2014 Zane Grey 50 Miler

 Due to Extreme Weather the Race Ended up only being 33 Miles.  I only made it 17.

The Zane Grey 50 Miler is a race I have been dreaming of running since I crewed for my buddies in 2012.  I have the utmost respect for its history and lore of it being ruggedly tuff.  Per the Website its “Regarded as the toughest, roughest and most beautiful 50 mile trail runs in the country. It runs point-to-point along the Highline trail from Pine to Christopher Creek, Arizona”

Early on race week I begin to hear chatter of a huge storm set to roll in the Saturday of the race.  As the week went on, the talk of a more substantial storm lit up Facebook.  I begin to worry a bit. I was constantly checking weather.com for updates.  This added to the anxiety I was already feeling for the race under normal conditions.  “It’s the afternoon heat that gets you” I heard over and over while planning for the race.  Now I had to plan for cold weather.

I packed long sleeves, gloves, beanies, extra socks, wind breakers, water resistant jackets and ton of regular running shirts as extra layers.  I chose to use a 4 dollar Wal-Mart poncho, which is a step above the 99 cent ponchos, for my rain/severe weather barrier.
At 10:45 am on Friday, the day before the race, an email was sent out warning runners, crews and pacers the National Weather Service had issued a hazardous weather condition report.  The race would now have 50k and 50 mile options.  There was also the possibility of the race being stopped completely at 50k if the weather was as severe as promised.

My buddies and I arrived at the starting line about 4:15 am.  The Pine Trail head parking area was filled with cars and eager runners.   It was about 52 degrees; 8-10 degrees warmer than expected.   I chatted with many friends and other runners.  Some who mentioned they had already shed some layers.  I had on three layers.  I was tempted to shed my jacket but decided to keep it on and deal with being a little uncomfortable. I was at the back of the pack when the race started.

I followed the line of headlamps, walking and shuffle stepping along the trail.  Soon it spread out enough I was able to run a steady pace.  It was really dark even with the many headlights that illuminated the trail.  No one tried to pass.  Everyone seemed to be working in unison.  On cue the darkness began to slowly subside and as we reached the top of a climb and I heard someone say “look at the sunrise.”  It was beautiful.
When I arrived at Camp Geronimo (Mile 8) I had both my water bottles filled and immediately took cover under a tarp so I could put on my rain poncho. I did not realize how wet I was. It had been drizzling a few miles before Geronimo.  The rain was now in full force. The poncho flared out and Hung like a dress.  It hung just above my knees.  I quickly decided to pull the back end around my waist and tie it.  Then I rolled and tucked the front flap under it so it would not flop around in the wind.  Perfect I thought.

I told Tim I was heading out.  I left Camp Geronimo and hiked the climb searching for a spot to pee.  When I returned to the trail Tim and Giles were just rounding the Corner.  Giles jokingly said I looked like a samurai and pointed out that he looked like a flasher with the rain coat he was wearing. Giles, Tim and I stuck together.  We talked nonstop about the weather.  Mud caked our shoes as the rain seemed to be blowing from all angles.  This was when I first begin to feel cold.  I knew moving was the best bet if I wanted to stay warm. 

I could not believe my eyes as hail fell and blanketed the forest.  The trail became icy and wet. Although it made for slick and slippery footing I was glad the mud was no longer caking the bottoms of my shoes.  Excitement and adrenaline fueled me and I picked up the pace.  I splashed through mud and ice; I was having fun.  But I was also more noticeably colder. The poncho did not cover my  arm so my sleeves were soaked through.  My shoes were soaked but my feet felt fine, it was my hands I was worried about.

I arrived at Washington Park (mile 17) around 9:40 am.  I was 20 minutes ahead of the cut off.  An aid station worker took the water bottles from my vest.  I fought to get my wet gloves off.  Mark Hellenthal, who I am so grateful for, offered me his gloves.  I told him I had some in my drop bag. I frantically looked. I could not find them. Mark, who I think was watching me, said he would grab me the extra pair he had in his car.  I begin to shiver.  My head was clouded and I begin to panic.  I needed desperately to get moving.
This is the part I know I will have nightmares of about.

My original plan, i thought of a mile before getting to Washington Park, was to stuff my bag of dry clothes under my poncho and wedge it under my vest straps and leave the aid station.  Instead I stared at it and unfortunately decided to go ahead and change into a dry top. I took off my poncho which was a big mistake.  I immediately begin to shiver uncontrollably.

That’s when P. Olsen popped his head out of the U-haul truck I was leaning on, and said come in here its way warmer.  I was dazed everything around me was in slow motion.  Mark arrived with the gloves and I thanked him then crawled into the back of the U-haul truck.  J Thompson was also in the truck trying to get warm.  All three of us agreed how shitty the situation was.  I tried to make light of it.  Having there company gave me hope that I could continue on.
I quickly shed my shirts and put on a two more; a compression top and a long sleeve.  I Looked out of the truck and was glad to see Tim and Giles.  Tim was wasting no time and heading back on the trail.  I told him I would catch up.  I desperately needed to get moving.  I put on my poncho and the gloves Mark had giving me.  A volunteer snapped the clips on my Race vest.  She also grabbed me a piece of PB&J.  I inhaled it.  I was 10 feet away from leaving the aid station when I looked at my poncho and was unsatisfied how it hung and blew in the wind. I knew that I would get soaked. I was already so cold and delirious.  I absolutely could not remember how I wore it earlier.  (I pulled the back tight around my waist and rolled the front up)
I decided to get back into the bay of the U-haul truck.  I was shivering uncontrollable.  Joe Galope (Race Director) looked into the U-Haul and said there is a car going to the Fish Hatchery.  He then asked for bib numbers, but then he turned away.   He never told me I had to stop.  I could have jumped out of the truck and continued on.  But in my miserable state I said “Joe, who do we give our numbers to?”  I then returned the gloves to Mark.  I told him thanks and to please offer them to someone else.  I was not going to continue. I could not stop shaking. I hurried to catch the ride. I was eager to feel the warmth of a car heater.  Me and 4 other runners piled into a minivan.  I was immediately devastated and felt ashamed for wanting to be warm. 

When I got to my hotel I sat in the tub as the warm shower water “rained” on me.  Red mud collected near the drain.  It was a nightmare.  I could not cry.  I played the last few minutes at the aid station over and over in my mind.  Eventually I got up and got dressed.  My buddy Tim, who I made trip to ZG with, was still on the trail.  I wanted to see him finish.  (Prior to leaving Washington Park I heard the finish line would be at the Fish Hatchery Mile 33)

My heart cheered and broke every time a runner finished.
Tim Widener you are a beast.  Many congrats to all my running friends who finished.  Also shout out to all who fell short.  The weather conditions out there were by far the worst I have ever encountered.

In the end, my first Zane Grey was as epic as I Imagined.  I can’t say the trail kicked my ass.  The weather is what did me in.  I failed to properly prepare.  I have been told I made a smart decision, and possibly avoided injury or sickness.  There is a lot left to be discovered.  

50K May Challenge?  Will see..... Need to set a new goal soon. 

This does not do the storm Justice

Icy and muddy trail

Me looking like a weirdo.

Crazy Weather

The day After.  WTF


  1. Alex, what a harrowing day! Never doubt for one second that you made the right choice. I made the wrong one, and it almost cost me dearly. You are a trooper! Your smiling face was a welcome sight in that U-haul!!! Hugs to you my friend. We will live to run another day :)


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