“Birthdays was the worst days.  Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay.”  –Biggie Smalls

With no disrespect to the Notorious B.I.G., I’ve always felt that birthdays are the best days.  Holidays must be shared with all, but birthdays are unique to the individual (and the roughly .27% of society that shares your date of birth.)  When I first met Yoshimi, she informed me that we would not just be celebrating her birthDAY, but her whole birthWEEK.  This somehow evolved into two, then three weeks and eventually into the whole month of July, which she renamed Yo-ly.

For some reason I’ve had less success instituting Shawn-tober onto the calendar.  I do, however, try to do something special every year.  For me it’s not about parties, presents or sipping champagne Biggie-style, instead I try to seek out some sort of unique experience.  I’ve spent Octobers in Ireland, New Zealand, India, Turkey and Argentina.  My thirtieth birthday was spent drinking yak butter tea at Annapurna base camp in the Himalayas.  On my fortieth, I was laid up with a black eye after getting hit in the head with a portable shrine at a harvest festival in Japan.  Last year we took the Amtrak cross country, stopping off in Montana so I could run my first 50 miler.  It’s fun to try and come up with something new every year.  For 2012, I decided to go big.

Though I’ve run for most of my life, it was just a few years ago that I realized that there are races longer than a 26.2 mile marathon.  These “ultra” distance races make up a very small, yet quickly growing segment of endurance events.  As opposed to your typical marathon, ultras are usually run on trail in distances of 50K (31 miles), 50 miles, 100k, and the granddaddy of them all, the 100 miler.

Most people are surprised that races of these distances exist.  They would be even more surprised to learn that there are now 97 races in North America that are 100 miles long.  What’s crazier is that dozens, sometimes hundreds of runners compete in these events, many of which are held at elevation, on technical trail, through deserts and over mountains.  It’s like some sort of cult and somehow I’ve been brainwashed into becoming a member.  October 27th will be my initiation ceremony at the Javelina 100 in Arizona.

These 100 mile races are a uniquely American invention that started out as a horse race across the the Sierra Nevada in California.  In 1974 Gordy Ainsleigh, after having to drop out of the previous years race because of problems with his horse, decided that he would try to run the entire course instead.  He managed to finish just under the 24 hour cutoff time.  For his effort, he was awarded a silver belt buckle, the same prize given to all successful riders.

A few years later, Western States officially became the world’s first 100 mile running race.  The WS100 is now the most prestigious ultra distance race, kind of like the Boston Marathon of ultras.  To learn more, check out this trailer of a documentary made about the 2010 WS100.

I’d love to run Western States someday, but thought I better start off with one of the “easy” 100 milers.  The Javelina 100 is held each year during the full moon in October.  This year there will be nearly 400 participants, some who will be dressed up for Halloween.  I guess it’s not tough enough for some people to run 100 miles, they gotta get dressed up like Spiderman to make it more of a challenge.

The race is run on cactus-lined desert trails in McDowell Mountain Park, about an hour outside of Phoenix.  All runners who finish under 30 hours will be awarded a wild pig belt buckle.  I’ve never had one of those giant Texas-sized belt buckles, but if I’m successful at Javelina, I’ll be proud to show off my wild pig.

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