While there are hardcore runners out there who live to run marathons at the competitive level, most people strive to simply finish one: 26.2 miles of blood, sweat, and tears (but mostly sweat). However, did you know there’s a whole subculture of uber-athletic runners who go above and beyond those “measly” 26.2 miles? This is the world of ultra marathon running, where participants run (and run and run and run) any distance beyond the standard length of a “regular” marathon. And one of the longest supported races is the 100 mile-long Javelina Jundred, which took place this past weekend in the Sonora Desert of Arizona.
Now in its ninth year, the Javelina Jundred — pronounced with “H” sounds as in “jalapeño” — started out as a joke in 2003 when runners Geri Kilgariff and Anthony Humpage were running the Pemberton Trail in Arizona’s McDowell Mountain Regional Park: an idea to run over six loops around the desert trail to total 100 miles. That joke spiraled into a more serious idea, and before they knew it, 180 people signed up for the first “100-Mile Party Run.” Nine years later — now organized by Aravaipa Running and sanctioned by US Track and Field — it drew 384 extreme ultra-runners this past weekend, to challenge them to run 100 desert miles over the span of 30 hours straight.
Of that 384, only 173 runners finished the entire run after battling not only the fatigue of running, but nose bleeds, blisters, darkness, coyote howls, and rainstorms. As much as this “fun run” may have been appealing to these runners, it wasn’t necessarily fun the entire time, especially when you’re running solo during parts of the trail in the middle of the night and it starts pouring.
“[It was fun], but it wasn’t when I was running,” said ultra-runner Elaine Acosta of New Jersey, who had gone through all of the aforementioned hardships, including the downpour in her 18th consecutive hour of running. “No, it’s awesome. That’s what I had to keep telling myself. It’s all mental.”
Acosta is no stranger to ultra marathons, having run fifteen “regular” marathons, four 50k’s (31 mi.), three 50-milers, and one 56-mile race since 2007, in races around the globe from South Africa to India. Running these “measly” sub-100-mile marathons seems to be part of the proper training for the century runs; in fact, runner Hideki Kinoshita warmed up for the Javelina Jundred by running the ING New York City Marathon just the weekend before.
While Kinoshita dropped out around mile 70, others did complete the grueling endurance race, some with astonishing times: Hal Koerner was the top male runner, completing the 100-miler in 13 hours, 47 minutes; Elizabeth Howard was the top female at 15 hours, 47 minutes. Acosta completed the race in 28 hours, 42 minutes, just a little over an hour before the cutoff time. In the end it was worth it; she left the course with a “runners’ high” as she has with every ultra marathon she’s completed.
“That’s why I do it,” said Acosta. “You love it and you hate it. And whenever I cross the finish line I say I want to do it again.”
So where does an ultra marathon runner go after running 100 miles? There’s the Badwater Ultramarathon, covering 135 miles in a non-stop race from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA — and in temperatures up to 130°F — which requires applicants to bring their own support team. Acosta is considering it — but not until she’s fully recovered from her first “measly” 100-mile race.