How the race director of the famed Javelina Jundred uses artistry and her life’s experience to create visionary trail events.
“I thought I told you not to chew gum,” barked the owner of Bacon, a restaurant and bar in downtown Phoenix. Two weeks earlier, the Gordon Ramsay wannabe had pulled the same bartender aside and told her the same thing. She explained that her habit was to chew her tongue in social situations where people were watching, and nerves were knotting her stomach. He didn’t buy it. Now under pressure in his office, she was doing it again. “You’re not useful to me,” he said with palpable disdain. “You’re fired.”
You may know Jubilee Paige, or “Jubes,” the lively race director of the Javelina Jundred. She’s the wild one on top of the stage with the disco-ball helmet and sunglasses, in a cloud of floating bubbles, animated by hip-hop beats. She’s one of a handful of female race directors in ultrarunning, certainly one of the most prolific, and arguably the most artistic. Besides Javelina, she directs the Whiskey Basin, the Across the Years multi-day, and the Black Canyon 100.
Or maybe you knew her as the busboy, the actress, the bartender, the production assistant, or the reserved photographer at mile 85 who lowered her camera to listen to you as you openly flogged yourself with doubt, certain you couldn’t finish.
Whatever manifestation you’ve seen, it’s likely only a glimpse of a complex individual in search of something bigger.
Bacon was another fresh start for Jubilee, in another new city, and another dead end. The dream of the perfect confluence of community and creativity that took her from small-town Kansas to New York City and now to Phoenix, seemed to be an increasingly impossible one.
Could she ever be who she wanted to be and still pay the rent?
“The Year of Jubilee,” Leviticus 25:8-13, was a sermon her father preached often.
Her dad was a foster child who hung out with hoboes, jumped rail cars, and wanted to be a preacher. He never knew much about his parents. They were bootleggers and not the nurturing sort. He married early and had two sons. He thought he was done having kids and didn’t want anymore. His wife, on the other hand did, and ten years after the birth of their second son, they had their first daughter. Filled with surprise and joy, they named her Jubilee.
Life in bucolic Belleville, Kansas, population 2,300, was agriculture, church, and struggle. Jubilee’s outlet was her imagination. She made up fantastical stories and dreamed of being a children’s author. She got her first camera at 11 and was soon winning awards at the county fair. With no money for college, she submitted a portfolio of short stories and auditioned for the jazz band with her alto sax. St. Mary University was impressed enough to take care of half her tuition. She majored in theatre and art, and after graduation, worked professionally with a children’s theatre program, touring the country. She then lived in Queens, New York for six months in a basement apartment (as most serious-minded thespians seemed destined to do) with six other actors. They were her people, eccentric and alive. She’d never forget it.
Needing more direction, she moved in with a friend in Kansas City and used her photography skills to land a job at Portrait Innovations. The equipment was good, and the pay was steady, but the environment was stagnant. “They wanted by the book shots,” she says. “There was no room for input or character or style.”
When her roommate left for Phoenix, she went too, and soon volunteered for the Javelina 100. The race would dominate the next eight years of her life (and counting). It wasn’t what she was expecting. She hated running. It always felt like a form of punishment. After all, she was a theatre kid. “Originally, we didn’t really see this [creative] side of her. It came out later,” says Jamil Coury, owner of Aravaipa Running. “But she volunteered at the finish line of Javelina all night long and was just there to do whatever needed to be done. You could tell she cared about the runners and their achievements.”
Two years later, she was offered an office management position with Aravaipa and her eclectic skillset became more apparent. She landed the role of race director at Javelina, where she began to mesh run and fun together with costumes and shenanigans. From the air, the start/finish line began to look like a multi-colored quilt, and the costumed characters could fill a repertory theatre with little need for additional wardrobe. At any given moment, a dancer twirling fire inches from your face could momentarily distract you from the hotdogs that just broke out of the crowd to dance with a green-onesied Borat. It’s a 100-mile party, and Jubes is the ringleader. “I’m there to help you live life on top of the world,” she says.
When she doesn’t have to be “on,” Jubilee is a reserved, the pressures of work fade away, and the well is replenished.
Fortunately, Aravaipa lacks the corporate vibe that put her off other gigs. “It’s a kind of a mom-and-pop feel,” she says. “The events reflect that, and that’s why people enjoy it.” A major perk is she can be as creative as she wants and theme-out aid stations with music, stagecraft, and theatrics. Her eclectic assortment of talents fit the times. Aravaipa is now up to 50 events a year. They livestream ultras online and have a weekly podcast, which Jubilee co-hosts. “I bring certain aesthetics,” she says of her role on the team. Everything ties in together when she looks back on her journey: the scene, the music, like directing something on stage.
She has grand visions of what an ultra can be. “Free reign would be good,” she says with a mischievous laugh before launching into a monologue. “I want Javelina to be a grand festival of people who come out and spend a week in the desert and we create a town with music and art. I don’t know if it will ever get there.”
If past is prologue, she’ll figure something out. In terms of space, the race has reached the limits of its permit, so instead of building out, she says she’ll have to build up – be more creative. “I’m always willing to play the wildcards in life,” her Facebook bio states. “It’s more interesting that way.”