The Zane Grey Highline Trail 50-mile run might be the best kept secret in the Rim country.
That's the opinion of local runner Martin Szekeresh who's participated in the event in previous years, but was forced to the sideline this spring because of knee surgery.
"(The run) is nationally known, but locally little known ... ask most people in Payson and they've never heard of it," Szekeresh said.
As proof of its nationwide popularity, Szekeresh points to the field of 80 runners who entered the 11th annual event held April 28.
"There were runners from 15 states and Canada, but no locals," Szekeresh said.
Maybe, no athlete in the Rim country wants to challenge the 50-plus mile race that had entrants arising at 3:45 a.m. to be shuttled to the starting line near the Beeline trailhead.
"That's a possibility," he said. "The run is for 'ultra' runners only."
Ultra-running events are defined as those longer that a traditional 26.2-mile marathon. According to Szekeresh, most ultra runners compete in marathons only for speed work and as training for longer distances..
The Highline trail course, Szekeresh said, took the runners west to east "through scenic Tonto National Forest on a rugged (Highline) trail with plenty of dead trees to climb over and streams to cross."
He said the Highline Trail (TR31) is actually 51.4 miles long. "It starts at an elevation of 5,400 feet, peaks at 6,800 feet and ends at 6,000," he said.
Event organizers set up first aid stations at the Washington Park, Geronimo, Hells Gate Canyon and Tonto Fish Hatchery trailheads.
"The aid stations provide water, sports drinks and snacks," Szekeresh said.
Also, if runners do not reach the aid stations by a predesignated time they must withdraw from the race.
The entrants also have the option of having drop bags carried to locations on the trail. In the bags are various items including changes of shoes, socks and shirts and frequently flashlights.
Each participant usually outfits himself with a fanny pack that includes energy bars and bottles of water.
For the first time in the history of the Zane Grey Highline Trail run, an Arizona resident was the winner.
Dennis Poolheco, a 40-year-old resident of Glendale, won the event in 8 hours, 47 minutes. Born near Winslow, Poolheco is a Native American member of the Hopi Nation.
Ruth Zollinger, a 35-year-old native of Utah, was the first female finisher and fourth overall. Her time of 10 hours and 25 minutes shattered the women's record by about 35 minutes.
The youngest finisher was 14-year old James Bonnett-Castillo. Participating in only his second ultra race, he covered the course in 12 hours and 10 minutes.
At 70 years old, Oregon resident Pierce Cornelius won the top honors for the older runners, setting a course record for 60-year plus runners of 13 hours and 34 minutes.
Members of the Payson Ranger District, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue unit and local amateur radio communication operators helped conduct the run.
"The race could not have been held without their continued support," Szekeresh said.