Javelina Jundred was a party! It had been hyped as the Burning Man of ultrarunning, and it definitely had that festival feel to it (although I’ve never been to Burning Man -maybe one day!) I don’t think I’ve ever met so many awesome people in such a short time. It certainly didn’t hurt that I traveled down there with my good friend Hannah Perry, who (spoiler alert) crushed her first 100 miler! As many of you know, she’s super rad, which of course helped break the ice in conversations with the many amazing strangers that we met down there.
The first one though, was at the YVR Park N Fly, before I’d even met Hannah at the airport. I was pulling my suitcases out of the back of my RAV4, when from behind me, a lady’s voice says “Hey, this is going to sound weird, but are you flying to Phoenix for a hundred mile race?” She’d seen my vehicle’s decals. I turned around and it was Kim Magnus, one of Canada’s top trail runners. She is also super rad, and later introduced Hannah and I to her friend Riccardo Tortini, whom I also knew of and had never met, because I may have spent a bit of time stalking the many Javelina competitors ranked higher than me on Ultrasignup ?. Apparently another friend of theirs was also racing, but was on a different flight. It was awesome to hear that we had a Canadian contingent heading down to the desert. Off to a good start in YVR!
Taken on our first day in Phoenix, the above photo shows Hannah and I posing in front of the badass Jeep we rented. I had of course booked the cheapest compact car possible, but i guess so did everyone else. When we arrived at the rental depot at 12:30am Friday morning (Thursday night, for all intents and purposes), they tried to upsell me hard on a Jeep or Suburban. To be honest, I was tempted, because who wouldn’t want to cruise the desert in a Jeep with the top off, but I stuck to my guns and resisted. Holy shit we couldn’t believe it when it was waiting for us in our assigned spot down in the parkade.
Off to a good start in Phoenix!
PS: Note the taco hat. It played a major role in the trip, from being a centerpiece in the Eric Senseman photo that blew up the internet ?, or turning me into “TacoMan!” while being cheered for by hundreds of daydrinking strangers when completing loops at Javelina Jeadquarters. I didn’t wear it for the whole race, but even without it I was still TacoMan. (I did keep the taco shorts on for the entire race though – sorry Alan.) The hat is Hannah’s but apparently I’ve earned it now, and also it’s kind of gross from racing in it for 70km, so I’m not surprised that she doesn’t want it back.
Hannah and I had arranged to camp in the massive tent city set up at Javelina Jeadquarters for race weekend, but our trip was from Thursday to Tuesday. For one night before and two nights after, we stayed with strangers. Well, Hannah had met Joel once before, when she ran the Rim2Rim2Rim at the Grand Canyon ages ago, so I guess not total strangers. Joel is an ultrarunner / triathlete and him and his lovely wife Ruth set us up in a beautiful 35 foot trailer parked beside their house. These two were the most gracious hosts and incredible people! They cooked us dinner, busted out their fancy sipping tequila, and left their side door unlocked at all hours, encouraging us to come on in whenever we wanted to shower, do laundry, whatever. Did I mention we were staying with these strangers FOR FREE! Amazing. The other cool thing was that they connected us with the SanTan Runners (Joel’s running crew) who had a bunch of runners and crew at Javelina and accepted us into their group with open arms. They had secured a 30 ft x 10 ft stretch of real estate along the finish line corridor and erected three gazebos, so it was great to have a base camp complete with many chäirs on course.
On the Friday morning Joel, Hannah and I grabbed a lovely breakfast at a cute little cafe, claimed our tents on the race grounds and hit the race expo. Pro runner Eric Senseman was at the Rabbit booth wearing his ‘Born to Run’ shirt, signing autographs and kissing babies. I quickly bought the last ‘Born to Run Faster than Senseman’ shirt, stripped off my own shirt and put it on, approaching Eric with a big shit eating grin. We chatted a bit and then took the infamous photo shown above. Hannah and I noticed an adjacent booth had a signup sheet for free permanent tattoos after the race, but it was already full and into a wait list -cool idea though! Hannah, Joel and I also bought some special Javelina-inspired single beers at the expo, slammed them, then realized they were also selling six packs. Being a tipsy idiot, I bought a six pack without checking the price, and ended up paying for the price of six more singles. At least it was damn good beer, but Hannah was paying attention and cut me off after I’d consumed four. I guess I should thank her for saving my race, but I’m still a bit pissed off, lol.
Friday night at Javelina Jeadquarters was pretty low key. We ate pizza and went for a little 3km shakeout before saying goodnight and hitting the tents. Thankfully everyone for the most part respected the need for a good night’s sleep pre-race and kept quiet in the tent city.
I woke up just before 4am, feeling a bit chilly, ate breakfast while still in my sleeping bag, and then wandered out for a coffee and a poop. Unfortunately the coffee line up was way too long, but the coffee is really just to instigate the poop right? I was in the lineup when I realized I was already brewing, so I left the coffee line and joined the port-a-potty line instead. As we counted down the final minutes towards the 6am race start, the start line was electric, and I was standing beside some of my favourite ultrarunners, wondering if I was still dreaming. There was Billy Yang and Ethan Newberry filming us, getting footage for who knows what phenomenal YouTube documentary they may or may not be dropping on fanboys everywhere in the future. There were some amazing costumes, my favourite being a Fred Flintstone doppelgänger who was not only dressed as Fred, but carried a full sized Flintstone mobile, holding up the frame and peddling with his feet just as Fred does. Yabbadabbadoo! It was still a little chilly, but all one needed to do was move a little closer to the fire-dancer (yes, fire-dancer!) for warmth. So fucking rad. I guess it’s time to run 100 miles!
THE FIRST TWO LOOPS
Cruising on Loop 2 of the Javelina Jundred, approximately a marathon in. You can’t tell in this photo, but the wheels were already in danger of falling off.
Loop 1 had been incredible. After being asked by Sally McRae ? at the start line whether I was going to wear my taco hat for the whole race, my star-struck ass went out fast in the top 20 off the start. The course record holder Patrick Reagan was off like lightning, and I forced down the foolish impulse to chase him. I don’t know if there’s anyone in the world that can beat Patrick on this course, with its sand and heat. Running felt so easy after my lengthy taper, and I soon found myself running in third immediately behind Tyler Green, the winner of this year’s Cascade Crest 100 miler and Bandera 100k among many other races. We chatted for a bit, and it turns out that he had been the pacer for third place James Holk at Mountain Lakes last year -small world! I knew that this cat was out of my league, but I foolishly passed him and finished the loop about a minute ahead. I yelled “That’s what I’m Taco-ing about!” as I tagged up at the start/finish line, and the Race Director Jubilee -while dancing on the roof of a spookily-decorated truck- repeated my corny line on the megaphone, which totally made my day.
Javelina Headquarters was nuts. You enter it off the main course through a huge HOKA arch, and get funneled along this corridor lined with crew popup tents to tag up and end your loop, maybe 500m each way. Javelina Jeadquarters is the only crew accessible aid station, so everyone just hangs out there all day and parties along that corridor. There are over a thousand runners on course, there must be twice as many crew, and they are all there cheering for you! My amazing Aunt Pat and cousin Keara were there too. They were mountain biking “in the area” and graciously offered to crew me. It was their first ultra race experience and they were amazing! Tyler left for his second loop while they were fussing over me lovingly at the aid station, and I never caught him again.
The heat was coming, I had swapped my taco hat for something a little more practical, and I was already madly popping salt pills to combat the leg cramping that again plagued me early in my race, starting right at the start of loop 2. A dude passed me while I was doubled over, trying to massage a particularly painful cramp out of my left quad. Correction: before he passed, he stopped beside me. “Are you okay man?” Goddamn I love this sport. I waved him off and he took third. Thankfully the cramping ended up being shorter lived than what had hit me during my 24 Hour Abby Grind or Mountain Lakes before that. I still don’t understand why I always cramp so early? It wasn’t even that hot yet, as it was only about 10am, but the sun was steadily rising along with the temperature, and there was exactly zero shade on course. I got it back together and finished that loop, even retaking third, but Tyler Green was long gone. Throughout the race I’d watch him continue to pull away from me as we’d cross paths on the washing-machine style loops. This dude was a machine, and it didn’t look to me like he slowed down at all the entire race. I’ve definitely got a lot to learn when it comes to pacing 100 milers properly.
A COUPLE LOOPS IN A FURNACE
Loops 3 and 4 were fucking hot. The temperature climbed to 30 degrees Celsius and stayed that way for hours. The sun was relentless and there was no relief from it, no shade. I was told that the lack of humidity would help make it bearable, but after soaking myself with ice water at an aid station I’d be bone dry again within minutes. I couldn’t even tell that I was sweating because it evaporated immediately, the only signs being the fact that I was drinking litre after litre of fluids and rarely peeing, or the contours of salt crystals that patterned my face and clothes. The dryness felt like it was sucking the energy out of me like a Dementor in the Harry Potter series, turning me into a withered raisin. Yup, really fucking hot.
At first it didn’t seem so bad. I had prepared for this heat with two weeks of daily sauna sessions during my taper. I had chosen my apparel carefully to provide maximum coverage where it counts with breathable white materials. I intentionally took much longer than normal at aid stations, squeezing sponges of ice water over my head and packing ice into the ice bandana that I wore around my neck, into my arm sleeves, into my waistband, and into my hat. I was taking care of myself. It didn’t matter though, I was still getting cooked out there.
At times I started to panic -like something akin to claustrophobia- feeling suffocated by the heat combined with the pace I was attempting to maintain. I tried visualization techniques and mantras, trying to convince myself that I was okay, that my brain wasn’t overheating, that this was nothing compared to the sauna’s intensity and I was fine; desperate attempts to get my erratic heart rate to settle down during these waves of overheated anxiety. Maybe they worked? What probably worked even better was all the runners coming the opposite way on their second loops, saying encouraging things like “Looking strong!” “You’re killing it!” “So impressive!” The act of smiling and interacting with them helped a bit to ease the dread cycling through my mind -that I was likely in the process of exploding in the heat and should back way off- and hey, they were telling me I was looking strong. I kept moving forward at a decent clip at least, although I frustratingly started noticing my average pace dropping steadily in the heat despite an increase in perceived effort as I approached the 100km mark of my day. At the end of loop 3 it was 2:41pm, and having run an 8:41 100k -a huge PR- I was still in third, but I was dying. I was so done with running in a fucking oven.
Loop 4 was hell. And it took forever. The scariest thing about ultrarunning for me is how time is so relative. And no, I’m not delving into Einstein’s equations here -although as an engineer I sure do love to get nerdy- I’m talking of our perception of time. When shit goes real bad in terms of a deep deep low, the minutes turn into hours and the steady ticking away of kilometres on the watch display slows to a rate that I still don’t understand. You realize this molasses-like effect on time and distance and tell yourself not to look at your watch anymore, but then glance down much much later, convinced you’ve run at least 8km since then, and you’ve run 800 meters. That shit is scary. Can you get to a place of so much suffering that this horrible moment stretches to infinity, and you’ll never be out of it? At times on loop 4, that felt very possible to me.
The first real sign that I was headed for a major low was the deterioration of my interactions with the other runners coming the other direction. These runners were still super smiley and encouraging, and I was still responding, but my responses were a mumbled “thanks, you too” on repeat, instead of the fun responses I had previously been custom-tailoring based on their costumes or whatever. With over a thousand other runners on course, and the majority of them still on their loop 3, there were hundreds flowing by me. Eventually even my simple repeated mumbled response became too much energy expenditure, at least as far as I was concerned in the ultra-cranky state I found myself, and while I didn’t stop doing it, I began getting angry every time I’d turn a corner and see another mob of runners coming my way. Why couldn’t they just let me stay in my drowning overheated mind, leave me to my thoughts of “why the fuck am I doing this?” “I’m failing.” “I went out too fast and didn’t respect the heat and now I’m fucked.” I should’ve thanked them for breaking up my vicious thought cycles with their smiles, for marking the passage of time and at least giving me the certainty that it hadn’t yet approached the event horizon of a black hole of pain with time stopped completely. I do remember recognizing the ridiculousness of that anger at some point, and sometimes when that happens it’s kind of like realizing that you’re dreaming, which often causes you to wake up.
This time my low held on for a while longer however, but I think recognizing it helped relax its grip. The climb up to Jackass Junction was so hard. The sections of loose sand felt like quicksand, sucking away what little juice I had left in my legs. The sections of loose baseball-sized rocks battered my feet until I thought that my big toe was broken. I wasn’t lifting my feet enough anymore and I seemed to kick every rock on that trail, and had a few superman falls forward. I wanted to quit so bad. When I did enter the three aid stations on this loop, I said as little to the volunteers as possible, worried that the words “I drop” would come out of my mouth. I was gritting my teeth and steeling my mind, my entire being flexed and rigid against the intensely powerful urge to quit. More than once I thought my vision was beginning to cloud, and that my Mountain-Lakes-Rhabdo blindness was coming back, but I’d blink and my vision would be crystal clear. I think my brain was trying to trick me, since I had promised my wife that I would immediately drop at the first sign of vision loss, and I wanted to drop so badly. My vision was fine, so I guess I have to keep going.
My low let go more completely when I noticed how low in the sky the sun was getting around 5pm. It was still hot but the end of the inferno was in sight, and my spirits correspondingly improved. Finishing seemed possible again.
THE FINAL LOOP
The sun had finally set behind the mountains, at which I bellowed shouts of joy and slapped high fives with a bunch of nearby runners coming the other direction in the washing-machine loops. “That evil bastard is gone!” Shortly afterwards, I crossed the finish line timing mat for the second-to-last time and was handed a ‘finishing loop’ glow stick bracelet by Jamil ‘Jam Jam’ Coury. I had just been told that I had dropped to fourth place now. I wasn’t particularly surprised, as I had pulled over at the last aid station for a lengthy poop and was apparently passed by Kaci ‘Pixie Ninja’ Lickteig (my favourite female ultrarunner) during that time. Unfortunately over the years I have not trained my body functions to make haste with waste (hehe), as I’ll usually be reading a book or messing around on my phone while I do my business, often using the signal of pins and needles when my legs fall asleep due to lack of circulation as the cue to wipe and get on with things. Something to work on before the next race I suppose, lol. Anyways, my new bracelet wasn’t the only thing glowing as I crossed that start/finish line timing mat. There was a mob of glowing costumed runners waiting to start the 31km Jackass Night Run. I always hit the Jeadquarters aid station after tagging up at the timing mat -not before- and they were loudly counting down the seconds to their start, so I was doomed to get stuck behind them on Loop 5. Oh well.
I soon realized that this wasn’t all bad. Their energy level was amazing and they were moving pretty quick out of the gate, no doubt excited to climb up to the half way point of their night run, the infamous Jackass Junction. Also, the costumes were great, and some a little more risqué than the 100 milers and 100k costumes, meaning there were a lot of nice bums on display as I slowly made my way through the pack, which wasn’t horrible. The night run is unique in that they run 31km starting just after dark, and I believe that they have the same cutoff as the rest of us at noon the next day. What this means is that they can run the 16km to Jackass Junction, party there for like 10 hours if they wanted, and still have time to stumble their way downhill to the finish line before the cutoff. Jackass Junction (shown in the photo below) had a fully stocked open bar and a dance floor, and I’m thinking that this Jackass Night Run might be the perfect race for my next Javelina! (Cuz running 100 miles is BULLSHIT, lol)
As I was passing the sparkly happy costumed people on their way to free booze and dancing, I saw Kaci beside me. I said “Hi Kaci! I’m a big fan and you’re crushing it!” but I’m not sure if she heard me or responded or realized that she was being passed. With my taco hat back in its rightful spot and my amazing bum, I could easily have been another one of the night run rowdies, haha. I didn’t stick around to find out, as I was in the middle of reclaiming third place. The fanboy in me pouted. He was soon appeased however, as it’s nearly time for another blatant name-drop.
The 16km from Jeadquarters to Jackass Junction is a steady climb. On loop 1 I remember thinking “you call this a hill?” But by loop 5 it was a fucking mountain. In addition to that, Jackass seemed to get further away with every loop -there was some serious Bermuda Triangle shit going on. I had overextended myself while decisively passing Kaci, and now I was walking. A dude passed me, with the slow, smooth and efficient stride of one experienced with slogging through miles. He had a similar glow stick bracelet. Did I just get passed? I gave it my all to catch him, and not-so-subtly was trying to get a look at his bib colour when he complemented my taco hat. It was Ethan fucking Newberry -the Ginger Runner- and he was doing the 31km Night Run! Better yet, when I told him I was from Vancouver and that the heat had cooked my Canadian Bacon, he asked “Hey are you Ryan?” Apparently his buddy -my buddy- Levi who apparently knows him through the YouTuber world had told him to look out for me, that I was a nutter who likes to “go for it”, which I guess was a fair assessment. Chatting with the Ginger Runner was a dream come true, and for a while it kept me moving along at his steady pace. But I hurt so much, and staying in the forefront of my mind as is required for one to aggressively fanboy and be social and say things that made sense was getting to be too much for me to handle, so I politely told Ethan that it was awesome chatting with him, but I needed to retreat back inside to my pain cave. He totally understood, so I subsequently dropped him. I was almost at Jackass Junction, and then it would be 15km of downhill to Jeadquarters and the finish line.
When I got to Jackass Junction at the midpoint of my final loop, there was way too much going on. It was like sensory overload. So many people! Apparently I hadn’t passed as many of the Jackass Night Run runners as I’d thought, or maybe a lot of 100 milers and 100k’ers had been sucked into the party? It would be much more dangerous for them, very difficult to escape. I passed by an aid station table lined with hard liquor bottles and pre-prepared tequila shots and headed straight for the ginger ale. It was the only thing I consumed on loop 5, drinking some at every aid station. I still carried my handhelds full of Perpetuem, but I had no desire to drink that nasty shit now or ever again.
Thankfully I had been taking in a massive amount of calories through Perpetuem all day due to the heat. I had been drinking over a litre an hour of it for most of the race -plus aid station ginger ale- and probably averaging an intake of 600 calories an hour through these fluids. I didn’t consume anything else the entire race other than Perpetuem, ginger ale and salt pills; not a single gel or Clif bar. I’ve found that if I take care of myself for the first 80 miles of a hundred, it doesn’t matter much what I do nutrition-wise in the last 20 miles. Although I must add that these are not recommended nutrition tactics, as most stomachs seem to revolt at just over half of that calorie intake according to what I’ve read, and running on virtually empty for 3+ hours is probably not great either, but I’m usually just not in the mood for calories by then.
I often wonder if my double foot long Subway lunches and my late night beer-fueled hill repeats are actually responsible for this ability to take in so many calories while pushing hard, or whether I’m just extremely good at justifying my bad habits and vices in the context of ultrarunning, lol.
But yes, sweet anti-Perpetuem ginger ale. I downed a few gulps worth from my little collapsible cup while slumped over the aid-station table, steadying myself on it with my elbows. The friendly volunteer asked me if I needed anything else and I mumbled “no thanks” without looking up. I’m not much fun at kilometer 145, which is part of the reason why I don’t use a pacer. I go deep inside. I probably looked pretty far gone. I felt far gone. And the ginger ale couldn’t truly wash away the taste in my mouth; only a finish line beer could do that. As I stumbled out of Jackass Junction, with the temporary clunky limp-shuffle that always follows a late-race stop -when rigor mortis sets in almost immediately- I decided to focus my mind on this most important beverage and that finish line. It was waiting for me 15km down hill and I finally knew that I was going to get this fucker done. And not just finish, but hit my goal of top 10 on a big stage and possibly even hold on to my podium spot! I wasn’t going to get the sub15 I wanted, but I could almost taste that beer, and relished the thought of that final Jeadquarters run through the gauntlet of cheering crew and that last glorious pass through the finish line. And chäir, so much chäir.
THE FINISH LINE
I didn’t trust my watch, but I knew I was getting close. And then I saw the silly goodR signs planted in the ground, which meant I was super close. Maybe 1km? And then I heard the music. And then the cheering. And then saw the lights. And I was charging through that electric corridor, cowbells ringing everywhere, dodging random crew as well as runners going both directions on their quest for a hundred miles. My journey was finished, and I turned on the jets and crossed through the finish line arch the final time at a full sprint, shouted “I love Javelina and I love tacos!” at the top of my lungs, and accepted that big ass pirate-artifact-looking Javelina buckle from Jam-Jam himself. 3rd place! Podium. I fucking did it!
So having now watched the video that my Aunt took of my finish line ‘sprint’, it’s hilarious. I look like I’m working pretty hard, sure -swinging my arms and stuff-but I’m barely picking my feet up, certainly not the pace I thought I’d been going. I thought I’d been absolutely flying. It sure felt that way, and my spirit certainly was flying at that moment. It just goes to show how destroyed and unresponsive my body really was by that point. It was less a sprint and more a determined shuffle, but it carried me across that finish line and I was done. Get me a beer.
How to describe the transformative power of what I just went through? What does it mean to keep going when every fibre of your being is howling at you to stop? Every step is a battle won against that overwhelming urge to give up, against the failures and missed opportunities of the past. A battle against those inner voices of negativity and doubt that are increasingly amplified during the late stages of an ultra but are always there in everyday life too, churning deep in the background. In the fray, one learns tools for fighting back against them with an expanded perspective and thoughts of gratitude. Pain is shooting like so many sparks as your willpower is hammered and sharpened on the anvil of voluntary suffering into a powerful weapon. Every step changing you.
How to describe the symbolic power of that cherished hundred mile belt buckle later when facing life’s challenges? I wear my Mountain Lakes buckle often and touch it with my fingertips when I inevitably doubt myself and flash back to the timid man that I once was, and my new Javelina buckle is also infused with similar meaning. It reminds me of what I really am and what my still unrealized potential may yet be. It gives me a glint of steel in my eyes.
I am not some rigidly strong David Goggins-like “stay hard motherfucker” type however. I say stay soft and malleable, not rigid and brittle. Allow yourself to feel deeply; your pain, other’s pain, and all the joy and beauty too, but know deep down that you have an infinite well in which to hold it. There is so much beauty in pain, as long as you don’t let it overwhelm you and pull you down and diminish you; as long as you don’t wallow in it, get swallowed by it. I am deeply human, I shed tears often -equally from joy and pain- and I still have demons. And that’s okay, it’s not about being invincible and feeling no pain, it’s about opening yourself to pain and love, about taking down walls, about being uncomfortable at times, exposed and vulnerable. I have so much more growing and learning yet to do, and while that comes from all aspects of life, there is nothing quite like boldly running a hundred miles on the absolute edge of one’s ability, flirting with a high likelihood of spectacular failure, battling your negative inner dialogue, making peace with pain through a deep understanding of its value, and somehow making it through to the other side to write a lengthy convoluted story about it all.
P.S. I got my first ever tattoo right near the finish line the next day; it’s a Javelina on my right calf. Turns out half the people on the list never showed! 🙂