My Balls, what happened to my balls – balls of my feet that is!!
First off let me say that this was one hell of a painful day. I got through it and for a lot of it, I thank you guys. Just knowing that you guys were lurking out there waiting to for me finish and report back, really helped give me a little motivation.
Thank you guys!
Second of all, this report is FREAKING long. I apologize for that. I guess I had a lot of details to get out and once I started, I could not stop them.
About two months ago, JohnnyTri threw-out the idea of me joining him for Javelina. He was on a down cycle and was having a slow week, so technically our mileage was similar. Never mind that immediately after that he ramped up his training and became an ultra fit stud. I dismissed his idea, but secretly the idea began worming its way into my subconscious.
Seemingly out of the blue, on Monday, I emailed Sweet Baboo (Ultra running man extraordinaire) and asked him how crazy I was for even thinking about signing up for a race that despite the two months prior warning, I had not trained for. Instead of calling me stupid and shutting me down, he actually did exactly what I needed and laid out the race in plain and simple terms. He broke it down and explained that if I could do a marathon, then a 50 could be probably be done too. And that technically, I have 30 hours to finish the 100k, so even if I had to walk the entire thing, I could probably do it.
Little did I know how close to walking the thing I would come.
On Tuesday, I became the last official person to register for the race and on Friday, Dez and JT picked me up and we headed out to packet pickup. On the way we got to cross over the new Hoover Dam Bridge! Unfortunately, there is NO view from the side of the road unless you happen to be a semi truck. Otherwise all you get to see is a concrete wall. However on the way back, we found out that you can park at the dam and walk up to and across the bridge! Even without the view, the bridge is very nice because it cuts A LOT of time out of the drive, within 30 seconds you are across the dam and on your way as opposed to the old way that could take at least 20 minutes and sometimes 2-3 hours!
Once we got to Phoenix/fountain hills, we checked into the hotel and found our way to the race site. I know this may come as a big surprise to some but a trail run tends to happen on a trail…in the middle of nowhere. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it seems like we drove to the middle of the desert far removed from all society. Somehow I had envisioned a trail run that would be surrounded by the city or at least semi-nearby. Maybe I am thinking of Rio de Lago or I need to change my training environment (oh wait, I don’t train!)
The Javilina Jeadquarters was a nice little campground area that included a place for tents and coolers for those people who wanted to stay on site or more importantly as it later became clear, the tents and coolers helped those who were coming in from their run stay out of the chaos of the main tent and gave them a place to cool off.
Immediately you become aware of the party environment of Javelina. There is music playing, the tents are set up with people hanging out. Everybody is relaxed. Contrasts this with Ironman where everyone there is stressed out. People are trying to avoid hanging out and they want to get back to their hotel as fast as they can. At Javelina, everyone is smiles and hugs. Everyone is good friends; everyone knows everyone and honestly wants to know how their kids are doing. It is a completely different scene.
Packet pick up is the same way. The booth opens at 3 (even though its 3:15), they start to hand out the packets, but then they stop because they haven’t established an assembly line. They finally get the assembly line going but after 10 people it falls apart and people start grabbing everything as they need willy-nilly style. Sounds like chaos? Nope, everyone works together and no one seems worried about the time and their egos don’t get involved. Again, it all very low key.
As it turns out, I am a little high strung and nervous and when I go up for packet pickup and they don’t find my name, I get a little freaked out. I start to worry that I am not able to race, or that I have to prove myself and provide the registration printout, etc. All this comes for not, I stand around for a while, talk to the race directors who find my name on the updated list and hand me my packet and I am all set. It turns out that I was the last person to register for the race, and they were going off an old list. No biggie for them, but it did get my heart-a-thundering.
We meet Sweet Baboo, GeekGirl and a couple other people including some from Las Vegas. We hang around the expo for a while and pick up a few things but for the most part the highlight was getting the packet and then we are out.
Being as I am flying by the seat of my pants, I take an in ordinarily long time to get my gear together and by the time its bed time I am already several hours late.
A 3 am wakeup call comes way too early for me but JT and I shlump our sleepy butts over to Denny’s which conveniently enough is in the hotel parking lot. We are supposed to be shooting for 1000 calories however I am still stuffed from dinner, but I know how important a good breakfast is and I manage to stuff almost half of my meal down. We finished breakfast off by talking to another racer who showed up as we were about to leave. Honestly I thought that the restaurant was going to be packed but it seemed that we were the only two groups there.
At the race start, I of course instantly had to go to the bathroom. Despite there being 8 port-a-johns lined up at the Jeadquarters, there was also a nice long line. I eventually gave up on the idea and decided to wait until the race got underway. If anyone knows me, they know that I have a small bladder. Like my two year old son who has no bladder control and pees in diapers has a bigger bladder than me! So needless to say that I could NOT wait for the race to start. I am sure that I met a lot of interesting people and saw some funny things but honestly, I was up to my eyeballs in pee. One thing I do remember is JT leaning over and saying that at least with an Ironman we can pee in our wetsuits, here there is no hiding! How very true. And while I did entertain just letting it fly right there, I assumed that no one would buy the “I am a leaky fire hose costume” joke. I took solace in knowing that soon would be on the trail, and I could sneak behind a bush and go. At least as a guy we can do this; I can only imagine how hard it must be for a girl out there.
There was the customary countdown; there was an air horn and we were off! Just like almost all the marathons I have been too, there is a rush to get out of the starting gates as fast as possible. Everyone wants to hurry up and run which pretty much means that everyone gets to hurry up and wait. The start of these races are always so bunched up that it doesn’t really become clear until a mile or two. When you add in a single track trail, the congestion is even worse. But luckily, I was able to hold my bladder until a mile or to down the trail and was then able to sneak off to a bush. I can only assume that it was a mile or two because, like a complete idiot, I left my Garmin at home. I charged it up made sure that it was ready to go and then I went! Being as I was flying by the seat of my pants, I wasn’t even sure if I would use it being as the trail is 5 miles from one aid station to another, but it turns out that 5 miles feel like f-o-r-e-v-e-r out there on the trail. This fact would come back to haunt me multiple times throughout the long weekend.
The race starts at 6 am which technically is before sunrise so it is dark outside, but within a mile or two the sun had peaked through the clouds and it was starting to lighten up. I ran without a headlight for the morning and found that it was perfectly bright outside. Other people had a light, but it seemed like they only needed it for about 20 minutes at max. Even without the headlight it was still pretty bright out. For those looking to do the race in the future, I would not recommend a light in the morning or at the very least make sure it is a light that is light and you can stow and run with.
As I said, about twenty minutes in the sun came up and we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise. Actually the sunrise was behind us so if you wanted to see it, then you had to turn around. Funny enough, this is exactly what a lot of racers did. In fact so many racers turned around and took pictures that I stopped and looked back just to make sure that it wasn’t the coming of Christ or something important. Nope, it was just a sunrise. It turns out that I am a non-sunrise kind of guy. If you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all, but these ultra running types are a different breed. They stopped and admired the sun rise, not once but several times as the sun moved over the mountains and into and through the clouds. Truly it was beautiful or at least I am told.
After the sun rose up, there was not much to do but keep running. We ran and ran and ran. We may have gotten a whopping 2 or 3 miles before I began to think that we had gone past the 5 mile aid station. The lack of a Garmin was starting to get to me. I had gone less than 3 mile and I was already wildly overestimating the mileage. Not good!
Luckily, Baboo was able to keep me pretty much distracted with his wealth of knowledge of not only the course, but also the fellow racers on the course. He would describe the upcoming hills and the hard parts where it was needed to go easy and the easy parts where we could go hard. He seemly knew every inch of the course (as the day wore on, I was able to see how he was able to remember so much, after hours and hours, it begins to become burned into our minds). He pointed out which runners have a history of going out too fast and which ones are strong and consistent. He knew which runners are good at pacing themselves and therefore should be followed and which runners are the bad type to follow. Really having him out there was a great boon.
Unfortunately, at the first aid station, JT and I got behind him and GeekGirl. JT had his water pack and while the aid station is great and super helpful, there was one guy who grabbed JT’s pack and instead of filling it up with water, filled it up with Gatorade. JT took one sip and knew that the mess up had happened. He had to pour out everything and start with fresh water. While this wasn’t a big deal, it did put the Pilgrims (Baboo and GeekGirl) way ahead of us. After we left the aid station, it felt like we were behind the eight ball and we had to work extra hard to catch up to them. Of course, this is a silly idea. On an ultra race like this, you don’t waste precious energy trying to play catch-up. Otherwise, you risk wasting all your energy on the start of the race and having nothing left over for the rest of the race. Yet, even knowing this, JT and I worked to reel the Pilgrims back it. Not only did we reel them in, but by the second aid station (10 miles), we were feeling pretty good so we went ahead and ran a little faster and passed them.
Funny thing was, shortly after that, the trail began its long downhill decline. For some reason that I can’t remember why, running went out the window (even though it was downhill it felt like you were going uphill) and often we were reduced to walking. This was very frustrating especially when you consider now many runners were running back towards us, meaning that they were on their second loop. After you have runner after runner pass you, you start to think that I am either WAY too slow or the end is right around the corner. So despite the fact that we were ahead of schedule and we were actually trying to slow ourselves down a little bit, we found our speed picking up and came into Jeadquarters in about 3:15 hours. This is over an hour ahead of schedule! Normally this would be a good thing but Javelina is notorious for racers going WAY TOO fast for the first laps and then blowing up later on in the race. Despite this warning, we were right on schedule for a blow up. Next loop would need to be a lot slower (turned out this would not be a problem!).
We showed up to the Jeadquarters and were able to avoid the semi chaos of the main changing area and instead went around to the tent area where Dez and Courtney (GeekGirl's crew member) were at. They rushed to help us out, JT changed shoes and socks and I grabbed a bit of food to eat and then we were off.
Despite our quick turn around, the Pilgrims had shown up after us and gotten away before us. I guess that is a testament to the power of having a plan, a crew and past experience. We were able to keep them within sight for most of the loop, but was never able to reel them back in.
As soon as we started, it instantly became clear that we were heading uphill. Not sure how I didn’t notice that we were going downhill just a few minutes ago, but it was certain that we were going uphill now. The hill just never seemed to end and to just kept climbing and climbing. About this time, I began to see the power of having long legs and more importantly a high walk speed. Most of the hill was done at a walking pace and it turns out that JT’s walking pace and my walking pace are completely different!
I felt like a little kid following after his parents in the mall. We would walk for a hundred yards together and slowly but surely he would start to pull ahead of me. Then I would find myself having to do a sort of mock jog/run to get ahead of him. Then in a minute or two, he would catch me and the whole process would start all over again. This leapfrog style run went on for almost 7 miles (Turns out that the uphill climb is almost exactly 7 miles long).
Finally after 7 miles of chasing him only to be put to shame thanks to his walking speed, I had had enough and was able to use the first downhill to get a little speed going. I began to pull away from JT and before I knew it, he was out sight. I was feeling good and I just kept putting on the speed and the distance.
Just when I had visions of me finishing the second loop way ahead of JT, the rocky area of the trail started. Instantly, my feet let me know that they were not happy about this. As the trail went on, my feet became more and more sensitive. It wasn’t long before I was reduced to a walk. Shortly after that, JT came flying by me.
The last few miles up to the Jeadquarters were miserable. We were trudging through soft sand/gravel which should not be bad but my feet were crying out for relieve. My Left foot was developing a blister and I felt miserable. Add on to this the fact that I had no idea how far away the aid stations were because I didn’t have my Garmin. I kept psyching myself out thinking that the next turn will be the aid station or maybe in the next 10 minutes. What this meant was that I was constantly looking at my watch and constantly searching for solace. Instead of putting my head down and trudging through it, I was getting desperate with wanting. Finally the last straw was when I started to see some of the runners going back out again with popsicles. POPSICLES! I wanted one! And that must mean that the aid station was close by right? I mean the Popsicle would have melted if it was far away so it had to be close by. Little did I know that I was still a mile or two away from help and that the popsicles must have some super anti-melting power to them because it was forever before I got to the Jeadquarters. In the meantime, I saw Baboo and GeekGirl go back out and they seem to be deep in conversation and cruising along. I guess that about this time, GeekGirl was starting to feel like me about her feet and was in pain but on the outside she looked fine.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, I saw the home base.
As soon as I got there, I saw JT heading back out. It had taken me about 4 hours for this 15 mile loop and while that was 45 minutes slower than the last loop, we were still on schedule for the plan. Being as I was the last person in from our group, I got the full attention of Dez and Courtney. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I needed or what I wanted. I mentioned that I had run out of water and Courtney generously offered me an extra water bottle to use. That was great, because I was trying to avoid using my CamelBak until I absolutely had to (I don’t know why, I like my pack, but at this moment I wasn’t thinking too clearly). She quickly filled it with succeed and I felt like I was good to go hydration wise. The real question was what to do with my feet. In the end, I decided to switch shoes and change socks. Anything I could do to get some more padding for my poor balls of my feet. Courtney suggested that I visit the med tent, which I thought must have meant that I looked like shit, but she explained that they were taping feet there.
I hobbled over to the med area and they instantly got to working on me. They cleaned and dried my left foot and began applying some moleskin like tape to me. They explained that it was Kinesio tape but it looked like mole skin to me. Either way they went and cut several pieces to match the shape of my feet and really took their time and customized it to help me out. At the previous aid station, I had asked for tape and they threw a roll of Duct tape and said have fun! Not knowing what I was doing, I placed a piece over my heel (where a hot spot was building up). Unfortunately, this self tape job wasn’t enough to protect me and by the time I got to the med tent, I had a nice sized blister built up on the side of my heel. They quickly drained it and taped this up too. They were able to get both feet and get moving without too much fuss or loss of time. I felt like it was taking forever, but in reality, it was probably just what I needed because it allowed me to cool down. I was able to drink a red bull and by the time that the caffeine kicked in, I was ready to go.
I am not sure if it was the caffeine or the new set of feet I had just got, but I felt great! I took off at an easy pace and was cruising along. I had visions of catching up to JT and Misty and even thought that maybe if I was able to recover, I could finish the 100k and go for more.
That lasted for about an hour and then either the caffeine wore off or the rocks got too be too much, but soon thereafter I was reduced to walking again. A slow painful walk, where every time I put my left foot down, it felt like I had a rock in there. This caused me to walk with a sever limp and my walking speed slowed down even more. It was about this time that the leaders of the race started to come back and actually pass me. Yes, this meant that I was being lapped. They were on mile 65 and I was only on mile 35! I had joked with Dez that I was so far behind that I was actually in the lead, and sure enough I had the 2nd place runner come up to me and asked if I was the 1st place person! I pointed out my sever limp and stated that I was not; she took back off and nimbly leaped back down the path.
As I mentioned, I had been drinking my bottle pretty regularly, because Baboo had pointed out that dehydration could be a killer out here. Without a clear guide for mileage out here, I had decided that a goal of finishing my bottle by each aid station was a good goal. This seemed to work fine for me until I started walking too much and then I found myself drinking all the water way before the aid station. So at T2, I picked up another bottle, thinking that this would be perfect. I am not sure what happened to my brain, but now it seemed that I was drinking both bottles before the next aid station! I had doubled my capacity and I was still drinking it all. I couldn’t tell if I was drinking too much or if I was drinking so much because I was so thirsty. I know that midway on Lap 1, JT had started to mention that he was swelling up a lot. He thought that maybe this was because he was taking in too much salt, at this time I was feeling fine. But on the second loop, I started to swell up myself. In fact I actually had a nice little scare when I couldn’t get my wedding ring off my finger. I started to freak out a little bit after even with water I couldn’t get it over my sausage like fingers. It’s Tungsten Carbide so I don’t think that it is easy to cut off. I had visions of having to cut my finger off or my finger turning black from the tourniquet. All these images danced in front of my mind in the split second that it took me to get my ring off. Luckily, after a few minutes of praying and wetting it down and pulling, it finally came off, Crisis averted! But now that I was on the 3rd loop and drinking both bottles down, my bladder started to become full all the time. At one point it seemed that I was peeing every 20 minutes and not just a few drips, I am talking a full on complete torrent. I was clearly taking in too much liquid, but I was not getting any cramps so I kept letting my body do what it felt like. If I was thirsty, then I drank if not then I didn’t worry about it. I stopped worrying about it.
My feet were killing me, by the time I hit the first aid station (Mile 35), I was reduced to a crawling pace. My mood had taken a major crash and I was done. I had decided that maybe I would work to get to mile 50 and then call it. By the time that I got to the second aid station (Mile 40), I had completely given up. I was done right then and there. If I could have surrendered my chip there I would have. I thought about lying down in the desert and letting the world pass me by. I thought about begging for a ride back. I thought about trying to walk on my hands just to save my feet. I was desperate.
By now I assumed that my mileage was low. I would have been lucky to maintain a 30 minute mile. I am sure that at some points I was even slower than that (That is super slow, like old man on walkers are faster than that!). Baboo passed me on his way back out and it wasn’t too long before GeekGirl passed me too. They were all heading back out for their 4 and final lap and here I was completely downtrodden still on my 3rd lap. I figured that I passed them at 3-4 miles out which meant that they were 6-8 miles ahead of me. At my current pace, that would mean they were 3-4 hours ahead of me. JT passed me on his way back out looking spry. He told me that I was still 2 miles out. I told him that I was done. I couldn’t even walk and couldn’t imagine going for another 15 miles.
I started to do the math, at this pace a 15 mile trail would take me 7-8 hours. 7 to 8 hours! For 15 miles!!! Are you FREAKING kidding me! That is longer that walking a marathon. There was no way that this race was worth 8 more hours! If I kept this up, I wouldn’t be done until 4 or 5 in the morning. I was looking at 23 hours and that is if everything kept up at my current pace. I could not imagine going any more. Let me remind you, this was for a 100k not a 100miler. 23 hours for a 100k is unbelievable.
Needless to say, I was done. I walked even slower and mentally checked out. It was nearing 8 pm and it was dark outside. I had brought my handheld flashlight with me on this loop, but almost instantly, I decided that I didn’t want it. I was in no mood to see anything and I enjoyed my misery in darkness. As you can see I was in a very bad place.
To be honest, the full moon was up (the race is built around this, so that there is always a full moon) and with the full moon shining down on us, there was enough light to be able to see the ground without any issue. Lots of people had a headlight on but I just found that having the light on made me blind to anything beyond the light. I found that without the light on, I could see much better.
As I neared the Jeadquarters for the end of lap 3 and the end of MY race, I was passed by another runner. He looked like he was moving along at a good clip and seemed to know what was going on. I asked him what his pace was and how far until the end. He said that it was a mile left. He was trying to maintain a 20 minute pace; he was going to finish this thing.
“Not me, I’m done. I can barely walk my feet feel like they are broken.”
He slowed down, looked over at me and then looked down at his legs. He had a headlight on so I could see his knee by the light. His knee was swollen up to the size of a grapefruit, he had deep scars and it was clear that he had had some intense surgery on it. He looked back at the trail and over to the Jeadquarters way in the distance.
“It’s an ultra man, we are all fucked up. Come on lets finish this thing”.
And with that he picked up his 20 minute pace and left my in the darkness.
That was it. Just that simple phrase changed everything for me. Here was a guy in serious pain, with an actual medical issue and yet he was trudging along. If he could do it then I could do it right? I hadn’t even gotten 50 miles yet, was I really going to give up so easy? I could barley feel my feet but like Baboo had pointed out, I had 30 hours to finish. I could crawl on my knees and still finish.
I worked my way up to him and we talked for a little while, his name was Mike and he was from NY. He was here to run the thing because his doctor said that he couldn’t. He reassured me that come hell or high water he was going to finish this thing.
About this time, we made our way into Jeadquarters
We walked into screams and shouts from the volunteers and the spectators (who probably thought we were a lap ahead of what we were). I found Dez and SWTrigal (she was here to crew for GeekGirl and Courtney was out pacing her now). They looked pretty dubious at me. I am sure that JT had told them that I was done, but I insisted that I was going to go for it. They rushed to get me anything I needed.
I grabbed my pack, my IPOD, my headlight and filled my water bottle up with two red bulls. To top this off, I slammed one while I was there on site! I begged and pleaded until SWTrigal gave me a couple doses of meds. Put on some super thick socks over my original socks and with a hope and a prayer I was off!
I told Dez that I would most likely be out there until 4 or 5 in the morning JT should be done way before that, so if they needed to leave then I understood. I would find a phone or something. (But the truth is I didn’t know anyone’s number!) They did their best to fill me with encouragement and told me that I would be done earlier, but I had resigned myself to a complete sufferfest.
Lap 3 had taken me over 5 hours and I didn’t feel that this one would be any better and truly expected this lap to take up to 8 hours. I grabbed a slice of pizza (How nice is that? The Race brought in Pizza, Popsicles, Sandwiches, etc!) plugged my IPOD in my ears and took off like a herd of turtles!
I knew that with the caffeine coursing through me and the meds kicking in, I would be able to fake a good pace for a while. I had hoped that by constantly sipping the red bull, I would be able to keep the illusion going.
I was able keep this lie going for a while and even though based on my time, it is clear that I wasn’t moving very fast, I felt like I was cruising. However at about 3 1/2 hours, the pills started to wear off and my world came crashing down on me. I felt every pebble in the trail (and that’s all were). I was under strict orders from Dr. Swtrigal not to take my second dose until 4 hours so that meant 30 minutes of complete and utter suffering.
One good thing that came out of this sufferfest was that I was able to notice the wild horses on the side of the trail. They were completely silent and just standing/eating off to the side. If I had been faster or had my light on (Even with the headlight, I preferred the darkness), I would not have seen the 4 horses standing there. When I got to the aid station, it seemed like only one other runner had noticed them. They were about the only other wildlife that I had seen out there, with the exception of a few rabbits and a huge tarantula and about a billion ants, the trail and wilderness was pretty mellow.
After the second aid station (mile 57-58) it was clear that I was done. The new dose of meds were not numbing the pain enough and no amount of caffeine could give me a second wind. It was clear that it would be me and only me out there fighting my body.
My solace was that I was still ahead of a couple people out there. Mike and I had split up but I knew that he was behind me and at every aid station I would find this group of girls who would show up just as I was leaving. They pushed me to finish the last 5 miles. I felt them breathing down my neck every step of the way (it turns out that Mike would later join up with the girls and they would all finish together about an hour after me).
As I neared the final stage of my race, I saw a constant stream of people coming back towards me with the insignia that they were on their last little loop (only 9 miles) and when finished they would have completed 100 miles. It was shocking to see how strong they all looked. Most came by with their entourage with a pacer or two and some had joined up with other groups so it appeared that a caravan was coming and going. All seemed full of energy and while I am sure they felt like crap, I would have given nearly anything to feel THAT good.
The last few miles were complete hell. Each step felt like my bones were broken and that I was now grinding the broken bones into each other. On top of that, I had developed a blister and a bruise on both feet that occurred between the big toe and the second toe. Right between the webbing. This was weird and turned out to be excruciating. I never realized how important this area was, but it seemed like I couldn’t lift my foot up or down without using this area.
I just could not wait for this event to be over with and as I neared the finish line I had a resurgence of energy. I started to pick up the pace (probably to a blazing fast 18 minute pace!). I was cruising along and had visions of me looking strong for the finish line until about a quarter mile away from the end; I felt a sudden gush in my foot. I must have popped a blister or something because my pace suddenly crashed. With this last blow to me, I hobbled into base and over the timing mats. I handed in my chip and they handed me a belt buckle!
I went to go and find JT or Dez or the Pilgrims. Instead I found our campground area completely packed up. The coolers were put away, the bags gone. The only thing remaining was the tents. Even the chairs were gone! Damn, I couldn’t even sit down.
Luckily at this moment, Courtney happens to come by. I am not sure what brought her over or why she was still there, but I was so very glad that she was. She eventually found JT and Dez who had decided to stay and had fallen asleep in the car. I can’t say how thankful I am that they remained there. I am sure that they would have been so much more comfortable back at the hotel, but looking back on it now: 1 – I didn’t have their numbers so I would have had to play phone tag with everyone to track them down and 2 – the wait for someone to come from the hotel might have been too much and I think that I may have just laid down and cried!
My final lap was 6:45. That is a long time to be out there for 15 miles. If you take away the 30 minutes I sent in T3 that still means I was out there on my feet for over 6 hours. I finished at around 3 am and clocked in a blazing fast time of 20:54:54.
By the time we got to the hotel room, I had been up for over 24 hours. My feet were hamburger, I was smelly and hungry and exhausted.
But I was done!
I completed my first 100k!