Sunday, April 17, 2011
Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run
Zane Grey Highline Trail #31
Pine to Christopher Creek, AZ
Tonto National Forest
Mileage - 51
Time - 10:09:27
AEG - 10,000+ft
Place - 6th Overall
What could possibly be going through a person's mind when signing up for a race that's regarded as the toughest, roughest, and most difficult 50 mile trail run in the country? After seeing the excitement last year, I knew I wanted in. The only question going through my head was, would I be ready? It took every bit of the six weeks following Old Pueblo for my legs to fully recover, and to my surprise, they performed exceptionally.
This particular event involved quite a bit of planning given the remote nature of the course and that it's a point to point race, so I assembled a crew to take care of my drop bags and transportation (Lindsay and Rebecca), and a pacer (Brett) to join me from mile 33 to the finish. Thanks for everything, you guys were awesome! As far as my race strategy, I simply wanted to run as hard as I could to the mile 33 aid station, from this point the climbs become much greater and I figured the playing field would level out as running is reduced to mostly fast hiking with the exception of a few smooth downhill sections leading into the finish. How did that play out? Well, here goes.
Brett drove myself and a couple other runners (John Anderson and Jerome Jourdon) from our hotel to the Pine Trailhead at 4:00am. Morning temps were significantly higher than last year, and the daytime heat was a concern for most, with an unseasonable high of 81 degrees. It wasn't long before things were underway, and all eyes were on the unexpected appearance from a handful of elite ultra runners who came to town after the Lake Sonoma 50 was cancelled in California. Geoff Roes, Dakota Jones, and Hal Koerner were the guys to watch as the clock hit 5:00am and the frenzy ensued into the darkness.
I ran a few miles with my good friends Brian Tinder and Andrew Heard as we set a decent pace behind the leaders, even though they vanished within the first mile. The darkness faded and the trail became easier to navigate, my legs felt light and swift so I pushed it a little harder. How long would they stay this way I wondered. Around mile five I caught a glimpse of about ten or twelve guys running the ridgeline ahead of me, with them in sight I tried to play catch up. I arrived at the Geronimo aid station right on target in 1:12.
-Geoff Roes and Dakota Jones leaving Geronimo Aid Station
Even though my breathing was still out of rhythm, something happened between mile 8 and 17 that I cannot explain, I guess you could say I was in the "zone." I began reeling in guys about one every mile, and when I arrived at Washington Park (mile 17), to be greeted by Jamil and Nick Coury of Aravaipa Running, I was in 4th place with John Anderson immediately behind me (below). Not only that, a mere 2 minutes is all that separated the two of us from Hal.
Everyone seemed worried about the "burned section" of the trail between mile 17 and 33 being totally exposed to the sun without any tree cover. I didn't seem to mind, the views were actually quite nice of the Mogollon Rim to the North. John and I veered off course at mile 19 and gave up a precious 5 minutes when we luckily spotted another runner pass by and we quickly joined him. Still feeling strong, I put some distance on those guys and rolled into the mile 33 Fish Hatchery aid station where the crowd awaits, along with my crew, extra fuel, pacer and friends there to witness the action. I glanced over to my right and saw Dakota sitting under the aid tent. "Dakota, what's going on?" I ask. Not feeling well was his response I believe. Wow, that means I am now in 3rd next to Geoff and Hal, and only 15 minutes behind. I looked at Brett and said, "Let's go."
Refueling on the run seemed to be the best option leaving mile 33, there was a slow-going uphill climb and I downed some Mochi blocks and a gel. This is undoubtedly the toughest part of the race, and if running 33 miles in the heat over the rockiest trail I have ever set foot on wasn't enough, now add steep climbs to the mix and see how your body (and mind) responds. Everything was going fine until somewhere between mile 40 to 42, which is where I began to unravel. My legs were great, and running wasn't an issue, it was my breathing that became really shallow and heart rate far too high (and believe allergies, altitude, and dehydration were the biggest contibuting factors here). At the crest of each hill I gasped for air, yet forced my body forward in what you could call a slight jog.
-Hal in second place leaving Fish Hatchery Aid Station Mile 33
Brett and I dropped into See Canyon (mile 44 aid station) and this is where the lights went out. I became dizzy and needed to sit. Had I hit the wall? This was certainly an entirely new sensation, never before had I pushed the limits like I did today. I continued hydrating with water, and when that wasn't doing it for me, I decided to drink a small cup of Coke. Within minutes I was back on my feet. Time to finish this thing.
Another big climb ahead of us, and just as we were a half mile out of See Canyon, the crowds there started cheering. Not good, the next runner was far too close to slow down now. My mini meltdown there cost me dearly. At mile 46, Bret Sarnquist (above) caught up and made the pass, then it was John Anderson around mile 48, and Sean Andrish at mile 49. I hadn't given in or slowed down by any means, I was still running a great deal of the final six miles, these guys were just able to go faster. We all exchanged kind words in passing and before long the finish appeared out of nowhere. I joyfully crossed the line in 10:09.
There's so much I can take away from this race, as both a learning experience and a building block to dial my training in further. Yet the one thing that really stood out in my mind today was the support and encouragement of friends, volunteers, and the entire race organization (especially Joe Galope, the race director). I would also like to thank my co-worker Robert for spending his entire Saturday taking pictures along the course, I really appreciate it. The Zane Grey 50 really lives up to it's reputation, finishing this race is quite a feat, so congrats to all of you that did!
-My awesome crew at the finish - Lindsay, Myself, Brett, Rebecca