When Jeannie Horton runs, time is not of the essence. Accomplishment is.
Crescent City resident Jeannie Horton, an avid ultramarathon runner, competed in the Javelina Jundred, a 100-mile race held outside of Fountain Hills, Ariz., on Oct. 26–27.
The Crescent City resident began running in 2003, hoping to lose pregnancy weight after the birth of her daughter, Kayla. Two years later, Horton received an opportunity to compete at the Portland Marathon in Portland, Ore., near where she was living in Hillsboro.
She completed the race in 4 hours, 37 minutes, 54 seconds, finishing 3,524th out of 7,403 fellow racers. She has been hooked on distance running ever since.
“That first marathon was the best experience ever,” Horton says. “It was a really good feeling. I have photos that show my veins popping out, that show just how hard it really was. It was awesome.
“I wanted to quit about a month prior but I’m really glad that I did not. It was great.”
Horton entered the 2006 Portland Marathon and bettered her time by over a half-hour, finishing in 4:04:20 — 2,108th out of 7,712 runners. Her improvement was such that she could have attempted to run the Boston Marathon, one of the most renowned distance events in the country, but she instead pursued a new challenge: Ultramarathons. Races exceeding, sometimes doubling or tripling, the 26.2 miles of a marathon course.
“Ultra running just appealed to me more,” Horton says. “Every higher mileage, when I was training for (the Portland Marathon) was just more exciting than the last. I would come home and say, ‘Ask me how many miles I ran.’”
Therein lay the next challenge: How much running could Horton endure in one race? She challenged herself in 2008 by entering a 50-kilometer race at Hagg Lake, near Forest Grove, Ore. She completed the race — just over 31 miles in length — in 6:56:60, 115th out of 123 runners.
From there: the Autumn Leaves 50-mile race in Oregon’s Champoeg State Park. Horton finished in 9:55:44. Several months later, she attempted the Mt. Hood 50-mile race in Oregon and finished that, too, in 11:59:49 (119th out of 135 runners).
“Finishing an ultra is an accomplishment in itself,” says Crescent City resident Ralph Hirt, an avid ultramarathon runner who has finished, by his own estimation, 140 races. “What time you did is of less importance than you did finish. In ultraruns, we’d love to be young and fast but that’s not always the case.”
In early 2011, Horton and her husband, Brett, and two daughters, Naomi and Kayla, moved to Crescent City. (Brett Horton has a daughter who lives in Washington state.) Jeannie stays at home most days, looking after her daughters, but she completed her coaching certification through the Road Runners Club of America to become a personal running coach. She also maintains a Facebook page called “Dare To Be Different,” an inspirational sounding board for fellow runners. The page is liked by 7,944 Facebook members.
“I treat running like a business. I take it very seriously,” Horton says. “Everything I do is for running. I love to run. I like to help others achieve their successes as well. I think it’s important to help others. That’s why I became a running coach.”
She is also blessed with the gift of endurance. During her adolescence, Horton would ride her bicycle from her parents’ home in Milwaukie, Ore., to the Oregon-Washington state line, a 30-mile excursion one way, “just for the pure thrill of it,” she says.
“Then I would ride back as fast as I could,” she adds with a laugh. “It was such a wonderful feeling. I would do it all the time, just by myself.”
Horton set a goal, ambitious even by her own standards, of completing a 100-mile race. She entered the Javelina Jundred, held at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, near Fountain Hills, Ariz., on Oct. 26–27 after consulting with fellow ultramarathon runners.
“I was able to kind of describe the course for her — where the least runnable parts are and the most runnable parts (are),” Hirt said. “There’s a saying: There are really tough 100s out there, but there aren’t any easy ones. (Javelina) is a very reasonable first-time course.”
Horton was ready to begin training in earnest in early January but discovered a stress fracture in her left leg. The injury sidelined her for several weeks, and she returned to a gradual running schedule. Horton also mixed in swimming and CrossFit workouts to build up the muscles in her arms and legs.
Horton ran a small collection of races throughout the Pacific Northwest, all longer than a marathon in distance, to keep herself in race shape. She spent hours in the sauna at Fred Endert Memorial Pool to prepare for the Arizona heat.
And, last but not least: Purchase a costume from Halloween City. Javelina Jundred runners donned various outfits for the start of the race, at 6 a.m. on Oct. 26. (She dressed as “something like a pirate or gypsy” and removed it after three hours.)
“I was told to start out slow,” Horton says of her racing strategy. “There were not many hills. Start out slow, walk the uphills, really really pace yourself. I was told the race doesn’t really begin until the fifth (15-mile) loop. I tried to keep it at about 12-minute (mile) pace, especially for the first loop. That’s the biggest thing, is you don’t want to wear yourself out at the very beginning.”
As Jeannie Horton traversed across the course, looping back to the starting spot every 15 miles, Brett Horton, a tribal services manager at Elk Valley Rancheria, would see her for a few minutes and attend to her needs.
“The spectators at ultras are usually close family members or friends, and when they are not assisting their runner, there is time for socializing and getting to know people from other areas,” Brett Horton says. “Often we find that there are ways to be helpful at the aid stations.”
The Javelina Jundred course had five aid stations, providing nourishment to the runners. One served only water, but runners could get everything from sports drinks and nutrition bars to cookies, candy, sub sandwiches and pizza.
“When I’m feeling good, I eat all the time,” Jeannie Horton says. “I just grab stuff and eat as much as I possibly can. I’d eat one of the sub sandwiches.
“When I’m not feeling good and I’m nauseated, which I did feel (sometimes), I was eating every time my stomach growled. Even if it was just a gummy bear or gummy worm, a drink of broth. I stuffed my pockets with food. I had cookies and gummy bears.”
(Bathroom stations on the course were made available to the runners.)
Horton completed the fourth loop of the course (46–62 miles) as darkness set in. At about the 50-mile mark, a blister on her right foot popped. She sat down, opened the blister up with an earring, applied a liquid bandage to the wound and continued running.
“My initial thought before I sat down was, ‘Is this it?’ because I was doing so well,” Horton says.
It would not be, but her next major obstacle came at 62 miles: Hitting the proverbial wall, letting fatigue take over the system.
“I just started to lose it,” she says. “I probably walked the last 39 miles. I ran a little, at times, but not very much.”
Brett Horton, seeing the condition she was in, arranged for a volunteer to pace Jeannie for a portion of the race. The pacer walked ahead of Jeannie Horton at a brisk pace, forcing her to keep up through the fifth loop.
At the sixth loop, Brett Horton arranged for two more pacers, a man and a woman, to accompany Jeannie around the course in the dark of night.
“I’m so nauseated, I’m sick, I don’t feel good,” Jeannie Horton says. “I said, ‘You guys talk.’ And that’s exactly what they did. They just told each other stories the whole time and I chipped in when I could. They were just very energetic people. I just followed them around and I probably ran a total of one mile that whole 15-mile loop.”
Brett Horton accompanied Jeannie for the final stretch of the course, a nine-mile out-and-back stretch with considerable incline. Dawn broke as husband and wife worked together to finish the race.
“The sun had been up for a while and it was really warming up again, but Jeannie was determined to finish,” Brett Horton says. “As we encountered up- and downhill portions of the trail, Jeannie held on tightly to my arms for extra strength. The last few hundred yards had various people cheering the finishers to the finish line.”
Jeannie could barely process what was occurring around her.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “It’s got to have been worse than childbirth, because in childbirth you get medicine.”
In the end, Jeannie Horton walked across the finish line after 29 hours, 7 minutes, 45 seconds of racing, the 141st runner to complete the course. She won a special Javelina Jundred belt buckle awarded to all runners who finish in under 36 hours, known as the cut-off time.
In the weeks following the race, Horton’s mind has had to recover from the strain of the Jundred. Her hands and feet swelled, and she took a momentary hiatus from running.
In the next couple of weeks, she plans to train for her next ultramarathon. And she hopes to continue developing her coaching career, inspiring other runners in any way she can.
“I love running and I’ve always believed in myself. I believe I can do anything I set my mind to and nothing’s going to stop me. I have that firmly planted within me. That’s why I finished.”