2012 Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run

Yesterday, Debbie and 125 other trail runners traversed Arizona’s Highline Trail during the Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run. The point to point race from Pine to Christopher Creek is regarded as the toughest 50 miler in the USA. Judging by the 34% dropout rate (the results show that only 2/3rd’s of the starters crossed the finish line), it was a hard one. Debbie was 5th woman and 21st overall in 11:18:23.

The men’s winner was Caitlow Shipek in 8:32:30. He was followed by Michael Carson, Karl Meltzer, Brian Hopton-Jones, and Bret Sarnquist. The women’s winner was Paulette Zillmer in 10:13:07. She was followed by Diana Finkel, Rachel White, Jane Larkendale, and Debbie.

This race is in its 21st year, so a lot has been written about it before. There probably isn’t much that a runner from Connecticut can say about this event that hasn’t been said! I had heard about it, but hadn’t read much in the weeks leading up to the race. Debbie did her research, so she knew what to expect. The 2012 edition had several storylines, and of course, my favorite runner did it for the first time, so that is the main story for me.

This race has been on Debbie’s “to do” list for many years. Our friend, Nikki Kimball, holds the course record and had several wins in the mid-2000’s when she was dominating the ultra distance. Debbie and Nikki did their first ultra together, the Vemont 50 Mile Ride & Run in October 1999, which is the same race where we met for the first time. I was there to do the mountain bike race. She was there to do the run. The rest is history!  We have been back every year since then.  So, you connect the dots, and it was about time that Debbie made it to Arizona for this big one. Vermont is a great course, but it is child’s play compared to Zane Grey.

This was the first major race in six and a half years that Debbie did without our kids, so it was an experiment of sorts. We have traveled the world with our son and daughter in tow, but this time, they stayed home with their grandparents (both sets split duties). I think the 2005 Vermont 50 was Debbie’s last ultra before we conceived our son. She came back to finish her first 100, the 2008 Javelina Jundred (her last time racing in AZ)  before conceiving our daughter, and she has been on the “trail” back ever since. It was interesting to see other ultra-mom’s breast feeding their children after the race yesterday because that is very familiar to us.

Arizona is loaded with great trails, and the Highline Trail is among the best. I ran the last six miles with her, after crewing for her after the start in Pine. I saw her at three aid stations: Camp Geronimo (mile 8),  Washington Park (mile 17), Fish Hatchery (mile 33), and then I met her at See Canyon (mile 44) after driving to the finish and running backwards (west) on the trail.

The course may be a little longer than 50 miles, but it doesn’t really matter. It is the point to point nature of the trail, the elevation gain (about 11,500 feet), the heat, and ruggedness of the terrain that make it really hard. The elevation  is about half that of the Grindstone 100 that she ran last October, and nearly double that of the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile Trail Race that we ran together last December. She ran Lookout two hours quicker than Zane Grey. Yesterday’s weather was hotter than usual. The temperature was a chilly 43 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, but it was double that by noon, and was nearly 90 degrees on sections of the course during the afternoon hours. The sun was intense. This was a hotter than usual Zane Grey and some runners struggled with the heat. It was very dusty.

Another factor was the altitude. The low point on the course is 5,300 feet and the high point is 6,900. This probably isn’t an issue for the multitude of Arizonan finishers, the Coloradans, or other westerners; but for someone from Connecticut, it is a factor. Debbie had two hard falls in the first 15 miles. The first one was in the dark. She whacked both knees on these separate occasions. Thankfully, she didn’t fall again but she had to run most of the race with the wounds. She also had a bad patch between 17 and 33. She got lost in the challenging middle part of the race (so did several others) where the course markers (flagging) was suspect. In this section, she lost a lot of  time to the lead women after only trailing them by 2.5 minutes at mile 17.

I won’t tell her story. She will have a race report of her own, so I’ll leave the details to her. The Highline Trail is spectacular. It is in the shadow of the Mogollan Rim, a beautiful ridge that features amazing rock faces. Payson, Arizona was the base for the race, though the trailhead is 15 minutes up the road to the north. Part of the Highline is on the Arizona National Scenic Trail.

I was momentarily distracted from crewing and taking photos, when at the Washington Park aid station, an expedition mountain biker popped out of the woods. I knew from the look of her setup, that she wasn’t out for a little ride. It turned out to be Jill Hueckman, who is currently the lead (and I think only) woman in the Arizona Trail 750. I was stoked to meet her and I think I’m adding the AZTR 750 to my own “to do” list. I’ll be looking for more information on Jill’s blog. She started on the border with Mexico, and was heading for the Utah border.

Anyway, it was great to be thrust into Jill’s race for a few moments before returning to my duties at Zane Grey. I had no idea that the AZTR 750 was going on. I watched her push her bike (I can only imagine how brutal it would be) with all of her gear up towards the rim. She had a lot of walking ahead of her and it was rocky. The rocks on the Highline Trail reminded Debbie and I of our stomping grounds in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The trails were much drier, but they were equally as rugged.

It was nice to meet several new friends. We gave former “Bostonian,” Bogie Dumitrescu, a ride to the 5:00 A.M. start. He has done some awesome races in the past few years, including Badwater and the Brazil 135. He got into Western States this year, so Zane Grey is part of his buildup.

It was awesome to spend a few days in the Arizona high country with Debbie. We missed our kids, but it was cool to do an ultra without having to worry about them. I’ve crewed nearly 50 ultras and many other races with at least one of our children in tow. I’ve managed it, but yesterday was a nice change of pace. Speaking of pace, it was the first time I had ever paced Debbie. It was only the second time she has used a pacer. The first was at Grindstone last fall. I think she is now seeing the benefits of help, after doing all of her previous ultras solo.

She can push herself just fine, but her last six miles at Grindstone and the last six miles yesterday were very good. She covered the last uphill section in 75 minutes, which is fantastic. She warned me that she was going to grunt a lot at the end, and that is true. She let out a lot of sighs too. Those final miles were tough, but she pushed through, and it was great to witness it first hand. She prefers to have someone run behind her, rather than lead, so that is what I did.

She can now take a little time off and focus on preparation for the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. She is the Race Director, and our household is going to be busy with race preparation in the coming weeks. Soapstone is in its 28th year, and Debbie has now directed or co-directed at least 10 of them. Her next ultra won’t be until June.

I’ll probably have more to say about Zane Grey as we reflect on the race and get a look at more of my photos when I return home. The race may not bet part of a big national series like it was in the past, but it still has a lot of panache and attracted a top-notch field of ultrarunners. The volunteers were wonderful too. Cool race.

Race Results

Race Photos (later this week)

8 Responses to “2012 Zane Grey 50 Mile Endurance Run”

  1. 1 Claire Moty (@TrailNymph) 18 April 2013 at 12:46 pm

    What recommendations can you make for crewing at Zane Grey? I am crewing for the first time and want to know what my boyfriend would benefit from most…where to meet him, what to carry with me to give him at stations, what motivation to give him, general tips and hints? Thanks! What an achievement!!!

    • 2 SL 18 April 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Claire, if you drop me an e-mail, I can send you some instructions that I put together for another runner and his crew. They will be there too, later this month.

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