On September 28, 2012 at 10am, 37 brave souls ran off up Pine Canyon in hopes of completing the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 course that lay ahead of us. Spoiler alert-only 9 finished, this day would test even the most experienced runners (including a previous winner of the Canadian Death Race), we had 36 hours to put 106 miles behind us, climb over 19000 feet and descend more than 18000 feet, I was worried 36 hours wasn’t long enough.
Payson is a cute little town where we would be based from, about 20 minutes from the race start/finish. We hit up the Wal-Mart for our last minute bits, and then had a delicious meal at Gerardo’s (I was a little unnerved by the “No fire arms permitted” sign but soon learned that many establishments have these signs – welcome to America!) The meal was great, I was happy I ate a big meal then since my nerves would cause me to not eat much later on.
We got settled at the hotel and set up my drop bags and sorted out the cooler and then it was off to That Brewery for race-kit pick up and dinner. It was on the drive that I got my first view of the rim, and it was stunning. At the brewery, I got my bib (#22) and t-shirt and finally met Jeremy face to face. Jeremy is the Race Director and had been very helpful in the months leading up to the race. He dealt with my neurotic emails very professionally and was constantly reassuring me that I was not going to be eaten by anything (well expect the Mogollon Monster, he’s a bit of an unknown entity). I also had the pleasure of meeting some of my fellow racers, Marius, Rudolph, Faye, Denis and Margaret. Margaret and her husband Ted had created a great map of the course that they let me pour over and pointed out some tricky points, Margaret had done some of the course markings and had participated in many of the training runs, I made a mental note to try and stick with her, as she would know the way, next time I need to make a more permanent note…
Thanks to the time change I slept splendidly (unusual for me), we arrived at the start around 8:45, there was a meeting at 9, which I missed half of because I couldn’t hear over the truck that was delivering the porta potties. Met some more of my fellow racers and then suddenly Jeremy was yelling “5 minutes”, one last dash to the washroom and it was “GO”. The race literally starts going up a big hill, so only the really good runners took off running, the rest of us just started hiking, this was odd to me but I felt it best that I do what everyone else is doing at this point. I caught sight of Margaret and her running partner Honey, ahead and decided to run a little to catch up with them.
Race Start to Pine Canyon – 8.25 miles, +2828ft, -911ft
So there was a big climb right off the bat in this leg, but I really didn’t find it too bad. I ran with Margaret and Honey and well a good chunk of the race field. Knowing that none of us were going for the win, we were trying to take it easy and enjoy the course. The sun was shining and it wasn’t too hot (yet), we went by huge Ponderosa pine trees, which were a highlight for me, and then up a big climb with lot’s of switch backs, where Rudolph pointed out all the plants I should probably stop running into (I managed to scratch my legs up pretty good on this leg). Then suddenly we were at the Pine Canyon aid station, I was about 20 minutes ahead of my predicted time, it was good to see Dan and have some cold water, I had to fix my socks and body glide my heels as I felt like I might be getting blisters.
Pine Canyon to Dickerson Flat – 5.04 miles, +503ft, -524ft
This was a great section, it was mostly double track or road, very runnable, so that’s what I did. I ended up pulling away from Margaret and Honey and ran with Noel for a bit and cruised into the aid station about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Dan wasn’t meeting me here, so I had my water topped up by Vanessa, and got going again.
Dickerson Flat to Geronimo – 4.96 miles, +588ft, -2414ft
This section started out awesome, lovely forest trail that leads to a huge descent, I flew down it, loving every step and caught up with 3 guys from Washington DC. They immediately became the DC Boys to me, and I was Toronto to them, we chatted away and flew along the course, marveling at the views (it really was stunning), we watched Elise (from Montana) make a hard right down a trail and the “joker” of the DC Boys, yelled “you missed the turn”. Elise stopped and looked around, I had to giggle too because the turn was excessively well marked, DC Joker, told her he was kidding and to get going. We made the turn and headed down the trail for a bit and then it started to climb. Huh, I thought there wasn’t much climbing on the section, but I’m following the markers. We caught up to Elise and I start asking her if she thinks it’s odd that there is reflective markings on the course, wouldn’t the reflective tape indicate that we should be running this part at night? Elise agrees that this is weird, and that she feels like we are ascending too much. Thankfully, she has a map, we study it and decide that yes, we have gone off course (well we are on the “right” course, just not at the right time.) We shout to the DC Boys to come and have a look at the map and see what they think, they seemed annoyed by this but Doug returns and agrees, we turned onto a section that we are to run much later in the race. So we turn and start heading back, this when we bump into Dan B., we show him the map, he agrees, then we meet Noel and Josh and Casey, they all question our reasoning but after looking at the map agree we need to go back. I point out that the fact that we haven’t met Margaret or Honey, means we were off course, they know the way. When we reach the junction where we’d erred, we didn’t feel too bad, it seemed like a really obvious turn, but as we went the other way, sure enough we found more course markings. The DC Boys felt that we had gone about a mile and a half off course, awesome, now I was running the 109 mile version of the course. There was no use getting upset (I have to admit, I’m still a little shocked at how calm I stayed) and just ran on. Dan B. and I led the way, we were finally spit out of the forest and onto a road at the Geronimo aid station. Dan was there, I told him we got lost, but they already knew, when Margaret and Honey came through they were confused as to why Dan was still there, apparently we weren’t the first group to have made the wrong turn either. But it was done and I was on the right track. I was surprised to see Honey, she was dropping out. That shook me a little but I just wanted to get going to so I headed off on my own.
Geronimo to Washington Park – 9.68 miles, +1661ft, -1280ft
This section is run completely on the Highline Trail, it’s also a section of the Zane Grey 50 miler. It’s rugged. It’s rocky. It’s undulating. It’s completely exposed. Navigating this part of the trail was tougher, there were ribbons and trail blazes but sometimes it was so open it was hard to tell which way to go. I got lucky with some cloud coverage, it was stinking hot up there and can only imagine how bad it would have been with sun beating down. Something was making a strange noise off in the bushes, it was a funny noise that caused me no fear, my guess was elk, but I couldn’t see anything. I eventually caught up to Dan B., we chatted, you know the usual stuff, where you from? what to do you do?, etc. I asked Dan. B. had he run 100 miles before, he replied, “yes, nine…this year”. My chin hit the floor. Once I picked it up I pried some more, it turns out that Dan B. is an ultra running legend, having completed 108 hundreds and 7 grand slams (the current record). I was in awe, I was also confused as to how I was keeping up with this man. But truthfully Dan B. was a down to earth, fabulous man. I ended up running nearly 30 miles with him and loved every minute of it. We eventually caught up to Faye and Joe who hadn’t made the wrong turn, they were glad to hear we hadn’t gone too far off course, apparently a few runners ended up back at their cars, that would have been disappointing. Next we caught up to Chris, an old friend of Dan B’s, we all ran together, them telling me funny stories of “the good old days”, eventually Chris fell behind a bit and when we stopped to have him catch up he told us he was seriously considering dropping out, something he had never done before. It suddenly hit me how tough this course was, it was chewing up even the most experienced runners, what had I been thinking? We cruised into Washington Park aid station, just as it was getting dark. Here I discovered Margaret was also dropping out, oh man I had to keep my head together. Dan had my head torch ready, I threw on a long sleeved shirt and grabbed my poles.
Washington Park to Houston Brother – 6.9 miles, +2169ft, -209ft
I marched up off the trail on my own, but fully expecting to be caught up my Dan B., I marched up and up and then it hit me, when was the last time I saw a trail marker? Oh crud, I looked back, I could see lights coming up behind me, but did that just mean we were both wrong (getting lost so early on really messed with my directional confidence). Surely someone would have seen me going up the wrong trail. I didn’t think there was a different trail to go on. I slowed down and waited for the lights behind me to catch up, but then I look up and lights are coming at me. Oh no. This is where I met Deron and Danny, they too hadn’t seen a marker in a while and were a little concerned. I asked if they had a map, and Danny did so he pulled it out and while we were trying to decipher where we were, Dan B. and Ed caught us up. We pow-wowed and decided to stay the course, a few minutes later we were given a great confidence marker by Jamil (the eventual winner) flying down the trail at us, he confirmed that we were on the right track. He looked amazing, still no shirt, carrying a small flashlight and a hand held bottle, amazing. Danny pointed out that he was 20 miles ahead of us, no one said anything for a while. This was only a 2 mile trail but it was steep and rocky, so we were all ecstatic when we reached the road at the top, and then had no idea which was to go. Well actually I knew we had to go right, but I was traumatized by the fact that I was going to have to back down that steep scary trail in the dark later, finally I came to and told them we go right. Another map consultation and we were off. We were on the road , which was nice and somewhat runnable, we were going up but it wasn’t too steep, so it was a mixture of run/hike/walk. The moon was up now and full, and lighting up the rim. It was stunning, we briefly stopped and turned off our headlamps to fully appreciate the sight. We stayed on the road for about 4.5 miles which was a nice relief for a bit, lot’s of chatting, maybe a little too much fun and suddenly we were at the next aid station. I was starving but wasn’t sure what to eat, they were making grilled cheese, which sounded tasty, but I didn’t want a whole one, lucky for me Deron was looking for someone to split one with, so that’s what we did.
Houston Brothers to Pinchot Cabin – 7.24 miles, +443ft, -1177ft
Leaving this aid station there was a lot of good climbs, followed by good descents, and I learned that I shouldn’t eat grilled cheese while running. Danny was also not feeling so hot, so we kind of fell behind. Danny was having stomach issues, plus he couldn’t regulate his body temperature, his coat was on then off then on again. My stomach was really upset I was belching like crazy, but couldn’t bring myself to vomit, I’ve never been able to. Dan is a firm believer in “resetting” when necessary, but I can’t, if it happens it happens, I can’t force these things. We finally hit a relatively flat runnable section so we tried to run, Danny was feeling better and I tried my best to keep up, but I couldn’t. I told him to go, but he was too sweet and stayed with me. He told me he was afraid to run by himself in the dark (a blatant lie!) he was just being a true gentleman, and because he was being so nice to me I tried my best to pull myself together and run. Just as we were getting close to the aid station Noel caught up to us, he looked fabulous, he said he was having a great second wind. I told them to go ahead to the aid station, I needed to use the “ladies room”. When I stood up from the bushes I felt shooting pains up my heels, what was this? Pain with every step. Ouch, ouch, ouch. My goodness, what is happening?
I limped into the Pinchot Aid station near tears, but there was no time to cry, I was immediately swept into a chair and asked what I needed. Dan B., Ed and Deron were still there and Ed was trying to give me soup to settle my stomach, I somehow conveyed my feet issue, and the wonderful man (I wish I knew his name) at the aid station went to work, removing my gaiters, shoes, socks, my blisters were huge, I have no idea how I hadn’t felt them earlier. The man popped them and Danny used some of his medical grade skin glue to help stick some mole skin over top, all while I was eating my soup and trying not to cry. I have no idea why I was so emotional but I was so touched by everyone’s help and thoughtfulness. The next thing I knew my shoes were back on, I was told to tie them up and then my gaiters were re-attached for me. Deron, Noel and Danny were waiting for me, but my heart just wasn’t in it, I knew I was going to hold them back, so I told them to go. Danny insisted on waiting, as I hobbled down to the road, Danny tried to get me to run but I couldn’t. He looked at me and asked if I thought I’d be ok on my own, I told him of course, and that he’d have to go now to catch the guys so he wasn’t in the dark by himself! His parting words to me were to not give up, I was still moving fast enough to make the next hard cut off. I thanked him and wished him luck. I climbed up the last little bit of road before the trailhead, looked behind me, no one else was coming, I guess I was about to find out what I was made of.