By: Deron Ruse
37 runners toe the line. 9 runners finish. I was number 9 and I finished with just minutes to spare. Here is my story of running the Mogollon Monster 100 Mile Endurance Run. This race is 106 grueling miles which includes climbing more than 19,000 feet throughout the course. The race includes 4 big climbs up the Mogollon Rim (at least one of those climbs was 1,000+ feet in just 1 mile.) The trails on this course are some of the most technical trails one can encounter. It is a race to have on your bucket list if it’s not already.
Pre-race: The journey to the actual Mogollon Monster 100 mile race began for me on Thursday, September 27th, the morning of my 36th birthday. I had all of my gear prepared a week in advance for the race and I got it all packed in my crossover on Thursday morning and headed out the door to go pick up a friend and running companion, Casey O’Connor. Casey flew down from Iowa to run the race as well. I’ve known Casey for a few years through work and he was the first person I ever heard of attempting to run in a 100 mile race. I thought he was crazy when I first heard about his attempt at the Javelina Jundred 100 mile race. It wasn’t but only 6 months after I first heard of this and had these thoughts about these crazy people running 1oo miles that I signed up to attempt my first 100 mile race at the 2011 Javelina Jundred as well. I unfortunately had to drop after 5 loops (77 miles) due to a knee issue I was experiencing.
Anyway, back to the task at hand. Race report. I picked up Casey and we went and had an early lunch with his pacer, another friend of ours. After discussing some plans and having some laughs, we were off on our journey up to Pine, AZ to check into the lodge we stayed at and then head over to packet pickup on Thursday evening. It was a great drive and we talked about our race plans and what we were “expecting” from the race. At the time, neither one of us had a clue of what we would really endure out on what has to be one of the most rugged and tough 100 mile courses in the country. While checking in with RD, Jeremy Dougherty, we met a few of the other runners and we all had a tough time wrapping our minds around what we would really experience the next day and a half. Just like any ultra, you never know really what to expect though so this wasn’t foreign.
Race Morning: After only getting a few hours of actual sleep the night before the race, Casey and I woke early, prepared our gear and packed our stuff into the car. We headed into the small town of Pine, AZ and had breakfast. The race was scheduled for 10am so we had some time to get ourselves together and head over to the start line at the Pine Trailhead. Once there, we dropped our drop bags in the appropriate spots and headed over to the group of runners getting ready to embark on a journey that none of us will ever forget. There were quite a few other “local” runners that we knew and we chatted about how many finishers we thought there would be, how tough the course may be, how much climbing would be involved, who we thought would take first place and so on. Personally, I wasn’t very nervous at this point. I had no idea what I was about to face however or I would have been very nervous.
Jeremy, the RD, went over race details at 9am and described a few of the tricky sections to watch for and reminded everyone that this was going to be a tough, rugged, steep, long endurance challenge. This race was not designed for someone who was not prepared to take on a very difficult challenge. He then wished us all well and encouraged us to relax a little before we got started at 10am
The Race: The countdown began and I was ready to go. All the runners waited in anticipation to head through the gate and up the small hill facing us all right out at the start. Most runners opted to take it easy for the very first section of the race. There were only a few that took off running right from the start. I didn’t even consider running at this point. I wanted to get my legs warm and climb up the first few small hills to get us started. It didn’t take long however before my legs started carrying me a little faster and soon enough I was running. I was feeling good and Casey and I were running together 6 miles into the race. We joked about how it was time to start our 100 mile race at that point. We carried on a bit further and got to the first of four big climbs in the race. I felt good going up this first climb. I hiked up it at a fast pace and even ran a few of the flatter sections on the switchbacks all the way up to the top of the rim.
Pine Canyon to Dickerson Flat: I made it into the first aid station at Pine Canyon which was just over 8 miles into the race. I didn’t think about it at all at this time but I was later told that I actually came into this aid station in 10th place. I was already about 30-45 minutes behind the leader at this time. I refilled my hydration pack and ate a little food and was quickly out of this aid station on my way to the second aid station at Dickerson Flat. This section was nice and runnable. We found ourselves near the main road that takes you up to the Mogollon Rim area for a small section before taking a right onto double track and forest roads. This was a nice area to bank some time. I started moving a bit faster and banked about 40 minutes of extra time which helped later on for some of the cutoffs. I caught up to a few runners that were in front of me and ran all the way to the second aid station.
Note: I tape a few of my toes to help prevent blisters that I normally get. I’ve figured out a way to help minimize this by taping my feet a certain way. I made one small mistake however. I broke a cardinal rule that all runners know – never try something new on race day. Well, I didn’t really try something new. I taped my toes like I normally do. I did however use a different type of tape than I normally use. This ends up being a mistake just a short time into the race.
Coming into aid station 2, I started to feel a little irritation under each of my big toes. Those are two of the toes I tape to help prevent from blistering too bad. I thought for a quick moment to take off my shoes and check out what the strange feeling was all about. Quickly however, I decided not to stop this early in the race for something like that. I thought maybe it was just in my head and pushed on through that aid station after having a few bites to eat to keep my calorie intake going at a steady rate. I had plenty of GU to keep me going but I figured I’d take advantage of more calories.Dickerson Flat to Geronimo: Leaving Dickerson Flat, I knew I was headed out to the Turkey Springs Trail which headed back down the rim. I hadn’t run this section of the course yet but heard some talk about it. Either I didn’t pay too much attention to the chatter I had heard or just didn’t realize how technical this trail really is. The views at the top were spectacular. The Mogollon Rim is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been to and I love spending time there. I took a moment to look out at the vast wilderness and then headed down the trail. It wasn’t long before I realized that this is a very rocky and technical trail that isn’t really runnable all the way down. I was able to run some sections of it after I got used to the rocky terrain but I had to slow myself down quite often as I hit patches of loose rocks that would slide around under your feet making it very difficult to keep a steady, comfortable pace. This was the beginning of what I started to realize was going to be a tough race.
After maneuvering all the way down the rim to the bottom of the Turkey Springs Trail, I met up with the infamous Highline Trail. The Highline Trail is the trail used for the Zane Grey 50 mile race (named one of the toughest 50 mile races in the country.) I had not run this trail either and didn’t know what to expect. I knew it would be difficult but wasn’t sure exactly what to expect here. This first part of the Highline Trail wasn’t really all that bad heading into the Geronimo Aid Station. My big toes are feeling a little more discomfort. I push on not really paying much attention and decided once again not to stop to tend to them at first. After just a short distance here though, the discomfort quickly turned into pain and I knew I had to stop now and take care of whatever was going on. I didn’t want to waste too much time though.
I found a rock to sit on and took my shoes off one at a time. I took the tape off my toes and discovered I had blisters on the bottom side of each big toe. This was a first for me. I do get blisters on my toes but it’s always on the side of my toes between my big toe and 2nd toe. “Oh no,” I said to myself. I hope this doesn’t affect my race. I was only about 15 miles into the race. One runner passed me and asked if I was ok and I quickly replied that I was just doing a little maintenance. I think I partly said this for my own well being. I didn’t want to tell myself that this was going to possibly be an issue at all so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. After a few minutes, I got my shoes back on and headed back down the trail heading to Geronimo.
Geronimo to Washington Park: I finally made it to Geronimo Park and had met up with another runner, Danny Speros, who I knew from a local running club. Danny is a great guy and a strong runner and he and I decided to run together for the next section. We were now just over 18 miles into the race and we both fueled up at the Geronimo aid station and chatted with the volunteers. I mentioned that I had found the blisters and he offered me some mole skin to put over them. At this time, I refused as the pain had gone away once I took the tape off of my toes. We didn’t spend much time at this aid station and quickly headed back out on the Highline Trail which led us all the way to Washington Park (Race Headquarters). This section is where the Zane Grey 50 mile race takes place and I was excited to get to this section as I had thoughts of entering the ZG50 for the 2013 race and wanted to experience the trail first. It felt great to get out on this trail and I was still feeling pretty good after 18 miles of running so far. I knew I had so much more to go but I was already staying well ahead of any cutoffs and had plenty of time to make it to Washington Park.
As Danny and I headed out a bit further on the Highline Trail, we both discovered how tough this trail is and we began to hike more. Not only is this section rocky and technical, there are many little ups and downs on this trail that become tiresome. I’m not sure what part of this section hit me most but I quickly started to feel some actual pain from my blisters now. I mentioned something to Danny and he quickly stopped, pulled off his hydration pack and got out the moleskin he had previously mentioned. I told him not to worry and to go on as I didn’t want to hold him back at all. He didn’t listen and told me to take off my shoes. I took off only one as I was only experiencing pain on one foot. As we took a few minutes to patch me up, we chatted a bit about how tough the trail was and both of us had the same thought, “Zane Grey 50…no thanks.” (Funny thing is that I said this a few more times throughout this race which I’ll talk about later but I did end up registering to run ZG50.)
I got my shoes laced back up and off we went down the trail working our way towards Washington Park. We kept a steady pace staying ahead of the cutoff time and were able to run small sections and hike the rest. We got slightly lost at one section but didn’t go too far before turning back and finding the trail again. For me, this was the second time in the race I had gone slightly off of the course. We got back on course and headed all the way into Washington Park with time to spare. It was going to be dark soon and we needed to prepare ourselves for the night section of the race. I had been focusing on each small section of the race so far and didn’t want to change that thought process but still knew I had to prepare for a long night of running.
Washington Park Aid Station: While at this aid station, I focused on getting my long sleeved shirts on, prepared my headlamp, grabbed a warm hat, my gloves, my handheld water bottle and changed my shorts to some warmer running shorts that I brought with me as well. I had grabbed some food and had a shot of soda (for a little jolt of sugar and caffeine). I went back over to my drop bag and started to eat one of the PB&J sandwiches I had prepared. These are a staple for me when I go on long runs. One PB&J is approximately 500 calories and they work well for me. Well, not only 2 bites into my sandwich and a bad wave of nausea struck me really hard. One of the more experienced Ultra Runners whom I know, Jay Danek, was at this aid station. He must have seen the look on my face when the nausea hit me. He was by my side within seconds asking what was wrong and wanted to make sure I was ok. I told him how I was feeling and he quickly asked his wife Traci to get me some ginger ale. I can’t thank the two of them enough as they both helped me and encouraged me to fight through these feelings. I slowly sipped the ginger ale and also took a ginger root pill.
Ginger to the rescue. I rose to my feet, pushed the urge to hurl aside and Danny and I took off on the trail heading out of Washington Park. We knew we had a small climb ahead of us back up to the forest road and headed out just before sunset. My nausea quickly disappeared and I realized I had left my handheld water bottle back at the aid station. We hadn’t gone far though and Danny said he’d wait for me to grab it. I ran back to the aid station and Jay and Traci both looked at me, I think a little worried for a second. I let them know I was feeling 100% better already and just had forgotten my water bottle, which I grabbed and quickly ran back out to meet up with Danny.
We had already run a difficult 27.6 miles of this race and the hardest part hadn’t even begun. We had no idea what was to come. The challenges we were about to face overnight were not something we had imagined. Luckily, one of the easiest and most pleasant sections of the race was mixed in as well. And off we went.