Saturday October 28, 2017
5 o’clock AM – The sun is barely rising on the horizon, light gently spilling into my bedroom as I wake for the day. My phone chimes – a text from Kenny. The night before he camped at McDowell Mountain, preparing himself for a weekend to remember. He is letting me know is ready to go and I wish him luck before he heads off to the start line.
6 o’clock AM – Packing up my camping gear, my thoughts are with Kenny as he takes his first steps onto the race course.
Today is the day of the Javalina Jundred, a 100 mile footrace and Jalloween (aka Halloween) Party in the desert. His goal is to run under 24 hours, widely considered to be the gold standard time for completing a 100 mile distance. Think Boston Qualifier. He has been training for this race through the long hot summer months of Phoenix. His legs are strong and his mind is stronger. I have so much confidence that he is going to dominate today.
The boys and I and two amazingly committed, or crazy, friends load up our gear and head out to support him. We are all looking forward to a weekend of hanging out in the desert, though I am quiet with anticipation thinking about how Kenny is doing on his first loop.
Javelina Jundred is run at McDowell Mountain north of Phoenix. It is a beautiful park with smooth easily runnable trails. And while this sounds like the flat runnable trails would make the race easier, it means more running which is exhausting for the legs. A mountainous 100 miler gives different muscles a chance to rest as you climb up, go down, run flat. Further, this course has zero shade….literally. With the hot baking desert sun relentlessly beating down on your skin, even a mild 85 degree day feels scorching. Temperatures have been known to climb well over 100 during this race.
This course is run in 5 loops. The first loop is the longest at 22.3 miles long. Kenny is planning to run it in roughly 4 hours giving us just enough time to get there and prepare to meet him. Upon arrival at the park, I load up the wagon with Tailwind, hummus wraps, change of clothes, water, Nuun, shoes, sock, a chair, an umbrella and more. It feels quite a lot like that first trip out to the grocery store with a new born baby.
9:30 AM – We head to the start/finish area where we will meet Kenny. Keegan and Quinlan run around, playing, getting dirty. As the minutes creep by, I get quieter and more focused, hoping any moment to see Kenny come around the bend.
10:15 AM – At last we see him, 4 hours and 15 minutes after the race started. 22.3 miles down and he is on schedule. Bad news though. He looks terrible, dragging and down trodden. I lower him into a chair and Quinlan holds up an umbrella for shade, a precious commodity today. My job is to diagnose any and all of his needs and in his condition he isn’t the most cooperative patient because even he isn’t sure.
He is nauseous but describes it more in the chest, not the gut. He tries to throw up and he doesn’t get any food out. He does gets a big gas bubble and feels slightly better. Later we will figure out that with the dry air and difficulty chewing, he is swallowing a lot of air. I patch him up the best I can and send him back on his way. It will be 19.5 miles until I see him again. With him feeling this poorly so early in the race, I am getting nervous. But I know that if we can keep his spirits up, he is going to be just fine.
If there is anything Kenny is capable of, it is pushing through physical distress and staying strong mentally. For many runners, hitting a problem 6 miles into a 100 mile race could spell disaster, but not for Kenny. I am concerned for him, but have faith he will soldier on.
11 o’clock AM – I head back to the campsite and spend some time playing with the boys, chatting with Kristie and Kim, and hoping for the best. Javelina Jundred is a notorious event. Sporting prizes for things like “Best Costume” and “Best Ass”, runners pull out all the stops making it an entertaining time. As we sit enjoying the day, Kim jumps excitedly out of her chair and makes sweeping gestures to the race course. “Come on, come on, you have to see this!”
In true Javelina fashion, a runner comes through wearing a bright red thong. We gawk at his dedication and are so in awe of his tenacity, and his ass, that we fail to notice that he is wearing arm sleeves, and a water pack. Trust me, you would fail to notice it too.
3 o’clock PM – Four more hours pass and we head back to the start/finish. There is no way for us to track Kenny’s progress with the exception of one aid station half way. Based on that time, we think he might still be on pace. This fact gives me hope that he is doing better. Four and a half hours after we saw him the first time, he comes rolling through again….in MUCH better spirits. 40 miles in and he is feeling pretty good. He tells me his legs are dead, but I remind him “You don’t need your legs.” Folks, this is the mindset of a ultrarunner. You don’t need your legs to run the rest of those miles. You need your mind and his is strong.
He has doctored up his clothes to deal with the heat and it is working well. We don’t need to spend much time with him this go around. We get him patched up and back on the course. I am still confident he can hit his sub-24 hour goal.
He anticipated his third leg to be slower. It is 40 miles into the race, he is getting tired but doesn’t yet have a pacer to keep him company. In 100 mile distances, runners can pick up a pacer at certain points to keep them company and to watch out for their well-being. He will be picking up a pacer when he heads out on his fourth loop so he has another five hours or so on his own.
5 o’clock PM – The next hours are uneventful. The boys enjoy a burping contest, some wood-fired pizza, hot chocolate by a campfire and giant connect four. I enjoy relaxing and being in my favorite place in the world, out in nature with family, friends, and lots of crazy runners. We settle the boys in for bed and then head back to the start/finish area to wait again for Kenny. It is dark now, rapidly cooling off and the fatigue is setting in for us as we desire to get some sleep. Kenny’s fatigue is no doubt tremendous and picking up a pacer for his next loop will definitely breath some life into him.
9 o’clock PM – When we see him for the third time he is still looking good. He jokes with us and celebrates an Ohio State win over Penn State. We execute our now perfectly organized routine, changing shoes and socks, refilling supplies in his pack and making sure he has all he needs to set back out. Chrissie heads out with him to pace his next 20 miles. She is the perfect pacer for him at this point – high energy, enthusiastic, talented, and overall just fabulous company. I can head to get a few hours of sleep knowing he is in great hands.
11 o’clock PM – I climb into bed with the boys and despite my exhaustion I have trouble falling asleep. Ultras are so inspiring and exciting and I lay awake dreaming of the next one I get to run. At last, sleep consumes me and I rest peacefully for a few hours.
Sunday October 29, 2017
2 o’clock AM – Too soon however, the alarm goes off, signaling our need to head back out to greet Kenny one last time. We trudge back to the start/finish. We have arranged for another runner to run the last loop with him. I meet Josh for the first time and thank him for being willing to run with Kenny. This is another amazing aspect of ultrarunning. The community support is so incredible. Where else in the world will you find a complete stranger willing to run 20 miles with someone they don’t know, through the desert, in the middle of the night, especially when the runner they are helping is probably horribly cranky and tired by this point? I LOVE THIS SPORT!
3:30 AM – It is another hour and a half until Kenny comes in. His fourth loop was way slower than his previous loops. Up until this point, his goal of sub-24 was still a possibility, though he would have had to push hard for it. Now, it was a lost dream. We moved onto his B Goal to beat his 100 mile time at Mohican 100 last summer. And that goal was still well within reach.
9 o’clock AM – The camper is broken down, we are packed up and ready to head home. The only thing we are missing is our runner. At 8:29 am, Josh had texted me letting me know they had passed through Rattlesnake Aid Station, 4 miles from the finish. His message said, “He’s moving really good now.” I knew it wouldn’t be long before he showed his happy face.
9:05 AM – He arrives, ripping off his water pack, his shirt, and sporting the biggest smile a face can hold. It is a quarter mile to the actual finish line and he bolts off, moving like he just rolled out of bed, not like he had just run 100 miles. The boys greet him about 100 yards from the finish and Keegan grabs for his hand as he runs the last fews steps with his dad.
9:07 AM – He completes the Javelina Jundred in 27 hours 9 minutes and 32 seconds, a new Personal Record.
Tears are in my eyes watching his complete his goal, watching him prove to our kids yet again that a person can do anything if he puts his mind to it, watching him filled with such joy.
Over the next several days we have spent a lot of time picking apart the race, reflecting on what worked and what did, reliving the challenges and the excitement. Kenny’s unfailing confidence – if he puts his mind to something, he will prevail – is a trait I aspire to embrace and grow in myself. I doubt myself ceaselessly, but his example is a powerful reminder in the strength of a positive attitude and of faith.
Congratulations Kenny Fife. Can’t wait for the next go around.
The journey continues……