The Javelina Jundred was held on Jalloween this year. This desert 100-mile race is run in McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills, Arizona. The course is a loop format that runs on the 15.5-mile Pemberton Trail. We would have to run six loops in alternating directions and then run a shorter loop to bring the distance up to 101.4 miles.
I had never run this race before and was looking forward to closing out my 100-mile race season with a strong race. I would wear #29, which was to remind me that this would be my 29th career 100-mile finish. After a strong win at Pony Express Trail 100 two weeks ago, I felt ready to push Javelina hard. I set my sights on finishing in less than 22 hours. However, as I watched the weather forecast leading up to the race, I realized that it may reach as high as 82 degrees. I don’t train in hot temperatures so I realized that the heat could slow me down significantly. Mentally I prepared for that so it wouldn’t bother me too much when that happened.
The course is relatively flat, although there is about a 1,000-foot total climbing during each loop. Some descriptions refer to a sandy surface, but there are only very short sections of deep sand where you cross washes. For most of the course, mountain bikers have created a packed surface that also makes a great running surface.
As far as the climbing goes, during each loop, there is a climb up to the mid-point of the loop where it rolls up and down in the foothills of McDowell Mountain. In the clockwise direction, the climb is steeper and shorter. In the counter-clockwise direction the climb is about seven miles long and gradual. To me, it seemed like the clockwise direction was faster and easier.
My race strategy was pretty simple. To reach a sub-22 finish, I would need to run loops that averaged 3:15. However, because of the hot day, I wanted to run the first loop very fast to bank some time ahead of the average. I didn’t want to run so fast that I red-lined, so I would be careful.
I flew to Arizona after work on Friday and was picked up at the airport by buddy, David McOmber of Gilbert, who graciously hosted me at his home, would shuttle me to and from the course, and would pace me for the last 24 miles of the race.
Photos by David McOmber, Sue Norwood, Rajeev Patel
We arrived at the park with 45 minutes to spare. It already had a Jalloween feeling. Many runners were dressed up in costumes. That would give me hours of entertainment to see them out on the course.
I put on my coonskin hat. I checked in fast, made last-minute preparations and was ready to go. There would be 250 runners starting. It was crowded, noisy, and full of energy at the start.
Start, me on left
We gathered at the start line at 6:00 a.m. and then were away running down the desert trail. We first ran through some low-land, crossing several washes, and winding through some low valleys. The desert showed amazing beauty as the dawn arrived. I ran immediately behind a front-running pack that included Dave James, Paul DeWitt, and Jorge Pacheco. For the first couple miles I was running in 6th place.
Our pace very quickly pushed us far ahead of the packs of runners behind and I noticed a wonderful quiet stillness away from the others. Soon, I was surprised that a female runner passed me. That usually doesn’t happen early in a 100 when I go out very fast. But I eventually figured out that it was Bev Abbs, a very talented runner. She went on to be the first female finisher, in 18:48.
The trail took a turn and climbed up and out of the wash bottoms onto ridges with views of the desert around us. I also had a great view of the front runners. Around the four-mile mark I noticed that the front four had separated into two groups, with Dave James and Paul DeWitt in front and Jorge Pacheco falling behind. It was fun having a front-row seat watching the leaders. However, my front-row seat had a cost. I had to continue to go at a blistering pace.
I reached the Coyote Aid station (about 5.7 miles) in 48 minutes. The next section stayed up in the foothills and rolled up and down across washes. I felt pain in my right knee. This was a big concern coming into this race because since my last 100, two weeks ago, the knee had experienced pain in the location where it had cartilage repair in 2004. Thankfully, within a couple miles, it calmed down. The trail was a little more technical in this section and I enjoyed pushing the short downhills very fast.
The course took another turn and then started a long gradual downhill. I found the perfect song on my MP3 to give me a very fast cadence. A runner had been catching up to me, but as I turned the feet over faster and faster, I left him far behind and he disappeared. I reached the Jackass aid station in another 46 minutes. The fast trail continued all the way back to the start/finish area. As I came within about a mile, Dave James was coming back toward me with others a few minutes behind.
Me, finishing Loop 1
I reached the staging area at 2:15:58 (15.5 miles) in 11th place. I was a little shocked at the fast time. I ran over to my bag that I had placed on a table and ditched my coonskin hat and grabbed my sun glasses. It was time to protect myself from the sun.
Heading out for Loop 2
It was now time to start the second loop, this time in the reverse direction. I backed off the pace a little and several runners passed me. I was now fun to see about 200 runners behind me. The further back there were, the more creative costumes were seen. It was a lot of fun. Even without the coonskin hat, many recognized me. Some of my friends were already more than five miles behind. I was very surprised with the long hill in this direction. It was gradual but very noticeable. It took me nine more minutes to reach the Jackass aid station in this direction. The final runner was already more than 10 miles behind me. I enjoy races that reverse directions because it gives you something to gage your progress with against the other runners.
The sun started to beat down on me and I was alarmed at how soon in the morning it felt hot. Thankfully because of the loop, we would change directions and the sun would beat down on me from another direction. I concentrated on trying to always reach the next aid station in less than one hour. If I was successful my loop time would be under three hours. This worked well on this loop. My splits were 0:51, 0:59, and 1:02.
Off in the distance I could see the famous fountain of Fountain Hills, many miles in the distance spewing water up 562 feet for about fifteen minutes starting at the beginning of the hour. This was a fun feature to watch throughout the day while on the upper portions of the course.
View of course and start/finish
I wondered when I would see the first place runner again. As I ran along, I tried to predict the time when I would greet him. I guessed that his loop times would be about two hours. By looking at my pace, I could calculate within a couple minutes of when I would see him again. It was Dave James and he was opening up a significant lead on the others. I was surprised to see that Jorge Pacheco, last year’s champion, was already more than 20 minutes behind.
Loop 2 (mile 30.9) ended well, at 5:10:24. I was ten minutes ahead of schedule and I knew that this was a good 50K time on this course (during a 100-miler). I was now in 22nd place. I noticed there was a huge gap between me and the runner ahead (nine minutes). But the huge pack of runners was about a half hour behind me. All this was easy to determine with the reverse direction loops. It was nice to be far ahead of the main pack, but it also was getting a little lonely. There would be long stretches where I wouldn’t see another runner.
For Loop 3, I knew what to expect and was becoming more familiar with the course. I was also starting to get a little bored in certain sections. There were long sections down by the washes where you had no views, only passing desert trees, bushes, and cactus. It seemed to be the same thing over and over again. Thankfully the route would eventually climb up and give me something different to look at. This time I reached Coyote aid station in 1:13. That was a huge difference from my 48 minute sprint time during loop one.
I really appreciated the friendly greetings each time from those behind me. People like Rand Nielson, Quintin Barney, Ben Blessing, and Karla Holgers always smiles to greet me. It was now in the afternoon and it was getting blazing hot. I put ice in my hat and in my bottles. For this third loop I ran with two bottles so I could have one with water to spray on me. The aid stations were starting to run out of things. Gels were the first to go. I tried to stock up, but still would run out. I’ve got to do better about bringing my own gels.
About half-way through the loop, Dave James greeted me, heading in the other direction. I knew that this meant that he was about 15 miles ahead of me. Amazing! He had opened up more than a half-hour lead over the next runner. I also couldn’t find Jorge anymore. He had DNFed, along with Paul DeWitt. I had disappointed feeling come over me for both of them. I was managing the heat very well, drinking plenty. At no time did I become dehydrated. But my pace was slowing. I tried hard to run fast down the last seven miles of the loop like I did during loop one, but I just couldn’t keep up the speed very long.
I finished Loop 3 (46.4) at 8:26:13, in 24th place. My loop at be 3:15. I realized how hard it would be to do any more 3:15 laps, which was the average I hoped for. But I also knew that I had banked more than 1:15 time ahead of that pace, so I still had a nice buffer to work with.
Near the beginning of Loop 4, I struck up a conversation with Ben Bruno, who I would see on and off for the entire loop. He was amazed to hear that this would be my 29th 100 finish. He asked what time I hoped for and I replied, sub-22. I assured him that we were on a very good pace toward that goal. He went on to finish in 22:30. I pushed ahead of Ben on the long uphill and tried hard to keep up with two strong women runners, I think Veronika Swidrak and Kara Scarbrough. I could tell that my pace was slowing. Once I got up on the rolling portions, I was able to pick it up. I noticed a problem with me feet. It felt like I had something inside my socks.
Coyote Aid Station
Once I reached Coyote aid station, I took five minutes to check things out. It turned out that my socks were just wet from sweat. I cleaned and lubed the feet and then pushed ahead to catch back up with Ben. The sun was going down and it felt much cooler. Ben and I really picked up the pace.
Sunset and the moon
I finished Loop 4 (mile 61.9) at 12:12:54. It felt like I was going slow now, but I knew that was a decent 100K time. I was in 23rd place. My 4th loop time was 3:46, so I was now losing time toward me 3:15 average loop goal. I had finished the loop without needing to turn on my light. When I returned to my bag, I put on a long-sleeved shirt and grabbed my green handheld light, ready for the long night.
The desert after sunset is an amazing place. The nearly full moon cast its light on everything and the coyotes would howl and bark to each other. It was also fun to see all the lights of the runners both behind and ahead. I could see the lights of the Coyote aid station off in the distance and it seemed to take forever to arrive there.
While up on the ridge heading toward Coyote Aid station. I was surprised to see a light coming behind me. I thought I had opened up a wide gap on the runner behind. I did my best for about a mile to stay ahead but the light finally caught up. It was Dave James, the leader, on his final partial loop 7. He was 31 miles ahead of me! I was able to keep up for awhile, but then watched his light disappear ahead. He went on to set a new course record of 14:20.
About half way through Loop 5, the wheels started to fall off. Just as some runners were coming toward me (who were about 18 miles behind) I threw up everything. My stomach just wasn’t working anymore. I also had started to feel a bonky pit in my stomach that I frequently feel after sunset of a hot 100-miler. I did everything I could think of to push the bonk away, eating, drinking, taking S-caps, but nothing was working except slowing down. Once I hit the downhill, things improved, but it was frustrating that I couldn’t push my pace harder. I also started to have chafing problems as a further bother. I couldn’t eat much, and just sipped on a Gel packet for about an hour.
I finished Loop 5 (mile 77.3) at 16:20:53. I was nearly an hour behind my goal schedule. The Loop had taken me 4:07. That was depressing to realize. But despite my problems, I was still in 23rd place. I plopped down in a chair to solve the chafing problem. A dude with a wig came and took my bottle to fill. When he returned, I finally noticed that it was David, my pacer. He was in a good costume. I grabbed a bean wrap, sat down, and tried to eat. I asked for Ginger Ale. They were out. Coke? They were out. Gels? They were out. I hoped for a greasy burger. Nope, only a veggie burger. Vegetarians are taking over. The volunteers were very nice and tried to help me as I just sat there and looked at my bean wrap. I was in bad shape. Memories of 2006 Wasatch came back to me as I sat at Brighton for 90 minutes feeling the same way. I just couldn’t figure out how to get my stomach going again. This bonk was terrible.
Finally, I was getting cold. So, my only choice was to get back on the trail. I told David that we would be leaving. Poor David had no idea how to help me. I was in no mood to talk much and started throwing up again within a mile. There just was nothing much David could do to help. I kept appologizing for not being great company. But, it was very good to have someone nearby who cared while I was in such poor shape. I wished I could enjoy the night. Normally I would turn off the light, enjoy the moonlight, and try to reel in other runners. Not tonight, I was just plodding ahead.
There wasn’t much running going on anymore. My walking pace was still strong and fast. We finally reached Jackass aid station and I plopped down in a chair to rest for several minutes. I listened to a couple volunteers debate whether rap was an art, it was interesting. I could no longer tolerate the sports drink (Succeed Ultra) so I switch to straight water. Stupid me, I should have tried some Ensure in my drop bag. I ate as much as I could and then tried very hard not to throw it up too soon.
We finally reached the top of the “long” climb and I could pick up the speed for a little while. It didn’t last. I started to become very cold. I had not brought a jacket and David didn’t have one either. As we descended down into the washes, the temperature would be very cold. I started to become very concerned as I could feel hypothermic symptoms coming on top of my sick stomach and bonk. Thankfully, as we climbed up onto a ridge, we were blasted with warm air, at least 15 degrees warmer. It was incredible. When we dipped down into a wash, it would again get very frigid.
Within a couple miles of the next aid station, I ran out of gas and needed to plop down on the trail on a warm ridge. First I tried to lie down on the side, but I discovered that resulted in hundreds of burrs on my shirt. So, I just laid down on the trail. People passing kept asking if I was OK. “Just resting.” I commented to David that I wished these runner would just figure out that I was trying to take a quick snooze. Sure enough, the next runner greeted us in a loud voice asking if we were OK. I even replied, “Shhhh….I’m resting.” He actually reached down, hit my legs, and told me to hang in there. That made me laugh after my comment to David. I told David to let me rest for two more minutes. We got up and continued to move as fast as I could.
When we reached Coyote aid station, I was in very poor shape. I saw a cot with a blanket and I jumped in. I buried my head in the blanket to get as warm as possible. DNF thoughts started to enter my head, but I pushed them aside. DNFing at mile 87 is just plain stupid. I poked my head out and watched runner after runner come through the station. Dan Brenden received cheers as he went through. That depressed me, because I knew that at one point I was almost an hour ahead of him. Little by little I started to feel better. I started to enjoy lying there just a little bit too much. I overheard volunteers telling people what was on the menu. Hot Chocolate. That could work. I asked David to get me a double dose. Two packets. It tasted wonderful. That was a very good sign. The hot fluid really helped to increase my body temperature. I was hopeful that these calories would make it into my system quickly. After about 20 minutes on the cot, I sat up and said it was time to go.
As we continued to finish the last five miles of this long loop, runners came toward us with glow necklaces around their necks. These were the runners ahead of me, on their partial lap 7. I was so envious. As I started to feel better, I again finally found a running gear again. David complemented me on my pace. I looked at my watch and reset my goals. Now it was all about finishing sub-24 and earning that sub-24-hour belt buckle. If I could finish Lap 6 by 21:30, it would still be possible. A new problem arose. My left knee was becoming very stiff and painful. This was bad. I had visions of not finishing for hours. Soon I discovered that the pain was much less if I ran. It was very painful when I walked. OK, decision made. I would run. Finally my wits were coming back. As we approached the end of the loop, I asked David to run ahead to my bag to get my jacket and two bottles of Ensure.
I finished Loop 6 at 21:35:47. The loop had taken a very slow 5:07. I had now fallen to 39th place. Thankfully, my stomach was now in working order. The Ensure worked great and the station now had Gingerale again. A turkey wrap also worked. They were out of Gels, but I took a bottle of my Ensure for the road. Our stop was pretty quick and we were on our way again within ten minutes.
Could I run these final 8.8 miles in 2:15? I had to give it a good try. We immediately passed a runner and continued to press the pace hard. I had David start running ahead of me. This worked because I did my best to try to keep him in my sights. We leap-frogged with another runner for awhile and caught up with others. I looked at my watch and knew I needed to reach Coyote aid station by 23:00. Once we hit the uphill, I noticed the runners ahead were walking. No walking for me! I still had a great running gear going on the uphills. But my energy level decreased. These runners later repassed me. It seemed that the aid station lit up on the hill would never arrive. We finally got there at 23:02. I told David that all I needed was a refill and we only stayed one minute. I yelled to David, “Time to go!” as I noticed the other runners were taking their time. We could get a jump on them. I downed a half can of Ensure that tasted perfect.
We now ran on a new trail for me, the Tonto Trail that headed across the big loop back toward the start. I was very pleased to discover that the trail was very runnable with a nice decline. I kicked up the pace three notches and we started to really fly! Yes! David finally could enjoy a fun run with me. The aid station volunteers had said that there were four miles left. I hoped that there was less. I kept looking at my watch. As we crossed the open desert, I looked behind and saw two sets of runner lights chasing me. That helped me keep the pace going. We met hikers (probably runner crews) coming toward us who cheered us on. It seemed like it was taking forever to reach the main trail. At about the 100-mile mark, I looked at my watch. It was 23:25. About 1.4 miles to go. Finally we reached the main trail with 1.04 miles to go. “No problem,” David said, “We can do this easy in 25 minutes.” Well, it only took about ten minutes. I greeted many runners heading out for their Loop 7. I was very glad that I was almost finished. With only about 0.2 to go, a runner behind me almost caught up. No way! I went into a sprint for the rest of the way.
I crossed the finish line in 23:46:59, in 35th place. I was handed my sub-24 belt buckle with very kind words and felt very pleased. Yes, it was two hours slower than I hoped, but still, I was able to push through a very tough night and still have a very respectable finish. I again appologized to David for such a rough night. He insisted that he enjoyed the experience. It was also very satisfying to finish well before sunrise. As I recovered, we watched two more runners finish after me before the 24-hour mark.
Belt Buckles, sub-24 on bottom
Of the 250 starters, only 125 runners would finish before the 30-hour cutoff. Unfortunately, this race gives 100K credit to those who finish four loops and then quit. I believe this greatly reduces the motivation of runners to continue toward the true finish.
Awards for the winning runners
So, my 29th career 100-mile finish was now in the books. This was my seventh and final 100-mile finish of the year with no DNFs. It had been a very good racing season for me. During the year, despite my aged 51 years, I had set PRs at these distances: 5K, 10K, marathon, and 100-miles. I had broken course PRs at four 100-mile races. Yes, it had been a good year, but now I’m ready for a little rest.
Check out these great pictures taken of many costumed runners by Jakob Herrman.