After training for more than 5 1/2 months race day is finally here. Last minute preparation actually started on Friday at 9:00 a.m. when I met friends, Jay Danek and Deron Ruse, at McDowell Mountain Park to set up our “camp” at Javelina Jeadquarters. With early campers already in our preferred spot we couldn’t decide on a good second option so asked if we could squeeze in. The guys next to us were great and even moved one of their tents a few feet for us so we could set up a pop up canopy and two tents. This would be our personal headquarters where our crews would prepare for our arrival after each loop.
After setting up camp it was back home to prepare food, hydration, clothing and equipment to be packed in the truck for tomorrows 24 hour Quest. At 4:30 p.m. it was time to go back to race headquarters for packet pick up and last minute race director welcome/instructions. A meal of Kung Poa shrimp, brown rice and wonton soup followed before going to be about 9:00 p.m.
Amazingly I wasn’t nervous at all prior to the race and what normally turns into a night of my mind racing with last minute thoughts and keeping me awake didn’t happen. But I didn’t get sleep anyway. After an hour of sleep I woke up with draining sinus’s, moved to the sofa in the formal living room and fell back asleep. An hour later I was up again getting another cough drop and switched directions on the sofa. Another hour later and another cough drop later I found my way to the guest room. Two hours after that and another cough drop I was reading the last pages of my book and wondering if I should just give up on sleeping. I was finally able to get a few hours of restless sleep in the guest room before awakening at 3:50 a.m., 10 minutes before my 4:00 a.m. alarm. I quickly started the water for coffee and ate a bowl of old fashioned oatmeal with almonds, dried tart red cherries, peanut butter, maple syrup, whole banana and 1% milk (close to 845 calories). This would be my only meal for the next 26+ hours, after this it’s eating on the run/walk and just enough to keep me moving.
READY TO GO
We arrived early for the race expecting there to be a line up at the entrance of the park only to find no one in sight. Now having an extra 30 minutes to get nervous I tried to maintain my composure, visiting with other running friends as well as our good friends Rob and Shelley Forman who came out to watch the craziness and trying not to get caught up in all the excitement around me. When they announced two minutes before the start I used the porta potty quick and lined up just as they started counting down the last few seconds. Being 6:00 a.m. it was still dark and would be for the next 20 or more minutes, but with so many people on the narrow trails I left my headlight behind and relied on the light from others to guide my way. It turned out to be a good decision and was one less potential hassle I had to deal with early on.
My friend Deron Ruse and I started together and ran the first 31 miles side by side at an easy pace. Having run with Jay Danek two weeks prior Jay and I covered the 15.4 mile loop in the rain and mud in 2:23, my plan for Javelina Jundred was to go out at a comfortable pace and try to stay in the 2:50-3 hour time frame for at least the first 3 loops. After passing the Coyote Camp aid station two miles from the start the trail started to climb, almost immediately after that we passed two guys standing next to the trail, one in obvious pain trying to unstick several jumping cholla balls from the front leg of his shorts while his buddy just looked on helplessly not wanting to touch them himself. Deron and I laughed, obviously they were from out of state, no one from Arizona would’ve gotten close to a jumping cholla like that out on the trail. The rest of loop one went by uneventful, a quick stop at the Jackass Junction aid station where fellow Wednesday Morning Running Club (WMRC) member Jeremy Dougherty helped fill our handheld hydration bottles was the most exciting thing that happened to us.
LOOP 2. 15.4 miles down in 2:50:47, only 86 to go!
With Javelina Jundred consisting of six – 15.4 mile loops on the same trail every other loop is run in the opposite direction. Loop one clockwise, loop two counterclockwise all the way though. As we entered Javelina Jeadquarters my awesome crew consisting of my wife Laura, son Sam and daughter Grace were ready with my new hydration bottle filled with EFS Ultragen and I was immediately down the trail with Deron by my side. Loop 2 went much the same as loop 1, running at a consistent and easy pace Deron and I clicked off the miles while talking about anything and everything that came to mind. Entering Jackass Junction aid station the second time Jeremy was waiting for us with his camera. Seeing familiar and friendly faces out on the trail all day was a huge boost. Jeremy quickly snapped our picture, refilled our bottles and we were out of Jackass Junction in a quick minute. Shortly after leaving the aid station we came up behind Dan Brendan, a local ultra running legend (at least in my eyes) and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, always happy and smiling no matter where you see him in a race. Dan runs several ultra races every year and places well in all of them. Dan runs a steady pace from start to finish and passing Dan early in a race has cost both Deron and I dearly in the past because it’s a sure sign we started too fast. Deron and I have a good time joking about not passing Dan but when we came up behind him on this hilly stretch we passed Dan with caution and more than a bit of uneasiness. It wouldn’t be the last time I passed and was passed by Dan Brendan today.
With 3.55 miles left on loop 2 I looked down the trail to see Rob Forman standing next to his mountain bike at the Dixie Mine trail junction holding a sign. “Beer Ahead 74 Miles!”. With video in hand he watched me pass without stopping. I run the trail Rob rode out on from Fountain Hills and it’s not an easy 9+ miles one way to run, riding his mountain bike on it would’ve been even harder in places.
Finishing loop 2 right on schedule I entered Javelina Jeadquarters mere seconds ahead of eventual winner Hal Koerner, who would go on to shatter the course record on this day. Hal’s website shows he’s run 111 ultra-marathons in his career and the list contains several 1st place finishes and course records. To be just in front of Hal at this point in my race was a career highlight for me. Oh, I should mention while I was finishing loop 2 Hal was coming from the opposite direction and finishing loop 3? Holy cow! What a pace he was setting, I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do and Hal was already 15.4 miles ahead of me and pulling away.
LOOP 3 – 31 miles down in 5:48:10, only 70.4 to go.
Heading back out of Javelina Jeadquarters with a full hydration bottle, 8oz. of chicken noodle soup and a fresh shirt Deron and I had passed the 31 mile mark. This was a significant point for Deron because we were now officially past the farthest distance he’d ever run at one time. Moving past Coyote Camp aid station 2 miles out Deron commented that he was starting to feel it in his legs and dropped behind me. Not wanting to look back I didn’t know if Deron was just behind my peripheral vision or if he dropped way back. But Deron’s race was not my race and as long as he wasn’t hurt or in need of help I had to focus on my own pace and keep moving. It was nearing 1:00 p.m. and the sun started popping from behind the clouds and my sweat rate started to get heavier and heavier. Two things I wanted to control throughout the race was keeping my heart rate low and sweat level under control. As I started to increase my fluid intake I knew this was going to be an critical point affecting me later in the race. Passing Jackass Junction the trail declines slightly for the next 7 miles past Rattlesnake Ranch aid station into Javelina Jeadquarters. I tried to stay focused on maintaining a steady pace that wasn’t too fast. As I entered Javelina Jeadquarters Sam and Grace were waiting for me at the top of the knoll and ran in with me the last 100′. I was also surprised to see my friend Christy Beck was there to greet me and watch the craziness. Christy and I trained for our first marathon (and my only road marathon) together back in ’09. It was nice to see Christy’s smiling face. Read Christy’s recap of her visit on her blog, it’s an interesting perspective from someone not immediately involved in running, crewing or pacing. I quickly grabbed some Tylenol, ibuprofen, decongestant, soup, sandwich, my headlight (it would be dark before I got back) and waist pack (I was tired of carrying my bottle and didn’t have enough hands for everything) and headed back out counterclockwise on the trail.
LOOP 4. 46 miles down in 9:06:17, only 55 to go.
Just before I left Javelina Jeadquarters I started to feel lightheaded, as I headed up the trail I saw Deron coming in so he hadn’t been running very far behind me the past 12 miles even though I never saw him. Within .10 of a mile outside of Javelina Jeadquarters my world started to spin and everything started to get bright and white. I knew I was going down, it was just a matter of where and could I miss hitting a cactus on the way to the ground. After a few minutes of listening to people ask me if I was ok as they ran past I sat up for a minute and decided to try standing. Still dizzy I made my way slowly up the trail another half mile before going down again. This time took less time to get blood back into my brain and I was up and walking again within a few minutes. By time I reached the Rattlesnake Ranch aid station less than 3 miles from Javelina Jeadquarters 1:25 had passed and I had used up all the cushion I had built up over 3 laps toward my goal time of sub 24 hours.
Leaving Rattlesnake Ranch after a 5 minute chair rest and 2 large glasses of Gatorade I felt much better but couldn’t get running. I started to shuffle for 30 seconds, walk, shuffle 1 minute, walk, shuffle, walk, shuffle, walk etc. etc. until the shuffles turned to running and I could keep going without a rest walk. From that point I ran the next 12 miles non-stop into Javelina Jeadquarters passing Jackass Junction and Coyote Camp aid stations without taking in any food and barely sipping on the Ultragen I picked up nearly 4 hours ago at Javelina Jeadquarters.
As I entered Javelina Jeadquarters I was moving and feeling good but saw the concern in everyone’s face that the last loop had taken me over 4 hours to complete instead of the normal 3 hours for each of my first 3 loops. Laura’s friend Elaine Byers was there watching, a brief “hello” to Elaine and I picked up my first pacer Richard McKnight and we headed out.
LOOP 5. 62 miles down in 13:15:12, only 39 to go.
Rich is an experienced ultra runner having completed 4-100 miles races in the past year, most recently the Western States 100 (the granddaddy of them all). At this point my stomach was trashed. I knew I had to eat to get fuel in me but the nausea was as bad as I’ve ever experienced and couldn’t even think about taking a sip of water. Rich got in my face and wouldn’t leave me alone until I started eating. I finally gave in and took a plain GU gel from him, trying to swallow that was like trying to swallow a dead mouse. It was all I could do and following it with water wasn’t any easier. Rich told me I had 15 minutes and I was taking another, wow, that was something great to look forward too! But within minutes my stomach was starting to feel better, not good, just better. By time we reached Coyote Camp aid station 2 miles out I had eaten a small Nestle Crunch chocolate bar and needed to pick something up at the aid station. While looking for something that might actually go down without a fight I ate a small piece of watermelon and honeydew melon. Not much for calories but at least it was something in my stomach. While I was trying to be a good boy my pacer was throwing me under the bus with the aid station personnel . He told Justin Lutick (pictured here) I hadn’t been eating. As you can imagine from Justin’s picture he isn’t the type of person to baby you through a rough time. Justin was in my face immediately and there was no telling him no. I walked out of Coyote Camp with my tail between my legs after eating a little pumpkin pie, small handful of M&Ms, 3 pieces of ginger and drank two paper cups of ginger ale with an SCaps! for dessert. AND enough tough love from Justin to last me for a long time…thanks Justin.
From this point forward I drank only water and ginger ale the rest of the race and popped an SCaps! (electrolyte pill) at every aid station. Rich was on top of my nutrition the next 13+ miles, never letting me go more than a mile or 2 without eating something, no matter how small or insignificant it might have seemed at the time.
Making our way back to Javelina Jeadquarters for my final big loop Rich and I were under the assumption I was going out for loop 6 by myself. Rich had to work at the Rattlesnake Ranch aid station at midnight so was going to run back that direction with me then leave me to fend off the wolves by myself. To prepare me Rich gave me several instructions on what I needed to keep doing as I ran by myself.
Getting into Javelina Jeadquarters I was greeted by my friend Greg Kuechler. Having already run 77 miles my total thought process was to say “Hey Greg”, exchanged knuckles, then think it was neat he came out and wonder who he was there to see. It wasn’t until later my wife informed me that Greg was there to see me! And since he missed me the first time on the previous lap had been there several hours enjoying the atmosphere and waiting for me to get back in. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer as it is but after 77 miles and 17 hours on the trail if guess I get even duller.
LOOP 6. 77 miles down in 17:05:30, only 24 to go!
My second surprise when I entered Javelina Jeadquarters was to learn I had a pacer for loop 6. Laura had once again not listened to me when I said running by myself on loop 6 wouldn’t be a problem. Good thing she never listens to me (this time at least). Laura had Richardo Maldonado ready and waiting to take responsibility of me. Richardo is an accomplished short distance (5k, 10K, 1/2 marathon) and marathon runner finishing his first marathon in 2010 at Tucson in 2:42:14 finishing 3rd overall out of 1082 runners. But first I was getting light headed again and needed a soft piece of dirt to hit quick to get the blood back into my head. After 12 total minutes in Javelina Jeadquarters Richardo had his brief about my progress and I was feeling well enough to leave. I quickly found out I was well enough to leave but not well enough to run very far before going down again for a couple minutes. Richardo got me up and we started the same routine as I did on my own in loop 4, shuffle, walk, shuffle, walk, on and on until we made it to the aid station where I knew Richardo wouldn’t let me sit in a chair so locked myself in the porta potty for a few minutes to rest. I can tell you it’s not exactly a Lazy Boy recliner in there, especially after 18 hours of ultra runner use. I’d love to have a movie documentary and transcript of Richardo’s thoughts during his pacing experience with me. Here’s a guy that runs marathons at a 6:12 per mile pace and came out at the last minute to help instead of snuggling up in his warm bed for a good nights sleep, only to watch me lay in the desert and shuffle down the trail with rain ready to let loose at any minute. I remember Richardo at one point saying “17:30 for the last mile, good job!”. Later it was “wow, 16 minutes, now we’re moving”. When I finally did get to moving consistently the rain started. And man did it pour. I was immediately soaked through to the skin but loving every minute of it. Richardo even embraced the rain and we were two happy or somewhat happy guys moving down the trial in a downpour hopping over gullies of water while at the same time watching people suffering all around us. In my sick and twisted way the more people I saw suffering the stronger I felt and the more it took my mind off everything going on inside me as I focused outside my body on the rain.
Richardo stayed on top of my hydration and nutrition for me the rest of the way around loop 6. By mile 90 the trail was a quagmire in areas. Anything that was granite was 2-3″ deep with puddles to dodge and anything that wasn’t granite was clay and we sunk several inches into it as we tried to get through. There was nothing to do but laugh and keep moving forward.
Richardo was also keeping track of my pace against my goal of beating 24 hours. Now we were doing a steady 15 minute mile that consisted of run, walk, pee, run, walk, pee, over and over. It got to be a joke as I had drank so much ginger ale and the cold and rain didn’t help I’m sure that I was stopping every 5 minutes not to rest but to pee. It got to the point I didn’t even waste time getting off the trail, just turn off the headlight and point sideways. In a marathon runners mind this has to be disaster having to stop even once and costing precious seconds. One more thing that would be funny to see what Richardo was really thinking when it happened. As we neared Javelina Jeadquarters Richardo told me I had to maintain my 15 minute per mile pace and I would have a few minutes to spare to break 24 hours.
Getting into Javelina Jeadquarters at 3:20 a.m., 21 hours and 20 minutes after I started this crazy day I felt really rushed for time. I made another pit stop in the porta potty and was up the trail yelling thank you and saying to have Laura bring me GU gels.
LOOP 7. After 21:21:04 only 9.3 miles to go!
Before starting the final loop and last 9.3 miles race officials put a glow stick necklace around each runners neck. Oh my god, it felt like the Crown Jewels had been bestowed upon me! With my new jewelry and my wife Laura by my side we moved as quickly as possible down the trail toward Coyote Camp 2 miles away. Knowing I had to maintain a 15 minute pace and there was nearly 3 miles on incline coming up I knew I had to move fast the last 4.2 miles downhill to make up for lost time on the upcoming hill. Laura and I made it through the 4″ deep clay mess and tried shaking what felt like 10 pounds off our shoes as we ran. Laura went ahead of me to the aid station while I kept moving, then we struggled up the hill together…me struggling to move faster than a snail and her struggling to keep me from staggering off the trail like a drunk sailor. As my headlight lost power we were down to just Laura’s light, I told her I wanted to lead because I felt she wasn’t running enough and I wanted to go when I felt like I could. At one point after pushing hard for several minutes I commented that I could probably walk as fast as I was running, behind me I heard “I’m sure you can, I’ve been walking this whole time”. What the hell was I spending so much energy for then?! We power hiked all the inclines and shuffled down the declines until we reached the top at the junction of Tonto Tanks and Pemberton trails. We had 65 minutes to do the last 4.2 miles in order to break 24 hours. I had to pick it up because the first 3+ miles were downhill but the final 1.04 is slightly up hill with some roller coaster knobs that were going to slow me down.
As we started down I hated that I had put myself in a position I couldn’t relax and enjoy the final miles with Laura. But it is what it is and I had to play the cards dealt to me. In so many of my training runs over the last 5+ months I finished on this stretch of trail, always pretending I was up against the clock and had to push to beat it, never thinking it would really happen. As Laura lead me down the trail I would call out “I need one minute” and would walk, then go hard again. Not thinking real good myself Laura pulled my favorite trick out the bag and started counting my steps. I guess I consider it my mantra. Counting steps puts me in a rhythm and not only takes my mind off everything else but as I count faster my legs keep up with my count instead of me slowing the count to match my leg speed. 1, 2, 3, 4, all the way to 100. Walk 30 seconds, start again. We eventually worked up to 200 steps before I needed a break sometimes. By time we reached the bottom it was 5:25 a.m., 23:25 after I started and 35 minutes before my 24 hour self imposed deadline. Laura brought me down those 3.2 miles in 30 minutes, faster than a 10 minute per mile pace! It was at that moment we both knew we had it. Wow, what a feeling.
As we relaxed the final 1.04 miles I still tried to run as much as possible. As we finally talked and visited about things other than “get your ass moving John” we were anxious to see Sam and Grace waiting for us to run across the finish line as a family. Wearing a crappy old rust colored, rain soaked running vest and a hydration belt I was starting to take them off to throw along side the trail so they wouldn’t be seen in the final pictures when Laura tripped on her shadow or something. Almost horizontal to the ground she saved herself at the last second and prevented me from crossing the finish line alone (if she went down I was not waiting for her).
23:45:43 after starting we crossed the finish line hand in hand as a family. What a great feeling! With our good friends Rob, Shelley, Jack and Luke Forman, Tom Lund and Todd Jacobson waiting for us I received my sub 24 hour finishers buckle, several hugs, a chair to sit in and a Diet Coke. After 5 1/2 months of training my Quest to run 100 miles in less than 24 hours was over. It’s been a journey that no one in my family will ever forget and will influence us for a very long time.
FINAL THOUGHTS and NOTES
1. There is no way I can thank Laura enough for putting up with this crazy Quest of mine. It’s something I’ve had on my radar for several years. Between listening to my constant babble about “Javelina this, Javelina that” and my getting up at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. to run all summer she deserves sainthood. Then to both crew and pace me through the race was amazing. Laura woke up Saturday morning at 4 a.m., took care of my crewing needs all day then paced me starting at 3:20 a.m. the next morning and didn’t go to bed herself again until 2:15 p.m. Sunday afternoon for a 2 hour nap. Thank you Laura, I love you!
2. I also have to thank my son Sam and daughter Grace for showing so much pride in their Dad and at the same time keeping me grounded. They would ask good questions, boost my ego then there were times like the day Grace decided she wanted to run the 5K Irongirl with her Mom. Still 8 years old she came to me and asked me so seriously, “Dad, will you build me my own website?”. “Of course I will” I said with pride. Just as serious Grace said, “I want to call it, (drama queen with hand crossing the air like she’s an Hollywood producer) My Quest to Run 3 miles”. As she turned and walked down the hall laughing like a hyena.
3. I also need to thank my pacers, Richard McKnight and Richardo Maldonado (and Laura again). No way, no how I finish this Quest under 24 hours without you. You were both perfect for me, tough when it was needed and “somewhat” sympathetic at other times. I truly believe I’d have to do this again next year if you hadn’t both been there for me.
4. Thank you to friends Rob & Shelley Forman for watching me take off Saturday morning. Rob for riding out to meet me on loop 2, taking care of Sam and Grace Saturday night then waiting for the call at 3:30 a.m. to wake them up and bring them back out to the park to cross the finish line with me. I greatly appreciate your friendship and all your help.
5. To Tom Lund, Todd Jacobson, Greg Kuechler, Christy Beck and Elaine Byers thank you so much for coming out to cheer me on. It meant a great deal to me and Laura to see you there, I hope you enjoyed the crazy activities and sites of ultra trail running.
6. To Traci and Jay Danek thank you for your support and sharing your so easy to use camping equipment. It really made things so much easier and a nicer experience.
7. GU GEL. I took 48 Just Plain (flavored) GU Gels to the race and brought home 21. Even with a stretch of 3 hours not eating anything that’s only 27 Gu’s in 20 hours. I say only because it felt like I ate 50 of them. I hope I don’t have to eat another GU for a while, I don’t think I could swallow it unless Rich and Justin Lutick were there to force me.
8. Blisters. Zero, none, nadda, zippo. After running 101.4 miles in the same shoes and socks, through mud and rain I don’t have a single blister, black toenail or anything on my feet. They are tender on the bottom to walk on still but that’s nothing. I’ll have to hit Body Glide, Blister Shield and Wright Socks up for an endorsement deal after this. Maybe patent my secret formula mixture or something.
9. Time Stands Still. People tell me they can’t imagine running for 24 hours straight and 101.4 miles. I can’t either…and I just did it! Honestly, until near the end I had no concept of how far I had run or how much farther I had to go. Richardo tells me I was calculating the miles I had left when I was with him toward the end but I don’t remember it. I do remember trying to calculate it when I was with Laura because it was so close to the 24 hour mark. But throughout the day I focused on nothing more than the next mile of the trail, the next aid station, the next whatever that wasn’t far away. Staying in the moment is the only way to get through it. To stop and think of how far the total is or to rationalize what you’re doing is a sure way to fail. Because there is no way to rationalize running 101.4 miles and end up thinking its a good idea. When I crossed the finish line it was 30 minutes before the sun was scheduled to rise. I kept referring to “tonight” while everyone was saying “this morning?”. That’s how focused you have to be in regards to time.
10. 5 Pounds. After running 101.4 miles in 23:46:08 I lost a total of 5 pounds. Pretty good. I had rough times that I’m sure were caused by being low on a combination of fluids and nutrition. But only losing 5 pounds is pretty good. It would be better if it had been steady and not what I’m sure was a bigger deficit early on in loop 3-4 then gaining it back later.
11. How sore am I? Not very much. Sunday was a little rough from my knees down. My knees were stiff, calves and shins a little tight, ankles real stiff and bottom of my feet sore. When I woke up Monday morning it was just my ankles being stiff and the bottom of my feet and today (Tuesday) it’s just the bottom of my feet that are tender. I remember after my first 50 mile run I hurt for almost two weeks, its a testament to my training that I could get through this not only on Saturday but through 5 1/2 months of hard training without getting seriously hurt.
12. By the Numbers. A record 399 total entrants this year for Javelina Jundred. 339 runners finished some distance of at least 15.4 miles or more. 173 runners finished all 101.4 miles. I finished in 62nd place.
13. Justin Lutick. This was not my first encounter with Justin Lutick. He wouldn’t remember it but in very similar circumstances last year in Ford Canyon at the Mesquite Canyon 50K he came to my rescue also. It seems like any time Justin is in the area I’m in need of being rescued. (It’s appropriate he turned out to be #13 on this list I guess!)