Dean Dougherty at 7 months old!
I'd sacrifice a run any day to hang out and build some Lincoln Log mansions with Dean or chew on some wooden blocks (sometimes allowing Dean to play as well), knock some cars around the play room and rock out to some good tunes while he dry humps the obnoxious plastic toy he uses to stabilize his wobbly legs. So while being a father comes with its sacrifices, you sure do learn a lot. Here are a few things I wish someone had pointed out to me for a fair warning:
1) Baby clothes are designed to make it as difficult as possible to get the kid in the outfit. They come with 200 buttons instead of a single zipper. I'm not sure why, but everything has buttons. So without fail...the diaper is showing somehow despite it being a "onesie" and once again I didn't line up the stupid buttons. Dumb...I'll take full zippers until 5 years old please. In fact, lets just make all outfits come with zippers. Thanks.
2) Why are the head holes so dang small on so many outfits? Some have buttons on the back of the neck to let the head get through but even though the rest of the outfit fits Dean I feel like getting a shirt off his body is like pulling a golf ball through a garden hose. And I think he feels the same way sometimes....
3) I watched the movie "The Changeup" with my Man Crush Jason Bateman and scoffed at the ridiculousness of the poop and pee scenes. I'm not scoffing anymore. I haven't had this much urine on me since '99. A baby boy with a diaper off is like a loaded weapon without a safety. That thing can go off when you least expect it. I've used a variety of objects to block it. I've since learned my lesson but there were many a day where I was left totally baffled at what just happened. Like the time before he could move around I went around the kitchen counter to grab a diaper. I turned my head, bent down into the drawer, grabbed a diaper...
...and there it was...
...a beautiful Fountain of Urine shooting straight up in a perfect little arc onto the floor. Normally funny in of itself until I walked over in a haste and realized that the perfect little arc was creating a puddle of urine directly on my cell phone.
So now I talk on the phone and think of Dean.
4) Don't play rough. I'm not a coddler. So I tend to be a little rougher with Dean than my wife is and it's certainly backfired in the early days. I've always dreamed of being that dad with his son on his shoulders at the county fair or wherever, so I was excited to first try it when Dean was strong enough in the neck to not go limp and fall off my shoulders into a pile. So after I hit his head on a few light fixtures we worked out the kinks in what should be a pretty simple task of walking around the house. As time went on Dean got stronger and we'd run around the living room. I'd grab him and flip him around and then just like that I had four ounces of spit up filling up the cavity of my ear drum.
And Dean would just smile like he just hit a home run to win the game.
And I wouldn't even care.
The Law of the Land - Zane Grey 50M Countdown
Less than three months away from my 3rd running of the Zane Grey 50M race in Pine, Arizona. I've written on here before that I'm determined to hit sub 10 hours at this race, a time that is far about and beyond anything I've done before (it would be a 2:24 PR, as in 2 hours and 24 minutes) on this course but something I feel I'm fully capable of doing.
So I will.
To get there I'm certainly pushing the envelope on what I've done before in training.
As in...I'm training.
I have a scheduled workout plan each week and I've now gone to track workouts four straight weeks. Insignificant to many but given I've been to the track maybe four times in five years...it's significant to me. They've been tough workouts but the sustained high pace each week will definitely make me stronger, and faster, as a runner.
I'm putting in what would be "low" miles for many an ultrarunner but a steady investment in time and energy for me. I've hit 60 miles a week once before (without a race) and only done back to back weeks of 50 miles once before. I trained for my first hundred with one 50 mile week and a ton of really hard 50k-50m races or training runs. It's worked but I've never been one to be up front.
That will have to change at Zane Grey. In the 23 years the race has been around, only 82 times has the course been run in 9:59:59 or faster. It's been a sell out for several straight years and while it was a very small race the first several years, it's still been a lot of times out there so sub ten hours is aggressive. Only six runners out of 126 starters broke ten hours in 2012. Karl Meltzer ran 9:25 and that was 3rd place. This year is packed with even more fast men and women than previous years, a group of two dozen that have run that fast before at tough races.
But I don't care about any of them. At all.
In fact, I don't care at all about what place I end up in. Just finishing and then breaking 9:59:59. It has nothing to do with ego and everything to do with setting a goal, and reaching that goal.
Any goal worth reaching easily wasn't a goal worth setting in the first place. This is going to be hard and I'm going to have to work to get there.
"Run when you don't want to, walk when you can't."
I was thinking about this out on the trails on Saturday at South Mountain. I run almost all my long runs with someone else, mainly for the company and to pass the time on the trails. This past weeekend I wanted to go out and put in a four hour run with a ton of climbing. There were many times I didn't want to run but knew I needed to and would starting jogging back up the hill. After a while I looked down and realized I just ran the last 2 miles without stopping and climbing 1200 feet. And I started to believe I could do this.
I started running ultras four years ago and my brother in law said to me,
"Run when you can, walk when you can't." - Brett Addington
It was sage advice I took and used at every training run and race for the next three years. Yet, a couple weeks ago on our monthly Bell Pass Out N' Back 8 Mile friendly race I had a new theory as I trudged up at a steady jog the 1,800 feet in the couple miles to Bell Pass. I was running what I for years was walking, and I was running it hard. I didn't want to, I knew I didn't want to, I knew I wanted to walk, power hike this section and settle in to the top.
But I didn't and I kept running. So something changed for me and I started thinking;
"Run when you don't want to, walk when you can't."
So I'm going to keep running, even when I don't want to, until I get to that finish line at Trail head 260.
I've been using Strava.com as a training tool for my running for the second half of 2012 and will continue with is through 2013. I wrote a piece for www.trailrunningclub.com on why. Check it out here:
Another year, another beautiful trip through the Superstition Wilderness to start the new year.
This was the third year we've had this run, a Fat Ass the first weekend of January. I've had a bit of an obsession with the Superstitions since my brother Noah and I started out here hiking up Siphon Draw trail up the Flatiron. All those times I had always wondered what was out beyond those rocks and ridge lines, going on for seemingly forever.
So one day I bought a map of the Superstitions and I started to find out.
And what I found was incredible. A world of side canyons, springs, trails, cactus, trees, thorns, and solitude. We'd run the first year the same year I ran 50 miles in the Superstitions on a Jeff Jones designed route with Paul Rondeau. That run showed me such a diverse range of mountains that held so little care for your wellbeing. A ruthless system of trails hidden among abandoned dwellings, gold mines and little used trails. One mistake and you're going to be found by the strike of a miracle, nothing else.
So with any self supported run having the right people is always key. We had another hardy group join us this time with many making their first trips to the Superstitions on this run. We had three of our Mogollon Monster's 9 finishers in Jerome Jourdon, Rudolph Palmer and Danny Speros. Deva Lingemann (last woman standing at Mog100 with Heather Lightfoot), Jon Roig (3rd time for the Superstitions 50K), my brother Noah "I don't run from April to January and debut with this run" Dougherty, and Jon Nelson. Jon joined me on the Gonzalez 24 hour run and is running Zane Grey for the first time this April. This would be a great test for him, the Superstitions have arguably more rocks than the Highline trail...
I now only run once a week it seems and after running 16 miles in at South Mountain the previous Sunday I didn't run a step until the following Saturday. I went out for an easy six miles in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and ran into a couple friends. I jumped in behind them for the next several miles and ran back to my car solo. Getting back to my car I realized I was missing my car key.
Backtracking 3 miles to the last place I had it I didn't see it and gave up. But not before I put in 13 miles.
Eight miles into the Superstitions the following day I knew it was going to be a long one. Dead legs, no energy, gassed before we even got going. So it took a good bit to push past that and keep a smile on my face. Even the incredible descent off Miner's Needle couldn't get me going and coming into mile 18 at Peralta Trailhead I was seriously considering bailing at my own Fat Ass.
Yet as usually happens and I've grown to know this about the sport, there are inevitable rebounds. I always think to myself, no matter how shitty I feel during a long run, if I just keep moving long enough its bound to turn around. It's just a matter of time.
So we reached Peralta and I got to see my wife and our son Dean, grabbed some melons and recharged the battery, said goodbye to the Jon's and Noah and we headed up the biggest climb of the day.
Climbing is my battery recharge for sure. I can feel like stringing myself up to the next tree branch with my backpack straps one minute and then we could start up a several mile climb and I just click into gear and things start to turn around. By the time we reach the top I felt much better and I was looking forward to the long ridge line running back down the valley.
The five of us hammered out the remaining 13 miles with a great group downhill, everyone self sufficient, nobody outwardly struggling just pushing on. We hit the Black Mesa Trail and knocked out the climb out, passed a group of horse back riders at the Second Water turnoff and finished off the remaining two miles to make it back in 7:30 on the dot. A "slow" 50K for most but as a group a great time with plenty of time to enjoy the day.
As with every year the park rangers are at the lots and always look on us with such inquisitive eyes, cowboy hats turned down when they ask the inevitable question, "Where did you all start?"
This year however we caught up with the Ranger at the Peralta Trailhead and he said he would meet us back at First Water later on.
Sure enough, there he stood with his partner at the top of the hill by the trail signout. These guys know the trails as well as anyone and they know how rough they are. Even though these kinds of training runs never make it into the ranks of ultra signup the admiration of these old cagey cowboys makes it well worth the effort.
Until next year...
I've been running fairly consistently since 2009 now and as of yet, have not had any real injuries beyond minor day to day issues or overall extreme. There were a few short sections of time where I was on Dr's orders to stay off the trails for other reasons but not for a running specific injury. In fact, since I started this endurance running thing after the 2008 Tucson Marathon my only injuries were heat related (Rhabdo), a few torn ligaments in my left ankle blocking a shot on goal in soccer where it spun my foot around in a circle. Oh and that one time my liver was working on overdrive after my bachelor party where for at least three to five hours I thought for certain all my major organs would shut down simultaneously, I'd shat myself and I'd be found lying dead on my living room floor in my own vomit. I blame every single one of you bastards that were with me. I'd rather have someone split my foot open than have that again.
So despite the non-runner's typical comments of "your knees are going to be shot" and "you're going to be crippled if you keep this up."
Right. Don't leave any of that 32 oz Coke in that jug fatty. Make sure you get it all down before you finish judging me.
Inevitably, those comments of impending paralyzation come from those that fell significantly behind on their workouts back in the Carter Administration.
But in all reality, I've been fairly unscathed and my legs and body have held up well. I rarely fall on he trails, stay off pavement like it's Herpes, and my overall weekly run totals are less than most road marathoners.
That is until late November when I started to feel this sharp pain in my left hip flexor.
Given there is almost always some kind of ailment plaguing my body somewhere and knowing that if you just run long enough most anything just goes away. So I'd run through it and keep up my runs, running more and more hills, running a higher percentage of every run and running every run faster than I have before. I felt stronger, faster and could really feel myself turning that proverbial corner.
So naturally thats when my body breaks down.
After the South Mountain 30K I had to shut it down. That entire 22 mile run was a pity party that nearly resulted in me sitting on the side of the trail in frustration. Every step was painful and every step up was worse. Being on the National Trail wasn't the best location to be dreading every uphill step.
Eleven days later I hadn't run. My legs were aching to do something.
I thought about waiting longer, two full weeks, maybe even three, but I couldn't keep watching these 72 degree days disappear after suffering through the miserable summers exactly for these days. So I tried it out last Friday night, a short four miles of mostly flat Preserve trails.
Ok, we're getting somewhere.
Next up came a run of Pemberton Trail and it's 15.4 miles of generally flat, rolling trail with Jay Danek and a couple of some fast runners two days later on a foggy, cold, wet Sunday morning. 2 hours and five minutes later we finished and I was beat. But my hip held up and I didn't have any pain like I had before. I was excited to be able to get back to it and now after two weeks I could train again. I ran the next day, Monday, and then took four days off as precautionary in not overdoing the return to training before running tonight.
It was a run that was one that you want to be over from the minute it starts to the minute it finished. Painful, slow, hurt, stomach hurt, ankles hurt, and with every step you question why the hell you feel like this. Was it the lunch I had? The 22 Christmas cookies? Half pound of fudge? All coffee hydration strategy?
A garbage run if there ever was one.
Yet somehow I was still moving along ok, and on a climb up the backside of Stone Mountain on trail #100 I started to click and in climbing up the washed out rock pile of a trail I came up on a guy on a bike. He was pushing it, the bike that is, wearing blue jeans, a pair of white sneakers you get at JC Penny, a grey bedroll strapped to his back with clothesline rope and a long sleeve denim shirt. I jogged up on him and said, "Merry Christmas" as I passed.
He looked to his left towards me as I trotted up on him.
His face was sunken and dirty. Five days deep from his last shave, giving him a disheveled look.
He looked over while pushing his bike up this scree trail. Making terribly slow time through the rocks, his back burdened by the pack and weight of his gear on his bike.
He was a homeless man, likely on his way up the trail and over to the Cave Creek section I've seen many make their homes in washes over the years. His look came with no response, no smile, no grin, no return of greeting.
It was a look of pure despair. A look of, "Merry Christmas?? Are you f-ing kidding me? Are you seriously saying that to me as you run past me while I push this bike up this mountain??? F-you."
I trudged on like someone had kicked me hard. Right in the stomach.
Here I was fretting over a strained hip muscle that was keeping me from training for an insignificant hobby that has no bearing on the improvement of anyone's life around me.
And he was pushing his bike up a cliff towards the pile of dirt he was going to make home for the holidays. Or maybe not, I don't know. But that's what was crossing my mind after that one singular look.
I kept on, thinking about that guy and came up on the long stretch of steep rocky switchbacks to the saddle heading west. I picked it up and started to push harder and harder up this hill, faster and faster around one switchback after another, driven by some unknown desire to punish myself on this climb.
The last 100 meters is bedrock and scattered shale, making the footing loose in places. I simply started sprinting from one open spot in the rocks to another, not looking towards the top but simply watching my feet land with each step. Closer and closer to the top I made it, far faster than I had ever done that hill before, a hill I've run so many times before.
As I reach the top there stood a man.
He was not a hiker.
Not a biker.
Not a man walking his dog.
Not a runner.
Just a man standing there. He carried nothing in his hands, nothing on his back. He was portly in size, older in age and standing there looking at me. He had a big white beard, an overgrown one rugged in appearance from years of neglect.
He seemed so out of place, out here in the desert with no apparent reason for being there.
Yet there he stood. There he was. Standing there as I sprinted up this hill, out of breath and fighting back the warm spit inevitably bringing on some dry heaving.
He stood there and as I looked up he was smiling.
He didn't say anything. He just smiled. He looked at me and smiled.
I said, "Merry Christmas" and he smiled.
I crested the saddle and dropped down the backside of the trail and after a minute I looked back towards that man.
He was gone.
A couple miles along I climbed to the top of the highest ridge and stood at the top. Looking out over all of Phoenix, the center of the city, the meager Downtown to the south and miles and miles of houses in every direction. So much to see, so many beautiful views. You can see forever up there and yet all I could search for was that man on the trail. I could see every trail and he was nowhere to be seen.
I headed down and sprinted back to the spot hoping to find this man. I'm not even sure why. Not sure why it was so important to find this man. Who was he? What was he doing out there? He didn't look like anyone that lives there. Was he homeless? Was he the other guys friend with the bike? Was he still going to be on the trail when I headed back the same way? Maybe I could give them my headlamp? I could head back home and grab some food for them maybe...
One turn on the trail after another there was nobody in sight. I was alone this night on the trail, in the center of Phoenix, not a soul in sight.
I finished the last two miles to my car and sat in the drivers seat thinking about those two men and all the little things in this world that often go unnoticed and under appreciated.
Like a working body. A warm bed. A hot meal. A single look. A single smile.
I started the run pissed off my Ipod was dead when I tried to turn it on.
What?! No music?!! I already feel like garbage and I'm going to run without tunes now?
"I'm going home. F- this."
I'm really glad I didn't.
50 Miles into 103 in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve
A month now after the Gonzalez Family 24 hour event I'm still looking back not quite sure what to make of it all. It really happened so quickly and before I knew it I was standing in the parking lot at 5:30am, in the cold, alone and wondering..."What the hell did I get myself into this time?"
Soon enough I'd know.
But for now, I'm not ready to fully recap this but I will. Because it was too important a day for the Gonzalez family for me to shortchange it without a real story. I have so much to say about it, even now, a month later, that I just need the time to sit down and do it. If I can talk my son into longer naps I think I can knock it out.
Until then check out the Upcoming Adventures & News tab on this site. I'm put an unofficial Arizona trail running calendar of events up there to include all the upcoming Aravaipa Running DRT series races, Tucson Trail Runners (TTR) events, and a few random big road races, shorter events of note and some unique fat ass or fun runs planned in the coming weeks. The winter season in Arizona, specifically Phoenix where it doesn't snow, brings a chance to get out to a lot of places that are tougher to get to often in the hot summers. So every weekend seems to have a couple options to run and often these are not publicized and difficult to find. So here you go, a few more options for the coming weeks and months to shoot for!
Also, now at the end of the year we are again putting together a vote for the Ultrarunning of the Year for Arizona, both male and female, and also for Most Outstanding Performance of the Year and Grittiest Run of the Year. On December 17th the voting will open up on www.mcdowellmountainmain, Jay Danek's running website, and will close on the 28th. I've offered up a comp entry to the Mogollon Monster 100 for the winners of AUROY and Aravaipa has a free entry for those that are runners up. IRun and Sedona Running Company have both pitched in gift certificates for the winners of the other two categories. So check out Jay's site if you have any nominations for Jay & I to include. Just comment on the post for the awards to have someone included and we'll update it.
On the 17th we'll open up the voting itself and award the winners all on the 28th. There are a lot of great performances every year and with trail scene growing everywhere more people get involved every year. You don't have to be the fastest person to win anything, that has never been what Ultrarunning has seemed to represent, at least to me. So don't feel someone shouldn't be included just because they can't run a 18 hour hundred.
Check it out! www.mcdowellmountainman.com
The Gonzalez Family with Maria Gonzalez on the right in silver.
I first heard about the Gonzalez tragedy last Wednesday. Almost immediately I wanted to help in some way. I'm not even sure why but I did. Maybe it was the two Red Bulls I had just slammed mid afternoon at work, maybe it was because of the size of the family left in the wake of it, maybe just because....sometimes people just need help.
So when I heard about it and how shaken everyone at work was I felt I had some way of helping. I could run.
So I went back to my office and within a few minutes I had a full plan in the works. I would run for 24 hours and ask for pledges of any variety of dollar amount and the total donation for each person would be their pledge times the number of laps I completed. It was a take on the "Bowl-a-thons" we used to do back in Vermont with the Boy Scouts. I'd get my family to pledge a nickel or something per pin I'd knock down as a 9 year old. Then i'd go out and crush it and come back asking for $150. This was nothing like bowling but I felt it could work.
So I ran with it. I had three courses mapped out, calls into parks, race directors in the area and before the day was out I had it rolling. The family needed money now not in a month so I knew it couldn't wait until after Thanksgiving. I was already planned to do a double crossing of the Grand Canyon on November 2nd so it would have to be the following weekend, November 10th. I'd have 9 days to prepare for what is hopefully 100 miles.
As soon as I sent out an email to my entire hotel company, Hotel Valley Ho and the Sanctuary Resort & Spa, I had a massive response.
Everyone wanted to help Ana's family out. In any way they could. See, Ana is the niece of Maria Gonzalez and has worked at our hotel for probably five years. She's the sweetest, kindest, most good natured young woman you'll likely find and has always been that way since I met her.
So the pledges started to come in and within an hour we had over a dozen pledges totaling over $15 per lap. Then I posted it on Facebook and my friends in the running community chimed in with an equally overwhelming response. Friends I hadn't heard from in years, people I see every day, small amounts and huge amounts, people pledged with their hearts for these children and the totals rose with every day.
Then we sent out a press release and the pledges rose once again. At the end of today, Thursday the 8th, we are sitting at $39.74 per lap.
If I can make it to 100 miles on 24 hours that's almost $4,000.
It is surprisingly difficult to secure a location to run for 24 hours.
In the age of liability and lawsuits, so many roadblocks out there. City parks are not an option despite many being very sympathetic and wish they could help. Even the Indian Bend Wash, a seemingly "open" park system can't allow a runner to run loops on the multiuse path despite being able to run through the park at any time of the night. Police and Fire need to be alerted in nearly all areas and really, just one problem after another. It would seem that nobody wants to allow a random guy to run around in circles all night.
So I'm just going to pick my own course and found one that is 1.0 miles around and on trails in one of the parks in town. It has its own access without having to leave a vehicle on park property and has only 46 feet of gain in one mile loop, or only 4,600 over 100 miles. It's far more mentally engaging than a track or paved loop with many dips, weaves and turns through the desert. It's exposed of course but does have some tree cover here and there and overall, a course I think I can run for 24 hours and not go completely insane.
I'm just praying that should some well meaning Park Ranger come see me running around the desert at night Saturday night, to please understand the reason behind it and kindly look the other way. I'll pick up every piece of trash in sight and leave it in much better condition than found. I can guarantee that and just hope it can be a live and let live situation.
I have run 100 miles once in my life. Over a year ago at Cascade Crest 100.
It took me 28 hours.
I tried again in May on a self supported run and made it 85 miles in 26 hours.
I've run 50 miles over a dozen times.
Twice on a loop course.
But never 100 miles on a loop course.
I've never ran a hundred miles in under 28 hours technically.
But I know I can do it. So I will.
I'm a man that needs goals and here they are:
6am Start Time
50k in the bag by noon. 31 miles in 6 hours.
By 6pm another 31 miles or a 100K in 12 hours.
It's dark at 6pm here in Phoenix now and I'm sure I'll be slowing down by then if not sooner. But it's a great start to the last 12 hours where I want to keep plugging away. Without the big climbs to slow me down in other races I can keep hiking at least at a faster pace. The trick is not stopping every mile and visiting with people that stop by to say hello and cheer me on. Just keep going.
By midnight, 18 hours in, I want to be at 80 miles.
That leaves 6 hours to put in a final 50K. I think I can do it and if I'm not broken by then with blisters or injury, if I'm just tired and fatigued, I know I can pull it out with the barn door in sight. That would give me a total of 110 miles in 24 hours.
Ambitious? Sure. Especially given the above facts and what I've accomplished in the past.
But then it's not really a goal of any value if it's easily attained. Plus, I've never been motivated to keep going in a lap race like this before. Every lap I complete is more money for the family. Every lap is $40 that can pay for clothes, food, funeral expenses, living expenses, whatever they need in taking care of these 9 children. That's far more motivating than some belt buckle that you get no matter how long you take. It's not about personal pride or sense of accomplishment this time. I feel as if this has nothing at all to do with me but everything to do with helping this family.
So despite being sick throughout this week with a cold, missing Tuesday at work due to being sick, and never having accomplished that level of miles in this amount of time....I feel driven and ready to take this one. The weather should be perfect for it, 64 degrees and partly cloudy with a low of 46. This entire week it has been 90 and 65. Suddenly tomorrow it drops down and then the lowest high temperature of the month and lowest since the summer started happens to be Saturday?
I see that as a good omen.
So while we are really close to the day I still have one more day to collect pledges and try to get to my stretch goal of $50 per lap. That is $10.24 more but a significant one. If you'd like to pledge and help out the Gonzalez family please contact me at email@example.com or on this website. Or on Facebook. Or at 480.248.2012. Or 480.415.5315. :)
Thank you to everyone that has pledged already, offered to help, plan on running some laps with me. All of you are incredible and makes me proud to call you all my friends. Many people talk in the political world, the social world of opinions and the image is sometimes painted of a gloomy future in our society. Of everything going downhill.
Well, I disagree. The flooding of well meaning friends, families, coworkers willing to help out people they've never met before, simply because they were in need is a powerful message to those that think otherwise.
So when it comes down to it on Saturday night, when I'm tired, sore, blistered, beaten, hungry, exhausted and maybe even bored...I just think of things like that and I think about what the family can do with $40 if I just get my head out of my ass and hurry up and finish this lap.
I think that's enough alone to get through 100 miles.
Our summer is over and the race season is just beginning. Another October is upon us and I've already been completely taken over by the incredible weather and forgotten completely that it was 110 degrees just a month ago.
What miserably hot summer?
It's perfect out.
And running has never been easier.
No water bottle.
No dry mouth.
No getting back to your car after the run feeling destroyed and then five minutes later your body catches up and sweats through the cloth seats.
No more strategically planning your week of training around the sunrise because once it comes up it's like the Chronicles of Riddick...it's overbearing and ever present in the rest of the run. A monkey on your back waiting to pop you in the ear with those stupid symbols (that can't be spelled right....) I can run in the heat and I know many that actually enjoy it. Many go out at noon in August. But that doesn't mean it's smart or fun. In fact...I hate it. It's bearable through mid-July but the last month plus is always rough for me.
Now, you can run at any time of the day or night and it's perfect. I ran this morning at 5am without a shirt on, just a headlamp, shoes, shorts and the Disco Biscuits. It was incredible. Running up hills I've always walked in the past, cruising along at a solid pace without the interruption of walking to get my core temperature down to under 201 degrees. Running the the fall in Phoenix is a rejuvenation.
To test the rejuvenation I'm running my first race since the Mesquite Canyon 50K way back in March. March. Seven months ago.
It seems odd that I haven't raced since then, but I skipped Zane Grey this year, didn't run a 100 all summer and was focused on the Monster up until a few weeks ago. I ran a ton of marathon or longer training runs on the Mogollon Rim and a 85 mile jaunt on the Mogollon Monster course in May but nothing with competition.
So this will be fun. 18 miles up in Cave Creek Regional Park at the Cave Creek Thriller 30K, the first of the Aravaipa Running DRT Trail Series here in the Phoenix area. It has some trails I know, some I don't. But it's 18 miles and it'll be a good test of my fitness after putting in a couple decent runs the last couple weeks and one strong week last week. I'm still way short on training and being where I want to be in having a focused training plan but comfortable enough that I'm ready to head up north, run a few trails and hang with the fast guys. We'll see how long it lasts. Bret Sarnquist, Jay Danek, Tony Delogne, Jules Miller, Jeremy Schmuki and as usual in running and ultrarunning...a whole bunch of people that will come out of the group and crush a bunch of us. It's not a Dark Horse in running, it's a Dark Herd. So many unknowns that can pop up and put down a fast time. Which is part of the intrigue in running a race, especially one where it's around 50-100 runners. Just enough to know who is going into this with you and not so many you have zero chance of competing for a respectable place.
So I'll for the first time give it a shot up front of the pack and see where that takes me. I'll shoot for a spot in file behind Jay Danek as I know he's in the fastest shape of his life and after 10 miles see where each of us are and go from there. Eighteen miles is a perfect distance but I've never ran it without thinking I had another 13 to go. But as my races typically go, 18-20 miles is usually where I have a low spot before rebounding for the last ten miles of a 50K. Maybe for 18 I can hold a much faster pace and remain up front. If not...
I'm sure my ego will survive it.
R2R2R - 2012
November 2nd I'll be taking another trek down to the Canyon for a Bright Angel>North Rim>Bright Angel Double Crossing. I haven't done it since last fall and aside from a trip this February for a 50K route off the Tanner trail I haven't seen the Canyon since. So I'm totally oblivious again as to just how difficult and challenging this trip can be and always is. Jay Danek is going for his first go of the Double Crossing and of course Honey Albrecht who always makes it when it involves the Grand Canyon. It'll be my 5th double and probably Honey's twentieth or something. It's great to have done it and a once a year trip. Not sure I'd be up for multiple attempts in a calendar year. It's a lot like Zane Grey. Always sounds like a great idea until you hit about 30 miles and you're staring down 8 miles of switchbacks...
Either way...really looking forward to it and starting out at night Friday night we'll be up over 24 hours before we even start climbing back up. And we'll catch the sunrise which is worth a thousand gels.
The Zane Grey Obsession Continues....
The Mogollon Rim. Photo by Andrew Pielage- www.apizm.com
It's easy to be lost sometimes. Buried amidst a world of high speed activity, stress filled lifestyles and the ever climbing necessity of improvement, being lost is sometimes natural.
We go from one thing to the next. Thanksgiving to Christmas. Spring Break to Summer Break. Empty checking account to pay day. Starving to bloated. Happy to sad. Every day brings a new day and with that new challenges, new changes, and new views of what needs to happen.
For nearly two years it's been a non-stop whirlwind of change. Married. Honeymoon. Rented a house. Said rental went into foreclosure. Auction owners tried to evict us. I extorted them for payment to break our lease. We get pregnant. We buy new house. Start a new website with John Vaupel & Jay Danek. (www.trailrunningclub.com.) We have baby. We prepare for Mogollon Monster 100. We direct Mogollon Monster 100. We still have baby. Still have house. Still working all the time. And apparently I still have a blog.
Yet the Monster has come and gone. And the void that remains leaves me lost in what to do next. Immediately I volunteer to motivate and train our hotel staff to run the P.F. Chang's Half Marathon, something I'm passionate about but realistically didn't have time for. When I should be putting a hold on my ambitions to focus on traditional household husband things like siding, lawn care, organizing shelving, etc. I'm out signing myself up for more time consuming projects. Yet I can't help myself. I don't have ADD but I cannot just sit around. As great as that can feel sometimes.
I need to be involved in something.
I need goals.
I need ambitions.
To fill a part of that void I signed up for two races the day after the Monster finished. The Cave Creek Thriller 30K and the Zane Grey 50M a ways off in April 2013. I haven't run hardly a lick since my son Dean was born but now with the race behind us (for now) I should have more time... My training "program" the last three months consisted of a 30 mile training run on the Mogollon Monster 100 course on a Saturday.
Rest for 6 days.
Repeat on a different section the following week. I would run 20-30 mile long runs every weekend for 8 of the 10 weekends of August/September in preparing for this race in both training runs and course marking. Some went well...others were miserable death marches.
Yet somehow, towards the end of the summer, leading right up to the race I started to feel stronger. Not strong, but stronger. Last Tuesday I covered 16 miles on the Highline Trail for course marking for the race and on the return trip I pushed the pace, hammered the hills and came back into Washington Park feeling great. I drove up to the top of the Rim and ran another two miles along the General Crook Trail marking it along the way and somewhere on the way back, as the sun was coming down, still slightly poking through the tall Ponderosa's I felt like I was cruising down the trail on a bike. Nearly 7,500 feet up, it felt like sea level and I was off. It was short distance but a big boost to my confidence. Running hasn't felt that "easy" in a long time.
So the race is over. Planning for next year is ongoing and constant. Ideas flood into my mind in an ever rotating display of improvements and projects. Never submitting to mediocrity, my aspirations always at least reach for something greater. That will never change but leaves me pulled in another direction, a constant tidal pull bringing me back out to sea every few hours, every few days. As welcome a distraction as unwelcome. Focus on one thing, one specific goal has become very challenging with so many aspects of the race I'd like to change while also focusing on work, family, and training (not in that order necessarily...)
With the race over though it does allows me to focus on running again. My son is three months old now, bigger and stronger and stroller ready. We can train together and focus on the Zane Grey 50M in April and get back to running with Jay Danek. I've missed our reckless descents down Bell Pass at breakneck speeds and the much faster pace Jay trains at than I would running solo. His big ambitions, goals and training regimin rub off on me and I need to get back to that.
I have big plans for Zane Grey, my favorite race to hate in all of running. Yet ultimately...my favorite race. My brother distinctly remembers my putrid attitude following my horrible experience back in 2011 where I suffered through a death march the final 17 miles. All of which were self imposed through my own stupidity, poor planning and newly found arrogance.
This time around though, I'm smarter, I'll be stronger, and I feel like that's my home turf now. I've run the Highline so much now in preparation for the Mogollon Monster I know so many of the in's and out's of the trail. I know it's a whore of a trail. An unrelenting beast waiting to eat up the first runner that succumbs to the heat, elevation, exposure, manzanita, or those few rocks out there. The last time I was arrogant. I had been running 50K's like they were 5k's. The 50M was a near regular event for me, at least once a month. I had run a wickedly hard and vicious Superstition Wilderness 50M the month before and felt that Zane Grey was just a stop at the ice cream shop in comparison (incidently, during that delusional Superstitions run the first seeds of the idea for the Mogollon Monster we laid).
I made a cardinal Ultrarunning sin. I did not respect the distance.
Zane Grey is one of the toughest 50 milers in the country. I don't care which one you compare it to. There may be "harder" ones but there is no debate that this is towards the top of the list. Nobody leaves the Highline saying, "That was easy." Nobody. Most leave in a near crippled state saying, "I'm never coming back."
Which any Zane Grey veteran likely say's in their head, "See you next year."
I'm not overlooking the distance this year. I'm focusing on this race and this race only. I'm not going to go out and do all these fat ass random runs through the desert. My off course adventures that end up eating up every ounce of my energy. I'm training for speed, stregnth and endurance. I'm not just looking for an improvement over 2011. I want to knock several hours off it.
I want to go sub 10 hours.
At Zane Grey.
I know. Ridiculous right?
Anyone just ultrastalking me can look at my past results and will be wondering, "How in the world are YOU going to run sub 10 hours at Zane Grey??!"
It's 2:24 better than I ever have run there. Ever. I have zero statistical data to back up that kind of time. My fastest "official" 50K on there is 4:54. I barely ran 10 hours on a flat,loop course.
BUT...I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of. I know I've never even gotten close to pushing boundaries on speed or training. I've always skirted by with just enough training to keep it from being a full on death march. I ran Cascade Crest 100 last year topping out at a 52 mile week. I get by because I'm a strong hiker and I can run downhill. I've always been weak on the flats and actual "running", as ironic as it sounds, and that is what has kept me plateaued, just off the cuff and from taking that leap to the next level.
My problem has always been that I could hinge back on the "I don't really train excuse" for my less than stellar times at races. It's always been a side joke with my running friends but ultimately it's just an excuse. I'm capable, I can make the time, I just have to put the work in.
So I will.
And when it comes down to the line, come April, on the Highline, I'll really see where that takes me.
And if sub 10 hours doesn't happen at Zane Grey...well look for me at the finish line. I'll still make it there. It just might not be as pretty.
The Monster has officially consumed me.
Consumed everything around me.
Now just a little over three weeks away its down to the wire on planning this monstrosity. What started as a pipe dream over some maps almost two years ago has nearly become the dream.
A one hundred mile wilderness run through some of Arizona's most beautiful terrain was the goal from the start. I had a ton of help from local ultrarunner Jeff Jones on designing the course and creating one that is both challenging and logistically possible with the unique challenges that comes with a 2,000 ft. escarpment between aid stations. I sparked the idea on the tail end of our Superstitions Wilderness 50 Mile adventure and Jeff took off with it like a kid in a candy store. My original idea to create a hundred in Arizona where people would come, run and leave with a whole new idea of the state, showing that it was more than "just a desert." It started Jeff off in a tirade of ideas that resulted in nearly 500 emails over the next year.
What we came up with amazes me with each long run spent on the course. Weekend after weekend, I've driven the 100 miles from my house at 4am to arrive at the trailhead to run the course. Mile after mile I fall more in love with the area, the terrain and every God forsaken rock that hits the bottom of my sole. I've run some sections of the course a half dozen times this summer alone, others just a few times, but in all, I've traversed that Rim as much as anyone probably has at this point and now just a few weeks away...I can't wait to see what everyone has to say about it.
The challenging thing about directing a race is not fully grasping what it is that is "hard" for other people. Every race bills itself as a certain adjective leaning one way or another. "Hardest", "Toughest", "Fastest" something or other. Even the Zane Grey 50M race this race shares part of the course with has for years been called, "Toughest 50 Miler" which for many has been a debatable, none wishing to debate fresh off a ZG finish. This race, the Monster, will likely be one of the toughest endurance feats many of the entrants will have taken on at this point. I know this because of what I have experienced on other courses, what others have when running this course and how revered the Zane Grey course is in general. It's going to be hard. Really hard.
But what is "hard?" Hard to me is the Lean Horse 100. Running a flat surface 50 miles, then turning around and running it back?! That is a hell of a lot of running. Keys 100? Indiana 100? Javalina 100? I've paced the last couple years at Javalina Jundred for 30+ miles and while it's probably the most FUN race atmosphere and an event I look forward to each year...I'm extremely hesitant to ever run it myself. Because I feel it's extremely hard not having a major climb plopped somewhere in there or having to repeat the same thing over and over again. Across the Years this past year I hit 50 miles and quit out of sheer boredom. Terrible I know and something I'm probably going to go back and rectify but that day, running loops...I just couldn't get myself into a groove and really enjoy it. It was one of the hardest 50 miles I've done and I didn't climb 12 feet...
So how will everyone feel about the Mogollon Monster 100? I have compared a lot of hundreds trying to determine how it will be met once the first race is completed. I've spent countless hours on the internet reading all 88+ other hundreds websites, maps, elevation profiles, crew access, past times, cutoffs, etc. There's only about a dozen races with more elevation gain or outright by the numbers is "harder." Of course there are the Hardrocks, Wasatch races with the climbing but also taking into account the average elevation of each mile, terrain, technical nature, weather and all the other factors that makes a race difficult and challenging some are tougher than others for different reasons. I feel this race has them all to put it in a class that will challenge even the most seasoned ultrarunner. That wasn't the goal in designing the race any more was the extra 6 miles some kind of masochistic attempt at one upping anyone. It's just the way it panned out that way.
So after hundreds of hours of planning, hundreds and hundreds of miles on the course, and over eighteen months of constant planning we're almost there. The buckles are in the mail, supplies filling my garage, volunteers committing and contingencies being finalized. Planning a hundred mile race was a dream, an incredibly ambitious one I'm finding out, but one that I'm determined to see through successfully. Runners are coming from all over the country, pacers and crews with them. We'll all be in Pine, Arizona come Friday morning and I'll be there standing up among them for the briefing. A moment I can't believe is almost here, a weekend of determination, stubborness and drive coupled with beautiful, surreal & majestic. I can't wait to be on the other side of the finish line to see each of the runners come through successfully. To be able to shake their hands, congratulate them and hand them the infamous belt buckle that all non-runners feel is so insignificant.
20,000 feet of climbing.
One hell of a challenge completed.
You won't find a more rewarding experience anywhere.
Ready or Not...
I've run 100 miles one single time in my life. Last August. Cascade Crest 100.
It took me 28 hours and 14 minutes and was one of the best experiences in my life.
Taking on the Mogollon Monster 100 as a new race in a new location for a new race director was admittedly an ambitious task but one I've taken very seriously and passionately. Passionately enough that I decided last fall to run the entire course from start to finish.
It was a self challenge I was more than up for and I trained hard all fall for the December 10th date. The week before came, the nerves started and then the snow came.
And it never left.
24" dropped the week before the 10th and the temperatures never lifted and winter was officially in Pine, Arizona. It hadn't snowed on that week in over 6 years. So we pushed back the running of the course to May 5th, 2012.
So the training began once again.
Zane Grey 50M
Two weeks before I helped volunteer at the Zane Grey 50 Mile race with RD Joe Galope as training for directing the Mogollon Monster 100 this fall. Zane Grey has three common aid stations as the Monster and it would be invaluable experience for the fall in planning, access and a general understanding of the area in terms of logistics versus trails. It was a very long day but a very memorable one. I made this video on the experience and race itself while I was helping out.
Have to Start Sometime
May 4th arrives and has me staring at the ceiling of the Super 8 in Payson, Arizona trying to fall asleep knowing that in just a few hours I'll be starting the longest day of my life. Voluntarily. With no buckle at the finish. No competitors. Nobody to push me. 100% mental determination.
The morning came finally and my good friend Jay Danek and I headed out for the Pine Trailhead in Pine, AZ, twenty minutes north. Pulling in right away four elk stood guard in the parking lot, seemingly unfazed by the lights of my truck. Eventually they darted off and we started to prep for the morning. We took a few pictures and broke for the trail at 5:01am.
106 miles to go.
The course starts out with an eight mile climb up the western side of Milk Ranch Point, a large plateau of the Mogollon Rim that forms the barrier between the start and the rest of the course. Runners head up the Rim along this trail traversing the side of the cliff, up and down, through a variety of forest and cactus before reaching the base of the cliff. From there Jay and I started the climb up the Rim to the top, a 2,800 foot climb in the eight miles, nearly all of which in the last couple miles.
General Crook Trail
At the top of the Rim we would have reached the first aid station for the race but continued on General Crook Trail through the forest a couple miles on our own until reaching the Forest Road to take us to Turkey Springs Trail.
I'm not a big fan of forest roads in ultras but think for certain courses, in the right doses, they have a purpose and sometimes they are the only way to connect one trail network with another. The Mogollon Monster 100 is much that way with only short 4-5 mile sections of improved forest road between trail sections. In reality these were a relief of sorts throughout the run giving a chance for us to relax a bit and focus on running and not the technical nature of the trail beneath us.
So Jay and I pushed on for several miles to Dickerson Flat on the top of the Rim, cruising along the smooth gravel road with a nice gradual downhill that allows for a steady and easy stride all the way to the Turkey Springs turnoff where the second aid station for the race will be located.
Turkey Springs Descent...WOW.
The edge of the Mogollon Rim...Turkey Springs Trail
Turkey Springs trail was one of the few portions of the course I had yet discovered on my own or at some point run so this was something I was really looking forward to. We at this point were about 12 miles into the "race" and the descent down Turkey Springs would be the first real view the runners would get of the Mogollon Rim in it's full glory.
And boy was it glorious.
I couldn't believe it...
Coming up over a tiny climb starting out on Turkey Springs you started to see the light coming through the Ponderosa Pine trees almost like when you just start to see the ocean for the first time, peaking through the trees, ominous and out there. Jay and I got closer and closer to the edge and you just knew there was going to be an absolutely epic descent coming up. I say "epic" despite it's overuse the last couple years in nearly every situation that has rendered its original meaning useless. This however...is worthy of the word "epic."
We took off down the mountain, red rock trails skirting the cliff...
Snakes and lizards darting off under the rocks as we flew by...
Having so much fun the first thirty meters a quick yank to my left ankle was ignored and smiled off with the hundred mile view out in front of us.
Sharp switchbacks in the trees swinging back out over exposed red rock ridges overlooking miles and miles and miles of beautiful views, nearly so mesmerizing they're dangerous as you run, having difficulty focusing on the trail in front of you wanting to see what's out there.
So It Begins...
Coming down Turkey Springs and up to that point for the entire course it was well marked without having to do any additional marking for the race. Turkey Springs headed down to Geromino Trail and then the Highline Trail which takes runners all the way over to Washington Park Aid Station for the race. Jay and I had already made a one mile mistake taking the first Geromino Trail (which would have taken us UP the Rim we just came down...) and were following down a trail we believed to be taking us down to the Highline Trail.
Except it kept going up. Then West. Then down. Then Up. Then West.
So we kept going.
We'd come to an unmarked intersection and go with the most traveled course.
Discouraging to say the least when you know you're adding miles on and not reaching your location. Jay was nearly out of water. We had people waiting for us at Washington Park and we still had 8 miles on the Highline to go. We were not going to make it by our ten am goal.
Not even close.
We finally came out of the forest at a spot I recognized. We went right down the road.
We came across a huge family and Jay filled back up with water and I asked them how many miles up the road were they from the control road.
"Five miles probably?"
Knowing that the Zane Grey 8 Mile Aid Station was only a couple miles up the road from the control road we just had to go south a mile or so and we'd run into the Highline/Arizona Trail and head back the last few miles to Washington Park.
It wasn't long before I realized they family was wrong and we were in fact already passed the HIghline and were now only a quarter mile from the control road.
We were not going to make 10am and by no means could make 12 noon if we had to run back up the mountain on the road to the Highline Trail intersection, 8 miles on extremely tough trail that would take almost 2 hours. Our friends would be worried being 2 hours late and would go looking for us.
I knew the control road went straight to the turnoff for Washington Park. It was probably 10 miles of dirt road there and much faster than the trail. We just had to get there.
So we started out on the dirt road.
For four miles.
We reached the intersection for Washington Park with a sign that said 4 more miles. Thirty more feet another sign said "5 Miles."
We shamelessly threw our thumb out at the first pickup truck that drove by.
"Can you give us a lift to Washington Park?"
"Kind of defeats the purpose of hiking doesn't it?" says the guy sitting on his ass driving around town.
And so we went...hitchhiking our way back to Washington Park. We got out, thanked the nice people for saving us an hour of road running and we made it to our friends Honey and Kirk at Washington Park by 11:10am. Only an hour and change late. Even so, they were about to take off down the Highline to find us if we had been much longer. So despite the frustration of having lost the trail so soon in the day we are still able to continue and the mileage we had actually ran to that point was right on target with what we expected it to have been.
25 miles in the books.
(Looking back at the maps I've since discovered our error in missing the turnoff. It will be well marked so no worries there.)
Cabin Loop #1 - Miles 25-48
Now with a foursome of runners we head up out of Washington Park for what is the second climb of the race, a steady 2 mile climb up the Arizona Trail to the top of the Rim, finishing with a steep ascent with plenty of rocks along the ridge. Taking it along the Rim the #300 Forest Road is beautiful and it's 4.5 miles to the Houston Brothers Trail entering the forest is one vista after another.
Houston Brothers Trail
Having a section of trail this fun makes any distance seem a little bit easier. Heading north on Houston Brothers there are a few shorter hills but generally it's a gradual winding downhill in the forest, along mountain meadows, streams, rivers, and old historic cabins. It's simply amazing and even though I had thirty five miles on my body half way through this trail I felt like I had just started out for the day. I was having so much fun whipping through the trail I never wanted it to end. With the Houston Brothers Trail meeting up with the Pinchot Cabin Aid Station and then the Fred Haught Trail the awesome running keeps going for twenty incredible miles.
The Descent down Washington Park, Mile 44
We looped all the way around down the Fred Haught Trail finishing up the entire 23 mile loop in about 5.5 hours.
Enter The Culpepper
The Highline Trail #31 at Sunset
Back at Washington Park we said goodbye to Jay and Kirk for the trip. I would be going on with Honey and newcomer Anthony Culpepper for the very long 46 mile stretch through the night. Jay was with me for the full first 48 miles and was a great motivator the entire trip and his wife Traci and their daughter Petra came and had aid waiting for us and there to help get us on our way for the next section. It's tough to see friends like Jay and Kirk take off and then head off into the setting sun to do more than twice what you've already done and it's been 12 hours already...but we did anyway.
The Highline Trail is a 51 mile historic trail that is renowned for its difficulty, most notably as the setting for the Zane Grey 50 Mile race each April. This particular section is extremely rugged, rough and will usually beat the hell out of Zane Grey runners due to overgrown manzanita bushes, eroded trails, rocky as hell sections and a general undulating relentlessness that beats up the best runners every year.
We'd be doing this in the dark.
With 48 miles on our legs, not 17 as in where this section falls in the Zane Grey race...
Then climbing the Rim straight up the Myrtle Trail.
In the dark.
Not exactly a motivator going into it not even halfway done for the trip.
Yet I felt great. No, I felt amazing.
We started off and I felt so strong, so full of energy I was excited to get this part started and push on past that level of fatigue I knew would set in again and get back on top of the Rim. I had to get past the 53 mile mark, the magical halfway mark, for no reason other than my own personal morale.
The amazingness wouldn't last long and before the sun could set I was having stomach issues. The dreaded stomach issues. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the food I shoveled in my mouth at the car like my life was on the line. Ensure, Mountain Dew, slice of pizza, pretzels, Swiss Cake Rolls, oranges, cookies, and probably even mistakenly ate some plastic wrappers in the process...
Yet despite the stomach challenges my legs felt incredible. They felt strong and alive. Anthony led the way up front, fresh and energetic, waiting for us here and there, startling the elk we came upon, snapping photos as the sun went down. With each passing minute the terrain became more and more beautiful. The red sandstone dirt and rocks became bright in the last slices of sunlight, the manzanita lost some of their daggers, softening in the darkness almost, the juniper seemingly glowing where the sun hit it's trunk.
I stopped several times staring back up the Rim. Back over the valley below, back along the trail where we had come. Several times I stopped just to stand there and appreciate what we were doing. One ridge after another, down one ravine, up another, back over another ridge. The trail was relentless, driving our spirits into the dirt but with each uphill I became more charged up for the next. I became driven to keep up with Anthony, an already extremely strong runner and hiker in his own right but now also holding a 50 mile fatigue advantage on me. Either way, I needed goals. So I started running. Hard.
The hills came and went and with them the sun left us. Holding off as long as I could bear it I finally pulled out the headlamp...my new nemesis for the upcoming 10 hours.
There is something special about trail running under a full moon.
There is something even more incredible when it's a "Super Moon" as it was this night. The moon was so incredibly large and bright had the trail been less rocky and technical we could have easily put away our headlamps. No question.
Finally coming upon the turnoff for the Myrtle Trail was a relief itself. It was night, after 8pm already so the last eight miles took us almost three full hours on this section of the trail. Just hard to get a groove when the trail is so technically challenging, manzanita branches are out to get you and there is so much up and down in short bursts. Not to mention just being plain tired.
We start the mile trek up the Myrtle Trail. A single mile yet it climbs a solid thousand feet straight up the cliff in many places. We struggled as a threesome to navigate our way up the mountain, losing the trail to the elk network misleading us this way and that until rediscovering it while branched out. After a challenging (see: shoot me in the leg and call the helicopter now) first twenty minutes we tracked down the actual trail and once that was discovered it was actually quite manageable. Or at least "manageable" in the sense that we immediately decided to take the descent of Myrtle out of the race entirely for fear of someone dying come race day.
The trail is beautiful and watching Anthony trudge on up ahead of me totally lit up in the moonlight, just inches from a thousand foot cliff dropping off into an absolute abyss, Honey behind me plodding head. Just looking back at Honey the thought of coming down this trail, at night, with what would be almost 88 miles would be simply too risky, too dangerous. A fatigued runner, delirious even, would too easily mistakenly take an elk trail and find themselves lost among the manzanita, stuck on a cliffside, unable to work their way back.
So you're going up Myrtle. Not down. Remember reading this when you are on the trail this fall. Some of you are probably thinking right now, "How bad can it be?"
It's great going up but you'll see what I mean soon enough.
The top of Myrtle was a huge relief. Even now still left with a major chunk of mileage left (57 in the books give or take at this point) I feel so much more comfortable at the higher elevations, on the "easier" terrain of the Cabin Loops and knew there was some easy forest road to knock off some quicker miles.
Except I couldn't run.
Or didn't want to would be a better statement. Myrtle fried me.
Our headlamps were off, using the bright moonlight to work our way through the road and to the connection back into the Cabin Loop at Buck Springs, one of the Aid Stations at the race. I have a feeling this one is going to be a life saver by the time people get there at this point in the race. Coming up the road and imagining seeing the lights of an aid station, the noise, the music, the hot food. Wow would that have made the world of difference.
Instead we just turned left and kept going. Back into the forest. Black, dark, Yeti infested forest.
This is a great section of the course and again, after leaving an aid station, some hot soup, some energetic aid station volunteers...I can see how going back into the forest can be a re-energized part of the race for many.
No soup. No volunteers. No energy.
Had it not been for Anthony always jumping into a trot I'd have just kept on hiking.
Thank God he was there because I don't think Honey or I were particularly interested in running a several sections of the night and Anthony got us moving.
We darted through the trees the two miles to the Dane Spring for a short food break. Dane Spring has a pipe with fresh water coming out of the ground. The most delicious water, I just kept drinking it, bottle after bottle. I tried my best to get down a Stinger Waffle, another gel (yeah...) and some Gu Brew. We were off and Anthony started running right away.
Zero interest in running. But I did. Why?
Because the forest is dark.
I'm deathly afraid of getting attacked one day by a mountain lion.
And because of this race I've watched pretty much every single Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti movie/clip/YouTube in the world and I've now effectively freaked myself out. So I kept running knowing the person in the back always gets eaten first in scary movies. Unless you have a Black guy with you then he dies first. No black guy so I kept running.
No Sasquatch Sighting Yet
Monster Motivation (see: the fear of being eaten by a mythical figure while running an ultra) is quite effective and I urge all of you to tap into this come midnight-4am this fall. I was flying right along and caught up to Anthony and Honey and fell in behind Anthony as we dropped down a big canyon to a beautiful moonlight mountain meadow. Crossing the river we went right back up and continued the process for some time gaining more and more elevation, dropping more and more elevation, one beautiful valley after another.
And then we lost it.
The trail is gone.
Immediate wipeout of all motivation. Energy zapped. Caffeine now ineffective.
Have no fear. Anthony is here.
He pulls out a map. My head starts to spin. The temperature is dropping, probably close to 40 now as I can see my breath. My windbreaker and long sleeve shirt is grossly ineffective when one of them is soaked in sweat. Every stop creates a shivering restart. I seriously start to become concerned about my body temperature. I'm starting to cough up stuff in my lungs that wasn't there before. What is going on?
Anthony finds us on a map and we start our way through the forest floor attempting to run across a forest road that leads us the back way into Pinchot Cabin to meet up with the Houston Brothers Trail again.
Except it's not quite where it should be.
So we trudge on. I'm convinced I see the road up ahead. I head off on my own towards the road, clear as day in the clearing up ahead and slightly down the ridge. I hike over tree trunks, in sinkholes, through the leaves and branches towards the road for fifteen minutes.
It's not a road.
Not even close.
It's just more forest. Nothing about it any different than what we just came through.
This is not cool.
We keep heading towards the direction Anthony feels the road is going to be. Being the guy that solo hiked for some crazy 9 months off trail/on trail all of last year I put my trust in him and followed him along the way.
Until we came out of the forest and to a road.
A glorious, beautiful, smooth road.
I stopped to put on my shirtsleeve shirt to go with my long sleeve and windbreaker. Gloves, hat.
Still freezing cold. Cannot stop shivering. Must eat something.
Kona Punch Gel? Delicious. Like cat food with butterscotch.
The Definition of Demoralizing
At this point we've hit 2 am, and despite leaving Washington Park at 6:20pm where we were at 48 miles we had only traveled twenty miles.
Twenty miles in almost eight hours? Shoot me.
Reaching the Houston Brothers intersection was a major relief. It's those psychological checkpoints that you have to get to in these runs that are more important sometimes than the water or the food. This was one of those breakthrough locations.
Because of the decision to avoid a descent down Myrtle Trail and then a return on the Highline Trail we had to reroute a similar distance along the way. Realizing that while on course the overall distance was in fact on pace to come out closer to 121 miles versus 106 we had to trim mileage off the overall course and by taking out Myrtle and the return on that portion of the Highline we can save some very time consuming and challenging terrain. Instead of taking the U-Bar Trail up to Pinchot Cabin Aid Station and down to the Barbershop Trail back to Buck Springs and down the forest road to Myrtle we'll instead go all the way back down Houston Brothers, down the 4.5 miles of forest road #300 and down the Washington Park descent down earlier in the night. Less mileage, less forest road, more Cabin Loop, and it keeps the cutoff at 36 hours. Including the Myrtle Descent and the return 8-9 miles on that rough section of the Highline would probably require a 40 hour cutoff. It's simply not quick going and especially not when you've completed 15,000+ in climbing and 85+ miles....
So we started our long trip back down the Houston Brothers trail to the Forest Road #300.
Even at night this section was beautiful and Anthony once again led us off in a pace we could manage but one that kept us moving.
Since the first Cabin Loop my left ankle has had this nagging pull on the outside of the ankle, likely from the quick yank coming down the Turkey Springs trail a LONG time ago earlier that day. With each step along the Houston Brothers trail it was more prominent and less annoying and more painful. It seemed to feel better running than walking so I did my best to keep up with Anthony.
Until I started falling asleep.
Enter 5-Hr Energy.
Never try something new in a race right?
Good, this wasn't a real race.
Down the hatch it went.
Definitely NOT sleepy anymore. Within seconds. Wide awake.
Tree Trunk Delight
Forty five minutes later I was passed out laying up against a downed tree.
They only fell 4 hours and 15 minutes short of expectations...
I lay there with my eyes closed but not sleeping. I was waiting for Anthony who had gone back down the trail in search of Honey who had fallen too far behind for it to be something good. Honey can certainly take care of herself but after twenty minutes of waiting she didn't appear.
Anthony went to get her.
I in turn laid down in the leaves up against a tree and stared up at my eyelids afraid to actually sleep in fear of waking up to see a hairy, massive monster dripping hot saliva on my face while I lay there helpless...
Sad I know. I have three night lights now.
The two of them came back together, a total of forty minutes waiting by the tree. Not that I was complaining about rest, I was just happy Honey was ok. She had gotten lost after falling behind and had yelled for us but despite neither listening to music we couldn't hear her and she got off trail.
The trio reunited, back onwards we went the last few miles to the Forest Road and the breaking dawn.
I was looking forward to the new day for some time. No headlamps, less clothes and a fresh start on the day.
Four and a half miles remained of forest road before the steep descent into Washington Park where my brother Noah and friend Danny awaited to continue on with me for the last 20 some miles.
I had already quit before I even got to the top of the Rim.
The last four miles of forest road were walked, slow and painful.
My ankle had deteriorated to agony the entire stretch of Houston Brothers and was worse with each step. Every step was a reminder of what I have remaining, a steep decline into Washington Park, eight miles along the Highline which would likely take three hours. Then another final climb up the Rim before a torturous decline only to run right past my truck into the town of Pine. I was looking at another eight hour 20 miler...
So began the miserable mind game of to continue or to not. Both Honey and Anthony were done when we reached Washington Park while I had planned to continue on to finish with Noah and Danny at the Saloon in town. Up until Honey said,
"You should stop at Washington Park."
There it is.
The Honey Stamp of Approval.
My weak state of mind was just looking for something like that. Instead I probably needed some, "You can't quit at 85 miles! That's pathetic!"
Half an ankle or not I know I could have finished. It might have cost me a few weeks of running but I could have done it.
Instead I jogged in behind Honey to the Washington Park with my head down, not held high as I envisioned all the day prior in the early miles.
I stopped the watch at just past 7:10am, a little over 26 total hours on our feet, 85 total miles and a touch over 16,000 feet of climbing.
Noah and Danny were both very understanding and after we all said our goodbyes and thank you's we drove over to the Pine Trail head and the two of them did a 4 mile out and back of the start of the Highline Trail (the finish of MOG100) while I attempted to pass out in the front seat of my truck.
Over a week later I'm still disappointed I didn't finish my own race. I'm still struggling with my ankle and for the two days after the run I could barely use my left leg due to it. I'm not sure it would have been any worse had I continued on but maybe it would have been far worse.
But in the end I'm still happy I ran what I did get in. I learned a whole lot in the exact areas I thought I would and many that were surprises. Obviously I found that mapping software is simply not as accurate when hand creating the map and the mileage was off which created some on the go challenges and adjustments to the course are going to be made.
The elevation gain is most likely north of 18,000 feet. In terms of "Garmin" gain the climb was nearly 10,000 feet in the first 48 miles. There is likely an identical total in the second half if not more. National Geographic mapping software states 17,789 feet of gain, Garmin segments added together will likely add up to (taking out hitchhiking sections...) almost 21,000. So take that for what you will, it's a lot of climbing.
Course marking really is not too challenging after a few of the major intersections are handled that created challenges in the dark and the light even for us. Many sections are very self explanatory without additional markings so after we attack these sections with some high visibility tape and markings it will be SO much easier for everyone else this fall.
Aid Stations are so underrated. Not just for the food or the water re-supplies. That's easy and we carried it all ourselves but the lights, hot food variety, friendly helping faces. We lost so much time just sitting down to re-fill our packs before the next section, re-filling (gulp...) our own packs with water. All these things that during a race peppy volunteers help you out with while you fix whatever else you need. So getting in and out of each section was time consuming only adding to the overall day and that daunting timeline that kept getting later and later and later.
The Monster Lives On...
The one thing, if only one thing, that I'm left with after this experience, is that this course is incredible.
I read every running magazine out there. I've seen every Vimeo and YouTube video on trail running. There are some incredible places out there, some amazing trails. I really think this is one of those places.
The Mogollon Rim is enchanting, mesmerizing. So rugged, so majestic. So many places have higher elevation, steeper cliffs, bigger trees, smoother trails. But the combination of everything this course throws out at the runners is going to make it one of the most challenging and beautiful races in North America. The stigma it received right away that it is a "Double Zane Grey" is simply not accurate. There is too many beautifully smooth sections on the Cabin Loop or short reprieves on the forest roads to get anywhere close to what it would be like doing a Double Zane Grey. Is it harder than doing a Double ZG? Maybe. Probably. But not quite as rough on your feet as that would be.
June, July and August I'll be planning training runs for three different 25 mile sections to give everyone a chance to see the course. We'll start in early June (hopefully June 2nd) with the first 8 miles and the descent down Turkey Springs, return up West Webber to the top and back down Donahue. It'll be the first 15 and last 8. July we'll do a 23 and 31 mile route of the Cabin Loop and in August we'll have Highline>Myrtle>Barberhop sections among others to choose from.
Check it out.
See you out there!