I packed a couple bags full of cold weather gear, hot weather gear and everything in between...not to mention actual race clothing, nutrition, rain coats, gloves and oh, yeah the kitchen sink. It felt like enough stuff for a week at summer camp. Surely, I wasn't forgetting anything (more on this later).
GG and I make the road trip up to Payson early that Friday afternoon to avoid traffic and pick up my bib number. Super stoked to see that a hazardous weather warning has been issued for race day...wouldn't want to make this race any easier than it already is!
We stuffed ourselves at Chili's and made our way back to the Super 8 to chill out and get ready for race day, pacing and the weather. After dozing off at about 8:30, I woke up at about 2 am realizing that I had forgotten to pack my primary shoes...DOH!...which made me toss and turn wondering what the hell else I'd forgotten. Turns out, that was the worst of it :)
Too late. Pulling back my shocks revealed two dime-sized blisters already cracked open and raw - one on each heel. Waves of pain flashed through my feet with every step. Try as I might, there was no escaping it. I finally made it into the Geronimo aid station (mile 8) and was able to tape up my heels to help the continuous rubbing from my new shoes.
Turns out, the conditions for 98% of the day were splendid for running. Low-to-mid-60's. Mostly cloudy with just enough moisture from the previous night to keep all the dust and pollen down. Aside from some discomfort from my blisters, the miles were ticking away and slowly but surely I ran past the 15 mile mark...exceeding my longest training run prior to the race.
Let me be clear. There is no "easy" stretch on this course. I should have learned my lesson from running the Mogollon Monster...it's decent up until Washington Park but then the trail goes to sh*t pretty quick. The Hell's Gate aid station is literally like leaving one ring of Dante's hell and venturing onto THE worse part of the Highline Trail. Boulders, hardened undulating elk tracks and washed out trails seriously make you question what the heck you're doing out there subjecting yourself to an insane amount of torture. I continued to wonder how much punishment my ankle could take...
Now don't get me wrong - the views are incredible. Truly unique for Arizona. Beautiful and cruel all at the same time. But if you pause to look up at the scenery and take your eyes off the trail, you're bound to land on your face.
|Photo credit: SweetM Images|
So without hesitation, I reloaded my pack with water, Tailwind, gels and wafers for the 11-mile stretch to the See Canyon aid station. It was pretty much a blur - except for that big f-ing hill we had to climb.
It. Just. Would. Not. End.
Sweet 8-pound baby Jesus...after that however, the trail turns (relatively) nice and smooth. I remember hitting a couple low spots but only because I wasn't fueling properly. Soon enough we hit See Canyon and began the last stretch of 6 miles to the finish.
|Photo credit: SweetM Images|
The temperatures dropped and the rain started to fall steadily over the course of the last 4 miles. It would occasionally turn to hail but nothing like last year's snow-pocalypse. It was a wet and miserable 4 miles. Like the Highline Trail needed anything else to make it more miserable...puddles, mud slicks and wet rocks are definitely enough for this dude.
14 hours and 29 minutes later that day, I would pull into the finish line pretty much on the cusp of being completely soaked through my rain coat. Without hesitation, I collected my finishers jacket and put on some dry clothes thankful to be in one piece and unscathed.
I can honestly say it's going to take something special to get me back onto that trail. I love the location, scenery and majesty of what Arizona has to offer but the thought of running that trail again makes my sphincter pucker.
Here's to Joe for putting on a great race. Kudos to the aid stations and volunteers for making sure everyone was once again safe.
Peace out Zane Grey!