I also ran the 2013 race
I hindsight I find a few funnies in here. Storytime:
Apologies in advance if you do not want to read this much about me, nevertheless this was an incredible experience and I am really excited to share it!
The Zane Grey 50 has earned a reputation for being one of the most grueling ultras out there. I had spoken with friends who had completed the race and the consensus was I could expect to add about 2 hours onto my avg 50M time (if there is such an avg) prepare to fall, get scratched, sprained, dislocated, lost, broken, etc… this all sounds like adventure right?! The race was a bit of a blur so I am sorry for the lack of detailed trail accounts.
April 21st, 2012 was the big day of the notorious race, in anticipation of this I had prepared with all sorts of hot, hilly, long, and really fun desert mountain runs. Emmet was prepared to crew for me race day, this made a huge difference. Knowing that someone 100% reliable is waiting for you at designated aid stations on the course with water and nutrition refills, sunblock, an icy towel to wipe down with, words of encouragement, and anything else you may possibly need is indescribable. I say this because when you are running 50 miles through some of the most unpredictable Arizona terrain, your entire life is narrowed down to the steps it takes to get your butt from aid station to aid station. Emmet has accompanied me on many training runs so he knows my pace, my weaknesses, my strengths, and he also knows how to tell me what I need when I may not realize it, this is important. The weather was predicted to be 90 degrees, I wasn't too concerned about this, by default I have to train in the heat and have learned to be very smart about hydration and electrolyte balance. Unfortunately the heat was by far the biggest hazard on the course that day for many of the runners, out of 126 starters only 84 finished.
This link is an interview with the race director:
This link is by a runner who has great pics of the course in his blog:
In the two days prior to the race I had a total of 5 hours sleep, this was the only stimulus for self-doubt weighing in my head. The night of the race I was lying in bed with the "I want to cry but I'm so mad I can't" feeling. The alarm clock went off at 3:15 am and all that nonsense turned into baloney, it was race day, wheee! We arrived at the start 4:30am, just enough time to hit the bathroom, check in with race officials, and stay warm in the car until the 5:00am race start. And just like that the race started, off we went into the woods, all 126 of us with our headlamps beaming in the dark. Actually mine was lightly beaming, I think the batteries died just as the sun rose enough to see without it, lucky me! It was 8 miles to the first aid station, I was equipped with all the nutrition and water I would need to get me to the second aid station (mile 17) where Emmet was planned to meet me, the first 8 miles flew by, it took about 3 miles for the runners to spread out and about 40 minutes for the sun to rise. Running with a headlamp is really fun, the small illumination for your footfalls on new terrain makes me feel like a little kid exploring with a flashlight. Admittedly it really slows me down as the few falls I have had in the past all occurred while running in the dark, thus I now go a little slower. The logic is I'd rather be 5 minutes slower than broken. As we came into the 8 mile aid station we were greeted with cheers, and even better Emmet was there to make sure I was doing OK, (I had started the race with a new hydration pack and he wanted to make sure that it wasn't leaking) I ran through the station on my way to mile 17.
Miles 8-17 were beautiful, the morning was cool and this portion of the trail was through pine forest ascending to views of the Mogollon rim, I was on fresh legs and trying my best to hold back for the many, many hills and miles to come. There were numerous river crossings over precarious rocks that really added to the adventure vibe. The course at this point was on an easy to follow single-track trail, well marked with yellow tape and glow sticks. Coming up on mile 17 I could hear the cheers as runners came into the aid station, this was so encouraging I cried a little! Emmet had prepared an area with everything I could possibly need, I quickly toweled off the crusty salt-sweat, exchanged my hydration pack for a freshly packed one, took 2 ibuprofen to help ward off inflammation and set off again----DANG IT! I didn't take my sunglasses, I was running without a visor on purpose as I didn't want to risk missing any trail markers in my periphery, the trail was now beginning to live up its notoriety and I could see how easily a marker could be missed. Many experienced ZG runners have lost hours going in the wrong direction.
Mile 17-33 was brutal, I was told to expect the worst during this part, the majority of the trail is an old exposed burn area. Tons of direct sunlight (Gaarrr no sunglasses) lots of elevation to climb, and lucky you if you don't get lost as you have to be super aware of trail markers. This part of the trail has to recover from a harsh winter so the area has a ton of dead tree fall, new dry grass/shrubby growth, and lots of crumbly unsteady soft red rock. At mile 23 there is an aid station only accessed by the official race crew, this aid station is an oasis---it's called Hell's Gate from mile 23-33-- as I ascended into the station the volunteer shouted out "Welcome to Hell, how you doin'? I was doing pretty good considering all the runners were in the same hot boat, I was conditioned for the heat so I knew as long as I kept hydrated I would have no problems. I filled up my pack with water, chugged another few cups of water, and threw a handful of ice down the back of my shirt, off I went into Hell. At this point in the race runners were beginning to drop, many people started out to fast, spent their energy, and were not prepared for the heat. I was not really going to fast but I managed to pass many people during this stretch. The race is organized so that there are rescue workers stationed on the course about every 7 miles with radios, their job is to account for each runner as they pass and make sure nobody goes missing. About mile 25 I came up on a man who had passed me around mile 20, he was hunched over on the side of the trail, he was obviously unprepared with not enough water or calories, as I was offering him some of my water he vomited, nothing I could do for this guy except for run on ahead to tell the next rescue crew they had a runner in trouble. There were some parts of trail during this leg where I would think to myself "seriously?? I am supposed to run this?" and other parts where I had to remind myself that I had trained to go faster and harder, hiking was the only option for many parts of the trail, however dragging my feet was not. My head needed to be reminded to move my feet!
Whoo-hoo I made it to mile 33 aid station! The delirium sets in completely about this point, as I came into the station Emmet was yelling "go this way, now go this way, now this way" leading me from the check in to the car where all my gear was. This is where it makes a difference for someone who knows your habits to intervene, I was spot-on for nutrition and hydration but with the heat every ones sweat factor was major--Emmet made sure to impose upon me the importance of taking extra electrolytes--these are electrolyte tabs to swallow--if you had seen all the salt crusted on my face/shirt/body it's pretty obvious I was depleted, I now swear by these caps! Seriously, all I could tell you at this point was which way is up or down. My brain was only focused on watching my footfall to not trip and keeping a keen eye on trail markers. A funny note here, about a week prior Max had told me in his cutie voice "Good job Mommy" when I pointed out a local peak I ran to during a training run. During the race I had his cute little voice in my head rewarding me with a "Good Job Mommy!" every time I came upon a trail marker!
So onto miles 33-44, Emmet loaded me up with 2L of water on my back, 32oz in my hands, about 800 calories in my pack (all of which I would use) and I was on my way! This was serious fun, the trail was about 60% run-able so now I know I need to improve my hiking skillz, other than this I was focused on the next 11 miles of adventure. I think my most proud accomplishment for this race was not falling once, I don't fall often but still this terrain is really 'trippy' (funny right?) so now blur blur blur, hill, hill, up , up , up , and I arrive at mile 44!
The crowd is cheering all the runners as we descend into the station, Emmet leads me to the car and preps me for the last 6 miles. Hmmm 6 miles, how long might this take...try 1 hour and 40 minutes...uuuuuffffff. This last 6 miles was long and exhilarating, and hard. The terrain was pretty pine forest but my legs were shot, there was spot about mile 46 where some thin ice patches were still frozen on the ground, it just made sense to me to come to a standstill stop to look at them and contemplate lying down on one--I chose to keep on trucking but now I was day dreaming of cold pools to dip in and icy drinks. After what seemed like an endless stretch of trail I rounded a corner and was in earshot of the finish, what a rush! I picked up the pace as best I could and finished strong, the 35th finisher and 8th female to be exact. The whole race took me 12:40 minutes and every second was great!