As a former ultra-runner, or athlete who competes in runs longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathons, Martin Szekeresh knows the Zane Grey 50-mile race is one of the most demanding in the sport.
"It is considered the most difficult trail run in the country," Szekeresh said.
"If the rocks don't humble you, the bright sun, heat and low humidity will.
"Add to that, there are plants and bushes along the way that stab stick and lacerate exposed legs."
Szekeresh said many out-of-state runners not familiar with the Zane Grey course scan finish times and believe they can do better.
However, once those runners -- often accustomed to running on unobstructed, leaf-covered trails -- tour the rugged Rim Country course, they understand the difficulty of traversing it quickly and without injury.
At the April 26 Zane Grey event, medical staff treated numerous joint sprains, one broken toe and heat exhaustion.
All those occurred despite the efforts of 71-year-old Karsten Solheim who labored for days prior to the race clearing the trail.
"This year, he did not run so he could finish clearing the course," Szekeresh said.
Also aiding the runners on the Highline Trail (TR 31) course, which is actually 51.4 miles, were Tonto Rim Search and Rescue Squad members and local amateur radio operators at aid stations.
"We also had roving operators with hand held radios between aid stations," Szekeresh said.
For the 2008 race, Szekeresh, his wife Helen, Dr. Robert Sanders and a Payson High School exchange student from Germany manned the aid stations.
Before dawn on the day of the race, the field of 225 runners got off to a rousing start at the Pine Creek trailhead. About eight hours and two minutes later, race winner Anton Krupick of Colorado Springs, Colo. crossed the finish line at the Highway 260 trailhead.
"I didn't know much about him, but he is an excellent runner," Szekeresh said.
Earlier this year, Krupick won the American River 50-mile race in 5 hours 43 minutes and in 2007 he won the Leadville 100-mile event in 16 hours, 14 minutes.
Anita Ortiz, who was clocked in 10 hours, 45 minutes, garnered first-place honors among the women entrants.
The 5-foot, 3-inch, 43-year-old Ortiz was the women's world master (over 40 years) ultrarunner champion in 2004 and the U.S. women's mountain running champion from 2002 to 2004.
Also in the race field were many runners from the older set.
"Of the 53 male finishers, 23 were over 40 years of age and Nick Bassett was over 60," Szekeresh said. "Seven of the 17 female finishers were over 40."
In the field, about 20 runners did not meet the minimum cut off time for reaching aid stations and were disqualified from the race.
"Some were pretty upset about that," Szekeresh said.
New to the Zane Grey agenda this year was a 50-kilometer race instituted by new race director Perry Edinger, a former director of Pat's Run.
Edinger previously trained Pat Tillman when the former pro football player prepared for a marathon.
The new race director has a vast history in running, including being the 40th fastest 100-mile runner in the United States in 2005 when he finished the Javelina Hundred in Phoenix in 16 hours, 14 minutes.
In the inaugural Zane Grey 50-kilometer (31.1 miles) event, Truman Long was first in 6 hours, 5 minutes. Andrea Felton won the women's division in 8 hours, 35 minutes. The race began at the Pine trailhead and ended at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.
As in the 50-mile run, the older set dominated.
"Six of the female finishers were over 40 years of age and 21 men were over 40," Szekeresh said. "Three men were over 60."
In all, 64 racers finished the 50k event.
Also new to the Zane Grey event this year was the use of Arizona State University's Camp Tontozona near Kohl's Ranch.
"The camp was very convenient and it provided very nice facilities for all the runners," Szekeresh said.
The Zane Grey race was first run in 1990 just one year after an article in Arizona Highways magazine featured the trail saying that it would take four to seven days to hike the entire distance.
"Little did the author know that the following year, six runners would run it in less than one day," Szekeresh said.
The only race an Arizona runner won occurred in 2002, when Dennis Poolheco, then a 40-year-old resident of Glendale, took the event in 8 hours, 47 minutes. Born near Winslow, Poolheco is a Native American member of the Hopi Nation.
In 2004, 34-year-old Dave Mackey of Colorado set the course record of seven hours and 51 minutes.
Although Solheim did not run this year in favor of clearing the racecourse, he is a familiar fixture at the Zane Grey.
The son of the man who invented the putter with a "Ping," Solheim finished the 2006 run, his 11th, in 14 hours, 53 minutes. Solheim is also the champion of the first-ever Zane Grey run.