Mogollon Monster 100 Race Report

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!!!

Amazing Views!





Black Canyon 100K Race Report

This was Sherri Harvey’s race!  She wanted to run a 100k so we looked at several spring races to choose from that wouldn’t interfere with her spring motorcycle riding days and she picked Black Canyon. As soon as they opened the race to a waitlist only we put our names on the list. It was around six weeks before the actual race day that they finally invited the waitlist into the race. We had expected it to happen so we kept our training up planned on being able to run it. 

We made our travel arrangements and dialed in our runs and training. If you don’t know Sherri Harvey there’s a few things you should understand about her. She is an engineer and she likes everything neat and orderly and by that I mean she likes a schedule. If her schedule says we are “supposed” to run 18 miles, we run 18 miles because that’s what the schedule says. More on this later.

We headed to Phoenix, Arizona a couple days before the race. Sherri had never been there, never experienced their awesome running trails or even seen the big saguaro cactus before.  We were more than excited to run this race as we travelled to Arizona. We were both a little disorganized, forgetting things, losing things and last minute race changes. It was nice to have the extra day to get it all together. 

I’d run this race two years before and felt pretty confident in how Araviapa Running is able to put on outstanding events. On race morning you are picked up by a shuttle from the designated parking location and taken to the start. This year with Covid it was much more complicated with specific shuttle times based on your race start time. But just as I knew would be the case, the whole race, which has literally hundreds of runners, came off flawlessly. 

Race Director, Jubilee Paige

We immediately met up with local Atlanta friends Chris Girard and Ellen Comeaux at the start. Wave starts were every 15 minutes with thirty runners in each.  We were spaced out and welcomed by the amazing race director, Jubilee Paige. I have a major girl crush on Jub!  She’s full of energy, talented, fun and an outstanding race director, what’s not to love about her!

Social Distanced Starting line with Chris and Ellen!

It was a chilly morning start which is typical for this race and February desert weather. Sherri and I had discussed a sort of race plan which was mostly to go out slow and just enjoy the day. The number one goal was to finish. We probably should have discussed a “break up” plan but we had run a 100 mile race together with no issues, this was a far shorter race. No problem. Of course, nothing is a problem until it is. We ran Mountain Mist a few weeks earlier a little too fast at the start and had a great race the first half but then struggled the second half. Our goal this race was not to do that again. 

Sherri likes to have a race aid station chart which I usually make for each of us. This time I only made one for me, assuming she had made hers. Then the last minute change in our start wave, made the cutoff times wrong on my sheet. Harvey likes her schedules. She likes to take the chart and figure out in her head what time we will get to the next aid station and how far to get there. I’m more of a run by feel runner. I run what’s comfortable and Harvey needs time to warm up and find her groove. 

Trying to take in the view and let Sherri set the pace

The race started and we were on paved roads for maybe a mile or so before hitting the trail. It seemed like a slow comfortable pace to me, we chatted and neither of us was redlining with some crazy pace. I don’t remember how long it was before Harvey started saying we were going out too fast. She was telling me our pace. Yes doing math in her head, or from her watch and I was sure she was wrong because it didn’t feel too fast to me. It was comfortable and I felt really good. The beginning of this race is largely beautiful downhill running. You are warned not to go out too fast because the course is deceiving. The second half is tough. 

Finally Harvey told me that if I was having a great day I should leave her. But this was her race. I didn’t really care how fast we went, I was enjoying the day. Hence the need for the “break up” talk. We were going to run it together so I would wait every so often giving her a chance to catch up. I took pictures of her running and enjoyed the scenery. I don’t think she was at all impressed with my picture taking or telling her to smile. 

How can you not have a great day here?

If I had to guess I’d say the further we went the more frustrated she got with me, and I was feeling so good. We tried to get Harvey to recover and bounce back as I was certain she would. With each section the distance between us seem to widen and the wait at the aid stations just a bit longer. No breakup plan still. I will say that when the 20 MPH headwinds kicked up, it did make things considerably tougher.

We rolled into the 30k mark just halfway into the race. I was only feeling better as the day progressed and Sherri was clearly worse. The next section was a little longer and once we got onto that section, the gap really widened. I began chatting and enjoying the company of several other runners before settling in with a couple younger guys. We kept a solid pace getting to Black Canyon City aid station at around mile 37.4. It was getting dark and now it was clear Harvey and I were definitely breaking up. I could run with one of the guys I’d been with and not have to be alone in the dark for the second half which promised to be much tougher. 

Smile Harvey, this is supposed to be fun!

I got my drop bag here, changed into a dry shirt, grabbed my headlamp, my waist lamp and poles, then got some food. Just as it was starting to rain and I was going to take off, Harvey came in and let me know her plans to drop. I could clearly see her swollen knees and the pain in her face. Finishing would be very painful for her so she made the decision to accept her first DNF. 

My new friend John and I took off for the next long section. Sherri would go back to our car and hopefully jump in to crew for me at the Table Mesa aid station some 13.5 miles later. I didn’t expect her to make it there in time, but the long sections of climbing definitely made the second half slower. We continued to run strong on the downhill’s but the long uphill climbs were slower. I was happy to see Sherri at Table Mesa. She was in a good mood, maybe the first all day, and made sure I had gotten something to eat and that I had everything I needed. 

Now John and I were off towards the finish.  Around 7.7 miles to the next aid and then 3.6 to the finish. Most of the time I led the way for John. He liked the pace I was setting and I was climbing the uphills really well. This section would find John on a bit of the struggle bus. I could tell he was in pain but he never said a word. This was his first 100k and after we hit 50 miles this was all new territory for him. We had a lot of climbing in that section and he said he probably couldn’t run any more. We had a really strong hiking pace so it wasn’t a concern and we had more than enough time to finish in his goal. 

Finally, the last aid station. I tried quickly to put fresh batteries in both of my lights while the aid station workers were trying to give out shots of fireball. Sadly, they couldn’t seem to get any takers. I quickly said “I’m from Georgia. We have fireball at every race, I’ll take a shot.” Clearly Arizona shots are not the same as Georgia shots. They handed me a cup with what was closer to 3 shots. No problem, I only had just over 3 miles to go. John said the aid station workers told him the trail was smooth to the finish. He must have smelled the barn because now he led the way and we ran the entire 3.6 miles with him crossing the finish line just before me. Excellent day on the beautiful Black Canyon trails! I was definitely in my happy place all day. Sad not to get to finish with Harvey so she could get a second buckle but I’m sort a 100-mile buckle purist. I don’t really like buckles for less than 100 miles. It was bittersweet but sweet none the less. 

Harvey we’ll find another epic race adventure to run but, in the meantime, you are still one of my favorite pacers! 

Black Canyon 100K Race Report

I’ve been wanting to run an Aravaipa Race for a long time now.  They seem to have so many great races and I really wanted a chance to experience one for myself.  As soon as the 2019 Black Canyon 100K race opened for registration, I talked several of my local running friends into signing up and join the fun.  When I got a chance to meet Jamil Coury at Western States in 2018, I told him we had a big group coming from Georgia for the Black Canyon race.  A lot of us signed up, but many didn’t actually make it to the race, due to injuries.

We flew out to Phoenix on Thursday before the race so we could settle in and have Friday to rest and go to packet pickup.  We had a good dinner and went to bed early for the early race start.  Due to heavy downpours that occurred on Thursday, they had to re-route the course at the last minute.  Huge shout out to Aravaipa Running for all the work that went into that and how smooth the whole race went.  They have tremendous volunteers with very well organized aid stations.  Runners had plenty of options, no matter what your diet might be.

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Starting Line Photo

Because Black Canyon is a point to point race (which, by the way, is one of my favorite race types), we were shuttled to the starting line.  The temps were pretty cool but not crazy cold.  We left our drop bags, used the bathrooms and started the race right on time.

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David and I hung out before the race

 

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John, Stephanie and I all started together

Black Canyon is a race that easily lulls you into thinking it will be a fast and easy run.  It essentially starts with a lot of very non-technical trails that are mostly downhill.  Many runners might find it difficult to keep from going out too fast and crash later as the day warms up.  Stephanie flew out from Knoxville and we once again got to enjoy the trails together.  She is much better at setting a manageable pace at the beginning than myself.  I’m one of those runners that goes out too fast and doesn’t settle into my own pace until much later.  I have been dealing with Piriformis Syndrome for several months and while it is much better, there was the real possibility of it being a long painful day.  I knew I had to let Stephanie lead and go easy.

The start turned out to be windy and cold, with a little rain, but it soon cleared away into a very beautiful and comfortable day.  I was enjoying my morning and the beginning of the race until somewhere around mile 10.  I began to get that uncomfortable feeling in my Piriformis I had been dreading.  I was also beginning to have trouble keeping pace with Stephanie, although I could see she wasn’t far ahead on the beautiful winding trails through the desert.  I chatted easily with those around me and enjoyed the beautiful Black Canyon Trail.  Somewhere before mile 20 and the Bumble Bee Ranch Aid Station, I began to think I needed to tell Stephanie to leave me and thought my day might be much rougher than I wanted it to be.

Luckily, as it often happens, you get a little renewed at the aid stations.  At this aid station, I ended up getting to meet, and got help from, a Facebook friend who I knew from Ginger Runner Live!  That seemed to change my mood.  Stephanie and I chatted and I told her my fear of keeping up with her, but she assured me she didn’t want to go any faster.

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Kim Wrinkle took good care of me

 I left that aid station feeling good, and Stephanie and I enjoyed some beautiful views and took a few pictures in the next section of trail.  Running through the desert is so different from our normal runs so we both took it all in.  I think we both felt a little unsure if we would be able to finish with a sub 17-hour time, which is the requirement for it to count as a Western States Qualifier, but we didn’t discuss those thoughts.  Our goal was to move forward.  We are both solid runners and hikers, and this course was very runnable.

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After we got to the Gloriana Mine Aid Station (mile 23), the trail got much more technical with lots of rocks.  Most of the race was on single track and often had a good bit of rocks, but those are some of my favorite trails.  As long as we kept running steady, my Piriformis remained uncomfortable but not unbearable.  I wasn’t as fast on the hills, but with Stephanie pulling me along, I seemed to have my moments of rallying.   It was also fun in this section as we began to see the top runners racing for the Western States Golden Tickets and cheer them all on.  We made it into the Black Canyon City Aid Station (mile 35) where the reroute of the course began.  At this point we had to do a 4 mile out-and-back section before we would head back to the Gloriana Mine Aid Station and back again to finish.

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I saw Michael and Rebecca Richie just before getting into the Black Canyon City aid station who said David was behind them at the aid station.  Stephanie and I made a quick stop and we headed out for our 4 mile out-and-back.  I didn’t have time to look around and say hi to David.  A mile or so out from the aid station we ran into John, who was headed back into the Black Canyon City aid station.  He also updated us that David was roughly two miles ahead of him.  So everyone was doing well.  Stephanie and I began to set small goals for ourselves.  We wanted to be back and leaving the Black Canyon Aid Station by 5:00 pm.  We kept moving and were happy to make our goal.  We now began the 11 miles back to Gloriana Mine aid station, and then return the same 11 miles back to the finish.  There was a lot of climbing and some big hills midway through this section.  We just broke it down into small pieces and took it one step at a time.  About 4 miles or so from the aid station we passed Michael and Rebecca again.  They told me David had slowed down but they were doing great and everyone was in good spirits.  We kept our eye out for David and John as we were on the last section leading into Gloriana Mine.  We finally came across John who again said David was in front of him by a couple of miles.  In the dark, we had somehow missed him but that wasn’t so surprising.  This section became a little tough in the dark and then you were constantly passing other runners on the single track.  We tried not to shine our lights in the other runner’s faces but it was a constant passing game that seemed to slow us down.  This was one of the downsides to having an out-and-back course with 700 registered runners!  We reached our next goal of getting to the aid station by 8:00 pm and were happy to be headed back to the finish.  We now knew we would easily make the sub 17-hour time we wanted.

Stephanie continued to lead us at a good pace through the technical trails and back to more runnable dirt road sections.  We were able to dig deep and run much better through this section than we had the previous time.  We both seemed motivated to not just finish but finish strong.  We were thrilled to finished in just under 16 hours and meet our goals.  I would like to think we worked together, but I know it was all Stephanie.  She pulled me along and paced us the whole race.  We’ve covered a lot of miles together over the last year or two, and hope we have many more miles and adventures together.

This was a very well run race by Aravaipa Running and I hope to do another one of their races again sometime soon!

IMG_1534Finish line, all smiles

 

More Photos from the Black Canyon Desert