I knew the Javelina Jundred would be the perfect opportunity for my first 100 mile attempt. Its barren, rocky, desert trails are very similar to where I train which proved to be a big advantage. I felt right at home on the trail. The race was 15.4 mile loops run washing machine style (go clockwise one direction, then turn around and do it counter-clockwise). I didn't get bored with this. In fact I LOVED having these shorter loops. It was easier to break the race down psychologically, easier to crew, and I never felt alone. I think this is one of the reasons that Javelina has so many runners (almost 400!). This was at Javelina Jeadquarters where you turn around after each loop (plus meet your crew, and there is an aid station):
When you're standing at the starting line of an ultramarathon there is such an intense sense of togetherness and purpose and determination. I felt honored to be standing there with a bunch of other crazies.
The temperature in the morning was perfect - around 55 degrees. We ran in the dark for about 45 minutes until the sun started coming up. The sunrise was beautiful and I couldn't help but stop to take lots of pictures.
I saw a lady up ahead of me who seemed to be stopping as much as I did to take pictures. I caught up to her later and said "I think we'd make good training partners. I don't like to train with people because I stop so much for pictures, but I think you and I could run together." I found out it was Susan Donnelly who has run more than 40 100 milers! Simply incredible. (She ran a 100 last weekend!) She gave me some great tips. Later I emailed her and told her thanks for her help. She wrote back "I'm always happy to help but I've seen a lot of first timers and don't think you needed help. Every time I saw you, you were pacing steady and looked naturally in good shape." (+1 for my self-esteem.)
In the afternoon it started to get warm (I heard around 75 degrees). I knew it was getting hot but I think all the heat training I had done really paid off and it didn't wipe me out. My little girls made me some bracelets to wear during the race so I could think about them. I also wrote a little reminder to myself for when things got hard:
By this time I had switched to my Hoka shoes. I was a little concerned because they give me blisters, but they are so much better for my feet and knees. I guess you just take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life. (I would have KILLED for an ipod to get that horrific song out of my head during the race! Killed!) The course was just beautiful. We were surrounded by enormous saguaro cacti.
I've been scared of rattlesnakes since my close encounter with one a few months ago but thankfully I didn't see any the whole time! The scariest thing I saw was a guy who ran out of the bushes right in front of me after taking a bathroom break. Scared the bejeebers out of me! I also saw six of these:
Let me tell you again: I LOVED having this be a loop course! Loved it! It was so fun to watch the race unfold and have the faster people come by going the other direction. I just loved cheering them on. But what was awesome was that they were cheering people on too. When the fastest elites would pass me they would smile and say "Great job!" or "Way to go!" It made the race feel more like a family of runners instead of being out in the middle of nowhere without seeing another runner for hours on end.
The course was very runable but certainly challenging. There are ultras with way more elevation change but this course has its share of hills. Hills that drag on for miles and miles and miles. Some parts of the course were sandy and level:
Some parts of the course were very, very rocky. This can take a toll on your feet after a while.
I liked this withered, rotted tree. Mel saw this picture afterward and said "This is how you felt at the end, isn't it." Um, yep. This picture PERFECTLY describes how I was feeling at the end.
About halfway through the loop you reach Jackass Junction. (I can't think of a more appropriate name for an aid station at a 100 miler.) You can have a drop bag at this point so I stocked some warm clothes just in case the weather got ugly. (Spoiler alert: IT DID.)
The aid stations were the best I have ever seen in a race. Over the course of those 101 miles I ate: brownies, gummy worms, M&Ms, pretzels, pizza, a turkey sandwich, PB&J, Ramen noodles, oranges, bananas, watermelon, hot chocolate, pumpkin pie, and Oreos. And I didn't just have a little. Since my stomach was cooperating, I ate lots.
But I came across two items sent straight from heaven: Nutella sandwiches and bean burritos. At each aid station I was popping those like a drug fiend. (I know......bean burritos + ultramarathon = ultradisaster. But by some act of God, they never caused any problems!) I expected a nuclear attack in my gut but it never came. (Thank goodness, because, whoa. Whoa, that could have gotten ugly.)
Physically, one of the best parts of the race was that I somehow managed to keep my stomach the whole time. I never had any GI problems. I never threw up. I was able to eat just fine at all the aid stations. I was so thankful because if you can't keep calories down, your day is over. The sun was starting to go down on day 1 and you can see some menacing clouds on the horizon.
I finished my third lap at 45 miles as the sun went down and saw a simply amazing sunset. I got goosebumps. I felt so grateful that I was witnessing something so beautiful and was so happy to be participating in this experience.
I headed out for lap 4 by myself in the dark. It took a few miles for me to get my
And then the race got ugly. Super ugly. At first the rain started to sprinkle. Then it started coming steady. Then the downpour started. (This is Arizona for crying out loud! It rains here like every decade or something!) The trails became slick and muddy and much harder to run. At this point I picked up my first pacer: my kind wife Mel. We wore garbage bags which helped keep our tops dry but my shoes were wet and I was cold. I asked her to say a prayer that I would be alright.
The coyotes were howling. At one of the aid stations we stood under their canopy for a minute. I told Mel "Let's take a picture right here. This is what I look like inside my pain cave." After about 65 miles I definitely had entered the pain cave. My knees and feet hurt and I was tired. It was probably around 3:00am and I had been running for 21 hours.
In life I think it's important to try and stay positive and smile even if things really suck and you're going through a hard time. I tried to do that during this race also. I had pulled up a Lazy Boy inside my own personal pain cave and things were really starting to suck but I tried to still stay positive:
Lap 6 (miles 75-90) were indescribably difficult. Words can't describe how challenging those miles were. My incredibly awesome sister Hollie joined me for this lap to keep me on track. There wasn't a ton of running during this lap. But there was more rain on and off. I'd guess it rained a total of seven hours during the race. No bueno. My only hallucination was during this lap. I saw an aid station tent coming up around the corner. I said "Yes!" But we went around the corner and it wasn't there. We kept going and then it was nowhere in sight. I was distraught. I swore I saw it, but it never appeared. I never did see any Care Bears or unicorns. I was definitely glad to have Hollie there for company.
Hollie was positive and encouraging but I just couldn't run very much. My feet felt like I was walking on burning coals and the pain in my knees was excruciating. It was humbling but refreshing to see my second sunrise of the race. (I had a poncho attached to my back because more rain was forecast.)
Hollie was the official crew photographer. I told her to take pictures of everything, good or bad. This was a photo where I was utterly exhausted and teetering on the edge. I am not a gifted athlete. But I am tenacious and determined and stubborn. And that can take you far.
For the race I averaged a 17:22 minute mile. You think to yourself "Easy, I could walk that fast." Very true. But when you add in hills, and rocks, and rain, and physical exhaustion way beyond anything you have ever experienced before, 17:22 is no stroll through the park.
I finished lap six and received the one thing I had been coveting for many hours: a glow bracelet! You get one of these when you reach the start of lap 7 - the final lap. I could have cried, I was so happy.
Mel joined me for the last 9 miles. Even though I was happy to be on the last lap, I was a complete mess. I knew I would make it to the finish line, but I honestly did not know how I was going to get there. Every cell of my body was screaming. My gas tank was completely dry and I had nothing left to give. Mel just held my hand and kept me walking. "You'll be wistful for the "wall" off the marathon when you hit the "death grip" of the ultra." ~ Bob Glover
I had heard that in an ultramarathon you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. For me, those things happened at the exact same time. And it was at mile 95. I was only six miles away, but that finish line might as well have been in Portugal. I started sobbing. Not loud weeping. I just silently walked as tears rushed down my face. Normally I'm not a very emotional person, but at that moment my eyes were like faucets.
I was crying because of the crippling pain. I was crying because of complete exhaustion and despair. I was crying because every single step hurt worse than the one before. I was crying because I so desperately wanted to be at that finish line. I was crying because I was so grateful for the body my Heavenly Father gave me. I was crying because I thought of my family and friends and their tremendous support. I was crying because I was so thankful to be part of this incredible experience. I was crying because I knew that the last 40 miles had been so difficult which would make the finish line that much sweeter. I was crying because I was so, so happy.
The "slow and steady, one foot in front of the other" approach was slowly getting me closer to the finish line. I was ecstatic to finally see this sign for the home stretch. (I just couldn't bend down to get any closer to the sign.)
In the last mile a coyote was hanging out on the side of the trail. I didn't care if he ate me. And then I arrived after 29 hours and 22 minutes. Words can't describe how happy I was to be here. Even though my sweet wife snapped the picture a little too early, I did jump across the finish line.
And then I was handed the Javelina Jundred belt buckle. I will cherish this little piece of metal for the rest of my life. It symbolizes all those long months of training, all those early mornings waking up to run, all those gallons of sweat I lost doing my heat training. It will always remind me that I can do hard things.
It was amazing to see how quickly my body shut down after the race ended. I started walking to the car to leave and had to kneel down because I almost passed out. I also had a few dry heaves but managed to make it to the car. Hollie snapped this on our 15 minute drive back to the condo:
Warning: Gross Pictures Ahead. Just to prove that the ultra wasn't all smiles and fun, I'll show you a few post-race pictures. When we got back to the condo I got out of the car and immediately had to stumble over to the stairs because I almost passed out again. Everything went black but I don't think I completely passed out. Then the throwing up started. I felt not-so-awesome.
I haven't been able to eat very much over the last few days since the race because I become really nauseous whenever I eat. My knees are pretty sore and I'm walking like Frankenstein. And not only did my feet feel like I was walking on hot coals. They also look like I had been walking on hot coals. But considering everything I went through this isn't too bad. I was actually expecting to be in much worse shape.
If I were to design a perfect race, it would be the Javelina Jundred. The course was beautiful. The volunteers were simply incredible and supportive and encouraging. The organization was flawless. I can't think of one thing I would change. The finisher rate for this race is only 49%. I was so thankful to be counted among the finishers.
Completing a 100 mile race truly was a profound, challenging, painful, rewarding, and life-changing experience. Crossing that finish line transformed me and I will never be the same.
"Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further.....past what your mind wants to let you. That's what ultrarunning is all about; introducing you to a self you've never known." ~ Rex Pace