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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.


Alili said...

Awe inspiring - congratulations on such a cool accomplishment!

HappyTrails said...

You guys rule!!! We have heard from a few friends who have run ZG that the what they call "trails" are super crazy tough - congrats on staying focused and finishing a great and memorable challenge. The sun and exposure always get to me during our summers, if we don't get out early. That's probably why we like to head to the mountains when we can over the summer - cooler up high and more trees/shade. Sounds like you followed it up nicely with your days in Sedona. Wise plan. Glad you had a fun runcation! :-)

Rachel said...

Wow. That course sounds brutal but incredible. Congrats on finishing an incredibly tough race and being able to describe the beauty of the course for those of us too afraid to attempt it :) You keep getting stronger and faster...this race shows how much your runs are paying off.

Jeff said...

That was a great race report. I love how you described the course as a mixture of pain and beauty. The real life metaphors there are pretty powerful.

HappyTrails said...

BTW - Ginger in the pack?? Is that for the tummy?

Meghan said...

Paige, congrats! Holy smokes Zane Grey sounds h-a-r-d! Way to stick with it.

Alan Barnes said...

Congratulations. Rugged trails and elevation gain are tough on us flatlanders. Great job in hanging in and getting a finish!

Paige said...

Thanks for reading all!!!

@HappyTrails, yes ginger chews are for the tummy. Sometimes the heat can cause some stomach issues, but I never did have any problems during this race so I didn't have to call on the power of ginger :)

Christian Griffith, Run100Miles.com said...

nice. I have always wanted to tackle this beast. way to step it up P-diddy.

good read. Thanks for the trip


Paige said...

@CG - You should do it :) Thanks for reading, gunshow!

Danni said...

Yeah flats and mountains are quite different beasts! Nice work.

Run Home Pam said...

So cool, Paige. Love reading this! What an adventure!

Chris Boyack said...

Fantastic report, congrats on a great finish! Really enjoyed the line:

Of course, the miles nearly stood still, but the hours went by in an instant :)

So true!

Gretchen said...

Wow, awesome job!! You guys are bad ass. But I knew that already. I love it when finishing a beast of a race is a huge, gratifying accomplishment - when thoughts of being "fast" never enter the brain - it's just you and that trail, duking it out. Scary stuff, you guys should be proud!

Leslie said...

Well Done Might Running Duo!! Way to stick it out. That sounds like a kick-ass gnarly course. I had heard that about Zane Grey - that it's one of the most rugged 50 Milers out there. I may have to put it on the list, but the heat in April might turn me into a Melty Canadian Girl. :) But, it sounds like the type of course that I'd love! Hmmmm....

Paige said...

@Danni, yes, indeed! This was a beast of a course!

@Pam it was one heck of a cool adventure and a great break from the monotony of flat pavement :) Thanks!

@Chris, thanks! I had that line running through my head a lot throughout the day. It's so true.

@Gretchen thanks lady! It was totally a battle between us and the course, nothing else; and that is SO different from what we're used to. I'm glad we did it. It opens up a lot of different possibilities in my mind now. I'm taking baby steps into the world of beasty courses :) It was a good reminder that it's not always about how fast you can make it through, but rather just getting through it in one piece.

@Leslie/Melty Canadian Girl I have a feeling you would really like this one, even with the heat. Definitely put it on your list!

Alene Gone Bad said...

Great job Paige! That's one of the toughest runs anywhere! Glad you enjoyed your trip too!

Steve Pero said...

Good job, Paige! I tried once and failed (when I was living in NH). Would like to go back and try that one now that I'm in NM!

Paige said...

Thanks @Alene! Good luck this weekend in Iowa!

@Steve, you should definitely go back and give it another go. I'm guessing those NM trails you are surrounded by are great training grounds for Zane!

Anonymous said...

Hello! This is "Jim" from the GREAT state of Texas.

Well done.

Glad to have have seen y'all on the trail.


Paige said...

Jim!! Hey! Hopefully we'll run into you at another race sometime soon!

David Ray said...

Paige! Well done and a great report. Detailed enough to scare me away. :)

Paige said...

D-Ray! Thanks!

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