Dozens Of Runners Tackle Highline Trail


The best-kept secret in the Rim country is probably the Zane Grey Highline Trail 50-mile race.

It's been contested for years on the Highline hiking trail north and east of Payson, but because ultra running is not a highly popular sport and no Payson athletes enter, the run is relatively unknown locally.

About the only Rim resident with much knowledge of the sport and the Highline event is Martin Szekeresh.

He says he's competed in about 70 to 75 ultra runs, but knee surgery has kept him sidelined for the past few years.

Each year about the time the Zane Grey run rolls around, Szekeresh is on hand to help out as needed and provide moral support for the entrants.

This year's edition of the run began at 5 p.m. April 23 and drew 124 runners from 14 states and Japan, Szekeresh said.

Among the 96 runners who finished, Scott Creel, 44, of Bozeman, Mont. won the men's division in 8 hours and 17 minutes.

The women's champion, Nikki Kimball, 33, also of Bozeman, Mont. was victorious in 9 hours and 34 minutes.

"In 2004, Nikki set the women's course record of 9 hours and 14 minutes," Szekeresh said.

A pair of father-and-son teams from Arizona participated in the run. James Bonnett, 18, and his 43-year-old father Paul, both of Scottsdale entered, as did Jimmy Wrublik, 15, and his father, Rodger, 48, both of Litchfield Park.

James Bonnet finished in 10 hours and Paul Bonnett crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 29 minutes. The Wrubliks crossed the finish line together in 16 hours, 12 minutes, Szekeresh said.

The oldest runner, 68-year old Karsten Solheim of Glendale completed his tenth Zane Grey run after dark in rain showers.

According to Szekeresh, ultra races are defined as footraces longer in distance than the standard marathon of 26.2 miles.


Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah finished fourth in the Zane Grey 50-mile race, covering the course in 9:23.

Some ultra races, he said, can be more than 100 miles.

"Ultra runners use marathons as training runs," Szekeresh said.

Also, ultra runs are usually held in deserts, hills and mountains while marathons are often run on concrete streets in cities.

Ultra runners, Szekeresh said, "learn to stay focused on trail markers and step around obstacles like roots, rocks, branches and downed trees while watching out for rattlesnakes.

"At night, ultra runners must carry flashlights or wear head lamps."

Ultra runners also differ from marathoners in that they must rely on more than stored sugar and electrolytes in their body to be successful.

"Their bodies ability to digest food and supply energy to muscles will determine whether they complete the race or fail," Szekeresh said. "They run out of glycogen at 18 to 20 miles, then must eat during the rest of the race."

Along the race course, five aid stations -- staffed by dozens of volunteers --ere set up to help runners and enforce cut-off times.

"Any runner arriving late is pulled from the race," Szekeresh said. "However, there is no final cut-off time if a runner clears the last aid station at 45 miles on time."

The Highline Trail the Zane Grey race covered is considered one of the toughest 50-mile courses in the world.

"It has rocks and rocks and the footing can be very treacherous," Szekeresh said. "One runner fell in the Dude Fire area and broke his clavicle and wrist."

The race began at the Pine Trailhead south of Pine on Highway 87 and ended at the Two-Sixty Trailhead on Highway 260. Although the race is billed as 50 miles in length, forest service maps show the trail is actually 51 miles

Many of the shorter trails that make up Highline are rated "more difficult" and "most difficult."

Szekeresh said the race was held successfully thanks to the many volunteers who helped out including the Gila County Sheriff's Office, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad and Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest.

Szekeresh also thanked the event's largest sponsor, the Mazatzal Casino, as well as PaysonGlo Lodge, Bashas', Safeway, Sparkletts and Cucina Paradiso who provided the pre-race dinner.

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