Wednesday, November 25, 2015

It. Is. Time.

I think it's finally time, cats and kittens. Time to talk about what happened to me during the Javelina Jundred. Here's a picture of a javelina to get you in the mood.
The babies! I die from their cuteness. 
The day is October 30, 2015. I arrive in sunny Fountain Hills, Arizona to await my fate on the Pemberton trail system of the McDowell Mountain Resort.
A thoroughly marked course means I didn't get lost. Hooray!
We went out to the race start/finish to check out the area and get a feel for the place. This trip to the venue the night before was also to (hopefully) allay my fears for the coming day. Spoiler alert: it did nothing of the sort.
Oh good. This looks promising.
While the desert was stunning, what with the giant saguaros looming over their domain, it did not quiet the screaming in the back of my mind.
Me. In my mind.
I tried to focus on the beauty of my surroundings and not the fact that I would be spending 61.2 miles in the desolate desert. 
This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife. How did I get here?!
My face in the picture above conveys the cluelessness and confusion that comes with realizing that I  paid money to be here and do this. 
I only had to do 4 laps, not 7 like those suckers in the hundred miler. Pictured with the lap signs is a former Javelina participant. 
After sufficiently exploring the area and doing nothing to calm my nerves about the adventure of the next day, we headed back to the hotel. We decided to just have dinner at the restaurant that was connected to the hotel. It was a wise choice. They had a most delightful beef stroganoff. I made sure to finish off dinner with an ice cream sundae. For all I knew, it was my last meal and I was going to make the most of it. 

Despite all of my expectations, I slept fairly soundly and didn't have any pre-race nightmares. I had meticulously arranged my gear for the morning and just had to focus on getting dressed and eating breakfast. In this case, breakfast was two strawberry Poptarts. I'm pretty sure those are the breakfast of champions, or something.
Yeah, that's totally a breakfast that champions eat. I mean, look at those sprinkley bits! 
I made it to the shuttle bus without incident and we headed off to the start, Javelina Jeadquarters. I noticed that Mirna of Fat Girl Running was on my bus. I geeked out a bit, because I love her blog. I didn't dare say anything to her then, I waited until we were lined up at the starting line. Because by that point, I was so freaked out, I couldn't even string together coherent sentences. It was the perfect time to try and and talk to someone I admire. 
The desert sunrise is worth waking up for. And then going back to bed instead of running 100K. That would have been the wise thing to do.
Anywho, the countdown went way too quickly and the race began. What I love about these longer distances, is the way that everyone starts out at a nice leisurely pace, e.g. walking. We're going to be out there for a long freaking time! Better take it easy, amiright?!

That pretty much sums up my ultra running strategy. 
The course at Javelina is a 15.3 mile loop. This is important, so remember it. There may be a quiz at the end. After leaving Jeadquarters, we came to our first aid station at only 2 miles in. Hmmm. This seems like odd placement for an aid station, I thought to myself. This theme of odd aid station placement would plague me throughout the run. 
Pffffffft. That's not even that far. I'LL BE FINE.
On that first lap, 6.5 miles didn't even seem that bad. But trust me, it got progressively farther as each lap progressed. But I digress. The first lap was actually quite pleasant. I tried to just soak up the scenery, take pictures, and chat with other runners. 
Hey look! Scenery! 

It was seriously pretty out there. So here's a bunch of pictures to prove my point. 

Whoa, that's some scenery! 

Holy cow! Would you look at that!

And here I am, in the scenery!

Okay, that there? That's just cool.
Lap one went as planned. I completed it in about four and a half hours. I wasn't breaking any land speed records, but I was on track for the 18 hour finish that had been predicted for my by Ultra Signup. 

I fueled up at Jeadquarters and while there was helped by a very nice gentleman. He filled my pack with ice water and even offered me some ice for my bra. In the Arizona heat during an ultramarathon, that's not even weird. It's quite welcome.

So I headed out for my second lap, all iced up and ready for action. Or so I thought. It was getting pretty darn warm out there. And all the ice in the world couldn't change that. I had to slow my pace dramatically in order to avoid heat stroke. At least I had the good sense to do so. I heard that others were not so sensible. 
I was really starting to dislike the heat, however, and by the time I rolled into Jeadquarters for the second time, I was mostly looking like death.
Artist's rendition of me at the end of lap 2.

The heat had been making it difficult for me to stay on top of my nutrition. Basically, that means that I hadn't been eating enough. And that equals bonking, big time. At least there was a friendly face to greet me when I came in from lap 2. Turd'l (of the Capitol Reef 50K DNF  debacle) was there and gave me an encouraging pep talk.

I made myself eat some pizza at Jeadquarters. It was the pizza of angels. I drank an enormous amount of Coke. It was the Coke of angels. I refilled my pack with, you guessed it, the ice of angels. Once I had been fortified by the foods of the heavenly host, I felt much better about heading out for my third lap. Extra bonus, lap three is where the sun went down! Woot! 

Here's where things get crazy, y'all. My third lap was absolutely incredible. "How can it be incredible when you've already gone 31 miles?!" you ask. The answer is: I have no friggin' idea. But it was! The temperature went down and my pep level went sky high. Pep, guys. I was irritatingly cheerful. I was totally stoked about the rattle snake that was crossing the trail in front of me. (It was far enough away I was in no danger, but a dude coming the other way was having a bit of a fit about it.) We let the snake pass and kept on keeping on. 
They're really kind of beautiful... When they're far enough away not to bite you.
That was pretty much the only wildlife encounter that I had. Unless we count the coyotes that I heard howling as the moon came up. Which I thought was pretty incredible. The moon was rising at the same time as Orion was, the coyotes were whooping it up. And everything was the most magical that it could possibly be. Until mile 42,

Mile 42. The place where the magic ended and the pain took hold in a vicious, unrelenting vice grip. Here's what happened. The trail had some seriously rocky sections. Rocky sections equal ankle tweaking, right? Right. So after a that many miles of slightly tweaking my right ankle, an injury occurred. 

My ankle, and more specifically, my Achilles' tendon had begun to swell, pushing against my shoe in a most uncomfortable manner. It slowed my pace to a crawl, almost literally. The only reason that I didn't actually resort to crawling was the numerous cacti along the course. Those spiny bastards will get you. They don't mess around. 
Yeah, we don't mess around!
I hobble into Jeadquarters to find my mom waiting for me. She can tell I'm not doing so hot. But she also knows better than to try and talk me into quitting. I sat with her awhile, eating Ramen noodles, which were basically the only thing that I could get down any more. I tried to eat some more pizza at the end of lap three, but two bites in I knew that was NOT going to be okay.
This NEEDS to be my new ultra running hat.
I spent far too long trying to psych myself up to head out for that last lap. Another 15.3 miles wouldn't be too bad, if I could walk as well as a teetering toddler. Alas, my walk was not nearly so graceful and quick as that. I came up with a mantra while I was slurping down those Ramen noodles. "I didn't come here to quit." And I hadn't! I didn't spend two days in drive time, all the money on gas, hotel, and race entry, and I didn't spend my entire year training just so I could quit. The time limit for the 100K is 29 hours. I could make it. 

I said my farewells, and slowly hobbled back out onto the course for my fourth and final lap. I knew that the 18 hour goal was not going to happen. Not. At. All. It was 17 hours and change when I headed out on that last lap. I desperately wanted to beat the sunrise. So I adopted this really awkward shuffle that I would do off and on. It at least made me feel like I was moving along slightly faster than a lame sloth. 

And then, my watch died. This is where things got to be the worst. I had nothing to tell me how far I had gone, how fast I had gone. How long until the next aid station?! I'll never know! It's dark. All the cactus look the same in the dark, in case you were wondering. They're lousy at helping you get your bearings in the middle of the night, in the desert of Arizona. I was probably clocking 25-30 minute miles at this point. Every uneven step that I took with my right foot sent agonizing pain shooting up my leg. 

I thought I would never reach Jackass Junction, the aid station halfway through the loop. I kept asking passing runners how far it was and not getting the answers I was hoping for. When I finally made it, I wasn't sure I was ever going to leave. They had a warming tent and grilled cheese sandwiches. Do you know how amazing a grilled cheese sandwich is in the wee hours of the morning on a cold desert night? It's downright mind blowing.
I am the sandwich of your salvation.
I eventually pried myself from the bench I had been occupying and continued to hobble my way down the trail. The runners that I did see were all very encouraging and friendly. They could tell I wasn't doing well and most asked if there was anything that they could do. Runners look out for each other, and that's pretty great.
In the middle of the desert, running an ultra.

After I was a couple of miles out of Jackass, I couldn't take the pressure on my ankle any more. I began to look for, what I decided to call them, sitting rocks. Rocks that were just enough off of the ground and flat enough to sit on. I would do a thorough snake and scorpion check before lowering myself down onto each sitting rock I found. I spent many a minute sitting on rocks during that last lap. I knew that sitting every couple of minutes wouldn't get me to the finish any faster, but I was too tired and hurt to care. 

I knew if I could just make it to the Coyote Camp aid station, the finish would only be two miles away (at the rate I was going, that was still another hour, but hey). It took an eternity to get there. I could see Coyote Camp gleaming in the distance, mocking me with their ever receding lights. I swear, it kept getting farther away the more I moved toward it. 

An awful thing happened as I finally trudged my way into Coyote. The sun came up. I wasn't supposed to see the second sunrise! I was supposed to be snuggled in my comfy hotel bed when the sun came up again, with my belt buckle of victory resting on the nightstand. But nooooooooo. I had been out there long enough that the earth had made a full rotation around the sun. WTF.

I was now a meager two miles from the finish line. I spent those two miles intermittently sobbing. And I mean sobbing. It wasn't some gentle tears running down my cheeks. It was full blown, chest heaving, noise making, sobbing. It really impressed the other runners still out on the trail with me (all but two of whom were running the 100 miler). But I could hear the announcer at Jeadquaters. I was so close! All I had to do was keep moving. 

I gave everything I had to do a limping shuffle jog into the finish, I tried to hide how much it hurt. I don't think I was very successful...
I am in sooooo much pain right now.

I had done it. It was over. 
Please, let me sit down forever and never move again! 
Except for the part where one of the volunteer ladies tried to get me to go out on another lap because she thought I was in the hundred mile race. I told her to check my bib, that I was in the 100k, and to give me my buckle now, please. I wanted that damn buckle so bad. I was pleased to see that it was quite hefty. I would have been a bit sad if it were some flimsy little thing.
The Precious.
It took me 24 hours and 34 minutes to finish this race. The last lap alone took nearly 8 hours. But I did it. I finished. There were 33 people in the 100k who did not finish. And I completely understand it. That course is not to be trifled with. I don't hate it, though. 
The swag was pretty great, you guys. Totally a good reason to do it again.

I would go back and do it again, but only if I could have someone do it with me. The long, lonely stretches in the dark were almost too much to handle. 

This quote sums it up. It was the toughest thing I have done so far in my life, and still I rise. 

There's nothing quite like accomplishing something that you never thought you could. I encourage everyone that reads this (Hi mom!) to go after those things that linger in the back of your mind. The goals and aspirations that hang on, despite your best efforts to subdue them with a "normal" life. The negative thoughts that tell you that you can't. That tell you you're not good enough. Don't listen to them any more. Frances Bacon said "It's all so meaningless, we may as well be extraordinary.". And how can you argue with a man with such a delicious name? 

I'll leave you with that for now, and until next time, happy running!


  1. Wow, damn, and holy moly. Great recap, I was cheering you on as I read it and was so happy for you when you crossed that finish line! So impressed with your strength and grit - you are amazing. Congratulations!!

  2. You are amazing! I have teary eyes after reading this. Congrats!

    I had a terrible experience last year in November (my Thunder Road Marathon) where I finished in 6:05 and never laced for a run again. I need to find my way back and it looks like JJ is amazing. It would probably take me at least two years to train for it from where I am now so I am no good for a company.

    But I need to tell you again, you are an inspiration! I follow your blog (wish there were more postings), and look forward every time I see notification of a post.

    Once again, congrats on the finish and thank you for being an inspiration to many.

  3. I think you are amazing! You did a 100k!! That's a crazy distance, and you did that.

  4. Thank you all so much for the comments! I promise to blog more, just for you Iztok.