We were about 4 miles out from the finish line with about 45 minutes to spare in order for me to finish under 21 hours at the 2017 Javelina Jundred. I was in a dark place. John, my husband and pacer, was trying to pull me out of it.
“Dig deep, Maria,” he said. “Your well of reserves is bottomless. Keep pulling from it.”
Ms. Cranky-Pants wasn’t really feeling the guru session.
“I’m at mile 96 of a 100 mile race. I AM digging deep,” I pouted. I might as well have stomped my feet, but at that point, I was feeling too beat to take the extra effort, so I just kept shuffling instead.
It was not my finest moment.
But, wait, I’m getting waaaaayyyyyy too far ahead – I mean there’s 96 miles before this moment when I had a choice to make: go for it – or give in.
I know it’s been said elsewhere, but running 100 miles is very much like living a lifetime in one day. You can learn so much about life and who you are by running 100 miles.
The Sun Comes Up
Sunrise in the desert is a magical time. At first, the rays peak cautiously over the shadowy mountain tops, until the sun spills everywhere over the sandy bottom.
When I signed up for Javelina this year, I remembered the sunrise moment from the first time I did the race back in 2015. I was looking forward to this moment, to staying present, to looking around at the unique beauty that is the Sonoran desert, and to soaking in the experience as it happened.
And so it goes with life. We are so frequently waiting for the “next thing” to happen, or what we need to do later, tomorrow, or next month. In chasing the future, we miss the moment we are in as it spills over us. More so than any other distance I’ve done, running 100 miles slows my focus, despite a life that is otherwise jam-packed with busy-ness.
John took this video the day before the race. It gives a good sense of the beauty of the desert as the morning sun wakes up.
Cycles & Loops
I lived some amazing moments during Javelina Jundred, where I felt like I could run forever. Then, there were times when I thought I would never get to the finish line, and thus be forced to run forever.
Then, I would cycle back to amazing joy.
And, then, again, bottomless misery.
And so on until the finish line, which of course, equals joy.
I felt my worst during the second loop of the race, which is roughly miles 22-40–in particular miles 30-40 were rough and ragged. The sun was high. The heat was on. My stomach had heat-induced yuckiness. And, my legs felt sore…already. My revel in the early morning rising sun was now a battle not to curse its fiery existence.
How was I going to make it to the end?
As I passed through Javelina Jeadquarters to start out on the third loop, John said: “Okay, keep yourself cool, this will be the hottest loop.”
Ugh. Seriously? I was already SO HOT.
I trotted off with ice in my handkerchiefs. In my hat. In my hands. In my camelback. In my shirt. In my…all-the-places.
The strange and wonderful thing about this distance is that it is so long. So, if you just stick with the effort, 9 times out of 10, you WILL actually feel better. Case in point: that third loop was not worse than the second one. I felt better.
And I felt better still on the fourth loop. I clocked some of my fastest miles between 70 and 80 miles!
I sailed into Javelina Jeadquarters at the end of the 4th loop, feeling fresh! It seems unbelievable – but that’s how it happens.
Life cycles up and down too. I’ve experienced heartbreaking misery, stings of sadness so sharp they felt like they cut me open. Yet, in pushing through these moments, giving time to pass through the misery, I have had times of intense joy, extraordinary blessings and deep emotional connection.
We just can’t cycle through the beauty, without rounding a bit through the shit.
Don’t stop believing.
I know. This is a lesson I’ve spoken of so many times before. But, really: Don’t. Stop. Believing. Ever.
When I came in from the 4th loop, I picked up John as my pacer for the final 20 miles. At this point, I had miles and miles of listening only to the voices in my head, which are fine, but after 80 miles, a real voice is also cool. I was ready to chat it up. I had stories to tell about the coyote calls, the crazy costumes, the way I felt throughout the day.
The first half of the final loop went well. But, I was hungry. At some point during the 4th loop, I started eating grilled cheese squares at some of the aid stations, and storing them in my camelbak pockets to eat as I went along. (Side note: When we came home, and I cleaned out my gear, there was actually little pieces of cold and very old sammiches in there. Flavor savers!)
The first aid station we came to didn’t have any grilled cheese, but they did have cheese quesadillas. SOLD to the hungry lady running 100 miles! More flavor savers in my pockets.
Then, we made our way to the next aid station, which was about 6 miles further – and at the halfway-ish point of the loop (Jackass Junction, see video below). They did not have grilled cheese or quesadillas or anything that made me want to eat it – despite a variety of choices.
I was on Team: Grilled cheese or die.
Regrettably, I made a bad choice at this point to choose death. Okay, maybe not death, but calorie-deficiency.
I’ll be fine with my clif bars and tailwind until the next station, I thought.
And, off we went, skipping into the night, at this point, with about 10 miles left to go. I bit into my clif bar.
Uh, no. Apparently, there was a limit on how many of those I could manage to sneak by my taste buds in a day, and I had just exceeded that limit. It was a no go. My stomach was fine. My mouth just refused to make saliva to process a bar that seemed to be made of talcum powder and chalk dust.
The funny thing is that maybe 2 hour prior to starting on the grilled cheese and quesadillas, this bar tasted like magic. Cycles, indeed.
Above is video (not taken by us) from Jackass Junction which was the mid-way aid station. It’s pretty funny to see all this life and drunkenness in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the night when you come stumbling through. This video was taken in 2016, but the scene in 2017 (and 2015) was exactly the same.
So, I kept sipping on my tailwind, which was maybe going to get me about 100 calories an hour. Not enough. My stomach growled, and then the hangries set in.
And now, I bring you back to the beginning of this blog post, when the depths of my caloric-deficit were their sharpest, and my hangries were the hangriest they had been. Ms. Cranky Pants was in full effect at mile 96ish.
John was dealing with a petulant child who just wanted her grilled cheese. (Those who have crewed me in the past will tell you: DO NOT TOUCH MARIA’S GRILLED CHEESE.)
In that moment, I didn’t necessarily recognize what I was feeling as the need for calories, but that’s what it was in hindsight. The crankiness really should have tipped me off.
I felt tired. My legs hurt. I felt my super-secret goal slipping away from me. Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah. Somebody call the waaaahhhhmbulance; this girl is a goner.
After we passed through the final aid station on the loop, we had roughly 3.7 miles left to go, with 45 minutes to make the super secret goal happen. I had slowed so disappointingly between mile 90 and that point. My sub-21 hour “cushion” was threadbare, crushing my dream that I might actually crush the super secret goal.
I needed to run about a 12 minute mile at this point to finish under 21 hours. Earlier in the day, this was easily accomplished – even with stops at aid stations, bathroom breaks, etc.
Now, a 12 minute mile seemed akin to a 6 minute mile.
John cajoled me. He ran a little bit ahead of me, trying to convince me to keep up. (Side note: If you want to poke the grizzly bear, just run ahead of her.) He spoke inspirational mantras, to which I replied with nasty rejoinders (in hindsight, most of which were pretty funny). He gave me gels, which I choked down.
And, through all of this, we ran. Each step, feeling like 1,000 hot pin-pricks through my legs, butt and hips.
I wanted to walk. I wanted to slow down. I wanted to stop. Those final 4 miles felt like the longest of the entire day.
But I didn’t walk. I didn’t slow down. I did not stop.
Each step was a conscious choice that I was not giving up on my super-secret goal. Each step was a conscious choice that I would not give in – I would get on. Anything worth having should not come easy. This challenge, this moment – this is exactly what I signed up for.
It was time to dig from my bottomless well. So, I got out the shovel.
We played a game in which I would surge for about 20-30 seconds, then go back to my trot. Those surges, over about a mile or so, brought some life back into my tattered legs. Those surges made the difference. I didn’t want to do them, but I’m glad I chose the hard option. I’m glad John helped me make that choice.
When we got within a mile of the finish line, we could hear the music thumping from Javelina Jeadquarters. That place is a full-blown PAR-TAY in the night time.
“Do you hear that, Maria? That’s the finish!” John’s face was excited, yet pleading. “You can still do this!”
While I had my doubts, I forced myself to hold on to the “speed” from the surges, and we were running just a tick faster, then a tick more.
When you come into the Jeadquarters after each loop, you run a roughly 400-meter loop around the make-shift village. When we came in to the loop, John looked to his left, and could see the clock. I had about 2 minutes to make the finish under 21 hours.
“Maria: we have to go NOW. You can do this.”
And, that’s the story of how I finished a 100 mile race with a hardest sustainable 400 meter sprint – in 20 hours 59 minutes and 31 seconds. I was the 6th female across the finish line, and the 39th overall finisher. I set a 32 minute PR for the 100 mile distance.
I was hurting. I was hungry. But, I lived a good lifetime in this one day, so I was happy.