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!


Jana said...

In the words of Jim O'Brien's "O'Brienettes," the 2010 ZG course looks "enchanting." Oy. Great performance and report. Also loved John's video and narration.

FastED said...

Great race report and great to catch up with you! On my way home I reminisced a bit about the early years in my ultra running career. I think of you not only a legend and true innovator of the sport but someone who has truly inspired me over the years. You've been doing this for a long time and in my eyes iconic to the sport. Keep on, keepin on I-an! See you in Squaw!

zagbag said...

Awesome race re-cap and multi-media report! This is perfect to share with folks that weren't there to experience the pain and fun! It was my pleasure meeting and running with you and the other guys. Thanks for pushing us along the trail. Best of luck this season and I hope to join you on trail again someday soon. Steven

swolfe said...

lookin skinny, torrence. nice to see flagstaff is agreeing with you.

classic race and a classic trail. how was the fire damage from a few years back?

AJW said...


Thanks for the great report. It was a blast to run with you and really fun to share this epic event. And, I hafta agree with Scott's comments, you are an icon in the sport and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to run with you.

See you in June!


Paulette Jo said...

Awesome JOb! Great write up. It's both one of my favs and least favorite races...

Jeff B. said...

In classic fashion you had a very solid race! Great job and a great write up. You have a nice way with words that captured the sweet pain and joy of a tough course. Your words make me cautionsly desire to run this race someday, but for now I'm happy with easier races like OP50.

Anonymous said...

Great race report! Lotta fun!

Anonymous said...

Great race report! Lotta fun!

Speedgoat Karl said...

Always a pleasure my man! The arm is kind of a mess, I'm kind of afraid to take off this cast thing. But it'll heal, like things always do. I walked 3 miles today without arm pain. I'll be back soon.

I have to agree fully with the few others above that commented on you being an icon in this sport. Back in the day, I had full respect for all those races you've won...and fast, smoking everyone. I don't think people realize how strong you are...until the next brew....