Saturday, November 7, 2015

Javelina Jundred 100 Race Report - Jon Ahern

Javelina Jundred – A First-Time 100-Miler’s Race Report
A guest blog from Jon Ahern

Race Morning – Pre-Race

After a great day Friday of traveling to Phoenix, grabbing a couple of fatty meals with friends, getting a tour of the start area and hanging out, I got a surprisingly good night’s sleep. AJ and I went lights out around 8:40, and I crashed right away and slept solidly. I woke at least 20 mins before the 3:40am alarm for a 4:30am meet-up in the lobby with group, so I showered, used the bathroom (successfully) and double-checked that I had everything I might need in my gear bag. Pre-race, I ate 2 hard-boiled eggs, a bottle of Ucan and a packet of Vespa.

Topo Runventure shoes got the call as my starting shoe. The Runventure is a relatively minimal trail shoe with some protection (rock plate) in a low profile. Because of the gravel, rocks and sand, I also donned my Altra gaiters, which I affixed by attaching some Velcro tabs to the back of my Topos. Other gear included a Columbia coolhead cap, a headlamp and a single handheld with water only to start. 

The start area was energetic and well-lit, so we had no trouble finding our way around. I had been pretty relaxed about this race during my training and taper, and the pre-race morning was no different. A few minutes before the start, Mike and I headed out to the desert for a last potty break, which left us at the back of the pack as the race got started. Off we went. 

LAP 1 (start to 15.3 mi) – 100th place, lap time 2:37

Mike and I agreed we were going to run together for at least the first lap. We also agreed to start super easy, which was aided by the fact that we were near the back of a conga line in a 450+ runner field on semi-narrow trails with cacti, ruts and rocks on both sides of the trail. So we walked quite a bit, passed when we could and let our bodies gradually warm up. After the first aid station (about 2 miles in), my headlamp was already unnecessary, and the crowds started to loosen up a bit. After 20-25 super slow minutes, we could finally run/walk when we felt like it. Mike and I kept reassuring one another that we were being responsible with pace (as if two rookies had a clue – total “blind leading the blind” moment), but it turns out we likely did just fine based on our placement in the field by the end of the first 15.3-mile lap.

The course was a bit more technical in spots that I expected, but the clockwise climb over the first 6-7 miles was pretty benign, with an aggregate climb of about 800’ and a low-to-high net elevation change of only about 600’. At the big aid station near the loop’s midpoint (Jackass Junction), I refilled my bottle with Skratch and quickly headed out for the very runnable and pleasant descent back into Javelina HQ aid. Mike and I clicked off a bunch of mid-9 miles, but we were being passed more often than passing others, so we remained confident that we were being responsible. On this first lap, I stubbed my toe painfully at least three times, and I was sure that was a bad omen that I was destined for numerous falls throughout the day, but it never happened again and I never once went down.

We got into Javelina HQ about 10 mins ahead of the schedule Mike had given to Heidi (Mike’s wife), but she was ready for us and helped apply sunscreen, fill bottles and get us ready to head back out into the quickly warming day. I dropped the headlamp and added my UD waist belt, so I now I had 2x20oz bottles – one with water, one with Skratch – which would be my thing throughout the heat of the day. I wolfed down an EPIC bar (buffalo, bacon & cranberry), but forgot Vespa. I also forgot to put on my cooling arm sleeves, but that turned out ok since it wasn’t super warm yet. Mike was being attended to by Heidi, so I shouted over that I was going to start walking down the trail and he could catch up. 

LAP 2 (15.3 to 30.6 mi) – 75th place, lap time 2:41

I walked for a few minutes, but no Mike. I looked behind a few times, but didn’t see him anywhere. So I started running a bit, then running a bit more, and when still no Mike, I concluded I was on my own and headed into the climb back up to Jackass in the counterclockwise direction. I learned later Mike got crossed up leaving aid and went the wrong way for a bit. Just as running down this section was nice and not at all technical, the climb back up was relatively easy. I felt terrific and ran this section well, but I forced myself to walk for 30-45 seconds every mile. Jackass came quickly, and I made another super brief stop only to top off my bottles. The run down also went well, though the technical sections required caution. I was enjoying the trail camaraderie with cross-traffic runners and had a ton of positive energy. The only complaints at this point were my right forefoot, which was being aggravated by pounding on the technical sections and, of course, the rapidly rising temperature.

At Javelina HQ, I made another quick stop, downing a Vespa, donning my cooling arm sleeves and packing an EPIC bar for later up the climb. I also pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to my wife letting her know where I was in the race and that all was well. Since Mike and I were no longer together, Heidi missed me coming in, but she saw me heading out and I assured her I got what I needed and was feeling great.

LAP 3 (30.6 mi to 45.9 mi) – 57th place, lap time 2:55

It was now undeniably warm out there. Managing the heat became a high priority, so I resorted to having aid station volunteers scoop ice into my arm sleeves and put a few cubes in my cap (thanks for this tip, AJ!!). This really worked well – so well in fact that my fingers were getting numb – and it was a pattern I repeated for the rest of lap 3 and all of lap 4 during the worst of the heat. I continued to run the majority of the climb, but the walk breaks got longer and more frequent and the result was a solid 11-11:30 pace on the climb back up toward Jackass. By this point in the race, I was starting to get very familiar with the pattern of runners going the other way. I started passing time by guessing when I’d see familiar faces, including Chuck, AJ, Wyatt, Mike and Steve, plus some other less familiar faces who were “memorable” for a variety of reasons ;)

I still felt great overall. I had a sense I was moving up in the 100-mile field, since I was doing way more passing than the other way around. The heat was definitely slowing everyone’s pace, but I sensed that I was slowing less than others. I again ran well on the clockwise descent from Jackass to Javelina HQ (including 4-5 consecutive sub-10 miles) and felt so good I even declined the Otter Pop offer from a new makeshift aid station halfway down.

At Javelina HQ, I changed shoes to Altra Olympus in a failed attempt to protect the increasing discomfort in my right forefoot. Though the Olympus is a burly shoe compared to the Runventure, it doesn’t have a ton of forefoot cushioning and ended up not doing a ton of good in that regard (but it felt great overall, and I’d end up sticking with the Olympus for the rest of the race). Fortunately, the pain never got much worse and had only a minor adverse impact on my day. I again took Vespa, packed another EPIC bar for the climb, applied sunscreen, texted my wife and headed back out.

LAP 4 (45.9 mi to 61.2 mi) – 40th place, lap time 3:05

On climb back up, I knew I’d soon be in uncharted territory never having run farther than 50 miles. In my two 50-mile races (Leadville Silver Rush in 2013 and North Fork in 2014), I struggled with calf cramps, quad cramps and general fatigue. I was relieved that none of those things had yet happened – more on that in “recap” thoughts later… I ticked over 50 miles on my Garmin a few seconds under 9 hours, which bested my two 50-mile race finish times by a full half hour (though today was on a course at lower elevation with less vertical). My average climbing pace was now in the low 12’s, but I figured that was not too bad during the hottest few hours of the day. I didn’t pass up the Otter Pop offer this time, however! My nutrition plan was intact again on this lap, but I started dabbling in some additional stuff – including a bag of Fuel 100 Bites (the Simply Salty ones, totally hit the spot) and ginger ale at the aid stations.

Just past Jackass aid, I caught up with Wyatt, who was trying to rally off a low point, having just dealt with an instance or two of nausea. He complimented me on how strong I looked, which gave me a welcome boost. After a few minutes, though, I was on my own again – and would be for the remainder of the 45 miles ahead.

At Javelina HQ after lap 4 and 61+ miles, my nutrition plan went completely off the rails. Instead of Vespa and an EPIC bar, I opted for a huge slice of lukewarm pepperoni pizza and more ginger ale. It was another quick stop without any gear changes (other than donning my headlamp for the imminent sunset), so after another quick “I’m ok” text to my wife, I headed out with my monster slice of pizza in hand.

LAP 5 (61.2 mi to 76.5 mi) – 29th place, lap time 3:06

Within a half mile or so of HQ, I crossed paths with AJ, who was finishing a strong top-10 performance in the 100k race. I was pretty darn jealous at that point that he’d soon be done, but I still felt strong and steady, settling into a good run/walk pattern on the climb in fading light (and, thankfully, rapidly cooling temperatures). Relatively speaking, this was my strongest lap of the day – running almost the exact same time as lap #4. I’m sure a good deal of that was due to the cooler temps, but I was still passing people every now and then and drawing energy from the fact that, at the end of this lap, I’d have less than a marathon remaining. Traffic on the trail was thinning, too, with 100-milers now spread out all over the course and 100k runners finishing up.

Jackass aid station was now in party mode after nightfall. The guy on the PA system was hammered, slurring his words and speaking gibberish. Music was blaring, people were dancing, beer was flowing. I opted again for some ginger ale, but this time taking a few orange slices (the real kind, not the sugary candy) too. As I headed out, the volunteer who had been helping me fill bottles told me he’d see me again in 3 hours. I told him I’d be back sooner than that and he just chuckled and said “well, we’ll soon see, won’t we.” He must have been an ultra vet.

Halfway back down, I felt a sharp, intense pain in my right knee. I instantly thought I had been bitten by a snake or something. However, I looked down and saw a large ball of spikes from a cactus lodged into the outside of my knee (I learned later these things are called “jumping cactus” because all it takes is a slight brush against it, and the large burrs seem to jump out at you). I tried to pull it out but it cut up my fingers, so I grabbed a couple of rocks, pinched them against the stupid thing and yanked it out (I was still pulling 1/2” spikes from the damn thing out of my leg the next day). My left knee started bugging when I got back to running – maybe from me shrieking and jumping like a frightened schoolgirl from the cactus attack.

Back at Javelina HQ aid, I welcomed assistance and encouragement from AJ, who opted to stick around to watch and help instead of heading back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. My drink rate was slowing quite a bit, so I ditched the belt and went back to a single handheld. The last lap’s pizza hit the spot and caused no GI issues, so I again grabbed the biggest slice I could find (though now ice cold) and headed back out into the darkness. 

LAP 6 (76.5 mi to 91.8 mi) – 27th place, lap time 3:42

I started the final full lap out well, running most of the flattish section to the nearby aid station. However, once the climbing started, I found myself walking more often and walking for longer periods. I still managed 12-13 minute miles in here, but my enthusiasm and energy were waning. I blame my headlamp. WTF you say? Hear me out… With no music all day and no company since the first lap (an eternity ago by now), I was enjoying the energy and confidence with eye contact and mutual compliment exchanges with other runners. With my Petzl NAO head torch on, unless I looked down at my feet long before crossing paths with oncoming runners, I might have blinded someone. So, now I wasn’t getting those interactions. No familiar smiles, no “you look strong” remarks, no mutual nods of respect. I didn’t realize how much that all may have been helping, but now it was gone when I needed it the most.

Also on this climb, at about mile 84, my Garmin (Fenix 3) gave me a low battery warning. I switched off the normal GPS mode and turned on “UltraTrac”, which preserves battery life but results in worthless lap splits, pace data and distance information. So now I’ve lost feedback from other runners AND feedback from my watch – great… Just keep moving forward.

I got back up to Jackass aid in 2 hours and 46 minutes from when I left there, so I found the same guy who had challenged me earlier (or at least that’s how I thought of it), and he did a good job of feigning being impressed (I say again he must have been an ultra vet). More ginger ale, more orange slices, a new bottle of water in my handheld, and off I went excited for the downhill. However, this time, my legs were reluctant to respond. For the first time all day, my quads were killing me and screamed when I’d start to run. The pain in my left knee was intermittent, but still there, so I started finding excuses to walk for longer periods and run less frequently. If I had a shot at going under 20 hours, this is where I lost it. To add insult to injury, I got attacked by another “jumping cactus” – this time in the right thigh. Fortunately, this time the ball of spikes dislodged from my flesh much more easily.

Back down at Javelina HQ aid, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I knew I had only 10 miles to go and that I was going to finish, barring some sort of freak accident. I still had decent energy and all of my wits. My GI system was fine, and I hadn’t suffered a cramp all day. On the other hand, it was really tough to see Chuck (who had only minutes before finished the 100+ miles in under 18 hours), AJ, Mike, Heidi and Steve all hanging out, bundled up, relaxing in folding chairs, likely sipping a beer or two. They were all very encouraging and complimentary of how I looked and how I was doing, but I was crazy jealous they were done. I asked if anyone wanted to go on a 3-hour hike with me, but when there were no immediate takers, I headed out again into the night. 

“BONUS” LAP 7 – (91.8 mi to 101 mi) – 27th place, finish time 20:23:51

This last lap is pretty much a blur, except for the end. I was no longer happy, and I was no longer having fun. The glowing necklace they gave me back at aid signaled to the course marshalls, aid station volunteers and the other runners that I was on my final short loop, so got tons of “congratulations” on the way up - to which I repeatedly mumbled “thanks…” While I was sucking down ginger ale and orange slices at aid on the way up, I heard a “Hey Jon, is that you?” – and I turned to see a revitalized Wyatt running uphill through the aid station toward a strong finish. Damn, I thought, I wish I looked and felt like that right now! I also got passed by a woman with her pacer on the way up, but near the top I passed a couple of guys and their pacers who were hiking much more slowly than I was. I felt crappy, but I took solace in the fact that I hadn’t lost any net placement.

When I finally got to the Tonto trail turn-off (where we left the main loop for the only time all day/night), I asked the marshall how much was left. I was expecting a reply of 5 or 6 miles, but when he said less than 4, I got a jolt of energy. I also recalled Chuck saying an hour ago (ok, more like 90 minutes ago) down at Javelina HQ that it was the most runnable section of the day and that if I didn’t run it, he’d kick my ass (I might be misremembering that last part). So I started to run. It hurt like hell, but I stayed with it, and within a minute or two, the pain in my quads subsided and I felt like I was running somewhat normally. I ran more than I walked on this final stretch for sure, attracted by the siren song of the bright lights from Javelina HQ and the long-awaited finish line. Soon, the lights were joined by faint music, and soon after that by the din of partygoers’ and finishers’ voices surrounding the finish line. I was all smiles again by this point and made sure to make eye contact and thank everyone congratulating me on the final stretch. I crossed in 20:23:51, accepted my buckle, took an official finisher photo, and went over to join my friends in a group celebration of a terrific day.

A Rookie’s Thoughts and Reflections on the Day

I never thought I’d do something like this. I paced AJ for 20 miles late in the 2012 Leadville 100 and said to myself “no way I’m ever doing that.” I said the same thing two years later when pacing Chuck on the same 20 miles at Leadville. I had two mediocre finishes in 50-mile races over the past couple of years, and neither filled me with confidence that I could succeed at the 100-mile distance. AJ introduced me to a Low-Carb, High-Fat (LCHF) way of eating during the middle of last year – after dropping my cramping ass at the mid-point of the North Fork 50-miler. After doing my own research and reading all of AJ’s posts and links on the subject, I took the plunge and dramatically altered my diet. I went from eating 250-300g of carbs per day and only 50-60g of fat per day to the exact opposite, getting about 70%-75% of my daily caloric intake from fat (mostly saturated fats). When I toed the line last Saturday at Javelina Jundred, I had been diligently following LCHF for over a year, and I strongly believe that the LCHF diet and my body’s baseline ability to burn fat as its primary fuel source contributed to my solid performance out there. I had no GI issues, I had good energy almost throughout, and not a single bout of nausea.

Beyond just the diet, AJ has been a great role model in this pursuit. I copied ideas from his training, I copied my race day nutrition plan from his successful sub-24 Western States 100 earlier this year, and he was always willing to dole out advice and suggestions, especially when solicited. AJ assured me during training that I was doing the right things and that I was well-prepared for a good 100 miles. So thanks, AJ – and I promise I never once used your name in vain out there on Saturday. Chuck has been a great inspiration, too. I was with him during 20 miles of agony and self-loathing during Leadville 100 in 2014, then saw a transformed and super impressive Chuck during my pacing duties at Leadville a couple months ago, where he stayed strong and positive throughout, finishing an amazing 4th overall in under 19 hours. It’s no coincidence that Chuck has also been an LCHF disciple this year. I have lots of other running friends, as well, and some credit goes to all with whom I have shared miles, stories and training tips. My wife and kids are awesome supporters (it helps that they are all runners, too), and their flexibility to allow my training to co-exist with soccer schedules, track meets, weekend breakfasts and other life stuff really helped out all year. 

One of the things that attracted me to Javelina Jundred was the loop course, where I felt I could easily be my own crew and my own pacer, without having to ask my friends to sacrifice a weekend to come support me (though I know these things are a blast to be a part of as a pacer or crew member, and it wouldn’t be much of a “sacrifice”). Well, it worked out ok – but having struggled late in the race to find motivation to run, I get it now. A pacer would almost certainly have been able to pull more out of me than I was able to pull out of myself. A crew would have ensured that I didn’t forget elements of my nutrition plan, and may have helped me stick to the plan longer. In the future, if/when I do another one of these, I won’t be so uncomfortable asking for or accepting some assistance. 

I never once listened to music. In fact, I never even took my iPod out of my gear back. I train with music all the time, but I liked hearing the race – eavesdropping on other runners’ conversations, words of encouragement, music at approaching aid stations, coyotes howling at the desert moon, all of it. Gear choices were all rock-solid. Topo Runventure and Altra Olympus were both great, and my trusty Wrightsock Coolmesh left no blisters, no hot spots. My UD waist pack rode fine, and the cooling hat and sleeves from Columbia were a godsend on a hot day.

The race was extremely well-run. The course was well-marked, the aid station volunteers were energetic, helpful and knowledgeable, and race communication was great. Kudos to Jamil Coury, his brother Nick and the other people at Aravaipa Running for a job very well done. The course itself was decent and very runnable, even though the looping certainly became monotonous. The Sonoran desert landscape is beautiful and very different from our Colorado mountain runs, but I was ready for some variation in scenery by the time this was done. 
Sitting around on Sunday after the race with Chuck and AJ, drinking beer, eating junk food, watching football and nursing aching body parts, we were reflecting on the race and I told them I’d grade myself an A- for the day (I actually told that to Chuck, but AJ overheard from the bathroom). They argued pretty convincingly for an A, particularly for a first time 100-miler, but now that I’ve had a few days to reflect, I agree with my original assessment and will stick with the A-. I bailed too early on my nutrition plan. I walked too much on runnable sections late in the race. I let 20 hours slip away too easily. Don’t get me wrong – a great many things went right out there, too. I’m immensely proud of my accomplishment, but if I gave myself an A, I’d be ignoring the things I know I could have done better and will hopefully do better next time, if there is a next time. Remind me again, when does the Western States lottery open? Thanks for reading.


  1. Wow, so much I could say on this! But, it would take us a whole long run to get through it all. Mostly, I am just glad you didn't hate the experience and had a very good first timer result (hell, most vets would take a day like this!!!). After all the advice you've given me over the years, I am also glad that I could return the favor in helping you get to your first hundred mile finish. We have a really special group and it sure makes training much easier. Finally, I really enjoyed reading the detail of all your thoughts. I feel like I know you fairly well and it was quite enjoyable to get a detailed account of how your day went.

  2. Right on Jon. Great report with great specifics. I'm still going with an "A" performance, but I certainly see your reasoning. I love your enthusiasm and truly hope to see you out there doing this again ...especially if it means another guys weekend of fun. =) Congrats again friend.

  3. Well it took me more than a month to track this down and savor such a good read. Highlights for me included your decision to switch to pizza, the headlight realization, and the jumping cactus (x2). Your race report engages. Those last 10 miles were tough on you! So are you flirting with another 100? What will it be like to carry on this diet for longer? Now that I am in the know, I look forward to talking to you!