What draws so many of us to Javelina Jundred 100 mile/100K trail race each year? For starters, McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona hosts trails that are just the right blend of climbs and descents to keep runners engaged and moving – not to mention the picturesque landscape. The course, which mainly consists of the Pemberton Trail, is a mixture of rocks of all shapes and sizes, which eventually give way to sandy washes and smooth sailing.
But I think that the reason we venture to Javelina and that many of us keep returning is because it’s a party, a celebration of the human spirit, of running far and free. The race comprises seven washing-machine loops, and as the day progresses, you are always intersecting with fellow runners coming and going. Javelina breeds something of magic – the outlandish Halloween costumes, the desert terrain, the scorching sun, followed by brisk evening air as you plummet and ascend. This year the race occurred four days after the full moon, and throughout the night, it loomed seemingly within reach. Amidst the glowing and guiding Milky Way, I witnessed four shooting stars.
Then there’s the fantastic volunteers who rush to assist you at every aid station. While Coyote Camp and Rattlesnake Ranch are entertaining and welcoming, there’s nothing quite like the Jackass Junction disco party, complete with Gatorade popsicles this year and the “You have 3 minutes to get out of here,” megaphone warnings a la Justin Lutick and crew. The crowd hoopla and shout outs at Javelina Jeadquarters makes each loop crossing an adrenaline rush. Not to be forgotten is RD, Jamil Coury, whose low-key vibe permeates the event, giving you confidence that it’s all under control.
There’s more to Javelina, though, than the party. The terrain is magnificent, with its soaring mountain peaks and abundant cacti. Taking it in enables me not only to experience, but believe in the beauty of life. In 2011, Javelina was my first 100-mile race, six months after my mom had lost her battle with cancer. I wore #715, her birthday, as I have the last four years. Back in 2011, as night set in, it rained and stormed for endless hours. I was a soppy mess, and each time I came into headquarters, my dad had asked, “Are you okay?” I wasn’t okay. I was cold and miserable and missed my mom and was unnerved by the coyotes who seemed to be following me through the night. But something propelled me. Perhaps I feared that if I stopped, I would lose any and all forward motion in my life. I spoke to my mom that long, cold, rainy night in 2011, and still, now, I feel her out there with me, guiding me, keeping me company. To me, the magic and transcendence of the Sonoran Desert is real.
Running 100 miles is as much a group endeavor as it is a personal experience. Each time I am lost within myself, I find something. There was a moment or two during this race that I felt a sense of pride for having the courage to do things that scare me – like leave my corporate career a few weeks back, like share my writing, like run a 100 miles. Do I have to run far to find clarity? No, but how often do I take 20-30 hours to examine myself? To feel what I feel? That is what keeps me going back to starting lines – knowing that growth is a possibility. The thing about running 100 miles is that the physical pain and hurdles I encounter provide me with opportunities to examine what I am made up of. What threatens to break me. What I can grasp onto. What I aspire to. I have time and space to sort through the loose ends of my life. To find connections, within myself and the world around me.
Then there’s the pain. My mantra this time around was “It doesn’t always get worse,” courtesy of Dr. David Horton. When I felt like I was falling apart, which was often the first few loops, I reminded myself that my pain and suffering may dissipate. And often, it proved true. I had as many highs as I had lows, and for each high, I remembered to smile, to acknowledge the myriad of amusing costumes and to encourage others, because these races have taught me that we are all in it together – the struggles, the pain, the accomplishments.
Ultramarathons take us out of our comfort zones. We train and prepare and then we show up, the perfect blend of fear, excitement, and adventure. In doing so, we veer away from the safety of our lives. We venture from the known to the unknown. We challenge life: come and get me! For me, these races are about commitment, acceptance, coming to terms with, and embracing discomfort. I get to face my demons and communicate with my angels, too. What I gain from each race is imperceptible from the outside. I like to believe that by going the distance, I am shining my soul clean.
Some of my buddies set PR’s, others finished their first 100 milers at Javelina. The joy of intersecting with one another on the course filled me with a warmth that I somehow miss during my daily interactions. Perhaps in the forward motion, the exertion, the time outs these races afford us, we appreciate what we so often take for granted: our amazing and resilient bodies and minds, and all the great people we share life with.