Taking down the monster

I have had some trouble getting around to writing about my recent experiences with the Mogollon Monster 100 mile endurance run . Part of me is still on the course thinking of ways that I could have gotten through it quicker. Part of me is surprised that I did as well as I did without injury. Part of me is still dreaming of northern Arizona like a boy dreaming of his first camping trip under the stars. It was a very special trip all around especially because Robin and I were able to go together and share the vibe that this place brings about. Robin has been to the area in and around Sedona before on painting trips but it was a first for me. Before this visit I had never thought much of Arizona other than thinking that it was all like Phoenix, one big hot box. Boy was I wrong.

The area where we spent our time was stunning and ruggedly beautiful. You feel at times that you have been transported back in time to the days of the old west and would not be completely caught off guard if a horse drawn stage coach rambled by.

The 8 hour drive was just short enough to make it enticing for a race. Any longer would have been a bit much and required too much precious vacation time. Tanner is proving himself to be a pretty well behaved travel companion though he still needs a good bit of work around others.

We stayed in a guest house on someone’s property in Camp Verde just 45 minutes outside of the race location in Pine. It was perfect, like having our own little house with free reign and tranquility. It was a completely stress free location which is always a plus before a race. Overall, I would say that I did not really feel too anxious about this race. I knew that it would be difficult but I was going into it with an exploratory approach only wanting to finish it to the best of my ability and see if I had the mettle to face off with a race tough enough to be a Hardrock qualifying race.

The Mogollon Monster is not necessarily challenging for its overall elevation gain or its altitude. Most of it occurs between 5000 and 8000 feet elevation and it does not have more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain. What really makes it a grinder is the terrain. I would say that maybe 30 percent of the course is truly rock free runnable terrain. Most of it is extremely rocky and some of it rocky with serious grade making it ankle rolling treacherous, especially if you suffer from ankle preoccupation syndrome like I do. This was another reason why I wanted to tackle this course. My achilles heel is not my heel but my right ankle and always has been due to injuries that it has sustained in the past that never healed properly. It has gotten much stronger but I am still constantly worried about it when on technical terrain, especially rocky downhill. So, as part of my efforts to overcome this fear, I decided it was time to throw myself into a really rocky course and see if I could get myself through it without breaking something.

It was only a 45 minute drive from where we were staying to the race start in Pine. The abrupt change in landscape as we approached Pine was truly amazing. The pine forests were extremely dense and definitely a fitting home for a samsquantch such as the Mogollon Monster .

When we arrived to the start location it was fairly calm with the usual prerace buzz in the air. One of the things that attracted me to this race was the small runner field. I tend to shy away from the larger races as I find it to be a more intimate experience running the long races with the smaller groups of runners. It also means fewer nerves buzzing. Runners before a race remind me of students before a big exam. I arrived with just enough time to place my drop bags, listen to the pre-race briefing and get myself ready. I decided to start off with two handheld water bottles having both drop bags at the centrally located Washington Park AS which I would hit three times over the course of the race at miles 20, 43, and 78. It was cool enough that I felt confident getting through the longest section of close to 10 miles from the Geronimo AS to Washington Park AS where I would put grab my hydration pack for the increasing temperatures and exposure.

Ready to start

I chose to fall into a comfortably paced group towards the front at the beginning to commence the initial climbing stage onto the rugged switchbacks of the Donahue trail which was a nice introduction to the rocky terrain that lie ahead. Soon enough I reached the first aid station at Dickerson which I ran through, not yet in need of any food or fluids. Not long after passing through this station the route began a seriously gnarly descent that slowed me down considerably. I did notice that some who had opted to bring trekking poles where able to maneuver down the rocky terrain a bit more fluidly. I have not yet used poles in a race but began to see where they could be beneficial in taking some load off of the ankles and knees. I eventually picked my way down this rocky section and got to a more runner friendly portion and arrived at the next aid station at Geronimo.

From Geronimo AS to the Washington Park AS it was almost ten miles of somewhat challenging terrain. Overall I was feeling a lot more tired than I wanted to feel this early on. Being this low this early in a long race can cause a bit of mental preoccupation along the lines of “how the hell am I going to finish this thing?!” I just did my best to hammer through the long stretch and tried to enjoy the views which were nothing short of breathtaking. It is beautiful country and I felt privileged to be able to be out there. I knew from past experience that this feeling would eventually pass and I would regroup.

When I eventually made my way into the Washington Park AS my wearied appearance was pretty apparent and the aid station volunteers were superstars in getting me taken care of. I got my hydration pack out of my drop bag and topped off my fluid supply and spent some time fueling up on some food. When you feel this drained this early in a race part of you just wants to call it a day. I told myself that I had felt this way before in previous races and gotten past it and that I would get past it again this time. I thanked the volunteers for their wonderful help and moved on out to continue my adventure.

Well, did the adventure ever continue. What started out not so gnarly soon turned into one of the gnarliest rocky climbs I have ever done. It was not that long, about half of a mile, but every step was exhausting and humbling as I tried to regain my footing and not be daunted by the steep incline that had me hunched over with my hands on my knees wondering why this “road” even existed. About ten to fifteen minutes later I found myself at the top to be greeted by the HAM radio station operators thinking about how I would later have to go down this hill and try to stay upright.

Rock chute…picture does not do it justice

The next 4.5 miles was on an improved dirt road running along the rim, appropriately name Rim Road #300. It was completely runnable; however, my legs were a bit trashed upon finishing the recent rocky climb. Eventually I was able to establish something resembling a running shuffle. I was thankful to have my buff around my neck to use as a face mask every time some local yokel decided to drive by at an absurd speed filling the air with a thick curtain of dust. Soon enough I reached the turn off that took me onto some nicer sheltered single track and into the Houston Brothers AS at mile 26. I had only run a marathon but it felt like I had done a 50 miler at this point. The shuffle down the stretch of Rim Road had allowed my legs to open up and revive a bit; however, and I was beginning to feel a slight resurgence of momentum.

I was glad to be feeling better as I made my way from Houston Brothers to the Pinchot Cabin AS as much of it was beautiful single track surrounded by ferns and lush greenery. The surroundings helped to boost my spirits as well and the fairly flat terrain allowed my legs to get a second wind. I passed numerous corrals that ranchers had most likely used when bringing cattle through in the 1800’s, the period when this area was supposedly used as a cattle grazing site by the Houston brothers. This was a very peaceful section to run. I had a good rhythm going and before I knew it I had put another 7 miles behind me and arrived at the Pinchot Cabin AS.

I was feeling good and so wanted to move out quickly and make a second stop at the Washington Park AS. I knew that after completing the next 9 miles to Washington Park I would be faced with the gnarly uphill section for the second time and I really wanted to put this section behind me. I was able to get some more good running in along the way and upon arriving to Washington Park for the second time my status was a 180 from my first arrival. One aid station volunteer remembered how I looked earlier in the morning and commented that she didn’t know what had happened between then and now, but whatever it was it was a good thing.

I topped off all of my fluids, threw back some food, and what I thought was lemon lime Gatorade but was actually a cup of pickle juice, and revved up for the second and final climb up the rock chute. Knowing what to expect always reduces the anxiety somewhat and I knew that it was only about 15 minutes of exhaustion until I would reach the top again and shuffle the same 4.5 miles down the road to take in the breathtaking views from the top of the rim. Once back at Houston Brothers AS for the second time I was looking forward to moving on to a new section of the course created to get around the section of the old course that was washed out due to fires earlier in the season. I had remembered that the course description had called for a high probability of elk sightings or wild turkey. Unfortunately, I did not see any, nor had I run into the samsquantch yet.

Reaching the Buck Springs AS at mile 56 I was tired but feeling content that I had just over half of the race behind me. The sun was setting and I often get energized with the nightfall. Over the course of the next section I did notice that I was having a lot of trouble seeing as my headlamps did not seem to be able to cut through the darkness of the surrounding forest. It was a little frustrating as I have yet to find a headlamp that I am really satisfied with. Only a couple hours into the darkness I noticed that my batteries were waning and I had forgotten to grab extras from my drop bag on my last pass through Washington Park and it was at least another 4 hours until I reached it again. I was able to scrounge up enough at the next aid station at Pinchot Cabin at mile 64 and for a little while traveled with a pack of well lit runners.

The travels from Pinchot Cabin back to Washington Park are somewhat of a blur. Much of it was spent straining to find my way in the dark with crappy headlamp and flashlight. Luckily I had gone through this way earlier in the day heading in the opposite direction and so it was recognizable. I was able to shuffle pretty good once back on the Houston Brothers section in the meadows from mile 72 to 78. Then came a good chance to stretch out as I ran out of the forest and back onto the Rim Road heading back towards the rock chute. I was grateful that all I had to do was to safely navigate down the rocks to the bottom and I would be able to put this rock slide behind me for the day. My feet were developing some pretty good hot spots at this point and it was good to pull into Washington Park and get some foot treatment to prevent full on blisters and change my shoes.

I made it into my third and final stop at the Washington Park AS right around 3 am. Feeling pretty wasted and with my feet on fire I new that the last 22 mile or so was going to be a slow trek. I could accept this because, unlike how I was feeling 50 miles earlier, I felt certain that I would cross the finish line at some point. I invested a decent amount of time here getting my feet right and refueling for the long leg ahead. I am usually pretty self sufficient on my runs and don’t often have a crew or pacer. I tend to take care of myself so when the volunteer medical staff offered to help me with my feet I had a hard time with it as I did not feel that anyone should have to subject themselves to my wretched feet especially if not getting paid to do it. Eventually I let my guard down and let them help as they were so happy to do so.

Heading out, my feet felt better, but still pretty beat up. I knew that it would be a slow 10 miles to Geronimo AS. At this point I was not in a hurry and so just kept on motoring forward. I had plenty of juice for my headlamp now, plenty of fluids and food. Things were good as I fast hiked along knowing that soon it would be light out. I was thinking that most likely someone had already crossed the finish line. My feet eventually found some equilibrium and numbed themselves up enough for me to pick up the pace in some of the more runnable sections. It was about four hours just to travel this 10 mile section as I reached Geronimo AS at mile 88 around 7 am. I was ready for the final countdown.

Just when you think that the toughest part is behind you they tell you that the next section has another tough climb in it. My first thought was, “How bad could it be?”. For the first 3 miles or so it was a relatively pleasant shuffle through the forest. Then the switchbacks started. My breathing became more labored. I made the mistake of looking up only to see another runner and his pacer off in the distance about as high above me as he was in front of me, and he was about a mile or so in front of me. Not good. Once the switchbacks started, the only way off was to get to the top. Every run from turn to turn was a grinder. All that I wanted to do was stop and take a nap and make it stop. I think it took almost an hour to go this last mile to the top. It was simply the most humbling section of the whole race for me mainly because it was happening less than 10 miles from the finish and I was already cooked. Well, you cannot go up forever, and it eventually came to an end as I reached the top and trotted along the short final flat section to the Donahue AS.

I spent just enough time here to catch my breath and regroup. As is so often stated, the volunteers said it was all downhill from there. Well, this does not mean diddly squat when the downhill is over gnarly volcanic rocks and your feet are already wasted. So, once again, I was reduced to a hobble as I headed downhill for about the next four or five miles until it bottomed out about 2 miles from the finish and I was able to regain a shuffle towards Pine.

Slowly jogging along towards the highway crossing that lie about a mile from the finish I came upon a mother and her daughters practicing their archery skills in a field. Part of me hoped that they saw me and before launching the next arrow while another part of me felt ready to be put out of my misery. I mustered up the strength to smile as I shuffled on by.

I finally reached the tunnel section where we were to cross the highway on the underside and avoid any frogger like mishaps. Emerging on the other side it is less than a mile along the road parallel to the highway though it seems like a lot longer at this point in the race and the asphalt is hard on the feet. I do my best to maintain as much of a stride as possible. Once the finish is in site the pain immediately seems to fade away and upon seeing Robin run up to the finish line to greet me and snap a photo I only feel the ultimate joy and satisfaction of completion and another successful finish. The race did not disappoint and was definitely one of the more challenging 100 mile races that I have done and also one of the most beautiful.

Crossing the finish line

I would definitely like to tackle this race again in the near future. It makes for a great September 100 mile race and the location cannot be beat. I took a little longer to finish than I had hoped but I now know where I can improve and what I need to work on. Hopefully when I come back I will actually catch a glimpse of the samsquantch.

Results can be found here .

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