Over the past few years, I have lost my running mojo. It slipped away gradually or more, got slowly worn down over time when I wasn’t able to attend to it. Frankly, since 2012, I just haven’t been able to run or race with the focus and energy I need to maintain it. And for the most part, it has been worth it because Nathan and I have been devoting our energy into building a business and a community around that business. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy to watch the awesome development of the ultra running community and the exciting happenings of the running world. I wanted to be a part of it. I have talked about this a lot this year because I started this year thinking this would be the year that I would re-emerge in racing and start chasing down big goals again. I was hungry from the start of this year to passionate pursue races that made me excited.
But the year didn’t unfold the way I hoped. I went back to the drawing board so many times on “where to?” in racing. My training has been great this year but my confidence in myself as a runner has been almost non-existent, my mind highly critical of myself. It wasn’t until my trip to Cape Town and running Ultra Trail Cape Town 100k four weeks ago that I even felt like half the runner I use to be (mentally). That trip renewed me and inspired me. It showed me that I could battle through the hardest race I’ve ever done and overcome. After that, I wanted more challenges like that and again went back to the drawing board for my race schedule and decided to run Javelina 100 on October 31. Just 4 weeks after running my first 100k in 4 years, I was going to run my first 100 miler in 5 years and 7 years since I last finished my only successful 100 miler. I felt excited and ready after UTCT 100km to take on the challenge.
I sit here now three days post race wondering, “did that really happen?”. I went to Javelina to get to that finish line. I went to see if I could go the distance. I went to the desert to find my mojo. I went to find my strength and courage. I went to battle my demons and face the darkness. I went to see if I could rise again like a phoenix from the ashes, if I could find a new runner me. I could have never imagined the day unfolding the way it did.
Before the race, I wrote a letter to myself. In that letter I wrote: “Be led by passion, love and perseverance. I will rise to a new level and see what I am capable of. Yes, it is going to be hard as hell. But don’t back down. Walk across the fire and let it burn. You can handle this.”. I didn’t merely handle it, I instead put together the performance of a lifetime. I truly went to a new level and not only found that I was capable of running on the level that I use to, but that I was in fact capable of so much more. I have never run like I did on Saturday, I have never pursued my limits so hard, run with so much guts and found moment after moment that I had more to give. I not only finished, I crushed it. First woman, second overall, new course record in 14:52 in the 6th fastest time ever in the 100 miler for a North American resident and 3rd fastest trail 100 mile time ever. I ran the last 41 miles faster than anyone including faster than the male winner (besting him by 6 mins, he finished in 13:49). People have asked, “where did that come from” since and I truly believe that this kind of race has been a long time coming. I have had the physical tools for a long time, the combination of speed and endurance. But mentally, I have worked very hard to get to the place where when I ask myself “How bad do you want it?”, the answer is “MORE”.
I am truly grateful for Aravaipa Running and the amazing race they put on. Top notch event with incredible organization. I am beyond words with gratitude for my crew and pacer, Hollis and Yiou. I could not have put together this day without them. I am so thankful for my husband, although he couldn’t be at the race, has been extraordinarily supportive of me trying to find my runner self again. Thank you to my awesome sponsors and supporters: Oiselle, HOKA One One, Julbo, Psoas Massage and Bodywork, Stance Socks and San Francisco Running Company, as well as all my awesome friends and training partners especially my girls Yiou, Liz and Maddy K! And my incredible coach, Ian Torrence!
You can stop reading here if you like, I know race reports can get long and boring and all sound the same. But for myself, I am going to keep going. I want to remember this race. I want to remember how it felt, I want to revisit it over and over and over again to say to myself: this race, I saw who I really am as a runner. It was a game changer for me and I feel now, that it is just the beginning.
Javelina Hundred (Oct 31, 2015) 6am
I wanted to do this race because I wanted to “do things that scare me” and challenge myself in a new way. After signing up for the race 3 weeks ago, that feeling slid from scared to terrified to feeling on the inside like the cowardly lion being pushed toward the Wizard by his companions. I stood on the line more nervous than I ever have been before. I kept wondering “can I do this?” and then the gun went off and I shrugged my shoulders, started running and thought “guess I will find out!”.
Work the problem (Loops 1 & 2)
The day before the race I did a run through of all my crewing stuff with Hollis and Yiou. I told them that things would come up, challenges would arise and we would have to find a way to keep going. We would have to find a solution to problems, a work around for obstacles. Yiou pronounced, we needed to “work the problem”. I liked this, it gave me a mantra to hold up for myself when difficulties arose. When she said it, I naturally thought it would be helpful in the second half. But given my starting line apprehensions, I actually had to utilize it quite early.
I headed out into the desert with 458 other runners and settled in to a nice comfortable pace. I planned to run on the easy side of comfortable and not press at all. The Javelina course is very runnable, but that is also dangerous early on because it is very tempting to run too fast. I wanted to be smart, but I also accepted that my first two laps would be on the faster side since I was fresh, it was the cool of the morning, etc. I clipped along hoping for the nervous energy and “can I do this?” monkey mind to slip away. I tried to NOT focus on the distance and instead just focus on that moment and that loop and getting into a groove. I excepted to face demons in the race, but I didn’t think they would attack from the start. But within 5 miles, my mind had already slipped into a very pessimistic place. Every bad thing I could think about myself, I did. I listened to the demons tell me every reason I would fail, every reason I wasn’t good enough, every reason I was not enough. And then I heard Yiou’s voice saying, “Work the problem”. What was the problem? I was being negative, I was indulging the demons, I was giving them a voice. And then, out in the desert as the sun rose and a pack of coyotes raised their voices and howled, I exclaimed, “shut up brain!”. I started pelting the demons with every positive phrase and mantra I could think of. I pushed them back, beat them away with a stick. They didn’t belong here. I had barely even started running for goodness sake!
And so I settled in and just focused on this lap, this moment. Being within myself and letting the miles pass. I had set my watch on “OK” setting so that I would have battery life for the whole race. This meant though that the GPS accuracy was pretty poor and before I knew it I was back at Javelina headquarters (the start/finish line/party). My watch had me at 14 miles, but the loop in actually closer to 15.5. I was under 2 hours for the loop and kind of sheepishly entered the headquarters knowing that was way way faster than even my fastest projected split that I had give my crew. I had given them (even) splits for 15 hrs, CR pace (15:40), 16:30 and 17:30. I was well under 15 hour pace, but I also knew I was running easy and comfortable. I knew I would back off more in the heat of the day but was fine with being a touch fast early on. Hollis shook his head and told me, “Dev you are running way too fast!”. I set out on loop 2 and just continued to run comfortable. I was joined by Brian Tinder for a few miles who had been ahead of me on the first loop, but fell behind when he did a wardrobe change just outside of HQ (if you don’t know what I am talking about, you must find out!). It was nice to have the distraction and we passed the uphill miles to Jackass Junction which is the “middle” of the loop. The course is uphill to the midway point and is done in machine washer style, so loop 2 was novel since it was seeing the trail and terrain from a different perspective. The first two loops had a novelty to them that I knew would wear off. I could tell I was going to get really tired of running giant loops in the desert.
I didn’t really slow much on the second loop and was greeted coming into HQ by Karl Meltzer who has more 100 mile wins than anyone on earth ever (35 wins). He is a smart runner and knows his way around a 100miler. He was heading out on his 3rd loop and took the time to stop me and say, “Devon, you need to slow down!”. I said, I know I know. And I knew I would since now, exactly 4 hours and 50k into the race, it was starting to get hot. I got in to the HQ, grabbed my stuff from Hollis including doubling up on bottles and taking my headphones for distraction, and headed back into the desert ready to battle the heat and take my time.
What do you mean?
I was not looking forward to the heat of the day. The high was projected for mid 80s. But in the desert that feels much hotter. There is no shade, the heat reflects off the ground and bakes you from the ground up. I have been running in the heat of the day this summer here in San Anselmo, days reaching up into the high 90s, so I felt at least moderately prepared. I knew I would have to keep myself cool and calm.
Through the first two laps, I had only taken in liquid calories in the form of Tailwind. I was doing 200 calories of Tailwind per hour and my energy, hydration and electrolytes felt solid. Hollis had encouraged me to try and gel on loop 3 and about half way I tried to take one and immediately threw it back up. Uh oh. My biggest trepidation coming into this race was the heat effect since my last 100 mile start in 2010 ended with me in the med tent with 3 IVs. I knew things could go south fast and if I couldn’t stomach calories or liquid I would be done. I was able to continue to get in small sips of tailwind, but my head was not in a good place now. I was focused on not feeling good and by the end of the loop, after a few more rejections of sips of water, my mind amassed a good list of all the reasons I wanted to drop right then and there at 45. I came into HQ in a negative place, ready to be done. I dramatically described my issues straight in front of the Ultrasports Live live feed camera and friend Laura Bello who was part of their team, just said, “you look like you could use a hug”. She gave me a hug and I walked over to Hollis and sat down in the chair. I told him, “my stomach isn’t good. my foot hurts. my colds not gone. I am not having fun”. To me, it all seemed so clear that I was done. I had run the whole loop still and Hollis pointed out that even after running 2:30 for that lap that I was still well under even my fastest projected split. My response? A very snappy “I don’t care”. He cooled me off. Listened to my complaints and indulged me for a minute. After 5 or so minutes in the chair, I got up, resolved that I would do one more loop and then quit. After all, my legs really were fine and I was still running quite well.
I headed out on loop feeling cooler with a nice ice bandana around my next and started running again. Since I had resolved to stop at the 100km in my head, every time I felt bad from there on, I just told myself, well at least I’ll be done at the end of this loop. It wasn’t a fun loop. Nothing really changed. In that 30 miles of running, I hated all but about 2 miles. I just listened to my music and kept going. I was running in 5th place overall and was first woman, but I just wanted to be done. It didn’t matter to me anymore. I just wanted to stop.
My pacer Yiou had arrived and I complained to her all my various problems that made me want to quit. She pointed out that my running form looked great and that I looked comfortable. I responded that yes, I was able to run but ick, I was just done. It was like the Justin Bieber song that I had listened to at least 5 times on that loop, “what do you mean?”. I was saying one thing and doing another. I was nodding yes and running, but I wanted to say no and stop.
I again took the chair and Hollis and Yiou went to work trying to get me to get going again. My foot was still hurting and I was worried that 41 more miles might injury it since I had some issues since UTCT 100k because of all the rocks. My stomach was same as it had been, fine but not great. Yiou gave me my iced coffee and I asked for asprin. Maybe, just maybe I could caffeinated my way into another loop. I had been careful to avoid caffeine up until that point so I wouldn’t have a terrible caffeine crash late in the race. Meanwhile, Yiou got ready to start running with me. I had planned to have her from 75-finish, but she knew that I might quit right then if she didn’t tease me out of the chair. It worked. I got up. I finished my coffee and ate a handful of gummies.
I had yet to walk in the race at all and still 10 mins ahead of even my fastest projected split. I told Yiou I would have to walk to the road crossing of loop 5 which is about 1/3 mile from HQ. I didn’t want to throw up my coffee and gummies. We made it about 1/3 of that distance before I started running, walking was boring. I still had legs and screw it, I was going to use them. Both the coffee and the aspirin kicked in and I had Yiou to pick up the pace and distract me. Slowly, the overwhelming desire to drop diminished, then disappeared. For the first time all day, I heard a whisper in my mind “you can do this”. And I believed it.
Yiou and I settled into a fast pace and she reminded me to take gels (which I finally was able to stomach) and told me how strong I looked. We run together FAST a lot. And part of why I was excited to have her as my pacer was because she is so fast and that our natural pace together tends to be very quick. At this point, I was astonished how good my legs felt. They didn't feel like legs that had more than 60 miles on them. They felt like legs that could run. The heat of the day had been survived and I had legs. I began to push. Not too much, but I inched the pace up and my mind opened up to the idea of not just surviving the race, but crushing the race. Just like that I was ready to see what I could do. We pushed and pushed. I knew I opened myself up to a massive meltdown at some point, but I just felt so good, I didn’t want to be afraid of what might happen or some potential later crash, I just wanted to break down barriers and push my limits. At the end of loop 4, I had been behind Karl, Michael Carson and Jon Olson (who has run a stagger 11:59 100 miler!) by more than 30 mins. By the end of loop 5, I was behind them by less than 10 mins. I had just completed a loop in 2:16 and flew threw headquarters, eager to get out onto my final full loop. The sun was going to be setting soon and I grabbed my headlamp, and we set off to chase down the boys.
I was running so well at this point. Smooth and comfortable. I had Yiou give me 15-20 min reminders to take gels and focused on making sure that we didn’t make any nutrition or hydrate mistakes. My legs felt amazing. Within 3 miles back out on the loop, we started to catch the guys. Now, if you don’t know them, they are all incredibly fantastic runners. All very strong and accomplished. To be catching them was an insane boost to my confidence. I first caught Jon Olsen, he smiled at me and said, “So happy to see you bounce back Devon!”. I thanked him and encouraged him on and hoped he too would come back to life. I set my sights on Karl, whom I could see up ahead. We caught and passed him easily minutes later. As I passed, he exclaimed, surprised, “Devon, WHAT are you DOING?!” “Running!” I responded, to which he said, “well, I will see you later” indicating he would catch me when I cracked and slowed down. But in that moment, I said to myself, no you won’t. And I doubled my resolved to run the remaining 21 miles of the race as hard as I freaking could.
Yiou and I moved like a bullet train in the night. We gathered more and more momentum as darkness descended over the desert. I ran silent, pushing myself, not backing off, but trying to give a little bit more, a little bit more each mile. I told Yiou that I didn’t want to have anything left at the line. I wanted to see what I was made of. We made it to the top of the loop and gathered more speed, Yiou yelling out “on your left, on your left” as we sped past all the runners that were out on course, some of them multiple loops behind me. All the other runners, whooped and cheered when they saw me coming. “Yeah girl!” “Woman you are amazing”. I fed off it. I chased down the next headlamp after next headlamp. I exclaimed at one point, “Sorry Karl, you ain’t catching me today.” And Yiou and I started yelling, “Run like a girl! Run like a girl!” It was thrilling to be there in that moment flying along, feeling so strong with such a good friend at my side.
We were nearly to the aid station that is 2.1 miles from HQ when I said to Yiou, “I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you jumping in a loop early. I could not have gotten here without you. It changed the game. That said, I know that this was more distance than you had planned and am not going to ask you to run 41 miles with me instead of 24 as planned. You don’t need to go out on Loop 7(a smaller loop) with me.” She said, “ok! Because you would drop me anyways”. It was a proud moment, she had done her job beautifully and would let me fly on my own. We crushed it back to Headquarters, smiling and laughing. I sprinted through the start/finish area and headed back out as quickly as possible.
I was alone then. My legs churning up with gradual hill, my path illuminated only by a small light, just the sound of my breathing and the stillness of the desert. I pushed. Yiou had told me before the loop that I could run the next loop in 2 hours and still break the course record. I thought the loop was just under 9 miles, so I set my sights on running closer to 1:20. I arrived back at the 2.1 mile aid station, grabbed a coke and thanked all the volunteers for being out there. I pushed onward and made my way towards the Loop 7 cutoff, a teasing sign I had seen all day that said Mile 97.3 —->. About a mile later, I crossed paths with Karl again. He saw me and said, “simply awesome Devon”. I was on fire. I felt so good and I wanted to see how much I could push. I finally made the turn towards home and came into the water stop at the turn. The volunteer said, “your on your final loop?!?!”. I responded yes I was and he said, “wow you are in second place!”. I had no idea I had passed Michael at any point and I got a boost. Then he continued, “4 miles to the finish line.” My water bottle filled, I took off. Wait, 4 miles? I thought there was only 2.7 miles to go! Doh. I am such an idiot, I just assumed the race was perfectly 100 miles for some reason, I hadn’t even bothered to loop at how far it actually was since trail races are rarely exactly on. Turns out the course was 101 miles. Having digested this information, I realized that I was really going to have to hustle to get in under 15 hours. I was on target for a low 14:40, but with the extra 1.3 miles, I knew I would have to go as hard as I could to get under 15. The trail was runnable, I felt fresh. I yelled into the night the Oiselle mantras, “head up, wings out” and "go fast, take chances". And I flew. I pushed and with each pushed discovered I had a little more to give. I tried to find my limit and with each step discovered that I had more to give, more to push. I have never run that hard. Hollis once told me that I needed to run “eyeballs out” in a marathon and in that moment I finally understood how that felt. To go to the next level, you have to push in a way that risks everything, holds nothing back. And for the first time, I was going to leave nothing out on course.
Coming into HQs, I was flying. Yiou and Hollis were with me and running me in (or trying to keep up). I dropped my headlamp, bottle and waist pack where my crew station had been and turned the final two corners to the finish line. 14:52:06. Holy Shit, what did I just do. First woman, 2nd overall, CR by 50 mins, sub 15. That is 8:46 per mile pace, even with sitting in my chair for 10+ mins.
I had just put together the best run of my career. I had come back from the dead. I had pushed myself harder than I have ever in a race. I asked myself for more and continually found another gear, another level.
I came to Javelina to do something that scared me. To do something that challenged me and pushed me. I did that but I realize now that I also came away having discovered the runner that I can be, the runner that I am. This is me and this was my day.
Full results here: http://aravaiparunning.com/results/2015JJResults100Mile.htm