Of course, I've had these injuries before. Usually right around the 20th of April...
It's how I know I'm running a great race, a rugged, tough, beat you down race. Zane Grey certainly is all of that and then some. These last few years of running has been dedicated to 90% Mogollon Monster prep work and training runs and the rest dedicated to Zane Grey. I don't run any races outside of Phoenix if it's not Zane Grey. This is it. This is my "A" race every year. And I'm 100% ok with that.
Because to me, its the single greatest race out there. I love it. Every rock, every obnoxiously steep and rocky ravine, the turns, meadows, pastures, trees, views, heat, and friends. I love it all. I have driven from Phoenix up to Payson so many times now, and yet, the drive has never gotten stale, never boring and I never dread it. I always feel like the Highline (and above the Rim) is a true adventure. It's a rarity to see another human out on the trails there. Sure, you'll see some people camping here and there at trail heads (not Washington Park though, NFS banned camping there...more on that later) but on the trail itself? It's generally yours for the day. Its so rugged, devoid of human destruction, and downright beautiful from so many vantage points you constantly find yourself bewildered at where you are right then.
A few things will be different going into this years race however.
1) Weather - The high temperature is typically 72-82 degrees with lows 35-45. Its currently forecast'd at 54/30. That would be the lowest high temp in at least 5 years, (likely much longer if I cared enough to check the almanac further). This is going to be absolutely perfect weather for the race, optimal for most and takes away the advantage all Phoenix/Tucson runners had in heat training this time of year. It's an advantage that has always helped level the playing field with Flagstaff and Colorado/Utah runners coming from higher elevations but colder weather. It's generally been hot in Phoenix for a month now and the hotter it is on the Highline the better I tend to do versus others. Advantage #1 now gone. Bright side is, it'll be at least a bit more pleasant out there for everyone.
2) The Highline Trail - Over the last two years Volunteer AZ - VOZ - has done some great trail work after they received a grant to improve the Highline trail and return it to a more sustainable state after years (or decades) of neglect. Prior to the 2013 ZG race they had already re-routed a section of about 2 miles after Geronimo that removed a rather rough climb through a riverbed of erosion and replaced it with winding singletrack high above the erosion path. This year they've completed several miles late in the race that does the same thing. Removes very rough and rocky terrain for higher erosion controls on smoother single track. There has also been two weekends in April of trail work that has cleared out some very rough sections from Washington Park through the Myrtle Trail turnoff. That section alone is cleared out to the point that navigation alone is improved because you can detect the trail so much better now than previously when manzanita bushes covered cairns and misled you into following elk trails.
Course Records and Strava segments
OR...it'll stick around again for another year. Zane Grey has a way of doing that to people and no matter the conditions...it still chews people up.
For those that may find this useful here are each of the segments of the race, aid station to aid station, broken out on Strava Run. It's an easy way to interface the route and show various times throughout the race by multiple runners to give newcomers an idea of each individual section.
Start to Geronimo:
Geronimo to Washington Park:http://www.strava.com/segments/2374952
Washington Park to Hell's Gate:http://www.strava.com/segments/4996589
Hell's Gate to Fish Hatchery:http://www.strava.com/segments/6866953
Fish Hatchery to Christopher Creek (Pacer Option)http://www.strava.com/segments/6866956
Christopher Creek to Finish (Pacer Option)
And for shits and giggles, here is the first 50K to Fish Hatchery:
And the entire pacer section from Fish Hatchery (33) to Finish (51)
And....the entire course:
Watches are not exact so don't get too excited about the 49.6 miles. It's 51, it just can't always pick up all the million zigs and zags along the way so is usually short on GPS (for me anyway) but a welcome surprise when you get to the finish. (Although the total may be a little different this year after the re-routes.)
Breaking 10 Hours...
Yet we were closing in on them as we weaved in and out of sight, hoping with each step we got closer and closer before they realized we were behind them. We got within 200 feet before the woman pacing him turned back and saw us and I knew it was then going to be time to hammer it. I looked down at my watch and saw there was still at least .3 of a mile left.
It might as well have been 10 miles. It felt like it was so far away.
I pushed on and we pushed the pace faster and faster until Jay finally pulled off the trail and yelled to get him. It was like a scene from a movie, not a good one, like one of those shitty Netflix ones that they call a "New Release" but you've never heard of it...ever, but still a movie. As soon as Jay yelled to hammer it the guys wife/girfriend/pacer yelled to the guy to run.
So it became a sprint. A full, unintended sprint to the finish of a race that I'm sure neither of us wanted to sprint at. Yet here we were, putting the pedal to the absolute floor. I knew where the finish line was...wait...no I didn't. Nobody does. The damn thing feels like it's at mile 47 and every turn looks the same, every dip in the trail is the one that pops you out of the woods and to the two rocks that make the finish line.
I had to rely on my memory. My tank was flashing on "E" and I couldn't possibly hammer this any more without literally passing out. Or my heart exploding through my shirt. That is was also a possibility.
With each step I was gaining on him, calculating how much longer I could hold this pace, would I catch him in time, I'm running out of real estate...can I get around him and pass him at the very last turn???
I was within 5 feet. I had closed this massive gap in a short distance and the finish line had to be right around the corner. I had to make my move and on the very next corner I pushed it even harder, I was going to push past him like a NASCAR driver on the inside corner, just slingshot past him, through the rocks and into the glorious media onslaught that was surely awaiting my long anticipated and utterly dramatic finish.
Except it wasn't the finish line.
It was another hill.
And it destroyed me.
I simply could not sprint any longer. I was cashed. Wasted. Spent. Ruined.
I slumped over and stumbled through the rocks to the finish, 20 some seconds after my new nemesis. He came over and we had a great laugh about it, and then I fell to the ground in sheer exhaustion.
So here I am again, a year later, and going for the sub ten hours once again. I've run 25% less miles a month this year versus last year but all my race times are the same or faster than last years same training races. I've got another year of racing Zane under my belt and hopefully can keep towards the back of the pack long enough to pace properly to the end. If not, I guess I can just sprint the last couple miles to make up time...
My brother Noah is back again this year, healthier and with more miles under his belt (I think he broke 100 miles for March! New PR for him...only did like 30 last year...:)) He's going to do great again this year!
If you're running the race this year come say hello at registration on Friday! I'll be there for most/all of it helping Joe sign everyone in. Would love to say hello, Noah and I will be in Mogollon Monster 100 shirts so say hi! And if not, we'll see you out on the trail soon! Training runs starting in May!