Saturday, April 26, 2008

Zane Grey Highline Trail 50k Race Report

The Zane Grey 50k race is held near Payson, AZ on the Highline trail, which snakes in and out of drainages below the Mogollon Rim. Very beautiful, although some large sections were burned in the Dude fire in 1990. Total cumulative elevation gain (all the 'up's added up) is supposed to be around 7,500 feet with elevations ranging from 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet. Lots of up and down, the trail is loaded with large grapefruit sized rocks on both the ups and downs. This is my first ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is any distance greater than marathon length, which is 26.2 miles.

I rode up to Payson with Angie and her boyfriend Chris. It was the first time I had met her in person; I had been reading her blog for quite a while. We chatted non-stop about running, running blogs and the Zane Grey race. It was a great way to start the trip.

We arrived at Camp Tontozona (race headquarters), checked in with registration, received our bag 'o goodies, which included a red 'Highline Trail' visor and a vehicle seat cover for keeping the sweat off the seat after I run (nice!). We get our cabin assignment and settle in.
Taryn, a fellow blogger who Angie and I both meet for the first time, arrives from Yuma; she will be volunteering at the race. The pre-race meeting started at 6pm, so all the fit-looking runners gathered around as RD Perry and long-time race veteran Karston gave us last minute tips.

All the crazy ultrarunners listen attentively at the pre-race meeting

Instructions: read all signs you come to, follow the permanent metal diamonds which mark the Highline Trail (#31), and only take trails with yellow ribbons (Y=yes) not blue ribbons (B=bad). This little bit of information will be very helpful as the day progresses.

Part of the Tucson contingent at the pre-race meeting; Angie, Renee and Rachel

After a fitfull night's sleep, we were up at 4am. Let's get on with it, I say! Here I am getting ready at our cabin chatting with Taryn ...

Start to 1st aid station at Geronimo Trailhead (distance: 8 miles):

Angie and Renee (Rachel off to the side) at the race start line

Chris drove Angie and I to the start of the race - we arrived with less than 20 minutes to spare, but it was pretty low-key, with about forty 50k runners getting ready to go (there were almost 150 runners doing the 50 mile race, which started at 5am). We picked up our bibs, used the port-o-potty, took a few pictures and we were off at 6am! It was cold at the start - about 36 degrees! I had my pink Moeben sleeves on, but stayed fairly cold for about a half an hour.

Most of the 50k lead running pack took a wrong turn less than a mile into the race and got off track, but thank God I did not! I was so glad to have caught a sign that said 'Highline Trail .5 miles' and myself and about 5 others behind me (including Angie, thankfully!) took that trail, which was the correct one. We tried yelling at the lead dogs, but they didn't hear us (or they probably thought us back-of-the-packers were just newbies). We were a little nervous for about a half of a mile until we caught a permanent silver metal diamond (nailed to a tree), which we would see more of as the race progressed as this was the Highline Trail signature marker. Yay! We were on the right trail! I really doubted myself (like I have a lot in my life about many things) about that trail, but this is one time I'm glad I didn't follow the pack! Word has it that the little detour those lead runners took cost some up to 3 miles extra. Whew! There are no yellow or blue ribbons anywhere in the first 17 miles of the course; however, there are plenty of signs and metal diamonds, so course-finding wasn't too difficult for me. I heard that quite a few 50 mile runners had difficulty keeping on trail as well.

This section is fairly runnable, with some steep, rocky climbs. The forest was beautiful, and when we would top out on some of the ridges, the views of the surrounding mountains and forests were amazing.

Here I am coming into the 1st aid station at mile 8 after crossing the rocky creek (one of many, although I was always able to rock hop, so my feet never got wet)

I made it to the 1st aid station at Geronimo in about 2:15 and only stayed about 5 minutes. So glad to arrive here! I'm happy and have really enjoyed this first section. Chris and Taryn greeted me with my drop bag. I ditched my Moeben sleeves, downed some Perpetuem, refilled my hydration pack, and was off again by 8:20am.

Happy to be out here running, happy to see Chris and Taryn at the 1st aid station.

Geronimo Trailhead to 2nd aid station at Washington Park Trailhead at mile 17 (distance: 9 miles):

There is quite a climb out of the Geronimo aid station, which started me thinking that maybe I had gotten in over my head! Soon, this section becomes runnable and the runnable sections are mixed in with some steep climbs (which are littered with huge rocks). I am passed off an on by a lot of the lead pack runners that got off trail early on. There was a washed-out gulley that was difficult to navigate, but the other runners were super helpful in lending a hand while I jumped down.

Coming into the second aid station at mile 17

My time from the 1st aid station until I arrive at the 2nd aid station is a little under 3 hours, so I made the 6 hour cutoff! I feel pretty good for running 17 miles, although I have some hotspots on my feet that need to be fixed up. Chris is there again to greet me with my next drop bag, so I get to work pulling my shoes and socks off (I have extra socks and other re-supplies in my drop bag), while the medic gets some blister supplies ready. I have planned my drop bags well, even throwing in some extra lip balm in case I lost mine along the way, which I did!

Here I am getting the royal treatment for my hotspots. I loved the attention!

Jeff is also there waiting to pace Angie and is also super helpful, bringing me water and a piece of a peanut butter and jelly 'sandwich' (on tortilla). Jeff asks how I'm doing and I tell him that I feel alright and expect to finish the race! I get doctored up, take some more Perpetuem, refill my hydration bladder and I'm off again. I took a handheld water bottle with me as well in anticipation of some long, hot, unshaded areas ahead. I leave the mile 17 aid station at 11:30am.

Washington Park Trailhead to 3rd aid station at Hell's Gate Trailhead at mile 24 (distance: 7 miles):

Mostly downed trees and steep climbs (it gets so ridiculous at one point that I start laughing out loud), this 3rd section was pretty much a hike for me, with not much running. There is such chaos with all the downed lumber and steep, rocky climbs and descents that I'm super thankful that miles 17-33 are heavily marked with yellow and blue ribbons. Sometimes I have to stop and look uphill or downhill, but eventually I would spot the direction I needed to head. There are also a lot of brambly bushes through here, so my legs are getting progressively torn up from thorns. Unfortunately, at the 2nd aid station at mile 17, the Hammer Heed (sports drink) was mixed way too rich, and I was fairly nauseated for most of this section (and I probably didn't drink enough liquid because of it, but I don't think I became very dehydrated). I did eat a few ginger chews, which helped the nausea. I was alone for quite a bit of this section, also (a little spooky - I sang out loud in overgrown sections that might have bear spotting potential). I arrive at Hell's Gate around 1:45pm, making the last 7 miles (I think it really is a little shorter than that) in 2:15. The people at this aid station were great! They helped me ditch the Heed and I got plain old ice cold water refilled in my pack and bottle. Wonderful! It was getting hot (I think it got to around 82 degrees, which is hot at elevation when you are running), but I was handling the heat quite well. There were also some nice breezes that I enjoyed immensely! I didn't do any Perpetuem at the 3rd (last) aid station; I think my electrolytes were up, and I just wasn't hungry at all. I did grab one Hammer gel from that aid station which I used several hours later and I did eat a few more Clif Blox, which I was thoroughly sick of by this point. One thing to eat that would have been great (and is typical at ultras) was boiled potatoes and salt, but none of the aid stations had them.

I did see a snake in this section; not a rattler, though, so I just said hello, snapped a pic and moved around it. He was about 4 feet long. I'm thoroughly convinced that if I did see a bear, I would probably take a picture of it first!

Hell's Gate Trailhead to the finish at the Fish Hatchery Trailhead at mile 33 (distance: 9 miles):
This is a super tough and long section as well - lots of downed trees and a lot of grassy area (hiding rocks). I wasn't too willing to run sections of this that I might have if I weren't so fatigued, because I'm afraid of tripping and falling. I do pass quite a few people in this section, which boosts my spirits (I'm not feeling quite as slow!) Some look like they are suffering quite a bit, so I exchange some words with each one, feeling some comraderie and making sure the exhausted looking runners are okay and offering ginger/endurolytes. I was thankful for the plain ice cold water in my pack. I think the toughest part of this section is when I run into a race spotter about 2 miles out - I thought he was the 3oo yard finish line spotter! When he said only 2 miles left, I just about fell out! So, I buckled down and dug inside myself for the reserve to finish the race. Yes, it was there.

Here I am in the last few yards before the finish...

Me, looking fresh moments after my finish (the clock is short 10 hours)

I arrive at the finish line in 11:03:21. What a sight! Bob B. from the Tucson Trail Runners is yelling "That's what I'm talking 'bout! Git 'er done!" Chris and Taryn are there to greet me and offer congratulations. I feel strong and amazing. I can't believe it is 5pm and I've been on the move since 6am!

I got my finisher shirt (I kid you not, another CANARY YELLOW one, same brand, exactly like the one I got from the Catalina State Park trail race I did two weeks ago) and the super cool Zane Grey emblazoned green camp chair. I snuggled under some blankets with other finishers who were waiting for the shuttle. We rehashed the race and munched on chips and m&m's. I felt such a part of this community.

Angie came in about 6:30pm with Jeff, her pacer, looking happy and fresh, too! It was her 3rd ultra.

I am happy and grateful that I never got lost on the trail, even once (neither did Angie!), which I know that only a small handful of people from this 50k can claim. I listened to the advice at the pre-race meeting about signs, ribbons, diamonds; and of course, I prayed before the race that I might have clarity and intuition to guide me the right way, which paid off. I really feel for those who lost their way a lot, especially Rachel from Tucson, who apparently got lost multiple times and came in last (she was still out but almost done when we left at 7pm, 13 hours after the race started). I was so worried that would happen to me. I'm so proud of Rachel for keeping on, though!

Taryn, Angie and I went and ate burgers at Chili's. I had been thinking about a hamburger for the last several miles of the race!

Would I do it again? Well, probably not Zane Grey (been there, done that!), but I'm already planning my next ultra(s)!

It was so unbelievably pretty! What a gift to be able to experience such beauty!

I had a blast. It was definitely the most difficult physical challenge I have ever taken on in my life. I'm proud of myself! I'm also thankful to all of my friends and family (thank you Kenny, my wonderful husband!) who supported me and believed in me.

An apropos quote for what I just did:

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


My Life & Running said...

Congratulations Renee! You are truly amazing! It was awesome to be able to be there to experience it with you from the sidelines and so fun to spend the weekend with such a fantastic person & runner! Be *very* proud of yourself!!

angie's pink fuzzy said...


I had so much fun this weekend; I'm glad you ran it!

is your back still sore today? I'm surprised at how beat up my shoulders are...

RunningTroysLife said...

Congrats that trail is amazing.
Super tough.

Sarah said...

Congrats! Looking forward to your report. : )

Sarah said...

I almost missed your report, but see you added it to your older post. I love all the details and pictures. Congrats again! I hope to run an ultra in AZ some day.....