My first 50M race was the Zane Grey 50M, it was my first real exposure to the Mogollon Rim and through the race every year I've become more enamored with the area and the respect the race receives from both new runners and veterans alike. It's a race that no matter who sponsors you, how much you train. it's never easy for a single runner. Ever.
So we are back again this year and after taking a year off to volunteer in 2012 I'm back running the event this year. I put out some lofty goals for the race this year in cracking the 10 hour mark (a 2:24 PR...hours, not minutes...) and while my training hasn't been spot on, I'm not backing down from that goal and will do my best to push it through all 50ish miles to the finish. I figure any goal worth making is a seemingly unattainable goal. If it was easy to attain in the first place then it wasn't a goal in the first place. It was a given. Sub ten hours at Zane Grey is never a given. It's going to hurt. It's going to test me. It might even break me down. I won't be alone though.
2013 has one of the biggest lists of fast men and women it's seen in years. Every year has a handful of faster runners like 2011 when Geoff Roes, Hal Koerner and Dakota Jones all came down to Pine, Arizona, and this year is no different. Several past winners are all on deck and many others are jumping in with big wins at other major ultra races around the country. On top of that, several 2013 entrants into this years Mogollon Monster will be out there and we certainly wish them the best as well. Knowing the course as well as I do from countless trips up there (at least through the first 25 miles where the Myrtle Trail turns north for the Monster) here's an overview of this year's entrants from my perspective based on an unreasonable amount of time on ultrasignup.com and just knowing some of the runners or courses they've run before and maybe how it corresponds to the Highline Trail.
Last year I also did an interview with RD Joe Galope for www.trailrunningclub.com on what it takes to put on the Zane Grey 50M. Joe has been a major influence and help in organizing the Monster through so many steps along the way. Extremely organize, meticulous and that shows in the preparation and execution of the Zane Grey race each year. Read that interview here.
Jay Danek, my pacer this year since he's running Miwok next weekend, also put together a poll on who might win. You can find it here.
For the sake of competition (it's still a race after all) I'll put them in groups.
Group One: The Male Monsters (not in any particular order, it's Zane Grey so it's impossible to predict.)
Jamil Coury - He was our winner of the inaugural 2012 Mogollon Monster. He won the Old Pueblo 50M in Southern AZ this year and is the trail steward for the Arizona Trail section between Geronimo Aid Station and Washington Park. His Aravaipa Running company is in charge of the Washington Park aid station. He won Zane Grey in '09. He's as familiar with this course as anyone not named Ian or Honey or Karsten and is certainly a favorite to win.
Michael Carson - Michael came out strong last year with a 2nd place win in 9:09 besting Karl Meltzer along the way. Michael is an Arizona runner who has been putting in some incredible finishes in the last year and coincidentally was Jamil's pacer for the Monster last year and is very comfortable on the technical terrain. I wouldn't be surprised at all in seeing Michael come in first on Saturday.
James Bonnett - He's no kid anymore and he's full on dominating when he's on. He ran a 3:35 50K at Gorge Waterfall 50K last month. He beat Hal, Ian Sharman, Jeff Browning, Yassine Diboun and Jason Leman. That's pretty stellar company to be flying by. James has been running Zane Grey since a kid, literally, and knows the course well. He's as good a bet as any to go for a dominating win and even the CR. He's also running the Mogollon Monster 100 this fall and will likely have his sights on Jamil's 22:21 CR. This race will be a great preview of that happening.
Scott Jaime - Scott won in 2010 in 9:40, the year Karl fell and broke his arm. I always see it as a win is a win so he gets the respect there. He's as strong as any of the guys and probably with more racing experience than most out there.
Chris Price - The guy is fast. Wicked fast. Winner of Angeles Crest 100 last year, 2nd at Miwok last year and countless other wins. But they are all in California. This isn't California and unfortunately/fortunately the Highline Trail isn't exactly as smooth as Miwok. But when you are as fast as Chris, maybe that won't matter.
Mike Foote - Big wins at big races. Mike shows the speed on some really tough races with big climbing. This might be his kind of terrain to hammer it. Not sure how Montana weather has been but 80 degrees at 6,500 feet with full exposure is BRUTAL from about 17-44 miles...something tells me that Mike's not going to care much. Matias Saari came down from Alaska last year and ran 10:05 in some rough heat.
Bret Sarnquist - Bret is underrated and underappreciated as a Zane Grey front runner every year. He keeps getting faster and broke ten hours last year after a 10:01 3rd place finish behind Geoff and Hal in '11. He is a smart runner who knows his ability and the terrain and negative splits a race. All those people that went out hard in the beginning? Bret won't be one of them. He'll be the guy passing you at 35 making sure you have enough water. He's top 5 every year or better.
Dominic Grossman - Dominic is another California runner with Chris Price and his resume of running achievements certainly puts his at the top of the list come Saturday. He's won Angeles Crest 100 and some big times at really tough races. He has the speed and has raced on a big variety of terrain. He'll be up front with everyone else all day.
John Anderson - 10:04 in 2011 Zane Grey? Yeah, he'll be up there.
Ian Torrence - What's a list without Ian?! Ten time Zane Grey finisher that swore off returning this year. Yet...here he is, on the entrants list as of April 16th? Zane Grey has this effect on people. Ian's the defacto veteran ace on this course. He's won it, he's done really well many other times, he's suffered on it. He knows as well as anyone probably that anything can happen on the Highline. He's certainly got what it takes to be up with all these guys all day.
The Monster Sleepers:
Anthony Culpepper - Anthony is a talented and tough runner with a list of outdoor experience you won't find on ultrasignup.com. He's a veteran of Zane Grey but despite his previously strong times is just a great day on the course from destroying everyone. Don't count him out.
Jason Leman - 8th place at the very competitive Gorge Waterfall 50K in 3:46. He has a slew of other fast 50K, marathon and longer times on tougher courses.
David Metzler - Few people likely know who David is outside the Scottsdale/Phoenix area but David is as strong as anyone in this field. He owns nearly every Strava record for climbing and descending in the local parks in Phoenix and he still would if every runner used Strava. He runs downhills like nobody out there and is an absolute machine on the hills. He's put in some super fast times on Fat Ass 50Ks like Grandpa Jim's 7k+ climbing route in the McDowell's he ran this spring in 4:26 with no competition pushing him. I believe this is his first parlay into the 50M distance though so we'll see how that affects him. If he can hold it together with the nutrition he's going to sneak up on a lot of people.
Alex Kaine - Winner of the Tahoe Rim 50M last summer and one of our 9 finishers in our inaugural race last year, Alex is very fast but has some great days and not so great days. If Alex is on a great day, he'll be up front and surprise a few people.
John Hart - John's run a lot of tough races in his neck of the woods in Montana and run them well. If the heat isn't a problem for him, he'll do well on the Highline.
The Phoenix Locals - Kevin Higgins, Grandpa Jim Fowler, Justin Lutick, Jerome Jourdon, Cory Davidson, Van Patterson - Find one of these guys and follow them. They'll take you to the sub 12 hour range. Some even faster. Jerome was our 3rd place finisher at Mogollon last year as well. Tough dude. He also finishes every year at Zane within 5 minutes of 11:30. Which in of itself is pretty impressive. Justin is responsible for taking care of the trail more than anyone so find him and shake his hand. And Chris Thornleys hand, responsible for clearing that manzanita like a champ. Without those two guys the trail would be a full on disaster. Keep that in mind when you're running it thinking, "This trail IS a disaster, what the hell was he talking about?" Trust me, it would be way worse.
So say hello to both. You'll know both of them easily. Find the two biggest smiles in the 150 runners. It won't be hard. You'll hear Justin. (insert lame smiley face emoticon.)
Charles Corfield - Ran sub 11 hours in 2012 and back again this year. 7 days after running sub 20 hours at the Zion 100. That should count for a 2 hour handicap on his final time this weekend.
Non-Phoenix Locals -(they love being segregated from Phoenix runners...especially Adam.) - Jesse Alexander, Brian Zacher, Scott Bajer, Michael Duer, Nick Kollar, Adam Gifford. Flagstaff, Tucson, Camp Verde, Sedona, it's all rough and tough trail running in Arizona and a lot of times they are crushing the Phoenix runners anyway. Ok, most of the time...but they will hang in the upper tier.
All the people I don't know or am overlooking. It's bound to happen and in ultrarunning there are always people that show up on race day, nobody knows who they are and what their training has been and they absolutely KILL it. They beat one after another of runners with big resumes and race results. So the dark horse is that list of guys we don't know until they have their big day. Like Catlow Shipek who crushed it last year at Zane in 8:36. All the Tucson runners were saying, "Catlow is going to win. Catlow is going to win." Everyone in Phoenix is saying, "Who the heck is Catlow?" Then he won. Point taken.
Paulette Zillmer - She won last year in 10:09 (4th fastest female time ever) in one of the hottest years recently (I feel like we say that every year but last year felt intense). She's on her 4th running of Zane Grey and each year has been progressively faster. She's a beast on climbs and staying consistent. She's won Angeles Crest, loves the heat, and is fast over rough terrain. Probably why she won last year. She's my pick again.
Kerrie Bruxvoort - I saw Kerrie at the Mesquite Canyon 50K last spring and she went out and absolutely dominated and set the course record for women. She then went on to dominate the rest of the summer everywhere she raced. She can handle the heat, has the slight elevation advantage coming down from CO and has shown she can push the pace. She'll push Paulette hard all day.
Diana Finkel - It's Diana Finkel. She's up front in the top 2 women every year. She is one of the best at tough, rugged terrain and is so super consistent she outlasts many of her competitors. Which is partly why she always is close to winning because she's so good at maintaining a consistent pace over tough terrain. Which is very difficult at Zane.
Jane Larkingdale - Jane won back in '11 in 10:52. She's had some good races recently but I'm not sure she can keep up with Paulette or Kerrie right now. But Jane's also the kind of person that would probably read that statement and then out of pure determination, win just to show me up. Like when I stated wearing New Balance 110's at the Monster is asking for foot suicide Andy Pearson did anyway in part to show me I was wrong. He got 2nd and was only 1 of 9 finishers...again, point taken. She's as tough a runner as there is and the Highline rewards those kinds of runners. So she'll push everyone and be up top all day.
Katie Desplinter - Katie has put in some good times and won some races recently with the Ozark 100 last fall. Not sure what she's been up to early 2013 but she runs with Dominic Grossman so I'm sure it's not greenbelts and canals...
Missy Gosney - I met Missy at the aid station at Washington Park last year and she was in full beast mode, driven, determined and not messing around. She beat her husband Brett by a few minutes and broke 12 hours. She's a hell of a climber, as evident by sub 8 hours at Speedgoat, and winning Cascade Crest 100 last summer. She's been out there before and she'll do well again if she's still in last summers shape. (I did miss her husband Brett for the Men. I'm not going back now but he's a Hardrocker. Automatic entry into Monster picks for Zane Grey top finishers.)
Brittany Orkney - Tucson runner who finished 2nd at Old Pueblo in 9:07 last month and 1st at the tough Mesquite Canyon 50K two weeks later. She'll do well here.
Chrissy Parks, Magi Redlich, Sarah Mccloskey, Lindsay Scheiwiller - Zane Grey is a race of unpredictable results. So just about anyone can sneak in there and all these women can just as easily be up above.
With every race there are last minute cancels. We won't see last years winner Catlow due to an injury. Same for 4th place finisher last year Brian Hopton-Jones, or 6th place Evan Hone. Three of the top ten last year have pulled out, three others are not returning this year (Jason Koop, 10th, Karl 3rd, Matias Saari 7th) but 2nd (Michael Carson), 5th (Bret Sarnquist), 8th (Paulette Zillmer, 1st Female), 9th (Diana Finkel 2nd Female) are all coming back. My brother Noah Dougherty, co-RD of the Monster is starting Zane Grey for his first 50M after pacing me two previous times to the finish. He's been injured a couple times so may not be able to go on but he's going to feel it out. He's tough as hell so he'll probably surprise even himself out there.
Yet still, the depth is certainly there and while in the last 24 years the 10 hour mark has only been broken 82 times (that's an average of 3.4 a year) this could be a year we see many more do so. The elusive 9 hour mark is rarely broken by more than 2 runners, twice in the last 5 years the winner was in the 9 hour range. The trail is consistently "slow" and any idea of a "fast" time can be thrown out the window.
For the women, it's as deep a field as the Highline Trail has seen and as the sport continues to grow, I can see the woman's field getting more and more competitive. Just as we've seen the last couple years at Zane Grey.
That doesn't even get into the number of others coming out. Karsten Solheim is returning for something like his 83rd finish. Honey Albrecht is going for her 11th finish at Zane Grey, which is one more than she said she'd ever do after last years finish. Gordy Ainsleigh is coming, a legend in his own right in the world of ultrarunning. Christian Griffith of www.run100miles.com, Gene Joseph of Tucson trail running legend, Perry Edinger who was a previous Zane Grey RD before Joe Galope took over. Brian Stark is returning again, also known as The States Runner, crossing US States all on trail. If you run into him on the trail, he's got some great stories. Bob Bachani of "THATS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT" infamy at aid stations across Arizona will be hitting the trail and Jeff Jones again taking on Zane Grey. Jeff designed the Mogollon Monster 100 course originally and was a big part in getting the race off the ground.
We also have Dean Hansen, Margaret Dehesse, Noel Kingston, Deron Ruse, Danny Speros, Chris Thornley, Jamil Coury, Jerome Jourdon, Alex Kaine, Honey Albrecht all starting Zane Grey that started Mogollon Monster last fall. We also have Jim Fowler, Michael Duer, Gavin Hanover, Dallas & Renee Stevens running that all ran an aid station for us last fall at the Monster. It'll be great to have the friends along the trail this year instead of under the canopy.
So best of luck to everyone that stands in the cold at 5am along the Arizona Trail signage this Saturday. Take your time, enjoy the sunrise coming up over the Highline and your first glimpses of the Mogollon Rim. If you've seen it before a hundred times, or never seen it in your life, it doesn't matter. It's a stunning geological feature that conjurs up the adventurous side in all of us, prodding us for more, begging us to find out what's around that next corner, up that next hill, and down that ravine. The Highline Trail is a gem of a trail, destroyed as it is in parts, frustrating as it can in sections, and beautiful as it is every step. It'll challenge you, it may even break you, but at the end, after you're done cursing the trail, the rocks, the manzanita, and the climbs...
You'll be back. You'll be longing for April 2014. You'll join the ranks of those of us that can't quite figure out why, but always come back for more.
And for those that want even more...well...we'll see you on September 28th at the same parking lot at 6am. It won't be a "Double Zane Grey" by any means but it might just be twice as hard. More climbing, the same rocks, bigger views. Let the spring weather take hold of you when you get back home after this weekend, let the Zane Grey hangover wear off and then think about what you were thinking when you were looking up on the Rim while traversing the Highline Trail this weekend. Wondering just what is up on that Rim? I wonder how you get up there?
I can tell you.
Here's a hint:
It's straight up.