The Javelina Jundred was run on Jalloween this year. This desert 100-mile race is run in McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills, Arizona, at the base of the McDowell Mountains. The course is a loop format that runs on the 15.3-mile single-track Pemberton Trail. We would have to run six loops in alternating directions and then run a shorter loop to bring the distance up to about 101 miles.
I have a love/hate relationship with this race. I ran it for the first time in 2009, finishing pretty good with a time of 23:47. However, in 2012, I returned and my race fell apart because of the heat and I quit after 100K with a slow time of 19:37, more than three hours slower at that point than my first year. After the poor experience that year, I vowed to never return again.
But the Sonoran Desert called me back. In the 90s, I lived in Tucson and have a great love for the Sonoran Desert region. As I looked for a 100-mile race for October, I decided with two weeks to go, to sign up and return. The weather would again be hot by my standards, with high temperatures reaching 80 degrees. However, with recent better heat management during races, I believed I was up to the challenge.
The course is relatively flat, although there is only about a 1,000-foot total climbing during each loop. The official website warns this course is not flat, but by my standards it is very flat. Running every step for the entire loop is very possible. As far as the climbing goes, during each loop, there is a gentle climb for several miles up to the mid-point of the loop where it rolls up and down in the foothills of McDowell Mountains. For most of the course, mountain bikers have created a packed surface that also makes a great running surface.
My goal for this race was to finish in under 24 hours. With this course, finishing even faster is within my ability, but with the heat, I would approach it conservatively. I didn’t want to have a failure similar to 2012. I prepared a simple pace goal sheet with my goal times for each loop, along with how I performed that last two times.
For this race, Halloween costumes are encouraged and there were many crazy outfits. I brought my coonskin hat, but with the warm temperatures, it never came out of my bag.
After a fairly good night’s sleep at a motel in nearby Fountain Hills, I arrived at the park and took a shuttle to the busy start area, crowded with runners and crews. The 100-mile race had an amazing 459 starters, the largest 100-mile race I had ever run in. An hour later, 141 more 100K runners would start bringing the total to 600 runners!
At 6:00 a.m. we were away in the pre-dawn dark. In 2009, I ran the first loop in the top-10 when the race was much smaller. This year, I started in the top 40 or so. A glow from the dawn appeared as an enormous string of lights made its way on the Pemberton Trail, winding our way clockwise through the cactus.
Memories of the trail soon flooded back to me, but initially I was confused, mixing it up with the Coldwater Rumble course nearby that I ran earlier in the year. But soon, I would have every section again memorized. Trail conditions were much better than my past years here, nice and fast.
When I reached about the halfway point for the loop, near the high-point, Jackass Junction aid station, I was doing well. I really wanted to drop off my headlamp into my little drop bag there, but the bags had just arrived and were not sorted yet. That was a disappointment but a volunteer kindly took my light and promised to put it in my bag once she found it.
The rest of the loop back to the start/finish was mostly a gentle downhill with some rolling sections. It was very fun to turn on the speed, running faster than 8-minute-mile pace for periods of time. But the heat was coming, already felt at 8:00 a.m. The front-runner and eventual winner came at me on his second loop, already about five miles ahead of me. Wow! Karl Meltzer from Utah was running in about 3rd place, three miles ahead of me.
I finished the first loop in 2:26, four minutes ahead of my goal and in 69th place. In 2009, my speedy time was 2:16 and in 2012, it was 2:37. I visited my bag area where I had everything I needed, even a small cooler. I grabbed my sun glasses, ate some and was on my way again.
One disappointment was that there were no gels at the aid stations that I could see. I brought plenty with me, but kept forgetting to put enough in my pockets to last the entire loop. But so far, Ensure in one bottle, water in the other was fueling me just fine.
The second loop was in the opposite direction and now it was entertained looking at all the amazing costumes of those who were running further back in the field. I couldn’t imagine running in some of that garb, much of it very hot looking. But they were all having fun and in great spirits.
During the loop, 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.
My pace thus far had been pretty good. I was keeping all my miles in under 10-minute-mile pace. With the gentle uphill back to Jackass Junction, I slowed but picked things up again on the downhill second half of the loop. The front-runner came toward me about ten miles ahead. My time for the second loop was 2:47, for a total time of 5:13, not bad for 50K on this course. It was now in 74th place. My goal to this point was to be at 5:30, so I was running well. In 2012, I was at 6:00 and struggling.
I was now after 11:00 a.m. and getting hot. I grabbed a bandana from my bag, soaked it in ice water, and tied in around my neck to keep the back of my neck cool. As I ran I would pour more water on it and also on my hat. Keeping my core temperature down was the key! My legs were doing great and I could still run all the uphills if wanted. I was pretty surprised to see so many runners walking long sections. During this loop I suffered from a bad sinus problem from dust, pollen, and an illness coming into the race. I slowed to try to fix things and eventually could breath better.
At the peak heat of the day, at about 3/4th around the loop, was a temporary station of guys offering Otter Pops! Wow! This slowed me as I ate two of them, but I could feel the instant improvement. I thought back to a silly article on the Javelina Facebook page earlier in the week that had some items in it that I really disagreed with. One mythical point was trying to discourage runners from drinking ice water in the heat with some medical reasoning mumble jumble. Sorry, whoever wrote that, but I just don’t believe it. With my long experience running 100-milers in the desert heat, my core temperature can greatly be helped with ingesting cold fluids and my performance always improves.
Thus far, my heat management was working well. At no time was I experiencing significant dehydration. My speed was reduced, but I was purposely being careful and sticking to my plan. I ran some of the loop with buddy, Michael Miller, who was starting to suffer from the forefoot pain. I finished loop 3 (mile 46) at 8:40, for a 3:27 loop, in 80th place. I was still ten minutes ahead of my goal, but a whopping 1:37 ahead of my 2012 time. My speedy 2009 time was 8:26, so I was getting close to that pace.
As I started Loop 4, it about 3:00 p.m. and I could already feel the temperature cooling from the lowering sun. I arrived back at the Otter Pop station and again took with me two large pops. They were amazing! I reached the 50-mile mark at about 9:45, which is pretty good for a split-time in the heat. I kept track of where some friends were behind me. Dan Brenden was doing well, about two hours and eight miles or so behind. He’s a desert runner from Phoenix and with his amazing steady pace, he would finish in 25:37.
When I reached Jackass Junction, I remembered to grab my head lamp because I calculated that dusk would arrive before I finished this loop. Dusk did come and when I turned on the light, it didn’t work. The cap was missing. No light. I had a couple miles to go and didn’t worry. The trail was so smooth in this section that I just trusted my abilities running in the faint light and really had no problems. I finished loop 4 (100K) at 12:32, in 96th place. My goal was 12:50, so I was still running very well for a sub-24-hour time. I was about two hours faster than my 2012 pathetic time, and only 19 minutes behind my best time in 2009.
However, my problem was time at the aid stations. I took a 15-minute break changing my shirt, and cleaning a problem foot that was getting more painful. Earlier I took a 10-minute bathroom break and I knew another one was coming.
Night running was fun. It still was quite warm and my only warm gear was a long sleep shirt I had on with rolled up sleeves. It was fun to now chase lights. There were hordes of lights coming toward me, many who would stop at 100K, but much fewer going in my direction to chase. I did catch several and kept a steady uphill pace going. But as is typical with me, I slow with a mile or so to go before the next aid station because I’m not eating enough. I reached Jackass Junction, half way around the loop at 8:50 p.m. and took a long 20-minute stop there, with a bathroom break, feet-fixing and eating. Music was booming there and the DJ would make constant sexual comments, some pretty offensive. I would expect a lot more class than this from an Aravaipa Running event. I doubt the race directors knew what was going on there.
On my way again, feeling better, I picked up the speed for the gentle downhill and finished off Loop 5 at 16:51, climbing to 94th place, still 14 minutes ahead of my goal. I was 30 minutes behind my best time, but nearly three hours ahead of my bad time in 2009 when I stopped at this point. I made adjustments at my bags for 12 minutes and tried to force down some food. My stomach always becomes tender at night and I had already thrown up once. Thus far it wasn’t in full stomach shutdown mode, but I would need to be careful.
Throughout the night many runners saw my green light for the first time coming toward them. The comments where constant: “Green light!” “Why the green light?” “Where did you get that green light?” “I wondered what that green light was!” etc. Finally I just turned up my music in my headphones and just waved to runners.
With 77 miles in the books, the finish seemed to be in sight with just one more full loop and a partial 10-mile loop left. I made my first blunder starting out the loop. I was impressed to see some runners already starting their partial loop, 15.3 miles ahead of me. They could be identified by a glow necklace around their necks. As I was following them, I missed a turn and began running the loop in the wrong direction. After about a quarter mile, things looked wrong. I stopped and asked another runner which loop this was. He was 15.3 miles behind me, on Loop 5. Back I went.
Loop 6 was a struggle as it had been in 2009. I wasn’t eating enough and soon drowsiness took over. During the loop, I think I stopped about five times, each time finding a spot off-trail behind a tree to lie down, close my eyes, and rest for about five minutes. Then I would get up feeling much better for another 45 minutes or so. With eight miles to go in the loop, runners who were on their partial loop came toward me. That should have woken me up and encouraged me to push it, but instead it discouraged me and I slowed, dealing with a sore foot and low energy. A sub-24 time was still very, very possible, but my motivation dwindled and I was just now happy to minimize the pain and run/walk ahead.
I finished Loop 6 at 21:55, for a slow 5:04 loop. I was now in 124th place and had been passed by 30 runners on that loop. In 2009, I had been pretty sick on this loop, spent 20 minutes in a cot, and did an even slower 5:15 loop. I should have checked my chart, I was only 20 minutes behind my goal and my 2009 time. I didn’t realize a sub-24 time was still possible. My stop at the start/finish area was very quick and I went on my way with my honored glow necklace on. But again I blundered. I left my water bottle behind. After a quarter mile I wondered why my hand was not carrying anything. Back I went again. I picked up the pace somewhat but it had lost its urgency. My finish time no longer mattered, I just wanted to finish before sunrise. Any finish before sunrise is a good finish. The mass of runners coming toward me on the loop saw my necklace and all complimented me.
The partial 10-mile loop went well despite some bad foot pain from a couple blisters due to increased walking. I really enjoyed the steeper downhill section of this loop making its way to the finish. Dawn arrived and with three miles to go, I turned off my light as the desert came to life again. But the sun never peeked over the mountains as I finished my run.
The finish area came into sight I was congratulated by all who saw me coming. I pushed the pace for the final mile, and finished in 24:51. It was my 10th 100-mile finish for the year and my 73rd finish of my career. I had worn bib number 73 to keep me focused on finishing.
David McOmber who paced me for a loop six years ago greeted me at the finish and kindly offered for me to follow him to his home for a shower which I quickly accepted. I still had about nine hours to kill before my flight home so I was pleased to have all that time to recover and rest.
I was satisfied with my race. It wasn’t a perfect race and I didn’t push it hard, but it was a successful finish in hot conditions. It gave me more confidence in my ability to run in the heat. I placed 125th out of 459 starters and 279 finishers, which is pretty good for an old man. Only five runners finished ahead of me, who were older than me. 180 runners did not reach the finish line this year. That is a very high DNF rate, but fairly typical for loop courses that are easy to quit on.
Recovery has been typical for me after a hot race. Loss of appetite, general low energy, and some sore muscles from the flat course. Also some sore knee caps that keep me up at night. I should be running again in a few days. I’ve now have run more than 3,700 miles for the year.