It wasn't 10 miles into the race the rain came in hard and sideways (My first trip the the Manzanita Mud Pen). By 11 miles it was all mud and weighing your every step down.
That misery was fortunately limited by the time I hit mile 14 and the sky opened up and dropped a white blanket of hail which provided some much needed traction. The temperature dropped and wet gloves became a liability. I passed a couple runners already freezing and unable to eat a gel because their hands weren't working in the cold. I opened their gels and in some cases were just giving them mine since it was easier than them pulling them out of their packs.
I gave one runner my only head cover since he had nothing with him (???) and prayed for the next 4 hours I didn't just sabotage my own race. I pulled a couple runners out of the woods off course (dude...you just ran through blue ribbons...) and then came into the 2nd aid station...only 3 hours into the race and people were falling apart. This is going to be an interesting race...
The runners thinned out quickly from that point and the trail just got worse. Wetter, muddier, colder and slicker. It was immediately apparent that the back of the pack runners were the ones that were far worse off than the front of the pack. The trail was turning into a mushy mess in some spots and after it got wetter and another 200 footsteps...it was going to be terrible for them. Worse yet were the inconveniently hidden rocks mixed within the icy mush. The hail had turned to sleet and then full on snow, on and off blown into your face with a blustery force you could only just appreciate and laugh at up to that point. Trees were whipping around you sounding like they were ready to snap at the top while you fumbled around trying to pull out another gel and then for the 23th time...drop your earbud that has once again fallen out in the mess that is your gear.
Not knowing if still after 20 something miles if we were running a 50K or 50M race it was challenging to know when to push and when to just maintain in the elements. Not that I particularly cared at that point one way or another. I'd already concocted 20+ variations of excuses on why I would need to quit at Fish Hatchery. All of which shamelessly used my toddler and family at foolproof scapegoats providing me an early trip home. And all of which I never end up using in a race anyway, but it helps pass the time when you are wondering if when you stop next to take a leak on the side of the trail how much it's going to hurt if a piece of hail sneaks past your barrier and nails you in that one vulnerable place still exposed. These are real concerns of a trail runner in a hail storm.
Washington Park to Fish Hatchery is my favorite section of the course, and least favorite for most. Yet despite my strengths in that section I still fell in behind others going slower and couldn't bring myself to pass and push harder. It didn't feel like a race any longer and the point of pushing hard had long since been lost. Or so I told myself until I had effectively convinced myself. So instead, head down, soaking wet, feet weighed down with mud and water, unable to talk to anyone because of the wind and everyone wearing hats and hoods, we just plodded along.
Fortunately it was with two strong runners, Scott Bajer and a great guy from Virginia, Derrick Carr, who we ran with for most of the final miles. Up and down each ridge and through Hell's Gate we went together until we finally caught up to Justin Lutick. He was in a similar state as most of us but hands were not working for him. He was in a rare spot of quiet, unusual for a man of his personality. He was a welcome sight in the midst of the mess outdoors and we clipped off some miles together before he had to stop and fix his foot.
I'd lost Scott and the other group after my 3rd trip into the frozen forest for more corrections to a badly revolting stomach. Not too many things more satisfying than a freezing wind on your bare ass in the forest. Except cramping in your left leg while handling said correction which leads to a tip backwards and straight into the mud and snow. With your bare ass exposed. Really puts you in the mood to hammer out the rest of the race.
Fortunately I'm easily amused by such things and wanted to catch back up with Justin and got in some really fun miles bouncing off the few exposed rocks poking above the mud, sliding this way and that in the mud and climbing every hill at a strong pace like it was the first miles of the race. I was finally feeling good, 26 or so miles later. I pushed on, climb after climb thinking the race was maybe salvageable. I wasn't terribly far off my pace of last year and was running stronger as we got close to Fish Hatchery.
Snow is one thing. Rain another. Mud is an entirely different beast in an ultra, and your worst enemy on the Highline trail with that many rocks. Ankles biting in every direction, slowing your every step, forcing you to run in the grass pods, rocks, or other ankle biting areas to avoid more muddy steps.
Finally we pushed on through the final muddy sections and broke out to find another runner out in the wind and blowing snow running alone. It was a familiar gait, and one owning to a frozen beard, one that could only be Sean Meissner's. Or some lost miner from the back country.
It turned out to be Sean's and that could only mean he was cruising in and not racing if I had caught up to him. It was good to see another familiar face and after just finding out the race was officially being stopped at Fish Hatchery. Now just a few miles away, I decided to just run the last bit and make the most of it. Finally putting something of a race environment into this slogfest made it a heck of a lot of fun towards the end. I pushed hard through the plateau, down into the ravine and back up to the final slickrock, passing friends with the HAM crew rucking out to the 3 mile mark. Their smiles helped propel me up the final climb and down the rocky descent to the cattle gate. Knowing there were likely runners trotting into the finish as with every ultra I finally felt like running harder. The hoods on everyone's jackets made it really hard to tell who was who, both from the back and for the runners looking back to see who was chasing them down. I ran through the red rocks, always a fun section of the race and no exception today with the rocks wet around the snow red dirt of the area. I approached the final descent sprinting down the final switchback and into the crowd at the new 2014 finish line.
Zane Grey Highlights 2014
Dallas & Renee Stevens are always some of my favorite people to see at a race and they were a welcome sight at Washington Park. They looked like they had that aid station rocking and well run! Wish I could have spent more time with them!
Chris Stores, one of the Black Hills 100 RD's, got to run in conditions he's probably quite used to and was great to meet and get to see him on the trail. Wish he got to see the course in its full length. Guess we'll have to talk the BH100 crew into a September trip??
Andrew Miller out of Oregon and 18 years old pulled in a 3rd place finish and was genuinely disappointed that the race was ended as he was feeling strong and gunning for the next guys. Not sure Chris Price or Ryan Smith would have let that fly but would really love to see what that top 5 group would have done at the full course. The first 33 only set the stage for the race, a lot changes those last 18.
Jerome Jourdon finished in 9:02 this year. He's a 6 time (?) Zane Grey finisher and averages about 11:30 each year. He also was our 3rd place finisher in our inaugural year of the Monster. What's significant about this year?
He started at 1pm on Friday from Trailhead 260 and started running west on the Highline with another friend in an attempt to run a "Zane Grey Double." His friend was throwing up towards the end and they had to bail at 43 miles. Jerome got to the start line before 5am and started the race with all of us, then finished, in those conditions. Very tough runner, super impressive.
We had a lot of Monster friends out on the course, either volunteering or running. LindaVan and Kate Hansen, both captains of the Pinchot Cabin aid station each of the first two years were out there, Kate running and LindaVan volunteering at Hell's Gate. Smiling as always in the middle of the storm. Chris Cantrell, a friend of both Noah and I for years, woke up in Phoenix before 3am to drive up to the start to see the race off. Then followed us along and helped out at aid stations waiting for us to come in. So nice to see him at each station!
My brother Noah finished only 20 minutes after me making what likely would have been a huge time improvement over his last year. He just keeps getting stronger and stronger and still isn't putting in 100 miles a month in training...
There are a ton of others out there, wives, husbands, girlfriends, crews, families. Its one giant family and its one of the best parts about the Zane Grey race. It sells out the same day but hasn't ever lost it's small town, small race feel.
A lot of people were talking about Zane Grey as their "trial race" to see how it went there before signing up for the Monster. I'm not sure where most people are going to be after this one. Some will feel like me, ready to sign up for another race right away because I don't feel like I ran a race, just a long training run...others will not want any of that trail again for a long time. I can certainly understand that.
I was at the finish line this morning, playing with my son in the playground behind the ramada where we host the finish line of the Monster in the center of the town of Pine. Milk Ranch Point hovers over the town, the trees and top of the Rim covered in snow and the start of the Monster, the Pine Canyon Trail, tucked half way up that cliff overlooking this very spot I stood. I was pushing Dean in the swing, staring up at that cliff wishing I was there right then. The air is so clean and fresh. It was sunny and a crisp feel to the air, perfect weather. I stood there and...
Dean swings back towards me and catches me right in the chin. Totally and utterly day dreaming and he got me. He thought it was hilarious. After a few pride bruised moments I started to see his point.
If nothing else the shortened Zane Grey only motivates me more for the Mogollon Monster 2014. (The year, not the new mileage...) We're slowly improving the trail conditions (they'll still be generally speaking the most technical you'll ever run, just less bloody) and with each run the enthusiasm of fellow runners grows. More volunteers, more runners, more pacers, all in the sense of maintaining the same feel as Zane Grey manages to embody every year I've been a part of it. Small town, small great race.
Zane Grey 2014 will go down in many people's minds as one to remember. I know the RD Joe Galope and his wife Megan won't forget it any time soon. Or our mutual HAM Operator and Head Honcho of all the HAM crews that keep everyone safe and informed, Jim Pierce. It was a tough call to re-route the course a day early and then a tougher one to cut it for everyone. The reasons are understandable but undoubtedly someone will be upset and send him some long winded email on what else he could have done. It won't be coming from me or anyone else with a sense in their head. Joe and Jim made a great decision in the preparation of the storm, many, many adjustments I'm sure they had to make throughout and in tracking down runners off course or in hypothermia. Directing an ultra in that inaccessible terrain, in those conditions, is a nightmare for a RD. Yet Joe pulled it off with confidence and instilled a sense of safety in the runners minds that we all appreciate and will remember for a long time.
Many, many thanks to the volunteers that stayed out in that cold, wet and rainy situation just to keep us all moving through the trail.
The HAM radio operators were out there with everyone else, and deserve a hell of a lot of credit for keeping everyone safe. Those guys are some of the best in the entire ultra world. We're lucky to have them support Zane Grey and the Mogollon Monster every year. Everyone was always smiling, always helpful and I always appreciate that kind of selflessness. Wrapped up in a plastic bag with 40mph sideways winds ripping the cold through every layer as you sit and write down people's names as the pass a checkpoint in the middle of nowhere? Yeah, that's a pretty incredible level of selflessness.
Tomorrow at work people will undoubtably give me crap for running these kinds of races (non-runners). Why would you WANT to do something like this?! And the other 200 canned questions that we've all heard so many times before. I tell every one of them that if they just came out and stood at an aid station for 2 hours they would understand everything they need to know.
It has nothing to do with running.