My second stab at the Mogollon Monster took place on Saturday, in Pine AZ. Dan and I flew to Phoenix on Thursday, only stopping in Phoenix long enough to pick up race supplies (we only flew with carry on) and headed to Pine. We stayed at a fantastic homestay/B&B right in Pine, about a mile from the start line. Lorrie and Bill, the owner’s of TwoJ’s were wonderfully hospitable and very excited about my race. Unfortunately on the drive up to Pine (approx 5500′) one of my ears wouldn’t “pop” and I was battling a bit of a sore throat that I picked up after running a charity run on Saturday in the pouring rain. I wasn’t too stressed though and figured a good nights sleep would have me feeling good to go.
Friday I woke up with a sore throat, a still not popped right ear and runny nose but still I wasn’t worried, we spent the morning getting my gear and drop bags ready, then we decided to visit the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. It was beautiful, the weather was fantastic, and my ear finally popped on the steep drive down to the bridge! We walked around the trails and decided to hike right down to the bridge, it was a pretty easy walk, but on the way back up I felt really winded. I mentioned this to Dan and he (lied) and told me that he felt winded too. I chalked it up to the altitude, I’ve never had issues with altitude but there is a first time for everything. We went to get my bib at around 6 pm and had a great evening catching up with other runners and race organizers/volunteers. I wasn’t sure why I sounded like I’d been chain-smoking all day, but something was definitely up with my voice/throat, however I didn’t feel too bad, maybe a little tired, but mostly just really excited. I was so ready for the Monster.
Saturday morning my 4:30 alarm came too soon, I did not have a great nights sleep. That’s not too unusual, what was different with my lack of sleep was the coughing fits that were keeping me awake (usually it’s just nerves/excitement). I told Dan that I thought I had a cold, he agreed. There wasn’t much I could do about it at this point. I didn’t really think it would affect me much, I kind of hoped I’d sweat it out in the first few hours.
It was cool at the race start, lot’s of dancing around to keep warm while Jeremy ran through his last minute instructions, but Dan pointed out that it was great running weather (just not great standing around weather). I was excited I was ready, I found Elise and Margaret at the start, I had the pleasure of running with these two amazing women last year and I hoped that we could run a bit together again this year.
Finally it was time to go, 44 braves souls set off up Pine Canyon, my goal was to stay relaxed. My ultimate goal for this race was to finish, my race plan had me finishing in 35 hours and I truly believed that I was going to the finish this year. Margaret and I set off in a pleasant pace up the first climb, after this climb I heard a strange wheezing noise, it took a few minutes but I began to realise it was coming from me. As I wheezed away my voice also started to disappear, I figured it was the altitude, Margaret was a little concerned but there wasn’t much I could do about it, I told her she’d have to do all the talking!
As we traversed above the town of Pine I was smiling and taking in the stunning views, still amazing a year later, it’s amazing the things you forget though, like the rocks, I remember rocks, but not that many. A new twist this year was that there was a lot of rain so the brush on the side of the trail was really over grown and there were lots of trees down, but it was still fun and beautiful and I was going to do this. Up the climb to the top of the rim (and the first aid station) my wheezing got a little louder and runners around me started to comment that they could hear me coming. I told myself to stay calm and that it would wear off, I was still moving really well, talking on my calories. I came into the Pine Canyon aid station about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Dan was there and I told him about my wheezing, but at this point I was laughing about it, I thought it was kind of funny, but still felt it was going to “go away”.
The next section to Dickerson flat aid station is very runnable so Margaret and I had a quick walk break to eat some food and so I could blow my nose, I was alarmed by the colour of my snot, it matched my day glow yellow shirt! But I felt so much better now that my nasal passage was clear (for the moment) and we set off. Margaret quickly pulled ahead of me and I happily let her set the pace, as we hit the road section I started to find it hard to keep up and my wheezing was back with vengeance, for the first time I was beginning to think that what ever this was it wasn’t going to just go away. As we hit the aid station (manned with fantastic volunteers I might add) my voice was gone again, I had to hand signal what I was after! After reassuring everyone that I would be fine off we went to go back down the rim, I was hoping that the descent would help my wheezing. I have to add that this is a stunning descent especially as the sun was just hitting some of that canyon walls, my breath was being taken away by the views for the moment. After navigating the technical downhill we hit the trail and I stopped to use the bathroom, when I stood up from this I was dizzy, in the stumbling around way. I ate some more food while I tried to catch back up to Margaret but I didn’t feel hungry and I’d been staying on top of my calories and hydration, worry started to creep into my mind. We finally reached Geronimo aid station, Dan was there and swapped out my bottles, I told him I wasn’t feeling to hot and that I couldn’t catch my breath, he assured me that I would be fine. I was still 15 minutes ahead of schedule, I re-applied sunscreen as I was heading out for 9 miles of the Highline Trail, which doesn’t have much shade, Margaret set out just ahead of me, but I just couldn’t catch up. I watched as she got further and further away. I couldn’t run. At all. I let this get me down for a bit, but I realised wallowing wasn’t going to get me to the next aid station any quicker, I put my head down and walked/hiked as fast as I could. I was supposed to arrive at Washington Park at 2 pm and that became the focus, to get there as close as I could to 2. So “just keep moving” became my mantra, and it worked for a while, but then I had to blow my nose (more radioactive looking stuff) and then I developed a bit of a headache, oh and then there was the chest pain. Finally I knew I was getting close to Washington Park because I could hear it, but I was still (what felt like) really high up, eventually I descended and arrived at the aid station.
There I was met by Dan, as well as our B&B owners (a fantastic surprise) as soon as I tried to talk to Dan I started to cry, I was panicking as I was now 15 minutes behind schedule and I still couldn’t run, and my voice was gone again. Dan did a great job of calming me down, I told him I didn’t feel well and just to prove it I started to have a coughing fit that ended with us both staring at solid yellow “thing” in my hand, tears started coming back to my eyes and Dan shook my arm so the “thing” would no longer be in our view. I had some soup which really soothed my throat and chest, thanks to the volunteer who made soup for me at the hottest part of the day when all the other runners wanted ice, I really appreciated it. After 20 minutes of sitting and eating, I put on my pack and left. I just wasn’t quite ready to give up.
I had 6 miles to the next aid station, my plan said it should take 2 hours and I was about 35 minutes behind schedule although somehow still ahead of the cut-offs, as I wondered off from the aid station I formulated a new plan, it was to get to the next aid station without coughing up anything solid. First 2 miles of this section is all up hill including a section that has a 45% grade, but then you end up on the rim road, which in my head was totally runnable, that memory was wrong! I settled in for some serious power hiking and some serious view absorbing, as crappy as I was feeling the views helped to make me smile and remind me how lucky I was to be there. Then a car drove by kicking up dust and I was back to coughing. When I could I would run until I couldn’t and just kept repeating that pattern, and just when I thought I had to be almost at the aid station, Dan drove by. This was odd as he was not supposed to be meeting me here, in fact I was pretty sure that he quite possibly risked life and limb to beat me to this aid station (by car it was much further than 6 miles).
Finally I made it into the Houston Brothers aid station and broke into a fit of coughing. I did not feel good, I plunked myself down in a chair. I asked for some tissue and was given some, I was also offered to have “medical” come and look at me, I hesitated for a moment but then agreed. Danny (who finished the Monster last year) was working this aid station with his wife along with Noah and John, so I was surrounded by familiar friendly faces and my mind raced with the potential consequences of being “looked at by medical”. I was eating some soup when John the Medic arrived on scene. He was really friendly and started asking some questions, I was truthful and even admitted to having some chest pain earlier (Dan did not look pleased that I had kept this tidbit from him), John had a listen to my chest and noticed “diminished breath sounds on the right”. Hmm, basically I had a choice I could go on, he wasn’t going to pull me but, I would have to sign a waiver saying I was continuing against medical advice. I looked at Dan, he looked at me, I did some math in my head and thought about the next section of trail, and realised I didn’t want to be that jerk who needs to get rescued when they should have known when to stop. So I quit.
This is the first time I’ve quit, I could’ve sat in that chair and timed out, I could’ve asked the Medic to “pull me” but that wouldn’t have made it any easier, my race was over. I’ve had an x-ray since being home and it turns out that I have bronchitis, mostly in the right lung, the radiologist I work with was impressed that I managed to run 33 miles with all the inflammation in my lungs. I’m at peace with my decision because ultimately had I gone on I was not going to finish because I was not going to magically get better and I really hated the idea that I had I gone on I could have put other people at risk if something did happen to me. Am I bummed? Hell yeah, but it’s just running, there will be other races.
Since Dan was there I didn’t have to wait for a ride which was nice, he was happy I stopped too since he was worried and he thought my mother, and maybe his, would’ve killed him had he let me sign a A.M.A waiver.
It also meant that we got to hang out and watch all the finishers (of which there were 23!) on Sunday (well not all, Steve Moore the winner was finished at 3am, I was in bed) and talk to some more of the wonderful people involved in putting on this race. Not to mention all the runners whose races ended at various parts of the race. Unfortunately Margaret had to drop at 70 miles with stomach issues but Elise made it to the finish, I am so happy for her and I was so happy to be there to witness it! I met so many inspiring people over the weekend it’s hard to be too upset with the outcome of my race.
I’m just going to finish by saying that this is an amazing race, put on by amazing people, if you’re looking for a challenging race with that “old school” vibe do this race. You wont regret it, and hey isn’t there a saying about “third time’s a charm”?