Here we go again with another race recap – this time from last weekend’s Javelina Jundred which took place in beautiful McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, Arizona. Why Javelina? Well, the last 3 years I’ve flown to Oklahoma to take part in 24 The Hard Way. As much as I enjoy running around a one mile loop for 24 hours, I really fancied a change of scenery and Javelina Jundred seemed to fit the bill. It’s also one of the last races of 2016 that can be used as a Western States 100 Qualifier, so I hoped that would be extra incentive along the way too.

Training was good in the build up to Javelina, with several runs over 20 miles, a couple of 50K training runs and a 65 mile effort at the 12-HR ATR race in mid-September. Added bonus – no aches, pains or niggles and aside from an annoying head cold, no major sickness like I’ve experienced before a couple of previous big races.

The Javelina Jundred has been described as “a fast, runnable 100, great for first timers on a relatively easy course”, but one thing I spotted from scanning through previous race results was the surprisingly high DNF (Did Not Finish) rate which historically has been around 50%. Basically for every 2 runners that start the race, 1 will likely not finish. Hmmm…

With the typically-busy pre-race work week successfully completed and the throw-everything-in-a-suitcase packing out the way, Friday morning quickly arrived, meaning it was time to head to Norfolk Airport to fly out to Phoenix via Chicago Midway. The remainder of Friday consisted of lunch and packet pickup at the host hotel, then drop bag/gear preparation, dinner and an early night. Thankfully, despite an abundance of pre-race nerves, sleep came quickly and easily.

Fast forward to race morning and after a short drive to Javelina Jeadquarters at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, all that was left to do was familiarise myself with the start/finish area, drop bag zone and aid station tables, before taking my place behind the start line. The atmosphere was pretty special, and with the Ghostbusters theme tune blasting from the loudspeakers, the race was soon underway.

Javelina Jundred Course Map

Loop 1 was a lot of fun. The first couple of miles in the dark had us run single file along a fairly narrow trail before crossing McDowell Mountain Park Drive and heading to the Coyote Camp aid station. It was cool to share a few early miles with friend Maddy Hribar, but as we quickly reached the aid station I decided to duck into the port-a-john for the first of only three pit-stops all day. I started the race with one 20 oz Ultimate Direction handheld of water and a 10 oz bottle containing a couple of scoops (200 calories) of Tailwind. No need to top up at this stage in the race, so I set off along the rocky trail towards the Jackass Junction aid station which was 6.5 miles ahead. The climb up to Jackass was less severe than I expected, and it was fun just to settle in behind Maddy and a few other runners and enjoy the scenery. I also made sure to look back several times to take in the beautiful sunrise and the amazing views all around the park. Pretty soon Jackass Junction came into view and after a quick top-off of fluids, a small pack of us headed on towards Rattlesnake Ranch about 5+ miles in the distance.

Average pace at this point was just over 9 minute miles, and I made a real effort to hold back and not do anything too crazy at this early stage in the race. With the temperature already rising rapidly, the last thing I wanted to do was blow up early. Rattlesnake Ranch was a smaller aid station than Jackass, but just as enthusiastic and stocked with everything you could wish for. I refilled the Tailwind bottle, chugged down some cool water and topped off my larger handheld before setting off along the 6.6 mile Escondido Trail back to the start/finish area and Javelina Jeadquarters. Loop 1 would be the only time we’d run Escondido, which was a bit of a shame as I really enjoyed the miles along this newly added trail.

Around 20 miles into the loop and with just a couple to go before reaching Jeadquarters, all of a sudden I realised how hot it was. Not anything too drastic, but I guess the reality of the day ahead hit home and made me think about the remaining 4 loops and 80ish miles. From this point on it would be all about keeping cool, staying hydrated and managing the heat as best as possible.

End of 1st Loop

Loop 1 – 22.3 miles – 3:21:52

It was great to get back to the atmosphere of the Javelina Jeadquarters, but I was super careful to stay focused and concentrate on the job in hand. Typically I breeze in and out of aid stations as fast as possible, but today was not a day to forget anything. At the drop bag zone I ditched my headlamp, picked up an extra 20 oz handheld, 3 baggies of Tailwind and my trusty Iced Cap, then took a few extra seconds to apply more sunscreen and an extra coating of Squirrel’s Nut Butter – my new favorite anti-chafe product. At the aid station table, I added ice to my hat, Injinji Buff and Ultimate Direction vest, filled up the handhelds, and took off – this time in a counterclockwise direction, heading back out to Rattlesnake Ranch.

The Iced Cap and Custom Injinji Half-Buff

The ice worked well to keep me cool, and the Lemon-flavored Tailwind was hitting the spot nicely. Life was good and despite the heat, I was enjoying cruising along the sandy/rocky desert trails. Rattlesnake aid station arrived quickly (3.7 miles), but it was a bit concerning that I’d already consumed at least 20 ounces of fluids and the ice in my hat and buff was long gone. Hmmm. At around mile 26 my left glute started to complain too. Nothing unusual here, as it tends to happen in every Ultra I race, but it’s just a bit annoying and can mess with my confidence a little – not exactly what you need when you still have 74 miles remaining.

Despite the glute annoyance, the run up to Jackass Junction went well, and it was great to see Ally along this stretch even if she did look a bit toasty. She assured me she was fine, and managing the heat as best she could. I wished her luck and continued on to Jackass, where, after restocking the fluids and ice, there was a nice downhill to look forward to for the next 6.5 miles. This section was rockier than I remembered from the 1st loop, and frustratingly I kicked a few rocks and slipped a few times on the loose terrain. My left glute didn’t thank me much either. Back at Coyote Camp I took advantage of a wonderful sponge-down with icy water while the aid station volunteers took care of refilling my water bottles. I felt totally refreshed as I thanked everyone and set off for the final 4 miles of the loop.

Loop 2 – 41.8 miles – 6:39:05

Javelina Jeadquarters was a repeat of the ice, Tailwind and water refill. I was tempted to hit the medical tent for a quick glute massage, but the waiting line was long and I just wanted to keep moving. Heading out for Loop 3 it was cool to see everyone finishing out their 2nd loop. Some runners looked great, but many were already showing signs of a long day in the desert. I’m sure I looked just as rough and the official photos will no doubt confirm my thoughts. Back at Coyote I was sponged down once again, but a couple of miles after leaving the aid station I realised my shirt and shorts were already bone dry. This Arizona evaporation thing really is pretty crazy. It was also along this rocky stretch running with Adam Harris from Canada that the first real signs of fatigue set in. The company was good, but the 6.5 miles seemed to drag on forever. I found myself running easily one minute, then having to stop and walk for a while to “get myself together”. I repeated this run/walk for several more miles before reaching Jackass Junction and the approximately halfway point of the race.

Actually, on reflection, the rest of the race was pretty much a continuous run/walk effort. I just couldn’t get sufficient calories inside to generate enough energy for any sustained amount of running. I tried increasing my hourly Tailwind intake from 175 calories/hour to a max of 250/hour, but this just seemed to compound the issue and make things worse. In hindsight, I realise now that adding more calories per hour was just adding extra stress to my already stressed system. Sometimes more is not better.

The 2nd half of the Loop 3 was a bit of a struggle. On leaving Jackass Junction I told Adam I needed time to regroup and get myself together. I hoped to catch up later in the race, but things just got tougher as the temperature reached its high point of the day. I tried to stay positive, and seeing Ally on her 2nd loop gave me a boost as I pushed on to close out my 3rd. It was a really tough stretch to get through, but knowing the sun would soon be setting (and hopefully temperature dropping), I kept telling myself I was more than 50% done and the coolest miles were ahead of me.

As I approached Jeadquarters for the third time, fleeting thoughts of a DNF crossed my mind. It would have been so easy to grab a chair, plonk myself down in the shade and put an end to the brutal suffering in the heat, but with only 2 loops remaining I’d be a fool to quit now. At the drop bag zone I grabbed my headlamp, spare batteries and several baggies of Tailwind. I think I ditched the Iced Cap at this point too, but not 100% sure. I refilled my bottles and headed out for Loop 4.

Loop 3 – 61.2 miles – 10:42:02

A couple of miles into the loop I crossed paths with Maddy. The sun was going down, but she said wasn’t sure she could go out for another loop. I knew she was also looking to Javelina for a Western States Qualifier, so tried my best to convince her to keep on going. As we went our separate ways I hoped I’d been convincing enough. The trail gradually got darker and darker and soon it was time to bust out the Black Diamond headlamp and prepare for several hours of nighttime running which I’d been looking forward to since late morning. I hoped the cooler evening air would kickstart my fatigued legs, but frustratingly they weren’t responding to anything.

It was good to see fellow Dawn-to-Dusk-to-Dawn runner Dennene Huntley from Canada with her pacer on this stretch. She was moving well and confident of a sub-24 hour finish. We wished each other well and pressed on. Thankfully, Tailwind was still palatable and unlike many of the other runners still running, my stomach was still in good shape. I felt so bad for everyone hunched over at the side of the trail with their upset stomachs.

My run/walk shuffle eventually got me to the Jackass Junction aid station where party mode was in full force. It was a bit chaotic but I managed to grab what I needed (including a shot of Huss Brewing Milk Stout) before setting off on the rocky trail towards Coyote Camp.

Despite the gradual downhill, I wasn’t moving well along this section either. Rocks were annoying and I was finding it more and more challenging to pick a good line along the trail. “Did I really want to do another 20 mile loop after this one?” Thoughts of the DNF popped into my mind once again. “Let’s stop at 80 miles and save myself for another day”, I reasoned. Soldiering on was easy enough though, and after all, the only way back to Javelina Jeadquarters was to keep moving….

Eventually I arrived at Coyote Camp desperate for another water bottle top-up but also looking for something that could boost my energy. I chugged down a couple of cups of Mountain Dew, grabbed a handful of potato chips and thanked everyone for their help throughout the day. I set off wondering why I hadn’t seen Ally for quite some time and if she’d still be at the start/finish area when I got back, but just a couple of miles later, there she was, moving well along the trail at the start of her third and final loop. We only chatted for a minute or two, but it was long enough to erase any thoughts of a DNF from my mind. Despite how flat I was feeling, I just *had* to get back out for my fifth loop and finish what I came here to start.

Loop 4 – 80.6 miles – 14:59:08

I started out the fifth and final loop at around 9pm. My Garmin 235 battery had died several hours earlier, but I’d switched off GPS so was still able to utilise time of day mode. Thoughts of a respectable 16 or 17 hour finish (lofty pre-race goal) were long gone from my mind, but I knew I had it in me to slog through the final 19.5 miles to earn a sub-24 hour finisher’s buckle. A real slog it turned out to be.

The 4 miles back to Coyote Camp were slow going. My headlamp seemed to reflect badly off the sandy trail, making footing awkward and stumbling all too easy, so it was a big relief when I finally reached the aid station for another shot of caffeine in the form of icy Mountain Dew. Next up, however, was my least favorite section of trail – the gradual uphill and loose rocks on the way to Jackass Junction. Once again, progress was slow, but at least during my walk breaks I could look up and enjoy the super-bright stars overhead. What a sight!

A few miles before Jackass Junction I caught up to Ally. We walked together for a while, and I offered to finish off the last loop with her. The company would have been nice to be honest, but she insisted there was no need, and to finish off my race as best I could. We wished each other well and I set off for Jackass hoping for another shot or two of Milk Stout! I couldn’t find the guy with the beer, so made do with more Mountain Dew as one of the crazy aid station volunteers refilled my handhelds.

It was a great feeling leaving Jackass knowing there was *only* about 9 miles left to run, but my enthusiasm to get the job done made me miss a turn on the trail and hit a bit of a dead end. I retraced my steps to the fork and thankfully spotted the correct way to go. It was along this section of trail I decided to switch my headlamp batteries as I was struggling to navigate the trail and kept veering off into the cacti and bushes. I realised my pace was also suffering which was frustrating as my legs were finally coming back. With the help of a mini-flashlight I successfully performed the battery swap-out on the side of the trail, and immediately noticed a huge difference in my ability to see the trail. Why I hadn’t done this 20 miles earlier when I first started having vision issues I’m not quite sure, but too late for that, it was time to get moving.

The next 3 miles to Rattlesnake Ranch were pretty sweet. I caught up to several guys that had passed me at the previous aid station and finally felt like I could run again. With only 3.7 miles to go, I left Rattlesnake in good spirits, thanked everyone for their help throughout the night and pressed on for the finish. There weren’t too many runners on this section but I did spot a lone coyote wandering off to the side of the trail which spooked me a bit and just reinforced the need to keep running. Turns out several other runners spotted the coyote too, so at least I wasn’t hallucinating.

Finally the sound of Javelina Jeadquarters came into earshot and it was such a great experience to run through the campground for the final time knowing I wouldn’t have to venture out into the desert once again. I crossed the timing mat in 19:24:17, feeling more relief than anything at finishing one of the toughest races I can remember, good enough for 14th place overall and 1st guy over 50 out of 530 starters.

Loop 5 – 100 miles – 19:24:17

Sub-24 Buckle

Takeaways

  • Desert running is tough. The heat, coupled with the rough terrain, was much more challenging than I expected.
  • More calories per hour is not a good thing when your body is already stressed to the max.
  • Ice is my new best friend in the heat. Without a steady supply of ice in my hat, buff and vest, I doubt I would have made it to the finish line.
  • Topo Athletic shoes and Injinji socks are the PERFECT combo for me. I experienced not one hint of a hotspot or blister despite 100 miles of dirt, dust and sand and gallons of water/ice dripping into my shoes.
  • The best headlamps will only light the way if the batteries are in good condition. Don’t struggle unnecessarily with poor lighting.
  • Respect races with high DNF rates. Fast, runnable courses are not always as fast and runnable as they appear online.

Post-Race Feet

Gear