacle repeated itself. Again, he claimed to be fine.
Up ahead, I could see a long line of runners heading my way. As they approached, I could hear some yelling and eventually I could understand the words. The lead runner was telling everybody they were going the wrong way and needed to go back to the finish line and get on the right trail. This Pied Piper had rounded up several runners and was leading them all back to the right trail.
Unfortunately, they were ON the right trail and this guy was totally delusional. And evidently, his followers were delusional enough to believe him!
I tried to stop the train and get these people to listen to logic. The Pied Piper began to argue with me and insisted they all return to the finish line so they could get on the right trail. After a few angry words, he stormed off. In the wrong direction. And a few people followed.
This dude had totally lost his mind.
The rest came with me while I explained the reality of the situation. When we met up with a sign and some course markings, I showed them where they were and assured them they were in the right spot. Convinced I had done my best, I ran off and left them to finish their own race.
After about 5 miles, I left the main trail for a cutoff that takes me back to the finish. This trail is only used during the finish loop and I was all alone.
Or not...I kept seeing lights behind me but couldn't tell if I was being chased or if those lights belonged to distant runners on the main trail. I convinced myself that I was being chased and I pushed the pace again. I looked over my shoulder repeatedly and only became more certain that I had a pursuer.
Now I was fighting to keep my position.
I finally rounded the last corner and crossed the finish line.
Finished! 19:18:32, 8th Place!
Jamil Coury, Handing me my 3rd JJ100 Buckle!
A few minutes after I finished, two runners crossed the line together finishing in 9th and 10th. They were 4 minutes behind me! I WAS being chased and nearly lost TWO spots.
In consideration of my running and beer drinking prowess, Patrick Sweeney presented me with a shovel award. It's moments like this that make these things so worthwhile!
Celebrating With a Burger and a Beer!
I was elated with a solid finish at Javelina because I love that race and always run well there. But I was even happier because I ran two smart races in two weeks, and forced some quality recovery in between them.
The only downside with back to back 100's is the lack of motivation for the second race. After you finish a 100 miler, it's easy to slip into a mentality that you don't need to do another 100 again any time soon. That feeling eventually fades and you begin to regain your desire to do it again.
I didn't have the luxury of going through that natural process. I finished Pony Express and had my usual feelings, but was then forced to get right back out there and do it again. As a result, I robbed myself of the excitement of the upcoming race and that sense of excitement was replaced by doubt and dread.
Nonetheless, I love the Javelina Jundred and had a great time on the trail with so many great people. This is a race we plan to return to every year. It's very well organized and has an atmosphere that can't be beat. Nick and Jamil know how to get it done.
I have a few more ultras on the schedule before the year ends and I'm looking forward to a more realistic recovery period in between them. And I'm also looking forward to regaining that sense of excitement.
But Before then, Jo and I will be heading to Moab next weekend for the Moab Trail Marathon (and recovery run).
I hope to see all of you on the trails very soon!