My goals going into ZG were two fold: go under 9 hours and not get lost.... I didn't meet either of those goals. I'm OK with that because in the end I had a great time not only during the race but before and after as well. I think the best part of finishing an ultra is the after race ultra camaraderie. Catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and hearing all the stories from the day. Common theme this year was comparing scratches on the legs from all the overgrowth and the status of Karl Meltzer's broken arm. Here's how my day played out:
I can usually tell during warm up and through the early myles of the race how my body is going to respond and I could tell that I didn't have the normal "zing" in my legs on this day. Not deterred, Karl and I took on a very aggressive pace through the first aid station at mile 8. I had wanted to be there around 1.18 and when Karl told me 1.11 I thought "Wow maybe my legs feel better than I thought". I had to ask Karl for the time because my watch broke the night before so I was totally blind as far as time. After the race I had learned that we had nearly a 10 minute lead on the next chase pack only 8 myles into the race.
Leaving the first aid station is a little uphill grind and up to this point Karl had led so I decided to take the lead and test the legs further. A few myles into this section I had a very small gap on Karl when we came to our first wash out, sure enough coming out of the wash we lost the trail. We searched for about 3 minutes when Karl finally sniffed it out. Up to this point a common theme was starting to shape up; on the technical downs Karl would blast down and easily put 20 seconds on me but when it came to the uphill I would close the gap. So we yo-yoed all the way through mile 17 aid station. I have to say Karl is a downhill master! That man is so smooth. A couple times I got too close which caused me to watch his feet and stumble all over myself.
Leaving mile 17 aid we started a mild uphill that lead us into the nastiest trail infested with rocks, tufts of grass, hidden rocks, over growth with thorn bushes, and oh did I mention rocks - BIG rocks that moved. Well I took my time making sure I didn't twist an ankle and Karl disappeared, within minutes, just disappeared. By the time we got to mile 25 aid Karl had made 4 minutes on me. Legs were still responding but like I said before no zip to them. The sections where I could use some leg speed I was only able to maintain a steady pace. And that's what it turned out to be all day - steady.
Most overgrowth you can run through and push out of the way, not at Zane Grey, those bushes push back and knock you off the trail. And every bush out there in the high desert has thorns. By mile 25 I learned to hop over or scoot around those bushes as much as I could but still came away with some shredded legs, as did everyone else. The worst I saw was Diana Finkel who had got lost and bushwhacked her way back up to the trail through a field of those thorn bushes, man she was cut up!
I arrive at mile 33 aid where my friends Johnny and Kathy Darnold are there to meet me. They have my bottle full of EFS and a fresh flask of EFS liquid shot. They inform me that Karl left 12 minutes ago... I was shocked! I thought I was going good and maybe 5 minutes at the most but 12!?! Karl must be warming up I thought. Anyway I put my head down and just kept running. The trail was marked very well but trying to keep your eye on the trail and rocks while looking for yellow markers is risky business. Probably about mile 36 I get to a jeep road where out of the corner of my eye I see a yellow marker to my right so I instinctively go right. As I'm on this road going down for about 5 minutes I realize I hadn't seen a marker or Karl's foot print in the sand. Back up the road I go and laugh when I get to the intersection because there were plenty of markers going left - the correct direction. Not more than 10 minutes later I shoot down another wrong ravine (must of had down on the mind) and when the game trail fizzled out 5 minutes later I huffed it back up to where I went wrong and laughed again. You gotta laugh right?? So a total of 20 minutes out of the way and I was sure someone passed while I was gallivanting. Nope.
From mile 33 to 44 is a long one, usually about 2 hours, where I ended up taking 2 hours 40 minutes. All along the course there were radio operators that were checking numbers (very nice touch Joe) and when I got to a radio operator about 5 myles outside the next aid he mentioned Karl fell and thought he broke his arm. With my detours I estimated Karl was about 45 minutes up on me. I got to the 44 aid and sure enough Karl was there with a very deformed looking arm "you alright?" "Yeah I'm fine, just broke my arm that's all - see" He thought about walking it in but I'm guessing the endorphins started to wear off and the pain kicked in. Feel bad for Karl because he was well on his way to victory. Recover quick Karl!
At this point, 44 myles into the race, I am still feeling very steady and pretty much running every thing except the hill right out of the last aid station. Once over the last hill there is about 5 myles to go and it's really fun running, in and out of canyons, nothing to steep up or down. I really was enjoying myself. And as I mentioned before I didn't have a watch so I had no idea what kind of time I would clock. I rounded the final corner and saw 9.40:xx and my first thought was "Wow that's slow". And I say that with all due respect to the other runners, I was just expected something faster.
Now as I reflect on the race, I am completely happy and honored to be the winner of such a prestigious race! This course is not easy (that's the lure) and it's not getting any easier. I will be back for sure. I love the ruggedness of the trail and the primitive nature of the course but more importantly this race is run by a first class organization so my hats off to Joe Galope and his crew, well done. I would like to thank WMRC for taking me before the race and making me feel like family. Would also like to thank Johnny and Kathy Darnold, my friends, drove all the way Alamogordo, NM to see me race and help crew. Last I would like to dedicate this win to Mark Cosmas who lost a child last week and has been such an integral part of the ultra community down there in Phoenix. Like my purple wrist band said "This one's for you Mark!"
Here are my splits:
Geronimo 8 - 1.11
Wash Park 17 - 2.47
Hell's Gate 25 - 3.58
Fish Hatch 33 - 5.43
See canyon 44 - 8.21
Finish - 9.40