What is failure? That is a question I had a lot of time to ponder out in the Arizona desert. Eighteen hours and fifty-eight minutes, to be totally accurate.
|Mas Loco Sandwich|
But the truth is, I had my doubts from the very beginning. My body, although solid and healthy, was tired and worn from the many other races I had done. From my altitude training spree in Boulder to Nine Trails to Javelina Jangover to Water is Life to Hunter Gatherer to Canyon de Chelly, I didn't have a lot of time for a key element; rest and recovery.
Only a week before J-Day, I traveled back to Montreal to be with my loved ones; this proved to be an unexpected emotional roller coaster from which I haven't really come down yet. I'd also suffered a slight injury to my ankle and, although my Medicine Woman had taken care of it the Wednesday before, I could still feel the echoes in my foot and lower leg.
|This man? |
He's my pacer, Officer.
I hit the trails with La Mariposa, determined to not go out too fast and enjoy my journey. We shared almost the first half of loop 1, then I slowly drifted after abundant hugs and good wishes. I wasn't running a lot, trying to keep my energy for later. I ran flats and downhills, but walked all the uphills. The strategy seemed to work really well and I had a lot of energy, aside from a slightly upset stomach I blamed on my plan to take electrolyte pills from the very beginning.
My first loop ended in good spirits, running with lots of cool people and having fun doing it. Sweeney was hanging out at the Javelina Jeadquarters, dressed up as a mariachi. Flamboyant. Things were going well.
|The ever-so-lovely |
The first half of loop 2 was pretty uneventful, as I shared the trail with more interesting runners. My hydration was good and I was eating decent amounts of calories, too. I crossed Hal Koerner and the other front guys, but the one I was keeping an eye out for is Ian Sharman. When I saw him earlier, he looked fresh and on top of things, a sight that made me happy. We said hi quickly and he just whisked by, light and efficient.
After Jackass Junction, the halfway point in the loop, the desert sun started to hammer down. The heat rose quickly and sharply, and soon everyone seemed to slow down and feel heavier. I am not easily affected by heat, so I just smiled, soaked in the warm rays and kept going. I was walking more than I would've wanted, but I thought there was no point in trying to run more and blow out. As long as I kept moving, I thought, I should be fine.
in the desert sun
I crossed Tyler for the second time around that point, and he looked worried. I asked how he was doing, and from his tone, I could tell he was thinking of dropping down, or out. He told me Michael Miller wasn't feeling any better, which the man confirmed himself moments later. It seemed like no one was having a good day; I was definitely not the only one feeling it.
I finished my second loop in much worse a shape than I thought. Out on the trails, I felt hot but all right, but when I hit the aid station, I realized I was incoherent and disoriented. I walked to a big plastic tub and a really nice guy splashed my head and neck with ice cold water until I started making sense again. I knew this couldn't be good. I grabbed some food, a couple fistfuls of ice and chilled out for some minutes.
Then I took my first really bad decision of the day. I changed my shoes. I went to my van and grabbed my Skechers GoTrail, which fit snugger than my other shoes. This was made worse by the fact my feet had swollen and that I was wearing two layers of socks. Stupidly, I thought I'd spent enough time fooling around already and had to go back out. This would fix itself up by itself on the trails, right?
As any runner with half a brain already knows, it didn't. My feet started hurting really bad, and there was simply nothing else I can do than tough it out for 15 more miles, on the notoriously critical third loop, in 100+ degree weather.
I'd also grabbed my walking stick to try and lessen the impact of my running and walking, and the change of form it caused was pleasant. People on the trail started calling me StickMan, which I thought was cool and funny, and partly took my mind out of the hurting spiral I had gotten myself into.
I spent many miles with Tess, a really nice and experienced Javelina runner. She provided a lot of advice and corrected some hydration mistakes I had done by having me swallow several more S-Caps to prevent cramping. She also calculated that, at the pace we were both going, we would be in very good position at the end of the third loop to be 100-mile finishers. «We need to keep this pace up if we want to have more wiggle room later on in the run». But I could feel she was slowing down, ever so slightly. We remained together for some more time, but eventually, I realized she had dropped behind.
|Oppan Gangnam Style!|
Leaving the aid station, however, led me back to my solitude and my lingering thoughts about my ability to finish. I'm grateful I had a lot of time on my own, so I took a long, deep look at my day and my goals, and I asked myself honestly if I thought I could make a 100-mile finish. There were 4 more loops to run at that point (1/2 to finish my third, 3 more, then a final half-loop); My question pretty much answered itself.
I was unable to finish my third loop in daylight, which meant I had covered less than 75K in more than 12 hours. That was both disheartening and hard proof that my coveted belt buckle was definitely slipping away. Coming into the final stretch of my third loop, Tess caught up to me and I was really happy. I had picked up Luke, who at that point was probably the most zonked-out runner I had ever seen. He was delirious and incoherent, didn't have a light and couldn't make much better than 3-word phrases. There was no way I was going to leave him behind in the dark, so we walked together to the aid station. I tried to get some life back into him a little bit by offering stuff to eat, electrolytes or some water, but he said he couldn't keep even a single sip in. As we approached the aid station, I asked him how long ago was his last bite of food or drink of water. «Six hours», he answered. His race was over. He sat at the aid station and Tess and I hit the last stretch together.
|Which way, again?|
We walked in the Jeadquarters together, where a semi-worried Sweeney was waiting for me. «I'm not going to impose a death march on you, man. This loop's gonna be a zombie walk. You stay here and party, I'll be fine on my own.»
His answer? «No way!»
«Get your stuff together, go change your shoes, freshen up and meet me here in 15 minutes». He jumped out of his mariachi suit, put some running clothes on, and I threw away my Skechers and put on a third pair of shoes, with a change of socks. My feet suffered some damage, but they still were in decent shape.
It's amazing the effect of having a fresh runner by your side, when you feel so down and out. Sweeney was patient and joyful, and didn't go for a drill sargeant routine, instead choosing to just talk smack and laugh with me while we walked the long up to the half-way point. This made me feel really good, to have a good friend by my side, and to feel he wasn't disappointed in any way. We talked a lot, laughed a lot and, at one point and to my great amazement, I took a couple running steps that felt really, really good. So I kept going.
«Frenchie, you've managed to make me sweat!»
With a smile back on my face, I ran and power-hiked all the way to Jackass again, and decided to take a longer break to try and gather as much energy as I could. I ate tons of noodles, squeezed a gel or two and relaxed while Sweeney and Justin drank beers and had fun.
Heading back out proved extremely difficult, and my body was seized up. From that point on, I knew there was no way I would go further than the 100k, and that thought actually made me happy. I was still out here, in the dark, pressing ahead after many, many hours, and I would still manage to complete a distance I had only run one time before.
I eventually loosened up and managed a couple decent running stretches, but I knew that, as soon as we would hit the rocky downhill patches, my feet would hurt too much and I'd have to walk. As expected, the stretch took a long time to go through, and when we finally hit the last aid station, I was weak, beaten down and starving. We had planned to just walk through and keep going, but I had to sit down and slurp some more noodles.
I finally got back up and on the trail for one last time. At that point it was past midnight and I had been on my feet for more than 18 hours, but I promised my friend we would come in running for the finish. We kept talking and joking until we hit the road crossing, at last, and I broke into a little jog, that sped up to a decent running pace. After all that time, it seems that I still had some energy in me after all. I passed the finish line at 18 hours and 58 minutes while Sweeney looped around the chute and welcomed me home with a big hug. Having him with me on the trails meant a lot, and the emotions started to flow.
I then walked to the officials' tent, looked Nick Coury straight in the eye, smirked and said «I hereby request to be dropped down to a 100K.» He winked at me, handed me my belt buckle and said «You know, running a 100K is no small thing. Congratulations!»
I turned around to a big hug from Aquaphor Girl, AKA Volkswagen Runner Girl, AKA Deborah Goodwin and many congratulations from my friends who had already finished or called it a day. I sat down on a chair and finally enjoyed some rest, some great food and great conversations before finally passing out dead in my van for a couple hours.
I really didn't consider my Javelina Jundred to be a failure. I went out there with all I had, gave it my best and had the wits to know when to stop before causing any damage. It was a good day to be alive, a good day for a desert adventure and a good day to realize I had still some learning to do before I could be among the Big Buckle People.
100 miles, it seems, would have to wait.
Je n'ai pas couru 100 milles, cette journée-là, parce que ce n'était pas l'aventure dont j'avais besoin. Celle qui m'attendait s'est déroulée loin des sentiers, et va ma ramener à la maison, le coeur débordant.
Photo credits : Patrick Sweeney, Justin Lutick