Highline Trail Run A Rim Country Secret

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As the Rim country's best-kept secret, tomorrow's (Saturday's) 12th Annual Zane Grey Highline Trail 50-mile run will attract little local attention.

But that doesn't mean it won't feature its share of talented competitors from around the country.

Last year, 75 runners from 15 states and Canada but none from Payson participated.

The lone local athlete who has competed, Martin Szekeresh, had to skip the 2001 run because he was recovering from knee surgery.

Szekeresh won't be participating this year either, because he's serving as the race co-director.

The race is expected to draw a field of more than 80 runners most of whom Szekeresh calls "ultra runners."

Those athletes are described as ones who compete in runs longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathons.

The Zane Grey event will begin about 3:45 a.m. when runners are shuttled to the start line near the Beeline trailhead of the Highline Trail.

According to Szekeresh, the course runs west to east "through scenic Tonto National Forest on a rugged trail with plenty of dead trees to climb and streams to cross."

The Highline (TR31), one of the most popular hiking trails in Arizona, is actually 51.4 miles long.

"(The Highline race course) starts at an elevation of 5,400 feet, peaks at 6,800 and ends at 6,000," Szekeresh said.

Event organizers will set up aid stations at various trailheads along the course where runners can pick up water, sports drinks and snacks.

Also, if runners do not reach the aid stations by a predetermined time, they must withdraw from the race.

Entrants have the option on the day prior to the race of placing drop bags at various locations on the trail. In the bags are changes of shoes, socks, shirts and flashlights. Each participant also usually outfits himself with a fanny pack that includes energy bars and water.

Representatives from the Payson Ranger District, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue unit and local amateur radio communication operators will be on hand to oversee the race. The race, Szekeresh said, could not be held without their support.

Last year

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 Utah resident, was the first female finisher and fourth overall last year. Her time of 10 hours, 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 was clocked in 12 hours, 10 minutes.

At 70 years old, Oregon resident Pierce Cornelius won top honors in the senior division. In winning, Cornelius set a course record 13 hours, 34 minutes for 60-years-plus runners.

In last year's field, only 10 entrants did not finish.

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