Jon 2, Rocks 0 : A Zane Grey Race Report

JonRoig.com | Posted: 2009-05-02 01:23:08 | 5361 hits | View in Hi-Fi Mode


"That Zane Grey guy must've had a pretty good sense of humor," said David, as we closed in on, like, mile 40 of the Zane Grey 50. We'd been running together for hours and hours, it seemed like. Sometimes I'd break off, sometimes he would... but eventually we'd just end up cruising along at the same pace.

By now, the pattern had gotten pretty drilled into our heads. Climb climb climb... downhill really fast... take a right turn at the creek bed... repeat. Over and over and over again.

That race is a beast -- 50 miles over poorly maintained trail with 10,500 feet of climbing and aid stations positioned up to 11 miles apart. You're kinda roaming along the edge of the Mogollon Rim, out by Payson, so altitude is a factor.

Looking at my arms, even a few days later, I'm all scratched up from plunging through the Manzanita and other assorted scrubs out there. There were many, many trees to climb over and creeks to cross. Nothing too hairy... just a trail that -- almost literally -- delivers a death by a thousand cuts.

Then... there are the rocks. Endless fucking rocks.

There's some debate as to whether it's the toughest 50 miler in the USA -- the consensus seems to be that San Juan is harder due to altitude -- but that this one is plenty hard. No normal person, it was agreed, should try this. I'm not sure if everyone had to do this, but I had to submit a running resume of sorts to get entry into the race. (It might've just been because I signed up late, though...)

... and yet, I was back. This time, knowing pretty well what I was getting into, given that I'd helped mark the trail from miles 33-44 the weekend before the race.

So... preparation went pretty normally for this kinda thing -- lots of long runs out on South Mountain and Trail 100. I did a bunch of race-specific stuff, like wearing the 100-oz Camelback on a couple of the training runs leading up to ZG. Also, since I knew I was going to be encountering pretty heavy rocks 'n' whatnot, I switched back to the Brooks Cascadias from the New Balance 790's. As much as I love the 790's, I knew they'd get shredded out on the Highline Trail.

Nutrition was mostly Gu Rocktane and those Powerbar Gel blobs. Yum! (Kinda.) This actually worked pretty well, although it got a little gross after about 10 hours. My stomach was in pretty rough shape towards the end, but it seemed to do ok. I also gobbled an Endurolyte every hour or so.

The race itself, like last year, was pretty much a blur. Obviously, it's stunning out there, but it's such a "heads-down, watch the trail" kind of run that it's ridiculous. Almost none of it is flat; the constant undulation of the trail and shifting of terrain types as you move up and down the rims means that you pretty much always have to watch your footing if you want to move forward at a reasonable speed. Forget about settling into a comfortable rhythm.

That's not to say it's not fun. Over the last few years of doing these races, I've found that it's just way easier to hook up with another runner and just tag along with them. Sometimes, we'll get a little train going... it just seems to take less mental energy to run with other people than it does to slowly slog through endless trail by yourself. If you find the right person running the right pace at the right time, you can end up together for hours.

Obviously, you get to talking. About running... other races... the oral history of ultramarathoning... jobs... kids... wives... husbands...

Runners. Interesting people, lots of stories. If there's anyone who's really a jerk in the ultramarathon world, I have yet to meet them.

So, David and I -- another PHX area runner who I'm sure I've seen a billion times on South Mountain but never talked to -- cruised through the remaining miles without really seeing anyone else. Except one guy, who blasted by us at like mile 48, running at what seemed like top speed.

"Holy crap! Where'd you come from?"

"The Dead," he replied, not breaking his stride.

That's probably true. I certainly didn't have the energy to chase after him and find out more.

That last six miles from 44-50 is probably the longest 10k ever, but we ticked out the 15 minute miles like clockwork... up... down... up... down... 'till, finally, we started to hear car noises. It sounds slow, but given the terrain, it's actually pretty decent. We were running the flats and the downhills and quickly hiking the uphills. We'd survived the diabolical climb at like mile 46 and knew the end was close.

Let me tell ya something: reaching the end of a fifty mile ultramarathon is a pretty good feeling. Just seeing people again is a little weird after being out on the quiet trails for hours. The race organizers did a fantastic job -- they had race finisher hoodies at the ready and printed copies of photos taken at the beginning of the race to have them waiting for us right at the end. How awesome is that? I grabbed a Cherry Pepsi (maybe the best ever), got some pics snapped with my new buddy (did we really win Miss Congeniality?), and met up with Nicole, who was kind enough to crew for me... that was super cool. Thanks!

Five days later, I'm remarkably unhurt from all this. I got a little sunburned on my shoulders, but nothing serious. The cuts are all healing. I've gone running with the dog this week, and while it wasn't anything serious, mileage-wise, it felt just fine. Also, made my long awaited return to the pool... my first venture over there since I fell off that cliff.

Oh yeah... and get this -- I picked up 90 minutes over last year! How crazy is that? I finished 29th out of 76 finishers. 107 started... 71% finished.


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