The Pemberton Trail is a 15 mile loop through McDowell Mt. park outside of Phoenix Arizona. The terrain is rugged single track that winds up and down through cactus and sage. It's rocky, sometimes sandy and never flat. It’s completely exposed to the elements. Every October, on the full moon weekend closest to Halloween, the Javelina Jundred takes over the trail for a 101.4 mile race/Halloween Party. The event attracts ultra runners from around the world from elite to first timers.
On paper the course seems tame enough..... A mere 1,000 feet of elevation gain per loop. And the cutoffs seem generous.... 30 hours to complete 7 loops. It isn’t until you experience the terrain as well as the hot days in full sun followed by cold nights that the course becomes a monster. Despite warnings from the race director, runners don't seem to take the course seriously and go out much too fast. As a result, Javelina typically has a 60% drop out rate.
Once I decided on Javelina as my first 100 mile attempt, I tailored my training around the difficulties I knew I would encounter. First, I steadily increased my weekly mileage. Then I started running marathons more frequently to practice my recovery and running on tired legs. I looked for courses that would give me an opportunity to run on similar footing and practice my foot management. I ran races at midnight, races in 100 degree heat, long races and short races. I practiced my fueling strategy, finally finding a system that worked for me just 4 weeks before the event. I spent a lot of time practicing my transitions from run to walk and back again. I crossed many finish lines with a disappointing time because practicing strategy became more important than my current race. Each time, when the race clock hovered between 4:30 and 5:00 I would have to console myself that I was working my plan and it would pay off in the end.
By the time race day approached, at least a dozen of my friends had decided to take on the challenge. We frequently chatted at marathons and shorter ultras to compare training schedules and philosophies. There really isn't a set plan for training for the 100 mile distance; it's very much up to the individual runner. Some of us were running many week day miles; others were running lots of marathons and 50ks at their typical marathon pace. Most were doing a very long run (31-50 miles) 2-3 weeks out from race day. I wasn't running as much as many of them, did my last rally long run 4 weeks out, I ran my marathons and ultras at a much slower pace than I'm capable of. I started to question my training. Did I do enough? Everyone else seemed to do more and faster too. Did I start to taper too soon? 4 weeks of taper started to seem excessive.
Once I entered taper phase, it was too late to change anything, so I started to concentrate on getting my mind in the right space. Experienced ultra runners will tell you that it's 50 percent training, 50 percent fueling and, 70 percent mental. You have to really believe you can do it. Dropping out is not an option. I spent many hours visualizing the finish, many hours talking myself through those middle of the night laps, and many hours decided what I would do if x, y or z happened.
The day before the race, I slept in then lounged around the room until noon. I spent a few hours at the ball park with Ric before Karl and Jeb (great friends who flew in to crew and pace for me) picked me up to go to race headquarters. We picked up my race packet, chatted with a few friends, weighed in at the medical tent, then at the last minute decided to leave my drop bags instead of dealing with them in the morning. We returned to Fountain Hills to enjoy a fabulous dinner with Matt and Michelle. Dinner with the present company was one of those that you could linger over for hours had there not been a race to run the next morning. We returned to our hotel and I started laying everything out for the morning when I realized that my drop bags contained a few things that I had to have pre-race: body glide and sunscreen!
I usually sleep really well before a race, but this time I kept tossing and turning… worried about my lack of bodyglide and sunscreen. I finally decided to get up at 4:00a.m., before the alarm sounded. Good thing, when I reached over to turn off all my alarms (my pre-race ritual requires I set a minimum of 3 alarms), I noticed that I had set them for 5:45, not 4:15 like I had planned. Good thing I didn’t sleep well or I would have missed the start! Karl, Jeb and I met in the lobby to drive to the start, my good friend Jill joined us as well and let me use her sunscreen before we left. Once we arrived at Javelina Jeadquarters, I marched over to the medical tent and had them tape my feet. Turns out it was a good thing I didn’t lube them, because by the time the med crew finished, almost every inch of my foot was covered in tape. After taping, I wandered around chatting with a few old friends and waited for the race to start.
6:00 am struck and we were off. I’m always amazed at how fast people take off in ultras. No matter how hard I try to start slow, the momentum of the crowd sweeps me up and it’s “run or be trampled”. I ran a nice pace the first 2 miles, but managed to slow down by the time we hit the first long, rocky climb. Basically the course had 5 miles of climbing followed by 5 miles of little rollers, then 5 miles of downhill. When I reached the top of the first climb, the sun was starting to peek over the mountains. Sunrise #1. A few minutes later I came across my good friend Kino and we ended up running the remainder of the first lap together. Lap one flowed by easily.
Lap two reversed directions so the 5 mile climb was a twisty, turning gentle ascent up sandy single track. I met Dmitry on this lap and would run with him off and on for the rest of the race. Dmitry is a veteran of ten 100 miles races, so it was nice to chat with him as we kept progressing forward. He advised me to push a bit the first 3½ laps, then ease back after dark. That was against my initial plan of walking in the heat of the afternoon and running after nightfall, but I decided to listen to the voice of experience. I also stuck to my plan of spending less than 2 minutes per aid station and never sitting down. Lap two was complete.
I pushed through lap three without incident except a brief moment of sitting to empty a rock from my shoe. That would end up being my one and only moment of rest for the entire distance. During that brief rest, I felt my quads cramping and knew I needed to adjust my electrolytes. I adjusted correctly and banished cramps for the next 3 laps.
Lap 4 brought on sunset and with it lots of wildlife. Bob white quail scattered in front of me, a rattlesnake slithered off the trail just as I approached. 50 miles into the race, itwas dark. Glow sticks appeared out of nowhere to illuminate the trail. I was alone and it was a bit eerie. I kept pushing my pace a bit and caught Dmitry, feeling secure to have a friend to run silently through the desert.
Lap 5 was Jeb’s lap. 62 miles down, 40 to go. The darkness made climbing up the rocky trail difficult and my ankles were starting to ache. We walked the entire 3 mile climb. At the top we were able to break into an occasional run, but it was always short lived. Too many rocks and not worth the risk. We laughed about how surreal it was to run through the desert, chasing glow sticks, coming upon runners sleeping beneath cactus, their pacers keeping guard. Jeb broke into a Winnie the Pooh song, and soon I joined in. We were bouncy, trouncy tigers singing our way down the trail and time flew by.
It was 2 am by the time Karl took over. I felt bad that I didn’t have any run left in me for Karl’s loop. Instead we marched up and out of Jeadquarters and the best workman-like pace I could muster. We watched the shooting stars, talked about life and it started to get really cold. My flashlight failed. I was sleepy. I told Karl I needed to find caffeine at the next aid station, but by the time we got there, I was so busy throwing on layers and finding my other flashlight that we both forgot. It ended up being a blessing that we forgot caffeine, because by the time we left Jackass Junction (the aid station), I was feeling fine. So far I hadn’t experienced any digestion problems. I was sticking to gummy worms, tiny candy bars and ramen soup. I was also staying very well hydrated (a nice, balanced hydration)… and even though that meant lots of short breaks along the trail it also meant my system was working perfectly. Towards the end of lap 5 we experienced the sun again. I could see clearly and managed to pick up an occasional jog. Sunrise #2.
We made it back to Jeadquarters with four hours left to complete the last 10 miles. Once again, Jeb took charge and off we went. Try as I might to run, my ankles were trashed and my quads were feeling like they could cramp at any moment. Jeb and I decided a 20 minute per mile pace would get us there well before the 30 hour cutoff, so we just concentrated on that. I can’t remember if I ran at all the first few miles of that last lap. I do know that after we crested the climb, I sent Jeb ahead to Coyote Camp to refill water bottles and I was able to pick up a run again while he was gone. I planned on running the excellent, smooth and sandy 3 mile Tonto Jeep Trail, but my legs just would not get going so we continued to walk. We passed the 100 mile mark. Jeb asked if I was going to get all emotional and I responded “not yet, but tears will flow when I see Ric (Mr. Hawk.)” Somehow, ½ mile from the finish I found my legs again and we ran it in. As we crested the final hill, I saw Ric and burst into tears. So did Jeb, and Karl and Ric. It was a big, messy sob fest and it was great! I got my buckle, Jeb grabbed me a sandwich and some ginger ale and we were done!
Actually, the toughest part of my 100 mile adventure had just begun. The 24 hours following the run were much worse than the run itself. It started with “The Un-taping of the Feet” by the medical crew. I was horrified and fascinated by my feet when my gaiters and socks came off. My ankles were as big around as my calves and covered
with a rash. My normally vascular feet looked like down pillows with toes sticking out the end. Tiny water blisters were everywhere. The med staff assured me this was normal for Javelina (they muttered something about the sand) and just to soak in Epsom salts and warm water followed by ice packs. 20 minutes later I tried to get up and walk to the car. I couldn’t stand! When I finally managed to get vertical I felt like I would topple over. I clung to Ric as I hobbled to the car. I had no appetite, but knew I needed to eat something. A milkshake was the only thing that sounded good…. Trying to get out of the car for that milkshake was pure agony.
We had planned to stay in Phoenix Sunday night then drive to Yuma the next day for a week of relaxation. After downing my milkshake I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again we were in Yuma (2.5 hours from Phoenix). Ric said I had fallen asleep so soundly he decided to just drive. Once again I had to try my best to stand and hobble to our room, afraid I would topple over at any minute. After a shower and a good soaking of the feet I parked myself at the pool to begin my week long recovery plan (eat, drink beer and lounge poolside). My plan didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped. I couldn’t sleep… just wasn’t sleepy. I couldn’t eat…. I would get hungry but after a bite or two I couldn’t force anymore down. I could drink beer…. But beer meant trips to the ladies room…. And that meant I had to get up and walk! Every step felt like a thousand needles shooting through my ankles.
Thank goodness the extreme pain in my ankles and feet only lasted 24 hours. By Tuesday I was able to take a slow 2 mile walk. Wednesday my appetite came back and we went out for a 5 mile hike. Thursday I was almost as good as new… eating everything in sight, swimming and another 5 mile hike.
All said and done, my first 100 was an incredible experience. Sure, I had some rough times, but nothing like I was expecting. I never had a moment that I wanted to quit. My body held up well during the race. I had to make friends with ankle pain after 10 hours of running, but never had any other leg problems. My tummy cooperated and my rib cage stayed loose and relaxed (I have a problem with soreness in my upper ribs during ultras). I’m already looking for a 100 to run next year.
"it's just like having fun, but different"
I wanted to comment on this race report, but the only word that keeps coming to mind is:WOW!
I will ready it again a second time and a third time before I can really comprehend the magnitud of your endevor.
Dove, you better be ready for some celebration party next week when I am in your neck of the woods!
"Champions are everywhere; all you need is to train them properly..." ~Arthur Lydiard
Honestly, when I read reports like this, I think, "Why would anyone want to abuse their body so badly?" It just seems nuts to me. I guess I'm just too much of a "all things in moderation" kind of guy!
Having said that, I'm amazed by the physical and mental perseverance required to finish such a task. Awesome. Congratulations.
P.S. I love your pictures; very evocative.
Marathon Maniac #957
Wow is right! Awesome report, Dove, and when you talked about bursting into tears at the end it brought tears to my eyes as well. Thank you so much for the details, too. I've often wondered what people's feet looked like at the end of one of these races, and about the recovery later. BTW, what did you take as far as electrolytes? Did you take S-caps, too?
Life is a headlong rush into the unknown. We can hunker down and hope nothing hits us or we can stand tall, lean into the wind and say, "Bring it on, darlin', and don't be stingy with the jalapenos."
WOW You are TUFF I can't imagine going through that; then wanting to do it again
Thanks for the pictures and the RR
Half Fanatic #36
I commented over at KR, but it bears repeating. You are amazing, dear Dovernator! Those ankles are a wee bit scary, but your accomplishment is outstanding! Glad you've recovered well and are looking forward to the next big adventure!
i'm lovin' it... MM#1949
Really amazing Dove! That's a great accomplishment for you and was a direct result of your training. You should pattent that training plan!
Geesh what would have happened if your feet weren't taped?? That looked nasty.
Wow is right! What an experience you had . . . and I love the photos. Huge congratulations!
.Sure, I had some rough times, but nothing like I was expecting. I never had a moment that I wanted to quit...... I’m already looking for a 100 to run next year.
.Sure, I had some rough times, but nothing like I was expecting. I never had a moment that I wanted to quit...... I’m already looking for a 100 to run next year.
Ok, you RULE! What beautiful pictures, except for the feet of course. I am so glad your first 100 miler was a success. How many dropped out? Why did they have people change directions? How bad did the heat get? Great that you had two supportive pacers fly down to help you out and that they were just as emotionally involved in your accomplishment as you were.
Next time I am struggling to finish a 10 mile run, and I do, I will think of this report. What an inspiration.
"During a marathon, I run about two-thirds of the time. That's plenty." - Margaret Davis, 85 Ed Whitlock regarding his 2:54:48 marathon at age 73, "That was a good day. It was never a struggle."
Holy Cow! I really needed this report. Here I was, thinking I couldn't do the Huntsville 1/2 tomorrow because I have a bad head cold. Well, after reading your report, I know I can do it! So glad you included the pix, and the honesty of each lap. Thanks!
Yeah, WOW! is right! I can't fathom going the distance you covered, even on a nice flat, smooth course. On a rugged course like you had to deal with - fogetaboutit.
Congratulations on getting yourself into such a good physical and mental place to be able to conquer the Javelina Jundred. You are awesome! So, by the way, was your RR and those photos (except for the feet - that is scary...).
Without ice cream there would be darkness and chaos.
Wow, Dove, that is amazing! Well done. I caannot imagine running that far. The trails look pretty nice for a shorter run though! I hope you recover well. Nice photos too.
MM#209 / JapanJoyful#803
It was an honor to get to witness your 100-mile training/pacing plan in action this summer. You carried it out to perfection in your 70th marathon-and-beyond in just four years.Maybe your 100th can be another Big One too.
ps - is the feet/tape thing something unique to the JJ rocky/sandy route?
did you ever experience it or see such havoc in your 50mi/100K/70milers?
Ben Beach - Boston Marathon no. 50 (1968-present): “I’m going to keep running it until I can’t do it anymore.”