I had the great pleasure of running the third JAJA marathon this past weekend. Although I can’t say the entire run FELT pleasurable LOL. This being my 3rd year at the JAJA I’m considered a bit of a veteran although I always feel like a rookie. I love this race because I get to see my run family. This race was built out of community and love. Love of running, adventure, being out in nature. Love for each other and ourselves.
This fun ‘Barkley inspired’ marathon takes place in a wooded natural area near Ponoka. there ARE distinct trails but the course is NOT actually MARKED. You are given a map of the area, your 1st page number and the grid coordinates of the 1st book you need to find.
Once the candle has been lit you head out through the gate to start your first of 5 loops. Each loop you need to find 5 different books’ pages in order to prove you did the whole course. Each lap your pages are verified before you can continue. You must start your last loop before the candle burns out.
Once the candle is lit we all file in, to receive our page number and head through the gate in search of the 1st book. Well it took us some time to find the first book but It didn’t take us as long to find the first puddle. After getting our feet wet, we traipsed up the hill to search for awhile, before the book was inevitably found. Its awesome to see the teamwork that happens in this race.
After finally finding the 1st book cheers were had by everyone and once we’d taken turns ripping out our own pages we all headed off. After a quick look at the map I realize this is the out and back section I hate every year, but this year I remember how to get there lol. We find book 2 on the out and back and redirect ourselves towards the middle of the park for the third book. After finding my way to book 3 (multiple times) I realize there are several ways to get to that book of which I’m pretty sure I took a few.
On to book 4 (which is nowhere near book 3) this book is in a great spot because no matter which way you get there you will have to go up a hill. In fact now that I think about it almost all the books were up a hill.
After the fourth book it’s a nice tour of the backside of the park to get to book 5. Once you have that 5th page, you start to feel confident knowing you are almost done the loop but don’t forget about the ‘river crossing’ – (disclaimer puddle the length of city block not actual river).
After the ‘river crossing’ you are almost home free.
Once in from your first loop, Pages are verified and you are free to eat whatever you want from the aid station food tables. The thing about ultrarunners is that we love to eat yummy things and at this race we each bring our own dish for the communal aid station. needless to say this aid station is well stocked and sometimes hard to leave. Especially when your friends on the relay team are sitting around drinking coffee and Baileys while heckling you and the other runners.
To keep things interesting the direction of the loop is not always the same. The first 2 loops are clockwise, the second 2 loops are counter clockwise and the last is a washing machine style alternating directions for each person starting the final loop.
If you had been running the whole thing with a friend you would now be split up for the last lap. This can be mentally challenging if you aren’t experienced in navigation or hadn’t been paying attention the rest of the day lol.
I ran the first 3 loops with my friend Lisa. It was great catching up with her as I hadn’t seen each her much since running 125km together last summer at CDR.
After 3 loops Lisa was done for the day and I headed out on my OWN for the 1st time EVER at the JAJA. Lisa was great at navigating being that she works in search and rescue so I had relied on her for directional cues and now was wishing she was still with me.
I’m not terrible with directions and I was a bit familiar with the area so the finding the books wasn’t a problem but a couple times I would come to a junction and not know which way to go (thanks Jaime for sending me in the right direction).
Starting lap 5 the candle was getting really low so I knew I had to hustle. All I wanted was to start loop 5 before the candle went out that way if I didn’t make it back in time at least I got to run the whole thing.
The candle is unpredictable the 1st year it was still lit, last year I was faster but the candle was already out.
Not too far into my last lap I found Coral looking pretty sad and lost. She didn’t have her map and had become disoriented. We quickly figured out which books she still needed and devised a plan. I had my map and needed to get those books as well. We found 3 books together then I sent her off in the right direction headed back to base camp. I continued on in the opposite direction to find my last 2 books. But Shortly after leaving Coral I ran into Steve who was also needed some direction. I assured him he was close to the book and on the correct trail. I continued on to find book 4 saw Lay and Vina and thought I’d found the right trail, I was on the correct trail just headed in the wrong direction. A quick turnaround and then I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Grabbing book 4, I headed down the trail towards book 5 and the end of my race. I remember that shortly after book 5 is the river crossing and as I ran through the water holding my plastic baggie of book pages I couldn’t help but feel a little like Gary Robbins at Barkley 2017.
I turned the corner into the finish my friends all gathered around the finish area. I raced in threw my baggie of torn book pages on the table, collapsed in the fetal position and mumbled something about “having all my pages, being disoriented and crossing a river” (a tribute to the great Gary Robbins Barkley moment in 2017) little did I know that it was a true Robbins moment. I had missed the time cutoff by 7 minutes. The candle may have been extinguished but my heart was full. Even though the water was cold, the ice was slippery and the snow was smushy I had a great day with my friends on the trails doing what I love. Thanks James and the rest of the Dalke family for putting on this great event. Thanks to everyone who volunteered and came to hang out and cheer. I hope to see you all again next year.
Photo credit Steve Baker, Angela Watt & myself
Video of Gary Robbins EPIC 2017 Barkley finish