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2018 Races…TBD!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Zane Grey 50M: InZane in the Membrane...

InZane in the brain!

Sorry, I couldn't pass that one up. That was bad, even for me :)

Oh snap!  We did it!  Our street cred pretty much doubled as soon as we crossed the finish line of this beast, as well as for anyone else who has managed to stumble upon a finish at the Zane Grey Highline Trail 50 Mile Run.  And I mean stumble, because that's mostly what we did on the trail.

I've been trying to think of ways to describe our Zane Grey experience without sounding dramatic, but honestly that's just how it's going to sound because that s*** was crazy!  "How hard can it be?"  THAT FREAKING HARD.  This is one of the myriad things I love about this sport: it's ability to put life into perspective.  Nothing off trail is that bad.  Life is a dream my friends.  Battling through a really tough course reminds me of how wonderful daily life really is...not that I was in need of reminding.  The Highline Trail is a nightmare.  A beautiful, rugged, delicious nightmare.

And I look forward to returning to it.

Well, Brian, Kelly, baby Caleb, Geof and I headed down to Payson, Arizona for a day of running, followed by a few days of enjoying the northern Arizona sun and warm weather.  We arrived at the Best Western Payson Inn, where we were staying Friday and Saturday, in time for packet pick-up.  It was by far the most low key pick-up I've ever experienced, but I was expecting as much.  We sat out on the patio of Brelly's room relaxing before deciding to head to Wal-Mart for some supplies and refreshments for the weekend ahead. 

Back in our room, Geof and I set about getting everything ready for the next morning.  We decided to forego drop bags and instead carry everything we thought we'd want.  Drop bags are a P.I.T.A. and it's less stressful to be fully self-sufficient.  I stuffed a change of Injinji liner socks, enough Honey Stinger Waffles and Chews for 12 hours, extra batteries, my headlamp, ginger, S!Caps, sunblock, a bandanna, long sleeve shirt, and my iPod Shuffle into my hydration pack.  Then add in 70 ounces of water and I had one hefty pack to carry around all day!  I also opted to carry one water bottle so that I could put electrolyte drink (provided at aid stations) or extra water in it if needed.  Thank goodness I had that bottle...I needed it. 

Race morning came fast, but luckily we slept pretty good.  The weather forecast was calling for near record high temperatures...90 degrees and a totally cloudless sky, and that is exactly what we got.  But of course it's the mountains so that means it's a little chilly when the sun is down, a brisk 43 degrees.  I decided to wear a short sleeve shirt with my North Face arm warmers underneath a totally unnecessary long sleeve shirt.  I, of course, wore a trusty old pair of my La Sportiva Wildcats (Sporty Cats) and they did not disappoint.  I knew it was going to be rocky and thus mean possible shifting of my feet in my shoes, so I wore some Hydropel on my tootsies and Injinji liner socks (the super thin ones). 

The start is 20 minutes from the hotel in Payson and we arrived in plenty of time for check-in, a pit stop and a few minutes to quietly freak out inside my own head.  As we lined up at the start I glanced around and confirmed my initial assumption coming into this experience: I am a fish out of water.  Completely out of my element.  This terrified and excited me all at once.  You could see muscles rippling on the mountain worn legs of the chicks around me, and the guys were just as ripped.  They all seemed to have that hungry "I eat rocks and mountains for breakfast" look in their eyes.  I want to eat mountains and rocks for breakfast one day, too :)  After a simple countdown, 126 watches beeped to a start in unison and we headed up the trail.  After a grueling 20 yards we had to pull to the side of the trail...and link up Geof's Garmin.  Oops.  His GPS would become a beacon of hope throughout the day.  I didn't realize how helpful that thing was going to be mentally.

Before I get to far in, here's a really good map showing where we were running: http://hikearizona.com/images/maps/pay/HTC4.png.  The dark squiggly line is the Mogollon Rim, and we were running on the trail marked with the number 31, just below the Rim.  The race begins around 5,300 feet and ends somewhere close to 7,000 feet, and between those two points we were going to rack up nearly 11,500 feet of elevation GAIN.  Forget elevation loss, this was an uphill race and while there was more than enough descent to keep you focused, climbing was going to be the movement of the day.  Oh, here's a nice shot of the Mogollon Rim from a fellow runner:

That's pretty snazzy, no?  I had no idea we were actually ON the Mogollon Rim.  It was pretty amazing.  Looking at the map above, and matching it with memory is a fun little exercise.  I am pretty surprised by how much I remember of the day and the trail.  It was one of those incredibly lucid experiences.  I am going to assume the high level of lucidity was due in a big way to the fact that you COULD NOT space out even for a moment...'cuz that would be really stupid on this trail.  I was hoping to keep all my teeth intact and my bones nice and not broken, so intense focus was in high demand.  How exhausting!

Once the Garmin linked up, we were back at it, focusing on the dim orb of light cast by our headlamps.  The trail is entirely singletrack, and we quickly began to see what all the fuss is about.  It's singletrack rocks with a little bit of dirt or sand mixed in here and there.  With climbing, and downhilling, and stream crossings every few miles (but these were all easily crossed without getting wet), and the steadily rising temperature I got to work lowering my expectations and preparing myself for a very slow day.  There was no way we could have been prepared for this given our geography and lack of real trails.  It was intense!  But, when we're given lemons...we make lemon electrolyte drink :)

Around 1:45 into the race we pulled into the 8 mile aid station, Camp Geronimo.  Kelly was there with Caleb ready to help out however she could.  Brian had come through about 20 minutes before us.  I peeled off my long sleeve shirt, packed my headlamp back in my pack, topped off my bottle and opened a Waffle for my first meal of the day. 

Geronimo Aid Station, Mi 8...I had food in my mouth
Photo: Kelly Gaines 

And like that we were out of there.  We kept our aid stops pretty short and sweet throughout the day, but that was easy because there were only five stops and we were riding cutoffs a little too close for comfort :)  I haven't done that in ages, so it was a little alarming at first.

Miles 8 -17 were nice, but I no longer had the pleasant distraction of Honey Albrecht and Jon Roig behind me.  They left us behind at Camp Geronimo.  They were a lot of fun to listen to those early miles and kept my mind off of anything negative.  They went on to have great races from what I can tell!  Not much stands out at this point, other than a lot of head down running/hiking.  I knew the worst was yet to come so I was working on keeping up on my hydration and calories in order to avoid any mental dips or bonks.  Those are pretty much completely ruled by nutrition so I kept on top of that stuff even more than normal.  A good day on this trail was going to be fricking hard, but a bad day on this trail could kill.  I also made sure I was peeing enough.  I was drinking so much water that I wanted to make sure I was processing it enough before taking in more salt.  Lots of peeps were having very visible issues with over/under hydration and I did not want to be one of them.  My routine worked out great.

Typical Trail...
Photo: Brian Ricketts 

Hey, it's some smooth trail!
Photo: Brian Ricketts

Pulling into the Washington Park AS (mile 17) with only 30 minutes on the cutoff we were surprised to see Brian still there, sitting with Kelly and Caleb, and we made our way to the table down below.  Greeted by the always awesome Coury brothers (Jamil and Nick) we loaded up more water in our packs, I downed a cup of Coke, got some ice in my bra and hat, and grabbed Brian to head back out on the trail.  Nick told us to smile at the river crossing for our trail portrait.  We had been warned that miles 17-33 were going to be some of the worst miles, and the aid stop at mile 23 was the only stop in there.  We had taken to dunking our hats, bandannas and arm sleeves in each of the creek crossings and I quietly hoped we'd have more of those coming up as I wasn't sure how well I'd fare in the now blazing heat on nearly totally exposed trail for the next 16 miles.  
This is basically what miles 17-33 were...hot, rocky, exposed, HOT.  In other words, a very near replica of my version of hell.  But dang it was beautiful!

Miles 17-23 were tough with a LOT of hiking and slow moving as the climbing grew ever steeper and erratic.  Downhilling was getting harder due to the influx of rock on the trail.  Where does all that come from?!  Everyone ahead of and behind us was moving at a molasses slow pace.  That's all we could muster.  Creek crossings were the only thing pulling me forward at points and I could feel myself becoming very indifferent towards the whole day.  Not negative or down, in fact I never felt like that at any point during the race (thankfully!), but just...indifferent.  Geof was getting worried about cutoffs and with about a mile out from Hell's Gate Canyon he asked me, "Are you committed to this?"  My mind flashed quickly to Leadville and that loser-ish breakdown I had right before my DNF.  There was no way I was going to do that again.  No way.  We had plenty of time.  "Yes, let's do it."  And that was that.  We picked it up just enough to pull into Hell's Gate/Mi 23 with 30 minutes to spare.  Brian decided he was calling it a day there, and hung back as we made quick business of packing ice into everything we could.  I downed more coke and swapped out the Gu Brew in my bottle for plain water and ice.  When I asked what to expect in the next section the volunteer said very seriously, "It's a very HOT, very EXPOSED, very SOLID 10 miles."  Okay then, bring it!

We said our goodbyes to Brian and got out of there quickly.  We had 3.5 hours now to make it the next 10 miles...and we weren't sure if that was going to be enough!  Good grief, this was the theme of the day!  It was very quickly obvious that the volunteer's description was spot on.  The hard part about 23-33 was how exposed and rocky it was.  There was almost no shade the entire way, but lots of creek crossings that we very happily dunked in.  Jim from Texas was with us the whole way and it was nice to have the extra company.  We swapped spots depending on who was feeling stronger at any point, and waited for each other at creek crossings.  We had a nice little rhythm going and it made the time fly.  Of course, the miles nearly stood still, but the hours went by in an instant :)  At some point I pulled my bandanna off my neck, dunked it in a cold creek crossing and placed it on my head, under my hat, so that it would shade the sides of my face and neck.  What a difference that made!  I've never tried it before, but have seen plenty of runners do it in hot races.  I looked like a goof but I sure was comfortable :)

Precisely three hours later we made it into Fish Hatchery/Mi 33, maintaining our 30 minute cushion.  I immediately sat and changed my socks (avoiding looking at my feet because they both felt like giant blisters), then refilled my hydration pack, which I drained all but 10 ounces of on that last stretch, and my bottle.  I grabbed a full cup of Coke as we walked our way out of the aid station.  It was here that I had what has got to be one of the more defining moments in my running career.  The Belch Heard 'Round the World.  Don't even bother trying to compete because I win.  That Coke does wonders for the gastrointestinal tract, and I'm pretty sure leaves far above my head quivered as I let out that rumbling burp.  I think my gut became concave after releasing it.  Unbeknownst to me, Joe Grant was walking beside and behind me as this happened.  I turned to apologize and the look on his face was absolutely priceless.  My bad :)  But boy did I feel better!

I was a little fuzzy here, but the caffeine perked me right back up, and I had grabbed a caffeinated gel from the aid station as the next stretch was 11 miles of steep climbing and rocking descents.  Technically, this was the most difficult stretch of the race.  We climbed, we ran, we hiked, we kept quiet.  We lost Jim at the aid station, so it was just Geof and I now.  The climbs took us straight up to hot exposed ridges, then dropped us straight back down into the cool and lush valleys of green.  

Around mile 36 we came to the biggest creek crossing of the day.  It was a rapid and rushing stream, and I made my way down to it immediately, peeled off my shirt hat and bandanna and dunked them all in.  I actually got a chill for a moment :)  It felt amazing, and the area was incredibly beautiful, green and mossy.  We had to balance our way across a few logs to get to the other side.  The miles ticked by so amazingly slowly.  The climbs and descents were so steep that you barely gained any horizontal forward progress, but they took forever to get up and down because we were so physically exhausted.  It could have been incredibly deflating, but I managed to keep my head on straight and remind myself this was not a race against anything but a ticking clock.  I didn't care how long it took as long as it was under the cutoff, even by a second.  We were going to finish this thing, we just had to keep moving forward. 

The two miles bringing us into See Canyon/Mi 44 were awesomely smooth downhill-ish running and we managed to pass a handful of people who looked rather corpse-like.  It was nice to know that given the opportunity to run we still had the legs to do it, and rather quickly.  Brian, Kelly and Caleb greeted us at the aid station; I could not have been happier to see them.  And we made it with 30 minutes to spare...again!  Talk about consistent :)  Brian grabbed my handheld from the car, and we dropped our sunglasses with them.  I downed another cup of coke, a caffeine gel and topped off my water.  The sun would be setting soon and we wanted to get in as much of the final 7 miles as we could before using our headlamps.  As we made our way out of the station we both breathed a sigh of relief. 

"Thank goodness we made that cutoff!"

"Holy s*** we're actually going to finish this thing!" 

A huge weight was lifted.  We now had three hours to cover the final 7 miles.  I had heard Honey explain earlier that the initial three miles had two very big climbs, but the last 4 miles were great downhill running.

See Canyon Aid Station, Mi 44
Photo: Kelly Gaines

This section was amazingly beautiful...really, the entire course is amazingly beautiful.  Have I mentioned that?  I was in awe of it all.  It was even better than I had imagined it being.  These last 7 miles were higher up and had slightly different flora, a little greener, and a little cooler as we dipped down into valleys before making the final two big climbs (and they were big!).  I could smell the barn though so I laid down the hammer.  When we reached the crest of the final climb, we began the nice and (relatively) easy run down towards the finish.  The trail was now slightly less rocky, and very gently undulating.  It was super runnable compared to the rest of the day, and after walking for a short stretch behind a runner and his pacer, we decided to git 'er done.  We passed them and took off.  Headlamps now on, we had just a couple miles more to go.  It was pitch black...so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.  I was glad to have my headlamp and a handheld :)  A red flashing light was ahead and as we pulled up to it we read the sign below it, "One Mile To Go!"

Oh sweet relief!  We really really  are going to finish this thing!!

The sound of the finishline generator never sounded so sweet.  We held hands and made our way across the finishline.  Brian was there smiling and congratulating us.  It was such a perfect finish.  I was so dang happy.  Our official time was 15h:05m:53s.  Every step, every second of that was hard earned and happily gained. 

Wow.  So it's all true.  Everything you read or hear about this race is true.  We both agreed this was the hardest race we had ever done, and it felt like we ran 100 miles.  It's pretty incredible.  I really can't imagine moving any faster than we did on that course.  But I hope to return one day with a whole lot more specific training under my feet.  You just can't properly train for that on the flat Chicago bike paths :)  I am super happy with how it all went, though, and that we were able to pull out a finish.  It's a great feeling overcoming a course like that.  It's also a good reminder that I really enjoy running at this point in my life.  Flat out running is so gratifying.  And this is not a runners' course.  It's a hiker's course :)

One day...

Nutrition, emotional health, physical health, everything went so well.  I will return one day!  I loved the organization, the course, the weather, the people, the extremely low key experience.  All of it.
Finisher awards are decorated rocks from the trail; I love this idea!  I named mine Dot.  Doesn't the bird poop look like a Sunday hat?

We also got a framed photo of ourselves taken at a river crossing, and a nifty finisher's sweater...unexpected little treats at the finish!

Sunday, we grabbed breakfast at Cafe 260 in Payson before we drove up to Sedona to spend a few days in the sun.  The food was crazy good!  I love little mom n' pop restaurants and this one did not disappoint in any way.  We did some hiking, a lot of eating, some rehydrating, and lots of relaxing once in Sedona. 

Bell Rock Trail - Sedona, AZ 
Photo: Brian Gaines

Taking a stroll after a big breakfast at Blue Moon Cafe in Sedona
Photo: Brian Gaines

On Monday we did a three hour hike along the West Fork Trail...beautiful!  It was the perfect way to get the legs moving post-race.  A nice easy hike with lots of cooling stream crossings and amazing views.  Check it out if you're ever in the area.  The Barking Frog had a killer happy hour that we enjoyed out on the patio in the setting sun afterward.  It was an awesome day.

We ended the feeding frenzy with an amazing breakfast at Red Rock Cafe, in Sedona on Tuesday.  Hands down the best huevos rancheros I have ever had.  The waitress said they are known for it and I totally get it.  I am currently re-craving said meal.

All in all, a very successful runcation! 

I still can't believe we made it through Zane Grey...it sorta blows my mind.  If you're ever seeking a ridiculously humbing experience, give it a go...but don't say I didn't warn ya'!

Check out Geof's take on our Zane Grey adventure HERE.

Paige, out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Downright Zaney

Holla, Zane Grey 50M is in four days!  First race for us in since November when we ran Javelina.  We're heading back to more or less the same area once again.  We must really enjoy Arizona, or maybe it's just the whole deserty wilderness thing that we love.  Yea, I think it's that.
I feel like we are pretty gosh darn ready, physically. Maybe mentally.  I guess we'll see.  This has been the best 50 mile training I've ever done.  It has very closely mimicked the training I did for Javelina 100, but with more hills, and longer daily runs, and less racing, and just three months of training rather than four. 

But otherwise it's the same :)

Neither of us really have any expectations for this race given that we have not a clue what to expect, other than it's technical and really, really hard.  But what does that mean?  I'm guessing that just means a sorta long day on the trail :)  Basically, we just want to enjoy ourselves and live to tell the tale of the Zane Grey Highline Trail 50M. 

And I want the shirt that proves I did it :)

I've been out of the Blogger loop of late.  I check in once in a little while on folks, but otherwise my brain has been completely fogged by life.  And training.  Oh, and lots of reading.  It's all good life things and I look forward to writing about them sometime soon :)  Hopefully I haven't missed any good stuff out there! 

I have some really big decisions to make in the next handful of days, like do I wear my hydration pack from the start, or do I start with two bottles and upgrade to my pack  at mile 18? Or do I make the switch at mile 33?  Do I wear my older pair of Sporty Cats and run them out, or wear my newer pair and introduce them to some gnar?  Jacket, or vest with long sleeve shirt?  Local brew or mass produced watery beer afterward?  I guess, whichever is colder will be best :)

These are the things that would keep me up at night if I weren't already so doggone tired :)

Downright zaney I tell ya.

Paige, out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cloudy with a Chance of Hills

I noticed something different on the walk to work this morning.  Big poofy cotton ball clouds had entered the atmosphere and hung completely motionless in the sky.  The sun was shining, and the sky was otherwise blue.  The clouds, though, they just sat there.  No movement whatsoever.  I stood at a stoplight and stared up at the sky.  Nothing.  Stood outside my office building to check once more; still no movement.  Cool. 

I have never noticed that before.  It seems like clouds here are always on the go, kind of like most of the inhabitants of this fair city :)

It was a good reminder...to stop and take it all in; enjoy the scenery.  Clearly, even the clouds know to do that :)

That said, we took it all in this morning and knocked out another great T10 with some added spice to make it interesting: 4 miles of hill repeats.  I definitely could have worked it a little more, but I was going easy on myself today...after last week's awesome set of runs I'm easing up a bit this week (but not too much ;)).  I have to play a head game so as not to get bored with the workout, and so far so good.  I break it up into smaller numbers, sets and repetitions and boom, 40 minutes go by like nothing.  The run back was too easy, so that's how I know I didn't work hard enough on the hill.  Next time.

Geof, on the other hand, made that hill his %$*&# today. 

Zane Grey 50M = 18 days away.

Paige, out.

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