The sun was beating down, and I dodged a spikey cholla cactus ball hiding in the rocks. I still had 70 miles to go and thought, what am I DOING out here?? I had nostalgically told the story of my first Javelina finish to anyone who would listen. The beauty and vibe of the race outweighed the challenges, and my story inspired three of my friends to run it in 2018. So I was pumped to go back this year because I felt confident I knew what to expect.
I had visions of being the calm, cool, and collected veteran cheerfully prancing through aid stations and trimming a few hours off my time because of my training and experience. Spoiler alert, that’s not what happened. I can happily report that I did finish, but it was not the race I anticipated.
The course for the Javelina Jundred is five loops at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Arizona, run “washing machine style.” That means loops 1, 3, & 5 are run clockwise, and 2 & 4 are run counterclockwise. There are three aid stations on course: Coyote Camp, Jackass Junction, and Rattlesnake Ranch.
For anyone considering a 100 miler, Javelina is exceptionally easy for crew and pacers because of how close it is to the nearest town, Fountain Hills. No driving for hours on washboard forest roads with no cell phone service. We booked an Airbnb a mere 10 minutes from the start and it allowed my crew to come and go with ease (as well as stop at a stellar taco shop on the way.) With 700+ starters, Javelina is also a big race, as far as American 100 milers go, and has an energetic, fun vibe that can’t be beat.
Loop 1 – Mile 1-22.3 Loop Time: 4:16, Total Elapsed Time: 4:16
I didn’t want to go out too fast, so I opted to join the second wave of starters. I found myself next to Catra Corbett (ultra legend!) and my friend, Vivian Doorn and her friend Lisa. The sun was rising quickly as we headed off into the desert. It was dusty, as it always is, and I felt good. I wasn’t nervous, and tried to just settle into my own pace. I didn’t stop at the first aid station 4 miles in, but pushed on through to the rockier section toward Jackass Junction. Once there, the heat started to creep up a bit, so I tossed a few ice cubes in my Outdoor Research cooling sleeves and buff to stay cool and continued on to the even more runnable section of the course.
As I went through I started to notice these fantastic signs from Goodr – a sponsor of the race. I didn’t get a picture of my absolute favorite one – “We said prickly PEAR, not prickly CHÄIR!” As a sidenote, I bought a pair of their special Javelina glasses for the race, and I really liked them. This is not an ad, but they were comfortable, light, fun, and as an extra bonus, they hide tears well (foreshadowing…)
The first loop has an extra few miles tacked on, so we had an extra turn after the Rattlesnake Ranch aid station. The volunteer was wearing a suit coat and boxers, and had a bottle of Fireball. Welcome to Javelina. ????
When I cruised into the Jeadquarters, I handed off my pack to Adam before running to tag the mat. By the time I got back, Adam and Kelli had swapped out my water (we brought extra reservoirs just for this purpose) and replaced my eaten food. Kelli sunscreened up my legs, I grabbed an Uncrustable, and off I went for the hot loop.
Loop 2 – Mile 22.3-41.7 Loop Time: 4:31, Total Elapsed Time: 8:47
This was the lap I dreaded the most because it’s the hottest and you still have so far to go! But prior to the race, I had heat trained in a sauna, and during the race I thoroughly “iced up” at every aid station, so I felt ready. It’s one of the few times it’s socially acceptable to walk up to stranger, pull open your shirt and bra so said stranger can dump ice inside. My friend Kelli calls it a “runner’s Mardi Gras.”
Oddly, what I was not prepared for was to feel lonely. As a rule, ultrarunning is a fairly solitary experience on race day. However, one of the fun parts of Javelina is that there are always runners around you because of the direction of the loops. This race, though, all of the runners around me were plugged into headphones and not engaging with anyone. I tried not to think of the many miles ahead of us, but was struggling to stay in the moment and enjoy being out there. For me, the beauty of the desert is at the edges of the day where the sky is painted with colors. Not midday, with the sun piercing your eyes and scorching your very soul.
By the time I got back to Jeadquarters I was not in a good headspace, nor did I escape unscathed from the heat. Ellen and Adam noticed I seemed off and surmised I was overheated and my electrolytes were all out of whack. I had been eating and taking some electrolytes, but it’s easy to overdrink plain water on a hot and dusty day, and I felt waterlogged. Ellen sat me down, asked me some questions about my intake, and took control of the situation. She iced me down, gave me Gatorade, and grabbed me some salty snacks. The big winner? Salted avocado on Pringles. Frickin’ MAGIC. I started to feel less dizzy, and began getting sassy, so they knew I was ready to go. Ellen told me my job was to walk to Coyote Camp, eat some more, and not run until I felt better. Yes, ma’am!! This is a prime example of how to deal with an issue early on before it becomes a big problem. (Don’t worry, if you fix one problem, ultras are spectacular at creating new ones for you, haha. But seriously – deal with them when they crop up.)
Loop 3 – Mile 41.7-61.1 Loop Time: 5:38, Total Elapsed Time: 14:25
As I mall-walked towards Coyote Camp, I noticed a guy keeping pace behind me, so I struck up a conversation. Finally, someone to talk to! Scott from Arizona was a great companion, and we traded lots of life stories in those few miles…like how he was stung by a stingray just two weeks before the race (and it turned out the barb was still in his toe – yikes.) It’s always fun to see how quickly running allows people to share bits and pieces of their life stories. With all of the fascinating conversation, we made it to the aid station before I knew it.
While I was snacking on more avocado and Pringles I was engulfed in a hug by my friend Wendy Abbey, who was running the 100K. She looked great and I admit, I was very jealous that she was nearly ⅔ through her race. Why didn’t I choose the 100K??
During the next section the sun finally went down. It was beautiful, as always!
Other than taking some Alka Seltzer to settle my stomach at Jackass Junction, I only remember snippets of this part of the night. An hour after sunset I heard the coyotes yipping, which is really cool (but honestly sounded like an exuberant aid station in the distance, haha.) I met Barron, from Canada, and his company really helped move the miles along. I just kept thinking I just have to make it to Kelli.
Loop 4 – Mile 61.1-80.5 Loop Time: 7:00, Total Elapsed Time: 21:22
Once back at Jeadquarters my spirits were raised because I would finally be with a friend for the remaining miles! Kelli is the Energizer Bunny of our group, so I knew I’d be in good hands. I refueled with the saltiest broth ever (it was exactly what I needed!) I got a goodbye kiss from Adam and said, “oooh, you… smell normal.” Everyone burst out laughing. But seriously, after many, many hours of being sweaty and grimy, even the smallest reminders of civility are refreshing.
Off Kelli and I went into the desert. She shared some stories from the day, which distracted me nicely. We took a “star break” at one point by turning off our headlamps and looking up. The sky was incredible, of course. We briefly discussed our serious lack of constellation knowledge before we started trotting again. In this section we saw both Wendys (Abbey and Kahn) on their way to completing their first 100Ks. Congrats, ladies!
When we got to Jackass, I sipped on more broth and observed the party in full swing around me. (Seriously, there’s a dance floor, a DJ, skeletons positioned questionably, and glowstick everything.)
I saw a woman who looked familiar at the water refill station, so I took a chance and asked, “Hi! Are you… palindrome_rnr? (Her actual name is Eve, by the way.) She turned, “yes!” “I’m Will Run for Whisky!” “Ohhh, hi!!” She gave me a hug and we had a quick chat. I love meeting Instagram friends and fellow Dirtbag Runner ambassadors in real life! The respite was wonderful yet short-lived, as Kelli and I walked off into the dark.
As we continued on into the longest and rockiest section of the course, I began to notice a pain in my upper quad/hip. Let me take a second to say that I was 70+ miles in, and of course everything hurts at this stage. But this was a more specific, burning pain that I’ve never had before. We paused at a bench so I could stretch, and it made for a dramatic photo that makes me laugh. I look so… despondent.
Kelli was really great about keeping me moving, and after another aid station stop and more miles in the dark, we made it back to Jeadquarters. Just One. More. &%#$ing. Loop.
Loop 5 – Mile 80.5-100 Loop Time: 7:21, Total Elapsed Time: 28:47
When I walked up to Ellen I thought I might be hallucinating because she was in this incredible, sparkly disco dress (not her normal look). At any other race, this dress might receive odd looks, but Javelina is all about the costumes! Consequently, she received tons of compliments. Our friend, Meredith, had fortuitously supplied a mini-disco light in case we needed to make our own party. Perfect.
I insisted on walking for a bit because my I was having some mild gastrointestinal distress (duh, I had already run 80 miles and my guts were less than impressed with the whole situation), and my leg was steadily getting more annoyed. I kept hoping it would go away… it didn’t. But we were moving along okay in the constant stream of headlamps.
My leg continued to hurt after we got through Coyote Camp, and I was frustrated because nothing was really easing the pain. We stopped at the little picnic shelter so I could stretch. Nothing was really getting at the pain until I tried a quad stretch. Tears immediately started streaming down my face because it hurt so bad. (And not in a stretching-a-cramp kind of way, but more like I-think-I-just-shredded-the-muscle kind of way.) Another pair of runners were also stretching and the pacer looked at me and said, “You’re a warrior. You’ve got this.” As a rule, I’m not a crier, so this particular turn of events was a little surprising for me. But also, it was 85 miles in, I’d been awake for 25 hours, and it was 4:30am. I suppose tears really isn’t that shocking.
As we continued walking, the sun quickly began to rise. No matter what’s going on during a race, sunrise is still a magical time. I immediately began to wake up and enjoy the colors of the sky. And that is one of the real reasons I was out there – to enjoy the edges of the day in the desert. (I realize I could do this without running 100 miles, but let’s not focus too closely on the sanity of this particular endeavor, shall we?)
Ellen, mindful that I originally said I wanted to push the pace, asked if my leg hurt the same running as it did walking. If so, running would allow this to be over sooner, so… I said I’d give it a go. We had a solid trot going for maybe a quarter mile until my left leg muscles seized up in painful protest and I burst into tears because of the pain. Knowing that I had at least a half marathon left to go I said in despair, “How am I going to DO THIS?”
Lucky for me, Ellen is a mother, and therefore experienced at dealing with crying, unreasonable people. She talked me through my moment and we continued our relentless forward (albeit slow) progress. I have to admit, it wasn’t pretty. At one point, whlle I was sniffling away tears, I yelled at myself to stop crying because “I don’t have the water to spare!” We both laughed.
Finally, we reached the rise above Jackass to the happy bell-clanging and cheering of a cowboy-clad gentleman (he was real… right?) I gratefully walked into the aid station thinking – last time. Even though it was still early morning, the temperature was rising, so we quickly stripped off layers and ditched our headlamps. And then… I eyeballed the trucks at the aid station and told Ellen I was in a lot of pain, I didn’t care anymore, and asked, should I just drop?
She looked at me, considering, and said she hadn’t seen me cry like that before, which was alarming. (In all honesty, I think only my mother has seen me cry like that.) But she also knew I could do it, so she recommended I reach out to my coach, Jess Mullen. I texted her, and her encouragement and dismissal of dropping as a viable option was exactly what I needed to hear. I munched on two pancakes (my favorite part of the morning Jackass Junction scene) and we headed out.
I was feeling more energized after a solid snack and rest in a chair. We were able to get a steady mall walk going, especially because this side of the loop was easier terrain. The sun was well up by this point, and we easily kept the conversation going by swapping stories. Finally, though, we saw the tents of Rattlesnake Ranch. Whoo hoo!
Before we got into the aid station proper, Ellen suggested we quickly grab food, ice up, and head out. No stopping or sitting because really the only way to make the pain stop was to finish this thing. I agreed, but firmly said I had to stop in the porta.
Of course, besides necessity, this partially may have been an excuse so I could sit down for a minute. (Don’t judge me – all runners have done it.) But when I sat down, leaned my head against the door, I burst into tears. Again. Good grief, I was sick of crying. But pain, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and some non-race related personal things appeared to have stripped me of any emotional control. I walked into the aid station, and the volunteers saw I was struggling and invited me to a spot in the shade they were calling the “hug corner.” Sniffling, I looked at Ellen and asked, “can I?” She put up her hands in resignation and the volunteers put their arms around me and guided me to the aforementioned hug corner. While I was snacking, Ellen had the clever idea to use a full liter soda bottle as a substitute foam roller on my leg while I was sitting. While it didn’t help me in that moment, I was impressed with her resourcefulness. (Tuck that idea away if you ever need an emergency foam roller.)
We iced up one last time, ready to just make it through the final 3.7 miles to the finish. During this time of day there are always a fair number of mountain bikers out there, and that brief interaction with the “outside world” is always a little jarring. We continued our trudge and then we made that final turn towards Jeadquarters.
Last time I cried with joy and awe at my accomplishment. This time I was just grateful that it was over. I handed Adam my pack, and asked Kelli and Ellen to join me for the final bit through Jeadquarters to the finish line. Kelli happily clanged her cowbell, exclaimed excitedly, and thanked the well-wishers along the way. Ellen filmed the whole 3 minute, 20 second journey through the horseshoe (I was still walking.) I am so grateful to have that video to remember that glorious mix of emotions and support from my incredible pacers. I had spent so much emotional energy by that point that really all I could do was tear up at the final chute where I jogged/limped across the line.
Finishing time: 28:47:02
Elevation gain: ~7,900 feet
Place: 366 of 424
Calories consumed: ??? (It’s very difficult to keep track during a race of this distance ) My foods: Glutino chocolate cookies, Spring Energy Canaberry gels, a Hammer Mountain Huckleberry gel, a Peter Rabbit baby food, a Super Tot sweet potato/apple baby food, some roasted sweet potatoes, a peanut butter Snickers, and an Uncrustable.
Aid Station foods: Oranges, Pringles with salted avocado, grilled cheese, cheese quesadillas, Gatorade, and pancakes.
On the plus side, I didn’t tangle with wildlife (snakes, scorpions, or tarantulas) or cacti (harder than it sounds, trust me.) I didn’t get any blisters, and I did actually finish the race. On the flip side… I was mentally challenged in a way I didn’t expect. Having already finished this race in 2017, I didn’t have the drive of a first-time finisher, and it turns out that helps a lot. I also was a little surprised at my tear-laden response to the frustrating leg pain that forced me to walk because, again, I’m generally not a crier.
But 100 milers strip you raw physically as well as emotionally, and they are always a challenge, no matter how experienced you are. That’s one of the beautiful things about this sport. Endurance running is the teacher that keeps on teaching.