Background - Part I
Jackpot is normally held in late February, but COVID forced it to late April in 2021. The race takes place at Cornerstone Park in Henderson, Nevada, which is a great venue because it is a huge park with tons of free parking and there is plenty of space for runners to stage their gear. Many runners set up large tents and bring crews to assist them. The regular loop is 2.5 miles (with 60 feet of elevation) consisting of 45% groomed crushed gravel trails, 45% wide asphalt paths, 5% grass, and 5% bridge and concrete surfaces. That loops serves as the course for the following races: 50 mile, 100 mile, 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, and 72 hour. There is also a USTAF 100 mile race that has a shorter and faster loop that is only 1.1761616 miles and consists of 95% paved or concrete surfaces and 5% crushed gravel.
I originally signed up for the USTAF 100 mile race because I wanted to complete my first 100 miler at Jackpot and thought this course looked ideal. My legislative service, however, had other ideas. I would not be able to get back down to Las Vegas (from Carson City) in time to do the 100 mile race on Friday. So I changed my registration to the 6 hour race on Saturday morning. To be honest, that seemed way more reasonable given that I would have to fly back up to Northern Nevada on Sunday or, at the latest, Monday morning.
I went straight from the airport on Friday night to pick up my race packet at Cornerstone Park. I laid out my gear that night and decided to show some flair with the infamous racing shorts, plaid green shoes with shamrocks, and the Macho Man shirt that my friend, James Zygadlo, had given to me. If nothing else, I was going to stand out!
On my drive to the park in the morning, a car that had been traveling beside me on the highway veered off the road and up the embankment, flipped over and landed behind me, but not by much. I felt immense gratitude that the car hadn't landed on top of mine. No matter what happened at the race, I would be counting my blessings that day.
My good friend from Reno, Adam Czjakowski, had come down to run the 100 miler. He was rolling solo and, once the starting gun went off at 8am for both of us, I was delighted to hear that he wanted to run with me. I just figured I would be running faster than he would feel comfortable running at the beginning of a 100 miler, but he was happy to have someone to share some miles with. And so was I!
Though it was early, I could already tell it was going to be a hot day. I just kept the pace up as much as I could. Adam ran with me off and on throughout the morning and early afternoon. He also tripped and fell hard in the first couple of hours. As he hit the ground, I was worried that he was injured and might not be able to continue. I was wrong. He is tough as nails. He got up, brushed it off, and just kept running. Below are a few action shots from the first 6 hours. By the way, the Macho Man shirt was a huge hit, with many spectators singing "Macho Man" by The Village People as I ran by. It was a lot of fun!
My goal was to complete a 50k (31 miles) in my 6 hour race. As morning turned into afternoon, it got hotter outside and I definitely began to feel the fatigue from the sun. I found myself stopping more often to drink. But I pressed on and was delighted when the horn went off and I had completed 31.5 miles. Goal achieved! I was surprised to learn I was the third place male in the 6 hour race.
Here are photos of the finisher medal and third place male award:
Final Thoughts - Part I
Although I was disappointed I couldn't make it back to Las Vegas in time to run the 100 mile race on Friday, I was pleased that I was able to do the 6 hour race and achieve my goal of running a 50k. I left with a sense of satisfaction. But I would be back at Cornerstone park fewer than 12 hours later. To learn more about why, read on...
Background - Part II
As I noted, Adam had come down from Reno to run the 100 mile race. But nobody came with him, meaning he was here without a crew or his own cheering section. The rules permitted 100 mile runners to have pacers from sundown to sunrise. I knew those late night hours in the dark would be difficult so, before I left, I asked Adam if he wanted me to come back at night to pace him. He said that would be awesome. I intended to make that happen because that is what friends do, especially in the world of ultrarunning.
After I got home and showered, my wife and I went to a Korean BBQ place for dinner. I was famished and I believe I ate my weight in delicious Korean BBQ. I continued to monitor Adam's progress online and texted him for regular updates. He was not as far along in the race as he would have liked but the heat had been brutal in the late afternoon/early evening, making the miles much more taxing. He told me that he had connected with another runner named Greg, who was also running his first 100 mile race. When they started talking, they were basically at the same point in the race so they decided to try to stick together for the rest of the race. They tried to conserve energy in the heat and hoped for easier running once the sun went down.
I went to bed at 10pm and set my alarm for 1am. I wasn't sure if Adam would even need or want me to come back out there since he had linked up with Greg, but I thought I ought to at least get up and ask. I told my wife I would be home by 8am or so because I was only allowed to pace through the night.
When my alarm went off, I texted Adam to see if he needed me. My weary body and brain were kind of hoping he would say no. But he said yes and also asked if I could bring a phone charger for him. Game on! I grabbed an iced coffee that I had stashed in the fridge, geared up, and headed back to Cornerstone for a running encore.
When I arrived at 1:45am, Adam and Greg were right around the 65 mile mark, with 35 more miles to go. Which meant they would have to cover more miles than I covered in my 6 hour run earlier that morning! It was going to be a long day for them indeed, especially considering how many miles they already had on their legs.
My singular goal was to keep them both moving. I knew the next day would be equally as hot and the wind was supposed to kick up as well, so getting them through 100 miles as quickly as possible was crucial. This, however, was not always an easy goal. It seemed that every time one of them was feeling great, the other one felt terrible. But I knew we needed to stay together. So I became the motivator and encouraged continual movement, even if it meant walking. Though I made sure that when walking, we were walking faster than 20 minute miles, much to Adam's chagrin. He found it easier to run than walk at that speed.
One of the race directors recognized me from the day before and said he was amazed that I had come back to do some pacing. When I told him I was just there until sunrise due to the rules, he said I could stay as long as I wanted to pace because I was actually a race entrant, not just a pacer. This, folks, should have been my first indication that I would be there well past sunrise because there was no way we were going to cover 35 miles in the next 4 hours.
We began to curse a part of the course that we had dubbed "the gauntlet." That area was a rocky area that was more technical than the rest of the course and it became much more treacherous given how tired we were and because it was dark out. (I have learned the gauntlet will no longer be part of the course come 2022, which makes me both happy and sad.)
Here are some photos of the three amigos once the sun came up. Although we look happy, I can assure you we were all feeling quite miserable. You can actually see how awful Adam felt in a couple of the photos below.
As early morning turned into late morning, the heat moved in and the wind kicked up. Finishing as quickly as possible became paramount to avoid what were sure to be rising afternoon temperatures. I pushed Adam through some dark times, as he wanted to quit around 90 miles in, but quitting was never an option for either of them, not as long as I had anything to do with it. Though I was hurting too, I tried not to show it, mostly because I knew they were hurting worse that I was. Adam and Greg finished their 100 miler a little before 11:30am and I raced ahead of them to the finish line to capture the moment. Man, was it glorious!
I had run with them for another 9.5 hours and covered an additional 35+ miles, more than I had run in my 6 hour race the day before. I was exhausted and I knew they were too. But the pain was over for now!
Now, enjoy some memes that I made from some of the race photos because, in ultrarunning, you have to be able to make fun of yourself or you won't last long.
Also, a shoutout to the Jester, Ed Ettinghausen, who completed his 200th race of 100 or more miles at Jackpot. He is only the second person to do that. The guy is an absolute legend - just take a look at his results: https://ultrasignup.com/m_results_participant.aspx?fname=Ed&lname=Ettinghausen
Final Thoughts - Part II
Wow, I ended up running nearly 70 miles at Jackpot! That really wasn't too far off from the 100 miles I originally signed up to to. But I am glad I did it this way. It was really cool to pace Adam and Greg to their first 100 mile finish. There really is no greater feeling than celebrating the successes of friends.
I am already looking forward to Jackpot 2022, which will move back to February, hopefully meaning cooler temperatures. The USTAF 100 mile race awaits. If I finish it, it will be my first completed 100 miler. Wish me luck.
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.