We finally made it to the last Western States Golden Ticket race in North America for 2023 at the Javelina Jundred on Saturday, October 28, at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in Arizona. The 100-mile race has nearly 850 entrants in total, making it one of the largest ultras on the continent, and we spent the last week collecting comments from a handful of key contenders for the four automatic entries into the 2024 Western States. We also asked if they were willing to divulge their costumes.
Shea Aquilano, 22, from Carmel, Indiana, clocked a sixth-place finish at Black Canyon 100k in February and is returning to the desert looking to move onto the podium in her first Javelina. “I’m super stoked to have the opportunity to race at the Javelina Jundred and run with so many stellar ladies. The fire inside is blazing, and I’m psyched to let loose and romp through the desert. I feel good about my build, even with navigating some bumps along the way like a knee injury from a spectacular fall on a trail run at the end of August. My crew is taking a polar approach to a Halloween desert race by making our theme Christmas/winter-related in an attempt to channel some cooler wintery vibes and seasonal magic.”
Sarah Biehl, 29, recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Ohio, and then went on to win the NACAC 50k Championships last month in Canada. She’s lining up at her first 100-mile race. “Since entering the ultrarunning scene in 2020, Javelina Jundred has been on my radar. Super excited to finally get the opportunity to line up at this year’s race against a stacked field. I can’t think of a better race to make my 100-mile debut!”
Coming out from Virginia Beach, Virginia, 30-year-old Tara Dower won Run Rabbit Run just six weeks ago. “I’m most excited about a hopeful PR and the party. I’ve been doing a lot of speed work since Run Rabbit Run 100-miler. The training for that was focused on mountains and climbing, so I felt I needed to get my speed back up. I’m going to be a glitter cat!”
Another Colorado runner, 34-year-old Stef Flippin out of Evergreen, is returning from injury and had a strong 50-mile win at the Bear Chase last month. “I am most excited about getting back onto a competitive start line after patiently building back from injury and life pivots. Javelina always brings the heat, both with the fields and the temps, and that brings out the best grit in all of us. I took a different approach to this build based on knowledge from being in the race last year, and feel very confident about the tweaks my coach and I made to get to the start line. And wait, this is a costume race?!”
Nicole Monette, 38, from Oxford, Michigan, came in second behind Aquilano at the Woodstock 50-miler last month, and has had three 100-mile podiums in the last three years. “I’ve had my eye on returning to Javelina since 2021, where I had a tough day and dropped at the 100k mark. Since then, I’ve been pretty determined to come back and give it all I have to complete the full five loops. I spent the first six months of this year building back strength and fitness after missing three months with a femoral stress fracture that I sustained at the end of 2022. Since July, I have been healthy and stacking bricks of fitness with Javelina in mind. I raced a local 50-mile in September which was a good indicator that I’m where I need to be heading into this year’s race. I’m excited to get back out there. I probably won’t have a costume for the race but am looking forward to enjoying the wild scene that is Javelina.”
Jill Wojta out of Onalaska, Wisconsin, was the 2022 Tunnel Hill 100 champion. The 42-year-old shared, “Be brave, stay brave, will be my race day mantra. I am most excited about being part of a big race in a competitive field and seeing what I can get out of myself on the day. My intent was to see how fit I could get using the resources I have and within the parameters of my life, and I feel like I did what I could. Wisconsin has been getting some nice, cool fall temps which may not be conducive to running in the desert, but we will just do what we can to manage the heat and stay on top of nutrition. As for a costume, I’m playing with the idea of being a tiger, but only on the last lap. I try to keep her in the cage, but there comes a point when you get to unleash the beast. This will be a game-time decision and we will have to see where the spirit leads me.”
Other contenders that couldn’t be reached for comment include Ragna Debats, Heather Jackson and Lauren Puretz.
On the men’s side, 37-year-old Zach Bitter from Austin, Texas, who has won and finished second at Javelina, is one to watch. “I am most excited about the competition and opportunity to race for a Golden Ticket. My training build went well. I followed a gradual build following an injury that made impact-related training low volume at first, but had a lot of progress with cycling, assault bike and sled pushing/pulling to supplement a slower ramp up to peak volume. I followed that with a solid speed work development phase, and capped it off with some 100-mile specific volume before taper. I hit some pretty encouraging training benchmarks in the heat of summer, so I am optimistic for a strong day in the desert. I am shamefully without a custom as of now.”
Flagstaff’s 26-year-old Preston Cates won and set a new course record at a 75k race on the Javelina course last month. He’s racing his first hundred. “There are a few things I’m excited about—from how the field and race will unfold, to the personal struggle and problem-solving that will happen throughout 100 miles. Also, seeing all the costumes at this ultra desert party will be entertaining, to say the least!”
In April, Matt Daniels, 35, out of Superior, Colorado, took ninth at the Canyons 100k. He raced at the front of the 2022 Javelina before dropping out. “I’m most excited for the atmosphere that Javelina provides. There isn’t another race like it. The build went well—it was a short build with a quick turnaround post-UTMB and coming off a big mountain training block, but I feel like the strength I’ve gained from that block is going to be very beneficial for Javelina. I don’t have a costume. Maybe I can drum something up before Saturday.”
Two-time Javelina Jundred champion Hal Koerner, 47, of Ashland, Oregon, raced a 50k this summer. “Well, this is a different trip altogether. I closed out my last weekend of training with a 110-mile bike ride from Ashland to Crater Lake with some longer runs tacked on, however, I still struggle with a lack of quickness relative to my fitness gains. So, to borrow a line from Mt. Joy, I’ll ‘let the desert sun decorate time’ and probably the moon, too. I’m still a minimalist at heart, might don a wig at the start line to laugh it up but that will be shed real quick in that heat.”
Seattle’s Joe McConaughy, 32, finished in fourth at the 2021 Javelina and won the Cocodona 250 last year. “This will be my second time racing Javelina. Really, I’m just stoked to be toeing the line. The entire last year has been a buildup from a nagging Achilles injury. To have put together a consistent block and feel like I’m in racing shape is a huge win. And an even bigger win would literally be winning Javelina. That’s what I’m in for—being competitive with the top runners and giving it my all. I’m in better shape than my 14:12 performance, so we will see what that holds. I’m most excited to be racing two athletes who I coach, Ryan Raff and Blake Slattengren. We hope to employ some cross-country-style race strategy of using each other and working together at points in the race. We don’t know how it’ll play out, but we’re all rooting for each other, and it has been so great coaching two rising stars in the sport.”
San Antonio’s Ryan Miller is lining up at his second 100-mile race and looking for redemption. The 31-year-old won the Kauai 50 in August as part of his build. “Ain’t no party like a Javelina Jalloween party, right? I’m most anticipating the energy I’ve heard this event brings, not to mention my first go at 100 miles since 2021 Western States. My training has been steady since July, punctuated by a good showing at the Kauai 50 in August. I’m ready to sling my webs from the aid station to saguaro cactus as Spiderman next weekend.”
Ryan Montgomery, 29, from Wanship, Utah, was second here two years ago, and is likely the only contender already entered in the 2024 Western States. “Since I already have an entry into WSER given my top-10 performance this year, I am not afraid to push the pace. If all stars align, I hope to go CR, PR and get the win.”
Boulder-based Jon Rea ran the third-fastest time in course history at Javelina last year to finish second. The 31-year-old is looking to repeat that performance. “Racing is so cool. I’m excited to go do something I wouldn’t be able to do on my own, but that can only happen when surrounded by the kind of competition and support that Javelina brings. My training for Javelina this year has included typical 4-5-hr weekend runs for 100-mile race prep, but also 200-meter track repeats. Those extremes have made every day different and fun, and I think they have made me a more efficient runner at all-day Javelina pace. I’ll be rocking a mohawk.”
Additional runners to watch out for are Ryan Raff, Micahel Versteeg and Blake Slattengren.
There’s a bunch more races happening this weekend including the Fall Chicago Lakefront 50/50 in Illinois, the Canyonlands Ultra 50-mile/125k/100-mile in Moab, Utah, the Kansas Rails-to-Trails Extravaganza 50k/50-mile/100k/100-mile in Ottawa, Kansas, The Endless Mile 6/12/24/48-hour in Alabaster, Alabama, the Georgia Sky 50/50 in Summit Dillard, Georgia, the Fonta Flora 50k in Nebo, North Carolina, the Marine Corps Marathon 50k in Arlington, Virginia, the SAMO Trail Runs 50/50 in Pacific Palisades, California, and the Pike Lake 36.5-miler in Bainbridge, Ohio.
Who are your picks for Golden Tickets at the Javelina Jundred? What are you dressing up as at your local race this weekend? Inquiring minds want to know — so please leave that information below.