01 January 2016

It's Oink Time: Javelina Jundred 2015

It's ~10pm and we're just cresting the last of what feels like a million washes on the rolling section I've come to call "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride." We've been hearing the bumpin' music across the dark desert for a mile or more, but it's only when we crest the edge of the wash that we see what feels like Las Vegas - the Jackass Junction aid station. Lights, music, and a cordoned off dance floor, complete with disco ball, and booze. 
Apparently lots of booze. 
As Rob and I descend to the station, we watch a guy on a side hill stumble and sway, catching himself once, twice, then careening head-first into a cardboard trash can, flattening it as he falls full-force to the ground just a couple feet ahead of us. Rob and I both lunge to help him up and Rob says, "You go ahead. Get what you need. I'll take care of this guy." 
Add that to the list of miscellaneous pacer duties.
Javelina Jundred: the best Jalloween party, ever.
I was nervous headed into Javelina. After my first 100-miler 18 months earlier, I had lingering doubts. Could I finish without injury? Am I even capable of running, truly running, a full 100? And could I do it under the cutoff? Javelina has a more stringent cutoff than the Zion 100 - I would need to run at least a 45-minute PR (personal record) to even finish this race.

Then there was the training. It's hard to ever feel like you're ready to run 100 miles, but a back injury just two months earlier had put a hitch in my fitness and I was questioning whether my meager base would hold over.

Once I arrived in Arizona, though, it all dissipated. My buddies, Rob and Carolyn, picked me up from the Phoenix airport. They have a a way of bringing the fun and after seeing their smiley faces, I immediately felt like the weekend would go well. The day before the race, we arrived early to set up our tent near the start and finish. Javelina is the second largest 100-miler in the country, and a large portion of the participants camp out in a huge tent city reminiscent of a music festival. 

Honestly, when I signed up for Javelina, it was my "back-up" race and I didn't give the event too much credit, based on its loop format (more below) and relatively flat terrain. However, what I didn't realize was that Javelina is one of the best community events in ultrarunning.  It brings together ~700 runners, plus their associated crew members, for a weekend of costumery, running, and playfulness - what's not to like?! The race doesn't take itself too seriously - calling its start/finish "Jeadquarters," festooning the course with Halloween decorations, and staging a beer mile the day before the event - but it is remarkably well-organized and well-run.  My hat's off to Jamil Coury and Aravaipa Running.

On race morning, after a pretty fitful night, I wake up, take my earplugs out, and am surprised to find I've woken up to the largest flurry of activity I've ever seen at 4:30 in the morning. A bus pulls up and drops off 40 new runners from the outer parking lot, and folks are scurrying to and fro with drop bags, fidgeting with running sleeves, headlamps, and GPS watches. Nervous and focused looks abound, but so do smiles and laughter.

Carolyn asks me how I'm feeling and I say, "Great! Nervous, but confident. It's going to be a great day." I am surprised to find that I mean it, every word.
My amazing crew - alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic!

Loops 1 and 2: Scout the Route

The race starts slow - perfectly slow. A bottleneck takes a long time to empty out, which keeps me honest in my pace. I take photos of the sunrise, talk to fellow runners, and admire costumes, including at least four Wonder Women, a guy in a head-to-toe lizardy suit, Little Red Riding Hood, an angel with the letters "CRAP" on her shorts (I later find out she is "Holy Crap"), and a number of tutus and animal ears and tails that make me smile. The second half of the 15-mile loop is buttery - smooth, easy downhill, and I keep reminding myself to rein it in and not get carried away too early. I get to the Jeadquarters faster than expected, but I know I've given my best effort at keeping it slow. 
Nothing like a desert sunrise.

After handing over my headlamp and a layer to Rob and Carolyn at Jeadquarters, I head back out on the loop, in reverse this time. One of the cool things about Javelina is that you run each loop the opposite direction of the previous loop and you run many loops in a row (six and a half for the 100-miler and four loops for the 100-kilometer race). This could seem like drudgery, but I found it to be fun for a couple of reasons - you get to see everyone in the race multiple times, and you really get to know the terrain, so there are no unnerving surprises when you are tired. 

On loop two, I recognize Mirna Valerio coming the opposite direction. She is the author of the fantastic blog, Fat Girl Running, and I fangirl swoon a little bit and crack a joke as I pass by. The rest of the loop passes by somewhat unremarkably until the section I will later name "The Rock Gauntlet." While talking animatedly with a couple from Florida about the terrain, I accidentally kick a rock HARD. Yow! I hop a couple times, but since we're mid-conversation, I play it off and don't dwell on it. It hurts, but I figure it will go away, and it mostly does.  A few hours later, I will kick a rock hard with my other foot on the same section of the course. In the weeks following the race, I will lose both of my big toenails. Doh!

The Rock Gauntlet.
As I come into the Jeadquarters a second time, Rob and Carolyn are a machine, putting sunscreen on me, getting ice, taking trash, finding food in my drop bag. Carolyn asks how the heat is. I say, "It's warming up, but it's fine." Rob says, "I figured you would know how to handle it." Living in El Portal = unintentional heat training! I say "People are suffering out there. I'm not suffering!"

Loops 3 & 4: Beat the Heat

It does get hotter on loop three. Taking heat management advice from 2013 Western States champion, Pam Smith, I wet myself down early and often - pouring water over my head, on my shorts, ice in the sports bra and hat, wet bandanna on my neck. It works, but just barely. I am dry each time I reach an aid station. I watch a man get helped over to a helicopter, apparently suffering from some sort of heat exhaustion. It's only in the 70s, but there is no shade on the course, the soil is dark and rocky, and it feels much hotter out there. Two-thirds of the way through loop three, I start seeing people coming in the opposite direction with Otter Pops in their hands. Yes! 10 minutes later, I'm elated to find an unofficial, impromptu aid station: two guys and a huge cooler full of pops!

Soon, I am approaching Jeadquarters, and I try to remember...were they going to have pizza starting at 3pm or starting at 8pm? Please, oh please, let it be 3pm! (It's 4pm right now.) I get there and GLORY, HALLELUJAH! Pizza, it is! I grin, grab two cheese slices and check in with my crew for pack adjustments, etc. Carolyn shares heart-warming Facebook posts with me, I get an update on some of the other runners I've met, and I'm headed out, pizza slice in hand. Nomnomnom! (After the race, I write that pizza was "my highest hope and my best friend.")

On loop four, in a section I call "The Land of the Charismatic Cactus," I fall in with a couple of guys, one of whom Rob later identifies as a starring player in this documentary on the Barkley Marathon: one Brad Bishop. I benignly ask, "How are you guys doing?" and Brad replies with no hesitation and complete deadpan delivery: "I'm firmly buckled into the strugglebus. How 'bout you?"

We laugh and share tales for a short time, but my legs are itchin' to move and it's a hard thing to say "no" to happy legs in an ultramarathon, so I bid them adieu and jog-walk up the hill back to Jackass Junction.
Charismatic, eh?

It's in this section that my stomach starts to rebel. It'd been on the cusp of rocky for an hour or two, but had seemed to recover. Maybe the pizza threw me over the edge? (So much for my best friend!) I find myself dashing to the bushes just minutes before the aid station - a recurring theme for the rest of the event. A couple of immodium eventually slow the runs, but it never completely lets up and I dedicate myself to the only palatable foods left to me for the next ~45 miles: bananas, avocados, and chicken noodle broth. I hold onto a "to go cup" in my front vest pocket and stash avo's and 'nanners to paw at later.

As I'm headed into the last 200 meters of lap four, the lead runner comes in, finishing lap seven. Holy wow. When I cross the chip mat to mark my lap end, he is kneeling just past the line, cameras flashing at him, all celebrating his win. I pat him on the back, and suddenly aware that I'm photobombing his victory, I scamper away to the aid station, where all the volunteers are mouths agape, looking at the victor. I try to get their attention, saying, "I know I didn't just win, but I'm feeling pretty good about finishing lap four! Can I please have some Sprite and ginger?"

Loops 5 & 6: Fight with Light

As I head back to the drop bag area, Rob and Carolyn are ready, as always. This will be the longest pit stop of the day - change of clothes, grab stuff for night time, roll out my calves. Rob is ready and psyched to get out there with me, and we send Carolyn to bed in the tent city so that someone is able to drive back to California. How one can sleep with the DJ blasting music is anyone's guess. Rob and I head out and I'm a regular chatterbox - telling him about my new names for sections of the course - "The Wash," "The Enchanted Forest," etc. I'm punchdrunk with camaraderie, the new adventure of nighttime, and the fact that I'm crushing my projected time of 27 hours. I've also gotten to crew Rob twice previously and so greatly respect and appreciate his talents and love of the sport that I'm tickled pink to be paced by him.

It's here when we encounter the Halloween rager at Jackass Junction. Post-race, it is laughable how improbable such a scene is in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a 100-mile endurance running event. However, in this moment, all I can think is, "Bathroom, food, go. That dance floor is crazy. Are the aid station workers drunk? They seem lucid. Okay, let's run." And away we go.

By the time we end loop five, it's midnight and it's cold. As I put on tights and refuel, Rob throws his puffy on me and runs to the tent to grab something.  So, now I'm wearing tights and shorts, a long-sleeve, two puffies, and gloves, and I am just warm enough. When Rob returns, I hand back his puffy and off we go. Within mere minutes, I am burning up and I strip back to the long-sleeve with sleeves rolled up. It's amazing how poorly the body regulates temperature after 60 miles of running!

Lap six is exciting. Each step I take on the first half is a section of course I have completed for good. This time, when we reach Jackass nearly four hours after the previous encounter, it's dead. The playlist has shifted to slow jams and the debaucherous volunteers have been replaced by awkward teenagers from the local high school cross country team, who quietly address me with, "Do you need any help with water, ma'am?" 

During lap six, I also start to notice shin pain. After the full-on shin meltdown of my first 100-miler, I have a minor freakout and have to talk myself off the ledge for a brief moment. I try foot-striking in different ways to minimize the damage - longer strides, shorter strides, turning the foot in or out, landing on the heel or ball of the foot. The thing that causes me the least amount of pain is to run, not walk, with tiny strides. So, I trot the rest of the race - surely cutting hours off of what my time would have been if I had continued walking sections of the course.

As we get closer to Jeadquarters, we start seeing people with glowstick necklaces - a talisman each runner receives upon starting lap seven to differentiate them from the rest of the pack and validate them taking the shortcut for the last loop. I covet the necklaces and it seems like I will never get mine. The lights of the finish shine so brightly, but we seem to get no closer. 

Rob and I are both flagging at this point. Rob has run rim-to-rim-to-rim at the Grand Canyon earlier in the week, plus a backpacking trip into the canyon, a fifth place finish in the beer mile the day before, and now 30 miles of run-trudging with me in the middle of the night. Rob says, "I'm not sure if I'm going to go out on this last lap with you." I had told Rob before the race that I really wanted him for lap five, and everything else was icing on the cake, so this was not unexpected. I tease him a little about being tired, then encourage him to do what is best for him. As we pull into the start/finish area, I steel myself for the possibility of going back out alone. Secretly, I really hope he joins me, but after all he has done for me already, I resolve to keep quiet and let him decide.
"Sexy Darth Vader." Classy, too - look at those craft beers!

Loop 7: =)

Then, as I lightened my pack of contents and adjusted my headlamp, Rob said, "I'm coming with you. Let's do this." So, we head out for one last nine-mile lap. One more final trudge through the Rock Gauntlet, then we get to a brand new trail - the first all day! The cutoff trail back to the finish is gorgeous - high on a ridge overlooking the area, nobody coming the opposite direction, endless pinpricks of stars and streetlights in the far distance. We pass no one and no one passes us on this section. Rob and I barely speak. We are both worked and content to soldier on silently. It is a beautiful moment in my running career - the miles tick by slowly, but not painfully. The stars give off a feeling of infinite timelessness and I feel something primal and basic as I run through the wilds at night. I feel whole and full and at peace.

Those feelings last for a while, then as we drop back down the ridgeline, the last mile seems to take an agonizing eon. Eventually we get to the edge of the tent city. I ask Rob if he will cross the finish line with me and he says, "Do you want me to?" I yell, "Of course! This is as much mine as it is yours!" We cross the line at a "speedy trot" and we give each other a huge hug. I sit down in a perfectly-placed chair near the finish and a race official brings me a beautiful belt buckle, engraved with a Javelina on the front and the words, "I did it!" on the back.
I came. I saw. I oinked.

Finishing time: 24:13.  A six-and-a-half hour PR.
After the race, I sit for a long while near the finish, watching the sun come up, cheering runners on and drinking a beer, icing my shin. I have no idea how much time passes. At some point, I gather enough energy to walk the 200 meters to the tent, where I promptly crash into a fitful and painful, but much-needed nap. When I wake up some time later, I attempt to help clean up, but I am useless - my brain feels like molasses and my body feels like it has been run over by a truck. I fall asleep again in the neighboring tent. Thank goodness Carolyn has gotten a little sleep - she is chipper and organized and deftly works around me tearing things down, packing the car, and driving us to California.
Looking back, Javelina was one of the best races of my running career. I ran a smartly paced race, I made good decisions when things got tough, and I had a talented support crew to keep everything organized and buoy my spirits. My legs held up reasonably well. I still need to figure out my gastrointestinal issues, but I've also had worse. I fell even more in love with the ultrarunning community and surprisingly, I also found new love and joy for the 100-mile distance. 

Like my last 100, the things that remain are mostly joy, gratitude, and a huge sense of accomplishment. 

And oh yeah, an oinkin' belt buckle.

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