I wait nervously at the Javelina Jeadquarters as this 30 hour jalloween party gets under way. I line up with 500 other runners and try to get the butterflies in my stomach to settle down. Lots of people are dressed in their best jalloween attire, but I was too focused on my task at hand this week to think about putting together a costume. Instead I wear my Team Red, White and Blue eagle in support of our veterans.
The Javelina Jundred is run in Fountain Hills, AZ just outside of Phoenix and is one of the last qualifying races for the Western States 100 before the lottery next month. Many participants have their sights set on this goal including my friend Juan who I bump into at the start line. Some of the top ultra runners are here as well as the living legend, Gordy Ainsleigh (age 67) who, in 1974, ran the first Western States long distance horse race (Tevis Cup) when his mount went lame. And so began this crazy sport of ultra trail running.
Watch the Jalloween Dance Party:
When the gun goes off we set out on a 15 mile loop that we must run six times with a shorter ten mile loop at the end. The trail is crowded, making the pace slow which is actually good because going out too fast will mean the death of you later on. I just go with the flow and enjoy watching the train of headlamps glowing in the early desert morning. The weather is fine; not too warm or cold, but will mean somewhat high temperatures later.
Soon the sun begins to rise coloring the clouds pink and orange. I stop for a few pictures promising myself that I will only carry my camera on the first loop. I hear the rattle of a cowbell and then see Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen pass by. I catch up to congratulate him on all his accomplishments this year. This is his 31st 100 mile run THIS YEAR! He is on schedule to break the world record for the most 100s run in a single calendar year (40).
Register to run with the Jester on his world record run Dec 6th
I settle into a walk with periods of slow running as I sip my chia seed gel mixture for energy. The first half of the loop is mostly uphill with the remainder sloping down. In two hours I reach the Jackass Junction Aid Station which is about the half way point. I have some oranges and watermelon and put some pretzels in a baggie to munch on as I walk.
I pick up my pace on the downhill sections hoping to make up some time. My pacing strategy is to run the first loop in 3:30 and then each subsequent loop in 4:30 giving myself three hours to finish the last 9 mile loop. If I can stick to this schedule I will finish in around 29 hours, one hour before the cutoff. Pretty soon I see the front runners heading back towards me on pace to finish between 15-16 hours. Amazing!
I spot several other team RWB members, including my friend Juan, who offer words of encouragement as they pass. I complete my first loop in 3:15; fifteen minutes ahead of schedule which makes me wonder if I’m going out too fast. I quickly fill my water bottles, eat some snacks and dump my camera in my drop bag. It is hard to part with, but I know I’ll dawdle too much if I take it with me. I leave the staging area the same way I came in and begin loop two in the opposite direction. Each loop changes direction which allows you to see runners who are in front and behind you.
I pass through several gravel filled washes and promptly get small pebbles and some sand in my shoes. I’m wearing my Dirty Girl Gaiters, but debris finds its way in nevertheless. I Ignore it for a while hoping that it will slip under my insole, but no such luck. I finally stop and sit on the ground to remove my shoe. Nice, I’m now sitting in a patch of thorns.
After plucking the stickers out of my ass, I continue on my way. A short while later I feel something pricking my feet and wonder what I’ve gotten into this time. When I stopped earlier, I must have walked through some foxtails which are now stuck in my shoe. These small arrow like grass seeds stick to animal fur and people’s clothing burrowing deeper into the skin with each movement. Once again I stop, being more careful where I sit this time, and pull out the annoying burrs.
The desert trail is completely exposed; the sun beating down making the uphill effort difficult. I make sure to drink enough without over doing it while I plod up the slope. The back part of the trail is the most scenic with the McDowell Mountains as a backdrop. Boulders are strewn about interspersed with towering saguaro cacti. These species don’t grow where I live in the Chihuahuan desert; only here in the Sonoran. The very tall ones with protruding arms have been standing since long before I was born like sentinels keeping watch over the landscape.
After passing through a technical rocky downhill section I begin a seven mile descent. Several gravelly arroyos fill my shoes with grit and stones and then I finish loop two (30.6 mi) in about four hours. This time I change my socks, slather on some sunscreen and pick up my hydration vest and sun hat. This next loop is going to be the hottest and poses the greatest risk of problems. I drink a can of ginger ale and grab a sandwich for the road...um...and my camera.This will most likely be the sunset loop and I can’t resist bringing the camera.
I take it easy on this leg since I’m an hour ahead of my goal time. If I can survive the heat and just make it to sunset, I believe I’ll be able to finish. The sun hides behind the clouds at times and a breeze kicks up especially as I go higher. The temperature reaches about 80 degrees which is quite comfortable compared to what happened in the race last year. One runner told me it was 96 and only about 40% finished the race. I stop at each aid station and have some oranges and watermelon and make sure to drink enough while working my way around the loop.
I stop occasionally to snap a few pictures of costumed runners or my favorite plant, the jumping cholla; aka teddy bear cactus. These tree like cacti look as soft as a cuddly teddy bear from a distance, but watch out! The spiny round arms are said to jump off the plant into any unsuspecting passerby. I can see how they acquired their name because surrounding the plant are little thorny balls scattered about willy-nilly like rounds of ammo that missed their target.
I reach the midway aid station and stop for some fruit and snacks while grabbing my backup headlamp from my drop bag just in case I don’t make it to the staging area by dark. I twist in and out of some granite boulders and then wind down the long path. When I reach the bottom the sun is slowly starting to slip behind the mountains, but I was too fast to catch the sunset with my camera. I roll into the Javelina Jeadquarters completing the loop in 4:20.
I change my socks again, put on a long sleeve shirt and don my headlamp; it will be dark soon. Before leaving, I down another ginger ale and grab a slice of pizza from the food table to eat on the go. I run and power walk up the hill as faint light fades into darkness. My lamp does a good job of lighting the trail, but casts eerie shadows into my peripheral vision. I keep an eye out for rattlesnakes that have been hiding in the cool shade all day and may now emerge for an evening treat.
Several people pass me; some running and others walking. As I get closer to the Jackass Junction, music becomes louder and louder. When I arrive, there is a full-on Jalloween party in full swing. It is Saturday night after all and what better time to let loose? I celebrate the fact that I’ve completed 50 miles of my journey and get out of there. All I have to do now is run two marathons!
On the way down, I pass quite a few runners that had passed me earlier. I seem to be slower than most going uphill, but am able to catch them on the downhill sections. In the distance, bright lights hover mysteriously in the darkness like a fleet of alien space pods waiting for the mother ship. Soon a large cadre of runners comes towards me shining their blinding lights in my eyes which makes it hard to pass on the narrow trail.
There is a slight chill in the dry desert air and I’m craving a warm beverage. Time passes quickly and I make it back into the start/finish area having completed loop four in 4:25 with a 100K time of 16 hours, a PR for me. I ask the volunteers if they have anything hot to eat. The choices are ramen noodles or veggie soup with carrots and potatoes. That’s a no brainer; I take the veggie soup and it tastes better than Mom’s homemade from the secret recipe that’s been handed down from generation to generation. (Don’t worry Mom, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been that good had I not just run 62 miles.)
Feeling energized, I take off for loop five. After passing through the series of gravelly drainages I again have a shoe full of stones. In two miles I reach an aid station and sit down to empty my shoe. A young lady sits beside me and proclaims, “This sh*t’s miserable. This isn’t fun at all; I’m never doing this again.” I snatch a cup of coke off the table and say, “Come on, you know you love this. You’ll be signing up for another one in a few days.” A wry smile comes over her face and her mood seems to pick up.
A group of us leave together and toil up the hill. The nice thing about this race is that you never feel alone. Runners are traveling in both directions and we are constantly encouraging each other as we pass by. “Great job!”; “Team RWB!”, “Nice work!”. The Jester carries a cowbell and gives it a jingle every time he sees you. This helps you keep going even when you are having your worst moment and believe me, if you run long enough things are going to get bad.
I’m lucky enough to make it all the way around with minimal discomfort, but am starting to wonder how long I can keep it up. I finish loop five in 4:25, my slowest split yet. I choke down a few boiled potatoes and chase them with some coke. I’m quickly out of there hoping to keep up my momentum.
It’s tough going back up the hill and I start to doubt my ability to finish. This really is ridiculous, but I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Nausea sets in and I feel very drowsy. I squeeze a Hammer Gel Espresso into my mouth hoping it will give me enough energy to make it to the next aid station. Several people pass me on the way up, but I finally arrive. The dance party has ended and all is quiet because it is 4:00am and most sane people are home in bed.I eat some fruit to bring my blood sugar up and candied ginger to help settle my stomach.
I look forward to the rising sun as I continue on my way. Once again, I catch up to many runners who passed me on the way up. My spirit and confidence picks up with each runner I pass. As I approach the end of loop six, the sun starts to rise and I become more and more charged up. I can finally turn off my light and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. The morning is cool and crisp as birds begin their dawn chorus. I hear the jingle of Jester running down the track towards me. “More cowbell!”, I yell. “Hey, we do requests.”, he says with a smile as he indulges me.
I finish loop six in 4:35 and waste no time. I blast out of there with less than 10 miles to go. Many folks are walking by this point, but surprisingly I’m still able to jog (I know, I used the “J” word). I pass quite a few people until it gets steep and then I join them in a brisk walk. A few pebbles have once again entered my shoe and I have to stop to empty it.
I’m slow on the uphill and a group of ladies passes me chatting happily as if they were on their daily walk around their neighborhood. No one would ever know they had just completed 95 miles. I make it to the top of the slope and take the final turn to begin the descent. I approach the last water stop which is a 55 gallon plastic drum of water with a bottle of tequila sitting on top. A lady is checking bib numbers and filling water bottles. “Who’s that bottle of tequila for?”, I ask. “It’s for you”, she replies, “want a shot?” I thank her for her support as she congratulates me. Only three more miles to go.
I put it in high gear at this point and run as fast as I can. I have no idea why I have so much energy, but just thoroughly savor the beautiful morning. I pass a few more runners who are hobbling in with blisters and other injuries, but continue on because they are tough as nails. The human spirit is truly amazing and it shows at times like this. I make it down the short loop and into the gravel pit for the last time. A little while later I cross the finish line in 27:17, several hours ahead of my goal having run the race of my life.
A volunteer hands me my buckle and I just sit down in a chair in disbelief of what just happened. It was a great race weekend put on by the Coury brothers of Aravaipa Running. Kaci Lickteig broke the female course record by five minutes taking 3rd overall while Catlow Shipek took 1st (race results). Ed Ettinghausen finished his 31st 100 miler this year and 56% of the field qualified for the WS 100 including my friend Juan. Congratulations to all the Javelina participants and thanks to everyone who ran and trained with me in preparation for this race. Thank you to my wonderful family who support all my ridiculous running adventures.
See you on the trail.