Training. I’m on the tail-end of it, on into the taper time now that Javelina Jundred K is just 3 weeks away. So what was that like?
Training for JJK has provided me with an interesting set of challenges. The race takes place right after Phoenix has begun to cool off (hopefully, not always), which means that the bulk of training occurs during the hottest months of the year. How on earth do you cover 50-70 miles/ week (this is what I did, others do more) when it’s always over 100 degrees? How do you fit in what is essentially a part time job when you also work full time, go to school, and have a family? Honestly, I’m not sure. I didn’t sleep very much…
August is hot. Usually the temperatures don’t drop below 90 degrees at night, so even running in the dark is still kind of warm. During the week I was frequently up at 4am so that I could get in a 2 hour run before working all day. On the weekends it was usually 3am because I had to get in as many miles as I could before the sun started beating on me. (Running when it’s 117 degrees in the full sun is unpleasant and I know that I personally am not capable of it for very long.) I think one time I actually STARTED my run at 3. I spent most of these mornings out at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, where JJK will be, making friends with the trails of the race. Eventually I simply couldn’t run those same trails anymore, so I started branching off on spurs, making interesting loops, running on cow paths, and through people’s backyards (whoops), just exploring everything I could. The trails are FAST. I have PR’d (personal record) both 10 and 20 miles out there I think.
Close your eyes (well, I guess you can’t since you’re reading this…) and imagine this: it’s dark out and you can see every star in the sky. You begin running. You are alone. There are no other people out at this hour, although you know when you are finishing they will be there. You are at peace. To the east you can barely make out Four Peaks comprising the horizon. You know that in about 1 hour the sun will begin to glow behind those peaks. Thompson peak is blackness to the west. The nighthawks are hunting, swooping, calling, eating. Towards the end of this hour, a faint grey light has begun to illuminate the desert and you hear the first chirps of the daytime birds. In about 2 hours the sun will be painting the sky with reds, purples, oranges. Slowly the McDowell’s will begin to glow a deep orange/red, highlighting the rounded boulders coating their slopes. The jackrabbits look at you and run (they don’t hop, they run), while the bunnies hop in jagged lines reminiscent of the lines on a heart monitor. There is a light breeze now, ever so gentle, brushing across your skin. You know this won’t last. The coyote packs sing to each other across the open desert. In about 3 hours you will be daydreaming of your Recoverite drink and ice cold water back at the Jeep. The sun is up in all its glory. The jackrabbits and bunnies have given way to ginormous ravens and lizards. You are hot. You feel the bladder in your pack and gauge how much water you have left and how much you can drink in order to conserve what you have until you get back to water again. Finally you do make it back to the Jeep. Never has anything tasted as good as your cold drink. The miles are done. You did it.
In making friends with Pemberton (the main trail in this park, and the one that JJK is mostly comprised of) I saw many sunrises. Every single one of them was glorious. This open expanse of desert allows for some of the best sunrises and sunsets I’ve seen. One morning I even set out extra early in order to see that “2 hour” sunrise (the colorful part) from the top of Thompson Peak. I didn’t quite make the top before the colors hit, but I could still see them and it was amazing.
Needless to say, I found a ton of joy in a trail that I previously didn’t really care for too much, and at hours that before this training I was pretty sure didn’t exist. The lack of sleep was worth it.
I’ve never run so many miles in my life. I didn’t think I could, I was pretty sure I’d end up injured or something, but I didn’t. I do have this nagging hip thing, but I’ve had that since February and currently it’s manageable, as long as I don’t run too fast (dammit). I ran the Javelina Jangover 50K (a night run) as a supported long run. I went out just to enjoy myself and got to run with my friend Cam for most of the race. I finished really well. I meant to run 10-15 the next day, but the lack of sleep completely wiped me out. My longest week was scheduled for 70 miles. I think I finished it up with about 73, with 50 of those miles in two days, so not bad. The following weekend I did 23 and 15 and during the 15 I knew that the weeks of long runs had caught up to me. I felt extremely sluggish, and an old calf injury was acting kind of pissy. That brings me to this week. I took a day off after the 15, but still felt way off when I ran 6. I haven’t really run since. My body seems to be communicating quite loudly that it wants a break. My friend Cole quite forcefully told me to take a break and just hike or bike. I’m going crazy, but good grief, fine, I’ll stop. Instead of running I’ve been sleeping. And eating. So hungry, always hungry.
The final thing I wanted to mention is that this was the year of the snake. I wrote about my one run where I saw 5 rattlesnakes. At this point I think I’m up to something like 16 or 17 rattlers, and another 10 or so not-rattlers. I’ve had quite a few runs where I saw more than one rattlesnake (though nothing coming close to that 5 in one run day). I’m snaked out. If I think about it, I’ve learned quite a bit about them though. They like it to be WARM. Not blazing sun hot, but nice and toasty. When they are laying in a puddle in the trail they are cold, trying to retain heat, and unlikely to do much of anything. Also, when they’re in a puddle, I think their rattle is tucked underneath them. How do I know this? I don’t for sure, but I have inferred it from two things; A: never seeing a rattle when they are in a puddle, and B: I saw one a week or so ago that was slowly making it’s way off trail, but it’s rattle was under it’s belly. That’s my explanation.
Rattlesnakes really seem to just want to lay around and be warm and eat. I get that. You can get really close to them (don’t, if you can help it) and they may very well just lie there and do nothing. If you poke at them or throw rocks at them, well, they don’t like that very much (and neither would you in their place). They don’t always rattle! In fact, easily half those I saw this year didn’t rattle. I also tried not to piss them off by staying back as much as I could, so that probably helped somewhat. One guy that did rattle, we actually heard him rattling in the grass next to the trail before we saw him, so we stopped. He came up on the trail, still rattling, looking at us and crossing and rattling, then looking at some hikers on his other side still crossing and rattling, until he’d gotten all the way across and off the trail. I’m certain he was saying, “Yo, dingus, I’m a snake and I’m crossing here. See me? Back off. I’m here and I don’t like being stepped on. Aight, peace, I’m out.” It was kind of crazy.
It’s been a great summer. I feel, I don’t know, centered, after all the solitary miles. August through December of 2016 were the most difficult months of my life. I’ve never felt so ripped apart and broken (life stuff, blah, blah moving on). 2017 brought some slow healing and I needed those miles by myself. Now I’ve actually begun running with people again and it’s great. I’ve missed my trail buddies.
Looking forward to the race, I don’t know what to expect. I’ve gotten stronger, faster. However, as any distance runner knows, you can put in all the correct training, do everything right, and you still fall apart on race day. It happens. So barring random fall-apartedness on the trail, I’m ready to finish JJK. It’s time to finally get that buckle.