One of the most fabled races in ultramarathon running is the Rim Country's best kept secret. The Zane Grey Highline Trail 50-Mile Race draws runners from around the country and a handful of foreign competitors. But in Rim country sports circles, about the only person who knows of the event is Martin Szekeresh.
As the local race director, it is his responsibility to help stage the run that this year is April 26.
According to Szekeresh, runners describe the Zane Grey Highline Trail as the "toughest 50-mile trail race in the country."
It is also called by runners, "tougher than most 100Ks" and the "perfect 100-mile training course."
The annual run is held as part of the 2003 Montrail Ultra Cup Series Event that includes other ultramarathons around the United States.
The starting line of the trail race is located 15 miles north of Payson at the Pine Trailhead north of Highway 87.
On the day of the race, participants are bused from the Best Western Inn of Payson race headquarters to the start line. The event begins sharply at 5 a.m.
The evening prior to the race, the runners gather for an Italian carbo-loading dinner and a few hours of camaraderie.
According to Szekereh, the race route is through canyons and along the High Line Trail on the Mogollon Rim.
"The trail is very rocky in long stretches," Szekeresh said. "There are several water crossings and a lot of downed trees to climb over."
The trail is marked with metal diamonds nailed to trees but more than one runner has lost his way.
Late in the run, the best advice from Szekeresh is to follow the instincts of a friendly canine.
"If an Airedale runs out of the trail about halfway through the course, follow it," he said. "For the past couple years, that dog has led runners to the finish line."
The finish is located at the 260 Trailhead five miles east of Christopher Creek on Highway 260.
Following the event, runners are bused back to the race headquarters in Payson.
One of Szekeresh's responsibilities is to help set up aid stations at points 8, 17, 25, 33 and 44 miles into the race.
The aid stations are stocked with water, electrolyte replacement fluid, fruits and other foods.
Prior to the race, some of the runners place "drop bags" at the aid stations and other locations along the course. The drop bags often contain first-aid kits, clean socks, flashlights and food. Well-supplied drop bags often are the difference in runners calling it quits and finishing the grueling run, Szekeresh said.
The men's 50-mile course record of 8:07 was set by Karl Metzler. Petra Pirc holds the women's standard of 9:54. Both Metzler and Pirc set the standards at last spring's event.
Also at last year's race, 44-year-old Eric Clifton won the master's division (over 40 years) title covering the course in 9:36.
Flagstaff runner Vince Stack, 48, finished sixth overall in 10:23.
One of the toughest obstacles runners must overcome in the rugged journey is "avulsions" or tearing of the skin on feet and legs.
"When it comes to those, the motto is ‘if the bone ain't showing, you got to keep going.'" Szekeresh said.
A $500 prize will be awarded to any man or woman who sets a course record this spring. Also, both the man and woman 50-mile winners will receive $250.
Second-place finishers earn $100 and third-place finishers receive $50.
According to Szekersh, about 125 runners have registered for this year's competition.
In addition to the 50-mile run, a 50-kilometer event will be held over a similar, but shorter, course.
Profits from the entry fee of $80 per individual will be donated to the victims of the Rodeo-Chediski fire.
For more information on the race call Szekeresh at 472-4665.