WTF are you doing?
I lost track of how many times I asked myself this question. From the moment I hit submit on UltraSignup to the middle of the night in that dark desert in Arizona and every step in between…WTF, Jen???
Obviously I said it a lot because there were a lot of steps in between – over 850 training miles and much of it in the hot, miserable, humid North Carolina summer. It sucked…but eventually it sucked less and I started to think I’d get through it. It wouldn’t be pretty, but is 100 miles ever pretty?
So, I didn’t really tell people. The thought of others tracking me made me nervous. Pacers? Crew? I didn’t want anyone, esp the people I love, to see me at my worst and think “Why didn’t you train harder?” Mostly, I wanted to see if I could do it. I’m not a particularly talented runner. I’m not fast and I’m not really interested in the burning pain of pushing hard. But I take pride in finding the finish line and discovering every ounce of fun along the way.
The flight into Phoenix was uneventful, until I saw the mountains. OMG, I get to run here? The excitement started to ease my fears but they still fought for control of my head.
Seriously though, I GET TO RUN HERE?!?!?!
While waiting for the shuttle, I made friends with my fellow runners. I love how all apprehension of small talk with strangers vanishes when around ultra runners. Sure, runners in general are cool….but meeting a fellow runner is like running into someone from your hometown when you live across the country. Meeting a fellow ultra runner is like randomly meeting a chick and finding out you have the same toolbox ex bf – you feel like instant soul mates talking about this and that…because they know! At least that’s how it always goes down for me.
The tent rental process was effortless and I definitely recommend it if you’re someone who can camp before runs. Staying a few feet from the start always helps me sleep better…no missing the race start nightmares!
After settling in, I went over to a common are where they’d be showing a some ultra documentaries later. I made friends with some guys from New Mexico, who shared their pizza and some great stories while we watched the sunset.
OMG…I get to run here?!?
The DJ woke me up before my alarm. Yes, the DJ. They dont call Javelina “The Burning Man of Running” for nothing. The place was bumping at 5 am and the flood lights lit up my tent so I didn’t need my headlamp to get ready.
Since my tent was only 100 steps from my drop bag, I opted to leave my clothing in the tent. I laid out everything for the 100th time, repeating that it was just like any other ultra. Just keep moving, no matter what.
I dont even remember a count down. All of a sudden I was flowing in the current of people. Everyone was moving fast…I had obviously lined up too far up. I attempted to correct my error by pulling off the trail to take pictures of the sunrise.
So many people. You didn’t even need a headlamp because the trail had great footing and it was so well lit by everyone else’s light. I felt like I was back in high school, feeling like I didn’t fit in. So many people…fit and experienced and there I was trying desperately to act like I belonged. The saguros reminded me I was on their turf by appearing to flip me off at every turn.
The trail to Jackass Junction reminded me a lot of Bandera. Except take out all of the bigger climbs and some of the rocks. Someone mentioned it had rained a few days before, which packed down a lot of the sand. The non-rocky sections of trail reminded me of kitty litter. Past the Jackass the course turned in a gradual, smooth downhill. It was glorious. I bought a whole set of photos to make a gif to show you how glorious:
Pulling back into Jeadquarters was such a rush. What a party! Since we changed direction every loop, I tried to think of it as 50k out and backs instead of 15.3 mile loops. This helped me mentally, since I always think the way back feels shorter than going out. Don’t knock it…it helps me! Loop 1- 3:12
The slight uphill going back to Jackass was noticeable. Combined with the rapidly rising temps, I slowed. I knew the 100 would get ugly at some point, but was it really supposed to start before I hit the marathon? I was just about to start my pity party when Twisted Sister came to my rescue.
Sucky race? We’re not going to take it!!! NO!!!!!!!!!! The mound of 80s hairband hair covered a head full of ultra knowledge. He was going for his 500 Mile Javelina jacket, he was local, and he had finished some tough mountain 100s…so I listened when he said to take this lap and the next one, which would be the hottest laps, easy. We spent the rest of loop 2 chatting and doing a bit of walk/running. It’s always easier with a friend. Lap 2: 3:58
By Lap 3 I was over life. It was HOT. The beauty of the desert had lost its luster. Now it was just a shade less wasteland. To add to my misery, first place male lapped me in this section. Speedy jerk. He was already past 100k and came trotting along with his pacer…who looked oddly familiar. I yelled “VARGO?” And sure enough, an old college bud turned killer trail runner gave me a wave of acknowledgement before trotting over the horizon like it was nothing. Speedy Jerks.
I started to get excited as I heard more people heading towards me with ice sloshing in their bottles. If I was faster I would have jumped them for their ice, but the sign I was getting close to the aid station was a good consolation prize.
Oh, glorious trail!! The sun was on its way down, the softer downhill of this section was so, so nice. Someone had left a cooler of popsicles.
It was heaven. I found a second wind a took off ahead of Twisted Sister, heading off on my own. It was cooling off, I was running downhill. Fistbump from Vargo as #1 male chased the course record. Running is fun again! Lap 3 – 4:17
Heading out on lap 4 I made friends with a couple from Columbus. They kept me moving as the sun began to set. It wasn’t as pretty as the day before. I was a getting a little sick of looking at the dang desert. But it was still pretty
Jackass Junction was a sight for sore eyes. It was an oasis in the middle of no nowhere. And because it is uphill getting there from either direction, your arrival is always a sign the worst of the loop is over. The RD must put the A team there. The volunteers were a perfect mix of fun fun fun and go go go….in fact, they literally announced on the speaker “If you’ve been here more than 3 minutes get the eff out.” Tough love.
I finished out the loop with a chick from Oregon. I thought of my fav chick in the PNW and how much I missed that saucy broad. Her boring hair understudy would have to do. She was moving well and I really hoped I’d have a friend for the next 2 laps, but then she told me she was doing the 100k. Thanks for nothing, impostor broad. Lap 4 – 4:16
Lap 5 was lonely. Everyone else was out with their pacers and I was the loser with no friends. I desperately tried to make new friends…but they were all too fast, dropping me like a kid sister trying to tag along. The situation started to seem hopeless…it was still so early and I was already so tired. My internal clock was still on Eastern Time, so 10 pm felt like 1 am…and I had another 8 hours of darkness.
Even with a decent moon, it was dark!
My garmin was on its charger in my pack, so I had no idea how far to Jackass but I started to fantasize about napping there. The fantasy was so delicious even the lights and music at Jackass couldn’t snap me out of it and I laid down on a picnic table. A volunteer came to check on me and I said I just wanted to lay down for 5 min. I dont think I slept but I must have entered a time warp because about 20 seconds later the volunteer said it had been 5 min. Dammit…give me 5 more minutes then!
I was so done. I didn’t really care about anything anymore….I just wanted to live on this bench in the desert for the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll do a 100 miler someday…but not today. Today is not my day. But then I remembered if I quit and tried again I’d have to start from mile 0. If I tried again right now I could start from mile 70. “Ok, fine,” I thought, “I’ll get up when the kid comes back.” To solidify the decision, I pulled out my phone to see if my text to the Matzi and Sauce went though. My service wasn’t good so I had left my phone off airplane mode to see if something would go through. That’s when I saw the flood of Facebook notifications. Crap, someone spilled the beans! Look at all that love. Now I really have to get up with the kid comes back.
(He almost got punched when he called me ma’am on the 2nd wake up. Ma’am?! I’m a YOUNG LADY!!!!)
My ma’am fueled rage lasted about a mile and a half before the despair of being alone in the dark got to me and I started sleep walking. I began recalling every other time I’d felt this poorly…Waldo 100k, Afton 50k, basically every time I’ve ran through the night. I had survived them all. This isn’t any worse.
Like an answer to my prayers, Twisted Sister came up behind me. I forget when he said but my mind screamed DON’T LET HIM GO! to my body as he passed and the body kept up. Then next few miles were bearable as I stopped thinking about how far I had to go and just followed the man in the long blonde wig. Loop 5- 4:56
The party at Jeadquarters had noticeable died down since my last visit but it still gave me the jolt I needed. Coffee gave me another jolt as I followed Twisted Sister out for our last full loop.
This is my last time seeing this section was all I could think as I headed back out into the darkness. Despite the cooler temps, I was still burning up all night and had yet to change clothes. The lack of humidity meant nothing was soggy so there wasnt a hint of chafing and I was positive I didn’t smell that bad. Pro: not changing saved lots of times. Con: warm temps mean I wasn’t eating. I had tailwind on me but even that wasn’t appealing. How much had I eaten that day? The answer was: not enough. I was beginning to feel the effects of the calorie deficit so I filled a water bottle with coke at Rattlesnake Ranch. The 200 calories or so in that would have to do.
I chased Twisted Sister all the way to Jackass Junction. He’d walk….and I walk more and more slowly until I realized I was going to lose him and I’d catch back up. Just don’t lose him. You’ll finish if you can stay with him.
Several times I announced I was takin a nap at Jackass. “Don’t do it,” he said. “That last thing you want is having to push the last few miles to beat the cut off.” I knew he was right.
When we pulled into Jackass the partied had died down. It was like a bar after last call. The lights were bright and the bartenders, although helpful, looked ready to go home. They got me some more liquid calories while Twisted Sister took a seat with his drop bag. Sitting or laying down would do me in so I announced I was moving on…he’d catch up. And he did.
About halfway to Coyote Camp, the sky started to swell with light. The sun was finally coming up. I could barely believe it…I had survived the night.
Just as the sun rose my watch beeped 87 miles. Only a half marathon left and almost 6 hours to do it. Let’s finish this.
Jeadquarters was alive again but I barely looked around. I got my glow stick necklace, which signaled I was though mile 91.8. It seemed weird getting a glow stick when it was already daylight but who cares? I was on my last lap! Loop 6 – 4:32
It’s a bit funny how many people we passed in the last 13 miles. May of those people who dropped me earlier in the night were now zombie walking. We passed a guy at Coyote Camp who was going the other way. I said, “Wow, that guy was ahead of me the whole race…how’d he get behind us?” Twisted Sister didn’t miss a beat: “He probably stopped for a nap at an aid station”
Just a quarter mile from Coyote Camp, I saw Mirna Valerio, who’s been all over the news for her Fat Girl Running blog. She was on her way to finishing her first 100k, and graciously stopped to take a selfie with me. That’s on classy and inspiring lady.
I swear they dumped more rocks in the section leading to the final turn off. They probably did it when moved the turn off a few miles down the trail. The rocks were hurting my feet too much to run and it was getting hot again. It took forever!!
Although nothing can compare to seeing that 2nd sunrise and getting into the single digits, finally seeing the turn at mile 97, which was a smooth, downhill back to the finish was beautiful. We jogged a bit, but I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Still, we passed people in the section, eventually catching up with Catra Corbett before jogging the last half mile to the finish.
That’s right folks. I finished my first 100 miler with Twisted Sister and Catra Corbett. NBD.
I wanted to cry…not because I finished but because I only finished due to the kindness of total strangers. I really can’t believe how lucky I got…making a friend so early in the race who would end up pushing me for hours through a long, difficult night. I sometimes questioned my sanity going out to do this alone, but I really have to thank Jamil Coury and Aravaipa Running for putting on a spectacular event. You dont have an army of stellar volunteers give up their Halloween Night and so many spectacular veterans on the course unless you’re doing everything right. Everyone I encountered was incredible and I’ll always be grateful for the people who worked hard to make this event what it is.
Final time 27:52:29, not that anyone’s counting. With 60% finish rate this year, I’m just happy to own a buckle and have the ability to stick my crotch in everyone’s faces, which you know I did. This is what it’s like, so you dont feel like you’re missing out:
Thanks for sticking with me for this long report on a long race. And for letting me virtually stick my crotch in your face. You guys rock.
Congrats, Jen! So proud of you!
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