Geezer at JJ 2006
At Javalina Jundred 100-mile trail race on November 4th and 5th, 2006, I had my toughest outing ever in that or in any other race. Less than two miles into my fifth loop at a little over 60 miles, I turned back and dropped, but I was fried both mentally and physically long before.
This experience leaves me with a record of zero for four in finishes, which no one else can claim. As fellow ultrarunner Dan Baglione reminded me: It’s still a record, enviable or otherwise! Rodger Wrublik told me that if I return next year they’ll have to redesign the bib because he doesn’t think they can fit four skulls (representing DNFs) on it.
Months before the race I made the decision that regardless of the outcome, JJ 2006 would likely be my last attempt at a 100-mile trail race. I say “likely” only because I don’t like to shut doors, but I have other plans in my immediate future that make another attempt seem unlikely.
To Begin At the Beginning
My finishing record for JJ to date had been zero for three, with physical, technical, and mental factors bringing me down each of the previous races at approximately the same point in each race — near the beginning of the sixth lap.
This year I began better prepared than ever, and in better shape, albeit a year older. At age 63, I don’t expect to be doing anything more dramatic than finishing these events; but I did hope for that much. I would not enter and start a race that I did not genuinely believe I can finish.
Beginning in May, I succeeded in meeting every one of my training goals, with long runs almost every weekend (taking a short break in June for my daughter’s wedding), several 20-mile runs, a 35-mile run, a 42.5-mile night run, and a 40-mile night run on Pemberton trail, the race site, on which I have run over 50 loops and could navigate in my sleep. Also, in September I covered 102.82 miles in one 9-day sequence without walking a single step of it, and after a break of four days, did another 9-day sequence of 89 miles where I did daily two-hour track runs, running four laps and walking one. Those were squeezed in between the 42.5-miler on September 2nd and the 40-miler on October 7th. The rest of October was spent tapering carefully, as I ran nothing longer than a 15-miler two weeks before the race.
In addition, I’d done far more mental and technical preparation than any prior year, designing a race plan with the greatest of attention to lap split goals, even estimating time to each aid station. After several rounds of revision, I printed the final plan, took it to Kinko’s to laminate, and hung it upside down from my number belt with a couple of trimmed off cable ties, so I could flip it up and consult it at will. It was a très cool idea that worked out well for as long as I lasted.
Three days before the race I began assembling, checking, and double checking all my gear, determining an assigned and easy to reach place for each item, minimizing the amount of stuff I would have to carry on my person, deciding what I would wear, when to change clothes, how many water bottles to carry on which lap, and how to get through the aid stations with the greatest efficiency.
Above all, I had my ace in the hole — the best pacer a person could possibly acquire, with whose take-charge intelligence, and genuinely caring help I felt certain I could make it to the end this year.
If that weren’t enough, I had race director Jimmy Wrublik, who was my pacer last year, and several other good running friends — among them Burke Painter and Jimmy’s father Rodger — all of them busy with more important official race business, taking time out to crew me at lap turnarounds, fetching things for me, helping me to get back out as fast as possible, so that I never even had to visit the aid station area.
The Day Before
I was jumping like a chimpanzee more Friday than before any race in memory, because I longed earnestly to put an end to my pitiful dry spell, and had high expectations of doing so. Though I plodded along at some low-priority projects, productive work was out of the question. By noon I had everything as assembled as it could be, such that all that was necessary was to load up and go.
As I’ve done each race year, I headed to McDowell Mountain Park plenty early, so I could meet new people, renew older acquaintances, and just hang out. Rodger and timer Dave Combs were running a little late getting the goody bags stuffed with transponders, so I managed to make myself useful for a while helping out with that. In the end, most people found their own bags, then stood in line to check in, which went quickly, without need for a complicated, formal check-in process.
Jimmy, who is age 17, and both modest and shy, gave his first pre-race speech, perceptibly nervous, but before an eager audience unanimously pulling for him to score high marks in his ambitious assignment. Discussion was kept to a minimum, and soon people were scurrying off to their tents, hotels, and homes to make preparations for various nights of unrest.
In my case, Suzy made us a nutritious meal of tomato based soup with pasta and a bagel, after which I was in bed with the lights out and the covers pulled up at 7:58pm. To my surprise, I slept soundly for the first two hours, then fitfully for a while, then soundly again. My failsafe internal alarm clock caused my eyes to sproing open at exactly 2:57am, allowing me to turn off the alarm before it went off, not awakening Suzy, who is a light sleeper.
My race preparation routine has become a priestly ritual. I no longer need a reference list, but can glide through it quickly from memory. All my gear was ready to pick up and put in the car when I was ready.
This time I took particular care with preparing my feet with tape, Bag Balm, women’s half-height nylons turned inside out under low-cut black Feetures running socks, with gaiters going on before my Asics 2110s. The effort served me well; after the race I detected no blisters or foot problems of any type as a result of the expedition.
It normally takes 45 minutes from driveway to trailhead to get to the park on a Saturday afternoon. On race morning, with zero traffic, it took only 40 minutes, which included a couple of minutes to stop and chat with the guy at the front guard shack, who was in a mood to talk about the weather and the moon. By 4:45am I was comfortably parked.
It was not too chilly — in the mid-50’s — which may have been a bad sign, but it made getting my personal aid station set up quite easy. Jimmy and Rodger reserved a spot right next to the timing tent for me, just like last year. All I would have to do each lap was tend to my needs, turn around, and go back out. It sounded good in theory, but in practice was a little harder than that.
The race started precisely at 6:00am, by which time light was beginning to appear. I opted to carry no headlamp, knowing from experience that for at least the first ten minutes I could see adequately by the lights of others around me, and that after that I would need no light at all, and didn’t want to carry a flashlight for the duration of a 15.4-mile loop.
Despite all precautions, I did trip and scrape my knee six minutes into the race, the first time I’ve fallen on that trail since the middle of the night in last year’s race. It was one of those falls where I bounced right back up as though nothing happened, and didn’t realize until the end of the first loop that I had bloodied my right knee slightly. No matter, because it didn’t hurt.
My hoped-for split times were:
- Lap 1: 3:50
- Lap 2: 4:05
- Lap 3: 4:20
- Lap 4: 4:35
- Lap 5: 4:45
- Lap 6: 5:15
- Lap 7: 3:00 (9.2-mile partial lap)
which, if everything went perfectly, would bring me in at 11:50am the next day, ten minutes before the 30-hour cutoff. There was virtually no cushion built into those goals, particularly knowing that the totals include any turnaround time at the trailhead, which meant that they were effectively drop-dead times, but I preferred that to always thinking I could play catch-up later — because I never can.
The first lap was wonderful, as it always is. With three days of utterly no running or walking, two previous good nights sleep, three mugs of home-ground coffee, nerves supercharged with adrenalin, clear skies, and the prospect of accomplishing a long sought-after goal, I was okay to go.
Traveling in the clockwise direction, I estimated the time between aid stations to be 35%, 35%, and 30% of the total respectively, because the easy downhill jeep road on the north is so conducive to relaxed, effortless running. In the clockwise direction I estimate it’s closer to even thirds between stations, with a longer overall lap time.
When I got to the first aid station (Coyote Camp) I was about two minutes ahead of schedule. Not a problem. By the second aid station, I needed to stop at the portajohn (a new and much appreciated convenience feature this year), and left still a few minutes ahead. The rest of the lap I forced myself to take several walking breaks when I would not otherwise be inclined to do so. When I crossed the mat my watch said 3:37:24 — a bit further ahead than I wanted, but still not too fast. (I’ve run it in 3:05.)
At that turnaround it was time for sunscreen and a second bottle, which I filled with Succeed Ultra, after first shedding my gloves, then headed out the counterclockwise direction for what was supposed to be a 4:05 lap. The weather was still pleasant, but the sun was rising, and trouble was on the way.
When I got to the Jackass Junction aid station I was still about two minutes ahead of pace. It would be the last time. Then the warmth of the day began.
Between the two outlying aid stations on the second lap, something went horribly wrong, from which I was never able to recover. This section of the course, which is the prettiest, rolls constantly, with few segments more than 50 yards at a time either up or down, and almost none that are flat. It requires constant adjustment and concentration to make optimum progress.
The temperature never rose above the mid-eighties Saturday. As an Arizona runner, this should not bother me, as I’ve had good training runs on this trail when it was well over 100. But for some reason, by the time I got to the next aid station, I had slowed down to the point of being about 15 minutes behind. As yet undeterred, figuring it was just warm and I had to exercise patience, I made my way back. My split time was 4:31:41, for a cumulative time that left me 14 minutes behind schedule only 30% done with the race, with the hottest part of the day yet to come.
For my third lap, with a goal of 4:20, I refilled both Ultimate Directions 24-ounce kicker valve bottles, but one had only water, because I was getting sick of Succeed Ultra. I depended on my flask of Hammer Gel and whatever I could get down at the aid station for calories, but found that anything dry, such as pretzels, would become a mushy pulp in my mouth a half mile later and would wind up being spit out. One thing that did go down easy was plain old Coke, which I could guzzle two or three cups at a time. I also took my PrincetonTek 3-LED headlamp, because it would be getting dark later in the lap, but I didn’t need my big flashlight for that short period.
It was on this lap that I began to realize that finishing the race on time would be unlikely. With darkness and mercifully cooler temperatures coming, my only hope was to forget about the pace chart and push forward as hard as I could. As anticipated, I did manage to run most of the way down the jeep trail, but the
section from the north corner to the aid station, run in 24 minutes the first time around, took 34 minutes this time. How is it even possible to go that slowly and still be running?
My third lap split was 4:59:08, now about 45 cumulative minutes behind. After that I didn’t pay much attention.
Enter My Secret Weapon
Readers who read my account of the 40-mile training run at Pemberton Trail on October 7th are aware that I planned to use a pacer at Javelina, namely Laura Nagy. In my summary of that highly enjoyable and successful run I lauded Laura’s considerable credentials: a one-time 3:02 marathoner, multiple ultramarathon winner, triathlete, ACE certified trainer, just for starters. In addition, Laura is good company for this runner who prefers much of the time to just shut up and run.
Being the sort of person who does not like to see the unsolicited generosity of others taken for granted, I simply must let people know that what they do is genuinely appreciated. Laura made exceptional self-sacrifices to help me get through this race. When I blew up at the end, as disappointed as I was for myself, I felt even worse about letting her down, because she remained convinced I could have finished.
Laura did more than simply accompany me during the night. It was she who helped me plan my lap splits, doing research on previous race data, preparing a spreadsheet, over which we haggled about the details for weeks before the race before coming to agreement. She also offered quite a bit of helpful training advice, some of which I actually followed. And as I said, we had a de facto dress rehearsal of the race doing that night run, and foresaw no major problems. By race day I knew one thing above all, that execution according to plan would be the key to success. So I promised myself that I would try my best to submit to whatever Laura suggested during the race.
As I Was Saying …
I was about a mile out from Jeadquarters, well behind schedule, still in a good mood, but struggling, and it had grown dark, when suddenly I heard a lady’s voice: “Are you Lynn Newton?” Yes? “It’s me, Laura!” She had picked up my 14-LED green flashlight and come out to meet me, thinking I might need it. I didn’t, but I appreciated the gesture.
The rest of the way she talked non-stop about what we would do when we got back, while feeding me Clif Shot Blocks, a new product sort of like Gummy Bears with which I was not familiar, which turned out to be one of the only palatable foods I encountered that night.
Laura was determined to be sure I consumed about 100 calories every 25 minutes, and offered indisputable physiological reasoning why this was necessary. I had been surviving mostly on Hammer Gel and Succeed Ultra, plus I forgot to tell her I did pig out before the start of the third lap, when I could still eat. But my stomach was beginning to trouble me. After a while I began to feel like a steer being force fed and readied for slaughter.
When running an ultra a person’s alimentary canal becomes like the Alaskan pipeline, hauling a huge volume of stuff in and out. We are not built to process food that rapidly, and not everybody can adjust to it. This, like the running itself, needs to be practiced for in training, not on race day. Over the years I’ve tended to eat less than I should, but have done better in races where I’ve managed to eat frequently, delivering calories in small regular doses.
Nothing takes the fun out of running like nausea. I had never barfed in my life during a run, but came very close on two occasions, both from the fructose buildup from frequent ingestations of Gatorade, which I like and can tolerate on runs up to about a half-marathon, but never use for anything longer.
The honest truth is I really hate most typical race food. I particularly don’t like foods with manufactured chemical names like Endurox and CycloPower and Energine. I like foods with names like banana and lentil and yogurt. Laura kept telling me to think of it not as food but as fuel. So how did I suddenly become a diesel engine? Lately I can handle Hammer Gel — a good thing, because I got four new jugs of it not long before the race. Most race drinks, including Succeed Clip2 and Ultra, while they go down easy at first, get too disgusting to think about swallowing after a couple of hours. Happily, I can almost always consume plain old water, at least in sips, no matter how bad I feel.
At the lap turnaround, which took 4:59:08 by my watch, I changed my shirt and added a jacket, while trying to wolf down food that Laura and others were bringing me. On the way out I picked up my superlative Tektite 14 green LED flashlight, with which I have no fear of running at night at any speed I’m capable of, but I kept my Princetontek around my neck as a backup, and soon we were off on lap five. I was glad when Laura said we probably would not be increasing pace, but I also knew that we would have to keep hammering relentlessly, and I was still less than half done with the race. If you think too much about how far you have to go you will quit soon. It’s much better to get from aid station to aid station.
Having a pacer is not about having company, someone to yakkety yak with. I’m perfectly capable of being by myself for endless periods of time. Rather, it’s a matter of having someone who is way better and fresher than me take the lead and keep me on track — not an easy thing to do when starting from a position of being far behind.
For most of lap four Laura was ahead of me, moving at a pace that was difficult at times for me to keep up with. I’d say I felt like a sled dog, except the musher was in the lead. We didn’t talk much except for necessary discussion about matters related to the race, which was fine with me, because I needed to gulp oxygen, not talk.
It was on lap four that my stomach gave me the worst trouble. When I’ve had nausea in the past, it’s been minor, and would pass — particularly if I would just not eat and drink for a little while, which seems like the natural thing to do. I don’t know anyone whose inclination is to eat something while on the verge of throwing up.
But eat I did, and it became more and more difficult. First there was a veggieburger (without bun) that was still warm enough to be consumable, though I could get only about half of it down, while leaving another one getting stone cold in the sandwich bag. Next I had several slices of boiled potato, which should go down easy, but consumed cold started to make me gag. Somewhere in there I had some lukewarm vegetable soup. And on it went, as I obediently did my best to eat and drink on schedule, but feeling worse as time went on, and more exhausted much too early than I ever expected to be. My condition was deteriorating rapidly.
The night was pleasant, and the moon was as full as could be on a cloudless night. Many runners flew by in both directions using no lights at all. Three years ago I traveled much of the night without a light because it was so bright, but having my green LED flashlight let me not have to worry at all about rocks, ditches and other hazards on the road. Before my first nighttime run I used to be terrified by the notion of running through a wilderness at night. Now I look forward to it as one of the best parts of the experience. It’s much pleasanter and safer than many people might suppose.
My condition gradually degenerated over the course of the fourth lap, to the point that privately I was succumbing to the resignation that I would have to drop at the end of it, earlier than I have quit in any of my previous outings.
Already crushed with disappointment, I found that my biggest problem was not in making the decision to stop, but in how to tell Laura, who had done so much to help me out, and who was sure from our training run a month before that I would prevail. Besides, she had some training goals of her own she wanted to accomplish, so in quitting I felt that I was letting her down in a big way. But I refused to bring it up on the road.
Our time for the fourth loop, almost entirely walked, according to my Timex, was 5:03:20, including turnaround time at the beginning, faster than my fourth loop last year, and cumulatively only about 15 minutes behind my pace from last year, at which I felt vibrantly strong and enthusiastic all the way through the fifth lap, and into the beginning of the sixth lap, before melting down rapidly and dropping at Jackass Junction, barely able to walk.
At Jeadquarters I went through the ritualistic motions of getting ready for lap five, putting on a sweatshirt, trying to eat, making necessary adjustments, hoping against hope that something would happen to revive me. My head was in a fog. Finally I mustered the nerve to tell Laura I couldn’t do another lap and wanted to drop.
To her credit as a pacer, she would hear nothing of it. Jimmy and Burke were also there to bolster my spirits. I had already taken too long at this layover. It was time, as Yoda says: to do or not do — there is no try. Being thoroughly disgusted for being toast with 40 miles left to go, and knowing that come what may a sixth lap would be out of the question, much less a finish, I got up and zombied my way out alone while Laura tended to putting on some tights, then caught up with me. It didn’t take her long to do that, as she was still fresh enough to run the whole thing if she’d wanted to.
Clockwise loops head out to the southwest, beginning with a mile or so of short, rolling bumps in the road, then comfortably runnable downhill, until arching around a 180-degree curve that goes steeply up to a ridge that remains uphill and treacherously rocky for two or three miles. I have in the past run entire training loops of this trail without any walking except to pop electrolytes, including this nasty ridge. But as I contemplated heading up it sometime after 1:00am Sunday morning, I felt like I might need a winch to drag me up.
More than that, I considered the consequences. Every step away from Jeadquarters meant a step returning, for there are no convenient drop spots from the trail. I considered that if necessary I could have dropped at Coyote Camp and walked slowly down Tonto, but I wasn’t having much fun any more, and that option would mean prolonging my misery nearly three more hours.
I was also getting sleepy, which is not normally too much of a problem for me. I always carry caffeine tablets, and had not taken one, because their effect on me is unpredictable: they either serve as a miracle drug, or they upset my stomach and have little perceptible influence on my state of wakefulness — something I did not need to have happen in my current state. Whichever happens, it happens almost instantly, within just a few minutes. In desperation, I took one, thinking it might artificially recharge me. Caffeine is known for hitting the system with noticeable within a couple of minutes.
Finally, as we headed around the curve on the approach to the uphill to the ridge, about 1.8 miles from Jeadquarters, I came to a halt, stopped Laura, and we had a heart-to-heart talk in which I expressed profusely both my gratitude and my regrets, but there was no way I was going to make it up that hill and around for another lap. I needed to turn back. “What hill?” was Laura’s response. Very funny. But I knew exactly where we were on the course, and what was coming up immediately.
The matter was sealed right there when suddenly I experienced something that had never happened to me: a case of the dry heaves, coming in two waves, both times ending in a painful stomach cramp that nearly put me on the ground. Laura suggested helpfully that if I took a big drink of water I might throw up. Somehow, this did not strike me as a good idea at the time, and for the first time that night I refused to follow her suggestion! If I had any lingering doubts about my own fitness to continue, that put a lid on them right there.
After giving myself a minute to catch my breath, I straightened up, and we turned around and started walking back. Officially, I had completed four laps, which adds up to 61.6 miles counting decimals. (The park’s official cartographer-measured distance for one loop is 15.4 miles, regardless of what some signs and maps report.) Unofficially, I advanced about another 1.8 miles before turning around, and believe me, I’ve added both that and the 1.8-mile return to my running log! I want to take credit for what I can.
Non-running would-be comforters will inevitably try to tell me that going 61.6 miles is not so bad. But — yeah it is, if it’s a 100-mile race. (In JJ’s case, 101.6 miles to be precise.) If a runner falls dead a foot from the finish mat, sorry, but it still goes down as: Sorry, that’s a DNF, and by the way, what should we do with the body? Most people who follow ultrarunning know that very scenario almost happened at the Western States 100 this year.
My race over, we were able to enjoy some pleasant ordinary conversation on the way back, and the truth is, I felt somewhat better, probably as a result of the heaves. It’s funny how it works out that way sometimes. Maybe I could have gone on after that? I’ll never know, because we didn’t.
It must have been around 2:30am when I passed by the timing tent and told Dave Combs I was dropping. Burke got my transponder, and that was officially the end of it for me.
I didn’t spend much time sitting and watching others, even though I had a box seat, since I was tired, embarrassed, disgusted, and had nothing to celebrate. Instead, I headed to the car and slept on the front seat. But not until I had one more brief episode of dry heaves after opening the front door and dangling my sorry head out. Not good.
As disgustingly funky as I was, I managed to sleep soundly for a couple of hours, then fitfully for a while longer, before prying myself out into the chilly morning’s early light.
Being in no hurry to get out, I did manage to touch base with a few people who passed through, listening to a wild story from Gary Cross, who had come to pace John Radich, about how they took a wrong turn just 0.1 miles down the trail and doing an extra seven miles (and I’m still having difficulty conceiving how that’s even possible); later meeting John for the first time; and I also caught the indomitable Catra Corbett, waiting to go back out with Wonder Woman Xy Weiss, the Dirty Girl Gaiters lady. I asked Catra how she does it? “Just one foot in front of the other” was her pointed reply. Oh yeah, I must have forgotten to do that. I’ll try and remember next time.
I made other new acquaintances at the race and renewed others during the race — Brian Kathol from Alberta, Lucinda Fisher, and 70-year-old Peter Fish all come to mind. During the race many people greeted me by name that I could not identify, and not just because we had our names on our bibs. I’m guessing that most were Ultra List members who have read my various posts, including race reports, and the running articles on my blog. Some have directly told me that they read my past accounts carefully in preparation for Javelina Jundred. I hope it did them some good, because most of them finished, while I have yet to do so myself.
So what went wrong? I have no idea. My training was good, I was well-prepared, I executed to the best of my ability up until the warmth of the afternoon, and I’ve run further and faster on numerous occasions.
I’m in better shape this year than for any of the previous three races, though to be sure, at 63 age is unquestionably beginning to be a factor. That’s one reason I believed on Sunday morning I will not try another 100. What I believe tomorrow may be different. Next year at this time, barring unforeseen circumstances, I already have committed to doing something else that will make running Javelina impossible. The next opportunity I might have is in two years, at which time I’ll be 65. Isn’t that getting to be a bit long in the tooth to be a first-time 100-mile trail race finisher, especially for someone who is not and never has been any good at running? One thing is for certain: it’s not going to be any easier at some future time. We shall just have to wait and see.
To Top It Off
My car was packed and I headed off to home about 7:00am. But two more experiences awaited me on Sunday to cap off a most eventful day.
I had driven a mile or less down the main road on the way out of the park, when I opened the window to spit out some gunk that had accumulated in my throat. Big mistake. The wind blew it back in on me, and in my brief reaction to discover where it landed, I took my concentration off the road and suddenly found myself driving on the dirt, headed toward a ditch. My instincts took over rather than the things I’ve learned about what to do in such situations, so my reactions were probably all wrong, as I slid and steered wildly. I skidded out of control onto both the left and right shoulders, and finally turned completely around, 460 degrees, finally coming to rest in the middle of the road, leaving a huge cloud of dust and big, black, prominent skid marks on the road. A rousing way to start my trip home. Fortunately, there was nobody in sight to witness the fiasco. (And therefore no one to worry or frighten, because I was fine.) The near accident had nothing to do with drowsiness, as I was wide awake. It was just careless inattention.
To add insult to injury, when I got home and was getting settled, being finally able to eat once again, I chowed down on something and promptly popped a crown off my lower left central incisor (tooth 24 in the tooth numbering system that dentists use). The rest of Sunday and yesterday my tongue turned into hamburger, as it seems to be universally true that people are unable to keep their tongues out of newly formed holes in their mouths. My dentist was able to re-cement it for me early Tuesday morning, much to my relief.
So you might say I had a tough weekend. But I’m not bitter! I still have Across the Years ahead of me this year, with every expectation of doing well at it.
And guess what else: I will wear the race shirt next time I go out for a run!
Abundant thanks go to Jimmy Wrublik and the many volunteers, many of whom are friends, for a fine job in putting on Javelina Jundred 2006, and above all to Laura Nagy for putting up with me. May the race continue to live on for many years.