Sunday, November 08, 2009


On various online forums I can be found posting under this odd pseudonym. It's proximate source is that I used it as my password throughout college until one of my friends (and fellow Unix hacker) snared me with a spoofed password program. Since it'd been made public, I decided to just use it as my public persona. However, its ultimate source goes back much further into my personal history.

I have always had a, I don't want to say fascination, so how about we call it an interest in the number 3. It's possible that it has something to do with being raised on things like this. But, my real appreciation of this integer came about much later. I was aware of many of its unique mathematical properties and an idea of the significance it played in various philosophic and religious contexts. Though, with no Internet back then, the scope of my exploration was much more limited than it might be today. In truth, I was really just a bored public school adolescent with a geeky mathematical fascination.

I made up some sort of "numerology" of my own based around the number 3. While it's possible some version of the full list is still written down on a scrap of paper someplace, lying at the bottom of a box buried in the back of a closet. I really don't know. I do, however, remember something about the initial bit:

1 = Existence (everything that has or will occur will happen at least once)
2 = Coincidence (a second occurrence demonstrates only that the first was not unique)
3 = Evidence (or perhaps even "proof" on my more optimistic days)

From there things went pretty far afield based on various mathematical operations beginning with these first few entries. This is not, thank goodness, a tale about the odd behavioral tendencies of my teenage years, so I'll just leave it at that.

It is a tale about my third time running the Javelina Jundred.


A Charm
I was quite happy when my request for bib number 333 was granted. I talked a bit about my goals in previous posts, but the most important one came down to proving to myself that I really knew what I was doing out there. Despite my passion for events like Plain where I feel locked in that classic narrative theme of "man versus nature", I also like the idea of having a 100 miler where I can actually gain some sort of handle on the distance. Not that I will ever apply the term "easy" to running 100 miles, but the combination of familiarity and the relatively few inherent variables at Javelina allow me to experiment with the other aspects of such an undertaking that are (more or less) under my control. It is the only 100 miler where I've demonstrated success at meeting my time goals. This year was to be the test, the "evidence" as it were.

Pre-Race Haste
It was clearly going to be a bit different this year given that the field was about twice the usual size. They had already enlarged it before Angeles Crest 100 was canceled due to fires and they allowed even more entrants. The check-in, briefing and dinner all felt a bit less low-key than previous years. They even had a guest speaker. Unfortunately, they also had much smaller dinner portions so Beat and I didn't stick around for the talk. We headed right to the traditional giant Safeway for some more eats, snacks and breakfast foods. I probably ate too much and too late, but that was something I wouldn't pay for until very late in my race. The rest of the evening was spent in the traditional manner of last minute prep followed by the early morning wake up call. Apparently, it wasn't early enough as we were forced into the overflow lot due to the larger than normal number of participants. It just meant less time waiting at the start.

"It really is impossible to run that first lap too slow"
I'd given this advice to a first-timer in an online running forum the week before the race. I'd repeated it again a few times the night before. We lined up closer to the back of the pack, knowing that sage advice is rarely taken, especially as it pertains to an event that is all about experience. It's taken me some time to learn this lesson myself. It has only been very recently, where I have started to understand what it really means to go out slow. It's served me quite well at my last three races. However, at your first 100, there is really no way to know. Until you've felt it, how could you know that the gradual slope in lap-1, that feels excruciatingly slow at your sub-12 pace would require enormous effort during lap-5 to even approach 15 minutes per mile? Even after you have felt it, it is difficult to convince yourself that a 1 minute per mile slowdown during the first 15 miles, can actually translate into a 3-4 minute per mile speedup during the final 30. Even with such knowledge, and experience, I still finished the first loop faster than I intended. However, coming in slightly slower than last year, I had confidence it wasn't going to be an issue.

Spectacular Spectating
The great thing about Javelina is that you can be both participant and spectator at the same time. The "washing machine" style loops--changing direction each time--mean that you see everyone in front and behind you on each lap. In the early laps this means you can play a little guessing game about who's going out too hard, who's gonna "reel 'em in" and who's in store for a spectacular blow up. The front-runners always seem to start out at a blistering pace. With fast guys it's hard to tell who can hold it and this year was no different. I watched a couple front-runners who looked "worked" early on manage to hang to the finish. I saw a very experienced ex-winner drop from the competition. There was also some young gun, who'd been holding second place, sitting in a chair mid race with head hung low. Finally, I was privileged to be present for the most incredible crushing of a course record I have ever witnessed. Further back in the pack things are a bit more predictable.

"That should be a clue"
While most everyone finishes lap 1 too fast, it's lap 2 that can be the real game killer. It's possible to smoke the first 15 miles, yet back off enough during the middle section of the race to still finish strong. That is essentially what I did two years ago. However, if you come into the 50K mark and utter, as one guy did to me last year, that you just set a PR for the distance, well, there's only one appropriate response. Lap 2 is where I watched people making their initial mistakes. It's also where I watched myself closely to not do the same. Going up the gradual slope I noticed that I was able to maintain a walking pace of 13-14 minute miles. If I'm walking that well, there is really no reason to run. Beat was chatting with some young girl trotting up ahead. Eventually he backed off and hung back with me. Apparently she was saying how she didn't feel like she was going too fast, a common perception at that stage in the race. The thing is, in the first 20 miles at least, you should really feel like you're going too slow.

This is the transition. I think about this race in thirds of 50K--the final partial loop isn't factored in because it is run purely with whatever you have left. I set splits for each 3rd. The first was 6 hours, but the goal here was "no faster than." I missed it slightly, finishing just under. The next two splits would need to be under their targets. If I was to have a shot at 22 hours, I would need to hit the 100K mark under 13 hours and complete lap 6 within 20--I knew those final miles could be done in a bit over 2. Mentally switching from "stay under this time" to "have to hit this time" does not mean, however, that I had permission to start pushing the pace. Lap 3 is still a time for restraint especially given that it is run in the heat of the day. This year was the coolest of the three I have run this race, but the temps still managed to creep into the mid-80s on parts of the course. My goal allotted me about 7 hours for each of the next two 50Ks. This meant I would need to hit the faster clockwise laps in under 3:30. I finished this one in about 3:25.

"The race doesn't start until lap 5"
If lap 3 is the mental transition then lap 4 is the physical one. At this point, my focus turned to strategy. Monitoring my body closely, the mantra weaving through my thoughts was to stay within a "solid, but maintainable" pace. After catching up with a couple of runners about half way through this lap--just before sundown--I was discussing how lap 4 is where the urge to push can be very strong, but the need to hold something back is still important. The real race hasn't yet begun. As if to punctuate my comment, the two of them took off shortly after our conversation only to drop from the race after the next lap. As night settled in, I was feeling good. Leaving the last aid station, heading to the start/finish area, I could see I was coming in solidly below my 13 hour target. My mind drifted to lap 6. That was my critical slowdown last year. I began running that final loop over and over in my mind. I became fixated on it. So much so that I made my "big mistake" at the next aid station.

One can be "too focused"
As mental acuity dissipates late in a race, I begin needing to remind myself of what I need to do as while approaching an aid station. I usually have a list that I repeat in my head. I almost always end up forgetting something. My hope is just that isn't anything too critical. I had a strong desire to get out of the 100K aid station in less than 13 hours so I set a plan for super-efficiency: drop the bottles off to be filled, head to my bag, grab a few essentials, down the rest of my Frapuccino, quickly grab some eats on the way out and then get back on trail. I thought I'd hit everything on my list. A little over a mile into the loop I was reminded of what I had missed. I'd ran right past the row of porta-johns leaving the aid station. What would have been a quick 2-minute diversion eventually turned into a matter of urgency. I'm won't go into details, but my failure to "take care of business" meant that loop 5 took a full 4 hours with at least 15-20 minutes of it spent off trail. I did manage to get my GI system back in order before finishing the lap. I also switched to gels and soup for the remainder of the race.

As I mentioned earlier, last year lap 6 was my tough one. I don't know if my plan just hit right or if the slow lap 5 was a contributor, but this year I had a great lap 6. I decided to repeat what worked well during lap 4 which was to walk some of the early section out of the aid station, but then shuffle up the gradual slope. I was able to maintain the pace for pretty much the whole way. Not only was my pace great, but I actually enjoyed myself the entire time. So often, as ultrarunners, we have to resort to certain mental techniques in order to get through the more difficult aspects of these long events. Whether you call it dissociation, mind games or simply "phasing out", the effect is the same. You distract yourself and forget the present moments, letting time pace without record. While I've always found this an interesting cognitive phenomena, my most treasured times during an ultra are those where I manage the exact opposite, a state of total mindfulness. To be completely present, in the moment, observing both yourself and your surroundings when expectation would have you entrenched in pain and avoidance, is as close as anything to what I might label a spiritual moment. It's also the best I can come to explaining how I felt during this lap.

3 out of four ain't bad
I finished lap 6 in a just over 20:22. 22 hours was an impossibility, but I felt great and, besides, there were plenty of other goals from which to choose. Heading out 3 minutes later, I knew I could beat last year's time. It had taken me 2 hours and 10 minutes to do the final lap then and I knew it could be done faster. I started off easy preparing for the slow uphill grind. I decided that I was going to shuffle as much as I could, but still make sure I had energy to crush the final downhill. I reached Coyote Camp around 21:45, almost 15 minutes faster than last year. A runner and pacer had left just as I came in. I figured to catch them on the downhill. The first bit is not very steep so it doesn't quite play to my strength. I leaned into it and pushed just enough to keep the breathing heavy, but even. I passed them a mile or so in. I knew there was a short steep section just before it leveled out leading to the intersection. I was looking forward to it. I wanted to let go and put on some speed to help energize myself for the final stretch. Just as I hit this section, another runner/pacer pair appeared in front of me. I barely had time to call out "on your right" as I banked an outside turn to fly on by them. That was all I needed to kick it into high gear. Not only was I guaranteed my 10th 100-mile finish, my 3rd sub-24 hr and a PR for the course, but 22:30 had suddenly come into view. It was nothing but push the rest of the way.

By my reckoning, I ran the final 9.1 miles in under 2 hours and 2 minutes putting my finish time at 22:27:20. Hmm...that's an awful lot of 2's. Maybe it's time to pick a new favorite number?

1 comment:

imtheguz said...

Just found your blog today (Next Blog feature) and am enjoying it so far. About to sign up for my 1st 50k (Chattooga 50k) in June here in SC, so anything I can learn is good.