Javelina Jundred race report


I decided to run the Javelina Jundred last spring with a group of girlfriends from San Diego.  The JJ100 is held in the desert area surrounding Phoenix, Arizona, and takes place on a 15.4 mile loop on the Pemberton Trail in McDowell Regional Park.  It’s an ideal course for first timers, those looking to PR at the distance, and those who like to run with a minimal amount of support from crew or pacers (you don’t really need either to do well at this race).  The race director does a wonderful job of organizing all of the details – from aid stations to the shuttle to the start/finish area.  I was familiar with the race, as I had crewed/paced friends to finishes in 2008 and 2009.  I figured it would be a great place to achieve my first 100 mile trail finish, and it would also be a great opportunity to meet up with my training buddies from San Diego.  I moved to western Massachusetts from San Diego last summer, and I really miss my “girls” for our Saturday morning mountain runs!

I decided to do this race on the cheap, and also to coordinate it with a trip back to San Diego for work.  I used frequent flier miles, and flew in on the Thursday before the race.  My friend Jill was my traveling companion – she picked me up at the airport and we spent Thursday evening and all day Friday together, laughing and catching up, as we hadn’t seen each other since July.  We really have so many things in common – from liking to sleep with a fan on, to enjoying massive breakfasts of bacon and eggs the day before a race – so we made ideal travel buddies!

Race morning:

Jill and I woke up almost simultaneously, at about 3:30 in the morning, on race day.

Waking up exactly at the same time – without an alarm – is a signal that you’ve found a great traveling companion!  We got ready quietly, as the previous time we were at the JJ100 (Jill raced and I crewed for her in 2008), someone in an adjacent hotel room called the front desk and complained about the “noise” in our room.  I’m so grateful for Jill’s preparedness, as she had amazing Hawaiian coffee brewing for us within minutes.  We gulped down a couple of cups, along with a light breakfast (granola and non-fat Greek yogurt for me), and headed out the door.

An hour before race start, the race’s “Jeadquarters” was hopping with energy and excitement.  Runners were milling around in droves, talking about race “plans” and catching up with friends, both old and new.  I particularly enjoyed checking out the costumes that some runners were wearing, my favorite being a man in a toilet outfit that read “shit happens.”  Jill and I met up with some friends from San Diego; I filled them in on what’s been going on since I moved to Massachusetts back in July.  We also met a young woman named Emily from Indiana.  It was her first 100; she seemed nervous so we tried to give her some encouraging advice…the whole “go slow, otherwise it’ll catch up with you later” pearl of wisdom that always sounds great in theory, but is difficult to apply in practice.

the ultra gals and myself at the starting line

As 6 am neared, I located a prime spot for my drop “bag,” which was actually a little red carry-on suitcase.  One of my friends gave me a good-natured hard time for bringing a small suitcase as a drop bag, but I have no regrets about this system, as it kept my supplies well-organized and, more importantly, DRY.  (More on that later.)  After setting up my drop bag and our borrowed cooler (thank you to Robert Andrulis from the ultralist!), I lined up at the back of the pack, my normal spot for race start.

hang on to your hats folks, this here's the wildest ride in the West!

Heading out, and the first 50 miles:

The start of a 100 is always more low-key than that of a marathon or road race, most likely because people know what they’re in for…many, many hours of repetitive, relentless forward motion.  There’s really no need to unnecessarily expend energy when it’s not needed!  You know you’re running a 100 as opposed to a 50K when almost everyone walks every single tiny, itty-bitty upward slope.  I got a little bit frustrated on the first loop of the race as my plan was actually to stick to my patented run/walk method that has worked for me so well in the past, including at the Peanut Island 24 last  year where I ran 100 miles for the first time.  I’d trained – even on hilly, technical trails – using this method, running four minutes, walking one, then running three and walking two.  While I knew that running the “ups” in this race would have a cumulative, damaging effect, I couldn’t stand the thought of walking so much.  Sometimes I am surprised by how slowly some folks walk during races as well; I’m a fast power-walker, so I found myself passing a lot of other runners on the first loop.  I guess I should probably give myself a little bit more credit at this point, and line up closer to the mid-pack now since I’m not finishing in last place at ultras anymore!

The first loop of 15.4 miles was rather pleasant.  The first hour or so required lighting, and some negotiation of rocky, uphill terrain in the dark.  Jill and I passed part of the loop together, chatting away with our new-found friend Emily, whose perky, wholesome Midwestern-girl nature made us smile (Jill and I are both originally Midwest gals ourselves).  My goal per loop was to run between 3:15 and 3:30 for as long as I could hold the pace.  I came through Jeadquarters in about 3:10 – a little fast, so I knew I needed to slow the pace a bit on the second loop.

The second loop was completely uneventful, as miles 16-31 should be.  During a 100 miler, the first 50K should feel as effortless as possible, otherwise serious issues are bound to develop!  Jill and I separated on this loop, and Emily passed ahead of me as well.  I spent most of the loop listening to Handel’s oratorio “Theodora” on my iPod; I love listening to Baroque music, particularly Handel, Zelenka, and Bach when I’m trying to keep my pace controlled and easy on long runs.  I finished the second loop feeling fantastic in a little over 6:30.  At the conclusion of this loop, I was starving, so I ducked into the drop bag area to dive into our cooler.  I inhaled a bologna sandwich and a Coke, and headed out for the third loop as the sun was beginning to heat things up.

The third loop at JJ100 tends to be where the wheels fall off for a lot of folks, mainly because most people start much out too fast due to the runnable course, and also because it hits at the time of day when the desert heat really takes a toll.  We were lucky this year because temperatures never rose above the low to mid 70s.  However, for me, this felt sweltering!  I’d been training in New England since August, and we had regularly been having mornings with 20 degree temperatures for several weeks prior to this race.  It felt crazy to NOT need tights and a hat for this run; I was, to say the least, not heat-trained at all.  I started feeling queasy around the 36-37 mile mark, and by mile 40, indigestion reared its ugly head.  I dashed as quickly as I could behind a bush of cactuses and violently expelled everything.  I love the desert, but I really hate that you can’t find decent coverage when you have a terrible case of “runner’s trots.”  To add insult to injury, race day was the worst, heaviest day of that “special time of the month” as a lady, so I had to deal with that issue as well in the cactus bush.  Good times!  I just hoped that other runners would be discreet and politely not mention that they had seen me in the bush.  I was not to luck out in this respect.  The first person I met up with post-diarrhea episode was a man who immediately said to me, “Wow, sure looked like you were having some stomach issues back there!”  Gee, thanks, dude.  Nice of you to notice!  I sped up and passed him.

I felt SO much better, that I could easily run the gentle descent on what Jill and I called the “nice trail” on the back of the third loop.  I met up with another man at this point – unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, but he was in his 60s, with white hair and a beard.  We passed several miles together, chatting easily about all kinds of things, ultras and 100 milers included.  I love running ultras, mainly because you really meet the most amazing, kind, wonderful and friendly people on the trails!

I definitely hit my stride on the fourth loop.  I had eaten a good amount of real food, including a Payday bar, at Jeadquarters after the third loop, and had picked up a second iPod filled with all kinds of campy house, electro, and new wave music to keep me pumped.  I passed through the first 50 mile split in 11 hours flat, feeling amazing and excited for the night to come!  As the sun began to set over the desert mountains in the distance, I said a silent prayer of thanks for the opportunity to be on the trail.  I’ve been through so much in the past with injuries, that I am so grateful to be able to run without pain today.  Another thing I love about 100s is that you see an entire day pass in nature in a way that most people never get to witness…the sunrise, the sunset…and you take notice of animals, vegetation, weather, wind, etc., in way you don’t normally observe.  It’s so rare in life to have a singular purpose; I find that running 100s forces me to be completely in the moment.  In my day-to-day life, I’m constantly multi-tasking, partly because of my work as a musician forces me to incessantly stay on top of the next project, and I usually have a bunch of irons in the fire simultaneously just out of necessity.  But in a 100, even though I’m constantly moving, everything else slows down, and I’m able to focus on one step at a time, one breath at a time, one moment at a time.  It’s a deeply spiritual experience for me on a personal level; in a lot of ways, it is my “church” or “meditation” time.

at the halfway point, feeling fabulous

The night time is the right time:

Experienced 100 mile runners will tell you that the race really begins after sunset, and it is so true!  Once the sun went down during the fourth loop, most runners began to slow, and I found myself beginning to walk more of the uphills, even the small ones, partially because the rocks on the back side of the course were difficult to navigate in the darkness of night.  I began to accidentally kick rocks at this point, stumbling occasionally, and here I made the observation that I was going to lose both of my big toenails.  I chose to wear road shoes for the race – some people may think I’m stupid for that decision, but I prefer the cushioning of a basic, neutral road shoe for a 100 over a more rigid and less cushioned trail shoe.  Plus, I had been running technical trails in New England in my road shoes!  I expected to have some toenail loss during this race…it’s just part of the game for me, although expecting it didn’t alleviate the pain that was beginning to accumulate.

For the fifth loop, at night-time, I grabbed my rain gear and a back-up light, as the weather forecast had been for severe rainstorms overnight.  I also inhaled another Payday bar at Jeadquarters.  Those candy bars taste like heaven during a 100 miler for some reason!  I’m so grateful for the tip to try them.  Things started out fine during the fifth loop, but sometime around the 72 or 73 mile mark, it started to rain.  I was so glad I had chosen to put on a heavier, weatherproof outer layer, and to have packed an emergency poncho in my race pack!  Other runners didn’t fare as well.  By the time I reached Jeadquarters at the conclusion of this loop, the heavens had really opened up, and the rain had reached a steady downpour.  Luckily, because I had chosen a sturdy suitcase rather than a flimsy duffle-bag for a drop bag, my gear was all dry!

Heading out for the sixth loop, my wheels began to fall off.  The pouring rain – along with 77 miles on my swollen legs and knees – were all taking a toll on my normally optimistic outlook.  Furthermore, the trail was starting to resemble a stream of rushing water and mud.  I started to worry about flooding through the desert washes that frequently crossed the trail.  At the aid station around mile 80, I sat down and gratefully drank a cup of cocoa with cold, shaking hands, and asked the volunteers if the forecast was for flooding in the area.  After all, I value coming home to my wonderful husband in one piece more than I care about earning my 100 mile belt buckle!  The volunteers told me, no…the rain should stop by daybreak.

I reluctantly left the aid station after one more extended pitstop in a port-a-pot (whew…what goes in DOES come out!).  I definitely spent a long time in that aid station, but it was needed because my morale was at a low point.  I don’t know what it is about the 80 mile point in a 100, but it just flat out SUCKS.  Despite being adequately prepared with good rain gear, I was drenched and freezing cold, plus I was just weary.  I was watching other runners with their pacers, and I was all alone on the trail.  It seemed like the aid stations kept getting further and further apart, and I kept accidentally kicking rocks with my injured toes.  I knew this moment was bound to come, but knowing doesn’t really make it easier to accept.  Every ultra – especially a 100 – has ups and downs, and there are times where you’ll just want to quit.  Every bone in your body wants to be home in bed, sleeping soundly…and there you are in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert, freezing cold and lonely.  Miles 80-90 were pretty damn miserable, but I trudged on, mainly walking by this point as my quads were trashed.

At the aid station at mile 90, I took another extended break.  This particular aid station had a tent set up with a portable space heater and cots for runners to lay down.  I took a chair close to the heater, almost in a daze.  I had been hallucinating for a while; something about lack of sleep and low blood sugar does this to me, and I had just seen a man with a huge sombrero pissing on a cactus in the miles prior to reaching the aid station.  While the hallucination was amusing, it made me realize that I was low on calories, so I took my time and ate some chicken soup and cookies.  I also downed a cup of coffee to try and wake myself up for the final ten miles, which I knew would take several hours at my forced walking pace.  Other runners weren’t doing so well, and the tent looked like a MASH unit in a war zone!  Runners were laying on the floor, on cots literally shaking, and some were moaning in a daze of pain or confusion.  It wasn’t a good scene, so as hard as it was to pry myself out of the chair and away from the warmth of the space heater, I hit the trail as the rain continued to pour down.

Toward the finish line:

When I reached the Jeadquarters for the final time, I decided to take another extended break and change into some dry clothes as I didn’t want to get hypothermic.  I also used a REAL bathroom at the campsite, and washed my hands with soap and water for the first time during the race.  Amazing how such a simple thing as clean hands boosts the spirit after running 92 miles!  Heading out for the final, short loop at about 5:30 in the morning, the rain began to let up and I started to feel better.  I knew I was going to finish, and was hoping to break 27 hours.  Also helping to boost my spirits was running into my friend Jill at mile 94-95.  We gave each other a big hug and I was so excited to know that she was going to PR at this race; I told her how happy I was for her, and headed up the final climb toward the aid station turnoff at mile 97.

During this stretch, I ran into a woman hiking quickly down the hill who told me to tell a guy up ahead that help was on its way.  Huh?  I saw the runner shortly after, who was laying on his side along the trail.  I’m not sure, but he must have fallen and injured his leg, making him unable to walk.  I stopped and talked to him for a while, offering to stay and wait with him until help arrived, but he told me not to sacrifice my race for him.  And off I went!

Things really started to get weird at this point.  I swore I saw the aid station turnoff ahead…I clearly saw a man sitting in a folding chair at a table covered with a spread of food, just waiting for me.  I decided to run to close the distance to the aid station, and when I arrived – to my dismay – realized I was hallucinating again.  What I thought was an aid station was a bunch of cactuses.  Yikes.  The real aid station was still at least a mile ahead, and my sense of time and distance was seriously starting to get screwed up!

At last, I reached the final aid station in reality and began the descent down the Tonto Tank Trail, which normally would have been completely runnable.  Instead, I hobbled gimp-like down the trail, cursing at the mud and rocks, calling them “stupid.”  I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.  Something about the monotony of the desert landscape made me feel like I kept “waking up” in the same damned place on the trail, and it seemed like I was making no progress whatsoever.  As I stumbled along in a haze, I was passed by the white-haired man I had run with on loop 3!  He was still running, slowly but steadily, and offered greetings and encouragement.  What a nice guy!!!

just after sunrise, on the final leg of the Tonto Tank Trail

After an eternity, I reached the bottom of the Tonto Tank Trail, where it intersects with the Pemberton Trail.  This was the final turn of the course, and I was only about a mile from the finish!  I tried to pick up the pace a bit, by running a few steps and power walked as quickly as I could.  Once the finish was in view, I “sprinted” across the line…and promptly burst into tears.  I’m such a girl!  My finishing time was 26 hours and 42 minutes, and I finished my first trail 100 in much better time than I had anticipated; I had previously guessed I’d finish in around 27 or 28 hours.

Again, I love people at ultras.  I was all by myself at that finish line, crying out in relief that I could stop moving…and a woman with a thick Southern drawl immediately gave me a massive bear hug and told me how she’d been watching me all this time and how wonderful I’d done.  I’ll probably never see that woman again, but she made my day, and I’m so grateful for that unexpected outpouring of love!

I grabbed a breakfast burrito, a bag of Munchos, a bag of beef jerky, and a hot cup of coffee, along with a blanket, and sat down in a chair at the finish line.  I had a lovely time chatting with other runners at the finish line (including my white haired friend) as I waited for Jill to finish.  She crossed the line about an hour after me, with a PR by almost 2 hours!  I was so happy for her and gave her a huge hug.

We headed back to hotel almost immediately, and fell asleep for about four hours which was heavenly, except for waking up in serious pain!  I popped a couple of ibuprofen before heading out to a Scottsdale BBQ joint, where Jill and I downed pork ribs, baked beans, and coleslaw.  I also had a root beer float with four scoops of ice cream!  It was amazing!!!  Then we went to bed and slept for another solid eleven hours.

This was a wonderful race experience, first and foremost because I had a chance to spend quality time with a close friend and “soul sister in ultrarunning.”  Earning another 100 mile belt buckle was just an added bonus.  I wouldn’t change anything about the experience…except I really do want my big toenails back.

my JJ100 finisher's buckle!

7 responses

28 11 2011
Phil Kirk

Wow what an amazing personal achievement. Never heard of ultrarunning before and that there are 100 mile races. Very interesting how the body and mind handles such a gruelling challenge and how you went through various stages of emotions at the different sections of the race. Something to be proud of. Well done for completing the race. Your Belt Buckle looks really cool, a great badge of honour. Hope your toenails have grown back ny now. Congratulations again – Phil

28 11 2011
Laurel Corona

Loved reading this–you are a heroine–or is that a jeroine?

29 11 2011

Steph, not only was this great to read but your writing brought the experience to life. perhaps it’s time you consider writing a book. The flow of your words is exciting to say the least. So proud of your accomplishment.

29 11 2011

Great race report Steph! No need for me to write one, you said it all poetically! Love, Jillh

29 11 2011
Jane McGrath

Wow Steph, you are amazing! Thank you for writing this. It is so nice to get an inside scoop of the trials and victories of an ultra marathoner. Maybe one day I’ll work my way up to ultras. But for now, I’m working on improving my 1/2 marathon time. Congratulations on such a wonderful life experience & accomplishment! Love you cousin!

29 11 2011

Thank you, everyone, for your positive comments. Glad you all enjoyed my story – it was fun to write, and even more fun to experience (if running 100 miles can be “fun”)! Much love to you all.

2 12 2011
Luciane Cardassi

Fabulous, Stephanie! I am so happy for you. Congratulations for a wonderful race. 100! You are my inspiration. Always. Beijos:)

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