Etan Levavi's Javelina Jundred Race Recap
Getting to the start line of the 2018 Javelina Jundred in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona was an accomplishment in itself. This involved coordinating flights, lodging, supplies, crew, not to mention training, while trying carry on with normal life in the preceding weeks.
I attended my first 100 mile race this past summer as a crew and pacer for Charlotte at the Vermont 100. Her stellar performance and drive compelled me to sign up for Javelina shortly after returning home from the race. I gained an appreciation for the importance of a good crew, and the work involved in being an effective, supportive team. Though Charlotte was not able to come out to Arizona for Javelina, her support along the way and remotely, during the race, was critical. I can say with certainty that without Chris and Adam’s support, not only would I have been unable to complete the race, but the experience would have been much less meaningful.
After arriving at our AirBnb late Friday night, we got situated and I was able to get a few hours of sleep before waking at 4am to head to the race headquarters. I picked up my bib, got my gear ready for the first loop, drank a coffee, and before I knew it was off running precisely at 6am. The sun rose about an hour after the start, and I began to take in the beauty of the desert. I ran, and walked, and power hiked, and completed the first loop in about 3 hours and 15 minutes as the temperature rapidly increased. The race is a five loop course, and runners reverse direction each time.
I headed out on my second loop with bottles filled and gels stuffed in my vest. By the time I was halfway through the second loop, at the Jackass Junction aid station, I began to experience my first low point of the race. I was about 50k in and my legs were very tired. I was managing the ever-increasing heat well, but my legs were tired. I was drinking my Gatorade/water mix religiously, and was consistent with my calorie intake. The numbers on my watch began to tell the story of slowing progress. After briefly grieving the fact that running a competitive race was out of the question, I embraced an entirely different outlook. I acknowledged the fact that I had gone out entirely too aggressively. I’m entitled to make the mistake that is as old as the sport itself, that everyone warns of, for myself. It was time to adopt a new outlook and approach. I greeted everyone I encountered from that point on with cheerful encouragement. I reckoned that exuding some positivity to the people around me might be a good thing, and get me out of my head. Heck, everyone out here is having a tough time. Why not be a little friendly.
I completed my second loop and rolled into headquarters, legs tired after 41 miles, I was more than an hour slower than the first (and slightly longer) loop. Seeing Adam and Chris lifted my spirits, and I ran through the headquarters camp, across the timing mat and then back to our crew area where I prepared to head out for the third loop. “That was a tough loop,” I reflected, as Adam and Chris hurriedly filled bottles, prepared nutrition, and ran through a list of potential supplies and treatments that I might fancy. With little delay, I was out on the my third loop. I walked. The entire loop.
I did a lot of thinking on the third loop, as I was alone, and pretty deep in the race. It was also when thoughts of quitting first entered my head. Not to quit then, but to keep it as an option later in the race. I did my best to ignore, distract, or push those thoughts out of my head, and held onto the possibility that I might be able to run again later after lots of time walking and hiking.
The sun set when I was about a mile from headquarters. I was unprepared for nightfall, as I had headed out on that loop nearly 7 hours prior, midday, with temperatures around 90*F. I arrived at headquarters, happy to see Chris and Adam, who helped me get into dry clothes and a fresh pair of shoes.
Adam and I hit the trail for my fourth loop. We talked, and walked. I told him that I thought it a selfish endeavor, in ways, to be doing this. But if I extract meaning, and if it is a rich experience, then it will transcend that. More than halfway through our loop, I had to broach the topic with Adam. I beat around the bush a little, then got to the point. “I’m getting tired. The sleepy kind of tired. The thought of finishing this loop, then covering another 20 miles is daunting. I believe I can do it. I just can’t get beyond the thought of how difficult it is going to be.” We talked about quitting, DNF’ing. Adam listened, and told me that whatever choice I make, will be fine —but that I should not decide it now. I agreed, and did my best not to mentally commit to quitting just yet. But after a while, I had made up my mind. It was a relief. I told Adam that I’m not proud to DNF, but I am proud to make it 80 miles. I told Adam that I’ve come to terms with failing at completing the distance, and that I’d throw it in when we got back to headquarters.
We made it back. 80 miles now. I saw Chris, and told him that Adam and I talked and I was going to throw it in. Adam chimed in, suggesting I go the quarter mile to the timing mat. I kept moving though the headquarters area and crossed the mat. I was looking for the person with scissors to snip my wristband and officially end my race. Chris and Adam were also there at the mat, and I walked over to them, leaned on the barricade, and, gaze averted, reiterated that I absolutely could not comprehend getting out there again. Moreover, that I was scared that I’d get stuck out there in the middle of the desert. The last thing I’d want to do is have to curl up next to a cactus and cause everyone a bunch of trouble trying to rescue me from the trail. But secretly, my deep sense of resignation was actually fading.
When we got back to our crew area, Adam and Chris changed my socks and some clothing. Chris was putting his headlamp on, and getting his vest cinched up. They weren’t fighting me, nor were they forcing me —they were just keeping the option of continuing available to me. I bundled up, and took a 10 minute nap with my feet elevated. I fell asleep immediately. When they woke me, it took a split second to get my bearings. I got up slowly, with a little help, strapped on my pack, stood up, and went over to the food area to get some potatoes and pickles. I walked with Adam and Chris back towards the course. People were cheering, and I smiled. Adam sent us off with some encouraging words, and Chris and I pressed into the night. Loop 5.
We walked, and talked. We hit the first aid station after 4 miles. I sat for a few minutes, ate some food, and we were off. 6.5 miles to the next station, which is halfway through the final loop. To the point of no return. Making it to Jackass Junction, I told myself, meant I would finish this. Chris and I continued to chat. I put some music on, and started to move with more authority. I broke into a run and moved at a pace I hadn’t run for over 40 miles. After a few miles I gradually brought it back down to a hiking pace, and we continued towards Jackass Junction.
I took a few extra minutes at Jackass as a reward for making the 6.5 miles, the farthest distance between aid stations on the course. Bottles topped, food ingested, and we were back on the trail. 5.2 miles until the next aid station, Rattlesnake Ranch.
Holy shit, less than 10 miles to go. Single digits, here. But it was still 8.9 miles after moving for almost 24 hours already. Onward. We kept on the lookout for rocks suitable to sit on, where I would sit for 2 minutes exactly, before getting up and continuing on. There was even a bench out there one time! No, it wasn’t a hallucination, I have a photo of it!
We spent a few extra minutes at Rattlesnake Ranch. I chatted with some of the volunteers at the aid station, and I was in great spirits. Chris took care of the necessities as I beamed and tried to internalize that I would actually finish this. I knew I would, but part of me couldn’t truly believe it. I had been so resigned from finishing this race. We hit the trail. It was 3.7 miles to the finish line. Just about a loop of Prospect Park.