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The Javelina Jundred (100K) - To “Jell” and Back

November 12, 2021

Tyler Andrews is a professional runner for HOKA and founder of and coach for Chaski. He now specializes in ultra trail and mountain events after more than 10 years of competing at the national and world stage on the roads and track. On Saturday, October 30, 2021, he competed in the Javelina Jundred 100km race in Fountain Hill, AZ. He shared his thoughts on the race and his experience below.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger rattle-snake than this big boy that meanders across the trail at about mile 55 of the Javelina 100. And I also don’t think I’ve ever truly welcomed a venomous snake-bite as an excuse to drop out of a race. Yes, that’s the state of complete misery and self-pity I found myself in with just over 7 miles to go on Saturday.

To back up a bit, I’d decided to run the Javelina 100K only about a month earlier. Javelina (pronounced ha-vay-LEE-na) spans an entire weekend and features 100 mile, 100km (62.2 mile), and 31km (19ish mile) trail races through the desert of McDowell Mountain Park, just outside Phoenix, AZ.

As trail races go, Javelina is a fairly easy course on paper. The route is relatively flat (about 5000 ft, 1300m of climbing in the 100km) and the trails are almost entirely smooth singletrack, with only few rocks to avoid along the way. The wild-card is that Phoenix can still be absolutely roasting in late October, with brutal and unrelenting sunshine and temperatures in the 90s. Thus, the heat and sun often become the crux of the course.

My training since Leadville had gone fine. There were few spectacularly good days and few really awful days in training. The one notable (positive) exception was a 72km FKT on the Flagstaff Loop Trail, a day that served as a great “test the waters” run for Javelina, the one that really told me I was ready.

Mostly, I wanted to keep this race controlled. I kept using phrases like “low key” and “relaxed” and “fun” to describe my goals for Javelina. I had big goals for the following months and I didn’t want to treat this race as an “end of season” event, but rather as a spring-board towards more focused training and bigger goals to come.

Race day sneaks up on me and, before I know it, John B and I are driving through the dark, empty streets of Scottsdale towards McDowell, blasting outdated, energetic pop and having way too much fun for people in their 30s. I drop our cooler bag in the truck which will take it to Jackass Junction (the aid station approximately halfway through the loop we’ll complete three times) and return to the car to put my feet up for an hour and a half until our race begins.

We watch the sunrise shortly after the 100 mile runners head off for the first of five loops and finally, around 06:30am, I finish the Riot Energy I’m drinking and jog the half mile or so from the car to the starting area, killing some time with a few light drills to loosen up before walking up to the line. There’s a count-down start, and then we’re off.

I’d known that -- despite the whole “low pressure” attitude -- I’m likely to run most of this race solo and in the front. I’ve prepared for that mentally, and so I get off the line quickly in an attempt to make it clear that, really, no one should bother chasing me. Just let me do my own thing.

I am thus fairly surprised to see, or hear, really, a runner behind me after a few minutes. I expect him to drop off, but as we began the first climb (the course is essentially a gradual uphill out, downhill back for each big loop), he’s still a few seconds behind me. And, so, I actually pull over to the side of the trail to take a quick pee and let him go by. I figure it’s going to be a long day, so I might as well give myself someone to chase and stare at for a while.

I spot him a minute or so and then head off in pursuit, still running what feels like a very comfortable and controlled pace. It’s not particularly warm yet, but even as we approach Jackass that first time, it’s already beginning to feel hot. I’ve easily caught him on the climb and now -- topping out -- I take a few minutes to find my drop bag, grab my new bottles, throw some cold water on my head, and I’m out. I again let him leave first and give him a 30-60 second head start.

The downhill feels good and I’m still running smooth and controlled, though I’m surprised my HR is as high as it is. I catch up with my new friend/rabbit fairly quickly and have to actively hold back in order to keep him in front. We pass aid station #3 on the loop and I stop quickly to cool off and for the first time head out first, onto the only technical section of the course.

I’m not looking at my splits here, as I know the trail is rockier and thus slower, but just continue to run what feels like a comfortable effort. My legs feel okay, but not great. My HR is still a little too high, but I’m not too worried yet.

Finally, I pop up over the final little climb and see the big white tents of HQ. I don’t even stop as John makes the bottle swap and I grab a soaking wet t-shirt out of the ice-water in our cooler. That feels great. John douses me with frigid sponges and then I’m away from the mayhem and back out in the empty desert.

Lap 2 is a lot quieter than Lap 1. I’d been constantly passing the 100 mile runners (who’d started an hour earlier) in that first loop and, though it required some occasionally delicate footwork to avoid crashing into a cactus, I had actually appreciated the constant game of cat-and-mouse.

Now, I’m on my own and trying to mentally regroup a bit. My body as a whole is not feeling very good at all. Effort-wise, I’m suddenly an entire lap ahead of where I need to be (i.e., it feels like this should be lap 3 of 3, not #2). But I try to keep my head positive. I change my watch’s screen so I don’t see the pace/time screen on the uphill but only look at my HR. I put on my headphones and listen to the entire Phish show from last Friday night.

But as I get near the top, I realize I’m running way slower than I’d thought. That’s not good. I get to Jackass and stop for long enough to really try to cool myself down. My legs are already feeling trashed, but I try to convince myself that I’ve already done two of the three climbs, so the rest shouldn’t be too bad. I jog the downhill back to Aid #3 and then the mercifully easier end of the loop. I get to John and HQ and I am in bad shape.

“I just want to know how big my lead is. I think I need to stop for a few minutes.”

John is a champ and nothing but positive. I know I’ve just run that lap way slower than I’d planned, but he just keeps me moving, barely pausing other than to get in the shade, change into a new soaking-wet-and-cold t-shirt, get my bottles, and get back out there. I really, really don’t want to go back out, but John tells me my lead is about 15 minutes and I know that means that second place is probably suffering just as much as I am.

I don’t have much to say about Lap 3. I have run thousands of miles in the last 20 years and these are honestly some of the worst. I can barely lift my legs up -- I even trip and fall on the one rock on the perfectly buffed trail at some point, during which fall my entire body cramps up at the sudden jerky motion and I shout a bunch of obscenities at the cacti and lizards and rattle snakes.

I know I’m running slowly, but I just lie to myself. I promise myself that if I can just not walk, if I can just keep fucking jogging, trotting, shuffling, whatever I can do, if I can just keep some semblance of running up, I’m going to win the race, and that’ll make it all worth it. I still haven’t been passed by anyone when I reach Jackass Junction and I’ve endured so much at this point that the idea of dropping seems worse than the idea of just dragging my sorry ass to the finish line.

And then comes our chonky rattle-snake from the beginning of this narrative. I have such tunnel vision that I almost step on the poor dude if not for a lapped runner who holds his arm out like a bouncer and nearly knocks me off my feet. I let him slither by and honestly do think that getting bit by a deadly reptile would be a pretty good compromise in terms of being able to drop out and not feeling like a complete quitter.

But I don’t see any more snakes. I pass aid #3 and the volunteers tell me “only 3.7 miles to go!” Yes, you can jog for 3.7 more miles. Yes.

It’s only when I see a guy moving decently well in front of me that I wake up a bit. Am I catching the back of the elite 100 mile? Or did this guy somehow sneak by me at one of the aid stations? Am I in first or second?

The panic suddenly spurs on a little injection of pace and I run closer and can see he has a yellow bib -- he’s in the 100K. He must have passed me at one of the last water stops. No, no, no.

I’ve suffered too hard and too long to lead for 95 of 100 kilometers and I somehow dig down even deeper into this miserable dark well of effort and suffering and find a bit more fuel to throw on the fire. I pass him with what feels like a hard surge (probably shuffling 8’00 mile pace) and keep my foot on the embarrassingly slow gas pedal without looking back.

After a few minutes, I finally let myself peak left over my shoulder and I can’t see the guy. He was either on a different lap or had nothing to match the little move I’d made (or he’d been entirely in my imagination, which is distinctly possible).

But with that, I’ve only got a few kilometers left and I’m literally counting down the steps and breaths. I can see where the hillside slopes down and -- I think -- ends at the finish line. I play a game and see if I can get there before I can count to 300 (I can’t remember if I do).

The white tents are the most welcome sight of my life. I see John, who tells me I have to finish with a final short loop around HQ, and I grudgingly shuffle my way around. Now, I know it’s finally over. I know I’ve won.

The time on the clock read 8 hours 49 minutes. I’d thought that the course record (8 hours, 32 minutes) would be absolutely no problem. I thought a solid day would see me finish under 7h20 (the standard for the 100km world championship team). So, if you base judgement of the day on the time, it was a complete failure, an utter disaster.

That said, I look at this race, in retrospect, and see the story of the day: I had a rough day, but I stayed in it. I hunkered down in each lap, between each aid station, between each godforsaken saguaro and rock, and finally between each step and breath and heartbeat. And by putting on those blinders, not looking back or forward beyond that little space where I allowed myself to live, I was able to endure each moment. And now, looking back on all that suffering, I feel pride. And I know that, going forward, I’ll remember the hours spent hunkered down in the dark place, and from those memories, grow stronger.

P.S.

It’s worth noting that the immediate aftermath of this race was almost as brutal as the race itself. John B was there to give me a giant bear hug at that finish line, after which, I promptly lost all control over pretty much all the muscles in my body. Three very friendly medical staff carried me to the tent where I was laid down on a cot like a very large dead fish and proceeded to try to lay still as seemingly every muscle in my body charley-horses at my slightest movement. In all my years of running, I have never experienced anything like it.


The photos after the race are pretty brutal and I cringe at what looks like someone being over-dramatic, but this truly was the most excruciating post-race pain I’ve ever felt. Leadville (100 miles) definitely wins the “morning after” competition, but I have never been more uncomfortable than I was for about 3 hours immediately following this race, lying on a cot in the medical tent.

What does this tell me about the race? I almost certainly under-hydrated and under-salted. I actually doubled my intake of both water and nuun (electrolytes) from 500mL per hour to 1L per hour (and really took even more than that as I was getting some extra at aid stations). Still, I think I underestimated the toll of the desert sun and heat and apparently could have used more.

There’s plenty to take away from this day and I’m excited to comb through the data and see what I can learn.

— Tyler Andrews

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