But the desert won in the end that year. I made it to just past mile 50, but spent the prior 20 miles feeling pretty awful and the last 5 in particular were the worst I have ever felt in a race. I was violently puking, wandering from side to side on the trail, and could not imagine trying to run another 50 miles. So I logged my first real DNF.
When the dust settled and the pity party subsided, I decided that I wanted to put the training to use and signed up for Long Haul 100 in January 2020. It was a good race for me and I treated it the opposite of Javelina. I went in with minimal plans, adjusted some of the things that didn’t work, and while I am always competitive, didn’t go in with any hopes other than a finish. I ran a 19:58 and managed to feel really good for the majority of the race.
In that same month, I signed up for Javelina for October 2020, seeking redemption. We all know what happened last year and though they still put on the race, I decided to defer due to all the Covid restrictions and the uncertainty of the world at that time. Luckily, Chantal, Roger, Cassy, & Jared all deferred as well so I was excited that we would have something to look forward to in October 2021.
As I said in my Boston Marathon recap, training was a mixed bag. I felt like I gained a lot of long run experience during 2020/2021 with a bunch of self-supported adventures, but I also struggled a lot. I was getting super nervous before speed sessions and spent a few weeks this summer feeling very, very unmotivated to run.
Maybe other distance runners can relate, but I would hands down choose a 5 hour run in the mountains than a 20 minute tempo. There are parts of me that know that in order to be a faster runner, I have to put in the speed work. If I want to qualify for Boston year in and year out, I can’t just do a bunch of 5 hour runs in the mountains and expect the speed to follow. I usually end up feeling really proud of myself after the speed sessions so I really tried to figure out why I was struggling so much with the psychology of it all.
After Boston, I felt good and was able to make the most of the 3 weeks in between races. It gave me confidence that I raced well in Boston, but I also knew that a 3:20 marathon really meant very little if trying to predict a desert 100. I wanted to go into the race feeling a healthy mix of fear and excitement. Strong, but not overly confident. Prepared, but not afraid to deviate from the plan. I kept saying I was just ready to see what the race gave to me.
We got up super duper early to catch our flight and spent the morning flying, picking up the rental car & rental scooter, and finally got lunch around noon PHX time. Both of us were already exhausted and it was only halfway through the first day. We got some groceries and dropped off our stuff at the Airbnb, meeting up with Cassy & Jared who, along with Chantal & Chris, would be sharing the house with us for the weekend. Roger, Laura, and Kynan met us for dinner and beers at a brewpub and all of us headed back to try to get one good night’s worth of sleep.
Being on East Coast time still, I was able to wake up early without any issue. Cassy and I were lucky enough to see some real javelinas in the backyard of the Airbnb and shrieked with delight as we followed them around safely behind the fence. Also, the desert has the most incredible sunrises/sunsets and we had an incredible vantage point from where we were staying.
There was a shakeout run at the start/finish line sponsored by goodr and rabbit with the promise of freebies. Cassy, Jared, and I enjoyed 30 minutes on the trails and walked away with some free gear. We got back to the Airbnb and then the whole gang went out for a carb-loading session at a local pancake restaurant. It was then time for packet picket, swag purchases, and we ran into everyone, including Megan, in the tent.
All of us wanted to then get off our feet and relax for the remainder of the day. We blobbed on the sofa, eating and hydrating until Chris whipped the group up a big batch of pasta. One of my favorite things to do is to have a family dinner with other runners before a race and this just felt so happy. After dinner, we all laid out our bags and gear, discussed when to leave, and tried to get some sleep.
I slept well and woke up to my alarm at 4:00 a.m. I drank coffee, ate a muffin, and filled up my hydration bottles. I slathered copious amounts of both sunscreen and anti-chafe cream all over my body. Then it was time to head to the race!
Chris drove Chantal, Adam, and myself to the drop off area of the race so that we could get the scooter out of the car for Adam. Luckily, this saved Chantal and I some extra steps too in the process. Though it was down to the wire and he was sprinting, Chris was able to park and see us off for the start.
Roger and Megan came over to say their good mornings and we dropped our gear bags under the pavilion. There wasn’t too much time to spare because we were then lining up in the start corral, listening to the countdown. Laura tapped me on the shoulder and I stood next to her and Chantal, waiting to get started.
Then it was go time!
Race - Loop 1
I knew that it would be impossible to stay with anyone I knew for an extended period of time so I didn’t have any plans to try to run with anyone. But, as fate would have it, Chantal ended up hitting the single-track one person ahead of me and by the first half mile, we were chatting away. It felt like old times and though we had a long way to go, I truly wanted to just soak in the moment of getting to be able to do this with my friends.
We were keeping the pace easy and we made our way around to Coyote Camp at mile 4 and to Jackass Junction at mile 10.5. It was cool enough and early enough that I didn’t stop to get anything at the first aid station, but I did top off my bottles at Jackass. There was kind of an unspoken rule to just run your own race and not wait for anyone if you needed/wanted to either stop or go ahead.
But as we made our way towards Rattlesnake (mile 15.7), both Chantal and I found ourselves running with Cassy as well.
Laura came past on this descent as well and I thought about how cool it was that we are all so close together after running for a few hours. Chantal went on ahead after a while, leaving Cassy and I to talk about anything and everything. We got so wrapped up in conversation that I forgot that we were in a 100 mile race for a few miles. It felt like just another training run with one of my best running buddies, albeit in the desert.
Coming into Jeadquarters at mile 22.3, we saw Chantal getting aid near the drog bags and after hitting the timing mat, made our way to our own gear.
I restocked my pack with my “loop 2” bag, topped off my hydration bottles and grabbed ice for my hat and buff at the aid station.
The cool of the morning now completely gone, it was time to head into the worst part of the day. I told myself to just keep moving and not worry too much about if I needed to walk or slow down a lot. I really was not checking my splits, knowing that the only goal that mattered was to finish. I’d look at the mileage to determine how close I was to the next aid station, but did not want to get too sucked up into how fast/slow I was going.
At some point between Jeadquarters and Jackass, I caught up with Chantal and we ran the yucky stretch together. I remember thinking that I needed to grab my handheld bottle when I finished the loop as I was completely out of hydration when I arrived at Jackass. I was trying to keep my temperature down by using ice at every aid station. I put it in my stretchy hat (this was clutch!), in my buff around my neck, in my sports bra, and for a brief period of time, down my pack.
Coming from the land of humidity, it is so strange to me that my skin was so, so dry even though I was dousing it in water at each aid station. My shirt stayed a little wet when I put the ice down my pack, but my shorts were mostly dry the entire day. The flip side of no moisture was that I found it hard to figure out if I was drinking enough and the cooling properties of being doused at the aid stations lasted for only a mile.
After going through Jackass on the second loop, I shuffled slowly trying to both mitigate the heat of the day and to allow Chantal to catch up if she was still feeling good. All of a sudden, Jared was on my shoulder and I was so confused. It was way too early for him to be lapping me as I hadn’t even been lapped by a pro yet, but also I hadn’t passed him prior? But then he said that we were both at Jackass together and he was on his second lap as well.
We ran together towards Rattlesnake (mile 38), leapfrogging each other at times. The heat was peaking and I was trying to just shuffle when I could, hoping that I could just get through the next few hours without crumbling. I was a little nervous coming into Jeadquarters again, knowing that the next stretch would be the one in which I met my demise in 2019. Adam had gone back to the Airbnb to get some rest, but Chris was there and it was great to get some encouragement.
I repacked my bag, grabbed my headlamp and dug through my food to figure out what I might be able to consume. I stuffed everything with ice again and took off on my 3rd loop. My stomach was starting to feel iffy, but I was trying to at least drink some electrolytes so as to not completely bonk.
As I got past Coyote (45.7) for the 3rd time, I felt surges of nausea hit me. I was determined to not have a repeat of 2019. I walked a bunch in this section, trying to keep my heart rate and food down. Mentally, I struggled a bit as I knew I was in the same section as where I imploded before. My sub-24 wave bracelet had been physically annoying me since I put it on the day prior. I slid it off in this stretch and stuffed it in my pack, not wanting the clock to deter me from a finish.
In 2019, I was so consumed with not losing time that I flew through aid stations and pushed myself to run through the heat of the day. This time, I tried really hard to be a patient runner.
But as I came into Jackass, I knew I was going to do it. I pulled out my long sleeve shirt and stuffed it in my pack. I drank a cup of broth and used a Wisp to brush my teeth.
A couple miles down that stretch, I started to feel my stomach turn very quickly. I stopped abruptly and said goodbye to all the soup I had just consumed. But as soon as I did, I felt a million times better. It was like hitting a reset button. The sun had finally gotten low enough that I no longer needed ice and I was finally starting to feel comfortable. My legs were tired of course, but the promise of cooler temperatures brought me to life again. I even paused to take a sunset pic because I was having a "how great is this" moment.
I clicked on my headlamp near Rattlesnake (57.4) and started to get excited about being able to see Adam soon at Jeadquarters. The lights on the tents glowed in the distance, but I knew that once I heard the music, I was less than a mile away. Seeing Adam, Chris, and Roger (who dropped from the 100k), was just what I needed. They helped me get my stuff ready for the next loop and I felt ready to go tackle the last 2 loops. I asked how everyone else was doing/feeling knowing that misery loves company and we’d all just suffered through the worst part of the day.
I grabbed a PBJ half and ate most of it, all but a bite or two. I felt around for my baggie of batteries and headphones, but realized I left it back at Jeadquarters. Luckily, I was able to call Adam and have Chris (thankyouthankyouthankyou) run it out to me. I lost a couple of minutes, but it probably was good to have my sandwich settled.
Somehow, I was able to find a little bit of my running legs and my confidence grew as I ticked off the miles. It definitely was not easy by any stretch, but I felt very lucid and determined to keep moving. Once I reached Jackass again (71.6), I checked my drop bag for anything I might need in the final loop and a half and then tossed it in the bin to have it sent back to Jeadquarters.
I was near the back of the pack of the Jackass 31k runners during this loop and arguably, the most happy/positive people. Aravaipa has a race that starts at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday night that consists of 1 loop of the course and these runners are encouraged to wear costumes with lights and perk up the field of dying 100 miles/100k runners. It definitely helped to have these runners breathe a bit of life into me.
As I approached Rattlesnake (76.8), I desperately needed to use the porta-potty. I kept thinking it was closer than it was and was practically sprinting the final mile. Fortunately, I felt much better after going and shuffled along, getting excited for the bell lap.
When I reached Jeadquarters, I was told that Laura and Chantal had dropped and Megan and Chris were both available to pace. Luckily, they
arm-wrestled it out decided for me because I didn’t want to have to make choices at mile 80! Megan would be accompanying me on my last loop. I asked about Jared and Cassy and were told they were together and while feeling a bit rough, were committed to finishing (!!!).
I grabbed my pink “final lap” bracelet, refilled my bottles, and then Megan and I headed out into the night. She was great at making me eat a little tiny something every few miles (albeit with me complaining about it) and walking with me for what felt like the majority of the last lap.
I was definitely delirious at this point, but making jokes and super happy that I had someone to talk to for the last lap. I honestly don’t remember too many specifics about what we talked about, but I do remember that it ran the gamut from very serious to very light. It took my mind off the task at hand which is exactly what I needed in the final miles.
It was really cool to go through each little section and be able to say that I didn’t have to do THAT part again. At Jackass, the party from the night wave of runners had died off, but I stepped into the dance floor for a quick hip shake. Megan took a shot of Fireball and with that, we were off to finish the last 9 miles.
We passed a fair number of people in the final few miles. I wasn’t running fast, but I was able to at least still run. There definitely were plenty of walk breaks, but I was trying to just move as quickly as possible. I’ve known Megan for a long time (via the interwebs) and while we’ve done a few of the same races, this was the first time we’d ever run together. We talked about our crazy Covid year adventures and it reinvigorated me (after I recover) to go tackle more of them.
There was a tiny section that we went the wrong way on towards the end. Leave it to me to get lost on the last loop. But we found our way again and trotted towards the finish tent, relieved a finish was in sight. Megan told me she’d peel off as we reached the finish chute and I was too tired to comprehend how great it would have been to have her run it in with me. I wanted Adam to also come for the final stretch, but realized the terrain was a bit too treacherous. The consolation prize was that it gave me something to be excited for in the final few hundred meters.
As I came up the final hill, I felt a huge sense of relief over finally putting this thing to rest. There was a runner in front of me, going much slower and I wasn’t sure if he was finishing or running another loop. So to give him a little space and let him potentially celebrate his own finish, I slowed down myself and danced it in.
The desert didn’t win this time.