by Michael Arnstein
Javelina Jundred Ultra Marathon 2012, Mike Arnstein aka The Fruitarian win!
Javelina Jundred 2012. There’s nothing like doing things for the first time.
I drift off into a special place in my mind when I go back to my first running race, a 5k when I was 12 years old. A half smile and a deep exhale happen every time I think about it. First times are small moments in life to cherish. Fast forward more than 20 years and I’ve run a lot of races. Some I don’t smile so much about, others want to make me cry tears of joy or happiness. Yet there isn’t much in my life that has lasted as long as my running, and running is one thing that I want in my life forever. Yet there aren’t a lot of firsts anymore. It’s been a long journey of doing just about everything in running, and now I have a running goal that isn’t something I’ve been able to achieve in the past: slowing down. Most people would think that winning is everything, that being first is the ultimate goal. I’ve done a lot of that, and it is very nice; but I want to learn to run at an even higher level, a place where running has nothing to do with outrunning other people or besting your past performances. I’ve made the commitment to myself and my family that at the end of 2012 I will be hanging up my competitive shoes. I will run, but I will run with different goals in life and try new things. But before that time comes a fire is still burning in me to deliver a message; my passion for fruitarianism and what it’s given me in life and running. So for nearly five full years I have been stacking up challenge after challenge in my attempt to disprove any nutritionists or doctors that a fruitarian diet is deficient or even dangerous. I continue to improve year after year, race after race, challenge after challenge. Now I feel content that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore. Here’s more of that proof:
The Javelina Jundred: Javelina Jundred is a 101.5 mile race in the hills of Phoenix Arizona. The trail is a mix of dusty sandy rock surrounded by large cactus and sage brush. The 15.5 mile loop is completed 6 times in a washing machine cycle (out and then back in reverse), and then a 10 mile ½ loop completes the full 101.4 mile distance. The race has grown tremendously over the last 10 years due to the gentle nature of the course for many first time 100 mile runners. The race is held just before Halloween in October, with tradition having many runners dress up in creative costumes. It makes for a very festive and supportive atmosphere. I put the Javelina Jundred on my ‘to-do’ list for quite some time, but it never fit in well with my end of year marathon racing goals. But with my competitive carrier coming to a close in just a few months I figured I should throw my hat in the ring and give it a shot. Heck, every time I’ve run a 100 mile race it’s always been a crap shoot. 100 milers level the playing field, no matter how fast or slow you are, in a 100 miler, you just gotta not stop if you want to do really well. So 2 days before the race I got in touch with the race organizers (who happen to be good friends of mine too), and asked them if they had a number for me if I showed up. They excitedly said ‘YES!’ and it was game-on! I reluctantly purchased a flight from NYC to Phoenix for $750. I nearly backed out of the race because of the flight cost, but tried to convince myself that it wasn’t ‘$750.’ it was about $300. more than normal, and for an extra $300. bucks I shouldn’t give up on living some dreams! (Note: this issue of an overpriced ticket came back to help me during this race, so read on) The Competition: I like races where there will be other runners who will give me a kick in the ass, that will make me work for it; and at Javelina this year, there were some great runners. One of them happen to be one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) ultra runner America has ever produced. Mike Morton had just run multiple performances in 2012 that rank as some of the all-time best. His new American record in the 24 hour event ranked as the 3rd individual best ever (172.5 miles). Just being in his presence left me in a sense of awe at what he could do as a human being. I flew to Arizona in large part just to see him run in real life. Hal Koerner, a man who needs little introduction to anyone who knows about ultra running was also a last minute entrant. He had set a blistering course record the year before and seemed to want to go back for more. I think Hal saw Mike Morton on the entrant list and couldn’t help himself at the chance to go head-to-head with one of the best in the sport. The third and final ultra legend in the field was a man that too few people give proper respect: Dave James! Dave has run some spectacularly bad races mixed in with incredibly amazing performances. To say he is hot and cold is a bit of an understatement. But bet against him when he’s having a good race and he’s nearly unbeatable. Dave has run some of the fastest 100 mile times in American history, and came into the race with the fastest 100 mile time of anyone in the field. When I’ve run with Dave, I’ve always had a strong weight of anxiety not knowing if he’s going destroy us all or implode. It makes for very exciting racing. I’ve run quite a bit with Dave over the years now, and consider him a good friend. Both of us being from the New York City area lends to a ‘home team’ pact that we’ve maintained even when racing each other. I was really looking forward to putting in some miles with Dave. Dave and I were both rooting for each other every time we’re in a race, even when competing against each other. That’s what pure ultra runners are all about! We’re all out there primarily battling with ourselves much more than each other. Dave, Hal and Mike Morton were relying on me to push them to new levels, as much as I was relying on them to do the same for me. Race Day: One thing that I don’t like in running are obstacles outside of time and distance. I am a self-professed Roadie when it comes to running. I train mostly on roads and I’ve had my best performances on roads. I like to RUN! I often find very hilly or technical trail courses inhibiting rather than entertaining. Excessive heat or cold, rain, ice, snow, sand, lots of mud, or winds are equally aggravating to me. I like the purity of running in itself. Don’t get me wrong, I am a lover of nature (not the road), but I like to look up and see it while I run and not look at the ground endlessly for things that are going to slow me down or break my leg or wrist. For the Javelina Jundred the obstacles were going to be rocky footing at times, sandy trail and most serious, the heat (oh, yea, and I almost forgot the 101.4 mile distance obstacle!). The temperature forecast was upper 80’s with not a cloud in the sky or a tree for shade in the desert landscape. The heat seemed to favor Dave James and Mike Morton as they both train in excessive heat where they live, but for me and Hal, it was going to be a very long hot day. 5AM Wake Up!: As much as I love running and racing, I absolutely loath the very early wake up calls. I’m an awful morning person and usually get out of bed at the pathetic hour of 10am most days back in NYC, sometimes later. Running 130-180 mile weeks requires a lot of sleep and I make sure I get it. I don’t apologize for it either, sleep is as important if not more important than anything else I do in training. Sleeping long and late is a must for peak performance, and that’s what I want in my life right now. So I make it happen. Getting up at 5AM for a 100 mile race is an obstacle that I seem to hate as much as rooty, rocky trails. I don’t think I’ll ever get good at it either… Time to Fire Up The Machine! I pull into the main parking lot and race stage area at 530AM, there is a bustling city of tents being set up everywhere, generators with flood lights glaring, motivational music blares into the early morning darkness. People are rushing about in all directions racing to get ready to race. The Javelina Jundred is now the 2nd largest 100 mile race in the world, with over 400 runners registered; it’s astonishing to see so many brave souls gather to test themselves in a most awesome way. Many people are dressed in costumes for the Halloween themed race. Crew, pacers and loved ones hug and kiss their runner. I can see that many of the people assembling on the starting line are first-timers, 100 mile virgins, like lambs going to slaughter they line up not knowing what they are about to experience. I shake my head and say to myself, if they only knew what they were about to do… The excitement, drama, and challenge before me becomes immediately very real. My mindset completely changes, my core becomes laser focused. I am a Viking, a Gladiator, a Warrior, A Machine!, A Force of Nature that will not stop until I achieve my goal! I get myself extremely hyped up in the moment. I often think of an old movie scene called Over the Top, where Sylvester Stallone is a heavy weight arm wrestler. In the scene I play in my head, Sylvester is being interviewed by a news reporter on camera about what happens to him right before he goes into competition. He says in his soft but deep dulled voice, ‘uh, I do something, I do something with my hat, I, I turn it around like this, and then it happens, I, I, it’s like I turn a switch and everything gets different…’ I step on the line, and I don’t see anything but the darkness in front of me, everything is different for me now. The countdown starts out-loud as the big crowd shouts down 10,9, 8, … I quickly put my right knee on the ground and say a small prayer. It’s the same prayer I say every time I start a race. I bend my will to transcend my greatest hope, a soul-wish, the ultimate prayer, ‘that I may be safe, that I will have the ability to run the next day’. 4, 3, 2, 1! (With no headlamp) I push off at a 6 minute mile pace. Mike Morton and Dave James are right there with me. It’s happening: Now! Battle cries flare out in all directions as we chase into the night after the ultimate goal, self-discovery, and some primal living! The excitement never gets old, I gotta tell ya, running up front with big dogs is friggin awesome!! We crush a pace up the first hills that we all know is completely unsustainable, but its fun and we all don’t seem to give a shit. We want to burn off the compressed gas in our tanks and get the race going. Hal and a few other unknowns are not far behind. I think to myself, Hal’s gotta be laughing his ass off at the pace we’re pushing up here. I tell Dave that Hal’s smarter than the rest of us; he knows we’re dead dogs if we don’t slow down. But I wasn’t including Mike Morton in my comments about turning into dead dogs. Mike Morton really could hold this pace, and I knew it deeply. So I ran behind Mike with all my respect and admiration. I knew this was a moment of greatness to just share these first few miles with him. Mike Morton is an old-school ultra runner. In my opinion he’s the best ultra runner this country has ever seen. He doesn’t have a sponsor, a blog or website; he doesn’t show up to races with a big crew or fancy anything. Mike knows how to run and doesn’t mess around. Honestly, I am really intimidated being around him, I had to force my introverted self to open up conversation with him. He’s a quiet guy, yet to me he exudes power like few other people I’ve met in my life. I really don’t know if he wants to even talk, maybe he’s so deep into the challenge before him that he won’t even respond to my questions or comments? I think about what he might want to talk about, hoping I can hear some of what goes on in this guy’s head. To my surprise he was very friendly and kept the conversation going back and forth, and I unfortunately forced myself to keep running at a break neck pace with him…after all I didn’t want to be rude! Mike opened up to show some of his inner weakness’s, he told me that after he set the American 24 hour record a month prior, his motivation to race and train hard had dropped off significantly, that he was having trouble keeping his mind in it. I told him I felt the same after 7 years of nonstop racing, (yet I hadn’t set any American records!) and that I had committed to hanging up my racing shoes at the end of the year. We talked a bit about our kids and we chatted more about the difficulties and unusual lifestyle that comes with being a serious ultra runner. We were running fast! Too fast, and I knew I had to make the decision to back off or eventually suffer tremendously later in the race. But I was really enjoying the experience talking with Mike (Dave James was also riding the wave with us). Mile 10 comes very quickly and my GPS watch blinks with a 6:48 mile split, way too fast for me, I know I need to back off… so I wish them well and they pull away. Soon Hal and a few unknown runners were well ahead of me, I was floating back in no-man’s land in 7th place. The lonely miles were here along with the baking rising desert sun glaring overhead. Welcome to Heaven…and Hell: 100 mile races pack in just about every experience and emotion you can think of. There are times of utter despair and times of ecstasy like nothing else in life. I’ve never run a 100 mile race without a bunch of heaven and hell. It makes for a very intense experience, anything but boring to say the least! Now having run many 100 mile races, I know that anything is possible, at any time and of any issue. Most people would think that running 100 miles would be extremely boring, but I don’t think I’ve ever been board before, hell is never boring, trust me, it isn’t. By mile 18 into the race I was on the verge of dropping out of the race. I had so so so far to go and my head wasn’t into it, I was looking for any excuse to drop out. The heat was going to fry me, I wasn’t recovered from the 50 mile race I did the week before, I hate this trail shit! I thought about the NYC marathon the following weekend and all the other races that would suffer because of my attempt to pack in nonstop racing weekend after weekend. I was on a mission to prove to people that a fruitarian diet could power me to unthinkable performances for weeks, months and years. I would show everyone that I could run any distance, at any time, at any pace, and come back for more! My diet was invincible… yet here I was just a mere 18 miles into this race and wondering where was the easiest way for me to give up and go home… Then the other side of my brain started to fight back, the cheap-ass component in me thought about the $750. I blew to fly out here. Damn it! fuckin-seven-hundred-and-fifty damn dollars! Vicky (my wife) is gonna give me holy hell for blowing the entire weekend, $750. And for what… a DNF… Fuck! So at 18.5 miles into the race I made the mental commitment that I was not going to drop out, that I would finish even if I ran a shit time. I laugh at myself, I say in my head ‘Mike, you are such a douche bag, all your bullshit… ‘I’m a Viking, A Machine, A Warrior’; you’re an asshole!… now shut the fuck up and just run you idiot!’ I was now committed to the race with both feet and focused all my attention on getting the job done. Getting The Job Done: So it goes… and goes… I focus on footing, breathing, arm and gate movement, positive mantras and mental focus, back to basics, doing what I know how to do instinctively as a human animal. I transcend at times, as I slip in and out of consciousness about where I am, what I am doing, with moments of appreciation of the fantastic environment and vistas of the desert landscape. I’m experiencing states of ultra-running now, it’s beyond words to explain what that’s like, it’s what I came to find in the Arizona desert. These are moments of greatness in life. The Race Comes Back to Me… A big surprise comes as Mike Morton steps off the course with an acute physical issue related to his recent 24 hour American record run 4 weeks prior. I was truly concerned, I would have been very happy to share the course with him all day and watch him set another record and add more astonishing achievements to his resume. But with Mike Morton now out of the race it turned on a competitive switch within me. I was now a hunting man, I had gone from possible DNF (did not finish) to committed finisher, to aggressive competitor. My mental focus and pace picked up and I began checking all systems for the battle to come. I wasn’t in simulated-flight training mode or transcending in a meditative state anymore; it was live ammunition time, military-orders to perform! I was back to douche-bag mode, Rambo mindset was in order now! The odds were still stacked against me for a win, but I liked that in some sick way. Hal had built a formidable lead and was about 20 to 25 minutes ahead of me at 40 miles into the race. Every 2 hours I’d see him when he finished one of the out-and-back loops of the course. He looked like Hal Koerner each time I would see him, another Viking, a seriously intimidating figure, a deeply strong mind and body that I knew was often unbreakable. It was what I needed to pull me along and press again and again to not let up. The heat was really hammering us. Full sun exposure from sun up to sun down is enough to destroy you if you’re just a sun-bather! For us, running literally ALL day created a serious challenge that few people could bare. Most of the other runners were walking during the mid-day heat as the temperatures were said to hit the low 90’s. But as I often do, I felt better and better as the miles went by and by. I hung onto the numbers in my mind about how many hours and minutes were between me and a setting sun, a cooler evening and a clean shower waiting for me when I finished. I dreamed about being with my wife and kids, things that make me happy when I’m feeling very alone and tired. Running 100 miles is something you can’t coast through. A tail wind, a downhill, it doesn’t help that much, you just gotta keep going, step by step by step. You only get to the finish line if you take every one of those steps by yourself. It’s exceptionally, exceptionally, exceptionally hard, and I love it. Then the unexpected happens. A runner coming in the other direction tells me that Hal is walking. I am really surprised; I don’t really believe it either. Hal would slow down before he would walk, and he wasn’t slowing down, as I’d been chasing him for nearly 60 miles. He held a 25 minute lead on me for nearly 7 hours, and now at over 70 miles into the race I wasn’t expecting him to suddenly slow down so much. But there he was, just a few miles later down the trail; walking. I slowed down as I came up to him and even walked a few steps as I tried to genuinely boost him up and encourage him to carry on. Although we are in a race, I have a great feeling of empathy for him and the others that are struggling with me. 100 mile races are about the challenge to finish more than anything else. The fact that we happen to all be battling each other isn’t really the core of what is in front of us, it’s really a battle of self, and I wanted Hal, I needed Hal to not give up. We were at war together, not at war with each other. He told me the heat had really took it out of him, that he needed to re-group, stabilize and figure it out. I told him that he was Hal Korner! and that I would carry on ahead but with the clear worry that he would come back to push the pace and race. ‘Hal we still got 30 miles to go and I fully expect you to get back in the game after me!’ I was really rooting for him in my mind, I was very excited to be in first place now, but I wanted the company up front. Being chased is tougher than chasing, and now it was my race to lose. I have a flood of adrenaline and find an entirely new gear in my legs and level of energy. At that point I knew I had the race in hand as long as no acute issue happened; but I was fully aware that acute issues can and-do happen. So I ran with patience and tried to stay humble in the face of good odds that the running gods would shine well on me this day. The sun finally starts to go down and the heat escapes into the desert night. A coolness settles in the air that is a pure joy to run in. I’m having another rare moment of greatness in my life where it’s effortless to run fast and comfortable at mile 87 and beyond. I’ve worked very hard year over year to achieve this state-of-ultra-running, a moment in my life that is fleeting… I try to hold onto it as long as I can. Then BAM! I am in the air, fully horizontal; my legs feel as if they are pitched above and behind me as if I’m diving into a swimming pool. But it’s no swimming pool; it’s a 15% grade downhill section of rocky shit trail. I just kicked a very stubborn rock and I am about to dive into the deep-end… ‘oooooohhh ssshit!’ I hit the ground with both hands out in front of me with enormous force as the rest of my body slams into the ground. The wind is briefly knocked out of me and I roll over onto my back as I try to dissipate the impact out over my entire body while I slide down the rocky trail. My water bottle explodes from the impact, I lay still for a few moments and try to asses that nothing is broken or any serious acute issues have resulted. I think about my singular prayer at the start of the race where I only hope to be in healthy to run the next day. Another runner that I had just lapped moments before runs up quickly to my aid, ‘holy smokes, are you ok!?’ It’s dark and our headlamps move around up and down my body quickly to assess the damage. ‘Aghhh, aweee, uh, deep inhale, exhale’… ‘that’s how it happens, from first place to the ambulance…’ Miraculously I only have blood coming out of a few deep cuts on my fingers, stomach and few places on my leg, but nothing is broken aside from my big toe feeling like its completely smashed. I get up and slowly look around to gain my bearings. I instantly swallow a massive piece of mental humble pie, but hastily press back to the mission at hand. I run off down the trail unable to hold back curses at the rocks littered all around the trail. Again, I swear off technical trail running as far too dangerous and not worth the risk. I calm down a few miles later and apologize in sort to the trail and remember how fun it can be to run on the dirt (not in the dirt!). But my big toe is getting very unhappy and I know it’s probably very ugly… but the finish and win is in hand; I just need to finish the job! My poor big toe! (I’ve left the picture out here to save you some ugly sight…yea, gross… sorry) For the last few miles of the race Dave James (who had dropped out early in the race) comes out to run with me to the finish. This is my victory lap of sorts. He’s a great guy, I really like Dave; as we share laughs together and talk about the ups and downs of ultra running, and life. He’s genuinely happy for me and I really appreciate it. Ultra runners are different; few understand us that aren’t ultra runners themselves. Those last few miles are sensational, you almost wish they wouldn’t end…well almost… The finish is now less than a mile away and I feel fantastic. I swear I feel like I could run a 5k in under 16 minutes! I almost want to try, just to see if it’s really possible. I close the last mile on my GPS watch at 6:08 pace and it feels effortless. Wow is this awesome! There is a large crowd cheering, blaring music and flood lights glaring into the night sky. I fly down the last 100meters in a blaze of glory. I am a Ninja, a Gladiator, a Warrior, a Champion, and a douche bag all at the same time! I let out a Yahooo!!! 14 hours, 38 minutes; I cross the finish line! 101.4 miles is behind me and I close another blessed chapter in my carrier as an ultra runner. The Javelina Belt Buckle is the heaviest weight buckle in the sport! It’s awesome and heavy! Without a doubt the Javelina 1st place award is the most incredible (and super crazy) award I’ve ever won in running! It’s nearly 2 feet tall and extremely amazing in person. Apparently it was an expensive piece that Nick and Jamil purchased from a famous Mexican artist. It’s a serious stand out and story to tell when people see it. Another reason for other top ultra runners to do Javelina! The Western States cougar ain’t got nothin on this award!! In Conclusion: There is nothing like the first time, and my first high level performance and win at the Vermont 100 last year was beyond words of happiness and fulfillment, but winning the Javelina Jundred was very special in a different way. It was the first time I did something truly great, where when I finished, I felt like I had little else to prove; where I felt more and more ok with hanging up my competitive running shoes at the end of the year and trying new things…
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