Sunday, August 10, 2014

Angeles Crest 100 Mile Race Report: The Education of a Mountain Runner

Forget what you think you know about L.A. and surrounding areas: this is a mountain race     Photo: Jeremy Hardy

My Dad and Jeremy: Awesome Crew, Awesome Pacer. Mediocre Runner. Hey, two out of three ain't bad! Selfie: Jeremy

  For three years I’ve had the 100 mile dream. Even before I ran my first trail race: a 26km Saturday Race followed by a 16km Sunday race in Real De Catorce, the dream was there: all this is preparation for running a 100 miler.

  One of the joys of the AC 100 is that you have to sign up a year in advance. This allows for a full year of anticipation, planning and training. It also allows for lots of things to go wrong or for life to get in the way, as is annually demonstrated in the high numbers of runners who don’t make it to the start line of AC, the sole blemish on an otherwise magnificent jewel of a mountain race.

 I arrived well-trained, healthy and in high spirits in Wrightwood and with a great crew and pacer: my dad and my brother-in-law, Jeremy. We settled into the 5 star Pine Hotel, a cozy room with nails sticking up out of the floor and an old TV hanging right over the fridge so I could whack my head four times while obsessively re-checking that my water bottles were indeed ready with GU packed. Unfortunately, the whacks didn’t take, as I insisted on waking up at 4:00am in the morning and running 100 miles through the mountains to Altadena.

The AC 100 is something like 21,000 feet of climbing and 26,000 of descent. Those who make it to mile 75 are rewarded with a 3,500 climb, which for this running mortal would come at 3:00am in the morning. The course is relentless, though if truth be told, it does ease up considerably in the last 35 meter section in Loma Alta Park. So you’ve got that carry you through the previous 30 hours.

Save something for those last 35 meters!

  The pre-race meeting was uneventful, but we did get a looong explanation about how bib chips work with some follow up questions (actually, it was the same question asked 7 different times with a slightly different intonation) that would have been amusing had I not been sitting on the floor in a hot and stuffy room.

  Future Runners: You could skip the pre-race meeting, but the catch is this: there is absolutely nothing else to do in Wrightwood.

  I tossed and turned and listened to my Dad snore for several hours, and then the moment I had been waiting three years for finally came. I got my bottles from the fridge, whacked my head one last time on the TV, and headed down to the start. I felt like I was at a cocktail mixer: everyone milling around and chatting it up. With 30+ hours to “warm up” I figured taking a seat was the best option. But no joke: I was psyched. I would probably do better at parties if after 20 minutes of chit chat, everyone took off for a very long run. 

 In the words of my pacer, Jeremy, [he crewed me to Chilao and then ran with me from Chilao to Finish. How about a buckle for that??] I looked like a “kid in a candy store” until Islip. A word about the Baden-Powell section (Vincent Gap to Islip): middle-earthesque, magical, inspiring. Ok, I’m two words over, but you get the idea. A shout out to Marcus England, who led the march up to the summit at the perfect not-to-fast/not-to-slow pace --AND-- he knew all the names of the trees.

 I rolled into Islip like the aforementioned kid in a candy store, fixed a blister on my pinkie toe and headed up to Mt. Williamson. Somewhere on that climb I had the realization that it wasn’t blazingly hot out.

 I had run into a few runners at the Pasadena Patagonia store earlier in the week, and I tried not to be star-struck when I asked famous ultra runner Chris Price what his weather prediction for the race would be.

He replied: “Hot or very hot.”
See: even famous ultra runners can be wrong. And let me tell you how happy I am about that.

 Which brings me to the climb up through Cooper Canyon up to Cloudburst. Clouds weren’t the only thing that were burst here: my two-thumbs up, Baden-Powell-is-douche-grade! Energy® had been mangled into a tight stomach and a slow trudge. Earlier on the climb I saw the great Jussi H. bent over on the trail. What? Was the great one wretching?  I certainly wanted to. I ran into Mike, a non-famous ultrarunner, also from the Patagonia store encounter, and he remarked he hadn’t taken in a calorie since Islip. The mountains were taking a toll.

  “I need a sit-down and a coca-cola.”
  Boy was I happy to be at the Cloudburst aid station.

My dad and Jeremy told me lots of lies about how good I looked and how everyone else took a beating in the Canyon. I remarked that if it had been hot, I would still be down there, curled up under a rock.

  And then came the downhill to Three Points. I ran downhills great most of the day, but the parade marched by me on this section. I just didn’t have much mojo. Got to Three Points, a quick refill, with Jeremy and my Dad, the last time I would see them before Chilao. Rolling single track here was enjoyable but then, in the middle of nowhere, someone had decided to pave a road. Why?

 Why did they have to pave a road? And why did it have to be so long? I slowed to what could only charitably be called a trudge. Two runners hiked past me. And then they were gone.
  I started to have fantasies about how good it would feel to lie down on the pavement. Just for a minute, you know. But I kept moving. Until I wasn’t moving, and for the first time in the race, I hunched over, put my hands on knees, and tried to remind myself that “it never always gets worse.” I’d been here before: the climb out of the Caldera at the Jemez 50…that was worse, and then I felt great the last 10 miles in that race.
  In response to these weak rationalizations, a bit of spit dribbled out from my lips.
  I trudged on, and then, there it was, like a shimmering mirage: Hal Winton and the Mt. Hilyer aid station. I sat down, had a coca-cola. Listened to some wisdom from Hal, and suddenly I didn’t feel horrible anymore. Amazing what a four minute sit down and a coca cola can do.

  Weird game, 100 milers.

The Setting Sun                                            Photo: Jeremy Hardy 

  To make up for the road, the next section was downhill through awesome rock formations. The old pre-Islip energy started coming back. I was passing people. Feeling good. Holy crap, 50 miles and my knees don’t hurt!

I “sprinted” into Chilao once I hit the campground road. No longer a hunched over spit dribbler, I was ready to run. I said goodbye to my dad –we wouldn’t see him until the finish, and Jeremy and I headed out of there. Somehow the combination of coca-cola, GU, GU brew and chicken noodle soup had a Lazarus-like effect on me.  Night came, and we pushed hard to Shortcut, passing folks along the way. It was raining, I had my shirt off. Mexico City weather had followed me here, and don’t think I wasn’t damn happy about that fact.

Oh yeah: Remember the big party in Wrightwood? It had been moved to Shortcut.

“Dude, let’s get out of here.”

  As we exited past the radio guys, they asked “Are you sure you are going to Chantry?” (apparently Newcomb’s Pass is not a great place to drop)

  “Hell no, we’re going all the way to Altadena!”

 And so the energy continued. After the long dirt road section (waaaay down….waay up), we got to Newcomb’s. And mercifully, we were on single track again. We flew. I began to think I was done with my lows. I had never considered anything faster than 31 hours, but started doing the math for sub-30.

Newcomb's Pass Aid Station                                     Photo: Jeremy Hardy

 Every great party has an end. Mine ended on the climb up to Winter Creek. My thighs had tightened up while sitting in Chantry, and suddenly I was very, very sleepy. I wondered if I could walk and sleep at the same time. Winter Creek Trail is not a great locale for this experiment.

  This is the section where having a pacer probably saved me an hour, maybe more. The temptation of taking a dirt nap was overwhelming, but Jeremy was having none of that. He promised me a little sit down up on Deadman’s bench, but it seemed like this section of the trail had been lengthened! It was absolutely longer than when I had run it three weeks previous. That was the only answer, because it simply would not end. We were on WHAT ABSOLUTELY HAD TO BE THE LAST SWITCHBACK for like 40 minutes.

And then we emerged and saw the city lights. I tried to sleep on the bench, but couldn’t get comfortable. Jeremy promised the sun would be coming up soon. I tried hard to care.

Millions of people who will never know how good a 4 minute sit down and a coca cola feels  Photo: Jeremy

 My dream of running down the Mt. Wilson Toll road en route to a glorious sub-30 finish did not play out the way it had in my mind. I walked. Ok, maybe I jogged for a couple 30 meter sections, but you get the idea.

But I was going to finish. And when we got into Idlehour, I was on familiar ground, I had run these trails in the weeks leading up to the race, and my energy came back. I was done with Gu and Gu brew, and basically on the coca-cola train with a few M&M’s for good measure.

  We hit El Prieto and I tried to run. The sun was out, it was finally hot. But it was too late to matter. And then I turned into the park. My family was there. I had a little kick, made the most of those final 35 meters.

                                                  That mile 99 Smile                                                      Photo: Louis Kwan

And then Hal was asking me my shirt size.

Thrilled with the fact that I can stop eating a GU every hour             Photo: Jeremy Hardy

 Final Thoughts (I know, I know...I'm going on longer than the bib chip guy at the pre-race meeting, but cut me some slack: you only get to write one "first 100 miler report."

It was great having my dad there. He didn't really know anything about 100 milers, but once I showed him how the splits worked, he was totally into it. It was great motivation to know I would see him and Jeremy at the aid stations.

I won't be racing AC next year (so many trails, so little time -- thanks for the tip about Bighorn, Andi!), but I hope to be back to crew and pace my brother-in-law.

The ability to run downhill was huge. Climb up, run down. That's this course. Fitness will get you up the hill, but only lots of downhill pounding will prepare one for the downhills. You hear a lot about all the climbing and the heat, but don't forget the downs...

  The AC is at a crossroads. It's a classic, point to point mountain race, and unlike it's more famous sibling up north, it's a Hard Rock qualifier. The secret is out. It sold out in around 15 minutes this year, and next year there will be a lottery. The only question is: what kind of lottery? One created by Hal and Ken to maintain the values of the race, or a de facto lottery determined by computer speed and one's mouse-clicking fortune? It would be a bummer to see names like Grossman, Pacheco and Jussi (and many, many more) not get into the race because of a poorly timed browser refresh. Maybe they could have some slots available for sign up at the finish of the race? At any rate, one of these years I hope to be back to face the course on a "hot or very hot" day.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Every Fool Has His Day: Travesia de las Sierras 50 mile race report

  If a good race results in a bad race report, the following report will be terrible. This was my first visit to Villa Del Carbon, a small town tucked into the mountains an hour or so out of the reaches of the sprawling (and, frankly, ugly) northern part of Mexico City*. Villa del Carbon is beautiful and worth the trip. Seeing how people live up in the hills makes one wonder why they would move down to Tlanepantla. Economics of course. Not everyone has a plot of land in the hills to farm and live off the land. The contrast between the congested, gray-drab cement structures of the far reaches of the city (*technically, not a part of Mexico City, but it all blends seamlessly) and the remote, lush green of Villa Carbon was both profound and disturbing.

  I was fortunate to hook up with the members of the Mytikas running group and we fought Friday traffic (including a chase scene that involved 4 police officers and a warning shot fired --we didn't stop to ask for details). I was definitely not in the familiar center of Mexico City that I know and love.

                                                           The Early Conga Line                              Photo: Martin Forstmann

The "lobby" of the hotel was filled with runners catching up and waiting to get their packets. I took a little nap, grabbed my race stuff and walked into town with the Mytikas crew to grab dinner. Luis was running the 100 mile race, and Oswaldo, Rentato, Hugo and Israel were running the 100k. I would be doing the "short" race (80k) as my plan was to recover quickly and get back training hard for the AC 100 mile race on August 2 and 3.

  During dinner I was thinking of ordering quesadillas and chicken soup, as my stomach was its normal pre-race dainty self (including nerve-induced diarrhea, which, just as it did before Zane Grey, disappeared the moment the race started. Weird.), but when I saw everyone else ordering full meals I went with the house special Enchiladas Chiripas. Huge plate and I polished it off with a Negra Modelo. I left it to fate to see how that would play out...
  I woke up with a bit of a panic as I remembered that I only had hotel reservations for one night, and I couldn't leave my stuff in the room all day. I loaded everything in my car and walked the two blocks to the race start. Everyone snapping pictures and chatting it up. I find it very hard to be social before a race, as I just want to be alone in my thoughts, but I ended up in a few of the approximately 128 group photos that are always taken before every race in Mexico. Here's one:

               Pre-race group photo #112: With the Mytikas running group (and others) at the start                             Photo: ?

  I had considered running with the Nathan pack, as the aid stations can be a bit unreliable in these races, but in the end I went with two hand helds and the Jurek Essential. My plan was to eat a vanilla GU every hour along with potatoes and salt, all of which could be stuffed into the Essential and the handhelds.
  The race started (a bit late, as usual) and we descended about a kilometer through the town until we crossed a road and headed into runnable terrain in the forest.
  Coming into the race, I didn't have high expectations for the course. It was out and back (for a total of 50k), and included a 5k section of pavement which I would see four times. Not really what I'm looking for in a mountain race. There was a bit of climbing (just shy of 7,000 feet), but I would have liked more for proper AC 100 training.
  However, I was pleasantly surprised: the variety of the terrain kept things interesting: there were some short, steep climbs, stream crossings, technical single track, and rolling, grassy trails between corn fields. And the road was nearly empty and rolled through tranquil countryside with great views.  I enjoyed the pavement section: it provided an opportunity to stretch out the legs, get into a rhythm and push. Life dictates that the majority of my runs are on asphalt, so I was prepared to grind it out on the road. The out-and-back style had other advantages: it allowed for interaction with all of the other runners. This is always helpful in a long race. Encountering Hector Mendoza --the Happy Face Runner-- with his whistle and endless good cheer and positive vibes (I've never seen that guy looking miserable during a race) is always a boost. Every time I see him he reminds me to smile and he usually snaps a photo. Aside from runner interaction, it also gave me course knowledge so I knew where to push and where there would be hiking breaks to shovel potatoes into my mouth. I love exploring new trails, and my favorite course layout is the point-to-point, but out-and-backs have advantages as well. For one thing, I could see how much time I was putting on runners behind me.

Hector "Happy Face Runner" Mendoza
           Hector "Happy Face Runner" Mendoza who reminded me to be happy when I started getting grumpy about the lack of trail markings.        Photo: Martin Forstmann

          On the Road in the Morning Dew: Juan Pablo (L) and Martin Forstmann (R)      Photo: Hector Mendoza (??)

  Which brings me to how well this race went.
I started slowly in the morning and my plan was to keep it that way until the 25k mark. However, at about 10k I felt great and decided to pass a couple of runners that have finished ahead of me in the past few races. I knew it was way too early to be making any sort of move, but I figured if I felt good I should use that energy, as there would certainly be lows later in the day. There were some major route-finding problems on the climb to the high point of the race. The course simply wasn't marked for about 6 km. However, I had the course description in my pocket and using the GPS mileage of other runners around me we puzzled it out without too much lost time. It's pretty unnerving to arrive at an unmarked three way fork in the road during a race...

                                       Through the fields...                                                                   Photo: Martin Forstmann

  Arriving at the 25k mark at the high point of the race, I was relieved to run into Pedro Fletes, the race director. He was re-marking the course and glumly commented that "everyone got lost." I ran downhill with a new confidence and practiced my AC 100 strategy: run downhill steadily (but not recklessly), hike the ups hard and run the flats.

Chespiro to the rescue! Marking the course(again)...better late than never!               Photo: Martin Forstmann
  My knee threw a kink in this plan, and when I descended off the road onto the last steep downhill before the flat section of trail that leads back to town, my right knee flared up and I had to limp and try to keep the leg straight as I went down this hill. To simulate this at home, try keeping your knees locked straight and then walk down a stair case. Fortunately, the knee was not an issue on flats or uphills, so I was able to plug away as I finished my first 50k "lap." 7:11 (though I didn't know that at the time as I wasn't wearing a watch). I grabbed my remaining GU's and tied my shirt around my waist as the sun was out after a cloudy, misty morning. The sunburn hurts as I type this.
  I had been thinking about an 8 hour 50k, and while I didn't know how far under that time I was, I felt fantastic, and now it was time to really push. I tried to run everything and I arrived at the 62.5k aid station feeling great. I had to grunt up a boring dirt road for 2.5k and then turn around, and go back down to the same aid station and then back to town. I got into a fairly negative space on that climb as I thought the section was thoughtless and just plain stupid. Why not make the section up along the fantastic trail that follows the river? I ran into the RD Pedro again back at the aid station and politely proposed an alternative for the following year that would avoid this 2k out and back on a dirt road.
  I hit a bit of a low on the climb back up through the fields and to the road, but once back on the road I tried to run everything, pushing on the downhills as hard as I could....trying to get my quads ready for AC...
 It didn't seem to matter how hard I pushed, I just kept feeling better. I had some final, uplifting exchanges with other runners who were heading out in the other direction. Martin Forstmann, whose photos you see throughout this report, was pretty beat up and clearly struggling with a rough day (back in March at the 60k Carrera de Resistencia, he easily dusted me, putting about 15 minutes on me in the final 15k), and I tried to give him some encouragement but I wondered if he would finish the race.
 The knee magically felt better, and I made sure to keep eating even though the end was near. I ran every step of the final steep climb into town and felt fantastic. 11:39:40. A 50 mile PR (previous: Sean O' Brien 12:17). Here's a garmin reading from last year's Travesia 50 winner, Sinhue Fletes.
  I hung out at the finish line and enjoyed the Caldo de Pollo and potato quesadillas (with the tortillas fried in oil) a couple of things that make these races --despite their casual organization standards-- so fantastic.
  In many ways, the race was a great confidence builder for AC, but I shouldn't crack the bubbly just yet: AC will be hotter with three times as much climbing and descending. 
  I should probably also keep in mind it's twice as long... 
58 days to race day and still lots of work to do. With school ending I will be able to get up in the mountains more frequently and I've got to log some 20,000 feet weeks or pay a very steep price (pun intended) at AC.
   I walked to the hotel, changed and took a shower and came back to watch finishers.  It was dark when I heard that familiar whistle and I was shocked and thrilled to see Martin running in with Hector. The Argentine looked like he'd been ground up with some burger meat, but he got it done. Awesome, emotional finish. 
  And a clear reminder that any fool can run a good race when it all comes together: high energy, no stomach issues, every step feels good, etc. But to finish on those days when nothing comes easy is the real test.

The next morning, after showering and eating, I sat in the town square eating barbacoa with Renato "111K" Rios (he bagged some extra mileage on his adventure) and watched the hundred mile runners still plugging away. I had shared some miles with some of those runners the previous day. While I slept they were still at it. That was pretty sobering and will serve as a good motivator for the next 58 days.

Post-race thoughts/reminders/boring running details:
    I ate two big meals in the 15 hours before the race and my stomach was perfect the whole day.
    During the race I ate around 11-12 GUS and two ziplock bags of salted potatoes. I drank water and gatorade (orange) for the whole race, and some random peanuts in aid stations. 
    The first trail race I've worn road shoes: The Saucony Rider 6. I bought these in Arizona for road running and I've liked them so much I've been wearing them for everything. Right now they are my first choice for AC 100. My old Cascadia 7's still have another race in them, but the Saucony's feel lighter. Sadly, the pair of new Cascadia 9's I have pull my sock down on my left foot when I run, and I can't stand running in them. Bummer.
  I didn't feel strong on the steep climbs. I need to focus on more hills in the next 50 days.
  I ran more of this 50 than any other 50 I have run. Part of this was the nature of the course, but I've been doing long runs of 4-5 hours in Ocotal where I run the whole time, no hiking. I think this is helping. While I need to get out and do some long hikes up the Cerro de San Miguel, I need to keep long runs in the mix as well.
  The knee pain went away, but I've got to work on that. If I can't run the downhills at race will be over before Chantry Flats.
  I felt fantastic after the race, and other than normal post-race soreness, there is no lingering pain. I will rest one more today and then head back out tomorrow. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

The 25th annual Zane Grey Experience: A view from the back of the pack.

The Race

Checking out the the finish just before we saw the email that the course would end at Fish Hatchery.

The Famous Zane Grey Rocks (all trail photos from the day before the race).

Tonto Creek. Guess we'll have to cross this next year...

 The hail, rain and snow had kicked in with the wind. I was freezing, starting to shiver and it was still early in the race. I fantasized about the fleece pull over I had in my drop bag at Washington Park, mile 17. Usually, when things get tough late in a race, my mantra is ¨this is what you came for.¨ For this race it was ¨fleece pull over, dry gloves.”  If I could just get there and get some warm clothes on, I’d be ok.

  The way this race turned out is yet another reminder that we always worry about the wrong things. Hydration and heat management were my big concerns coming into Zane Grey. And rocks.

  Shivering, I finally pulled into Washington Park. I opened my drop bag and ripped out my pull over. It was dripping wet and cold. Everything in the bag was an icy mess.  

I stood there and stared at the ground for a moment, enjoying a bit of quality time with my stupidity. 

Hey DUMBASS: waterproof your drop bags
My dream of warmth imploded and I was crushed. Patricia, a volunteer was helping me with my stuff as my fine motor skills were shot. I couldn’t open the zipper on my pack. I couldn’t pull off my wet shirt. I was afraid to go back out there as wet and cold as I was, and I suggested that I hang out and get warm first, but Patricia told me that was the worst thing I could do.
  Then the race director told me two things:
1.     You’ve got three minutes (shit, I was running without a watch but I thought I was 30 minutes ahead of the cut off…)
2.     I’ve got nice warm car that’s going up to the finish at Fish Hatchery now.

He looked me over and I wondered if he was deciding to pull me from the race. It would have been a difficult decision to argue with, as I needed help to do simple tasks like putting on a shirt and opening my pack. There was certainly a part of me that wished to be put out of my misery.

The pull of that warm car offer was strong. My brain was working overtime to give me reasons to drop. I wasn’t sure it was even safe for me to keep going. What if I twisted an ankle and couldn’t move fast enough to keep warm? There were no drop bags at the next aid station (Hell’s Gate), and even though I had just been informed the race was ending at Mile 33 the thought of arriving at Hell’s Gate in the state I had arrived at mile 17 was frightening.  

  The race director’s voice again: “You’ve got two minutes! If you drop at Hell’s Gate you will have to stay there until the end of the race!”

I was looking down at my wet stuff, wondering why I hadn’t stuffed it into the garbage bags I had so cleverly packed in each of my drop bags.

I wanted to get a little angry or maybe feel sorry for myself, but I remembered rule number one: no whining. I also remembered that I had 30 seconds to make a decision. I stared at the puddles on the ground, searching for some answers there, I guess.

 And then Patricia, the aid station volunteer, took off her jacket and gave me one of the shirts off her back.

 An old- school Leadville 100 long sleeve tech shirt that was bone dry. I asked her where I could return the shirt at the end of the race, and she told me not to worry about it, that she would be long gone and I should just pass the favor on one day.

  If you happen to read this, thank you Patricia. That saved my race.  I hope I can return to favor to another runner some day.

  I pulled the garbage bag over the dry shirt (with Patricia’s help) and put on my wet Patagonia Houdini. Garbage bag never felt so good.

“One Minute!”

 I grabbed a handful of Gu and peanut butter bars, still not sure I was making the right decision, and started out of the aid station.

  “Just keep moving, keep eating. If you have to walk, swing the arms.” These were my thoughts as I left the aid station with less than a minute before the cut off.

A few minutes later I saw a runner going back to the aid station. Was that the smart decision? Would I be thinking about him in a few hours when I was lost and frozen, praying to God or search and rescue a few hours from now?
  I had left the aid station, but I wasn´t 100% committed. If it gets worse, you can always turn around and go back, I told myself.

 I kept moving as much as the mud would allow. Zane Grey is famous for it’s rocks, but today the rocks were the runner’s friend: at least when one stepped on a rock the foot didn’t come back up with a Frisbee-sized platter of mud.

  After a while the snow seemed to let up a bit, and the silver lining was that there would be no getting lost today with the clear trail of footprints… (also, the course was marked superbly, blue ribbons blocking many possible wrong ways).

  Hell’s gate appeared by surprise: my first thought was that it was an impromptu aid station. The rain had stopped. They had hot noodle soup. Life was good. Running was suddenly “fun” again. I was going to finish.
  I was there with about 4 other runners, checked in, started drinking my soup, feeling relieved I hadn’t dropped back at Washington Park.

Aid station volunteer on the walkie talkie: “Ok, they are telling us to start pulling everybody.”

 We didn’t wait around to see if that meant us.

The sun came out after Hell’s gate, and a mist was rising off the ground. It was sublime. I sort of forgot that I was racing, or maybe I didn´t care as I took in the incredible views of the rim. I started congratulating myself prematurely on my finish and then slipped and found myself on the ground.
   Ok, time to focus and get this done. I did, slowly. I was pretty sure I was last, which I found amusing, but I was going to finish. That would have to be enough. (One runner finished behind  me, as it turned out.)
  I’ve only seen 33 miles of the Highline Trail, but it’s the most incredible single track I’ve been on. The views of the Mogollon Rim to the north need to be experienced. I didn’t bring the phone, which was the right call: my fingers were too cold to operate it, and the time I would have lost taking pictures would have cost me a finish. So you’ll just have to go see it for yourself.

  The trail is no joke. Even after recovering I hit a bit of a low in the final miles and finished at Fish Hatchery at 10:09, which would have missed the cut off had the race continued. Folks say the toughest section of the trail is 33-44.

That’s a sobering thought.

 I’ve got unfinished business on this trail, and I definitely want to run between the rocks at Trailhead 260 and see all 51 miles that this spectacular trail has to offer.  I hope to be back next year. I would also love to run the Mogollon Monster 106, but I need to up my game for that beast or I won’t make the cut offs.

The real finish...will have to wait for next year.

Congratulations to my brother-in-law Jeremy Hardy, who finished in 8 hours. Jeremy, a native Californian, had this to the say: “that was the coldest I’ve ever been.”

Doing a really bad job pretending to be disappointed that the race was shortened to 33 miles because of the storm. Off-brand garbage bag courtesy of WalMart.

It felt THIS good to be done (and warm).

Some thoughts about Zane Grey

•The course profile is misleading. I thought it would be hands on knees climbing for the first climb. There are no big, steep climbs (between miles 1-33). There are endless ups and downs.
•This is not the course to go minimalist. And I’m not talking about shoes. Bring more than you think you will need. I haven’t run my previous 50 milers with a pack (Jemez, Sean O’ Brien, Oaxaca), but slower runners should pick up a pack at 17 and still keep a bottle.
•Yes, they have GU at the aid stations, but pack your own flavor in your drop bags. Nothing like a choice between strawberry-banana and tri-Berry
•The area is worth checking out, try and stay an extra day or two:

    ••Check out THAT brewery which is on your left shortly after you pass the Pine trailhead. Great brews, good food, friendly.

   ••The Runner’s Den in Phoenix is 10 minutes from the airport and is a great local running store.

  ••Diamondback tickets are relatively cheap by major league standards and you can buy them at the door.

Baseball game! It was warm here, too!

••Angel’s Trumpet Ale House in Phoenix has a nice outdoor patio, good food and a good selection (30+?) of beers from brewers all over the country.

   ••I won’t lie: unless you are shopping for guns, “downtown” Payson leaves a bit to be desired. Camping or checking out a house or cabin in Pine might be the way to go.