October 1, 2013

Javelina Jangover Night Run - Race Report

Nick and Jamil Coury are awesome runners. I've had the chance to see them fly on the trails on a couple occasions, and I will always remember how kind and nice Jamil was to me on the eve of my first 50 miler in the Copper Canyons. «Take it easy, enjoy your day, and remember where you are and what you are accomplishing.»

The Coury's are also the proud owners of one of the best running companies in the States, Aravaipa Running. They create and organize races that are recognized for their awesome ambiance, great people and dreamy aid stations ripe with home cooking and goodies to keep you going all day, and in this case, all night.

The Javelina Jangover is the baby sister race of the famous Javelina Jundred, one of the most sought-out 100-mile races out there. It's a known hang out for Mas Locos, fast runners and fun lovers. With many wearing funky costumes and creative outfits, it's become the Halloween of ultra runners.

Javelina Jangover is the best practice you can imagine for a first-time Jundred runner like me. Not only is it held on the same course, but it includes both day- and nightime running in the great Arizona desert in Fountain Hills. To me, it was a dress rehearsal for my big day, and quite the reality check, too.

A Green Pea, a Redhead, a Stud and a Butterfly
I'd run the Paatuwaqatsi – Water is Life Ultra the week before, and had a hard time with the wet, loose sand of the Hopi prairies. I walked almost all the last half of the 31-mile course, with an angry right knee that awfully felt like the dreaded IT Band syndrome. I was uplifted with the spirit of the event, however, and looking forward to more inspired running with my friends Maria Walton, Kimberley The Redhead Miller and her husband, Mr Stud in person, the ever-awesome Michael Miller.

I chose the 50K distance after some hesitation. I thought it'd be nice and challenging to tackle the 75, but I have a lot of running lined up until the Jundred and I don't want to overdo it. With echoes of my last run still looming, I decided to be conservative and run 2 loops (an out-and-back on the Pemberton trail).

About 30 or 40 runners lined up at the start, and we were soon off in the late daylight. I had packed a lot of food and fluids in my vest, my headlamp, an extra handheld and all the stuff I would be basically carrying in my 100-mile adventure. I took it very easy at first, letting a lot of runners pass me and chatting a couple minutes with La Mariposa while warming up. My energy was very high, though, and I soon started to accelerate a little bit. My legs felt good and my lungs even better. I was chasing the setting sun on the desert hills, the weather was nice and warm, and the panorama was breathtaking. I always loved the desert. Things were going great.

I barely noticed when I started passing runners on the uphills. I was so happy to feel good and to be out here, running, that I didn't remember Michael Miller's words of wisdom. «Although Javelina is not the hardest nor the most technical, it has a surprisingly low finishing rate. That's because the trail is 100% runnable, and it claims many people who go out too hard.»

Race director and Mas Loco Jamil Coury
Hills were rolling, my feet were dancing and my spirit was soaring. As the last rays were setting over the mountain, the sky remained an intense blue that contrasted with the shadows and outlines of saguaros, the iconic cacti that stand proudly on the rocky, sandy hills all around.

I passed the only aid station at the mid-point of the trail and hardly stopped at all, smiling and waiving to the volunteers and laughing with fellow runners as we recalled our recent encounter with a big hairy tarantula that had me jump off the trail and shriek like a 6-year-old school girl. I was drinking generous amounts of water, but I felt no hunger whatsoever. I might have taken a slice or two of watermelon on my way out, but not much more.

Night had settled in, in the meanwhile, and the higher flats that followed felt good. For a while. About 15 minutes past the aid station, I started having a weird grumbly stomach and my legs started to feel weird. It was not my knees, at least; just a dull, numb pain in the hips. It didn't stop me from running, but I felt my movements were impaired.

My bobbing headlamp drove me crazy; I shut it down and shoved it in my vest, and used my handheld instead. It proved to be better, brighter and lit up the trail in a way that added more perspective about rocks, cracks... and numerous scary critters like scorpions, snakes and spiders.

When the gentle dowhills came, I started feeling like something was off. My stride had changed and my hips, mostly my left one, felt increasingly painful. I brushed it off and kept going, thinking of the turnaround point I would probably reach in the next 45 minutes or so.

I came in at just over 3h30, but I was feeling strange. «Can I get you ice?», said the nice girl at the aid station. «For my hip, yes!». She gave me a weird look and handed over two fistfuls of ice that I quickly shoved down my compression shorts. The relief I felt didn't last for long; a couple minutes after turning around, I had to stop running. The slight uphill was killing me, and I knew that couldn't be good.

Something else happened, at that point. I got hungry. Terribly hungry. I wolfed down a Clif Bar, then a gel. Nothing. I felt like an empty pit; I opened a second Clif Bar, then ate another gel. More than 700 calories, a decent dose of caffeine and copious amounts of sugar. But I was still starving. What the hell?

My stomach wasn't getting any better either, and I had to stop by the trail side... two times. I couldn't drink enough to quench my thirst and I could only walk at a brisk pace. Unable to chase away my hunger, I opened another gel, popped an S-Cap and devoured a marsipan from the Canyons offered by Maria before my run.

At that point, both my hips were killing me. The whole side of my left leg was painful, whether I walked or ran. The first half of my second loop felt like a death march, between my starvation, stomach issues and growing self-doubt about my ability to complete a 100-mile ultra, ever, let alone in a couple weeks. It took me forever to hit the aid station and, when I did, the face of the volunteer there spoke volumes about what I must've looked like. «How can I help?», he said, with a pitiful look. «My batteries are weak and I would love some ice, please.» He gave me a pair of brand new batteries that instantly doubled the brightness of my flashlight. When he saw what use I had for the cold stuff, he said «Hey, I got an idea! Here.» He took out a pair of first-aid latex gloves, filled them with ice and tied a knot at the wrist. Personalized ice packs! «You're a genius!», I shouted, running away in the night, still waving at my creative friend.

The ice helped, but the pain didn't recede and I quickly found myself back in my doubts and slow walking. «Running hurts. Walking hurts.» These thoughts led me to remember some passages from Killian Jornet's book, Run or Die, that has been my bedside read for the past days. I find he explains very well how he hit some extreme lows while pursuing various challenges and how his only way of getting out of the rut was to simply resume running, somehow resetting his body and mind.

«What if...?» «Aaahh, Fuck it.»

I took a couple first running steps, and realized it hurt no more than walking. Might as well finish this faster, I thought, as my legs got back into a minimal rhythm. The trail was now going down and was WAY rockier than I remembered, and my very poor choice of footwear (the GoSpeed Meb, which is Skechers' equivalent of a road-racing flat) became ever more apparent. The bottom of my feet felt bruised and battered, but aside from that, things were not so grim.

I passed a first runner, then another. As the hills were winding down, my legs got looser and lighter. The metric half-ton of food I had ingested some hours ago finally pumped back some energy into me and I gained better control of my feet. Surprised by the renewed strength in my legs, my spirit started to lift and I accelerated a little, passing a couple more runners.

When the trail got flatter, I didn't slow down. I kept going, and probably sped up slightly. The more I was going, the better I felt. I ended up coming in at full speed, after picking up another 5 or 6 runners. I had one of my strongest finishes since a long time, and although my legs were hurting, nothing bad happened with my knees and nothing prevented me from going as fast as I wanted.

My home stretch gave me a little bit of a regain in confidence, but just thinking about running 100 miles right now makes me quiver. Some of my experienced ultra running friends say it's a good thing.

I'unno, man. Guess we'll see.

The Javelina Jangover is an awesome night race put up in Fountain Hills, Arizona by the Coury brothers from Aravaipa Running Company. I highly recommend it.

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