Monday, September 23, 2013

Javalina Jangover Night Run 50K

Before I even toed the start line of the Javalina Jangover, I had amassed a slew of excuses as to why I wouldn’t do well:
·         Less than 5 hours of sleep each of the two previous nights
·         Race day breakfast – one apple
·         Race day lunch – ¾ of a pizza + a heavily frosted cupcake (nephew’s birthday)
·         Spent the entire race day at a water park in the 103 degree Phoenix sun, running up stairs and treading water to keep up with my daughters
·         Race start temps plummeted down to 99 degrees!
·         I forgot my Garmin watch, so I would have nothing to pace myself with or track my progress
·         Severe I developed stomach issues during the 3rd quarter of the race, necessitating a couple of pit stops
·         My headlamp died with 3 miles to go

None of the runners doing the 50K wanted to get too close to the start line, so I ended up right near the front – 4th place in the first ¼ mile.  After a little more settling in over the first mile, I was somewhere in the top 10 and taking it pretty easily, at least I think I was taking it pretty easily, without the Garmin, I had no real way of telling.  Surprisingly, the pace felt quite comfortable, despite the temperature – must have been the “dry” heat.  I wasn’t sweating much and kept my breathing under control.

The sun was setting just as we set out at 6:00 PM, and we were able to save the headlamps for the first ½ hour.  The trail started out as sandy but soon climbed and became rockier.  About 4 miles in, I heard footsteps slowly catching up to me. A guy named Daryl passed, but since I was feeling pretty comfortable, I thought I’d try to keep up with him.  Shortly thereafter, another runner a little ways in front called out to warn us of the first wildlife encounter of the night, a snake.  It’s true what they say – the desert really comes alive at night.

The headlamps were soon flicked on and I quickly realized that my light, though a bit bulky, was considerably brighter than any of the others and illuminated a nice large area.  Having only done short spurts of running in the dark, at an early race start or the end of a late training run, I expected it to be much more difficult and fatiguing.  It really wasn’t bad at all.  I had to make an effort to look up ahead, just like day running, and not get mesmerized by the ground right under my feet, but once I gained confidence in my feet, it really was just like running in the daylight.

I used up my 2 gels early on and was ready for more calories by the time I hit the first aid station.  I filled up on ice water (yes, they had ice!) but discovered they had no gels or other snacks that were easily runnable.  Not wanting to lose Daryl, I grabbed a handful of dates and sped off after him.  My hands got a bit sticky and the dates were not pitted, but they tasted good and seemed to be OK with my stomach.

As we continued on, we slowly started to catch some of the 75 and 100K runners who had started out earlier.  We were keeping up a pretty good pace, but I was feeling fine.  After taking a quick break to water a cactus, I was even able to catch back up with Daryl within a couple of hundred yards.  I was tempted to keep up the accelerated pace and sprint by, but I knew that we weren’t even half way done yet.  As we got closer to the start/finish/halfway point, we caught up to more of the long distance runners and a few returning runners – Aravaipa set up the race via a 25K loop, with 50, 75, and 100K runners reversing the loop each time.  This turned out to be brilliant, as I wasn’t really alone until the last ¼ of the race.

I stayed right on Daryl’s heels for over 11 miles, right until we got to the turn-a-round.  I glanced up into the bright lights and was elated to see the clock at 2:12:23, well below my original goal of 2:30.  While the volunteers loaded my bottles with ice, I swallowed about 4 heaping spoonful’s of M&M’s and a couple of cookies – I wanted to keep the calorie intake up.

I tried to make the stop brief and soon took off, expecting Daryl to follow on my heels.  I kept looking back, but there was no headlamp to be seen.  I kept a decent pace, even though the trail was climbing again and soon, my stomach started to rebel.  I don’t know if it was due to the excessive chocolate M&M’s or if overindulging in birthday pizza at lunch was finally catching up.  I kept hoping it would pass, but it only got worse and I had to make a couple of quick, but careful, detours into the cacti.

This 3rd quarter of the race was the most “social” as I came across oncoming runners every minute or less.  The strings of headlamps were pretty cool and clearly delineated the trail before me.  They all had encouraging words for me, but given my gastrointestinal issues, I didn’t reciprocate as I normally would have.

I motored on, and by the time I hit the outer aid station again, the oncoming runners had ceased, but so had my stomach problems.  More ice, a couple of cookies, and I was off again.  This last quarter of the race was by far the most solitary, but it didn’t bother me at all.  I enjoyed the quiet darkness and tried to maintain a decent pace though I was starting to tire.  At one point, I looked up and saw the brightest meteor I have ever seen in my entire life!  It lasted for at least 3 seconds.

I had intended to swap headlamp batteries at the last aid station, but the light was still bright and I didn’t want to waste any time.  Now, the light was clearly dimming, but I still didn’t want to lose time stopping.  The terrain got a little rockier and with about 3 miles to go, I decide that I could push a little faster with a fresh battery.  I should have known there was a problem and quit when I clicked the switch and the light didn’t turn off, but I figured that removing the battery would simply reset the circuitry.  Wrong!  I put the fresh battery in, clicked the switch, clicked it again, and again, and again.  Nothing.  The damn thing wouldn’t turn on.  Now, instead of a dimmed light, I had none at all.  There were no runners to be seen behind me, so waiting around would do no good.  Luckily, the moon was only a couple of days past full and there were very few clouds in the sky.  The trail was still rocky, but I jogged my way along while my eyes slowly adjusted to the low light.  Pretty soon, I felt comfortable running at full speed, or at least what felt like full speed after more than a marathon in the desert.  The only sketchy parts that were the cacti and shrubs which cast shadows across the trail that were difficult to discern from rocks and holes.  I also kept telling myself that the wildlife had retired for the night.  Up until my light died, I had jumped over 2 snakes (neither were rattlers) and 5 tarantulas.

Surprisingly, I never tripped, nor was bitten by any stalking critters and as the lights of the distant finish came into view, I stepped it up for a final push.  I broke into camp, into the blinding light, and crossed the line in 4:31:05, almost half an hour faster than my goal time of 5 hours and less than a minute off of my 50K PR!  Even better, the race director congratulated me on finishing 3rd!  Another podium finish, and out of 60, that was awesome.

I hung around for a bit and drank up at least a liter of Ginger Ale, one Dixie cup at a time.  There was plenty of food at the finish, but I just wasn’t ready to eat.  I stretched, loosened up, and cheered on other finishers for a while.  When I got back to the car, the panel showed that the temperature had dropped another 10 degrees since the start, to a comfortable 89.  Normally, I suffer when the mercury rises above 70 and here I was almost shivering when a slight breeze came along.

Araviapa put on an awesome race!  I’ll be running their McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 miler in December, and I can’t wait to do another one of their night runs.