Forty miles in to a race and the sun was finally headed lower in the sky. I walked out of Jeadquarters with a sandwich in my mouth. I gave myself four minutes after finishing it to start shuffling. Once shuffling, I tried to pull my legs higher with each step. Seventy kilometers into a run, there's a long runway to full speed.
* * *
Before continuing my report, here's a quick aside on coaching. After my first DNF at this year's Squamish 50/50, I signed up with Korey Konga at Upper Left Distance Training. The concept of structured training, let alone organized workouts was abandoned years ago . My usual race preparation involved running up as high as I could, for as long as I could, as often as I could.
Korey put me through all kinds of workouts I would not have wished on anyone. Many of these were more mental than physical. The most important of these was
"do a big week, go bigger saturday, then go FAST on Sunday".
I did this last one on the Ironhorse trail just outside of North Bend. The process of accelerating to speed (and finding a pace I could maintain) gave me the meta-engram needed to get Javelina done.
* * *
The lower the sun went, the faster my feet carried me. Ana had left maybe twenty minutes before I finally ambled back on the course, but I caught up to her somewhere outside of Coyote. We were still flirting with 24h pace at this point. I felt great and Ana and this fellow John joined together for a quick run for the last few miles to aid.
The downhill felt good, and the faint light of dusk didn't deter my feet from picking their way down into the arroyos at appeared just before Jackass. She flipped on her light and we rolled into the partiest of all aid stations in full swing.
* * *
Grilled cheese. Every big race I find something to settle my stomach. In the third lap, I finally crawled out of the calorie deficit by eating everything in sight. Grilled cheese, tomato soap, ramen, Pizza! Finally, the toll of the day's heat was wearing off. To the uninitiated, it might seem crazy to think that you can recover fifty miles into a race, but these big races just seem like an exercise in signal processing.
Heat. Speed. Calories. Water.
These are all input signals to manage. If you go out too hard, it will put a dent in your performance later, and it take a while to recover. 100 miles give you plenty of room to recover.
* * *
Lap four was tough. It was dark. I stayed closely behind Ana and her pacer, Tara. It was a grind. I counted the minutes, sometimes the seconds. I tried hard to project how long it would take to see the next aid station. They talked, I worried about my headlamp. We took our time at the aid stations. The cold air deep in the Arroyos was pleasant, but the previously irrelevant climbs were laborious. I closed my eyes each time they wanted to push the rollers. It helped a bit.
At Jackass, bossman Justin Lutick did his best to cheer up a line of sitting racers. It was sweet. I considered dancing, but almost fell over. Ana was in great spirits. Tara projected happiness in all directions. It wasn't cold.
Unlike the rest of the laps, I didn't even acknowledge Jubilee or the Aravaipa crew at the finish line. How she was still awake was anyone's guess. I kept my head down, took a deep breath and shuffled back towards the drop bags.
* * *
It was about this time of night that I started noticing vomit on the course. Everywhere. But it was the last lap. Three segments until the finish. The first was four miles. I accelerated hard up the dusty trails we started on.
I was in to Coyote in under forty minutes. I felt just fine. I ran into Ali, who had been feeling off all day. She hadn't been able to find a pacer in the dark. I wished her luck and promised her that upwards of four pacers were waiting to find runners at Jeadquarters. It took me about a couple of miles struggling uphill before I realized that was news from lap three. I'm not sure you can trust an ultra runner with temporal precision after 80 miles.
* * *
The big climb of the course was also contained in the longest segment. Everyone said it would feel like ten miles. I knew the last pass through those 6.5 miles would be bad, but I had no idea how bad. I tried desperately to run up anything, but my legs would not budge. I had no memory of all the ridges we ran, or all the arroyos we dipped into. After what I thought had been six miles, I still couldn't see Jackass in the dark. I couldn't hear it. It took three cycles of "gain the hill, build up hope, look around, swear into the cold dark night" before I finally saw it. It felt like twelve miles.
* * *
The sun was coming up. People were walking, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone. I recognized precisely nothing of the trail in the dawn light. It meandered a lot more than I remembered. Nevertheless, I accelerated hard from Jackass to Rattlesnake. It was downhill. It was glorious.
The "Surprise Running Club" at Rattlesnake kept my spirits high. I don't remember much of what I ate, but I remember throwing the first 2.5 of the 3.7 miles down hard. At some point I saw a Hoka One One athlete come running up the trail.
"Only two miles to go! Great job!" he cried.
Nice guy, but never say that. The last bit of that course devolved into slow moving, hot worried screaming at Jamil for no reason.
* * *
But I finished.
And so did Ana. And so did Ali.
Finally, at last, I've found something more mentally difficult than the bloody Finlayson Arm 50k,