Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Javelina Jundred 2014

Five weeks before the Javelina, I ran my best race ever at the Bear Chase 100K.  Unfortunately, only two weeks before the Javelina, I had one of my worst performances ever at the Denver Rock n’ RollMarathon, where I went from a 1:30 first half to a 1:52 second half.

Prior to the race, Ultra Signup showed 545 registrants - that’s getting close to the level of Leadville, which had almost 700.  Of those 545, I was 71st overall by their target time, and 108th by ranking, 66th of the 391 men, and 16th out of 141 in my age group.  The Javelina is known for being a pretty fast Jundred, so my goal time was to break 20 hours, but UltraSignup had me targeted at 19:17:42 – pretty damn fast!  I usually beat Ultra Signup’s predictions, but who knows on this one.

This trip to Arizona, I’m going solo.  I would only have the latter part of Friday to spend with family in Scottsdale, in addition to shopping and pre-race prep.  For each of the previous three 100 milers, I had 2 very full, large shopping bags of supplies for my drop bags.  This time, I’d be flying out on the ultra-low-fare Spirit Airlines, which charges for everything except the air you breathe.  Being the cheap SOB that I am, I refused to pay for any carry-on bags, so everything I need for the weekend and the race will be worn on my body, or fit in a tiny backpack that can squeeze underneath the seat.

I’ve been watching the forecast since it came out, 10 days prior to race day.  Initially, highs were projected in the low 90’s, then it dropped into the upper 70’s, then went up to the upper 80’s, before dropping yet again into the mid 70’s.  Unfortunately, they’re also calling for winds of 12 mph, and a 40% chance of showers.

Race day - After 4.5 hours of sleep, the alarm went off, I got ready, and headed off towards McDowell Mountain Park.  I got there early, as usual, parked, and lugged my big cooler over to the shuttle.  In my haste, I forgot my sweatshirt in the car, but luckily, the temperature was so mild, that I was fine standing around in just a shirt.  The 0.3 mile walk from the shuttle to the start wasn’t a whole lot of fun with the heavy cooler, and this was probably the effort that led to some sore shoulders during the race and the following week.

Javelina Jeadquarters was the giant party that I was expecting after reading all the race reports.  Everything was extremely well organized, from the masses of tents, down to the striped lanes for our drop bags/coolers.  After checking in, I went through the rest of my pre-race prep, including slathering on lots of sunscreen, organizing supplies, etc.  Closer to start time, there developed a rather long line at the port-o-potties, but while walking around the encampment, it was obvious that there were numerous groupings of potties, with no waits at all.

I got into the start corral with just a few minutes to go.  With 500+ runners, I didn’t want to get caught up too far in the back, but no one seemed to want to get near the start line, so I was much further up than I would have liked.  At 6:00 AM sharp, we were off.  Right from the start, runners were streaming by me in droves.  After so many races, it still amazes me how quickly the majority of runners start for such long distances.  I’m guessing that I had gotten down to 150th place or lower before the passing stopped.

Based on a number of race reports, I made the last-minute decision to start without a light, even though it would be dark for the first 20 to 30 minutes.  This was the right choice as there were enough headlamps around me and the trail was easy enough.  This way, I wouldn’t have to carry the light with me for the entire lap.  The sunrise was absolutely magnificent.  There were enough clouds in the sky to be light up in bright shades of pink.  It was unfortunate that we were mainly running with our backs to the rising sun.  Everyone turned around for brief glimpses, but only a few pulled off to the side to truly appreciate the splendor.

Once the field spread out a bit, I got to chat with a few other runners.  One guy remembered me from Coldwater, where I had DNF’d on the 52 miler and he dropped from the 100 to the 52.  Another guy was a triathlete who had gone out with a 2:10 opening lap last year and quickly regretted it.  I also hung a bit with “Golden girl” (Alaina) who was from Golden, CO.  We wound up running with each other on and off for much of the first two laps.

I experimented again with different temporary tattoos.  I airbrushed my forearms with ARAVAIPA, which stayed on for the entire race.  I had also done the print and peel Javelina Jangover tattoos on the shoulders.  They looked great at first, but within the first few miles they started to look like Salvador Dali paintings and shortly thereafter were completely flowing down my arms.  Later on, aid station volunteers thought I had bruised my shoulders in a fall.

I had gotten a replacement 301XT from Garmin just a few days prior and apparently didn’t set up the display correctly.  It was showing me the current mile pace, as opposed to average pace.  This threw me off a bit, but I still knew I was going plenty fast early on, despite my relaxed effort.

I took only one bottle with me on the first two laps, and it turned out to be just right.  I came into Jackass soon after emptying the bottle.  I wasn’t overly efficient at this aid station, but I wasn’t worried as I knew I was ahead of schedule.  The only minor glitch was that the first time through this aid, the volunteers hadn’t quite gotten into a rhythm yet.  With a constant flow of runners, and the food, drinks and drop bags in three different directions, it was not flowing very smoothly.  It wasn’t a big deal, and the rest of the day (and night), they did an amazing job.
Photo by Alina Donath

I headed out and tried to relax into the downhill section heading back towards Jeadquarters.  It didn’t feel like I was going very fast, but the mile splits showed otherwise.  I got back to the start in about 2:30 – a good 15 to 30 minutes (1 to 2 minutes per mile) faster than I should have.  I know this sounds like an excuse, but I think the low altitude tricked me into running this first loop too fast.  I’ve gotten very good at pacing myself and those first 15 miles felt effortless.  I was breathing quite calmly and even having many conversations.  This would have been just right in Colorado, but 4,000’ lower, my lungs were taking it easy, while my legs were actually working just a tad too hard.  Heading out for the second loop, I was working too hard on the uphills, yet it didn’t seem like I was moving very fast.  This would have been a good time to use the Garmin to check my pace and slow down, though it was already too late.  By the time I got back to Jackass, I really had to slow down.  My breathing was fine, but my legs just felt dead.  It would take until the start of the 4th loop for me to fully recuperate.  It was frustrating, but I’ve learned that in 100 miles, there’s plenty of time to recover from a low point.  I just need to be patient.

Photo by Chris Furman
I went with 2 hand-held bottles for loops 3 and 4, which were just barely enough at times.  Though the temps never got above the upper 70’s and there were some intermittent clouds, and a nice breeze, it still felt plenty warm during the middle of the day.  On a truly hot day, like they had last year, 2 bottles would not have been enough.  I also employed my home-made ice bandana – a bandana folded in half and partially sewn to hold ice, then tied around my neck.  I had used this method at the Bear Chase and it made a world of difference in the heat.

At around mile 55, on the far end of the loop, I was churning up a small rise when I looked up at one of the scantily clad runners ahead (a female one), and BAM! I went down in an instant.  Luckily my kneecap took the brunt of the fall, saving my precious water bottles.  I popped up almost as quickly as I went down and the blood instantly started to ooze out.  My knee hit so hard that I was genuinely concerned about real damage and the possibility of not being able to finish.  It hurt a bit, but not too bad and I knew that if I stopped to baby it, stiffness and pain would settle in, so I just kept running.  Luckily, it never got any worse, but every time a runner came the opposite way, their smile would quickly turn to shock and concern as my knee came into view.  The aid station volunteers kept asking to clean and bandage it up, but I wasn’t about to waste that kind of time - I still had a race to finish.
Photo by Alina Donath

Towards the tail end of loop 3, between Jackass and Jeadquarters, a couple of guys had lugged in a big cooler full of popsicles.  It was still hot out, my stomach was OK, though not great, and those popsicles really hit the spot.  I had one on loop 3 and then another coming back on loop 4.  After the second visit, I was telling oncoming runners about the treat that awaited them.  They all had looks of awe and excitement.  When Gordy came up, his response was a growling “yeah right”.  It might not have been the best part of the race for him, and tales of popsicles in the desert would have sounded like a teasing mirage.  I’m sure he was pleasantly surprised within a couple of hundred yards.  Yes, I got to run with the world famous Gordy Ainsleigh (age 67!).  The guy who first ran the Western States.  The guy who started this crazy ultra running thing.  And I even got growled at by him.

I finished loop 4 just as the sun was starting to set, dropped off a bottle and took up my flashlight.  The darkness and cooling temps gave me a good mental and physical boost, and seeing all the lights winding along the desert trail in the darkness was pretty cool.  On loop 5, I pulled into Jackass and made a quick stop in the medical tent to lube up my left foot, fearing the return of a blister that I had at the Denver Marathon only two weeks prior.  Still running shirtless, I was feeling good, but the medical guy insisted that I take a shirt with me, just in case – “it’s complimentary”, he repeated.  I took the shirt and kept it wrapped around my waist as a precaution, but feeling comfortable the rest of the time, I dropped it off after loop 6.

Photo by Alina Donath
The 40% chance of rain never materialized, but during loop 6, up to the north, there was an awesome display of lightning in the clouds that had gathered up against the mountains.  Darkness also brought on increased festivities at all the aid stations, along with some light-up costumes.  One guy, who had been running all day with a skeleton costume, was finally able to turn on his glowing skeleton - I bet more than a few exhausted runners were spooked.

A few times early on, I ran with a guy named Norm, from California, exchanging the usual pleasantries.  By the latter half of loop 4 we were running on and off together quite a bit more.  We wound up running mostly together from loop 5 on, periodically exchanging leads.  He pushed more on the uphills, and I made up the distance on the downhills.  We finished loop 6 together, but got separated again as we headed out for the last partial loop.

For the final, partial loop, they give runners a cheap, glowie necklace - the kind that you get at the dollar store and kids love to wear.  It sounds silly and gimmicky, but heading back out on the trail wearing that thing is absolutely amazing.  Everyone cheers you on even more, knowing it’s your final loop.  The extra energy is awesome.  I bet if you did a test, giving necklaces to only half of the runners, you would see a marked difference in the time for their final loops.  The necklaces give that much of a psychological boost.

Part way up the climb of the final partial loop, I caught up to Norm again, and shortly thereafter, we got passed by another finisher.  Norm was really pushing himself, grunting and cursing with the effort, but I managed to stay close on his tail.  As we turned off the main course, Norm made a quick stop at the mini-aid station for a shot of tequila – seriously!  I kept going, but Norm quickly caught up.

We had previously discussed the fact that we were both in the same age group and I warned him that if it came down to it, I might have to nudge him off into the cacti on the side of the trail.  We had a friendly competition going - one which I was hoping to win.  The final mile of the race, when you get back onto the main course, is pretty flat, but from the tequila to this intersection was just a nice, mild downhill.  I knew this would be my chance, so I hit the gas.  My Garmin was dead, but Norm was trailing close behind, shocked to see that we were running 8:30’s after 97 miles.  Then we got down to 8 minute miles and then even faster.  Norm started to slowly fall behind by just a bit and I was pleasantly surprised to pass two runners on the way down.  I was hoping to catch the guy who had previously passed us, but he was just flying up ahead and kept increasing his lead.  Turns out he was another Coloradoan, Duncan Callahan from Gunnison, and wound up beating me by almost 2 minutes.

This is the 3rd hundred in a row where I had to sprint to the finish.  With 1/2 of a mile to go, I glanced back to see a headlamp right on my tail.  I didn’t know who it was, but I wasn’t going to give up a spot this close to the finish.  I gave it everything I had in the last half mile, sprinting through the cheering crowds at Jeadquarters, right to the finish line, beating my pursuer by a mere 5 seconds!  Norm came in less than 2 minutes later.

19:36:25 – a 100 mile PR and more than 3 hours faster than Leadville!  For the first time though, I didn’t beat UltraSignup’s predicted time of 19:17, but I placed way better than their standings had me at – 16th overall vs. 71st, 13th male vs. 66th, and 2nd age group vs. 16th.


I’m not overly happy with the time on my laps, but I’m thrilled with the way my placement kept steadily creeping up.  It’s a nice confirmation that my pacing strategy works, even when I don’t have the best of days.

Adrenaline is a great masker of pain.  As soon as I crossed the finish line I felt the pain of a large blister on my right big toe and could hardly walk.  I eventually made it over to the medical folks and they took care of my blister and finally cleaned up my knee.  I then took some time to rehydrate and chow down on a couple of burgers before gathering up my stuff and heading for the shuttle back to my car.

6 ½ loops can be a bit repetitive, but the advantage is that you’re never more than a couple of hundred yards from another runner.  This is an incredibly social race and there’s no chance of getting lost or feeling lonely.  More than any other race, Javelina is one to crew at or just hang out at the Start/Finish.  Jeadquarters was an incredibly fun, energetic place.  Aravaipa put on yet another awesome race.  Little details like the popsicles, glow necklaces, and tequila really contributed to the already festive atmosphere.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Denver Rock n' Roll Marathon - 2014

  • The Thursday before the Denver Rock n’ Roll Marathon, my weight was the highest it’s been since January.
  • The day before, I ran my last real training run, and was 20 seconds over my 1 mile PR.
  • The forecast was for temps in the low 70’s – 20 degrees warmer than ideal.
  • The first half of the course was going to be completely different, with more climbing than in past years.

Not very good omens heading into the weekend, but for some reason, I was still relatively optimistic.  I kept telling myself that I was now smarter, better at pacing myself, and had better endurance.  I’ve had some pretty good ultra results this year, but a road marathon is so different – so short and fast.  There’s just no room for error.  No time to recover.

I was also going in with modified orthotics, with only a 7 mile jog to test them prior to the race.

My optimism was in large part based on my great performance at the Bear Chase Race 100K, just 3 weeks earlier.  I never have two good races in a row, but I was hoping this could be the start of something new.

The forecast was for mid 70’s, a bit warm for my taste, but I was planning on being done around 10:15, before the real heat set in.

There are free places to park for this race, but for a mere $5, I always choose to park in the garage that’s only a block away from the start/finish.  I got there early, as usual, and walked around a bit, while scoping out the shortest potty lines.  The ones on the south end were extensive, from early on, the ones on the north end of the park were had no lines at all, until about 6:30, then every port-o-potty had unbelievable lines.  I just don’t get it.  Why can’t race organizers get enough potties to alleviate this hassle?  There’s nothing worse than waiting in line and looking constantly at your watch, wondering if you’ll miss your start time.

I ran into a couple of fellow runners from the Belmar Running Club in the dark and chilly morning.  As the clock struck 7:00, I took off my nice warm layers, handed them in to the sweat check volunteers, and headed off towards the start, which is on the opposite end of the park – another thing I’m not crazy about on this race.

It was tough getting into the crowded corral, but as I made my way across to the left side, I found a bit of elbow room.  I also found a few more club runners, including Eric.  He was shooting for a 1:28 on the half, and actually wound up finishing in just over 1:25, which is amazing, especially with the tougher course.

After the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, I took off my disposable shirt, shuffled closer to the start, and we were off!

I was running along at a very comfortable pace, feeling great, when I looked at my Garmin and saw that my pace was 7:30 for the first half mile – no wonder it felt so easy.  I slowly picked it up, knowing that I couldn’t afford much of a deficit.  With a nice downhill, I recovered to 7:01 by the end of the first mile.

As we climbed up the bridge that would take us over the tracks and I-25, everyone was shocked to see the Mile 2 marker to our left.  It was a full .15 miles short.  On the other side of the bridge, my fellow runners’ GPS beeped along with mine, when we hit the true 2 mile mark.  Mile 3 was then long by .2 miles.  This got the overall mileage pretty close, but these errors would totally crew up anyone running without a GPS.  This is my 5th running of the Denver Marathon and it seems that every year they have some distance issues.  In 2010, before it was taken over by the Competitor Rock n’ Roll group, mile 24 was long by .144 miles.  I had realized this immediately, without even having a GPS back then.  The past few years, the mileage markers in the middle of the race were off by noticeable amounts, but the total worked itself out by the end.  This year, many of the miles were short or long by .1 to .2 miles, and my total came in at 26.47.  I know that GPS’s aren’t 100% accurate, weaving adds distance, and the course is measured along the shortest tangents, but that stuff is irrelevant when you have single miles off by up to .2.  Today’s GPS’s are not off by 20%, and any errors would not be consistent enough to have all of them beep the mileages off at the same time.

Members of the Belmar Running Club & Runners Roost Team were manning one of the early aid stations near Sloans Lake.  The friendly faces and encouragement were definitely welcomed.  I tried to flash the Belmar tattoo, though they were on the opposite side.

The off mileage was annoying, but I tried to not let it affect me too much.  What did affect me, was the additional climbing.  After 3 years on the same course, they totally changed things, taking the first half west as far as Sheridan Blvd.  This added quite a bit of extra climbing, and most of it in the first 7 miles.  I made up decent time on the downhills and was pleased to be only off by only 30 seconds after those tough 7 miles.  I took advantage of the decent back to east and made up almost all the lost time in the next two miles.  Unfortunately, the wind was picking up a bit, and though it never got really strong, it was enough to add noticeably to an already hard effort.

By mile 10 I started having doubts about my 3 hour goal.  .  I had kept close to the 1:30 half marathon pace group but by the time the half marathoners split off, I knew it wasn’t going to happen.  I was a bit disappointed, but certainly not devastated.  I figured I would ease up just a bit, run the second half at a 7:00 to 7:10 pace, and still finish with a second best marathon performance.  Unfortunately, that did not work out.  I kept slowing down, little by little, but it didn’t get any easier.  My pace slowed down to the mid 7’s, then through the 8’s, then a few 9 minute miles (which actually felt more like 12’s) before it was finally over.  I went from a 3 hour pace, down to finishing in 3:22:05 over the course of the second half.  I kept a smile on my face and a relatively positive attitude, repeating to myself that I just couldn’t push my limits and expect to have a great day at every race.

I got passed by Joel, who was pacing the 3:15 group, in Wash Park and apparently lost another 7+ minutes to him in the final 3 miles.

Back in May, I fell apart at the Colfax Marathon, but it was nothing like this.  I started off with a 3 hour goal and lost that even earlier, by mile 7.  Even though I slowed after that, I still managed a 3:09 and never felt quite as dead as I did at the Rock n’ Roll.  The worst part of this horrible performance was probably that I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reasons for it.  Yes, I went out too fast and hard, but I should have been able to hold onto a slightly slower pace without continuing to fall apart.  Cloud cover made the temperatures quite pleasant until the sun broke through in the last hour.  The wind was a factor, but not extreme.  I just can’t quite figure it out.