Thursday, October 29, 2015

5 Reasons People DNF at the Javelina 100 Miler and How to Avoid It (with Wizard of Oz Style!)

Who you callin' cute, sucker?
Post updated/revised:
I originally wrote this post in October of 2015 to put my money where my mouth is (or was). I toe'd the line of the Javelina 100 Miler the following two years (2015 and 2016) in Fountain Hills, Arizona (near Scottsdale, the home of the AZ Fall League's Scottsdale Scorpions, a development team including players from the San Francisco Giants farm/development system, but I digress...). While 2015 was my 21st attempt to run 100 miles (or a little further), it was my first time tackling the cute little pig known as Javelina. No, they aren't really pigs, they are peccaries, which is like a cousin to a pig. I guess some ways this is an interesting parallel because some have been known to say that the Javelina Jundred 100 Miler is "a runnable, fast, good 100 for first timers that is on a relatively easy course." Ohhhhh, boy. That's where the danger begins...

Let's first explore the question of the DNF percentage from 2009-2017 (over 50% who start typically do not finish this race, historically). Why the hell does this "runnable, flat-ish, relatively easy course" have one of the highest DNF rates in ultra running? Some would say that it's the disproportionate amount of first-timers. I would argue that it's not the relative lack of experience that does many in, as I've seen some really experienced 100-mile runners go down here (I am now 2-for-2 at Javelina in spite of two pretty rough years/races). If one doesn't look at what makes this challenge particularly unique, and you expect to suffer less relative to other races, then this is what makes this event so difficult. Here are the starting and finishing stats, and finishing/DNF percentages from the 6 years I crewed and coached athletes for Javelina...

2009 - 250 started / 124 finished (49.6% finished, 50.4% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 38 (15.2%)
2010 - 263 started / 137 finished (52.1% finished, 47.9% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 50 (19.0%)
2011 - 339 started / 174 finished (51.3% finished, 48.7% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 65 (19.2%)
2012 - 364 started / 160 finished (43.9% finished, 56.1% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 56 (15.4%)
2013 - 377 started / 157 finished (41.6% finished, 58.4% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 41 (10.1%)
2014 - 511 started / 290 finished (56.8% finished, 43.2% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 98 (19.2%)

2009-2014 TOTALS:2,104 started / 1,042 finished (49.5% finished, 50.5% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 348 (16.5%)

2015 JJ100, Lap 2 (old course) - photo by SweetM Images

2015 - 
459 started / 281 finished (61.2% finished, 38.8% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 113 (24.6%)
2016 - 574 started / 285 finished (49.7% finished, 50.3% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 93 (16.2%)

2017 - 534 started / 348 finished (65.2% finished, 34.8% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 113 (21.2%)

2015-2017 TOTALS:
1,567 started / 914 finished (58.3% finished, 41.7% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 319 (20.4%)
2009-2017 TOTALS:
3,671 started / 1,956 finished (53.3% finished, 46.7% DNF'd) - Sub 24's = 667 (18.2%)

Having crewed and coached over 30+ athletes who've run Javelina, and now having back-to-back years suffering through it myself, I am here to tell you how I've seen people shoot themselves in the foot. Some of this is general 100-miler stuff, and a few things are unique to Javelina. So, here we go...


#5- How about a little fire, Scarecrow? (not managing the heat... well enough) - this race is super exposed and relatively hot. It is generally not humid, and most certainly Arizona sees typical temps that are ~30 degrees higher at times in the summer. Javelina seems to trend around a high of 80 degrees, give or take 10 degrees. So 90 is a blistering hot year, and 70 is a "cold year". But here's the problem, it's exposed. You never get a respite from the direct sun, unless there's no sun (or you're sitting under a tent, not moving forward on the course). The sun beats down on the trail (and you) relentlessly, and Laps 2, 3, and for some 4 (and 7) are hard on you like it's 10 degrees hotter. It might actually be a few degrees hotter. As the sun bakes the trail throughout the day, the heat emanates off the trail below you and it will hit you a little harder than if you were running in the shade. So, pretend it's 10 degrees hotter, and keep ice in a bandanna around your neck, fill your running cap with ice, and do not drink ice water.

Momentary heat side-track: if you drink ice water in your bottles when that cold water hits the stomach, the body is forced to use energy in order to warm up that liquid inside your body to match that of your body's natural internal temperature. This process will rob your body of the energy it needs to properly process what fluid (and calories and electrolytes) you've ingested. So energy is spent on the regulation of the internal fluid temps, rather than processing new fuel/energy and it is a super big deal as that energy deficit adds up in the heat of the day.

Cold water (or ice) is for your head and neck. Warm or air temp water is for drinking. If you're running, your body is generating more heat (than if you're moving much slower). So during those hot laps (when I've seen some speed up), slow it down a little to help manage your core temps.

#4 - There's no place like home, there's no place like home! (getting too comfortable at the start/finish with family/friends) - this is one of the chief problems with the mental DNF at Javelina, being at the place where all your finishing crap is! And your lovely family! And when you say in the middle of the night, "I don't want to do this anymore, I'm not having any fun" sometimes you have a crew that's thinking, "thank effen goodness, we're so ready to be done too!" 

Know that you pass through JJHQ around Mile 15.5 (one), Mile 31 (two), Mile 46.5 (three), Mile 62 (four), Mile 77.5 (five) and Mile 93 (six), and if you think you'll get through JJHQ excited to leave for another 15.5 miles in the dreaded desert every single time, think again. You're gonna feel the suck at least 2 of those 6 times, possibly more, so you've got to have a plan to get in an out of there efficiently. Don't rush it, you need to get stuff for another 2-5 hours out there. "Be quick, don't hurry" (one of my favorite Coach John Wooden quotes). But unless you're fixing blisters at medical, doing a complete outfit change for the night, there's really no reason to be there for more than 5 minutes. Get out. Don't sit down (except to change shoes, if you must). Keep moving. Get your mental juju back by taking steps towards the finish line.

#3 - Poppies, poppies, poppies. Sleeeeeeeeep! (the curse of naps and mismanaged caffeine) - I would love to dive into the science of why you should try to avoid caffeine during the day when it's hot. But this post is going to get way too long (it's already twice as long as I intended). So let me put it in another way, you want to save caffeine (and other stimulants) for when you actually need them. Your hypothalamus is going to try to power things down in your body so you can sleep (restorative regeneration) while you're still running if you run long enough. So save the inner light for when it gets dark. And once you start using caffeine, you better keep using it or your energy will fall off a cliff. I like to try to keep the stream coming every 25-30 minutes once I start, but at the very least I'm getting it at every aid station once I begin to use it. Also, if you get really, really tired, some get to the start/finish and try to sleep and rationalize when they wake up they'll feel better (and be able to run better). In my experience, this is rarely true. And you wake up in 90 minutes when you planned for 30. And now you're fighting cutoffs. So don't do it. Manage your mind, your stimulants, and keep on keepin' on.

#2 - Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of speed! (getting carried away with pace splits in the first two-three laps) - Okay, so the Wicked Witch of the West said spears, not speed. But hey, if you run too fast your quads, hamstrings, IT bands are all going to feel like the Wicked Witch put a bunch of spears into you. I have witnessed more "speed kills" at this race than every other 100 miler I've been to combined. I've seen runners with a 28+ hour 100 miler PR running around 17-hour pace splits. Just running comfortably, and aerobically is not enough. A marathon race pace is aerobic and comfortable for 20-ish miles! Then you go into ketosis when you've exhausted your glycogen supply and you're fighting cramps and you are metabolically hosed. Marathon pace plus one minute is more like a 50k pace. I don't even recommend running by pace. For those of you not running with a heart rate monitor, it's going to be a little more tricky. If you've never run 100 miles before, you've got to be even more careful and conservative. Think of it this way, around 20% of the nearly 500 race starters ran sub-24 hours last year. Are you typically in the top 20% of the races you finish? Because if you're not, you're pretty bold going out in sub-20 hour pace and rationalizing that you're putting time in the bank. Putting time in the bank is like tying a loaded safe to you so you can run the second half of the race dragging said safe behind you. A sub-20 hour time is around 11:45/mile pace (or faster). Yes, we all factor in stop time (which is generally around a minute per mile or more), so really, we're talking 10:45 average running pace. "But I can't run that slow!" many will exclaim to me. That's what walking up small inclines is for. Or just taking a walk break to lower your heart rate. Running faster than 12 minutes per mile in the second half of the race is actually quite impressive, so try to bring your first half and second half paces closer together so you can be the one passing dozens, or even 100 people in the second half. Now that's a fun race!

#1 - I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too! (not taking the suffering seriously) - I'm going to break this one into two different categories, the beginner, and the experienced 100 miler...

1st Time 100 Milers - so you've never experienced 100 miles yet? Maybe you've run a few 50 milers or a tough 100k, but this is your first journey into those extra 40-50 miles of pure magic. People tell you it's going to hurt, but there's no context to it. You may have even heard moms who run hundos compare it to childbirth. Kinda freaky, right? But hey, it didn't scare you that much, and here you are! Pitfall #1 is thinking of 100's in a linear or proportional fashion. It doesn't hurt twice as much, nor twice as often as a 50 miler. In some cases, it's worse than that. In others, it's not that much worse pain wise, but you're in that hurt locker for a lot longer. It takes mental stamina, toughness and a willingness to suffer a bit. You really aren't going to know if you're mentally ready until you're in that moment. But what I do is measure the number of hours I've put into training (for me, this time around it's about 250 hours, or 10 hours a week average for the past 25 weeks, I'm rounding off here, but that's a ballpark). Then, when I'm hurting, I tell myself, "this isn't going to hurt like this for the rest of the time, but even if it did, that's only 10 more hours (example), and that's not even 1/20th of my training!" I tell myself to consider others who wish they could be running by my side. My wife just had leg surgery. My buddy Alvin would love to run a loop with me (he's in a wheelchair now). I'm so lucky to be able to hurt this way. I'm so lucky my body is capable of this amazing, freaky endurance. I keep telling myself these things to re-frame the pain. And believe me it helps if you commit to it. So when it really hurts, the worse it is, the more proud you're going to be of finishing. I've heard it said very eloquently that "finishing 100 milers hurts for a week. DNF'ing 100 milers hurts for at least a year." So, get along little doggie...

Experienced 100 Milers - the main pitfall with an experienced hundred miler at Javelina is you've probably run much harder courses than this. You've maybe even run on hotter days than this. It's dangerous to think that because the course isn't as hard, and the heat isn't as high, that you'll suffer less. Then, when you suffer more, you're ill equipped to handle it psychologically. Here's the rub: this course has more running. The more you run, generally speaking, the more it's going to hurt. I ran 6 of these things last summer, and Vermont (while my fastest race last summer) was the race I was in the most disrepair at the finish line. My feet were wrecked. I was in the medical tent for a bit. Running more is really rough, especially for those of you who are used to mountain races when you get your hiking uphill break, then downhill feels like low-effort since gravity is doing the work. Maybe you don't feel that way, but if you want to run your fastest time at this distance, you at least have to be willing to hurt more (and for a longer duration) than you have before. Then, if you don't, it's a mental boost. Gravy, my friends.
Follow the Pemberton Trail, follow the Pemberton Trail... follow, follow, follow, follow...

I have a lot more to say about running 100 milers, but I'll save it for another time. I hope these 5 pitfalls help you overcome the Wicked Witch of the West at McDowell Mountain Park. I'm rooting for all who toe the line at Javelina. I want a bunch of people to high five and run with in that second half. And if you see me sitting down, come kick my ass and tell me to get back out there (unless I'm being carted off on a stretcher, then let medical do their job)...

2016 JJ100 Lap 3 at Jackass Junction - photo by SweetM Images

Jappy Jalloween, Jeveryone!

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