I was so disappointed in my race there I couldn’t let it go. I just couldn’t make peace with it. I tried and tried. I knew the very day after the race that I wanted redemption and was already thinking about how and when I could make things right. It was that time in the first few days after the Keys that I contacted Dave Krupski. Dave is a successful ultrarunning coach with quite an impressive resume of his own including multiple Keys 100 finishes, a Javelina Jundred finish, and two Badwater finishes under his belt. Dave was actually recommended to me during my Keys 100 training by Chris Roman, who I had emailed to ask advice about the course…..but at the time, I was reluctant to hire a coach as I had done alright on my own so far and cost was an issue. I regret not seeking "professional help" at that time, my Keys 100 ended up being a disaster.
Anyway, in those days after the disappointment at the Keys 100, I decided that I needed some coaching if I really wanted to start getting better results. I was tired of winging 100’s. So just about a week out from the Keys 100, I contacted Dave and we decided to start my training as soon as my knee would allow (if you haven’t read my Keys 100 report, I suffered a weird, out of the blue knee injury around mile 65 which forced me to walk the entire last 35 miles of the race). The knee healing process took forever; I remember trying to do little test runs throughout May and June, and every time it hurt. Dave had suggested we aim for the Keys 100 as a goal as I had done it before, and living in Albuquerque I’d have perfect conditions to train for it throughout the summer. He thought I had plenty of time to get the knee healed and train well for it. I was doubtful at first- when I was just starting to run again (after over a month off) in July, it seemed impossible to think I'd be healed and ready to run 100 miles by late October. It just didn’t seem possible...but what did I know? I figured it would at least be fun to train for and I'd just relax and see what happened.
I really enjoyed my training for Javelina. I love running through the summer and in the heat, and the more long runs my training includes, the happier I am. Dave managed to get me running more consistently than I ever had for a 100. I think I had about 5 weeks over 70 miles, and usually I’d only hit that twice before a race. Also, he kept me doing tempo runs throughout my training, which felt awesome. I had never believed I could handle any speed along with lots of long distance, but it turns out I can to some extent (I still need work on my speed).
By the time my taper rolled around, I was starting to feel pretty damn good about Javelina…..and then I got sick…..just 10 days out from the race. Haven’t been sick in almost 3 years, so of course it would happen right then...and of course it would be a chest cold. I was so bummed, but I thought I may be able to kick it quickly if I acted fast. I have never been so proactive with vitamin C, Zinc, Echinacea, tons and tons of sleep, fluids, and NO running. I knew I'd have to at least get the cold mostly zapped before Javelina in order to even be able to attempt it safely. I didn't have much time. I tried so hard to make it go away before the race. Not running was driving me crazy- I knew all the big work had been done, but still- not running at all during a taper makes it 10 times worse than normal (and my tapers are usually AWFUL to begin with). As it turned out, I was still sick heading into JJ100, but I hoped I was well enough to manage during the race.
|My super impressive crew a.k.a. the "dream team"|
We drove out to Fountain Hills Friday. We left early and got there just after noon, set up our tent, and went to packet pickup, then got Chipotle for dinner, got a few things for everyone to eat during the long race day and night, then headed back to Javelina Jeadquarters. We were in bed by 8:30. I never sleep great the night before a big race like that, but I did get maybe 4-5 hours in. I like camping at the race site because you don’t have to worry about shuttles, etc….just wake up practically at the start.
|All set up at Javelina Jeadquarters!|
So there I was…..race morning. Feeling like this was going to be an impossible feat. Why do I still get that feeling? I’ve done 3 hundreds before and I’ve always finished- shouldn’t that give me the confidence to know that I can do this? Maybe it should, but it never does. Each one of these badboys feels equally impossible going in, and I'm beginning to wonder if that doubt will ever leave me. We started at 6am sharp. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack and it took a few minutes to actually cross the start line. It felt like a marathon start instead of a 100. It’s crazy how much bigger the race has gotten even since I did it for the first time just 2 years ago. My first mile was a 14-something minute mile- yikes! I wanted to start slow, but maybe not THAT slow. I tried to stay patient knowing everyone would thin out, and eventually, we all did. I was able to start running more normally.
|The beginning of a long journey|
I knew pretty early on this one wasn’t going to come easily. Not to say a 100 is ever easy, but I could just tell by the way I felt and the thoughts I was having so early on (example: what mile am I on? Shit- only 5?) that this was going to be a huge battle just to finish and an even bigger battle to maintain my goal of getting closer to 20 hours. I tried to tell myself I might feel better after the first loop. Maybe I just needed more time than normal to warm up since I had run so little due to being sick. I thought eventually everything would “wake up” and my body would remember that I really am a runner. I kept waiting for that to happen…….and waiting………and waiting.
I’m not going to lie, I had dark thoughts near the very beginning of the race. Was today going to be my first DNF? What if it was? Would that be so horrible? Who (besides me) would give a crap? I tried to push those bad thoughts out of my head and just keep moving forward. I still hoped I would eventually snap out of it. My cold was turning out to be a problem. I would have coughing attacks, but I couldn’t cough anything up. It was impossible to take a nice full breath in- I had to take small, shallow breaths to avoid triggering the tickle in my chest and going into a fit of uncontrollable coughing. Definitely not an ideal way to breathe while running. My abs already felt tired from coughing so much…….and the icing on the cake was that this race fell on the worst days of the month it could have for me (without going into too much detail there).
I got through the first loop, and as I had discussed with my crew before the race, I flew through Javelina Jeadquarters- they just refilled my bottles and I was off again. I wanted to minimize as much as possible the time I spent at aid stations. I saw this as free time- it doesn’t cost any extra work- just mindfulness that you don’t want to waste time when you come through the aid stations. Get what you need and move on out! I did need help figuring out which way to exit Javelina Jeadquarters , so someone from my crew showed me the way out each time. I know that sounds silly, but I always get flipped around coming through Jeadquarters. I had to be pointed in the right direction the first time I did the race, too.
|On loop 1...couldn't even manage a real smile. Photo credit: Ron Ceton|
Loop 2 didn’t go much better. When I did Javelina 2 years ago, I remember feeling awesome on loop 2. Not today. It was more of the same: coughing, trying to stop thinking about DNF’ing, and keeping up the relentless forward motion. As I was finishing up the second loop, I felt more beat up than I should have. I felt like I had run 50 miles instead of 30. That is a deeply scary way to feel when you’ve got 70 miles to go. I had managed to stay on pace for my 20 hour time goal so far, but I just didn't like the fact that it was taking so much effort to do it.
|Getting help from my crew|
When I came in to Jeadquarters, I told my crew I wanted to switch to my hydration pack from the handheld bottles I had carried for the first 30 miles, so they quickly swapped it out, sunscreened me up, and back out I went. It felt like it was starting to warm up. I remembered checking the weather before the race and seeing predicted highs of 80 degrees, but based on what I was feeling, I was guessing it was going to get warmer than that. I started putting ice in my hat and down my sports bra at the aid stations. It was getting hot, but that’s what I like. I started to notice myself passing lots of folks, and although it wasn’t as severe as it got in 2013, there were plenty of people struggling. I finally started to feel better (still not awesome, but the best I had felt all day). I had a good song going on my iPod that was helping me pull out of the funk. Usually when I come across a song that pulls me out of a nasty funk or keeps me in a really good place, I’ll listen to it over and over until it stops working for me. I try to keep my self in the exact state of mind as I replay it and let the miles melt away. I know, weird stuff…..but it works for me. Loops 3 and 4 were made possible by Alabama Shakes Hold On (yes, LOOPS 3 and 4……as in, I listened to that song hundreds of times, for around 6 hours straight). Not only did it have a good groove, but the lyrics seemed just perfect for the struggle I was going through.
Loops 3 and 4 were the best I felt all day. They were also the warmest. I passed a bunch of people, enjoyed the feeling of running in warmth with the sun shining bright, had kept cough drops in my mouth almost the whole time which seriously helped reduce the cough attacks, and I FINALLY felt a sense of making a real dent in the 100 miles. 40-60 miles is getting through the middle- halfway there!
|Ayesha helping me after loop 4|
I knew the night would be a struggle though- I’m not a good night runner. I always slow down, and any warm, fuzzy feelings I may have experienced in the warm sun come to a screeching halt when night rolls in. I decided to just approach it with the best attitude possible, and I had warned my pacers that this was one of my areas of weakness. I traded my hat and iPod for a headlamp, gloves, and arm warmers, and Terry and I set off for loop 5. Terry saved my skin with her assortment of doTERRA essential oils and couch drops- I was putting oil below my nose to try to open up my airway and sucking on these amazing cough drops she gave me- the only problem was that she only had a few left. I wish I had more- they were amazing. When we started off for loop 5, I had jut one left, and I lost the “breathe” oil she had let me keep in my pack while running which had helped me all day. She still had ginger oil though, which proved immensely useful when some nausea started to creep in. I rubbed some ginger oil below my nose and the nausea never came back.
|Terry and I heading out for loop 5- just before sunset|
I was still on track for 20ish hours, so although I was starting to slow down, we kept the pace as brisk as possible. I was starting to walk more, and Terry did her best to keep me true to my plan going into the race. My coach Dave had suggested thinking in small, manageable chunks at times when I was feeling rough: maybe trying to run for a mile, or to the next aid station, etc. Terry tried to motivate me to run small sections when I’d start to want to walk. This worked pretty well and we finished our loop a little behind my goal pace, but still not far off. I knew it would be really hard to make up time at this point, but hoped I could just hold on and at least give my best effort.
So Kathleen and I started off for loop 6. I felt like shit, but my attitude was on point. I knew I was doing a lot better than I had been at that stage two years ago, so unless something really bad happened, I figured I’d be on track for a PR at least. I was still aiming for as close to 20 hours as possible, but I think I knew at that point it wasn’t possible short of a miracle. Like Terry, Kathleen tried her best to keep me running whenever possible, and when we did walk, we walked as fast as possible. When we reached Jackass Junction (for the last time since I was on loop 6), it was surreal! The party going on there was……let’s just say quite a party…..we moved through as fast as possible, just as I had tried to do at every aid station stop during the day. It definitely feels wrong to practically ignore such an impressive aid station party, but I had to move on. Stopping is dangerous. Sitting is even more dangerous. I’ve heard people say that the chairs grow Velcro when you sit in them, so I don’t generally sit during 100’s unless I really have to (to mess with shoes, etc).
Anyway, what 100 miler wouldn’t be complete without some random pain flaring up near the end? Just after Jackass Junction, my knee (not the knee I hurt at the Keys 100) started hurting on the inside- that same exact location as the other knee had. While this upset me, I honestly felt relieved it happened around mile 82 instead of 65. I was almost done- I figured I could manage the pain for the last miles. The good thing about this pain was that (unlike the time in the Keys) it hurt the same whether I ran or walked. It was a good motivator to keep running: get it over with faster. I remember feeling like absolute crap during this stage. All the little dips and washed out areas on the course were so jarring to the body at this stage, while in the beginning of the race the entire course feels smooth and completely runnable. I can tell you from experience: each loop it gets progressively harder- every time. The rocks get bigger and the hills get steeper- it’ll beat you up pretty good.
As we made out way to Jeadquarters at mile 92 I felt awful. All I wanted was for it to end- but luckily I knew I could do it- there’s no way I’d consider DNF’ing at mile 92…..unless I was literally dying. So back out Kathleen and I went, up that horrible rocky hill one more time. It was pretty much all power hiking on the uphill stuff. We kept it as fast as possible. My knee was screaming for me to stop. I was hoping to run the last 4 miles (the cutoff which takes you off the Pemberton and on to Tonto Trail). When we finally reached that trail (which we were both convinced had been moved further out somehow), I rejoiced. It really felt like the homestretch. I mustered every ounce of strength I had to try to run those final miles (or at least what I call the old guy shuffle). My garmin died just as it hit 100 miles and the time was 20:58. Not only did 20 hours fly out the window, but now the chance of a sub 21 hour finish also waved bye bye as I remembered this course being about 101.7 miles long. I knew it was at least 101 miles.
I don’t know why I wasn’t more upset about not achieving my time goal. Sure, I was disappointed- I still don’t know why I can’t hang on better during the late miles, especially despite very adequate training this time around. I guess I did manage to hang on for longer than I did the first time.
One thing I’m damn proud of is the fight I put up during this race. It wasn’t my day. I had some crappy obstacles to deal with. I had thought of quitting several times from the very beginning. But I kept moving forward, kept my goal in mind, and can honestly say I gave it my all- everything I had that day. I wish I had more to give, but I didn’t. Often I’m left with feelings of disappointment because I don’t lay it all out on the line, I hold back and I’m left to wonder what could have been. That didn’t happen here: I know I gave it everything. I still hope to run a sub 20-hour 100 someday, and I hope next time I won’t be sick or injured, or get injured during the race…..and maybe I’ll break through to where I want to be.....but maybe I won’t. All I know is I get to walk away from this one with a 1.5 hour PR, which isn’t too shabby. Sometimes it's not about a certain goal or number you have in your head that you think you'll be happy with. Sometimes it's about showing up with some obstacles in your way and figuring out how to give it your best, dig even deeper than you normally would, and overcome those obstacles- I can tell you there's quite a lot of satisfaction in that, too. I ended up 7th female (out of 135 who started and 85 who finished), and 40th overall (out of 459 starters and 281 finishers). My time was 21:26:39, and I got another sub-24 hour buckle.
I’m extremely grateful to Ayesha, Terry, and Kathleen: I could not have done this without such an awesome crew. Their support and encouragement was invaluable and essential to my success. I know I would not have finished without them, and they made the race fun- we had a blast and made some fun memories that I will cherish forever.
|A bit blurry, but a finishing photo!|
I’m sure I’ll be back to Javelina someday. Hopefully soon. It’s an ultra that holds a special place in my heart…not only because it was my first 100, but there truly is something extra special about it that I just can’t explain. As always, Jamil Coury and the Aravaipa Running crew did a top-notch job. I could not have asked for a more fun, well-run event. I’ll be back, JJ100.......I'm kind of tempted to try to get the 5-time finisher jacket!
|I liked the irony in the gravestone inscription (sick....get it?)|