Thursday, April 28, 2022

Zane Grey 100k

The Zane Grey race along the Highline Trail (below the Mogollon Rim) is something I've heard about for years.  It's rather famous (infamous) in ultrarunning circles as an extra challenging race on a technical trail.  "Rocks, rocks, and more rocks" was my understanding.

The trail and the race have evolved over time.  Apparently some dedicated people have worked on the trail to reroute it, smooth it out, add a bunch of switchbacks instead of straight up/down steep hills, and overall make it easier.  In the process it has gotten quite a bit longer.  The race used to be a 50-miler.  Now, with an added final section, it's a 100k.  So we still get to do the entire Highline Trail, plus climb up to the rim as a big ascent right at the end.

While we're here in Arizona it seemed like a good time to try this beast of a race, and it's probably good that I ran it now instead of the harder version a few years ago (even if it was shorter back then).  Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of rocks and ups/downs and ins/outs to deal with.  Also many runnable sections.  And it's still a beautiful place to spend a day in the wilderness.

I learned that it's a tradition for the race photographer to take everyone's pictures at a gorgeous spot in one of the early sections.  Then she scurries to Payson to have the photos developed and printed, bringing them to the finish line to hand out.  How cool is that?  Thank you, Megan!

Back to the beginning... John and I drove to Pine on Friday and pitched a tent in the National Forest for the night.  It was nice being near the starting line, although that contributed to my underestimating how long it would take for me to get myself fed and ready on Saturday morning.  I thought I had made it, dashing across the line and tucking into the back of the pack.

Then I realized... I'm carrying nothing.  No water, no food, nothing.  I forgot my little pack in the car.  Oops!  Luckily I wasn't too far up the trail, so I dashed back and yelled for John.  Quick, gather the pack, let's try this again.  James, the assistant RD, was like, "what is she doing?" and yeah, not one of my finer moments.  But better than figuring it out a mile up the hill!

[Side note... Joe the race director and James were both at Urban Challenge Las Vegas in 2002 (there's even a picture - if you scroll far enough down - of us with the Skip Team - one of whom is Joe, crazily enough).  It was great fun reminiscing with them about that!]

Other than the minor brain fart of forgetting my pack, the first several hours went great.  Legs were happy, everything feeling good, enjoying the cool morning and watching sunrise over the scenery around us.  Beautiful!  We had amazing weather the whole day, never hot or cold and with an occasional breeze to counter the sunshine.  I passed several people, chatting about this or that, then most of them passed me back when I ducked into the bushes for a pitstop (the one other thing I hadn't done before the start).

I loved most of the trails that day.  Such variety and reminders of other places around Arizona.  For a while it was just like running in Sedona.  Then picking our way over rock gardens like below Elden Peak.  In and out of drainages, climbing over spurs to see what was around the next corner.  Little creek crossings with flowing water that we almost never see in Arizona.  My favorite, as always, was weaving through the ponderosa pine forests that have the best trails.  Thank you ponders!

John met me at the crew spots, helping me with water refills and SPIZ to drink and carry with me.  He caught a picture of me leaving Washington Park:

Knowing this was going to be a tough course, I was ready to be patient and just keep moving to get there eventually.  I didn't expect to be running close to the cutoff times early.  I'm usually well ahead of my time chart in the first half of a race, but not this time.  It felt like I was running a solid pace, not too hot or too lackadaisical, guess I better keep doing that and then add a bit more effort.

Actually, I was doing fine on my chart.  The cutoff times were on the tight side for much of the race, especially compared to the 19 hours total that they allow at the finish line.

Then something weird happened.  I trotted into the remote Hell's Gate aid station to be told, "good news, the cutoff has been extended so you're fine to continue."  Um, what cutoff??  I had been careful to record all of them on my sheet and there wasn't one listed here.

I resupplied with water and filled Spiz baggies while listening to the aid station captain and the radio guy talk about it.  Apparently she had been told to implement a cutoff, but not what to do with people who came in after that point.  My opinion was that she should let them continue on and let the next aid station (where there was crew and vehicle access) take care of it, not the least because there were going to be some justifiably unhappy people to deal with.  But hey, I'm not in charge, I just need to get going so I don't hit a cutoff time myself.

Moving on... the other bit of info we got was that the next section after "Hell's Gate" was the actual "Hell" part of the course.  For real now, rocks and rocks and more rocks.  That'll slow a person down.

My calves picked that moment to start cramping up, which was less than ideal.  Slightly kicking a rock would set one or the other off and I'd need to stop for a minute until the cramp loosened up and I could walk it out.  On the other hand, my moving speed wasn't much different than if the calves were behaving.  It was a slow several miles.  I eventually got to placing my feet carefully enough that everything stayed calm, and I could get more effort into my stride.

Somewhere in there the trail turned down a fenceline, dropped steeply down a rocky section, past a yard with howling dogs, and then eventually back up along another fenceline (with a bunch more rocks, of course).  Seems like someone owns property up closer to the rim and doesn't want a trail snaking through it.  Too bad for us.

The second half of that section was thankfully much nicer.  Red rock slabs, gentle winding climbs and descents, much better.  It was hard to tell, though, how much further we had to go.  And the clock was ticking toward the 3 pm cutoff time.

While John was waiting for me at the Tonto aid station, a Rivian truck drove by!  It wasn't anyone related to the race, just a random passerby.  Super exciting!

My throne awaits... just don't camp here:

I finally found the aid station, a few minutes after the 3 pm cutoff - I'm barely visible on the slope above the road:

Good news, they gave me a few extra minutes to get myself in and out of there.

I was relieved to be allowed to continue.  Plenty of miles left on these legs, especially with my calf situation improving.  John and I worked quickly to replenish supplies and get me back on the trail.  But not before he showed me the Rivian picture, so cool!

While I was climbing up the next section, John did some roaming around.  Thank you to John for providing some images to keep this report from being mostly words.

Not your normal dead tree in the woods, now it's a different kind of art:

Typical Highline trail, some rocks, some runnable spots, and pretty scenery for when you're not watching your feet:

One of many expansive and lovely views - I enjoyed pausing to stare off into the distance now and then:

John's selfie of the day:

Well, that's it for pictures.  Thanks John!

I found the water-only aid station at Horton Springs (spring water, yes please!) and heard from a fellow runner that the next section is "a piece of work".  Actually, this runner was named Scott and we had introduced ourselves many miles earlier.  He traveled with various other people and I had overheard him mention being at this same race many years ago.

Turns out Scott won the very first Zane Grey race in 1990 - wow!  

So if he wasn't looking forward to the next section, it was probably for a good reason.

The reason is that the trail turns way steep for a couple miles.  Steep up.  Then down and across a drainage.  Then way back up again.  "Work" is a good way to describe it.

Eventually, as they seemed to do in most sections, things got better.  And the downhill into See Canyon was a beautiful flowy switchback trail, very nice.

At this point I found out that all of the cutoffs had been extended by 20 minutes, which was all I needed.  Grateful!  I really wanted to see the new section of the race course, the final climb up to the rim.  Seems like I might have an opportunity to get there now.

One big climb, then more wandering this way and that, now in the dark.  It was a chance to make a lot of headway in the David Sedaris book I'm listening to, occasionally laughing to myself as I chugged along.

One final aid station, finally with plenty of leeway to get to the finish.  John again helped me resupply, then it was time for the last big climb.  My legs were tired but willing.

I switched my iPod to music and rocked my way up the rocky hill.  It takes a while to get going uphill for real, but once it turns straight upward it does it in a serious way.  One foot in front of the other, happy to be there, happy to be almost done.

The last couple miles are mostly flat and through the trees on the rim.  When I turned onto the dirt road there was a sign stating "1.7 miles to go" and my legs were excited to run without having to dodge rocks.  I chased a headlamp further ahead of me, but that guy also had a "go!" switch on the flat road and we both zoomed along.

"Zoom" is a relative term, of course.

Yay for the finish line, so happy to make it here!

Beautiful, challenging, interesting and varied course, very glad I ran it (once)  :)

Huge hugs to John for all the help and support!  Thank you, trail buddy.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

PCT - Prescott Circle Trail

Did you know there's a PCT in Arizona?  Not the Pacific Crest Trail, something more attainable.  It's called the Prescott Circle Trail, and it's a beautiful, well-signed loop around Prescott.

As is common, I happened to notice a signpost during a run so I got online to investigate.  The town has an excellent website about it and someone named Nigel Reynolds even created a wonderful map book with lots of details and pictures.

It seemed like it should be an FKT, so I started about submitting it.  Then I discovered that the idea was so good, Aravaipa created a race on it.

So - not an FKT (FKT rules don't allow race courses).

But still worth running to see if I could do the whole 56 miles in a day.  John was up for crewing again, thank you so much John!

We drove over that morning and got started at the Peavine Trail just before first light:

Which made for a really lovely beginning to the morning as I ran past Watson Lake:

Ah, the Granite Dells!  Such a treasure.  If you hike one place in Prescott, come here:

Heading toward the Embry-Riddle campus with the sun at my back:

The trail winds around campus a bunch, with an occasional view of Granite Mountain - looks like another place we need to explore sometime:

John met me at Pioneer Park, then I climbed over to the Legacy and Longview trails.  Somewhere along here I found (but didn't use) an excellent bench:

There's one gap in the loop, requiring a 1.5 mile road run to connect the trail parts.  It was still early and traffic was minimal.

Over at the next trailhead, John was talking to a guy who knew a lot about the PCT, so that was fun to listen to while I did a quick resupply.  As I was leaving I heard the guy tell his companion, "She's running the whole loop in one day!"

Slightly closer to Granite Mountain, as I climbed away from the more populated areas and into the quieter sections of the trail:

Feeling good and all smiley this morning!  Maybe because I'd found a few random ponderosa pines along the way:

Finding John and a few mountain bikers at Iron Springs:

John told me about seeing giant plumes of pollen coming off some trees in the area.  I saw several as I ran down the rails-to-trails section, even slowing down once to let the wind finish blowing a bunch of pollen across the trail before I arrived.  Happily that phenomenon seemed to be happening only in that area (that I noticed).

John, you're going to need a bigger saw:

Checking out the ruins of an old cabin, with part of the chimney still standing:

The trail is in excellent shape, great for an all-day run, and the clouds and mild temperatures were super helpful:

It was fun following along on the map and reading the instructional and informational notes from the book.  There are relatively frequent turns and the scenery keeps changing.  Occasional views off into the distance.  And mostly excellent signage so I rarely needed to consult the gpx track on my phone:

John had met me at Thumb Butte Road and then had time to do some exploring of his own.  He got close to the actual Thumb Butte, nice one!

John's view from his highpoint:

There are only a couple spots that could use a sign, including the southern end of trail #327.  There's a switchback at a drainage crossing with an unmapped trail going straight.  Easy to figure out if you stop to check things out, but easy to get off track if you aren't paying attention.  Happily I was watching closely and didn't do any bonus miles, at least not right there.

The Copper Basin trailhead appeared out of nowhere - Hi John!

Near Aspen Creek I saw just a bit of remaining snow:

On my way up to the highest spot on the trail:

Interesting views of Quartz Mountain all along this section:

And interesting white rocks all along the trail below the peak:

The long gentle downhill run felt great, still making decent time.  Another lovely bench along the way:

John was waiting for me near White Spar campground, and got a fun photo as I was on my way again:

Rolling hills through the woods brought me to this pretty spot on the creek that comes out of the Goldwater Lakes:

Soon I was looking through the trees at one of the lakes, happy to finally catch a glimpse of the features I'd seen on the map a couple times before:

Above Upper Goldwater I found another "add another signpost here" opportunity, i.e. an intersection without clarity.  I ended up at the lake, which was nice but not where the PCT goes.  Another foray in the direction of my gpx track (this time too vague to follow) and I finally found the right path.  At least I wasn't on the clock for anything and it wasn't too many extra steps.

John brought me blueberries, yay!

From Senator Highway I started along a trail I'd previously run, heading uphill toward some great views.  I was well along in my podcast feed, still moving OK if not quite as peppy.

Partway along trail #62 I turned onto #329 toward Badger Mountain.  This was new trail for me, and it weaves in and out of the hillside, like A LOT.  I was happy to find John at our next meeting point before it got dark, minor mission accomplished!

John had hiked up from a lower trailhead, thank you John!  We got these Star Trek Lower Decks duffles on the most recent cruise, perfect for a set of crewing gear.  It tickles me to see John carrying it out on the trails:

It got dark during the next long downhill, on the way to the highway 69 underpass.  The underpass had been icy on a recent training run, but today it was warm enough that it was just a thin layer of water.  John met me again by trekking over from a nearby parking lot, bringing a couple items including a Buff for my head.  Thank you John!

The last section was only 4 1/2 miles, but I didn't know the trail at all and it seemed to go in odd directions in the dark, this way and that.  Probably didn't help that I misidentified the "hairpin turn" on the map and thought I was a lot further along that I was.  Finally I figured it out, realized I was just moving pretty slowly, and decided I needed to be patient.

Up and over an old landfill (?), down to one final rails-to-trails section, under the parkway, and back to where I'd started.

What a wonderful, fun, interesting day of running!  I really like this trail, highly recommend.

And big hugs all around for my wonderful husband!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

A couple days in Sedona

It's hard to imagine ever getting tired of trekking around Sedona.  I really should have been driving "down the hill" at least once a month last winter for this.  Oh right, that pinched nerve thing.

Making up for lost time with a tour around the airport in early March:

The start of desert spring bloomings:

I just happened upon this beautiful overlook in a saddle near the road to the airport - it's funny how you never know what kind of amazing view you'll find around the next corner:

Standing in one spot you can see in all directions.  Highly recommend:

Enjoying the day:

A less-traveled trail, out and back to a quieter overlook:

Admiring the butte beauties:

On another weekend we met up with our friends Taylor, Andrew, and Basil The Dog to climb Bear Mountain.  We set an early gathering time, which was lucky because we were treated to views of hot air balloons in the distance as we were driving there from Cottonwood.

And then they kept getting larger as we drove toward the trailhead, eventually passing slowly by the parking lot where we got out - super good timing!

Bear Mountain in the sunshine across the way:

First we had to spend a few minutes marveling at the balloons and our good luck:

OK, we need to get moving, let's go climb a mountain in a beautiful place:

Basil says "Let's go!"

Views for miles:

Hey, it's the San Francisco Peaks on the horizon:

Thank you for another wonderful day, Sedona and friends!