Monthly Archives - October 2019

Javelina Jundred: R-rated fun, serious run

With each passing year, it seems there are more must-watch races for the ultra-marathoning community. Not many, however, have to remind participants on their racing page that “frontal nudity/exposure is NOT permitted” while including a cheeky (quite literally) asterisk and the following amendment: “We have the best ass award…so expect some bare butts. You’ve been warned.”

Javelina Jundred

Yes, it is time once again for the Javelina Jundred, a race that is out there in both terms of being physically demanding and in terms of being…well…out there. The 17th installment will take place on October 26-27 in Fountain Hills, Arizona, and this party is proudly sold out. Taking place just a few days before Halloween, Javelina is just like your neighborhood Halloween bash – that is, if your party didn’t focus so much on the punch, pizza, and party dip but instead on pushing your body to its physical limitations in the middle of the Arizona desert. 

Beginning at the Four Peaks Staging Area at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, participants have a choice of running either 100 miles or 100 kilometers. Those doing the former will begin with a 22.3-mile loop on the Escondido Trail, followed by four 19.45 mile loops on other trails; the latter option will be essentially the same, with only the first three loops. 

Javelina Jundred

Camping is encouraged, and in many ways, the Javelina Jundred will be as much a show as it will be a competition. One unique feature of the race is that since the runners reverse directions with each lap of the race “washing machine” style, they will pass by “Javelina Jeadquarters” every 20 miles – so, crews are only permitted in that area, are well covered by shade, and can turn Jeadquarters into a vibrant social scene complete with wood-fired pizza, a coffee cart, a bonfire for roasting marshmallows and much more.

Javelina Jundred

Of course, each runner finishing the 100 Mile (in under 30 hours) and 100 Kilometer (in under 29 hours) receive the customary belt-buckle, bragging rights and eligibility for unique handmade Dia de Los Muertos-themed awards going to the top 3 male and female finishers. But this is a race that proudly awards flair, so participants can also take home awards for “Best Costume,” “Most Memorable Performance,” “1st Virgin” (being the best placing rookie) and more.

Javelina Jundred

Past Javelina Jundreds have given us participants in Jackie Onassis dresses and pillbox hats, wearing fake beards and wigs, dressed as hot dogs and Disney princesses and more. While the 2019 edition would seem to be limited only by the imaginations of the racers (and of course, the ban on full-frontal nudity), this is a serious business. The 100 Miler is, in fact, a 2020 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run Qualifier, and the 100 Miler and 100 Kilometer are both 2020 UTMB Qualifiers. In short: The athletes out there will be serious, even if their costumes are not.

For those looking to embrace the Javelina vibe but not the aching muscles and pulled hamstrings, Javelina offers the “Jackass Night Trail.” Featuring one 20 mile loop, the event is hyped up “Jackass Night Trail” as “Fun! Running during the Javelina Jundred is a unique, vibrant, and fun-filled experience for all runners. It’s unlike any other trail running event and we want to encourage more people to join in the fun! The Jackass Night Trails is the best way to experience the course, the aid stations, and the mayhem of Jackass Junction! Plus, it comes with its own perks & swag!”

Javelina Jundred

The Night Trails race promises a disco party, a DJ and that you’ll someday be able to start your stories with “So, I was running between a hotdog and a unicorn…”. Another requirement reads: “Please note that a sense of rhythm is not required, but a sense of humor is.” And who knows? If you’re lucky, you might just win a disco ball trophy and be crowned as the Jackass King.

If you can’t make it out to Arizona, be sure to keep an eye on the Instagram hashtag #OnlyAtJavelina, where people have already begun uploading eccentric pictures of races past. If the previous 17 editions are any indication, the Javelina Jundred will once again be an event like none other. Just be careful if you have any children around your computer/smart device – because, with that Best Ass Award in contention, those Instagram pics might just get very R-rated.

2019 Big Dog Backyard

2019 Big Dog Backyard preview: ‘This is a race to the death’

Typically, when you discuss a sporting event, you marvel over the feats of the athletes. Somehow, they might manage to accomplish the impossible, do something no one has ever done, create a physical expression on par with a masterful painting, poem or novel. In their own way, through endurance, imagination, and talent, they craft a masterpiece.

But when you’re discussing Big Backyard Ultra, the praise must first be heaped upon the race’s designer. Sure, massive props must be given to anyone who actually wins this punishing, annual test of the human capacity for pain in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. But much like when you consider the complex machinations of baseball (9 innings, 27 outs, no clock) or football (two-point conversion or field goal?), you begin to realize that the creation of the sporting event itself is a true thing of beauty.

And so, it is with that knowledge that we can call Gary Cantrell, a.k.a. Lazarus “Laz” Lake the Picasso of pain. And in the note establishing this year’s ground rules, he seems to take particular, defiant pride in his achievement.

“The Backyard Ultra is back for 2019,” he says of the October 19 race, in a page on UltraSignup whose “Align Left” format evokes a kind of cruel haiku. “The concept is simple.”

2019 Big Dog Backyard

So simple, in fact, that it almost feels like a trap from a “Saw” movie. In short, you run. And then you run again and again. And as long as others keep running, you must do the same. The last person running wins the race, everybody else loses. If no one runs one last lap after second-place gives up, guess what? Everybody loses.

It is that distinctive framework that instills such a love/hate relationship with the participants. 

“Have you ever thought that you could not be beaten, if only the faster runners were unable to run away and leave you?” the posting explains, teasing you with the allure of this one-of-a-kind race. “This is your chance to find out. Every surviving runner will be tied for the lead, every hour.”

2019 Big Dog Backyard

Ultimately, every hour is a chance to start anew. At 6:40 on Saturday, October 19 the race will begin, with all participants running around a 4.166667-mile trail in Laz’s backyard. If you don’t finish near the top of the pack, no worries, all you need to do is cross the finish line within an hour. Sure, some might finish with more time to spare – and they get to do whatever they like with that time for recovery – but at 7:40, the madness starts all over again, and you are once again revitalized (or perhaps, cruelly teased) by the notion of being right back in first place with everyone else.

At that point, Big Dog participants become Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” – repeating the same events, in the same spaces, against the same people, time and time again. Each time, it all becomes a little less fun, a little more repetitive, a little more like a punishment. There is no certain point where it will end, and it will inevitably come down to a battle of wills as the final two competitors wearily eyeball each other in a “can we please just end this?” game of chicken.

For that and so many other reasons, this is a race unlike any other. “Brats and chili will be served beginning at 1500 hours and continuing until the finish. Rumor has it, there will be moonshine testing lessons around the campfire,” the site reads as if to underline that point in red ink.

In 2017, Guillaume Calmettes and Harvey Lewis dueled to the point of exhaustion, with Calmettes (listed as a returning participant for 2019) running a total of 245.835 miles in 59 hours. Last year, Johan Steene and Courtney Dauwalter battled for 66 laps before Dauwalter finished their 67th showdown with her slowest lap in three days (53:26); smelling blood in the water, Steene came out for lap 68 and rather than discovering a competitor, he found Dauwalter’s hand extended in capitulated congratulations. 

2019 Big Dog Backyard

Expressing the same sentiment as the Big Dog Backyard description, Steene freely admits that had the race been a traditional one, he would have lost. “If there had been a predestined finish line at Big’s Backyard, my money would have been on Courtney to win, she would beat me at any such race and distance,” he told Trail Runner. “But at the Backyard, you draw your own lines.”

As the race’s description reads: “The Big Backyard will continue until but one man is left standing…no matter how long it takes. This is a race to the death…”

Steene’s grand total was 283.335 miles. The general sense among Big Dog observers is that a 300 mile/72 hour race is going to happen soon. Steene has predicted that someone will do 85 laps soon. Calmettes, meanwhile, has been quoted as saying that it would be “cool” to cross the 100 hours mark. Could this be the year any of those milestones finally fall? 

World Championships

Preview: Camille Herron, Courtney Dauwalter lead the pack for 24 Hour World Championships

It’s no secret that ultra-running has been growing in popularity for some time now, so in some ways, it seems only natural that interest in the sport would splinter off into other subsections under the ultra-running umbrella. Of course, races like the Iditarod and the Big Backyard Ultra proudly take the concept of a long-distance race, break it down and flip it on its head. Then there’s another rapidly-growing obsession, fueled by some recent record-setting efforts: The 24-hour race.

This past December, 36-year-old Camille Herron ran around a high school track in Phoenix, Arizona as many times as possible for 24 consecutive hours – finishing after 162.9 miles and establishing a new world record by about two miles. Less than a year later, Zach Bitter took to an indoor track in Milwaukee to make history, setting the world record by running 104.8 miles in 12 hours – almost as an afterthought following his obliteration of the fastest 100-mile run record. 

Although many athletes have been proudly running in circles for years, there suddenly seems to be renewed interest in such offshoots of ultra-marathoning. It makes a lot of sense, then that the upcoming 2019 IAU 24 Hour World Championships is boasting increased numbers – and participation from folks like Courtney Dauwalter and Herron.

World Championships

“Based on provided data we are expecting to have 363 athletes from 45 countries (38 for women and 44 for men),” the International Association of Ultra-runners says in a statement dated September 27. “This is a 26% improvement comparing to the last Championship in Belfast in 2017. With respect to individual distribution, it will be 153 women and 210 men. It is another improvement comparing to the last Championships of almost 19% and over 32% respectively.”

Set for October 26-27, this year’s 24 Hour World Championships will take place in Albi, France. It is one of the IAU’s four main world championship events (along with the 100km World Championships, the Trail World Championships, and the 50km World Championships) and the only one based on a time format rather than distance. Currently, the event’s standing records belong to USA’s Michael Morton (277.543 kilometers, in 2012) and Japan’s Mami Kudo (252.205 kilometers in 2013).  

World Championships

Episcopal city and birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi has a population that hovers around 50,000 and a humid subtropical climate. Operating as the world governing body of ultra-running, the IAU regulates and sanctions ultra-marathon championships and tracks records.

Of course, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them tracking some new ones later this month. For starters, Camille Heron will be working to improve the incredible pace of 8:03/mile that she maintained in December when she set her records (she also captured the women’s world record for running 100 miles on a track). 

“I’m coming from a marathon background, so I know it’s hard to wrap your head around running 100K, and then 100 miles, and than 24 hours,” Herron, who ate a Taco Bell Double-decker taco and a beer at 2 am in the middle of her record-setting performance, told OutsideHow Camille Herron Set a 24-Hour Running Record“. “I really had to work with my husband and coach, Conor, to think about what I might experience while running through the night and dealing with sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and nutritional needs. There are all these things you have to deal with on top of the actual running part. It’s more about your mind than your legs. It’s trying to will the legs to keep turning over through sleep deprivation. My legs just started getting really stiff and I was doing wind sprints just to try and keep my legs turning over.”

World Championships

Although she may be the record holder, Herron will be competing with more than just herself in Albi. Courtney Dauwalter continues to cement a career of near-legendary proportions, having recently won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2018, she finished 2nd overall in the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra and also broke the women’s course record for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Dauwalter is perhaps best known, however, for her breakthrough performance in the Moab 240 race – her 2 days, 9 hours and 59 minutes were faster than any man in the pack and she finished more than 10 hours in front of the second-place finisher. 

Unfortunately, Zach Bitter will not be participating – but since she holds the record for a fastest 24-hour race among both men and women, any of the other 362 athletes hoping to dethrone Herron will be able to challenge her (and, perhaps, take a few notes) in person.

Blood Testing

Blood Testing: Is it the path to peak performance?

For the most part, runners have become accustomed to certain measuring tools for assessing their training and overall health. Some rely on the latest technology (heart-rate trackers, post-run stats), others on old-fashioned observations (pulse, dehydration), but in this sport, everyone is always looking for that next great advantage.

Which is where direct-to-consumer blood testing comes in. The industry claims that our blood contains vital information we cannot attain elsewhere, which can lead to diagnostics that will keep us operating smoothly and effectively, as an electronic device or automobile; critics point out that results are often misinterpreted, that you may be opening yourself up to privacy concerns, or that claims of accessibility and ease could be Theranos-like missions of misinformation.

Blood Testing

What’s the truth? Below, we examine some facts and fiction about the blood test movement – and the possible advantages of do-it-yourself blood analyses. 

Is the price right?

Testing your own blood while bypassing a physician or healthcare practitioner is a rapidly growing business. Companies like LabCorp, Health Testing Centers and Walk-In Lab offer easy-to-use tests, typically with online result delivery. With prices typically ranging from $99 to $1000, the question then becomes a more complex one: What are you screening for?

The services you need

Blood testing companies typically offer to screen you for everything from allergies and cancers to diabetes and STDs. If you’re a healthy athlete, many would be an unnecessary expense; if you have a history of iron-deficiency anemia, low hormone levels or other afflictions, testing might be more helpful. While some athletes are driven to blood testing because of symptoms – sluggishness, underperformance, etc – others see it as a preventative measure. Clearly, if you have significant deficiencies in zinc, vitamin D or magnesium, it’s better to know and adjust your diet than pushing harder in your workouts and potentially compounding your problems.

Blood Testing

What are the benefits?

Over at Simplifaster 7 Reasons to Blood Test Athletes “, Track and Field coach/sport technologist Carl Valle recommends quarterly blood testing, calling it “one of my top three metrics for athletic development.” He then explains how analysis of a person’s bloodstream measures biomarkers represent long patterns over time, revealing “cold and direct” truths about such things as vitamin D levels (which he says are easy to work with) and hormone levels (which must be approached more cautiously). 

“Blood testing helps coaches elicit performance when athletes are free of such barriers as nutrient deficiencies and problems away from the track or field,” he says. “A clean bill of health and perfect scores on blood tests do not guarantee an athlete will reach the podium or win a championship, but it does rule out wellness as a limiting factor.”

Also worth considering is Valle’s assertion that since information is power, many athletes will use its acquisition as motivation to further push, nourish and rest their bodies – and the results are often beneficial. However, this also marks the point where certain substances could be labeled as “performance-enhancing” and get an athlete in trouble – so proceed with caution.  

Misreading the results

Although many of these companies present their findings in easy, user-friendly readouts, to many physicians and lab technicians the thought of a layman interpreting their own lab results is nothing short of horrifying. Then there are studies like this one “Assessing the utility of yearly pre-season laboratory screening for athletes on a major professional sports team.” on healthy professional athletes, which found that 10.1% of initial screening lab results were abnormal, leading to 40.3% receiving additional testing, but only .35% leading to a change that resulted in a significant positive outcome. In short, only one out of every 300 abnormal blood tests in a healthy athlete leads to anything more than additional testing, additional money and increased worry. 

Blood Testing

Reading the symptoms

Ultimately, much of this stuff is simple common sense. If you’re not feeling well, dial back your exercise regimen and discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider who may or may not recommend a blood test. If you are feeling well, then you most likely have little to gain from a blood test – striving for perfection in every metric, or overcompensating for a certain shortcoming by taking vitamins and mineral supplements beyond their daily recommended allowance, is a slippery slope. 

Proceed with caution

With the above in mind, it seems clear that anyone seeking to cut doctors out of the diagnostic process should proceed with extreme caution and skepticism. False positives are a very real concern with any blood test, and if you are interpreting them without professional help you could end up impeding your physical regimen via paranoia and unnecessary response measures. The sweet spot for those looking to test their own blood is to look over any possible concerns while accompanied by a trained physician or specialist, and then proceeding accordingly.