Zane Grey...what can be said about it besides what had already been said? It is brutal, it is beautiful, it will test your will, it will chew you up and spit it out, and it's up to you to decide how you feel about all this. And trust me, you will feel pretty bad before you feel awesome:)
I did Zane Grey twice before. 2006 was one of my best performances in ultra career and 2007 proved to me that you never ever give up. I guess that played a huge role in my 2009 run. I didn't train this year. I think I said it million times by now, my life this year just doesn't include proper training. I am not making any excuses, and I don't feel like I have to justify why it is the way it is. It just is. I haven't done any hills whatsoever, I don't lift weights, I am not even into long runs, and my Gorge outings, rare as they are, are just fun. So, I entered for 2 reasons: Larry needed to face his demons from 2007, and I wanted to see Angie. I figured, it's a hiker's course, I might as well hike it...
Larry and I arrived early Friday morning, and after making our way to Payson, we went to check out the start. It looks pretty good on the first half a mile, doesn't it? We both knew all too well our smiles might fade quickly tomorrow:) Larry did our pace charts. He used my 2006 "real splits" and adjusted it for himself (I'll let him tell you his story) and for me - for 13 and 14 hrs. Frankly, I wasn't even going to think about 13 hrs, but 14 was optimistic hope, although I told everyone I am after 15. Juts in case, you know, I am a lazy racer, I hate disappointing myself...
We drove to start with Jamal and Nick Coury and their friend Jake making his foray into ultras. Jamal was to race (and he won!!! here, I sold the story. Nicki Kimball was second overall, no surprises) and Nick - to stay with Jake the whole way. It was chilly, but not bad. The forecast called for mild 70's and overcast, with wind gusts up to 50 mph. I shoved myself into mid-field and cranked my i-Pod. The trail quickly turned up, climbing ridiculous amount, but because I wasn't straining myself, I kept thinking how was that 3 years ago I suffered so much here? I loly-gagged up, making some miles with a guy named David who knew me through Angie's blog, and exchanging places with 2 pairs of runners, letting them pass on uphill/flat and taking them on dowhills. The sunrise came up and lit the horizon...beautiful. This is why I am here.
Besides those 4 guys, I quickly became all alone. For the first few hours that didn't bother me a bit, and I kept enjoying the views, the gnarly trails and my music.
And then the real fun began!
Zane Grey is famous for it's rocks. You can't run it - either up or down. I should know. I was fine with that. I showed up at the first 2 aid stations right on 14 hr pace, picked up my extra bottle at mile 17 and happily left. Soon after it became bad...the brush wasn't cut at all. It had never been like that in years I ran the course before. We had to go through torn, often sideways, and the sharp ends were leaving deep cuts on legs, arms and anywhere you can imagine. It slowed even the walk to the point, I laughed at first, then swore a lot, then became really angry.
You can see I am not all that happy anymore:) It was also time when I had nobody around. And I mean - nobody. Not ahead, not behind. It got really lonely out there. I lost it, I honestly did. I was resigning doing races when untrained, resigning training, resigning running altogether. Why bother? What's in it for me? I had done it all, and I can retire now. I am not interested, I can still get out in the mountains and enjoy my time there, I just don't need to subject myself to the brutality of getting ready for the race and to participate in them. I fell off the 14 hr pace, and while it wasn't hurting mt ego (I was prepared for it), it was just not fun anymore. And - I was bored out of my mind. I played with a thought of quitting at 33M AS. Angie was coming down, my ever-faithful crew, flying all the way from Canada to just help me out, but since she was late, I wasn't sure when would I see her. I really couldn't drop at 33 by myself as it's nearly imposable to get to the finish line, or find her elsewhere. A mile from mile 33 2 ladies passed me, and I didn't even get upset...
I come down to 33, and hear a scream let out - and who is there but Angie! Oh, no. First thing I said - now I should drop. But this is Angie, with her unfazed : "you look good, get out of here, nothing hurts". Nothing hurt, that's for sure.
I wasn't pushing! I whined as I changed my bottles and piled gels into the pack, but she set me out, and I started getting determined. This is ridiculous! Here is the girl who has this straight faith in me, and I am whining. Nobody made me do it, I did it myself! Off I went...into gusty winds, more gnarly trails and more insane ups and downs.
Last 17M is my territory. This is what I came here for. I am a hunter. I am looking for prey. And tired runners are right there, slowing down, letting me play my games. I know it may not sound nice, but this is the way I operate. I run, I don't race. But when I do - I am looking for someone to pass. And I am doing it only in the last 20% of the race, no matter the distance. It's not fair, but it gives me purpose to make my way to the finish line. I bounce full of energy, and I push, finally. I am behind 14hr, but I set a goal, and I work towards it. My attention span is not long enough to do it the whole distance, but it's enough to do it right here, right now. I make these 11 miles stretch in 3:15, a time under 14hr pace, and enter 44M AS on a fly. A few miles before that I prepare for the final push - get my headlamp out (they wouldn't let me out in case I finish in the dark), put my Moeben sleeves on (it's cold in the wind), move my gels out of the pack into the bottle pockets, and, most importantly, "make a face". A face of a racer. No more loly-gagging. It's time to give my all...
I bust into last AS at 44M, and I am on fire. Drop the pack, ask Angie to fill my bottle with water, pour Red Bull I've been caring since start into another bottle and out in no time. I got 1:50 to break 14, I might as well try.
I think I scared many folks on this last stretch. I run like a madman, in 2006 I did it in 1:30. I am not a runner I used to be, but I try. Music busting in my ears, folks walking slow, I am smiling ear to ear - hi, how are you, beautiful day - I am in search for the last stretch. I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday, and I float over rocks. I hear a road parallel trail, I know it's near. Could I possibly? Last turn. 13:46. I am done. I am done with this race. For now...for good!
Larry and Angie are there, super-happy to see me happy. We get cute hoodies and a picture from mile 18 crossing a creek (how nice!) - and we are off. I ask Larry how it went for him, because he looks extremely satisfied, if he got his goal, if he broke my best - and hear "Well, you are a bad ass! Now, I’m gonna have to go back out there and try and beat your time." So much for having enough of Zane Grey:)
We make our way back, eat, trying not to fall asleep in the plates, assess our damage - Drymax socks and Fireblades are a great combination for the feet, body doesn't hurt one bit (I guess we didn't push enough, ha!), but the legs are scary looking.
The sleep is restless as usual after such endeavor, and Sunday is spent exploring awesome Red Rock area and Tonto National Forest with cacti.
Would I recommend this race? In a heartbeat. It's crazy. Just the way I like it:)
p.s. So, I went back and re-read my reports from previous ZG50 runs. Should have done it before...it almost seems like I copied and pasted! I am guessing this course brings same emotions to me, along with many problems, and it also seems that for each of us every ultra has a point when we swear off running things like that again. Funny. Good to know that, wish I remembered it when those thoughts do come in during the race:) My point is, go, get out there, do it. Most likely, you'll be happy you did. And if not - you'll have stories to tell!