I had decided early in the year that this would be my year to start checking off some of my bucket list races. The west coast was really drawing me in with beautiful trails and views. At the very beginning of 2021, I signed up for Pine to Palm 100 in Oregon. I had this one on my list for several years and this seemed to be the year to do it. My running friend and local Georgia runner, Rich also signed up for the race. We were both excited about the challenge. As September neared, we began watching the Oregon fires pretty closely and knew that fires had cancelled this race in the past. Five days before the race and only just a couple days until I was going to get on a flight to Oregon, we received an email about the race cancellation. Rich was quick on the draw and found another race that offered a similar profile with around 20,000 ft of gain and just happened to be a race on my bucket list.
The race director of Mogollon Monster 100 had purposefully extended the cutoff date to sign up for the race because they knew other races would likely cancel and runners would want to do this monster. It played out just as they thought it might and there were lots of Pine to Palm runners who jumped into the Mogollon Monster race at the last minute. Huge thank you to Aravaipa Running and RD Noah Dougherty! I scrambled to change flights, cancel cars and lodging and rebook things in Payson, Arizona which is less than a two-hour drive from Phoenix. The next few days were a whirl wind at work and printing out the necessary information about the race so I could actually study it on the flight out. It all seemed to happen so quickly I didn’t even have a chance to tell friends and family of the change in plans.
This is a little look at a small section of the Mogollon Rim or The Rim as the locals call it
Brad Goodridge had again agreed to the switch races and crew for me. At the time, I had no idea how much one could really use a crew for this race. I had also decided that I was going to run this race with no pacers. This would be the first time I would take on a tough 100-miler and do so with no pacing help whatsoever. I knew I’d have crew to see me through with additional aid and provide encouragement along the way, but I’d have no one specifically with me during the long miles and overnight hours. While I knew Rich was going to be on course, we didn’t make specific plans to run it together.
This was the race’s 10th year and the first for it to be a point to point course. Most of the aid stations were a good distance apart and crewing for it was said not to be easy with long drives in between sections on rough roads and virtually no cell service. They also said that it was so difficult to crew because you most likely could not get to all the crew locations and still meet your runner at the next one. “It’s always helpful to read the small print” said by way too many runners after the fact.
“The race covers roughly 100 miles, climbing the Rim in six separate locations spending a lot of miles along the Rim, on top of the Rim and the challenging climbs up and down with climbs and descents at 30-45% grades at some points. Expect to climb a total of approximately 20,000 feet along the way, never below 5,200 feet and never above 8,000 ft in elevation. While other races are certainly at higher elevations, and/or with more climbing, they certainly do not contain as rugged a terrain that is found on this course.
“This is a VERY technical course in many areas, specifically the Highline Trail, Donahue and the soon to be revered Myrtle Trail. The first 40 miles will have nearly 9,000 feet of elevation gain. That coupled with the terrain, moderate elevation, and intense Arizona sun, this race will certainly take its toll on each runner.”
“This race and this terrain can destroy you. Nobody eases their way through the Monster. Do not underestimate this race. If you are not a self sufficient runner, you will fail here. If you cannot find your way out of a paper bag, you will fail here. If you cannot make it several hours safely on your own, you will fail here. We do not mark this course like an Ironman. We mark it appropriately for the turns necessary to follow the trail and to prevent runner confusion where necessary. We’re not painting the trail in gold, you need to know the course, and you need to pay attention.”
“Do not be fooled though, this race course will absolutely make you earn every mile you traverse. Come prepared, know your course, and tackle the Monster…”
We arrived in Arizona a day ahead of the race to get things sorted out and to go check out the course and crew locations as best we could. I had done my best to be ready but my training had all been for a much different race. Still, I felt confident that I was prepared as best I could be. Due to limited space and parking, crew was not allowed at the starting line of the race. It was a drop off or shuttle situation. So, Brad dropped Rich and me off about 30 minutes before the start of the race. We took a few pictures and chatted with a couple of people before the race started at 6:00 AM.
Race motto: He’s out there…
We knew there would be very limited cell service, if any, so we couldn’t use the tracker on my phone for Brad to keep track of me. The race started immediately with the first climb up to the Rim. I knew I would have some service there, and quickly texted Brad so he’d have some reference as to how long that took. The first 10 miles of the race included the first climb up to the Rim and then a stretch across the top before going back down to the bottom to the first aid station. This downhill section was one of the best running downhills on the course, and once I headed out of that first aid station and started up the second climb, I realized I had gone out way too fast on that first section. My legs could really feel that second climb and I needed to make sure I managed things well from there on, or I would not make it. That climb showed me just how rough the course was going to be. This was definitely a race you needed to take seriously and manage yourself well.
I wouldn’t see Brad until almost mile 27 and after the first 3 climbs. We had heard that the toughest part of the course was the first 40 miles. Thinking about it later, because this was the first year of this point to point course, I’m not sure anyone knew just how rough this would actually be. I don’t mind a technical course but just how technical would it be? What is “their” definition of technical? I would quickly find out. After the race, local runners who knew the trails and had run it other years said that this new course was probably at least 50% harder than in the past. With no frame of reference as to the past races, that didn’t tell me much. I’ve run a handful of tough races including several Hardrock Qualifiers and this one was definitely topping that list.
I was mostly running solo as the runners spread out. On some sections I would be around someone else for a short time, but quickly the terrain or climbs slowed one of us down and I kept telling myself I need to “run my own race”. Again, this was the first race that I was going solo with no pacers at all. I always enjoy the company of pacers at night or late in the race, but it felt like time for me to tap into some confidence and see what I could do on my own. As my crew, Brad was always encouraging me that I was tough, and I could do it. It was just enough encouragement from an experienced runner like Brad who knew what it was all about out on a 100-mile course to give me that confidence I needed to not doubt myself. Usually once a race starts, I get into game mode and really focus on what I’m doing. I want to enjoy the course and the race but also stay focused on my goal.
I saw Brad again at around 46 miles after completing four of the 6 climbs. I managed to make it up the fourth just before the sun set.
Views like this are some of the best part of the races
This time when I reached Brad, I had to make sure I had my lights and put on some warm dry clothes for the night hours. I tried to make some mental notes as I got close to aid stations as to what I needed to do there. If you know me well, you know I always have a notebook for my crew. In that notebook are notes for each aid station that I will see them. There are reminders of things to ask me or check on, get weather updates so I’m prepared for what’s ahead, and based on miles and estimated times I know when I want to grab my lights, put on warm dry clothes or possibly change shoes. When I see my crew, I also try to update them on how I’m doing eating and drinking so they can help me manage that as well. Sometimes I need to sit and take in food even when I think I feel good.
Warm clothes and some broth! I get chilled if I sit too long especially at night.
I had just completed a several mile road stretch that I was able to pick up some time on. After getting ready for the night hours and some warm broth I headed out and wouldn’t see Brad again for another 15 miles. This section of the course was known as the cabin loop. It offered a lot more runnable trails but still some rolling hills and climbs out of canyons. The night temperature seemed to go from warm to very chilly. I wore a long sleeve shirt with my Patagonia Houdini jacket and gloves that I took on and off. I was around a few more runners in this section and enjoyed the company at night. This was a nice section to be on at night as it wasn’t near as technical as the down hills off the Rim or the very technical up hills climbing back up to the Rim. I tried to just focus on getting to the next aid station, although the miles between aid stations were mostly long with 9 – 10 mile stretches. They had crew spots in between some of those long 10 mile sections which made having crew a huge help. Normally a 10-mile stretch doesn’t feel so long but when you are covering large technical climbs and brutally technical downhills that are sometimes almost scree sections that are very slippery to go down or up, it seems like forever. For me, having my poles were not only a must on the climbs but also on the downs as well. However, the toughness of the climbs was always surpassed by the sheer beauty of the Rim and surrounding mountains. It was just gorgeous! I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but I was always looking around at the extreme beauty of the Mogollon Mountain and the Rim.
It was still dark when I got to the General Springs Crew Only stop and see Brad once again. I was in good spirits but knew I would have to go another 25 miles before getting to crew once again but a full aid station was only about 3 miles away. I focused more on what I needed from my crew bag, I don’t usually use any drop bags when I have crew, and I didn’t have any here. Brad walked with me across the Rim Road where I dropped down the powerline section. We had seen it the day before when we scouted out the course. You saw where the course flagging crossed the road and just disappeared down the hill. Now I had an idea of exactly where I was on the course and all I could do was go down what was for me the toughest downhill of the course. Seemed like complete scree field and straight down loose rolling rocks that made going down and staying upright very difficult especially in the dark.
After leaving the next aid station I probably hit the most disliked section of the course for me. It was still dark and night during most of it, but it was a lot of climbing up, coming down and climbing up again and we spent nearly 10 miles going along this Highline trail just below the Rim. Finally getting to the next aid station at Geronimo, mile 72.4, was the best. It had just gotten light out and they were serving up blueberry pancakes. What could be better? I also got a huge hello and hug from my friend, John LaCroix. After a long dark night, it was a perfect welcome to the daylight and seeing a familiar and friendly face was huge as well. Now off to climb number 5 up the Rim. It was now 8 miles to the next aid station and as I remember it, there were no easy climbs up the Rim and this one was one of the longest. You begin climbing the moment you leave the aid station, but onward you must go.
Resting in some shade and taking in the views!
Once to the top at the Donahue aid station, I quickly tried to get what I needed, some broth and food to fuel the next section. Five more miles and I would see Brad again at mile 84.2, but not without the final climb up the Rim. It was a quick drop down and then back to climbing out. It was still very early hours of the morning, but the heat was already beginning to be overwhelming with the exposure of the Rim and steep climbs. I found myself climbing up the final climb to the top with a guy named Josh. We were both struggling equally in the heat and with more than 80 miles on our legs. We had to take short breaks under each small piece of shade we found to get our heart rates back down and cool down just a bit. The thought of Brad being at the top of this climb where I would see him for the final time, was what got me to the top. I told Josh that Brad would have plenty of cold drinks and ice for our packs there. I knew we had plenty to share and it was a life line for both of us.
Happy for some shade and clean clothes!
Josh and I showing our excitement for being so “close” to finishing!
I was finally able to get rid of my lights and pretty much everything I had been carrying in my pack. I changed into clean dry clothes for the heat of the day and was ready to finish the final 17 miles. Those were not at all easy miles with the final 12 having no aid stations. It was hot and exposed and all I could do was just stay moving. Definitely felt like some of the longest miles and again I spent it almost completely solo as Josh fell behind not long after we left Brad.
I didn’t go into this race with goals or even expectations except to finish! By the end, I felt pretty darn proud to have made it to the finish. Josh also made it across that sweet finish line! There were 150 runners who started the race and only 88 of us made it over that finish line. Aravaipa did an excellent job with this race but there was no handholding on this one although it did come with plenty of fair warning! Read the small print!
I also got to spend some time with this local legend and total badass, Honey Albrecht! She runs these trails and climbs The Rim all the time! I think she does hill repeats here for breakfast!!!