Dangling skeletons, boozed-up volunteers and a blow-up sex doll. The Javelina Jundred in Arizona with its 100 mile and 100 kilometre distances is a cross between an ultra and a Halloween party, with runners sporting anything from elaborate dresses to the minimalist mankini look. There was, after all, a “best ass” award to compete for. Seeing all those characters running through the moon-like landscape of the Sonoran Desert transports you into some sort of surreal ultrarunning dreamscape.
Needless to say, the race had a somewhat different atmosphere than The Bear 100 Mile in Utah, which I did five weeks earlier. In Utah, over 60% of the population are Mormon, and the Bear starts on a Friday to keep Sunday free for religious reasons. When I asked for a massage at Javelina, the therapist responded by warmly stumbling into my arms and greeting me like an old friend, after keeping himself energised with vodka throughout the evening. I didn’t care as long as he still had enough coordination to do something about that excruciating pain in my right foot, lower back and hip flexor, and the massage was great. However, I did steer clear of another drunken volunteer who was dancing with the sex doll. It looked a little too sad to be motivating.
Javelina is a good race if you’re in bad physical shape – nothing much can go wrong and it’s easy to drop out at headquarters if you prefer an early night. I initially wasn’t keen, thinking I much preferred the more purist style of ultras. But I had the opportunity to get a lift there with Bruce LaBelle, which turned into a great little road trip, and the social side of it sounded fun. I also thought doing the 100k might be a good recovery event after my first 100 miler, given that I could walk the whole distance if I wanted – the cut-off is 29 hours.
After escaping physically unscathed from the Bear, with not even as much as a blister, I’d done my back in while having fun volunteering at the Overlook Endurance Runs three weeks later. Helping out with course marking, sorting aid station provisions, making soup and volunteering on the day was a great experience, but I hadn’t realised that setting up a finish line area is like moving house. I overdid it lifting boxes and my lower back was giving me grief for the next two weeks. I also hadn’t stretched since the Bear, smart me, which didn’t help. It resulted in me never having been in as much physical pain during an ultra as at Javelina. The posture and gait I adopted to ease my back and knee pain soon put me in trouble with my hip flexors and I strained a muscle in my foot on the rocky course. None of it worried me much, though. Mentally, I was feeling quite at peace. I was sure I wasn’t causing any permanent damage (or I always imagine I am sure with my background in sports injury therapies). I just ran the first loop to get at least some running in and mostly walked the other three.
Limping quite noticeably the last two rounds, though, I realised I must be looking rather hapless when a woman put a hand on my shoulder in passing and warmly said something about me showing the most determination. It was a sweet gesture. Despite physical discomfort, I still really enjoyed that headspace where time just seems to stretch, and memories and emotions flow through, rather than being rigidly in place, until it’s just me and that warm, soft night again.
What stayed with me wasn’t the party atmosphere, but the night falling over the desert, the silhouettes of the Saguaro cacti stretching their arms against the darkening orange and blue sky. The sound of what I first thought were people hollering when a huge moon rose, only to realise we were far from any aid station and I was in fact hearing coyotes. Noting how some, but not all people greeted each other at daytime, while as the night stretched on, everyone greeted, as if now in desperate need for these short little exchanges, those few words of encouragement in the light of two headlamps before heading off into the darkness again.
I finished in the small hours in a time of 20:45 with nobody I knew around, finding a lift with another runner to the hotel where Tammy Massie had kindly invited me to crash in her and her pacer Juliette Cleaves Brundige’s room. Tammy, ever determined and having finished before me, got up again soon after to cheer on the last runners coming in. Juliette and I opted for breakfast instead. Recovery tasted of frozen yoghurt and painkillers (I’d never taken any before after a race, but this time it was hard to rest without it), and sips of fireball whiskey while we all sat up in bed next night watching Miami Vice – a weekend just like summer camp for ultrarunners.
The race had somehow cured the back pain, but I did have trouble walking for more days than normal after this one – no lasting issues though.