Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Zane Grey Highline Trail 50 Mile - There can be sweetness found among those rocks!

It's actually pretty easy to replicate.  Just get your local CAT 769B Off Road End Dump to drop a load of loose rocks in your backyard.  Now simply run up and down that pile for 10 to 15 hours.  But wait, there's more!  Get two of your best friends, or not-so-best friends, to stand on either side of the pile and whip you continuously for said time with locust and manzanita boughs.  Make sure you're in direct sunlight and deprive yourself of water and food...and only then will you be close to simulating it.

2010 ushered in the 21st running of the Zane Grey Highline Trail 50 Mile Race.  This true trail endurance experience has been in existence since 1990!  Quite an achievement in the annals of ultrarunning.  Race directors like Pat McKenzie (who started all of this insanity), Geri Kilgariff, Linda Van, Bob Redwanc and Joe Galope (the current RD) have all made this history possible.

The setting for Zane Grey is within the Tonto National Forest, below the geologic escarpment called the Mogollon Rim.  The course runs from Pine, Arizona to Christopher Creek, AZ.  Here's what the Forest Service has to say about the trail:

"Highline Trail provides 51 miles of spectacular views. This historic trail was established in the late 1800s to link various homesteads and ranches under the Mogollon Rim. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1979. Several trailheads and spur trails provide access to Highline Trail, allowing it to be hiked in segments and loops.
Trails from the Highline to the top of the Rim are generally steep, rocky and rugged, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 feet. A trail mileage chart is provided to assist in planning your trip. The trails do not meet standards for wheelchair accessibility at this time.

The Dude Fire of 1990 burned over 21 miles of the Highline and associated spur trails from Washington Park Trailhead to Hatchery Trailhead. These trails are open; however, be aware of hazards such as falling snags and unstable footing."

The Highline Trail

Tread along the Zane Grey Trail

A view of the Mogollon Rim from the Highline Trail.

Typical Zane Grey scenery.

Here are several views (videos) to assist those who've never experienced Zane Grey comprehend what  runners go through on this course:

Here's a video that Race Director Joe Galope sent out two weeks before the race in order to stimulate some sort of emotional response from the entrants in this year's race (ie. scare them sh@tless.)  

Here's an excellent race day video produced by runner John Manross (69th place).  It truly shows race day conditions including; snow, rattle snakes, rocks, roots, grass hummocks, logs, stream crossings and finishing under headlamp.

A biker's view of mile 46'ish.  Runners actually come up this ascent; reverse direction.  It's the last climb of the day.

Another mountain biker's view of some rough terrain found along the course.

This was my eight Zane Grey finish.  I've had glorious times on this trail, but there have been many very trying times as well.  The course has made me cry and essentially throw up my hands and lose hope.  I've been lost, I've fallen and I've been brought to a queasy crawl by its forces.  I've won the race, held the course record and competed with some of the best trail runners in the country along this trail.  Many years, each different than the next.

This year was quite the little treat.  Over the years, this course has fallen into disarray.  It's really nobody's fault.  It's a remote trail making maintenance a truly difficult task.  The many wildfires that have swept over the area have left portions of the course covered in quick growing undergrowth and deadfall.  Each year trail-tread washes just a little further towards the Pacific Ocean leaving loose rocks and roots.  Every year Zane Grey race management assembles hardy volunteers who work feverishly before race day to clear fallen logs and clear brush.  Their hard work was evident on race day!

The author coming out of the Washington Park Aid Station (mile 17).

I literally found myself at the back of the pack at this year's start.  I was unaware (and just plain not paying attention) that the course headed off in a new direction from the Pine Trailhead than in years past.  I found myself playing the jerk that was weaving and dodging through 100 starters and trail-side brush in order to find where I believed my place in line should be.

Once settled in I found myself moving from pack to pack as the miles passed.  It was unique to be joined by so many others along the Zane Grey race course.  In years past I usually found myself in no-man's land; running solo for 90% of the race.  This year I found myself exchanging leads with Andy Jones-Wilkins and Steven Moore.  It made the second half of the race pass quickly and eventfully.  We pushed each other, each feeling stronger than the other at different points.

It wasn't until the final aid station at See Canyon (mile 44) that we learned of Karl's demise (drop due to a broken arm!) and that the now-race leader and eventual winner, Scott Jaime, was only a mile in front of us.  This was enough incentive to see us all muster what we had and push it harder to the finish.

Smiles at the finish!  Ten hours of racing, running, walking, hiking, stumbling, tripping, wading, crawling, slipping, cursing, bleeding, bruising.  Did I miss anything? You'd smile too; just to be done with it!

Zane can bring even the sanest to their knees!  David Hunt (5th) acts like a lunatic at the finish.

The intrepid travelers:  (l to r) Scott Mason (19th), Larry O'Neil (7th), Karl Melter (sporting his brand new broken arm), Ian Torrence (3rd).

A shout-out to two folks:
Karl Meltzer - Heal that arm fast buddy!  You've got miles to run and races to win.
Alasdair Halliday - If you're reading this; I wish you the best in the healing process.  This and many other ultras await your presence in the American West!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Jason Wolfe: Grand Canyon R2R2R Record Attempt

My Zane Grey 50 Mile Report will come soon as I catch up on life.  But in the spirit of keeping things rolling here and in chronological order I present to you Flagstaff-resident Jason Wolfe's report (with his permission) on his very recent attempt to set a new Rim to Rim to Rim Grand Canyon Record (Dave Mackey still holds the known record time of 6:59:57):

Rim to Rim to Rim… April 23, 2010

Well the day started with a 3:30am wake-up.  After grabbing a quick bite and some coffee, I was out the door and on the road by 4:30am…. The weather was cool and the roads were icy, so I drove nice and easy versus my normal approach of attempting time travel on Hwy 180. 

When I got to the South Rim, the sun was just coming up and it was a “nipply” 30-degrees.  While cranking some tunes, I put on my gear (Run-Flag TShirt, Gloves, Arm Warmers, Stocking Cap, Adidas 6oz flats, Nathan Vest with 5 Gels, Bag of Chomps, and 2/3 of a Power-bar, and Yak-Trax).  I sent a txt to the guys and was off to the SKaibab “launching point”. 

About 6min later I hit the SRim.   It was 6:12am, so I decided to wait til 6:15am to start. When 6:15am came, I started my descent.  I am not sure what the deal was but I really didn’t feel “great”.  I couldn’t decide if it was the mental weight of knowing what was in front of me or the previous weeks training.  The 6 days leading up to today, I had the Cottonwood Half Marathon and a couple Elden Summits.  I reassured myself that my fitness was good enough that it didn’t matter…

About 40min down, I started to feel the drive to “push-it”.. so I did.  I ended up getting to the river in 55:38.  A little faster than planned, but my legs felt good, so no big deal.

When I hit the flat past the bridge, I started to push the pace a little.  My plan was to work the 9 mile rolling section from Phantom to Cottonwood both on the way out and way back.  My water bottle was still full, so I didn’t stop at Phantom.

I was rolling pretty steady when I hit Wall Creek.  I had to wade across that bad boy. Normally, it’s barely running and you just have to hop a couple rocks, but today it was raging (so was Bright Angel Creek..crazy).  My feet got a little wet, but within a few minutes all but my socks were dry. 

I covered the section from the River to Cottonwood in 1:04:19 (Cumulative 1:59:57)… about 7min/mile.  Sounds kinda slow, but heading from South to North you gain over 1,000ft in elevation… so not too shabby, but definitely a split that could be faster. I filled up my water bottle, which took 25seconds and I was off to Roaring Springs with my watch reading (2:00:22).

When I got to Roaring Springs, I filled up my 2/3 empty gel bottle with water and started the Ascent up the North Rim.

As I headed up, my legs weren’t exactly “springy” like I was hoping for.  I wondered if they were tired from the previous week or if it is just what happens after dropping ~4,500ft and then putting in a steady 9miler???.. either way, I figured I would just try and push through it. 

The NRim was going pretty good.  I forgot how much easier this climb is than SKaibab.  Even though you are at a higher elevation, there are a good number of flat parts to catch your breath.  The waterfalls were amazing as they were flowing pretty heavily thanks to all of the snow melt.

When I got about 3min past Supai Tunnel (~2miles short of NRim Summit), I hit some wicked mud.  The kind of mud where you get no traction and slide in every direction.  I was actually begging for snow & ice, which I had heard was still being measured in feet close to the top.  Then I hit the beginnings of the snow & ice.  What the F#@K!.. This stuff was ridiculous.  It was 2 to 3 feet deep with gigantic holes from previous hikers post-holing.  Completely unrunnable.  This went on for the remainder of the climb which was about 1mile.  My split was 1:25:11 (Cumulative 3:25:34).  I am sure that I lost at least 10min on this section, but I was still on pace to break the record.

When I got to the top, I threw my Yak Trax on the kiosk, grabbed some grub, and headed back down with my watch reading 3:26:46.  After sliding on ice then mud for 2miles, I returned to some good footing and starting to conservatively push the pace. 

When I pulled into Roaring Springs, I quickly filled up my water bottle and empty gel bottle. I went +2hours on about 20oz of water and felt like it didn’t put me in a bad place.  The cooler temps really made a difference in the hydration department.  Had it been 20degrees warmer, I am guessing that wouldn’t have been enough water and I would have made a big mistake.

As I was approaching Cottonwood, I felt like I still had plenty of water, so I blew through without stopping.  My split from the NRim was 1:04:34 (Cumulative 4:31:20).  I was now about 1min20sec off where I had planned to be, but I thought if I worked the “gentle” downhill to Phantom, I still had a chance.

As I pushed towards Box Canyon, I hit the first climb feeling confident.  At that point, the inside of my right thigh and right calf started to “grab”.  Cramps.  Rut-roh.  Up to now, I hadn’t done any salt replacement since it wasn’t too hot.  Hoping it wasn’t too late, I took 2 Endurolytes and ate some chomps.  I backed the pace off for a mile waiting for my quad to “unlock”.  As the pain subsided, I gradually worked my way back towards a steady pace.

About 5min shy of Phantom, I finally saw a familiar face.  Jared Scott.  It was a huge mental boost to have him there.  We ran into Phantom around 5hrs 24min and I quickly refilled my water bottle.  After giving him a very quick summary of the day, we hit the bridge.  My split was 1:00:54 (Cumulative 5:32:14).  I needed to run just under 1hr 28min up SKaibab to break the record.  2 weeks before, I ran a 1hr 12min split, so I felt that it was definitely attainable. 

When my legs hit the first section of steeps, I knew it was going to be tough.  I was hoping that I would rally at some point, because my legs felt worked.  As I hit the switchbacks (almost halfway up S.Kaibab), I took my first “hiking” steps of the day.  Big mistake, but the way my body felt, I just didn’t want to push myself over the edge and have trouble finishing.  When I got to the top of the switchbacks, I was still on pace to break the record.  I ran for another mile or so, then returned to power hiking.  That’s when Eric Bohn met up with us.  Even with the positive push from Jared & Eric, I started to feel like the tank was just too empty.  When I got to the steep, waterboard section leading up to Cedar Ridge, I knew that I would have to throw-down to get the record.  Since that was not an option, I decided to throw in the towel.

I decided not to push too hard since the record wasn’t going to happen, so I just power hiked and chatted with Jared & Eric.  When we got to the final switchbacks, I decided to run to the finish, just to ensure that I broke 7hr 15min.  As I rounded the last turn, I saw Caleb and Jillian (Eric’s sister).  It was awesome to have everyone’s support. I just wish I could have got the record… It would have made it that much sweeter..

My split up SKaibab was a painful 1:40:28 giving me a total Rim to Rim to Rim time of 7:12:44.  I can’t complain with that time.  Other than the record, I am not sure if anyone has run faster.  As I sit slumped over at the South Rim kiosk, I looked around and saw the support around me and thought “man, I am a lucky guy”… I also couldn’t help but think about Caleb’s description of the Canyon:

"She's a b*tch and can leave you feeling on cloud nine or as if she sent you through a meat-grinder, made a beef patty of your ass, threw some hot sauce in your eyes, chewed you up and then regurgitated what was left and fed it to the ravens."

My final thought as I left the SRim... “I’ll be back."

Spilts (Plan vs. Actual)

Section                                    Actual Split                                    Plan Split
SRim to River                        55:38                                                58:00
River to Cottonwood            1:04:44                                    1:00:00
Cottonwood to NRim            1:26:23                                    1:30:00
NRim to Cottonwood            1:04:34                                    1:00:00
Cottonwood to River            1:00:54                                    1:00:00           
River to SRim                        1:40:28                                    1:30:00

Food / Fuel

Gel Bottle = about 4 Gels finished about ½ up NRim
1/3 of a Power Bar on way down from NRim
Bag of Chomps from Roaring Springs to Phantom
2 Endurolytes just after Cottonwood Campground
1 Gel pack 1/3 the way up SKaibab

Things to do Different / Opportunities for Improvement

Bring a few more gels
Optimal time to run probably in late-Oct / Nov / early-Dec due to temperature and snow / ice
Taper (or semi-Taper)
Push the “flats” harder
Run with a group vs. solo

Congratulations & nice work Jason!!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moab's Newest

When Chris Martinez called in January and told me about his new race, I had no other option than to partake.  You see, Martinez is the race director for the ever-popular Moab Red Hot 50-Kilometer Trail Race; a race that sells-out and attracts some of the best ultra and trail-runners during the sleepy month of February in his hometown of Moab, Utah.  He now wanted to put together a race that wouldn't intimidate the masses, but would allow for runners to experience the country he loves so much.  He described his course over the phone and I turned around and put the Amasa 10K & 9.5-Mile Race on my race calendar.

Race day approached, I packed up the truck and began the road-trip north to Moab, Utah from Flagstaff, Arizona.  I hadn't done this drive in a long time.  Though it used to be a fairly regular occurrence for me as I used to live in Moab and my Dad lived in Flagstaff, I looked forward to refreshing my memory of the sites along the way:  Monument Valley, Comb Ridge, the Abajo Mountains, the La Sal Mountains and the slickrock wonders of southeast Utah.

Watching the sunset against the spires in Monument Valley.

Monument Valley ala Forrest Gump.

100-mile long Comb Ridge near Bluff, Utah.

Snow covers southeast Utah's Abajo Mountains.

A study in contrast:  red desert slickrock and snow covered peaks.  The lofty La Sal Mountains signal your arrival into Moab, Utah.

Travel partners help pass the time.  Hint:  Do not leave peanut butter covered bagels sitting on the seat while you day dream about the passing scenery with a travel partner like this one!  Licky-lick!  Ick!

The Amasa 10 Kilometer and 9.5-Mile Races are the brain child of Chris Martinez.  A good friend of mine who runs these trails on a daily basis.  This was the inaugural event.  He hopes to turn the race into a popular venue like his successful Red Hot 50K.  The courses offer the runners a bit of everything.  You get fast hard packed dirt, technical four-wheel drive/jeep trail, narrow mountain bike single-track and very, very technical rocky single-track.  All of your running skills will be tested on this course!  The views are to die for:  Sweeping, breath-taking views of redrock country set against a background of snow-covered 12,000 footers.  Here's a pictorial of the race course while Chris and I marked the course the evening before the race and few race day photos.  Here's race day's Garmin Data for the course and elevation gain.

Race Director and course creator Chris Martinez (right) stands next to official course timer Nick Jefferies (left).

The course climbs the very popular four-wheel drive route, Cliff Hanger.  You can see this guy ran into some difficulties on the way up.  Hopefully, runners wouldn't encounter similar issues on race day, like broken axle rods!

Typical course terrain.  Footing:  technical!

Broken slickrock...Moab's finest!

Views from the top of the course.  Looking down into Jackson Hole.

The trail (and course) skirt some vertical relief.

These guys provided the race's aid station at the four mile mark.  Not your typical aid station crew vehicles!

The last climb on the course, straight up the slickrock.  Note Martinez's silhouette at the top of the climb.

Now on the Rock Stacker Trail...a fast decent on single-track.

The last three miles of the course traverse above and overlook the Colorado River.

Some rough going on the way down.  (l to r)  Amasa, Chris and Zoroaster mark the course.

Looking out across The Fins.

A shot from the finish looking back along the course.  The last two miles of the race traverse on rough single-track across the cliff bands shown before you.

Chis Martinez presents race awards at the finish line.

Your race winners: (l to r) Ramona May (Ladies' 10K winner in 1:02:58), RD Chris Martinez, Greg Poettgen (Mens' 9.5 Mile winner in 1:14:31), Bryan Lechner (Mens' 10K winner in 56:41), Heidi Rentz (Ladies' 9.5 Miler winner in 1:24:25)

Congratulations and thanks to Chris, all of the selfless volunteers and all of this day's contestants.  Plan on being here next year!  You won't regret it! 

Now For Your Moment of Zen:
Ummmmm...more peanut butter pleazzzzzze!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Looping it in Sedona

Out-and-backs are easy and lollypops are for suckers.  In order to really take in the maximum amount of beauty and terrain and get the most bang for your buck "the loop" is where its at.  Sedona, Arizona is known for its expansive red rock formations and spiritual Vortexes, but for the avid outdoor enthusiast it teems with trails; lots and lots of trails.  The hard part, though, is piecing together its extensive, labyrinth-like trail system so that you don't retrace your steps, pass through small developments and private property, run along roadsides or end up in a dead-end canyon.  With some ingenuity and map skills it is, however, possible to put together some long, adventurous loops in the area.  This day's 19-mile adventure would do just that.

The adventure begins:  (l to r) Ian Torrence, Joe Grant, Scott Jurek, Brian Tinder, Trent Briney.

Yes, even 2:12 marathoners and their new shoes were invited.

Midgley Bridgely; the location of this run's start and finish.

Atop Brins Mesa, the first climb.

James Willis joined the group randomly an hour into the run.

Views from Dry Creek Road.

Joe Grant gets his harmonic convergence on!

Vultee Arch; a possible Vortex sight.

Atop Sterling Pass, the second climb.

Looking down into where we must go and the Oak Creek Drainage from Sterling Pass.

Brian Tinder stoically looks on before descending.

The hardened crew on the First Bench of Wilson Mountain, the third and final climb of the day.  (l to r) Scott Jurek, Joe Grant, James Willis, Trent Briney, Brian Tinder, Zoroaster (in the foreground).

Looking down from Wilson Mountain.

Sedona looks small from up here!  Our cars are down there somewhere.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools...Or Not.

Can it truly be April Fools if it really happened?  Mother Nature pulls off the best April Fools joke on Flagstaff.

Zoroaster enjoys Flagstaff's fresh snow covering that fell overnight.

Where I grew up, April meant Spring.  Apparently northern Arizona sees it differently.