In January 2022, 5 eager beavers pressed the registration button for Javelina Jundred, me included, and embarked upon a journey. A journey of ups and downs, sideway moves and even a few backflips!
Javelina Jundred is the original costumed trail party! Every Jalloween Weekend the race is held on a +/- 20mile looped course comprised mostly on the Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park just outside of Phoenix, AZ. With race distances of 30k, 100k and 100 mile there is something for everyone. And yes, everything starts with a J, pronounced as a H!
The privilege. Taking four runners on their journey to their ‘first’ longest distances. Filippo, an Italian based in Switzerland and Grace, Irish based in Dubai both running their furthest distance of 100km, and their first race in the USA. Michaela, a Scottish lass and Jennifer, local to the Phoenix area both running their first 100 mile distance, and for Michaela, her first USA race as well. And me, running what would be my 4th 100 mile race, my first Javelina.
Each individual with their own and very different circumstances around work: life, training terrain and weather, different approach with races for training and completely different race strategies and goals would create challenges for me as their coach to ensure everyone was race ready. I did get the team together regularly for some race specific zoom meets to talk through topics such as hydration, heat management, mental toughness and race strategy, including some special invited guests to add even more specialised expertise to our sessions.
It was exciting and motivating to monitor their progress over the 10 months leading up to race day. No one had a smooth ride, everyone experienced their share of turbulence in health and life meaning no one had the perfect lead up but one thing that stood out from everyone was their commitment and enthusiasm to keep at it, to get back to it if they’d been taken slightly off track, and to never lose sight of the end goal – to earn that Javelina buckle.
Fast forward to race day and our group converged in Fountain Hills, Arizona just a few miles from Javelina Jeadquarters at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Anticipation and nerves as we set up our canopy in the start/finish horseshoe of the race. Being a looped course of 19+ miles, this was to be our home base for the duration of the race. Joe, our ‘Action Machine’ from Flagstaff, not only supplied our canopy and kit but was also going to take on the Jackass Night run of 30k whilst looking after us running the longer distances. Last minute kit checks and preparations were made and we all surrendered ourselves to some quiet time and inner reflection on our thoughts and dreams for tomorrow’s race as we tucked ourselves in for the night.
It’s cold in the desert! Even though the daytime temperatures over the weekend can reach the 90’s (30C), the nights can dip to late 30’s/early 40’s (single digit Celsius temps) so the 100 mile start at 6am can feel a little chilly. A fun fanfare of fire dancers, rave music and some pretty daring costumes line the start corral and in a flash the race starts.
Having struggled since April with Covid and subsequent bouts of non-stop viral sickness, my last as close as a week before race day, I am cautious and take on the first lap with some trepidation. I decide to go with a 9min run/1min walk strategy to try and give my heart rate a chance to stay low and not push too hard too early.
The 5 loops are all the same except for the 1st loop which has a little extra added on, making it the longest loop of 22.3 miles, the remaining loops are 19.4 miles. The first half of the course has the majority of the ascent, with a 1,580ft/481m gain each loop so it really feels like 2 different races each loop as the second half has a really fun downhill.
The beauty of starting in the dark is of course seeing the sunrise, of which I get to see two of, along with a sunset. As the sun begins to rise the silhouettes of the saguaro cactus standing tall and proud in the desert landscape starts to appear. Some tower above you; these beautiful cacti can be as tall as 12m (39ft), with their arms raised in a perpetual state of hello and it feels like they are your friends out there. The landscape is filled with them! But don’t touch them as their spikes certainly pack a punch!
The desert terrain is harsh and rough and whilst the course isn’t an overly technical course and is ‘runnable’, this is the desert; it’s hot, exposed and things can turn quickly. The first 4 miles to Coyote Camp are relatively smooth, a few rolling hills but nothing too strenuous along the hard packed sandy trails. The next 6.5 miles to Jackass Junction certainly pack more of a punch, the majority of the incline is in this section, and it also has the most technical trails. There are rather rocky areas underfoot to slow you down a bit and wear out your legs, and the route seems to meander through the cactus with views of the mountains surrounding you so that you lose a little sense of direction, and the checkpoint never seems to arrive. Jackass is the midway point of the loop, and the checkpoint is party central! Banging tunes and dancing volunteers get the mood pumping out there, and for the brave, fireball shots are at the ready!
A short climb out of Jackass spits you out onto a smooth, buttery downhill run of 5.2 miles to Rattlesnake ranch. This section was made for fun, arms flung wide and smiles on faces it makes for a fantastic reward after the climbing leg, if you still have the legs to enjoy it of course. The next 6.6 miles back to Jeadquarters, which is to be done only on loop 1, hits you again, with some more climbing through the canyons on some rocky and technical trail. Combined with the heat of the day, which was starting to creep in, this section adds a little spice which I’m glad not to have to taste again for the remaining 4 loops. On the consequent 4 loops this becomes a 3.7 miles section of smooth and relatively flat trail back to Jeadquarters.
You can hear Jeadquarters before you see it, as this is where the main party is at! Loud funky tunes beckon you to reach there and as you arrive you run through a horseshoe loop past everyone’s canopies to cheers and whoops from all the crews to the official start/finish line to loop back through amongst the costumed and dancing announcers before heading back out again.
My own race was a mixed bag of experiences and emotions, not all of them good! I struggled on the 2nd and 3rd loops. My lack of ability to train effectively leading up to race day, plus being hit hard by the heat, made a nasty combination resulting in a lot of nausea and vomiting and an inability to hold food down. I managed to hang in there and rebuild my strength after having some anti-nausea medication and with the sun going down, I ate well to make up for the last 40 miles. So well that I’m on fire for the last loop! I bite the proverbial stick between my teeth, put on some 80’s dance music, put my head down and run, and run! I run this loop faster the loops 2-4 and I just feel amazing, I pass 90 people on this section, 90! With each person I pass I feel even stronger, and I just keep pushing. Such an amazing feeling, I only wish I’d been feeling this for the last 60 miles!
I was so happy to finish and even happier to see some of the team cheering me onto the finish. I was beaming ear to ear to finish but my smile got wider when I heard of my team’s results; Grace had smashed her anticipated 100k time getting in a sub 15 hour finish and Filippo had the time of his life running his first 100k. Jen had smashed her 26-27 hour goal for the 100miles with a time of 25hr 44mins and Michaela was on her last lap also heading to the finish. 100% success rate! With Javelina renowned for a high DNF (Did not Finish) rate I was feeling super proud of everyone!
After much deserved showers and food, we all got the chance to share our race highs and lows with some bubbly in the hot tub, what a way to finish off an amazing weekend in the desert. New friendships had been forged, experiences and adventure that bonded everyone together which will never be forgotten. Great satisfaction comes from sharing with others and THAT is what ultra running is all about.