Javelina Jundred consists of 6 15.4 mile loops, run washing machine style, followed by a 9 mile loop, for an official total distance of 100.8 miles, even though the actual distance mathematically adds up to 101.4 miles. (I guess there is some shrinkage in the heat). There’s 5,000 feet of elevation gain, which isn’t really all that much compared to the mountain races I’m used to running, and it’s a fast course – Hal Koerner’s course record is 13:47:43. Let’s not get confused and think that it’s an easy race. It’s all exposed, temperatures on the course reached 106 this year, and there was only a 41% finish rate.
I suspect a good part of the cause of the low finish rate is that knowing it’s a fast course, people go out much too hard, shooting for a 100 mile PR. Let that 100 mile PR come to you in the second half of the race. Save it up and fly through the night hours. Oh, yeah, and make sure you have a good headlamp.
Here’s a description of the course:
We began with a clockwise loop. The course meandered ever so slightly upward for 2 miles through sandy washes until we reached Coyote Camp aid station, and a road crossing. From there, it was rocky and more-or-less uphill to Tonto Tavern, an unmanned, water only aid station at mile 5.5, and then another 3 miles to Jackass Junction, which registered in my mind at least as the midway point of the loop, even though it was nearly 2 miles beyond the middle.
The course around Jackass is small rolling hills, near the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. It zigs and zags, and in either direction you don’t see the aid station until you come upon it around a bend. It’s a beautiful part of the course.
The stretch near Jackass was also the hottest part of the course. Coming into and out of JJ HQ (the start/finish/turnaround area) there was a breeze that softened the harsh temperatures. Along Jackass, the breeze was gone, and the full brunt of the heat was felt. In addition, this is where the 102 to 106 temperatures were recorded, whereas the hottest temperature recorded at JJ HQ was 96. But even 96 degrees is brutal when you are running and its all exposed. The Arizona sun seems much harsher than the California sun. It’s a desert sun that seems designed to mummify things.
From Jackass to Rattlesnake Ranch is a 5 mile stretch on new singletrack. (In previous years, this section was run on a jeep road). This section was all very runnable and headed slightly downhill. It was easy to make up some time here.
From Rattlesnake Ranch into Javelina HQ and the turnaround is a short stretch of 1.5 miles, mostly flat. You hit Javelina HQ, turn around and head back out in the direction you just came, running the loop in reverse. This counterclockwise direction seems the easier direction of the two.
Hal Koerner, in blue
Slow and steady does not win the race.
Hal Koerner does.
This year he added his third entry to the list of 10 fastest times at Javelina. He also holds the course record.
Because the race is 6 washing machine loops of 15.4 miles each, we get to see the front runners. The first time I saw him, Hal was second in a tight group of four or five runners, including Ian Sharman, who ended up dropping down to the 100K. His Javelina race report is on his blog. The second time I saw Hal, he was in front, and with each successive sighting, he’d stretched his lead, cruising in at 14:56, a full hour ahead of Catlow Shipek, and two hours ahead of Joe Grant, who came in third. Most impressive of all was that Hal had a smile and a “Good job!” for everyone he passed on he course, each time he passed them. That sort of sportsmanship seems almost unique to ultrarunning.
The first lap went well. There were 377 starters, so it took a few miles before the pack had spread out enough that runners could find their own pace. AC100 is worse in this regard, because while there are half the number of starters, the first few miles are on a tight singletrack climbing up Acorn Trail, and if you get stuck in that conga line you might find yourself inching along at a 30 minute-per-mile pace, as I did this year. At Javelina, as at Quadrock 50 earlier this year, there were enough spots where you could go off trail to get around slow movers. It also helped to keep me from going out too fast.
I finished the first lap about 20 minutes ahead of my planned 3:30. This was fine, but I would need to be careful not to keep going that fast. Having spent the day before out there, I knew the heat would get brutal soon and things would naturally slow down.
Lap 2 was in the opposite direction. This, I knew, would be the easier direction because the climb up would be much gentler and on much smoother, softer trail. I slowed it down a little. There was a nice breeze in the miles going into and coming out of the turnaround. Once we hit the rollers in the McDowell Mountain foothills, towards the middle of the loop – the miles around Jackass Junction aid station – the breeze disappeared and the heat started to be felt.
Temperatures later in the day were reported to reach 106 at Jackass.
Almost immediately out of Jackass the trail got rough and rocky. These stretches might prove difficult later in the race. The rolling hills continued, now heading mostly down. There were 3 miles or so to the unmanned, water only aid station at Tontos, and then another few miles to Coyote, followed by a few fairly sandy miles in the the turn around. I’d walked those sandy miles at the beginning of the race. Now, running them, I could tell I wouldn’t enjoy them all that much.
The second lap was right on schedule. I’d felt the slightest twinge of cramping in my left calf and knew I was going to need to be especially mindful of fluid, salt and food intake. As I did at the end of the first lap, I headed back to the tent for a quick self crewing stop, refilled my bottles with EFS, which is heavy in salt, and grabbed on of my fruit baggies.
I slowed a bit on lap 3. The heat was brutal, and I had to take it easy. I could see some of the other runners were looking ragged.
The front runners had sorted themselves out. The first time I saw them, they were running in a pack. Now Hal Koerner had a significant lead. Amongst the women, Southern California runner Trace Bee was a close second when I saw her in her second lap, had narrowed the gap in the third lap, but when I crossed paths with her on her fourth she’d fallen nearly an hour behind. She would drop down to the 100K. Meanwhile, Michelle Barton was leading everyone, men and women, in the 100K.
Kista caught up to me after the third lap, and we headed out together for lap 4. She’d had been running very strong but was starting to get blisters. We spent nearly half an hour at Jackass while she had them taped. Others around us were also starting to show signs of suffering. Another half an hour was spent at Javelina HQ between laps four and five as she had her feet tended to again.
She started lap five feeling good. By the time we hit Jackass 8 miles later, after a rocky climb, the hurt was back on. In addition, her headlamp was proving too weak to be effective.
About a mile from the Javelina HQ turnaround I gave Kista my headlamp, which was much stronger, took hers, and made my way quickly to the aid station. I had another strong headlamp in my dropbag, as well as a good handheld I planned to give her.
Thinking she was still on the trail, I headed back out, figuring we’d cross paths. Soon enough it became clear we’d missed each other. I started moving faster, passing a number of runners.
Runners were looking rough. One guy had managed to get turned around completely just short of Jackass and was now headed the wrong way on the trail. “I get disoriented easily,” he said. Others were struggling. There were plenty of runners just off the trail dry heaving. I realized that I was no longer seeing a bunch of the 100 mile runners who’d been on the course earlier. I guessed that many of them had dropped down from the 100 miler to the 100K.
I was surprised that I felt so good. At AC100, the stretch between 50 and 75 miles was full of dark, bleak hours when I wanted nothing more than to quit, and I’d become convinced that they would always be physically and psychically brutal. Here I was at Javelina cruising through those miles and hours, and having fun. It’s hard to say how much this was the result of having tried to help someone else during all of that time; when I’m trying to encourage someone else, I can’t allow myself to feel desperation.
As I hit the sandy washes a few miles from Javelina Basecamp and the last turn around, a blister started making itself known, and the fun started to fade. With the sun came the heat, faster this second morning, hotter, and I was tired and sore. The only thing good about the last 9 miles would be that they were the last 9 miles.
A little history. I am half French, half American, and grew up almost entirely outside of the United States. My American father died when I was three. I had an American passport, and being an American seemed to be my most direct remaining connection to my father.
The Living Desert
I knew next to nothing about America. Nevertheless, I imagined it was home, and I clung to this idea and used it often to give me a sense of hope and of belonging, two things that were often necessary in a childhood that was at times bleak, and full of upheaval.
I constructed an imaginary America and its mythos cobbled together out of information from a handful of sources: photos of me and my father in the South Dakota Badlands, a book I had on Indian Chiefs, an early 1950s Bakelite View Master Stereoscope I inherited from an older step cousin, along with discs of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, and, from the same cousin, a book from Disney’s 1953 documentary The Living Desert. It was an imaginary America populated by noble Indians, rough cowboys, and circus people, and the landscape was arid Badlands and the Sonoran Desert, rich with activity that took place outside of the human gaze, when people were gone or perhaps just not looking. Often times this was at night. Night was when the scorpions would come out and do their courtship dances. Tarantulas and wasps would engage in battle. Roadrunners would be flitting about. There were snakes, and owls, and falcons. You could get water from a cactus. It was harsh and full of beauty and of life. Everything was hard earned and therefore precious.
Here I was all of a sudden running through this sanctuary, in real life. There actually were roadrunners flitting about. I heard the rattle of a rattlesnake. I was thrilled when we saw a tarantula! Extraordinary saguaro cactus was everywhere. I was running a race named after the lowly javelina, who graced the cover of The Living Desert book.
I didn’t realize as we headed out to Arizona that I’d feel so at home in some very fundamental, primal way out there on the course. This was especially true at night, which in past 100 mile attempts (both at AC100), has been a dark-in-the-soul, existentially lonely place. Not so at Javelina. Somewhere around 2 oclock in the morning I realized that I was having enormous fun!
Last 9 mile loop, it was hot, I hurt, blood was spurting out of this massive blister on my foot, I had my earbuds in listening to country music because lyrics like “Bring on the sunshine, to hell with the red wine, pour me some moonshine” somehow make everything tolerable. And there was this scrawny little lady about my age behind me hollering angrily. I took my earbuds out, wondering what I’ve done to piss her off. She scowled and said “sorry, I’m trying to motivate this guy” and then resumed yelling at the guy 10 yards behind her.
I slowed down to a walk and they made their way past me. The guy was so sad and beat up and had these little angel wings on him. He said “You want to join us? She’s being so mean to me.”
I followed them for a while and then finally passed them. She was still yelling at the guy. I’m not sure what she was saying because I had my earbuds back in but it sounded like she was calling him some kind of pussy.
She looked kind of familiar, but I was tired. Just some scrawny lady in Hokas who looked like she knows how run.
Turns out it was Ann Trason.
The heat was getting ugly. My blister got bigger, and filled with liquid. About a mile from the turn back to the finish I saw Kista making her way down through the rocks. Her feet were destroyed, and she was in bad pain. She wasn’t going to make the cut off at 92 miles, but she’d given it her best shot, and with what turned out to be a 60% drop rate, she’d gotten further than most people in the race. We stopped to talk for a minute or so and then each kept going.
The last 3.6 miles took nearly an hour. I was convinced I was going to be DFL and worked a bit on being okay with this. I hadn’t set out to do anything more than finish and in the process work some of the bugs out of the system. I hadn’t been hit with any despair, I’d run strong in the 80 – 90 mile range (which was a surprise), and hadn’t fallen physically or mentally apart. This was all I wanted. About a mile from the finish I saw a runner and pacer. The guy was tilting heavily and on badly damaged feet, barely able to move. The girl looked exasperated. I was happy to pass them, and surprised to learn, when they finished, that the guy was the pacer and the girl was the runner.
I was relieved to reach the finish line. I got my buckle and dropped into a chair. There were at least another 30 runners out on the course, including 8-year-old 100K finisher Teagan Redden and 13-year-old Colby Wentlandt, finishing his 3rd 100 mile race this year. I not sure how I feel about Teagan and Colby. There is a lot of evidence that marathon running is a bad thing for kids. The hormonal changes that happen to a body, especially a female, when the athlete gets down to next-to-no body fat can be devastating when the body is still developing. High school elite Julia Mallon end up with under-developed bones that snapped like toothpicks after a fall skateboarding, ending her college track career. I’m impressed that a kid has the patience and determination to do anything for 30 hours straight, though.
Some take-aways: this running without a crew turned out to be instructive. It forced me to pay attention to how I felt, and to make decisions based upon that. They were good decisions. My salt intake varied through the race, for example, much heavier during the heat of day, but at night I had no taste for it at all and switched to water. Forcing me to be mindful is not a bad thing at all. I have information that a crew can’t have access to. It’s also easier to crew yourself at a race like Javelina, and on a loop course with that many runners you’re never too far from another person. There weren’t stretches of hours alone, which is something that did happen at AC100…although it happened in the miles before picking up a pacer.
Javelina is not an easy race, as the 60% drop rate attests to. It’s a fast course, which might be part of the problem – runners go out too fast and then fade hard in the heat. The 60% who dropped weren’t just a bunch of undertrained neophytes but included strong runners who usually finish well ahead of me. Spending the day before on the course helped – I knew what to expect from the heat.