Sunday, November 13, 2016

Javelina 100

"You seem like a pretty normal guy," said the man across the aisle from me on my flight to Phoenix. I had just finished telling him that I was on my way to compete in a 100 mile trail race in the desert. But during and now after this extraordinary experience, nothing about it felt normal at all. Surreal starts to get closer to what went down on October 29th and 30th.

Javelina Jundred bills itself as a Jalloween party in the desert, with special awards for costumed runners, and despite the serious business of running 100 miles, a carnival spirit pervades. My friend Mike suggested Javelina last winter and I liked the idea that I would be able to visit my brother Greg in nearby Scottsdale and help him celebrate his Halloween birthday. Many trail races are limited in size due to concerns about trail degradation or logistics, but this year's races (there is a 100k too) had over 800 registrants, 580 of them in the 100 miler. In addition to being large, the format is interesting and a bit complicated with 5 roughly equal loops that alternate direction. Add to that 100k runners starting an hour after us, and you have the potential for lots of mayhem! Mayhem Central is Javelina Jeadquarters, aka the start/ finish of each loop. Add in a runner's tent village, Freak Bros mobile pizza kitchen, an RV area, hanging skeletons, etc. and you start to get the picture.

No Shade at McDowell Mountain Park

Greg and I rolled into JQ at 5:15am. Temps were pleasant, but warm layers got left behind as 91 was the forecasted high. The day before we had concocted our cooling strategy and in the back of Greg's truck were 20 pounds of crushed ice pre-packaged to fit into pockets of my Tim Olsen race vest. Greg asked if I wanted to start the 1st loop with them? I didn't think so, but stuffed one into the back for good measure. 18 miles later on the Escondido Trail and with the sun still low in the sky I was happy for any pre-cooling effect that I might have gained. I had joined a small group that featured Tonya and Mr Tubesock. Tonya was a chatty local in a race that featured runners from all over the US (plus entries from China, Norway, Scotland, Canada and Mexico) who runs these trails weekly. We talked some about how to handle the downhills (easy) and if it would be possible to go under 20 hours? Escondido was bleak, hot and dusty and I was happy that the other loops skipped that trail. At mile 22.3 I crossed the timing mat a few minutes ahead of schedule and high-fived with Greg, who then expertly resupplied me, this time w the full compliment of ice including in my bandanna and hat.

I was back in the desert for Loop 2 with Tonya and Mr T, and found that he had 1 upped me on the cooling strategy- he had a heavy looking roll around his neck that he periodically grabbed and wrung out over his head- a tube sock filled w ice! And I thought the days of the tube sock were long over! We passed the sock back and forth for a few miles. Most of the course is on the Pemberton Trail which slowly ascends 680” over 8 miles or so. It was tempting to run the whole way, but we mixed in some walking. Total elevation gain is 7900', and as the race website states - "not flat!". Also a part our race "friend group"was a guy dressed as a glass of beer. Also observed: the big bad wolf in full granny dress (not making this up!), bacon man, a squirrel and a general category of Tinkerbells, bees, and guys in tutus (including race director Jamil Coury). I lingered a while at the AS repacking the ice bags and it took nearly 5 miles of descending to catch the Tonya group, but shortly thereafter I pulled away from them and happily crossed the timing mat back at JQ at which point I confess I played a little air guitar, inspired by the CCR on the sound system (heat induced euphoria?). Greg had the AS thing down cold at this point and I added arm sleeves soaked in ice water and grabbed a hand held bottle, as it was still only 2 o’clock. Then from the other end of the chute I hear Mike Halovatch shout my name, and to go ahead, and he would catch up to me (he was in the 100k). Before he did, I ran up on Neela, a woman we met at the packet pick up who was this year's VT 100k champ, and also a FOH (friend of Halovatch). We ran together and eventually Mike joined us as well. It was a big lift that got me all the way to Mile 52, and still pretty much on pace to break 20 hours, but increasingly my stomach was not happy. Over the course of the race I tried Coke, Tums, and broth to get it settled but nothing really worked, so I just ate what looked good - watermelon, cookies (Chips Ahoy and Oreos!), pretzels, and kept sucking the gels to keep the energy stores stocked. I didn’t catch Mike and Neela on the descent back to JQ, though I was moving fast. 62 miles were in the book and the sun was just about down, but that famous desert temperature swing was not happening - Greg said it was still nearly 80 degrees. I changed my shirt and hat and put on the head lamp. As I was leaving the camp I heard them announce that Mike was 3rd in the 100k! Each time out got a little harder to start, but I was off counter clockwise again on lap 4.

New Moon and Headlamp Running
Not long into the loop I was joined by Brandon from Vancouver who had just had a 30 min rest in the medical tent to treat his blistered feet. Clearly the rest had done him some good and we pace-lined the 10 miles back up the mountain. I was just barely hanging on and once at Jackass Junction, was really spent. I was looking forward to the night running and for the most part it was another thrilling aspect of the race - everything looks different illuminated in a beam of light and with the weirdly shaped cacti and dessert vegetation even more so. Little mice and lizards scurried past. And then there were the coyotes, yipping and making the damnedest barking noises I’ve ever heard. At one point I even saw one skirting the shadows just outside my cone of light. The quiet solo moments were the best, but the times I was in a small train of runners was also nice because we were illuminated front, back and sides. As the night and laps progressed, I could see dots of lights defining the trail ahead of me, or gradually getting brighter as they approached.

Rattlesnack Ranch, Jackass Junction, and Coyote Crossing
Are the charming names of the 3 on course aid stations, and just like desert villages each had a different character. Coyote was spartan and quiet and the closest to JQ so you were in and out quickly. Rattlesnake was on the rocky side, a relief from the uneven terrain, and on laps 4 and 5 felt like a late night diner. After descending that rocky slope on lap 4, I took a chair next to an exhausted woman who said in a thick accent, “this is nothing like Scotland”, to which I replied - “what about the West Highland Way?” The famous walking path (also an ultra run!) has miles of bleak but beautiful rocky hills. “Well, OK, but the temperate version” she conceded. Also sitting next to us were 2 dudes, I will nickname them Joker and his Sidekick - they were going up on lap 5 while I was going down on 4 - “hey, Im only 8 miles behind you guys!” and Joker gives me a smart answer like “that is such a shame”. I drink my broth and have a quesadilla (the best food of the night) and head on down the last stretch to JQ. I’m bushed and Greg says “you’re doing it, right?”. “Yep, even if I have to walk the f*cker!” Before I go I apply tape (2 laps too late) to my right toes, which I now see are pretty blistered.

With each stop it got harder to will myself to run, but each time I did so, I was surprised that I could sustain it. Much of running this far is mental trickery - just get to the funky rock, or the aid station, or catch the guy up ahead - pretty simple, but effective. I just had to get back to Rattlesnake, where I passed more bleary eyed diners, and then up the rocky 6.5 miles to Jackass. Jackass Junction, captained by bald and bearded Justin Lutik, is the roadhouse of the Javelina 100, and with each lap the scene was a bit crazier and more surreal - before, I had noticed the female volunteers in cheerleader outfits, this last visit, there were 3 buff cross-dressed guys as well. And they were taking drink orders! As much as I love my beer, it’s never worked for me in a race, so just had more Coke, but took in the dance floor w disco ball and a solo woman grooving away, as I sat on a bench way too long. 91 miles banked, and 9 to go on the sandy, friendly to the feet, side of the park. I was completely isolated now with only stragglers coming up on their 4th lap, and a few descending on their 3rd. Out of nowhere, I hear a brief pounding and then a woman in a purple top flies past - I struggle out of my stupor and will myself to catch her, but to no avail, and I’m alone again. Turns out this was the women’s winner who has done a brilliant job of working her way through the field. Catching her wake might have got me sub 21:00, but like in bike racing, you let that wheel get away,
and it’s all over. I finally hit Coyote for the last time - 3.7 miles to go! I vow to run the whole way, and after 2 miles or so, I see 2 headlamps - it’s Joker & Sidekick!! I had made up the 8 mile gap. I can only figure that they were lured into Justin’s disco and were walking it home? They did however, shout encouragement. About this time I saw the coyote and then had my only real moment of mental weakness - I just had to walk - and I could even see the lights of JQ. Soon I did snap out of it, and entered the gate of the village. It has turned strangely quiet with a low throb of a Techno beat replacing the Rock from earlier laps. I got a smattering of applause and shout outs and as I turned the final corner, of course my sidekick was still there, and 21:14 was reading on the clock! I crossed the mat, and was handed my finisher's belt buckle (a tradition in 100 mile races).

Greg got me a chair and I shucked my shoes. He checked the website and told me I was 24th place. I had no idea - I figured top 50. There were so many people on the course going different directions it was impossible to keep track. I was deeply tired and just as deeply content, my debut 100 miler was now history. I had promised the medical contingent in the family that I would not come home after being discharged from the hospital - it looks like I may lose a toenail or 2, but I didn’t even get sunburned. 20 hours was the original goal - Ceci upped the ante to top 20 as well, but considering the day, the placing was felt beyond good. It took a very long time to walk the quarter mile to his truck.

There were 285 finishers and 289 who did not! Tonya hung in there and was 4th woman in 22:30. Brandon was 20th in 20:44 - next time he should treat his own blisters! Neela beat Halovatch by 7 minutes and was 2nd woman, but was 1:45:00 behind the 1st woman who also smoked the entire field. Zach Bitter set a course record of 13:30 winning the 100 miler by 1:10:00 and clocked 1 loop at 7 minute pace - what heat? High temp for the day was 93.
New Balance Trail Gobi’s (in “moon phase” silver and gray); Tim Olsen Ultimate Direction Ice/ Hydration Vest; did wear gaiters (1 small rock all day); Millet hat with skirt and liner (thought it would make it hot, but in fact held ice without freezing my dome); Squirrel’s Nut Butter (no chafing anywhere).

The Next Day
While I was soaking in a eucalyptus scented jacuzzi bath in Scottsdale, Greg and girlfriend Steph went back to McDowell Park to retrieve my drop back bag that hadn’t made it back from Jackass the night before. The mood was upbeat again and with the noon cutoff approaching people were still finishing in under 30 hours!

Huge thanks to Greg, who went big with his first crew experience, and to Stephanie for spending her birthday catering to a hobbled runner - beyond the call of duty, and very much appreciated!

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